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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: November 1, 2006


November 1, 2006, Volume 8, Number 37
BELARUS
MILINKEVICH WINS SAKHAROV PRIZE. Belarusian opposition leader Alyaksandr Milinkevich has been awarded the Sakharov Prize, the European Union's top human rights award.

Milinkevich won the prize for his work organizing pro-democracy activists in Belarus.

He is in illustrious company. Past winners of the Sakharov Prize have been rights campaigners Nelson Mandela and Wei Jingsheng, and Czech leader Alexander Dubcek.

European Parliament President Josep Borrell announced the prize in Strasbourg on October 26.

"I had the honor of receiving [Milinkevich] in January and conveying to him the support of the European Parliament -- to him personally, but also to all those who, like him, fight to promote democracy and the rule of law and respect for human rights in Belarus," Borrell said. "And it is for this reason that today, the Conference of Presidents has agreed to award him the 2006 Sakharov Prize, and we congratulate him for this."

Milinkevich experienced the rough hand of Belarus personally in April after he was imprisoned for 15 days for organizing an unsanctioned protest rally.

He took part in the Chornobyl Way rally on April 26. The march, ostensibly to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1986 nuclear disaster, was prevented from entering a central square in Minsk.

Speaking at the rally, Milinkevich said the opposition would remove Lukashenka from power within two years.

But achieving that goal through elections seems unlikely in Belarus's current climate.

Milinkevich was the main opposition challenger to incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in a March presidential election.

Official results gave Lukashenka, who won a third term in the poll, around 83 percent of the vote. Milinkevich took just 6 percent.

The vote was condemned by the European Union and the United States as fraudulent.

The Belarusian opposition complained of harassment and lacking access to state media in the election.

After the ballot, tens of the thousands of demonstrators flocked to Minsk's main square to protest against alleged election violations.

But hopes among protestors to create a colored revolution, like those seen in Georgia and Ukraine, were not realized. Within days, crowd numbers dwindled and riot police arrested more than 200 protesters encamped in Minsk's main square.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Belarus Service on October 26, Milinkevich said the award would help democracy campaigners in Belarus.

"Of course, it is honorable and fortunate for a person [to receive the Sakharov Prize], but, absolutely sincerely, I do not take it as my personal award," Milinkevich said. "Because this award goes to thousands of people who demonstrated their courage and desire to fight for their dignity and for Belarus during the last [presidential] campaign this spring. And this [award] is the biggest moral support for Belarusian democratic forces."

Before becoming a politician, Milinkevich was a professor of physics, working in Algeria and in his birthplace, Hrodna, in western Belarus.

Between 1990-96, he served as deputy mayor in Hrodna and was the president of a championship-winning soccer team.

He immersed himself in national politics in 2001, when he headed the presidential election campaign of Syamyon Domash. Domash later withdrew in favor of another candidate.

He was chosen in October 2005 by Belarus's National Congress of Democratic Forces as the united opposition forces' candidate to challenge Lukashenka in the 2006 election.

The Sakharov Prize is awarded annually to individuals and groups fighting against oppression, intolerance, and injustice.

It is named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov and comes with a check for 50,000 euros ($63,000).

Milinkevich is expected to come to Strasbourg to receive the award during a formal plenary session of the European Parliament on December 13. (RFE/RL Central Newsroom)

UKRAINE
EU MEMBERSHIP AMBITION REVIVED BEFORE SUMMIT. Kyiv has reignited the controversy over its potential membership aspirations of the bloc ahead of the EU-Ukraine summit on October 27.

Ukraine's ambassador to the EU, Roman Shpek, says that as a "European country," Ukraine has a right to join the bloc -- a sentiment that Brussels gave cautious support to on October 26. But the highlight of the summit for Ukraine will likely be shorter-term gains -- easing visa restrictions and cross-border movement with its EU neighbors.

Ukraine chose the eve of a summit meeting with the European Union to revive its controversial bid to win recognition to its eventual right to EU membership.

The bid is controversial for the EU, in that talk of any further expansion is becoming increasingly unpopular.

But Ukraine's membership aim is not without support. European Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberg said on October 26 that Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso sees Ukraine as a "European country."

"President Barroso has indeed said that Ukraine is a European country that should have a European future," Laitenberg said. "As far as the agenda for EU-Ukraine relations is concerned, we have a clear and proactive agenda."

