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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: March 30, 2004

30 March 2004, Volume 6, Number 11
LITERARY SCHOLAR MAY FALL VICTIM TO STATE IDEOLOGY. The Higher Attestation Commission (VAK), which grants all postgraduate degrees in Belarus, has twice rejected a doctoral thesis by Ales Pashkevich, chairman of the Belarusian Union of Writers (SBP), sending it for additional scrutiny, Belapan reported on 29 March. Pashkevich's paper, titled "The Concept of National Life in the 20th-Century Prose of Belarusian Emigre Writers," is now being examined by political scientists and historians. The thesis was earlier rated as excellent by experts from the Belarusian State University in Minsk and the State University in Homel.

According to Pashkevich and other literary scholars, the VAK's reluctance to approve his dissertation is linked to a letter by six World War II veterans sent to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and VAK Chairman Anatol Rubinou. The letter, in language reminiscent of the darkest times of the Soviet era, brands Pashkevich's thesis as a "well-considered move by the Belarusian opposition, which is exploiting some turncoat scholars for money from the West."

According to the veterans, most of the emigre writers studied by Pashkevich were "ordinary fascist lackeys who wrote something in the West, proceeding from anti-Soviet and anti-Belarusian positions." The letter characterizes the thesis as an "ideological action under the disguise of science," which was masterminded by "covert representatives of the nationalist opposition entrenched in the Belarusian State University, the National Academy of Sciences, and other educational and research institutions." The veterans requested that President Lukashenka defend "the ideology of the modern Belarusian state [and] Belarusian science from turncoats, careerists, and political crooks."

The veterans' letter strikes a very tragic note in the 20th-century history of Belarusian culture and literature. In the 1930s, the overwhelming majority of Belarusian writers and intellectuals were killed by Josef Stalin's henchmen, following similar -- in both language and spirit -- denunciations and public accusations of being adherents of "national democracy" (in Belarusian: natsdemaushchyna) rather than the "Soviet" one.

It appears highly unlikely that Lukashenka -- following the world's unforgiving reaction to the disappearance of several prominent Belarusian opposition figures in 1999, who were reportedly killed by a state-sponsored death squad -- may now unleash some kind of bloody terror with regard to Belarusian intellectuals. However, Pashkevich's doctoral thesis may not be the only victim of the neo-Soviet state ideology that is now being obligatorily imposed on students in Belarusian universities. The denunciation of Pashkevich's "nationalist" thesis may serve as a convenient pretext for purging Belarusian universities of "covert representatives of the nationalist opposition" -- that is, scholars who do not necessarily oppose the Lukashenka regime politically but can be suspected of being sympathetic to the promotion of the Belarusian indigenous culture and the Belarusian language in Belarus rather than the Russian culture and language.

Pashkevich told Belapan that in September 2002 presidential aide for ideology Ivan Karenda discouraged him from seeking nomination for the SBP chairmanship. Karenda suggested to Pashkevich that he may have problems with defending his doctoral thesis. Pashkevich did not heed that warning. Following his election as SBP chairman, the SBP -- as an "ideologically unreliable" organization -- lost state backing and financing. Now Pashkevich appears to have been called to personal account for his act of disobedience 1 1/2 years ago. (Jan Maksymiuk)

WILL PROPORTIONAL ELECTION LAW CLEAR THE WAY FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM? The Verkhovna Rada voted 255 to four on 25 March to pass a bill prescribing parliamentary elections under a fully proportional party-list system. The bill was backed by lawmakers from the pro-government coalition, the Communist Party, and the Socialist Party. Our Ukraine and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc did not take part in the vote.

Ukrainian media reported that there were 305 deputies registered in the session hall but did not clarify how the remaining 46 of them behaved during the vote, that is, either they abstained from the vote or refused to vote at all or, as some reports suggested, failed to vote because of a malfunction of the electronic voting system in the Verkhovna Rada. This piece of information could be of great interest, since the adoption of a proportional-election law is widely seen as the removal of the last obstacle -- at least for the Socialist Party and the Communist Party -- on the path toward the final promulgation of the constitutional reforms that are being pushed by the pro-presidential camp in Ukraine.

The adoption of bill No. 4105, which provides for major constitutional amendments shifting the balance of power in Ukraine from the presidency toward the prime minister and parliament, requires at least 300 votes. Summing up the votes controlled by the pro-government coalition (officially, 234 deputies), the Communist Party (59), and the Socialist Party (20), we obtain a total of 313 votes. In other words, the pro-government coalition, along with the Communists and the Socialists, in theory have enough votes to pass the constitutional reforms without any difficulty.

