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As tension continues in Ukraine, we analyse why the country remains economically torn between Russia and the EU.
Counting the Cost Last updated: 01 Mar 2014 09:38
|It was the bloodiest week in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history. The president fled, an opposition leader left jail after three years and, with the dust now settling, a clearer picture is emerging about the dire state of the country’s finances.Ukraine’s political crisis began with the economy; ousted president Viktor Yanukovich wanted to align with Russia, while his opposition was looking to Europe – which prompted what almost amounted to a bidding war.
On the Russian side, Moscow had earmarked $15bn to inject into the Ukrainian economy.
The European Union had offered just $800m and while Ukraine would get great access to EU goods and services, it would not actually be able to get its own products into the continent.
Things are now worse, as Ukraine says it needs $35bn over two years, and Standard & Poors says the country, the central bank and its state-owned oil companies have about $13bn worth of debt to repay. Although it has $18bn in reserves, that is not enough to run an economy.
On this week’s Counting the Cost, we look how Ukraine remains torn between Europe and Russia and which side offers the best deal. We speak to Dmirty Sologoub formerly an economist with the IMF, but now head of research Raiffesien Bank Aval in Ukraine.
Nigeria’s ‘missing money’
In Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan has suspended Lamido Sanusi, the governor of the central bank for “financial recklessness and misconduct”.
Sanusi had earlier exposed all sorts of corruption in Nigeria’s oil industry, alleging that $20bn had gone missing from oil sales.
Speaking exclusively to Al Jazeera’s Yvonne Ndege in Lagos, Sanusi said the money that disappeared in the last 19 months was supposed to be given to the central bank by the state oil company, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
His allegations mean losses in public money could run into the hundreds of billions of dollars. The ex-governor says he will not be surprised if he is jailed for speaking out.
Nigeria is one of the world’s largest oil producers. Oil accounts for more than 90 percent of state revenue, although as little as one percent of Nigerians are thought to benefit from the wealth.
Many people we spoke to in Abuja about Sanusi’s ouster told us they thought the missing money might be used to fund election campaigns. Nigerians go to the polls next year to vote in presidential elections. But Sanusi thinks the public money may have already been squandered.
Ndege also spoke to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s finance minister.
Over-fishing in Indonesia
In Indonesia, over-fishing is depleting fish stocks. The government has introduced marine-protected areas, but for some fishermen that is not enough.
They are using increasingly aggressive means to put fish in their nets, and food on their tables. Many fishermen, who wish not be identified, admit they use explosives.
Despite using desperate measures they still cannot compete with the big boats catching all the fish. They also now have to travel a lot further to find tuna.
Millions of Indonesians are dependent on fish for their income and nutrition. The government has introduced measures to make sure fish populations will grow back, but this might be too little too late. With aggressive fishing techniques not being banned, traditional fishermen have only a slim chance to pass on their skills to the next generation.
Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen reports from Benoa, Indonesia.
LONDON, Feb 23 (Reuters) – Britain warned Russia on Sunday against intervening in Ukraine’s “complex” crisis, saying London wanted to contribute to an international economic programme aimed at shoring up the “desperately difficult” situation of the Ukrainian economy.
In comments that may anger Moscow, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said his government was in regular contact with the Russian government to try to persuade it that closer ties between Ukraine and the European Union should not worry it.
“If there’s an economic package, it will be important that Russia doesn’t do anything to undermine that economic package and is working in cooperation and support of it,” Hague told BBC TV.
When asked if he was worried that Russia might “send in the tanks” to defend the interests of Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine, Hague warned against what he called “external duress” or Russian intervention.
“It would really not be in the interests of Russia to do any such thing. We have to keep up the communication with Russia as we are doing … so that the people of Ukraine can choose their own way forward. There are many dangers and uncertainties.”
Ukraine’s parliament voted to remove President Viktor Yanukovich on Saturday after three months of street protests, while his arch-rival Yulia Tymoshenko hailed opposition demonstrators as “heroes” in an emotional speech in Kiev after she was released from jail.
