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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: December 5, 2006


December 5, 2006, Volume 8, Number 41
UKRAINE
YANUKOVYCH COURTS U.S. OFFICIALS AND INVESTORS. On December 4, in the midst of a 4-day trip to the United States, Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington that his government is committed to democratic and economic reforms.

Praising the United States' founding fathers and quoting Martin Luther King, Yanukovych sounded nothing like a man who until a few months ago was associated with rigged elections and an anti-Western bias.

In front of a throng of television cameras and a standing-room only crowd that included State Department officials, pro-democracy leaders, and foreign diplomats, Yanukovych declared that Ukraine is fully committed to political and economic reform.

It was a statement aimed squarely at convincing U.S. government officials and business investors that he supports civil rights, democracy, and transparency � his first chance to do so in person since rising to the premiership in August following the political rebirth of his Party of Regions in Ukraine's parliamentary elections in March.

"We will not abandon the path we have chosen, the path of democratic market transformations,� he said. �There can never be too much democracy in Ukraine, just as there cannot be too much freedom."

One by one, Yanukovych -- the former villain of the Orange Revolution -- addressed Western fears.

He struck an anti-corruption chord by saying that the Ukrainian government is guided by one truth: transparency. He invited Washington, Brussels, and Moscow to approach Kyiv confident in the knowledge that all deals happen in the open.

He insisted that the period of instability is now behind Ukraine, and promised that the next five years would be "predictable and stable."

Those years, he said, will include many reforms that should have been implemented in the country�s first few years of independence. They include modernizing the economy, imposing fiscal discipline, and increasing Ukraine�s competitiveness.

Soon, Yanukovych vowed, the country will experience high economic growth, and Ukrainians "will finally get decent standards of life and work."

Without directly mentioning it, he invoked the energy crisis of last winter, when Ukraine's gas pipelines were shut off by Russia's Gazprom monopoly, prompting a short-lived but alarming energy crisis further downstream in Europe.

He promised that Ukraine would be a responsible partner in transporting energy resources and that this winter European consumers will have adequate supplies of natural gas.

At home, Yanukovych is locked in a contentious power-sharing arrangement with the man who defeated him in 2004, President Viktor Yushchenko, the pro-Western leader of the Orange Revolution.

On December 4 in Washington, Yanukovych sought to play down differences between himself and Yushchenko, insisting that he has "no disagreements with the president of Ukraine" when it comes to the country's strategic direction and future. However, he did allow that the two men have different "tactical approaches."

Yanukovych's U.S. trip -- during which he will meet with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice --follows a week of political squabbling in Ukraine over the visit.

Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, one of only two cabinet ministers chosen by Yushchenko, led an apparent attempt to block Yanukovych's trip, saying the prime minister had failed to seek presidential approval on guidelines for the U.S. talks.

It was later announced that Yushchenko had approved the trip. On December 1, the Verkhovna Rada voted to dismiss Tarasyuk.

In Washington, however, Yanukovych was eager to stress the concept of cooperation.

He said when it comes to Ukraine's foreign policy, preserving the country's unity is the most essential consideration. As an example, he cited public skepticism of NATO membership, calling it a "significant and controversial problem."

"It's hardly surprising that the stereotypes of the cold war live too long -- a great number of our people still fear that our accession to NATO will be directed toward Russia, would harm our friendly relations," he noted. "As a result, only one in five Ukrainians supports filing a membership application to the alliance. And one cannot fail to take this situation into account."

But he insisted that Ukraine is committed to full membership in the alliance, and cited U.S. President George W. Bush's comment at the recent NATO summit in Riga that Ukraine should move toward NATO membership on its own timetable, when it is ready.

"I want to leave no doubt,� he said. �Ukraine remains a reliable and essential partner for the alliance."

Yanukovych said he had recommended several steps after the September meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Committee in Brussels, including an expansion of Ukraine's cooperation in peacekeeping missions and the launch of a massive public information campaign.

He also addressed the widespread perception that he is pro-Moscow in his outlook.

"I believe that the other foreign policy issues are much less controversial, perhaps with the exception of my attitude toward our relations with Russia, which for some reason attracts increased attention," he began.

"Let me say that I view Russia in a much broader way than just a market for our products and a supplier of energy resources. And I feel this way for a number of factors � historic factors, cultural, family-related, and geopolitical ones. We have to develop our [own] relations in all areas, but we have to behave as equal partners and base our policies upon our own national interests and priorities, primarily economic ones. This is very important for Ukraine."

As to future membership in the European Union, Yanukovych said he favors a slow approach, but appeared to leave no doubt that he aspires to accession.

"My government has a realistic assessment of today's situation. We believe that pushing the membership issue and heating up the debate cannot resolve the stalemate and will only lead to mutual disappointment and reinforced Euroskepticism," he said. "That's why we believe that in the short term it's important to focus on some specific actions: the most important step is to start negotiations on the establishment of the free trade area with the European Union.'

