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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: May 6, 2003

6 May 2003, Volume 5, Number 17
POLAND OFFERED BIG ROLE IN IRAQ. Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz announced during a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Greece on 3 May that a coalition of 10 nations -- the United States, Great Britain, Poland, Ukraine, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, and Albania -- is preparing to send troops to Iraq to form an international stabilization force. The same day, international and Polish media reported that U.S. President George W. Bush's administration plans to entrust Poland with the command of stabilization troops in one of the three sectors into which Iraq is to be divided. In other words, as some German commentators have subsequently observed, the United States offered Poland an "occupation zone" in Iraq.

More details came in subsequent days, following Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski's conferences with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials. Thus, Szmajdzinski said Iraq may be divided in four -- not three, as reported initially -- stabilization sectors: one around Baghdad (run by the U.S.), another around Basra (the U.K. responsibility), one more inserted between these two, and one in the north (the Kurdish area). Warsaw said it is interested in taking charge of the northern sector but no decision on this issue has so far been made. Szmajdzinski told Rumsfeld in Washington on 5 May that Poland has no money to finance the stay of its stabilization force in Iraq and fully counts on support from international partners, primarily from the U.S. According to preliminary estimates, the one-year stay of 1,500 Polish troops -- the number Warsaw is offering to contribute to Iraq -- could cost $90 million.

Szmajdzinski reportedly suggested in Washington that the "Polish stabilization force" in Iraq be composed of Polish, Danish, and German troops and commanded on a rotation basis by officers from these three nations, to reflect the Polish-Danish-German cooperation in a joint NATO corps with its headquarters in the Polish port of Szczecin. But Copenhagen has reportedly pledged to commit its troops to the British stabilization sector, while German Defense Minister Peter Struck said on 4 May that Berlin is not going to send any troops to Iraq. For its part, Poland proposed 54-year-old General Andrzej Tyszkiewicz, deputy commander of Poland's ground troops, to take the command of the stabilization force in the Polish sector in Iraq.

Most commentaries in the German press on the newly announced Polish role in postwar Iraq were ironic and acrid, especially in stressing that Poland's contribution to combat in the Iraq war was limited to some 60 commandos and that the Polish stabilization force in Iraq will be fully financed by Washington. And German commentators were almost unanimous in asserting that by assigning the stabilization sector to Poland, Washington wanted to deepen the division line between "old" Europe, epitomized by Germany and France, and "new" one represented by future EU members, such as Poland. They warned that Poland, by linking itself so unilaterally to U.S. global interests, is risking running into trouble in Europe, especially in the EU, which it is scheduled to join in a year.

In commenting on 6 May on Poland's involvement in Iraq, the respectable Polish daily "Rzeczpospolita" spoke for many when it claimed that Poland had made a "strategic investment" by siding with the United States and supporting the U.S. policy regarding Iraq. According to the daily, this "strategic investment" will only strengthen Poland's political position in the EU, NATO, and the West-East relations in general. The newspaper also stressed that Poland should gain economically from its strategic partnership with the U.S., not only by being a major participant in the Iraq reconstruction but also through opening new economic possibilities for itself in the Middle East.

It is worth stressing that Szmajdzinski, apart from discussing military issues with Washington, proposed that Professor Marek Belka, Poland's former finance minister, be appointed a deputy chief of the U.S. Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Postwar Iraq. If this is done, which for many Polish observers seems to be a foregone conclusion, Warsaw will obtain strong leverage to influence economic decisions and choices in the Iraqi reconstruction. And boosting economic growth is what today's Poland needs much more urgently than enhancing its political self-confidence in the international arena.

However, there are also voices in Poland warning that the country may face serious problems in the EU over its staunchly pro-U.S. policy. "Poland has begun a risky game," Janusz Reiter, a former Polish ambassador to Germany, wrote in the 5 May issue of "Rzeczpospolita." "It may lose with Europe what it has won with the United States. Mistrust in relations with Germany and France cold complicate Poland's situation in the EU," Reiter added.

On the other hand, former Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek told dpa that Poland's role in administering Iraq should also be seen as a vital opportunity for the EU. "I'm convinced that the presence of the U.K., Poland, and other European countries in postwar Iraq can assure the presence of the EU in reconstructing democracy and freedom there," Geremek said, adding that a "constructive political debate" is needed between the U.S. and France and Germany instead of what he termed as the current "vain quarrel."

Later this week, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski is scheduled to meet with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac in Wroclaw, within the so-called Weimar Triangle format (Poland, Germany, and France). Although many commentators in Poland think that the Weimar Triangle discussion forum is already a dead initiative with no substance, there seems to be no other forums available for Poland for the time being to try overcoming the impasse in its relations with Germany and France. Geremek told dpa that the alliance against the Iraq war formed by Germany and France with Russia was a "very surprising coalition." Taking into account Poland's tortuous history, one has to conclude that any alliances between Berlin and Moscow spelt only troubles for Warsaw in the past. Therefore, it would be advisable for President Kwasniewski to start a serious and persistent attempt at repairing its relations with Berlin and Paris. (Jan Maksymiuk)

UNDERSTANDING MYKOLA MELNYCHENKO. At the age of 18, Mykola Melnychenko enlisted in the Soviet Army and was later accepted for officer training, which he successfully completed. He joined the KGB and was sent to work in the Ninth Directorate in Moscow and Kyiv, the unit responsible for the security of high-level officials analogous to the U.S. Secret Service.

In 1992, the KGB's Ninth Directorate was removed from the jurisdiction of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), and renamed the Directorate of State Protection (UDO). Melnychenko continued to work in the UDO where he rose to be a senior officer with the rank of a major in the SBU reserve.