Why the support for the proportional-election bill -- a sort of "rehearsal vote" before the upcoming vote on the constitutional-reform bill -- was well below 300 votes is quite intriguing. One of the most plausible explanations is that a considerable number of pro-government deputies, who were elected to the Verkhovna Rada in 2002 under a first-past-the-post system, do not actually like the idea of fully proportional parliamentary elections, fearing that they may not be re-elected in 2006 under the new election law. These deputies, some Ukrainian observers argue, refused to vote on 25 March and are potentially likely to create a nasty surprise for the pro-government coalition by refusing to vote on the constitutional-reform bill, just out of their opposition against the pressure that is reportedly being applied on them by the presidential administration to make them support the reform devised by presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk.

It is not clear when the voting on the constitutional-reform bill will take place. Verkhovna Rada speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn predicted last week that the constitutional-reform bill will be passed in its final reading in early April. Meanwhile, lawmaker Oleksandr Volkov, formerly a close associate of President Leonid Kuchma, said the constitutional-reform bill will be adopted no earlier than in mid-May. Volkov asserted that promoters of the reform are facing "a lot of work" to persuade deputies elected under the first-past-the-post system to adopt a fully proportional election law. Since the proportional-election bill has already been passed and needs only to be signed by President Kuchma to start the final phase of parliamentary maneuvers around the constitutional reforms, Lytvyn seems to be closer to the truth than Volkov.

If signed by the president, the bill will take effect on 1 October 2005, that is, six months before the next regular parliamentary election. The bill stipulates that Ukrainians will vote in 2006 in 225 constituencies for party lists, not for individual candidates. Other innovations in the parliamentary election system include lowering the current 4 percent voting threshold for parliamentary representation to 3 percent, lengthening the election campaign from 90 to 120 days, increasing the amount of the deposit that a party must submit before an election from 255,000 hryvnyas ($48,000) to 512,500 hryvnyas, and mandating the use of transparent ballot boxes.

Also, the bill bans representatives of nongovernmental organizations from monitoring the electoral process at polling stations and during the vote count. The votes given for the parties that will fail to clear the 3 percent threshold will be completely wasted. The bill stipulates that only the votes given for the parties that exceeded the 3 percent threshold will be taken into account during the distribution of parliamentary mandates -- these votes divided by 450 (the number of seats in the Verkhovna Rada) will determine how many votes a party will require to obtain one mandate.

Many Ukrainian observers believe -- echoing Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz -- that the adoption of the fully proportional election bill is a historic step on Ukraine's path toward a more democratic state. The bill, they assert, will contribute to building a viable party system consisting of only several potent parties and eliminating the "administrative resource" in elections -- that is, the use of illegal administrative leverage in campaigning for a parliamentary seat, which was reportedly widespread in former elections with regard to mandates contested under the first-past-the-post system. It is noteworthy that a proportional election system was formerly also advocated by Our Ukraine and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, which seem to have lost interest in it after President Kuchma launched a constitutional reform last year and made the adoption of an all-proportional election law a carrot offered to the Communists and the Socialists to muster their support for the reform. (Jan Maksymiuk)

KYIV SAYS HUNDREDS OF SOVIET-ERA MISSILES ARE MISSING, BUT NOT NECESSARILY LOST. Ukrainian Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk says hundreds of missiles from the country's arsenal are currently unaccounted for, once again raising the issue of the security of former Soviet arsenals.

In an interview published last week in the "Den" newspaper, Marchuk said: "We are looking for several hundred missiles. They have already been decommissioned, but we cannot find them."

In an interview with RFE/RL, Defense Ministry spokesman Kostyantyn Khivrenko said it is wrong to say the missiles are missing. "They are not missing," he said. "We are only looking for them." "If you lost something in your own flat, it does not mean that you will not successfully find it. You look one day, the second day, the third day, and very often you find [what you are looking for]. Yes or no?" Khivrenko said.

Khivrenko declined to comment on the types of missiles that are unaccounted for, only saying that they had already been decommissioned. He suggested the missiles had been deactivated without proper accounting. Ukrainian prosecutors, meanwhile, have launched an investigation into the affair.

Valentin Badrak heads the Center for Research on the Army, Conversion, and Disarmament, a think tank in Kyiv. He says Marchuk's comments raise more questions than they answer.

Badrak says it is difficult to say what class of missiles Marchuk is referring to. He said they could be "any kind of missile Ukraine inherited from the Soviet Union when the country was left with huge stockpiles of weaponry." He also says the size of the former Soviet stockpile also is not known because Ukraine has no financial resources to make an accurate inventory.

