Accessibility links

Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: April 8, 2005


8 April 2005, Volume 7, Number 14
BELARUS
HAS PUTIN PROMISED LUKASHENKA FAIR WEATHER IN 2006? Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka held four hours of talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Sochi on 4 April. The meeting did not break their protracted stalemate over how to proceed with mutual integration. But the meeting has proven auspicious for Lukashenka, who is positioning himself to run for a third term as Belarusian president on the heels of a controversial referendum in October that lifted the constitutional two-term limit on the presidents.

Putin appears to have accepted -- at least indirectly -- the prospect of Lukashenka remaining in power in Belarus beyond 2006.

"I want to publicly thank Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] and the entire Foreign Ministry of Russia for the unprecedented support they are rendering us in the international arena," Lukashenka told journalists in Sochi. Lukashenka was presumably referring to the Kremlin's silent acceptance of the results of the 2004 constitutional referendum, which was widely seen by international observers as heavily manipulated and rigged by the authorities in favor of lifting the term limit. Lukashenka might also have been referring to Russia and some other countries' success in blocking a critical resolution on Belarus's human rights record by the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

However, the main reason for Lukashenka's gratitude would seem to be Putin's pledge that Russian gas prices for Belarus in 2006 will remain at last year's level. Gazprom now supplies natural gas to Belarus at $46.68 per 1,000 cubic meters. In return, Lukashenka pledged to leave gas-transit fees for Russia at 2005 levels. The Belarusian government currently collects $0.75 in transit fees per 1,000 cubic meters for every 100 kilometers of gas pipelined via Belarus through the state-controlled Beltranshaz's network and $0.46 for gas transported by the Yamal-Europe pipeline that is owned by Gazprom.

The Belarusian president also promised to provide tax relief and to promptly lease land plots to Gazprom for building gas-compression stations and the second line of the Yamal-Europe pipeline in Belarus.

Putin's pledge to supply gas to Belarus in 2006 at the unchanged price came after Gazprom announced last month that it would surely increase prices for gas deliveries to Belarus and to Russian consumers in 2006. If Gazprom remains even partly true to its word -- and gas prices for consumers in Smolensk Oblast are actually higher than in adjacent Belarus in 2006 -- then Putin's "gas gift" to Lukashenka could mean just one thing: that the Kremlin wants badly for the Belarusian president to stay in power. Unchanged Russian gas prices make it easier for Lukashenka to maintain economic stability and ward off potential unrest over economic hardship ahead of the presidential election.

Putin's decision comes as little surprise. After the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2002 and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004 -- which seem to have put both countries on an unwavering course of integration with the West -- Putin might want to safeguard at least one post-Soviet ally in Russia's sphere of political and economic leverage. And Lukashenka has remained a loyal political ally of Russia's since his presidential inauguration in 1994. Therefore, the Kremlin might well have decided to place its bet on Lukashenka once again, despite his unseemly antics in international politics and a miserable human rights record at home.

Lukashenka also told journalists after the Sochi meeting that he and Putin agreed to prevent a "negative impact on mutual trade" in the event that Russia joins the World Trade Organization (WTO). Lukashenka added that Moscow and Minsk will prepare a necessary document on this issue. Such a document could surely be regarded as a successful attempt by Minsk to protect itself against the loss of preferential treatment in trade with Russia once that country joins the WTO (most certainly sooner than Belarus). This concession appears to be another indicator that Moscow is doing its best to please Lukashenka and prevent any political storms on his course in 2006.

It is also notable that the issue of gas deliveries to Belarus in 2006 was not linked by Moscow -- as happened many times in the past -- to Belarus's consent to selling a 50-percent stake in national gas transporter Beltranshaz. There also were no visible signs of the Kremlin pressuring Belarus into adopting the Russian ruble as its currency in 2006. Putin said in Sochi that the idea of a single currency for Belarus and Russian "has not died," but he declined to say when any progress in this sphere could be expected. Lukashenka has objected for years to Russia exercising full control over the printing of money in such a currency union, and he seems to have prevailed, at least for the time being.

Lukashenka is acutely aware that, since Viktor Yushchenko came to power in Ukraine and the opposition in Kyrgyzstan ousted pro-Moscow President Askar Akaev, he has every chance to do a political deal with the Kremlin and secure himself another "elegant victory" in 2006. And he is doing so with great alacrity.

