Thursday, 28 July 2011

On the Edge

Ukraine is said to take its name from the Slavic for "on the edge."

I have no idea if that's true. But living in Ukraine in 2011, it certainly seems true.

This place has got me on edge, anyway. Right now, we in Ukraine are being treated to a spectacle that appears to be bordering on lunacy - the trial of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymosheno, who is guilty, apparently, of the heinous crime of being in government when Viktor Yanukovych wasn't president of Ukraine.

"Guilty as charged!" I hear you cry, but actually things are a bit more complicated than that. We have to delve into years of oily, mucky, dealings with filthy lucre to discover anything like the truth, and pass great quantities of gas in the process.

The whole problem, in fact, lies in who was passing gas, at what time, to whom, and at what price.

Yulia Tymoshenko is up before the beak for signing contracts with Russia for the supply of gas. You might not think that is a grave crime, but apparently she didn't get a good enough price, lost Ukraine UAH 1.5 billion (about $200 million), and did so under duress, because of the pressure of debts she built up when she was Ukraine's "Gas Princess."

Tymoshenko, you see, used to run an outfit called United Energy Systems of Ukraine. Now read carefully: This is what you do if you want to make a huge amount of money out of a former Soviet Republic that has the largest gas transport system in Europe. What you do is insert your private company at the gas output nozzle of Russia, inhale deeply, and fart out some gas on the western border of Ukraine, while charging a grossly inflated price.

Before you get too excited about this sure-fire money-spinning business opportunity, I have to tell you that Tymoshenko and her old chum Pavlo Lazarenko (another former Ukrainian prime minister who, incidentally, also faces legal problems right now), beat you to it. Some years ago, in fact. Moreover, other people have since inserted themselves at the Russian gas nozzle, and in Ukraine, they’re much better politically connected than Tymoshenko ever was, or you will ever be.

Nevertheless, the legacy of these gassy shenanigans is now catching up with Tymoshenko, who, while no doubt being a beautiful, braided beacon of democracy, still carries more than a whiff of dodgy dealings about her. That’s a shame, because what with the importance of gas supplies to the European Union, nobody in the West is going to raise a stink about the obvious political repression now going on in Ukraine.

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