Ukrainian EU ambassador Shpek says there is nothing ambiguous about Kyiv's ambition. Speaking to journalists in Brussels on October 25, he quoted the EU's own Maastricht Treaty, which says that any European country may apply to join the bloc.

'We don't ask about the date of negotiations, or that of membership," Shpek said. "We ask: 'Please publicly recognize that Ukraine, like each European state, has a right to apply [for EU membership] according to Article 49.' Nothing more, for the time being."

EU treaties offer no definition of the term " European country." But Barroso and other EU officials have repeatedly described Russia as a European country, so it is only logical to extend the same description to Ukraine.

For now, however, the EU maintains relations between the two sides are adequately accommodated by the EU's Neighborhood Policy (ENP).

Ukraine, however, rejects this limitation. Shpek said Kyiv "accepts, but does not welcome" the ENP, as it does not consider itself a " neighbor."

He said Ukraine does not feel comfortable grouped together with countries like Morocco, Libya, or Israel. Instead, the country considers itself to be on a par with Serbia, which is guaranteed membership.

Shpek said that for Ukraine, Europe's borders lie in the Urals.

Accordingly, Ukraine would like to upgrade its existing partnership treaty with the EU once it expires in 2007. Kyiv would like the new treaty to affirm that Ukraine will one day be a member of the EU.

Should that not prove possible, Shpek said Ukraine may follow Poland.

Warsaw, which was denied candidate status in the early 1990s, nevertheless unilaterally implemented its cooperation agreement with the EU as if it were a candidate member.

Barroso has indicated that no new language will be added to the new treaty to reflect Ukraine's EU membership goals.

At the Helsinki summit, Kyiv will have to content itself with shorter-term concessions from the EU.

Shpek said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk and EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner will sign a long-awaited EU-Ukraine visa facilitation agreement.

"The Ukrainian minister of foreign affairs on Friday will sign together with Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner a visa-facilitation agreement and a readmission agreement," Shpek said. "And Ukraine welcomes the European Union's initiative that also European Union member states will clear a memorandum about small cross-border traffic.'

The visa-facilitation agreement will make it easier and cheaper for Ukrainian citizens to acquire EU visas. It return, Kyiv has consented to sign a readmission treaty with the EU, committing it to repatriating from the bloc any illegal immigrants who enter via Ukrainian territory.

The European Commission earlier this month proposed measures to facilitate small cross-border traffic on the EU's external borders, but this initiative still awaits member-state approval and requires the adoption of additional legislation.

Shpek also said the EU will offer assistance to help build up Ukraine's border-guard and customs services.

He said Ukraine will adopt the legislation necessary for the country's joining of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in December or early next year. Joining the WTO is a precondition for free trade with the EU.

Shpek also rejected suggestions that Russia may block Ukraine's accession to the WTO, saying both countries have undertaken not to present obstacles to each other.

Shpek said Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych will not lift border controls against the Moldovan breakaway region of Transdniester. Ferrero-Waldner says she has received similar assurances from Kyiv. The EU is currently monitoring Trandniestrian borders to force its external trade to respect Moldovan laws.

Shpek added, however, that Ukraine doesn't "rule out new ideas and instruments" for the Transdniestrian border.

Shpek also said Ukraine is an ardent supporter of the EU's quest for alternative energy sources to reduce its dependence on Russia.

He said Kyiv is fully behind the so-called Nabucco pipeline project, which would turn Turkey into an important transit hub for the EU.

"For us, Nabucco, it's a very important project because it will deliver gas not only from Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, but also from Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan can reach the EU."

Shpek said Ukraine is also " ready to discuss" an initiative to build a gas pipeline across the Black Sea from Georgia to Ukraine.

He acknowledged the Black Sea route as being "shorter" than Nabucco, but added the project's approval depends on EU member states -- not all of which appear to be in favor. (Ahto Lobjakas)

FORMER U.S. ENVOY SAYS KYIV CAN COPE WITH GAS PRICE RISE. Steven Pifer served from January 1998 to October 2000 as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. On the sidelines of the Prague Energy Forum, organized by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in partnership with the Warsaw-based Institute for Eastern Studies, Pifer spoke to RFE/RL's Jan Maksymiuk about the aftermath of the Orange Revolution, Ukraine's gas price rise, and the state of the proposed Russia-Belarus union.

