Accessibility links

Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: September 30, 2003

30 September 2003, Volume 5, Number 36
SOLIDARITY TO GET TOUGHER ON GOVERNMENT. Solidarity held its 16th congress in Stalowa Wola in southeastern Poland on 26-27 September. Delegates to the congress obliged the National Commission of Solidarity in a special resolution to use all the means at its disposal -- including a general strike, if needed -- to defend the rights of employees.

"In the face of the dramatic situation of Polish employees, the bankruptcy of many plants, and the permanent violation of the rights of employees and trade unions, we demand that the government ensure the unconditional protection of the right to remuneration and take effective steps to restrict unemployment and shield people who are losing their jobs," the resolution reads. The resolution requires that the National Commission of Solidarity decide on the form of a future protest after weighing opinions among the regional branches of Solidarity.

The venue for the Solidarity congress appears to have been carefully chosen. Stalowa Wola is the seat of a large steel mill -- Huta Stalowa Wola -- that is threatened with bankruptcy. Workers of Huta Stalowa Wola have been demonstrating for more than a month, demanding financial assistance to their company from the government's Industry Development Agency and social benefits for laid-off colleagues. The general mood in the city is decidedly radical and antigovernment. Several thousand trade unionists arrived in Stalowa Wola on 27 September to stage an antigovernment demonstration and to call on their colleagues at the congress to adopt a tougher course with regard to government policies. "Let's do everything, dear brothers, to remove the reds from power!" read a placard displayed at the demonstration. Another read: "Apart from [Prime Minister Leszek] Miller, that son of a bitch, all Poles are one family."

Some of the delegates demanded that the congress immediately transform itself into a nationwide protest center and begin preparations for a general strike. But Solidarity Chairman Janusz Sniadek talked the delegates into adopting a somewhat milder stance that does not necessarily imply a general strike and a head-on collision between Solidarity and the government, led by the postcommunist Democratic Left Alliance. The National Commission of Solidarity is expected to make a decision on a "scenario of protest actions" by the end of October.

Some delegates to the congress, however, expressed doubts about whether Solidarity is capable of organizing a general strike in the country. Solidarity in 2003, with 800,000 members, is a much weaker trade union than it was in 1989, shortly after the political changeover in Poland, when its membership was 2.5 million. Now nearly 70 percent of trade unionists in Solidarity are over 40 years of age, while those under 30 account for just 5 percent of the union's membership. Solidarity is abandoned by more than 30,000 members every year.

Moreover, some moderate delegates pointed out that many state-owned companies in the country are doing well and argued that it would be rather difficult, if not impossible, to persuade their workers to take part in a general strike. They stressed that for Solidarity -- which has abandoned its political ambitions characteristic of the 1990s -- the best option in the current economic situation would be not seeking to unseat the government but negotiating within a trilateral commission with the government and employers. (Jan Maksymiuk)

THE FINLANDIZATION OF UKRAINE (PART 1). "Finlandization" can be loosely defined as the relations between a weaker state with a more powerful neighbor in which the weaker entity cedes its foreign policy and a part of its domestic policy to the larger one. It is a term used to describe what happened to Finland in 1948 after Stalin signed a treaty with the Finns which resulted in a new foreign policy -- known as the Paasikivi-Kekkonen line. The Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, its official name, included a mutual-defense provision and prohibited Finland from joining any organization considered hostile to the USSR.

It has been 55 years since that treaty was signed. Both Stalin and Kekkonen are dead, as is the Soviet Union, but Finland continues to exist, more prosperous than in the past. Yet the memory of that successful strategy seems to live on in the Kremlin and there is reason to believe that it has been updated and resurrected in the case of Ukraine.

Today, few, if any Russian policymakers want to reconstruct the former USSR. It was a dismal failure in both its economic policies and in what was known once as the "nationalities policy." Instead, Russia's modern rulers have discovered a number of theorems which can produce the efficient results they crave without the use of brutal aggression:

1. More can be achieved by owning a controlling packet of shares in foreign companies then by military threats and coercion.

2. Russian control over oil and gas production and transit routes is more powerful (and less expensive) than ICBM rockets with multiple-warhead delivery systems.

3. It is bad policy to impose linguistic and cultural Russification on one's neighbors or turn them into Russian semi-colonial states totally subordinated to the Kremlin.

This realization led to the revival of "Finlandization" as a policy to be actively pursued.