His discussions with U.S. officials will focus on Ukraine's possible entry into the World Trade Organization. Yanukovych said that membership in that trade body, and the flourishing of deep trade ties with Europe, would be the first step toward Ukraine's integration with Europe.

And that, in turn, will form the basis for the country's eventual membership with the EU, which Yanukovych said he hopes will happen while he is still in office.

"Martin Luther King famously said, 'I have a dream.' Ukrainian politicians have their dreams, too. My government not only dreams, it acts," he said. "That's why I hope that Ukraine will come close to start negotiating its accession to the European Union with me as its prime minister. Maybe we will start the negotiations. It will not happen today, or tomorrow, but I believe it will happen."

The once-divisive politician seemed decidedly eager to embrace an all-encompassing foreign policy -- one that looks both East and West.

"In foreign policy there is a common vision, a compromise," Yanukovych said. "Everyone recognizes our European choice as the key foreign policy priority. Everyone also understands the importance of developing of strategic partnership with the United States and special partnership with NATO. And I have not yet met politicians who would be opposed to developing friendly relations with Russia." (Heather Maher)

PREMIER HAS MUCH TO DISCUSS ON U.S. TRIP. William Taylor was appointed U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in May, two months after the country's parliamentary elections saw the political resurrection of Viktor Yanukovych, now Ukrainian prime minister. Taylor spoke to Marianna Dratch of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on November 27 ahead of Yanukovych's official visit to the United States on December 3-7.

RFE/RL: Yanukovych has said that the United States is a country with which Ukraine must build strategic relations. Does the United States see Ukraine in the same way?

William Taylor: The United States does consider Ukraine a strategic partner. It is strategic in many ways. The people of Ukraine have demonstrated over many years -- but in particular over the past two years -- their strong desire for independence. They have demonstrated their strong desire for a democratic form of government. This in the United States' -- and indeed the world's -- strategic interest. And, as a strategic partner, Ukraine is a leader in that effort to move toward independence and move toward democratic government. The United States is very pleased that we are strategic partners.

RFE/RL: U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney will be meeting with Yanukovych in Washington, but U.S. President George W. Bush will not. Is this simply because of the protocol of the prime minister's working visit, or is it more of a political decision?

Taylor: No, it is a protocol decision. President Bush's counterpart in the Ukrainian government is, of course, President [Viktor] Yushchenko. We don't have a prime minister, but we do have a vice president. In the past, on many occasions, prime ministers visit the United States and meet the vice president and that turns out to be a very productive discussion.

Vice President Cheney is, of course, very interested in the whole democratic and strategic flavor of Ukraine. He is very interested to get to know the new prime minister. He is very interested in some of the specific issues that the prime minister knows about very well -- in particular, energy, relations with Russia. The prime minister has made some comments about Ukraine's role with respect to NATO. These are all very strong interests of the vice president, so I think this is going to be a very productive meeting.

RFE/RL: Regarding energy, the United States has already offered to help Ukraine ensure greater transparency in energy deals. To my knowledge, there has been no reply from the authorities in Kyiv. Do you understand why this is?

Taylor: Energy security, of course, is a big issue for Ukraine; it is a big issue for Europe. And it is an interesting issue for the United States as well. We have offered to be of assistance in transparency.

But there are other ways that we have offered [help] that have gotten a response. For example, in nuclear energy security, the United States has been for the past several years conducting an experiment with Ukraine and its nuclear power plants to see if a U.S. company, Westinghouse, has the capability of building, of constructing, nuclear fuel that is compatible with Ukraine's nuclear power plants. This experiment has been going on for several years. It has another couple of years to go. It is about to be expanded because it is going well so far.

If this experiment, this pilot project, works, then Ukraine would have two sources of nuclear fuel. It would have the Russian source and an American source. This is good for Ukraine's security -- energy security -- because diversification is a key component of energy security.

Another example where we have gotten a good response from the Ukrainian government is in oil and gas exploration. Of course, Ukraine has great potential to develop its oil and gas reserves. A U.S. company -- an international company that happens to be U.S. -- has won a contract to explore in very deep water in the Black Sea, much deeper than has been explored in the past. Discussions are ongoing right now between this company and the government of Ukraine to come up with a production-sharing agreement that will set the terms for the development of those oil and gas resources.

RFE/RL: You're talking about Vanco Energy. I understand that there is a conflict regarding the future possibilities of this company to develop offshore resources in the Black Sea. Recently, Ukrainian Fuel and Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko actually invited Russian companies -- specifically, Gazprom -- to participate. What are the U.S. expectations on this?