UKRAINE
YUSHCHENKO SEEKS U.S. HELP STRENGTHENING DEMOCRACY. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's visit to the United States this week culminated in a speech to a joint session of Congress on 6 April. In it, Yushchenko extolled the shared democratic values of Ukrainians and Americans and vowed that, with U.S. help, he would lead his country toward prosperity and freedom.

Yushchenko was greeted with the first of many standing ovations and cheers as he entered the chamber of the House of Representatives to address both the House and the Senate.

The Ukrainian president strode to the podium and, as the chants subsided, began speaking of the new Ukraine and expressed awe at the foreign speakers who had addressed Congress before him, including Winston Churchill, Lech Walesa, and Nelson Mandela.

Yushchenko spoke of the gratitude that he and his fellow Ukrainians feel for the U.S. support of their Orange Revolution, which not only overthrew a "corrupt regime" but also demonstrated that Ukraine shares democratic values with the United States.

Yushchenko also expressed gratitude that it was in the United States that he found his wife, Cathy Chumachenko. He said she has given him strength, particularly during the past few years of sometimes life-threatening political strife.

He said that under his leadership, Ukrainian diversity will be respected -- the rights of minorities and religious and political rights.

Yushchenko also said that his promise includes journalists as well as politicians. He pointed to the case of Heorhiy Gongadze, whose death in 2000 is widely believed to have come at the hands of senior officials within former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's administration. Kuchma, who was himself implicated in audiotapes in which he purportedly urges that Gongadze be silenced, has denied any role in the killing.

Yushchenko has vowed to bring Gongadze's and others' killers to justice. "Everyone who was killing politicians and journalists, who was leading the country towards a split, will stand trial," he said. "We have the political will to restore the Ukrainians' faith in justice. Our top priority task is to secure the independence of the judiciary."

Primarily, however, Yushchenko's mission was to urge help for a country in need -- a country he described as having suffered the worst tragedies of the 20th century, including the famine of the early 1930s, orchestrated by Josef Stalin, that killed 20 million Ukrainians, and the Nazi invasion less than a decade later.

Yushchenko asked Congress to take eight steps to help "the new Ukraine." They include waiving visa restrictions for visiting Ukrainians, formally recognizing his country as having a market-based economy, and supporting Ukraine's membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO).

But the primary step, he said, would be to pass a bill -- now before the U.S. Senate -- that would exempt Ukraine from restrictions on trade with former Soviet states until they improve their emigration policies and democratic systems. These Cold War-era restrictions are known as the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, after its congressional co-sponsors.

"I believe that today, America is ready for great decisions, too. I have no doubt that we will receive support for our efforts and our aspirations. We do not want any more walls dividing Europe, and I'm certain that neither do you," Yushchenko said.

As he has done before, Yushchenko also asked for U.S. support in Ukraine's bid to join the European Union and NATO. He said entry into both institutions would ensure a stronger, richer, and safer Europe. (Andrew Tully)

BUSH MEETS WITH YUSHCHENKO IN WASHINGTON. President Viktor Yushchenko met with U.S. President George W. Bush for more than an hour in Washington on 4 April and reaffirmed his decision to end Ukraine's military effort in Iraq.

Bush said he knew Yushchenko had to keep his word to the people of Ukraine by withdrawing the country's 1,650 troops. Meanwhile, Poland is withdrawing some of its 2,400 troops and Italy will begin pulling out some of its 3,000 soldiers in September.

"The president [Yushchenko] made clear to me in my first conversation with him that he campaigned [for the Ukrainian presidency] on the idea of bringing some troops out," Bush said. "He's fulfilling a campaign pledge; I fully understand that. But he also has said that he's going to cooperate with the coalition in terms of further withdrawals, and I appreciate that."

Asked how Ukraine would continue to cooperate with the coalition, Yushchenko said that his country's diplomats, businesspeople, and political leaders will carry on what he called the "momentum" begun by Ukrainian peacekeeping troops.

Yushchenko said Ukrainian armed forces already have trained many Iraqi security units and that their own security effort has allowed fully 1,500 people to return to normal life.

Meanwhile, Bush said he will help Ukraine in its effort to join the World Trade Organization by the end of the year and to remove Soviet-era U.S. sanctions on Ukrainian exports. He also said he has asked Congress to approve $60 million in aid to Ukraine.

Further, Bush said the United States backs Ukraine's efforts to join both the European Union and NATO.

"The first time I met the president was at NATO during my latest trip to Europe, and my conversation with him there was the same as I had here [with Yushchenko], and that is: There is a way forward in order to become a partner of the United States and other nations in NATO,� said Bush. "And it's a path, and we want to help Ukraine get on that path as quickly as possible."