"When Ukraine inherited this [weaponry], it turned out to be difficult to make an inventory. On the one hand, it happened because of the massive Soviet military legacy. On the other hand, Ukraine's military budget was shrinking from year to year, and it became impossible to do that because the budget allowed only to feed the army," Badrak said.

Ukraine sought to destroy unnecessary weapons but many such efforts faltered or failed due to lack of money. Badrak says there is cause for concern because Ukrainian weaponry has been sold abroad in the past under questionable circumstances in the early 1990s.

"Some time ago, Ukraine had sold to one state -- to Yemen, if I am not mistaken -- four SU-17 [fighter planes]. The price of a plane was the same as of a Mercedes-Benz [car]," Badrak said.

Badrak says an investigation into the matter was dropped and never reopened. "Something similar could happen with missiles or missile weaponry. It could have happened that something was sold very cheaply or the missiles were utilized and precious [components] were sold without any control," Badrak said.

In 2002, the United States alleged that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma had sanctioned the sale of a sophisticated military radar to Iraq. Kuchma denied the charge, but it badly strained relations with Washington.

While the missing missiles were decommissioned, analysts note they could nevertheless be valuable for the gold, silver, or platinum they may contain. Leonid Polyakov, a military analyst at Kyiv's Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies, says it is difficult to judge the amount of precious metals in the missing weaponry.

"Specialists say, if the rockets we are speaking about are big antiaircraft missiles -- if we are speaking about them -- [they will have more precious metals inside] because the rockets are very different. Big rockets may have a kilogram or a kilo and a half of silver, from which [electric] contacts are made. There can be gold inside or not. The same can be said about platinum," Polyakov said.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Marchuk said inventories have revealed some $190 billion in missing military equipment. A Ukrainian military analyst quoted by the Associated Press says the figure is referring to the valuable by-products from dismantled weapons rather than weapons themselves.

Marchuk, who was named to the job last June, blames his predecessors for not observing proper accounting standards while dealing with missiles and other weapons.

Analysts can only guess why Marchuk decided to make his disclosures now. Bodrah says the easiest explanation is that he wanted to attract the attention of parliamentarians before planned discussions of military reform in early April.

RFE/RL correspondent Valentinas Mite wrote this report.

WHO KNEW WHAT? THE LAZARENKO TRIAL CONTINUES. On 25 and 26 March, the jury at the money-laundering trial of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 16 March 2004; and "RFE/RL Organized Crime and Terrorism Watch," 25 March 2004), which is being held in the Federal Building in San Francisco, was given a heavy dose of often confusing testimony on how natural gas was bought and sold between Ukraine and Russia.

The ponderous videotaped testimony was taken in Kyiv on 30 May 2003 from Anatoliy Minchenko, former minister for industry, fuel, and energy during Lazarenko's tenure as prime minister. It should be noted that any attempt to explain the inner workings of the gas sector in Ukraine and Russia in the mid-1990s to an American jury is a very daunting task since even most Ukrainians or Russians do not understand the opaque deals which take place in this highly corrupt sector.

Minchenko explained that in the mid-1990s, with hyperinflation rampant and money being worthless, most gas trade was conducted on a barter system and Ukraine piled up huge debts to Gazprom, the Russian gas monopoly. These debts were being incurred by independent Ukrainian companies who had been given licenses by the Ukrainian State Committee for Oil and Gas to import and distribute gas in Ukraine. Gazprom was not being paid and threatened to cut off the gas supply. To control this dangerous situation, the Ukrainian side created a consortium of gas traders in order to narrow the number of players in this sector and insure that Gazprom would be paid. The consortium, as a legal entity, was not chartered to buy gas, it was merely a clearing house of companies. One of the members of this consortium was Unified Energy Systems of Ukraine (EESU), then headed by Yuliya Tymoshenko, who is presently one of the leaders of the opposition in Ukraine.

By 1996 the debt, along with late payment penalties, had risen to some $1.4 billion and Gazprom began demanding that Ukraine provide guarantees that the debt would be repaid and that this should be done with a prominent Western bank. The Ukrainian delegation that went to Moscow to negotiate with Gazprom on the matter of payments knew that the Ukrainian government did not have the money to apply for the bank guarantees that Gazprom was insisting upon. The transcript states:

"Question: So [then Gazprom head Rem] Vyakhirev wanted bank, prime bank guarantees, but you got him to accept sugar, vegetable oil, butter, pork, and beef instead?

"Answer (Minchenko): Yes. The foodstuff."

Minchenko explained that the consortium had Ukrainian state guarantees for barter payments for 2.5 billion cubic meters of gas monthly. The monthly needs of Ukraine were 7 billion cubic meters. But this guarantee was only in case Ukrainian commercial structures, members of the consortium, failed to pay Gazprom. In the transcript, Minchenko says:

"Answer: The text of the guarantee, the supply of the goods under this guarantee starts after notification from Gazprom to the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine on the 15th day of the following month about the debt of wholesale buyer, and are carried out within 30 days from the indicated day.

