Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has marked 100 days in office, outlining an ambitious vision of his country's future, but amid opposition concerns he is limiting civil liberties and surrendering national sovereignty to Russia. Mr. Yanukovych spoke to the nation on his 99th day as president and followed up on the 100th day with a news conference in Kyiv.
Speaking at a news conference in Kyiv, President Yanukovych said he inherited a ruined economy when he took office in February. He said he is seeking passage of laws to encourage economic development and investments, and is fighting red tape that often stands in their way.
Mr. Yanukovych says Ukraine began the year with a 12 percent budget deficit and adopted a new budget that reduced the shortage to 5.6 percent.
Mr. Yanukovych says there are signs of renewed economic activity, an increase of nearly five percent in Ukraine's gross domestic product and nearly 13 percent higher industrial production. Mr. Yanukovych boasts of a 31 percent greater export volume, and an import increase of nearly 8 percent, giving his country a positive trade balance of $2 billion.
But critics say the budget shortfall has been reduced by printing money. Oleh Soskin, Director of Ukraine's Society Transformation Institute, says the cash supply in April alone rose by nearly $500 million worth of hrynvas, the national currency. Soskin also rejects Mr. Yanukovich's claim that Ukraine will benefit from lower gas prices the president negotiated with Moscow in exchange for extending the lease of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol.
Soskin says reducing the price from $305 per 1,000 cubic meters to $236 is meaningless; it's like telling a person he or she will be held underwater without air for 15 minutes instead of 20. Either way, says Soskin, you'll die.
Soskin agrees with opposition charges that the fleet agreement extended Ukraine's status as a Russian colony and undermined the country's geo-strategic position for the benefit of those who financed Mr. Yanukovych's presidential campaign -- industrial oligarchs who use a lot of natural gas.
The president, however, said Thursday evening that oligarchs will stand in line with everyone else in society, and that the days of runaway capitalism in Ukraine ended on election day.
Mr. Yanukovych's position regarding Russia is that Ukrainians must reject clichéd notions of East and West to ensure what he called a development perimeter that includes close ties with the EU, the United States, China, Brazil, India and others.
On human rights, Mr. Yanukovych said it is time to substantially broaden the activities of Ukrainian civil society, adding that a strong government should have strong opposition.
He says his political reforms will devote much attention to increasing opposition rights, building institutions for multilateral political dialogue, establishing tolerance and leading Ukraine away from a state where everyone fights everybody.
However, human rights activists dismiss the statement, claiming the Yanukovych administration is limiting the right to free assembly. The activists note there have been numerous pro-Yanukovych rallies, but those against him have been prohibited in various cities. This includes one in Kyiv outside the building where he gave Thursday's speech.
The director of the Ukrainian Public Policy Institute, Viktor Chumak, told VOA that Mr. Yanukovych cannot claim ignorance, because TV news programs have shown police dispersing several rallies against him.
Chumak says the president can see on television how the civic dialogue is actually being conducted between members of civil society and police. The analyst says Mr. Yanukovych can also draw certain conclusions and ask the interior minister about them.
Journalists covering Mr. Yanukovych's news conference told him Ukrainian media has faced growing censorship during the past 100 days. He promised security services and the interior ministry would investigate the charges.
Mr. Yanukovych says he also intends to create an independent judiciary, reduce poverty, introduce innovation technologies, lower green house gas emissions, reform agriculture and to turn Ukraine into one of the world's 20 leading economies. Analyst Oleh Soskin says Soviet leaders made similar promises that amounted to little more than words. Viktor Chumak says the president's vision represents an ambitious and necessary set of goals.
Chumak says it would be much better if Mr. Yanukovych set priorities, a time frame, and benchmarks rather than compiling a list of needed reforms. The analyst agrees they are necessary, but so are appropriate resources. Chumak says the top priorities must be the fight against corruption and judicial reform.
President Yanukovych says his first steps in office were aimed at establishing the foundation for reforms to be followed by construction of the building itself. He notes it must have clean windows representing free speech so that Ukrainians can see the whole world and the whole world can see them.