The crisis began as protests against Yanukovich’s decision to abandon a trade agreement with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Russia, which promised to lend Ukraine $15 billion euros. Ukraine needs the money — foreign investment inflows fell by almost half last year, to a net $2.86 billion from $4.13 billion in 2012
Britain has so far assumed a lower profile on Ukraine than countries such as Germany and Poland, though Prime Minister David Cameron spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin last Thursday about the situation there and Hague said he’d be talking to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday.
Hague said the priority was to persuade Moscow that the fate of Ukraine – a country that was part of the Soviet Union and has been within Russia’s sphere of influence for decades – was not what he called “a zero-sum game” and that closer ties with the EU were not a bad thing.
“It’s in the interests of the people of Ukraine to be able to trade more freely with the EU. It’s the interests of the people of Russia for that to happen as well.”
He said he didn’t know what Russia’s “next reaction” would be, but he pushed the Ukrainian opposition to move urgently to form a government of national unity, agree arrangements for new elections, and to crack on with shoring up the economy.
“While all this has been happening, the Ukrainian economy is in a desperately difficult situation,” Hague said. “And they need an economic programme that the rest of us, through the International Monetary Fund and other institutions, can support so that they can stave of an even more serious economic situation.”
Whereabouts of Ukraine’s president unknown as protesters occupy office and opposition tables motion for his resignation.
Last updated: 22 Feb 2014 11:14
Ukraine’s government and opposition oN Friday signed a deal aimed at ending the violence [Reuters]
|Protesters have seized the Kiev office of President Viktor Yanukovich and the opposition has demanded a new election be held by May, as the pro-Russian leader’s grip on power eroded and his whereabouts were unknown.
Anti-government demonstrators entered Yanukovich’s compound in the capital on Saturday and were controlling the entrance, a Reuters news agency journalist at the scene reported.
Security guards were present inside the building but were not trying to expel the protesters.
The president’s residence outside the capital appeared to have been abandoned. Local media said protesters entered the sprawling grounds but it was unclear whether they were inside the building. Interfax, a Russian news agency, said some security guards were present.
Ukrainian opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko earlier on Saturday said that Yanukovich had left Kiev and that the country must hold early elections.
“Today he left the capital,” Klitschko told an emergency session of parliament, which was debating an opposition motion calling on Yanukovich to resign.
“Millions of Ukrainians see only one choice – early presidential and parliamentary elections.”
Yanukovich had been due to visit the northeastern city of Kharkiv. His residence outside the capital was empty and unguarded and journalists were entering freely, local media reported.
Parliament was sitting on Saturday in the wake of a deal to end days of carnage in the capital.
Thousands of protesters on Kiev’s Independence Square are demanding Yanukovich go immediately, sceptical of a European Union-brokered accord under which the embattled leader agreed to give up powers, hold early elections by the end of the year and form a government of national unity.
The UDAR (Punch) opposition party of Klitschko submitted the parliamentary resolution calling on Yanukovich to quit to clear the way for early elections.
Lawmakers elected a close ally of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko to the powerful post of parliament speaker on Saturday, replacing a loyalist of Yanukovich.
Oleksander Turchynov is a senior member of Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party. He was elected by 288 votes in the 450-seat parliament.
The crisis began with protests in November after Yanukovich turned his back on a far-reaching economic deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia instead.
Events were moving at a rapid pace that could see a decisive shift in the future of a country of 46 million people away from Moscow’s orbit and closer to the West, although Ukraine is near bankruptcy and depends on Russian aid to pay its debt.
Addressing the crowd on Independence Square earlier, Klitschko said he would seek support from lawmakers “to get rid of” Yanukovich.
Protesters cheered and chanted “Bandits out!”
The EU-brokered deal followed two days of violence that turned central Kiev into a war zone and left at least 77 people dead.
“I believe parliament today will be dissolved and Yanukovich will be ousted,” said 58-year-old protester Vasyl Lubarets.
As the parliament sitting opened, the pro-Yanokovich speaker of the assembly, Volodymyr Rybak, said he was standing down due to ill-health.