"Question: And if you look at the sentence right above that one, can you explain that provision?

"Answer: In case any of the wholesale buyers carry -- has debts -- has debts under the contracts specified above, and the amount of debt is 40 percent or more of the overall amount of supplies to any one of them, the Ukrainian government pays off the debt with the goods in accordance with the nomenclature agreed with Gazprom."

Minchenko was then shown a document and asked if he had seen it earlier. He replied that yes, he saw it, but since it was an internal memo of UkNaftoGasProm, then the state gas company, and not from his ministry, he did not bother to read it carefully.

The document describes how the consortium, as a legal entity, was now actively trading gas. When asked how this came to be, the former minister for fuels and energy replied that he did not know.

Afterwards, according to the transcript of the deposition, Minchenko was asked:

"Question (Martha Boersch, the U.S. prosecutor): And when you worked for the government were you aware that in 1997, $13 million was paid by [EESU] to accounts controlled by Mr. Lazarenko in the United States?

"[Harold] Rosenthal [a former member of the Lazarenko defense team]: Objection. Argumentative. It assumes facts not in evidence.

"Answer (Minchenko): Why? Certainly not. I didn't know this.

"Question: Were you aware that in 1996, approximately $84 million was paid into accounts controlled by Mr. Lazarenko and a man named Peter Kiritchenko [Petro Kirichenko] by Somolli Enterprises. [Somolli Enterprises is described in Lazarenko�s indictment as an offshore company controlled by Yuliya Tymoshenko.]

"Rosenthal: Now, this is just sheer argument.

"The interpreter: By whom? Sorry. I didn't get the name.

"Boersch: Somolli Enterprises.

"Answer: Well, I never knew this. And I don't know this today. I have no idea. I have no idea about these things."

On 26 March, Interfax-Ukraine reported that Tymoshenko stated that she would not attend the trial in San Francisco as a witness giving as her reason her busy schedule in Kyiv. She added that she had given testimony already in Kyiv that she believed in Lazarenko's innocence.

After the deposition of Minchenko, Harold Rosenthal was visibly angry at the behavior of Oleh Ukrainets, an investigator from the Prosecutor-General's Office in Ukraine, during the interrogation of an earlier witness, Volodymyr Karpovtsev, a functionary of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine.

According to the transcript of that deposition on 30 May, Rosenthal said: "There were at least 55 other questions that we had to ask of him -- and I can go through those in a second -- but the most -- one of the -- the troubling aspect of it, though, was the fact that Mr. Ukrainets, again, and the record will speak for itself, made statements that in my estimation encouraged Mr. Karpovtsev in his noncooperation, including the statement that he could walk out at any time that he wanted to, that he didn't have to answer any questions, which was first introduced into the mix by Mr. Ukrainets."

The prosecution in turn reminded Rosenthal that he had numerous occasions to cross-examine Karpovtsev. Karpovtsev later appeared in person in San Francisco to testify, at which time he said that he was pressured by his superior in the Cabinet of Ministers, who in turn was being pressured by Lazarenko, to endorse an inflated payment chit for six homes purchased by the Cabinet of Ministers from GHP Corporation, a company controlled by Petro Kirichenko, then Lazarenko's partner. The purchase price on the inflated voucher was $1.4 million, while the actual price of the homes was $542,763. The difference, $889,749, according to the indictment, was split, with half going to an account controlled by Lazarenko.

This report was written by Roman Kupchinsky, the editor of "RFE/RL Organized Crime and Terrorism Watch."

"I am contemplating a question today: What does the OSCE mission in Belarus do? An organization that is doing nothing should not exist. Maybe this is connected with the personality of the man who heads this [mission]. Maybe such work does not suit Mr. [Eberhard] Heyken because of his age. Last month I asked him, 'What have you done recently?' He replied to me, 'I've given an interview.' I said, 'A powerful move!'" -- Uladzimir Parfyanovich, legislator from the Respublika group in the Chamber of Representatives, Belarus's lower house; in an interview with the "Charter-97" website ( on 24 March.

"I am confident that Ukraine has a place in Europe. It is really in your own hands, but you must be prepared for it. It is hard to define Europe's borders geographically. It is much easier to define these borders in terms of adherence to certain standards. If we live under the same democratic, legal, and economic standards, geography doesn't really matter, as long as we abide by the same principles. If these standards are adhered to, I think Ukraine will have a place in Europe." -- Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski in an interview with Ukrainian Television on 28 March.