RFE/RL: How do you assess the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004 from the perspective of the nearly two years that have since passed? Are there any practical results of the revolution for ordinary Ukrainians today? Are you disappointed with the turn of political events in the country following this year's parliamentary elections?

Steven Pifer: Well, I think the turn in political events in Ukraine has probably surprised many -- the fact that [Prime Minister Viktor] Yanukovych has returned. But he returned basically as a result of a free and fair democratic process. So, that's hard to argue with. In the longer term, though, if you look at the Orange Revolution, the impact is going to be seen in things such as a media that I think today is stronger, feels more independent, and is prepared to challenge the government, and a stronger nongovernmental-organization sector.

You will have, I believe, a strong and vocal opposition in [former Prime Minister and opposition leader Yuliya] Tymoshenko as an opposition leader, unlike the kind that Ukraine has had in the past. So I think there are different manifestations now that are good for Ukrainian democracy.

And, again, with regards to Mr. Yanukovych's return, his party won in March in a free and fair election; hopefully now it doesn't bring some of the baggage back from the [former Ukrainian President Leonid] Kuchma years. But I think there will be a lot of people watching very carefully on this.

RFE/RL: The coming of President Viktor Yushchenko to power in 2004 became possible through the introduction of a constitutional reform that limited presidential powers in favor of the prime minister and parliament. Ukraine has moved from a presidential republic, which is characteristic of most post-Soviet states, to a parliamentary-presidential system, which is more typical of European democracies. But this shift has triggered a bitter confrontation between Yushchenko and Yanukovych over who should be the real ruler of the country. Don't you think that Ukrainians are not yet ready to break with their political thinking in terms of the authoritarian power system established by Kuchma?

Pifer: I'd say, first of all, that this change, the fact that Ukraine has moved from a supra-presidency model to a parliamentary-presidential model, is probably a good thing. Certainly one of the problems of the Kuchma era was that you had too much authority in the president, with no real checks and balances. So now you have more serious checks and balances, first of all between the Ukrainian executive branch and the legislative branch, and also between the president and the prime minister.

Second, I would point out, if you look at the countries in Central Europe and the Baltic states that have successfully made the transition after the collapse of the Soviet Union, after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, those countries that joined NATO and the European Union in 1999 and 2004, they all had the parliamentary-presidential model. This has been a successful model in Central Europe.

Now, the problem that we've seen, and we saw it for example in the debate in September, over whether Ukraine would seek a NATO membership action plan, was that although there are new constitutional arrangements now in effect, there's some ambiguity, there's not total clarity on issues such as the NATO membership action plan. Or on other questions, there may no precise guide as to what happens when the president and the prime minister are in disagreement.

I'm not sure that this is something that can be fixed easily or quickly by looking at the Ukrainian Constitution. In the end, it may be very important that the two Viktors -- President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yanukovych -- are going to have to come to terms together if they want to produce coherent policy that moves Ukraine forward. And that's going to be a challenge for both of them. But it'll be important for Ukraine that they meet that challenge.

RFE/RL: Today Kyiv and Moscow are expected to sign a deal on gas supplies for 2007. What is your prediction regarding the price Ukraine will have to pay for imported gas next year? And what impact may this new price have on Ukraine's economy?

Pifer: Based on what I've seen, the expectation is that in 2007, Ukraine will have to pay something on the order of $100-$135 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, which is an increase from the $95 per 1,000 cubic meters that Ukraine has paid for imported gas in 2006. What struck me when I was in Kyiv in September was when I talked to various people, both in the government and also in industry, nobody seemed to see that this would be a huge problem. They seemed to understand that the price was going up, and they seemed to believe that this would not be a huge blow to the Ukrainian economy.

And what I heard from multiple sources was that in fact, Ukrainian large industry already understands that the price of energy is going up, probably eventually to world market prices. And therefore, large businesses are making decisions now in investing in energy-efficient technologies, decisions that they didn't make four or five years ago because gas was so cheap and there was no economic reason. So they're making decisions now.

And several people said that if Ukraine has two or three years to make this transition, they should be able to accommodate this, introducing new energy-efficient technologies, and be able to absorb the price increases. Now certainly it won't be without some pain, but I was surprised in September that most people talked about it as if Ukraine could manage it in a way that people weren't talking about managing energy price increases say eight or 10 months ago.

