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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: June 13, 2006


June 13, 2006, Volume 8, Number 22
REGIONAL
BLACK SEA: SEARCHING FOR A NEW VISION. At the heart of a new attempt to foster cooperation in the Black Sea are the desire to secure alternative supplies of Russian energy, to reduce international crime, and to end the conflicts triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The presidents of six Black Sea countries on June 5 met at a one-day summit in Bucharest aimed at fostering greater cooperation and, Romania's foreign minister hopes, "a new vision for the Black Sea region."

Foreign Minister Razvan Ungureanu said at the start of the summit that the six countries -- Romania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine -- the new vision should "reflect new realities and create better conditions for [the region's] development."

The issues on the agenda ranged widely, including environmental protection and the need for mechanisms to manage "possible crises triggered by terrorist attacks, natural calamities, or pandemics" and the closing statement also named weapons of mass destruction as a threat to the region. However, at the heart of the debate were three security needs -- to secure supplies of energy from sources other than Russia, to reduce international crime, and to end the conflicts triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

On the sidelines of the conference, the Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders met twice -- on June 4 and on June 5 -- to discuss the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, an issue unresolved since 1994, when a cease-fire left the Azerbaijani territory in the control of ethnic Armenian separatists.

Romanian President Traian Basescu made it clear that he believed the frozen conflicts are not simply a bilateral or regional affair, but require an international response. These conflicts are responsible for "large-scale violation of human rights," breed arms and human trafficking, and contribute to the undermining of democratic institutions, he said.

He warned that "the conflicts in Transdniester, Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh or South Ossetia are different, and their solutions, must be different," but that, "although there is no unique, universal model for solving frozen conflicts, they represent a test which neither the Euro-Atlantic community, nor the Black Sea states can afford to fail."

On the issue of energy, Romanian Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu hoped that the summit would send a "strong signal" -- particularly to the rest of Europe -- that "substantial, visionary investment in the region's infrastructure" will be needed if the region is to be able to secure the supply of energy from non-Russian sources to Western Europe.

The issue of diversified energy supplies has grown in prominence since a dispute between Ukraine and Russia cut supplies to Europe in January.

"The three vital communication rings around the Black Sea -- road, railway and maritime -- are far from becoming a reality," Tariceanu said. "A network of oil and gas pipelines across the Black Sea, or the permanent and secure east-west transportation of oil across the Black Sea in high-capacity tankers, are still just projects."

While Tariceanu's comments on energy emphasized the need for broad international involvement in developing the region, the emphasis in initial comments about trafficking was on the region helping itself. Romanian President Basescu highlighted the need to "establish joint missions to consolidate border controls, and regional programs for the better training of customs services, which must be totally cleaned of corruption." Failure to act would, he argued, hold back the region. "It is impossible to imagine the progress of business and economic reforms in the presence of organized crime," the Romanian prime minister said.

A sign of increased international involvement in the region came before the summit, when the United States said it intends to participate in the creation of a Black Sea Trust Fund this year. This would function much as the Balkan Trust for Democracy has done, with the focus on supporting NGOs in the region and a range of local education and media projects.

But some of the difficulties of forging a concerted international effort to develop the region were highlighted by Russia's presence only as an observer.

In his opening address, Romania's President Basescu stressed Russia's importance, saying that "Romania considers that no cooperation process in the Black Sea region can be complete without Russia's substantial contribution."

Russia's observer at the summer, Ambassador Aleksandr Tolkach, was quoted as describing the summit as "good" but as having "too many initiatives." (Eugen Tomiuc)

UKRAINE
COALITION AND/OR NATION BUILDING. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Our Ukraine, and the Socialist Party -- the three allies in the 2004 Orange Revolution -- have been busy for the past three weeks preparing a coalition accord to form a new government. Meanwhile, pro-Russian opposition groups have engaged themselves in fanning anti-NATO protests in Crimea and declaring Russian a "regional language" in some regions.

The June 7 session of the Verkhovna Rada, resumed after a two-week recess, has not clarified the conundrum of who will form the next government in Ukraine. The Orange Revolution forces once again passed a motion adjourning the parliamentary session for one more week in order to finalize a coalition accord.

But the Orange Revolution allies, if reunited after their split in September 2005, are set to restart their government career in a turbulent political climate, in which the Russian language and NATO membership have once again become bitterly divisive issues.

Since the March 26 parliamentary and local elections in Ukraine, regional legislators have declared Russian as a "regional language" in a number of eastern and southern Ukrainian regions and cities, including Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Mykolayiv.

President Viktor Yushchenko made clear on June 6 that these decisions are unconstitutional: "Article 10 of the Ukrainian Constitution defines a common status of the state language, which is Ukrainian. And no regional or city council has the authority to change the status of any language."

