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UKRAINE

Tymoshenko Touts Economic Gains

Yulia Tymoshenko said Friday that economic growth and more government revenues were clear successes during her first 100 days as Ukraine's prime minister, but observers warn that spiraling inflation and uncertainty over Russian gas imports threaten to undo her achievements.

The return of the fiery Tymoshenko last year was viewed as an opportunity for pro-Western forces of the 2004 Orange Revolution to reunite and push through much-needed reforms.
Tymoshenko told reporters that since resuming her post, she has achieved economic growth, fought corruption, replenished state coffers with customs revenues and moved to clean up the country's shady gas trade with Russia.

"You have in front of you a government team that is taking on the ambitious task of bringing true changes to Ukraine, making the reforms and transformations that the country has long been waiting for," she said.

Since her appointment, Tymoshenko has begun compensating people for all or parts of savings lost amid the hyperinflation caused by the Soviet breakup, earning praise from Ukrainians.

She also has scored an important victory in her drive to rid the country's natural gas trade with Russia of intermediaries, which are believed to be siphoning money into private pockets.

But observers and critics say the savings compensation program is fueling high inflation, which has soared to more than 20 percent. The new gas agreement with Russia, while bringing more transparency, could leave Ukraine with higher gas prices nationwide.

Still, many analysts say Tymoshenko's anti-corruption efforts are noteworthy.

"To me, it makes a lot of sense that the most popular politician in Ukraine today is the one who takes corruption the most seriously," said Geoffrey Smith, an analyst at Renaissance Capital.

Tymoshenko was allied with President Viktor Yushchenko in the 2004 demonstrations that came to be known as the Orange Revolution, but the alliance soon shattered and he fired Tymoshenko after only seven months as his prime minister.

She returned to the post in December after her supporters joined with Yushchenko's in a coalition government and she pledged to leave disagreements behind.

The coalition, however, is showing cracks, with Yushchenko accusing Tymoshenko of plotting intrigues. Both politicians are potential rivals in the 2010 presidential elections, and observers say the president is trying to limit her.

Tymoshenko said Friday that she was prepared to work together with Yushchenko, but only if he exhibits "normal, harmonious cooperation."

(The Moscow Times 31.iii.08)