RFE/RL: Yanukovych has said that Ukraine should be prepared for an even more painful gas price hike beyond 2007. And Yushchenko has recently signaled that Ukraine should return to talks on forming an international consortium, with the participation of Russia, to run his country's gas transit pipelines. Do you think Ukraine can ensure its energy security without giving control over its gas transit infrastructure to Russia?

Pifer: There are two different questions here. The first question is, Ukraine ultimately needs to be prepared that it's going to have pay world market prices for energy. I think it's also fair for Ukraine to expect that there'll be a certain transition period, just as for example Russia, when it negotiated its WTO bilateral agreement with the European Union, negotiated with the EU a five-year transition in terms of raising domestic prices for energy within Russia.

But it makes sense both from an economic point of view, but also from the point of view of energy security, that Ukraine plan that it's going to ultimately have to pay world market prices, and therefore begin adapting toward that. Because once Ukraine is paying global prices, it reduces the amount of political leverage that Russia may have over Ukraine. If Ukraine's getting a special deal, there will be that temptation for the Russians to exploit that question.

The second question on the international consortium -- this is something that five or six years ago, when I was still in the American government, we were very interested in, because we saw an international consortium to manage the pipeline as a way to promote win-win solutions, both for Ukraine and for the producers and shippers in Russia, but also for the consumers. I think the consortium idea still has some merit.

But it's going to be very important that Ukraine look at the exact terms of what the consortium looks like. The concern here is that when designing the consortium with Russia involved, and they usually also talk about a consumer, maybe [German gas company] Ruhrgas or somebody on the consumer side being involved. Ukraine has to bear in mind that there always may be a convergence of interests between the producer and the shipper in Russia, and the consumer in Western Europe. And that convergence of interests is, of course, that the shipper and the consumer want to minimize the transit costs. So there is that alliance of interests which could work against Ukraine. So Ukraine has to make sure that the consortium is designed in such a way that its interests do not get short-changed.

RFE/RL: Belarus is a country that pays for Russian gas deliveries not so much with money as with political loyalty. In your opinion, for how long may Belarus expect to receive gas from Russia at such a discount as now, when it pays just $47 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas? Will Russia increase its gas price to Belarus next year? If so, by how much?

Pifer: I'm a little bit less familiar with the gas and energy scene in Belarus than in Ukraine, but I think it would be awfully optimistic for Belarusians to continue to expect to enjoy that kind of deal. If you look around, Ukraine will be paying $130, and in the Baltics it's already $120 and it's likely to go up.

Forty-seven dollars seems to be fairly much of a gift. And indeed, Gazprom has already been making noises that they would like to raise the prices of energy, because Gazprom also is a partially commercial entity, at least. There's a mixture there because it's state owned, but Gazprom is also looking to maximize its revenues, and it's hard to see how Gazprom can afford to continue to provide energy at that low price to Belarus. So I think Belarus would be wise to begin thinking about what happens when the prices of energy go up there.

RFE/RL: Some Russian and Belarusian analysts believe that Moscow has no clear vision of what to do with Belarus. Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka three integration scenarios in 2002: (a) political absorption of Belarus by Russia; (b) integration similar to that between the EU countries; (c) putting into operation the 1999 union state treaty that has so far remained mostly on paper. Lukashenka rejected the first two options, stressing the equality of both sides in a common state. What is your opinion about the future shape of the Belarus-Russia Union? Could it be a viable political formation?

Pifer: That ultimately is going to depend upon Russia and Belarus. What has struck me is that although the two countries have talked about a political union since the mid-1990s, you really haven't seen much in the way of real progress. Part of my assumption has always been that while the Russians talk about a political union with Belarus, they didn't want to make the practical steps, because actually bringing Belarus into a union with Russia would probably impose some significant economic costs, not only in terms of the energy subsidies that Russia is already providing, but also other types of subsidies to make that work. It seems to me that up until now, Russia has been unwilling to make that economic investment to make a political union.

I also found it interesting that when President Putin posed those two alternatives, either absorption or an EU-type arrangement, it was almost designed as if he was trying to give Mr. Lukashenka two alternatives that were very unpalatable. It seems to me that while there may be talk about this political union, I haven't really seen much evidence that either side is moving to make that a reality, which suggests that both sides may be comfortable with talking about a union, but neither is really prepared to make the investment in the costs, or the sorts of real changes that would be necessary to make that happen. Both may be in fact comfortable with the current situation.

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