Taylor: U.S. expectations are very clear. We expect there to be good-faith negotiations between Vanco and the Ukrainian government and those negotiations are ongoing. We have no reason to believe -- we have no reason to even suspect -- that this contract will not be fulfilled. The normal procedure is to award the contract, which happened last spring. Then the normal procedure is to proceed to negotiate the production-sharing agreement. That is ongoing right now and we hope that will be concluded very soon.

RFE/RL: The key issue on the Ukrainian agenda is the World Trade Organization (WTO). In your view, what steps are necessary to ensure the speedy entry of Ukraine into this trade club?

Taylor: This is a very important trade club and it is very clear that the Ukrainians broadly and the Ukrainian government in particular recognizes the importance of this trade club. This is clear because of the speed and urgency with which the Verkhovna Rada is dealing with the legislation.

In answer to your specific question, it is important that two sets of things happen. One, the laws that are necessary to bring Ukraine into compliance with the agreements it has already made -- those laws need to be passed. A dozen of them, 12 of them, have already been passed. This week, the Rada will take up eight more and they can be done this week. If that were done, it would be a great achievement on the part of Ukraine.

The second thing that needs to happen is that there are two outstanding bilateral agreements that have to be finally negotiated in order to move to the final stage of a working group meeting in Geneva. The two outstanding countries are Kyrgyzstan and Taiwan. The Kyrgyz negotiation has been going on for a long time, and it still needs work. The Taiwanese negotiation, I understand, is virtually complete and just needs to be signed.

RFE/RL: When do you think Ukraine can join the WTO?

Taylor: It could happen this year. More likely is that the working group will go into early next year and then it could be the end of January or February for Ukraine to join.

RFE/RL: On the topic of Euro-Atlantic integration: The U.S. Senate recently adopted a NATO bill offering technical assistance to Croatia, Serbia, Albania, and Georgia. The Senate is ready to support the efforts of Ukraine should it decide it wants to join NATO -- but it does not, at the same time, offer any aid. Is this a reaction to the line of Prime Minister Yanukovych, who says that Ukrainian society is not ready for NATO?

Taylor: This is a reaction to the general perception that the Ukrainian people have more questions about NATO right now than do the people in the other countries that were listed in that bill. That is, the Ukrainian people, when you ask them today, less than half, well less than half, say they support NATO today. A little bit more than half say they don't support Ukraine joining NATO today.

And that, I think, is a good indication of what the prime minister said when he was in Brussels. He said that the Ukrainian people have questions about this and that he intends to have an information campaign to describe to the Ukrainian people what the pros and the cons, the costs and the benefits, the good things and the bad things associated with NATO membership are. We think that's an important thing to do as well.

When the Ukrainian people are ready, when the Ukrainian people have made up their minds, had their questions answered -- and, indeed, when they are asked, if they say, yes, then the door is open. The door to NATO is open and the Ukrainian people will decide when to walk in.

RFE/RL: The Ukrainian president continues to say that Ukraine's goal remains unchanged -- its course toward NATO. In your view, who is responsible for the fact that public support for NATO in Ukraine has declined over the last two years?

Taylor: I guess the information that has been available to the Ukrainian people has not been adequate from NATO, hasn't been adequate from NATO allies, and it hasn't been adequate from the Ukrainian government. All of these entities -- that is, the allies, the NATO organization, the Ukrainian government -- are in the process of developing that support, developing ways to answer those questions. And those are perfectly legitimate questions that the Ukrainian people have and they deserve answers.

RFE/RL: Yanukovych, before he went to the United States, said it is time for Ukraine and the United States to look into each others' eyes. When looking into his eyes, do Americans see any of the anti-American slogans that his campaign used in 2004, or has this issue been forgotten?

Taylor: Issues are not forgotten. However, many people have observed this prime minister and this government and have made the observation that things have changed. We know -- anyone who is here has observed -- that the Ukrainian people today, the Ukrainian nation today, is different from what it was two years ago. The politicians who represent the Ukrainian people and lead the Ukrainian people and take guidance from the Ukrainian people -- they have changed too. That's an important conclusion to draw. And it is important for the prime minister, when he goes to Washington, to demonstrate that he has a European focus, that he is very pleased to be meeting with Americans. The Americans are going to be very pleased to meet with him, so I think this is going to be a good visit.

PARLIAMENT RECOGNIZES SOVIET-ERA FAMINE AS GENOCIDE. Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada on November 28 passed a bill branding the 1932-33 Great Famine, or Holodomor, as an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. The bill, which passed by a narrow margin, underscores the country's ongoing east-west divide, even as it sets the country on the path toward reconciliation with its tragic past.

The man-made famine, orchestrated by Josef Stalin and responsible for as many as 10 million deaths in Ukraine, is a raw nerve in Ukrainian consciousness.