Russian finance minister pledges to give second tranche of $15bn bailout package, but wants gas debt paid first.
Last updated: 08 Feb 2014 15:21
The protesters have been demanding resignation of the president and early elections [Reuters]
|Russia has increased economic pressure on Ukraine by drawing a link between disbursement of the next tranche of its $15 billion aid package to Kiev with repayment of a hefty gas bill owed to Russian firms.
The link, made in comments by Russia’s finance minister to the Reuters news agency on Saturday, came as the Kremlin confirmed President Vladimir Putin had held private talks with Ukraine’s leader Viktor Yanukovich in Sochi on Friday before the opening of the Winter Olympics.
No details of the leaders’ talks were disclosed.
“We will fulfill what we have promised to Ukraine, but we would like the Ukrainian side to comply with the obligations that it has committed to,” Anton Siluanov told Reuters.
The gas debt was due for repayment in late January, but Ukraine did not pay up, he said.
On Saturday, thousands of people angered by months of anti-government protests in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, converged on one of the protesters’ barricades, the Associated Press news agency reported.
They retreated after meeting sizeable resistance, averting a violent showdown. The incident underlined tensions that persist as the protests slog through a third month with no sign of concessions from either side.
About 2,000 people streamed toward the barricade near city hall at midday, blocking traffic on the capital’s main avenue and placing tires in the roadway.
Igor Polishchuk, one of the men placing the tires, said the crowd wanted to show its peaceful opposition to the protests that have pushed the country into a political crisis and complained that police had done little against the protesters.
“It’s a critical mass in there, without control,” he said. “The authorities aren’t anywhere inside.”
EU versus Russia
The anti-government protesters have set up an extensive tent camp in Kiev’s main square and occupy three nearby buildings, including the city hall, that they use for operations centres, sleeping quarters and even an improvised library.
Yanukovich has been battling massive anti-government protesters, demanding his resignation and early elections, since he rejected a trade deal with the EU in favour of closer ties with Russia.
The president must now decide whether to submit to protesters’ demands by taking a more conciliatory approach towards a new agreement with the EU – a possibility that prompted Russia to suspend its bailout payments after issuing just one instalment of $3bn in December.
The US and the EU have backed the anti-government protests and promised a financial package to Ukraine on the condition that the government agrees to political reform.
|Ukraine’s parliament has scrapped draconian anti-protest laws and its prime minister and his entire cabinet have resigned, in moves aimed at ending a two-month standoff with demonstrators.The decision on the protest laws was made in a special parliamentary session in Kiev on Tuesday, shortly before which the prime minister, Mykola Azarov, offered to stand down in a bid to ease tensions between protesters and the government.
Azarov’s resignation was accepted by the president, Viktor Yanukovich. However, opposition leaders, who have called for the removal of the president, described the moves as “a step to victory”.
Al Jazeera’s Nick Spicer, reporting from Kiev, said the prime minister was regarded as responsible for much of the violence during the crackdown on protesters.
“The prime minister was despised by the people on the streets. He was seen as responsible for the crackdowns,” he said.
“The opposition said this was a small step. A big step would be the resignation of the president.”
The anti-protest laws, which restricted movement and assembly, and threatened tough jail terms for transgressors, had been passed earlier this month as demonstrations against Yanukovich continued unabated for two months.
Originally the protests were over the government’s failure to sign an EU trade deal, but the anti-protest laws added another level to the demonstrations.
The laws punished the occupation of public buildings with up to five years in prison, outlawed protest convoys of more than five cars and banned opposition activists from wearing masks or helmets.
Protesters had also started receiving text messages saying they were registered as taking place in mass disturbance.
The president hopes their repeal, and the resignation of Azarov, will put an end to the escalating violence that saw the protests turn deadly last week.
Dmitri Sidorinko, an anti-government activist from the city of Kharkiv, told Al Jazeera that protesters would stay in the streets until the president resigned.
“We will be here until the end, until the victory,” he said. “If nothing is done from the government side, then we will resort to decisive action.