In the case of Ukraine, with the country's crucial geopolitical location, this policy seems to have come into its own in the past two years, although it was seen at times as an option during the Yeltsin years. A number of factors, such as rising Ukrainian aspirations for NATO and EU membership in the early 2000s, hastened Finlandization, but the key issue was the question of Caspian Sea oil and its transit to the West. That, along with the routes that natural gas from Central Asia and Russia took to reach Europe, prompted a renewed interest in this option.

In both cases the Russian side wanted to obtain control over the pipeline systems through Ukraine -- some 34,000 kilometers of gas pipelines, which pumped 110 billion cubic meters of Russian gas to Western Europe yearly, and two strategic oil pipelines through which Russian oil, and potentially Caspian oil, flowed to the West.

The reason for Russian haste was the U.S.-backed plan to construct the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline to transport Caspian oil to the West bypassing Russia. The United States, fearing the possibility of Russia one day blackmailing the West by shutting down a pipeline crossing its territory, openly stated that it was in favor of multiple delivery routes. In February 2003, Putin responded that he was in favor of a "single" route (for Central Asian gas) and it was clear that he was not thrilled by the U.S. position on multiple oil routes.

In the case of Russian gas destined for Europe, the objective was to gain control over the Ukrainian transit route. The way it was done was to first establish control over the transit of Turkmen gas to Ukraine. For the Ukrainian side, the ability to purchase natural gas from Turkmenistan, and not be totally dependent upon Russia, was a matter of principle -- not open to negotiation.

In December 2002, the Russian state-owned gas monopoly Gazprom signed a contract with an unknown Hungarian company called Eural TransGas. As the contracting party, Eural TransGas, named in the contract as the owner of Turkmen gas, contracted Gazprom to act as the operator for this gas and transport it to the Ukrainian border. A paper transaction then took place by which Ukraine's Naftohaz sold the gas to Eural and then bought it back on the Russian-Ukrainian border. The reason for these machinations was to evict an independent Russian company, Itera, from its role as the operator of this gas. Gazprom needed to control this route itself.

The next step took place in April 2003 when Gazprom signed a 25-year contract with Turkmenistan to purchase virtually all of Turkmenistan's gas production for the next 25 years. This contract is slated to come into effect in 2006 and places Ukraine back in the unenviable position of having to buy gas directly from Gazprom. Gas sales from Turkmenistan to Ukraine had to end, since even if Ashgabat wanted to sell Kyiv gas, it would not be able to deliver more than the Russian contract called for due to limitations on the amount of gas the Central Asian "Center" pipeline could handle. From 2005 Ukraine's Naftohaz would either buy gas from Gazprom or look for it in Iran or elsewhere and pay world prices for it.

As the struggle for gas deliveries and supplies was going on, the Russian Tyumen Oil Company (TNK) and British Petroleum (BP) were negotiating to join forces to create a huge oil company. They began approaching the Ukrainian Energy Ministry and President Leonid Kuchma to gain access to the Odesa-Brody oil pipeline which had recently been constructed and was meant to deliver oil from the Caspian region north to Europe. TNK-BP wanted Odesa-Brody to pump in reverse and send Russian oil south to be loaded onto tankers for delivery to Europe through the crowded Bosphorus. By having the Ukrainians agree to this scheme, the original concept of Odesa-Brody would be voided and Russian policy would have taken another large step to negate U.S. plans for Caspian oil routes. Kuchma lobbied hard and fast for TNK-BP and now it seems a foregone conclusion that TNK-BP has won.

(This report was written by Roman Kupchinsky, the author of "RFE/RL Organized Crime And Terrorism Watch.")

"Yes, I want to run for president. With the same concept as before [in 2000]. This concept has not been defeated, only my partners were. I expect serious troubles linked, among others, to [our] accession to the European Union. There will be a serious political and economic discussion. I will try to polish some matters connected with that. I do not count on victory, even though I would certainly like to win." -- Former Solidarity leader and former President Lech Walesa, who turned 60 this month; quoted by "Polityka" on 27 September. Walesa received 1.1 percent of the vote in the 2000 presidential election.

"Before the execution a prisoner is told that his appeal for clemency has been rejected. But at that moment the convict does not understand much. I attended more than 100 executions and I can attest that even the most dissimilar prisoners on death row behave in almost the same way. Long waiting for an answer to the question -- will they be killed or pardoned? -- ruins their personalities. Not only ruins, it destroys them." -- Aleh Alkayeu, a former warden at the death-row prison in Minsk; quoted by RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 29 September. During his nine years in the post of Belarusian president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka has reportedly pardoned only one prisoner sentenced to death.