It wasn't surprising, therefore, that debate over the bill was heated and prolonged. It was made all the more complex by the fact that not one, but two, draft bills were submitted.

One, backed by President Viktor Yushchenko, referred to the famine as an "act of genocide against the Ukrainian nation."

The second, submitted by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and other lawmakers from his Party of Regions, said the event should be referred to simply as a "tragedy."

The Party of Regions and the Communists both argued that labeling the famine as genocide against the Ukrainian nation could fuel anti-Russian sentiments in the country. They stressed that ethnic Russians, as well as Ukrainians, died as a result of the famine.

Yushchenko was absent from the parliamentary debate, which coincided with the summit of leaders from the Commonwealth of Independent States in Minsk.

However, the Ukrainian president appeared to anticipate the argument of his opponents. In a public statement two days before the Verkhovna Rada debate, Yushchenko stressed his draft did not designate Russia as the perpetrator of the Holodomor.

"History has already delivered a verdict to the murderers who planned and carried out the famine," Yushchenko said. "It is the totalitarian, communist, Stalinist system -- which has no national identity."

The same rationale was voiced by Ihor Yukhnovskyy, acting director of the National Memory Institute, who presented Yushchenko's bill to parliamentary lawmakers.

"What does Russia have to do with this?" Yukhnovskyy asked. "Although it considers itself the legal successor to the Soviet Union, I do not think Russia today is the successor to the Bolshevik regime that was active in the 1930s."

Lawmakers, Yukhnovskyy suggested, should look at his draft bill as a test of whether Ukrainian politicians have achieved the maturity and perspective necessary to properly appraise their country's history.

"The fact is that the famine did take place, and great numbers of people were destroyed by their isolation from the external world," he said. "We have documents, this is a fact. And not honoring the memory of those innocently killed would be a crime against our own people."

The Holodomor, which was never recognized by the Soviet Union, began to be commemorated only after Ukraine gained independence.

Ukrainian historians have collected horrifying evidence suggesting that millions of people in Soviet Ukraine died as a result of the orchestrated famine.

Oral accounts from Holodomor survivors show that many people resorted to cannibalism in order to survive the forced starvation.

The famine was created through systematic confiscations of grain and livestock. Its goal was to wipe out Ukraine's small landowners -- derisively referred to as "kulaks" -- and to force remaining peasants to give up their land and join collective farms.

No one familiar with the Holodomor and its aftermath would consider it anything less than horrific. But was it a tragedy, or was it genocide?

In the end, neither version of the bill secured the 226 votes required for passage in the 450-seat legislature.

The deciding factor was ultimately the Socialist Party, whose lawmakers supported the essence of Yushchenko's bill, but expressed doubts about some of its wording.

Party leader and Parliamentary Speaker Oleksandr Moroz, given the chance to rephrase parts of the bill, was able to make it more palatable to his party colleagues.

In particular, Moroz removed a proposal that would make public denial of the Holodomor punishable under the country's civil law. However, he left untouched the somewhat confusing original provision that public denial of the famine was "prohibited."

Moroz also suggested that the formulation "genocide of the Ukrainian nation" should be replaced with "genocide of the Ukrainian people."

This, he said, would soften the implication that the Holodomor singled out ethnic Ukrainians as the principal victims.

With the newly worded phrases in place, Yushchenko's bill won the 233 votes it needed for formal approval.

Yushchenko's Our Ukraine, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and the Socialists all backed the bill, as did two lawmakers from the Party of Regions. The Communists and the rest of Party of Regions refused to participate in the vote.

Ivan Vasyunyk, deputy head of the presidential staff, said Yushchenko welcomed the adoption of the Holodomor bill as a historic act that would unite the Ukrainian people.

This may prove true in the long run. For the time being, however, the debate over the dual draft bills once again revealed the deep division between Ukraine's eastern and western -- or pro-Russian and pro-Western -- factions.

Party of Regions lawmaker Volodymyr Zubanov warned the bill, as adopted, may have unpleasant repercussions for Ukraine, saying it will provoke a "crisis in international relations for many, many decades to come."

"If we are going to adopt such political statements to provoke [problems in] interethnic and international relations, I think this is wrong," he added.

The bill also leaves lawmakers uncertain as to whether denial of the Holodomor is a punishable offense.

Our Ukraine lawmaker Vyacheslav Kyrylenko, for his part, believes that it is.

Moroz, he said, "has proposed that public denial be prohibited. And for us, this is a key phrase. The cabinet of ministers has received instructions to change corresponding legal acts within one month."

But legal accountability seems to be a minor issue. What appears to be of far greater importance is the fact that Ukrainian lawmakers have finally come to grips with the nation's worst trauma of the last century -- and are calling it by the name it has long deserved. (Jan Maksymiuk)

(Marianna Dratch from RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service contributed to this report.)

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