The U.S. leader cautioned, however, that membership in the EU and NATO is not assured. Bush said Ukraine first has much to do on both the economic and security fronts.

Yushchenko and Bush said they found mutual understanding on all the topics they discussed. Both men attributed this to shared values: democracy, a respect for human rights, and the rule of law.

The Ukrainian leader said he believes a democratic Ukraine will be good for Europe, and that U.S. support of Ukrainian democracy will be even better for the continent. (Andrew Tully)

JACKSON-VANIK TRADE CURBS STILL IN PLACE FOR UKRAINE. The U.S. Congress passed the Jackson-Vanik amendment 31 years ago as a measure aimed at permitting the emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union. In that context, it was extraordinarily successful. But long after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has remained in force for a number of former Soviet states, preventing them from gaining permanent normal trade relations with Washington. Its importance has resurfaced this month as U.S. and Ukrainian officials move to strengthen ties. Ukraine appears ready to join a dozen other former communist states freed from its restrictions.

U.S. Senator Henry Jackson and Representative Charles Vanik sponsored their measure in 1974 as a response to severe restrictions the Soviet Union had placed on the emigration of its citizens.

The Jackson-Vanik amendment conditioned certain trade benefits on criteria related to free emigration from non-market economy countries. It proved particularly effective in freeing up the emigration of Soviet Jews.

Most states have now met the free-emigration criteria. The formal lifting of the measure has become part of a rite of passage for reformist countries of the former Soviet bloc.

The latest case up for serious review in the U.S. Congress is Ukraine.

President Yushchenko, addressing a joint session of Congress on 6 April, appealed for the lifting of the measure as part of a string of economic gestures toward his country.

"Members of Congress, I'm calling on you to lift the Jackson-Vanik amendment, to make this step towards Ukraine," he said. "Tear down this wall."

The United States routinely gives Ukraine and a number of other states (including Belarus, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) yearly waivers exempting them from the measure. But these states still lack permanent normal trade relations, seen as inhibiting foreign investment, long-term contracts, and membership in the World Trade Organization.

Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and four Eastern European states have been "graduated" out of the measure over the last 15 years.

There have been mounting calls to add Ukraine to this group. However, some in the U.S. Congress have sought to maintain the measure as a lever to improve Ukraine's performance in intellectual-property protection. Similarly, Russia has sought normalized trade relations, but a dispute over restrictions on U.S. poultry imports has stalled that initiative.

Some supporters of the Jackson-Vanik amendment are now calling for it to be phased out.

One such person is Michael McFaul, a senior fellow and Russia expert at the Hoover Institution, a research body based in the United States. He told RFE/RL the Jackson-Vanik amendment achieved its intended effect and has now become distorted in practice:

"I think it is important to be tough on the Ukrainians on intellectual property law that they do not enforce and on the Russians that have tariffs that we think are unfair. But what I don't think is proper is to link that to legislation that was designed for another purpose."

The measure is widely considered a great success. More than 1.5 million Jews are estimated to have emigrated to the United States and Israel since the amendment took effect.

But its continued application could raise questions about U.S. abuse of the procedure.

Paul Saunders is the director of the Nixon Center, a Washington-based policy institute. He said that, especially in Russia, failure to lift restrictions related to the amendment is breeding cynicism.

"It can create an impression among some people that we don't live up to our commitments or that, alternatively, that we're just trying to maintain any kind of leverage that we can use against other people whenever we need it for whatever political reason we decide to use at the time," Saunders said.

The U.S.-funded Congressional Research Service said in a recent report that the amendment is unlikely to be repealed any time soon.

The report's author, trade specialist Vladimir Pregelj, told RFE/RL that Congress has so far indicated its intent to maintain the measure as a trade lever, even while it individually removes countries from its restrictions.

"I think the Congress would prefer to stick on this country-by-country termination [rather] than a wholesale repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment," Pregelj said.

Pregelj said there are currently six bills in the U.S. Congress aimed at removing Ukraine from the amendment's restrictions.

After a meeting with the Ukrainian president on 4 April, U.S. President George W. Bush vowed to lift the restrictions. In addition, the U.S. Senate, as part of a foreign aid bill, this week was considering an amendment to normalize trade relations with Ukraine. (Robert McMahon)

IS AN ORTHODOX CONFLICT BREWING IN UKRAINE? Who has legal jurisdiction over the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople or the Moscow Patriarch? This question has been debated for centuries and Moscow was the correct, if not always legal, answer.