“In the last seven years, nothing has changed in our country for the better. Do you think people would come out in the street to protest if we had everything alright in the country? I don’t think so.”
‘Step to victory’
Azarov said he was offering to step down “with the aim of creating extra means for finding a social-political compromise, for the sake of a peaceful settlement of the conflict.”
But in reality he had been publicly humiliated by Yanukovich’s offer at the weekend to give his job to former economy minister Arseny Yatsenyuk, one of the opposition’s leaders, in an effort to stem the rising protests against his rule. Yatsenyuk turned the offer down.
The opposition has been calling for the resignation of the Azarov government since the onset of the crisis.
Opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko said Azarov’s announcement was only “a step to victory”.
“For several months we have been saying that what is happening in the streets is also the result of the policies of the current government. This is not victory but a step to victory,” said Klitschko, leader of the UDAR (Punch) party.
The president stopped short of proposing amnesty for dozens of arrested protesters until demonstrators stopped occupying buildings and ended their protests, a major sticking point for Tuesday’s talks.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday rejected all foreign interference in the country, saying visits by overseas envoys were adding to the unrest in the former Soviet republic.
“I think that the more intermediaries there are, the more problems there are,” Putin told a press conference in Brussels after a summit with top European Union officials. “At the very least, Russia will never interfere.”
Meanwhile, government supporters gathered outside the parliament in Kiev.
“There is no situation that is not possible to solve by negotiations,” Oleh Kalashnikov, leader of the Combined Arms Union of Ukraine, told the rally. “Our mission today is to stop people who want the coup.
“Your support enables the government to rule the country effectively. Stability in the country, the future of your children depends on you. We’re against the coup! We will win if we stick together,” he added.
With additional reporting by Tamila Varshalomidze in Kiev
|Ukrainian protesters have erected more street barricades and occupied a government ministry building, fuelling tension after the failure of crisis talks with the president, Viktor Yanukovich.In response to opposition calls, about 1,000 demonstrators moved away from Kiev’s Independence Square in the early hours of Friday and began to erect new barricades closer to the presidential headquarters.
Masked protesters, some carrying riot police shields seized as trophies, stood guard as others piled up sandbags packed with frozen snow to form new ramparts across the road leading down into the square.
After leaving a second round of talks with Yanukovich empty handed late on Thursday, opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko voiced fears the impasse could now lead to further bloodshed.
After speaking first to protesters manning the barricades, Klitschko then went to Independence Square where he declared: “Hours of conversation were spent about nothing. There is no sense sitting at a negotiating table with someone who has already decided to deceive you.”
Klitschko had earlier brokered a truce in the violence between protesters and police, and the ceasefire appears to be holding so far.
A group of protesters took control of the main agricultural ministry building in the centre. “We need the place for our people to warm up,” a local protest leader was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.
Meanwhile, protesters near Dynamo Kiev football stadium, the new flashpoint in the city, cranked up their action, setting tyres ablaze again and sending a pall of black smoke over the area.
There were no signs that protesters were heeding an appeal from general prosecutor Viktor Pshonka who said early on Friday that those so far arrested would be treated leniently by the courts if protest action was halted.
At least three protesters have been killed so far after clashes between protesters and riot police.
Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in the capital after Yanukovich backed away from signing a free trade deal with the EU, which many people saw as the key to a European future, in favour of financial aid from Ukraine’s old Soviet master Russia.
But the movement has since widened into broader protests against perceived misrule and corruption in the Yanukovich leadership.
Protesters have been enraged too by sweeping anti-protest legislation that was rammed through parliament last week by Yanukovich loyalists in the assembly.
Earlier on Thursday, Yanukovich had suggested he might be prepared to make concessions to the opposition when he called for a special session of parliament next week to consider the opposition demands and find a way out of the crisis. But this did not impress opposition leaders.
Underlining the level of mistrust between the government and opposition, the prime minister Mykola Azarov on Thursday accused protesters of trying to stage a coup and dismissed the possibility of an early presidential election.