Ukrainians exasperated with politicians in gas row

For Ukrainians on the streets of Kiev, the row with Russia over gas supplies is just the latest example of ineptitude among their own feuding political elite.

Ukrainians exasperated with politicians in gas row
For Ukrainians on the streets of Kiev, the row with Russia over gas supplies is just the latest example of ineptitude among their own feuding political elite.

Few fear that Russia's halt in gas supplies to Ukraine, after their failure to agree on this year's contract, will lead to a cut in their own heating and hot water supplies as temperatures hover at around -10 Celsius. But people in this ex-Soviet state of 47 million have lost the exuberance and hope sparked four years ago by the "Orange Revolution" which swept President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to power and incensed Moscow.

Eight years of robust economic growth have given way to what is expected to be a deep recession, and Ukrainians now face pay cuts, rising unemployment, sky high inflation and a tumbling hryvnia currency.

Yushchenko and Tymoshenko, the twin faces of the revolution, have been rowing for a year as the economic crisis unfolded.

Many analysts see their disputes as manoeuvring before a presidential election in 12 months in which both are expected to stand.

"In Italy, they call it the mafia, in America, Cosa Nostra, in Ukraine, the Verhovna Rada (the parliament)" said Oleg Karlichyk, a plumber in his mid-30s on his way to work.

"This is just bandits sitting in the Kremlin arguing, deciding, talking to bandits sitting in Grushevska street," he said referring to the seats of power in the two countries.

"This is their problem. Normal people know how to come to an agreement," he said.

Recurring gas disputes

The recurrence of billion-dollar gas disputes with Russia, which began after the 2004 revolution and were seen by some as Moscow's bullying of its Western-leaning neighbour, has raised widespread suspicions that someone, somewhere is profiting.

Ukraine, like Russia, has a number of billionaire business leaders known as oligarchs, some of whom have also sat or sit in parliament, further raising distrust of politicians among ordinary voters.

Endless infighting has led to two parliamentary elections and four governments since Yushchenko was sworn in at the start of 2005, hampering his drive to lead Ukraine into the NATO alliance and move closer to the EU through economic reform.

"Politicians are not working at all -- they're not taking care of our economy at all. And gas, after all, is the basis of our economy," said pensioner Larissa Andreyeva.

Few think anything will change after the presidential election, even though Yushchenko is expected to lose -- his popularity ratings have sunk below 10 percent.

There is little ill-will towards the Russians over the gas row, despite recent political clashes with Moscow over its war in Georgia and the Russian Black Sea Fleet stationed in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol.

"This is Russia's fault but also our fault. Russia is a very powerful neighbour so you have to deal with it very carefully. Russia dictates. You have to listen," said one man, who did not want to give his name.

"Of course they should insist that we pay up -- why should they feed us? ... The Russian people are suffering too," said pensioner Larissa.

Reuters
Last Mod: 03 Ocak 2009, 14:28
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