In 1999-2000, Melnychenko secretly taped hundreds of hours of conversations in President Leonid Kuchma's office. Some of these recordings, which were subsequently transcribed and published on the Internet, suggested that Kuchma and other high-ranking Ukrainian officials might have been involved in the kidnapping and murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze or in illegal arms sales to Iraq (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 1 October 2002). In November 2000 he fled Ukraine and obtained asylum the following April in the U.S., where he now lives in Washington.

The sensitivity of the authorities to Melnychenko is high. To the Ukrainian authorities Melnychenko is a "traitor." President Kuchma blames him -- not his own policies -- for Ukraine's failure to be a candidate for EU membership. "One had to not love Ukraine to take such steps," Kuchma said in a BBC interview on 18 April.

The two questions continually asked about Melnychenko are who is behind him (as most people do not believe he acted alone) and are the tapes genuine? It is not surprising that those who are in opposition to the executive believe in the authenticity of the tapes (Melnychenko attempted to run as a Socialist Party candidate in the 2002 elections but he was refused registration). Yuliya Mostovaya wrote in the 28 September-5 October 2002 edition of the influential weekly newspaper "Zerkalo nedeli," which she edits, that the tapes are real and "now people not only know about them, they also believe them." Hesitant oppositionist Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko told "Ukrayinska pravda" on 10 September that he believe in the authenticity of most of the tapes. Melnychenko himself has passed a lie-detector test and suggested that Kuchma should submit himself to one as well. Portions of the tapes have also been authenticated by former FBI employees at BEK TEK and in the world's best testing laboratory in the FBI.

Not surprisingly, the executive disputes their authenticity. If it did not it would have to hold an investigation and possibly face the consequences, as happened after the Peru tape scandal in 2000 when President Alberto Fujimori fled to Japan.

The actions of the authorities since the tapes were first revealed in parliament by Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz in November 2000 contradict their claims of innocence. At first the authorities denied Melnychenko had even been employed in the UDO (in a statement dated 31 March in response to an article in "RFE/RL Newsline" on the same day the SBU continued to deny that Melnychenko had ever worked for them). They also initially denied that the tapes existed, then changing to the argument that the tapes were "doctored" to incriminate Kuchma.

Melnychenko has been warned on three separate occasions by the FBI that his life was in danger from unknown individuals who were trailing him, which is odd if he is a fraud. He has been offered sums ranging from $3 million-$7 million for the tapes by emissaries from the Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o) who wished to ingratiate themselves with Kuchma so their leader, Viktor Medvedchuk, would be chosen as Kuchma's successor in the 2004 elections. Again, why bother if the tapes are doctored? The Dnipropetrovsk-based Labor Ukraine clan paid Kroll Associates $1.5 million to prepare a report whose only aim was to discredit Melnychenko.

Melnychenko conjures a wide mixture of emotions among all sides attached to, involved in, or writing about contemporary Ukraine. Late last year the Canadian government refused him a visa, claiming he might remain, which is unlikely as Melnychenko has U.S. refugee status. The decision is also at odds with the policy of the U.K. and Belgium, both of whom have granted him visas.

Recent arrivals from Ukraine in the West often disbelieve that anybody, such as Melnychenko, could be "patriotic" in the SBU or similar structures. This is a reflection of crisis levels of distrust towards state institutions, where 31.4 percent of Ukrainians, according to an April poll, do not trust either the authorities or the opposition. Melnychenko claims that other people, such as himself, do exist in the SBU and UDO.

Within the Ukrainian diaspora there are also mixed feelings towards Melnychenko. Some prefer to keep their distance because they are suspicious he is part of a Russian plot to undermine Ukrainian independence (Kuchma and his allies say the opposite; namely, that Melnychenko was part of a U.S. plot to replace Kuchma with Yushchenko). Others in the diaspora are more interested in the intrigue of who is behind Melnychenko, rather than what is on the tapes.

Ultimately, the main problem for many in the diaspora is that the image of Ukraine found on the tapes is too difficult to accept, after waiting and agitating over many decades for Ukrainian independence. The same is true of its unwillingness to believe that Rukh leader Vyacheslav Chornovil's "car accident" in March 1999 was not an accident (Melnychenko is 99 percent certain it was not an accident). To the younger generation of the diaspora in the media, think tanks, and policy making, Melnychenko provides proof of what they had long suspected about Ukraine. Indeed, some of them may even have assisted in Melnychenko's departure from Ukraine.

Although Melnychenko has been criticized for releasing only fragments of his hundreds of hours of tapes, he is transcribing them with a grant from Russian oligarch Boris Berezovskii, exiled in London. He is also currently working with another recent defector from Ukraine, Oleksandr Yelyashkevych, to thwart the ability of the authorities to falsify the 2004 elections. Both Melnychenko's tapes and Yelyashkevych, who checked voting in the 1999 election and 2000 referendum on behalf of parliament, claim there were falsifications on both occasions.

This report was written by Dr. Taras Kuzio, resident fellow, Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.

"Following the quick victory in Iraq, it is understandable that [Poland's] Defense Ministry is enthusiastic about sending another several thousand soldiers to the Tigris and Euphrates [area], particularly since [they are to be sent] for U.S. money. However, since this decision is being criticized by our European friends, one must ask: Is this proposal to be accepted without consideration? Is it not better to persuade our U.S. friends to transform the stabilization forces into an international mission under the auspices of the United Nations or NATO? We need America for our security and we need Europe for our future. Therefore, the Polish participation in administering Iraq must take such a form so as to disperse all doubts that it will add to strengthening the trans-Atlantic alliance and not to antagonizing its members." -- "Gazeta Wyborcza" Editor in Chief Adam Michnik on 6 May.