This suddenly came into doubt when Interfax and the website of the Religious Information Service of Ukraine (http://www.risu.org.ua) reported that on 24 March a representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople told Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko that "the Moscow Patriarchate consists of the territory which it encompassed to the year 1686." The visitor, Archbishop Vsevolod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, added that Kyiv's subjugation to the Russian Orthodox Church that began that year was not ratified by Constantinople.

The statement sent shock waves throughout the Orthodox Church establishment in Ukraine and Russia, and it soon became an object of speculation as to its implications if this was indeed the case. The website of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople (http://www.patriarchate.org) has neither confirmed nor denied the statement.

A number of mostly non-canonical issues are involved in the dispute, the main one being ownership of Orthodox Church property in Ukraine.

In Ukraine, there are three Orthodox churches: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. The largest by far is the Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, which has 9,049 communities, 122 monasteries, and 7,755 churches (840 churches are under construction).

The Kyivan Patriarchate has 2781 communities, 22 monasteries, 1825 churches, and is building 217 more.

The Autocephalous Church has 1,015 communities, 1 monastery, 697 churches, and is building 101 churches.

Among the properties belonging to the Moscow Patriarchate are such historical sites as the Monastery of the Caves (Lavra) in Kyiv and the St. Sophia Cathedral, also in Kyiv.

If the Church of the Moscow Patriarchate were to come directly under the jurisdiction of Constantinople, then the Moscow Patriarchate would stand to lose not only title to property but also enormous influence in Ukraine, where it has traditionally played an important role as a pro-Russian-oriented organization.

The political role of the church was evident during the Ukrainian presidential election last year, when many priests openly took part in campaigning for Viktor Yanukovych. According to the obkom.net.ua website, the pro-Moscow church not only supported Yanukovych's candidacy but actively agitated for separatism in the Eastern regions of Ukraine after Yushchenko was declared the winner.

The Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Aleksei II, made an indirect reference to the 24 March announcement in comments to the annual meeting of the Fund for Unity of Orthodox Nations in Moscow on 28 March, Interfax reported.

Aleksei told the gathering that the president of Ukraine had stated that he would not tell people which church to attend and he hopes that this promise will be kept. Other members of the Russian clergy have avoided making any statements on the topic.

In Kyiv, Oleksander Lytvynenko of the Razumkov Center for Political and Economic Studies, told Interfax on 29 March that it would be unwise for Constantinople to interfere with religious affairs in Ukraine. In the past, such interference has hardly led to positive changes, he said, adding, "Today it could provoke conflicts and political speculation by those forces in society who used the Orthodox church issue during the last elections." (Roman Kupchinsky)

QUOTES OF THE WEEK
"Mr. President, I appreciate your vision. I want to thank you for our discussion we just had. We discussed a lot of matters. We talked about the neighborhood, of course. We talked about your commitment to fighting corruption; your deep desire to introduce principles of the marketplace in Ukraine. I told the President that our nation will stand by Ukraine as it strengthens law enforcement, as it fights corruption, as it promotes a free media and civil society organizations. To this end, I've asked Congress to provide $60 million for new funding to help you in your efforts, Mr. President.

"We also agree with your desire to join the WTO, and we'll work with your government to join the WTO, as well as to lift the Jackson-Vanik trade restrictions that were created in a different era. Secretary Sam Bodman, who is with us here, will be going to Ukraine to talk about cooperation on energy. We look forward to working with you, Mr. President, as you build progress at home to become a part of Europe -- a Europe that is whole, free and at peace. And at the same time, we'll continue to work with you to help your ties to the North Atlantic Alliance." -- U.S. President George W. Bush on 4 April, at a news conference following talks with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko; quoted by the White House's Office of the Press Secretary.

"Essentially, on all questions that we raised, we found mutual understanding. I am convinced that relations between our nations are based not only by mutual sympathy, but also by the unity of interests and ideals, like the rule of law, protection of fundamental human rights and respect for people. Majority of my fellow Ukrainians want to see America as their strategic partner, and I am pleased to see that the U.S. President shares this perception, and he has highlighted this support today....

"The democratic Ukraine will enhance stability in Europe and worldwide. And strategic partnership with the U.S. will augment the democratic Ukraine. I'm convinced that our two nations will stand by as global partners in order to achieve freedom, security and prosperity in the 21st century." -- Yushchenko at the news conference mentioned above; quoted by the White House's Office of the Press Secretary.

XS
SM
MD
LG