However, Yushchenko can do little more beside making indignant statements on this account. Only Ukraine's Constitutional Court can rule that a decision by a legislative body is unconstitutional and subsequently cancel it.

But the Constitutional Court has been nonoperational for nearly a year. The Verkhovna Rada refuses to swear in new judges, fearing that Yushchenko will ask the court to cancel the 2004 constitutional reform that strips him of some substantial powers in favor of the parliament and the prime minister.

Another blow to the apparently dwindling authority of the president came by the end of May from Crimea, where pro-Russian opposition groups -- including the Party of Regions, the Natalya Vitrenko Bloc, and the Communist Party -- have launched anti-NATO protests.

The pretext for the protests was the visit in the port of Feodosiya of a U.S. naval cargo ship, which brought construction equipment and materials to upgrade a training range in Crimea before the multinational military exercise Sea Breeze 2006 in July. The protesters see the U.S. naval visit as an unwelcome NATO intrusion into Ukrainian territory and demand the sacking of the defense and foreign ministers over the incident.

The deployment of foreign troops on Ukrainian territory must be approved by the parliament for each individual case. It is not clear whether the Verkhovna Rada will be able to grant relevant permission before the Sea Breeze 2006 exercise. If not, then President Yushchenko will suffer international humiliation, since participation in the exercise has already been confirmed by 17 countries.

On top of that, the Crimean autonomous legislature on June 6 passed a resolution declaring Crimea to be a "NATO-free zone." Perhaps, as President Yushchenko asserts, the resolution will have no impact on Ukraine's relations with NATO. But the resolution flagrantly defies Ukraine's official policy of integration with NATO.

Why is there no clear and decisive reaction from Kyiv to what is happening in Crimea?

Ukrainian political scientist Ihor Losev says the Orange Revolution forces are so busy with haggling over the composition of a future government that they have no time to think about national interests: "When today we are watching this shameful story with the coalition [building], when it is necessary to save Ukraine but the authorities are totally focused on how to prevent [Yuliya] Tymoshenko from taking the chair of prime minister -- it is a pathological situation. It is something outside the boundaries of common sense."

According to Losev, the political class that came to power in Ukraine following the Orange Revolution pursues similar "clannish" and "egoistic" interests that were characteristic of the ruling elite during the previous presidency of Leonid Kuchma.

There are also many commentators who see the current anti-NATO protests and the rekindled Russian-language controversy in Ukraine as elements of a broader campaign inspired from Russia in order to undermine Yushchenko's authority in Ukraine.

According to this line of reasoning, Moscow has realized that Ukraine under Yushchenko has a real chance of integration with Euro-Atlantic structures.

Therefore, Gazprom's increase of gas prices for Kyiv in January and the current political turbulence in Ukraine can be seen as Moscow-supported attempts to discipline Yushchenko and keep Ukraine "in the Russian orbit."

Incidentally, President Yushchenko and Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk have both suggested that the ongoing anti-NATO protests are sponsored by anti-Ukrainian forces in Russia.

Kyiv-based political scientist Hryhoriy Perepelytsya says that Ukrainians, because of their blurred national identity, can still be provoked by pro-Russian politicians into conflicts around the Russian language and Ukraine's foreign-policy goals.

"The problem is that a large part of Ukrainians, particularly those living in eastern regions and Crimea, cannot identify themselves as Ukrainians. They consider [Ukrainians] to be an alien nation with relation to themselves. They do not want to learn or speak the Ukrainian language. This puts them in a situation of terrible discomfort, psychological and ideological discomfort, and this leads to conflict," Perepelytsya says.

According to Losev and Perepelytsya, President Kuchma did not actually want to bridge the West-East divide in Ukraine during his rule, while President Yushchenko has not yet proposed any plan how to do it.

What does President Yushchenko need to do in order to defuse the current rebellious sentiments over the Russian language and NATO in the country?

Ukrainian political analyst Oleh Doniy believes that Yushchenko must employ a carrot-and-stick tactic: "In the first place it is necessary to show the authorities' strength. That is, the decisions of local self-government bodies that overstep the limits of their authority should be indisputably canceled by prosecutors."

This refers to the Russian-language controversy. As for the anti-NATO protests, Doniy advises to be cautious and even abandon the idea of holding military exercises with NATO troops. And here is why.

"If the population is now against [staging exercises with NATO troops], it is not [advisable] to break the people's will by force. The worst will happen when this [opposition to NATO] becomes a romantic idea among the population. One thing is to fight political opposition or to fight Russia [and] the Kremlin, but it is quite a different thing if [you have to fight] a romantic idea among Russian-speaking youths in the south and east [of Ukraine]. It is impossible to kill a romantic idea," Doniy says.

Whatever President Yushchenko is going to do in this situation, it is already evident that he needs to be guided not so much by short-term concerns connected with coalition building as by long-term considerations linked to nation building. (Jan Maksymiuk, with contributions from RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service)

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