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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: April 23, 2002

23 April 2002, Volume 4, Number 16
POLISH PRESIDENT CONDEMNS 'OPERATION VISTULA.' Last week President Aleksander Kwasniewski expressed regret over "Operation Vistula" -- a forced expulsion by the communist authorities in 1947 of some 140,000 ethnic Ukrainians from their native areas in the southeastern part of the country to Poland's newly acquired northern and western territories, the so-called Recovered Lands, Polish media reported. In a letter to the National Remembrance Institute (IPN) and participants in the IPN-organized conference on "Operation Vistula" in Krasiczyn near Przemysl (southeastern Poland), Kwasniewski wrote:

"On behalf of the Polish Republic, I would like to express regret to all those who were wronged by [this operation].... The infamous 'Operation Vistula' is a symbol of the abominable deeds perpetrated by the communist authorities against Polish citizens of Ukrainian origin.... It was believed for years that 'Operation Vistula' was the revenge for the slaughter of Poles by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) in the east in 1943-44. Such a reasoning is fallacious and ethically inadmissible. It [involves] a principle of group accountability with which we cannot agree. The slaughter of Poles cannot serve as an excuse for the brutal pacification of Ukrainian villages and the expulsion of populace. 'Operation Vistula' should be condemned."

Professor Eugeniusz Mironowicz from Bialystok University, a historian specializing in the Polish communist authorities' policies vis-a-vis the country's ethnic minorities, presented a political background of 'Operation Vistula' at the conference in Krasiczyn. Mironowicz argued that the Polish authorities were determined to solve the problem of the Ukrainian minority by resettlement immediately after the liberation of Poland from the Nazis. In September 1944, the Polish Committee of National Liberation (an interim governing body) signed accords with the governments of the Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania on repatriation and exchange of population. In theory, the repatriation process should have been voluntary, but in practice forcible and violent methods were applied to Ukrainians, who were decidedly unenthusiastic about resettling in the Ukrainian SSR.

In 1944, the government tried to prompt Ukrainians to leave their villages in the Bieszczady Mountains by increasing taxes and quotas of compulsory supplies of agricultural products to the state. This policy proved to be only partly successful: in 1944, some 80,000 Ukrainians of the estimated community of 600,000 left Poland for the Soviet Union. In 1945, the government sent considerable armed forces to the southeastern part of the country. In the autumn of 1945, these troops joined police, security-service forces, and border guards in the compulsory relocation of Ukrainians to the Soviet Union. There were many fights between Polish troops and UPA guerrillas who wanted to prevent the resettlement. The peak of the deportation of Ukrainians to the Soviet Union occurred in the autumn of 1946, when some 200,000 people were relocated within four months. In total, according to official data, some 490,000 Ukrainians were expelled from Poland to the Ukrainian SSR.

According to Mironowicz, in November 1946 the General Staff of the Polish army proposed to the government to dispose of the remaining Ukrainians -- and ethnic Lemkos who inhabited the adjacent Beskid Niski region but remained fairly reserved about defining themselves as Ukrainians and supporting UPA fighters -- by way of "internal deportation." The "internal deportation" meant a compulsory dissipated resettlement of some 140,000 people in Poland's Recovered Lands. The government made a formal decision on the deportation of Ukrainians in the spring of 1947. Polish textbooks of history assert that the official go-ahead for "Operation Vistula" was given a day after the assassination of General Karol Swierczewski -- Poland's deputy defense minister -- by the UPA in an ambush in the Bieszczady Mountains on 28 March 1947. Mironowicz said the killing of Swierczewski served as a convenient pretext for the communist authorities to launch a drastic resettlement operation, but in fact it had nothing to do with the chain of political decisions that were made on the deportation earlier. "Operation Vistula" began on 28 April 1947.

The newly appointed Ukrainian ambassador to Poland, Oleksandr Nykonenko, also sent a letter to last week's conference in Krasiczyn. Nykonenko wrote that Kwasniewski's apology is an important step in assessing the Polish communist regime's crimes against ethnic Ukrainians. "There is a lot being done to overcome 'ghosts of the past' in Poland and in Ukraine," PAP quoted from Nykonenko's letter.

Some Polish media noted, however, that while Poland is really doing a lot to look at its past from a new perspective in a bid to overcome historical barriers to friendly Polish-Ukrainian relations, Ukraine is doing decidedly too little. The private TVN Television, while praising Kwasniewski's statement on "Operation Vistula," commented simultaneously that Warsaw is still waiting for Kyiv's official apology for massacres of the Polish population in Ukraine's Volhynia region in 1943. According to Polish historians, the UPA brutally murdered between 60,000 and 70,000 Polish civilians in Volhynia in 1943. In connection with these massacres, the IPN branch in Lublin has launched an investigation into crimes of genocide committed by Ukrainian nationalists (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 8 May 2001).

GAZPROM TO TAKE OVER BELARUSIAN GAS PIPELINES? The independent Minsk-based weekly "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" on 15 April shed more light on the meeting of the Supreme Council of the Russia-Belarus Union in Moscow on 12 April, where both sides signed three agreements: on extending Russia's domestic prices for its energy resources (gas and electricity) in Belarus, on extending Russia's domestic railways tariffs on Belarusian shipments, and on what President Alyaksandr Lukashenka called "a single system of gas provision" (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 16 April 2002). According to the weekly, the third document -- called "The Agreement Between the Government of the Republic of Belarus and the Government of the Russian Federation on Increased Cooperation in Gas Industry" -- touches upon the planned privatization of gas pipelines running across Belarus.

The weekly's editorial office got hold of a draft version of the agreement. Since this draft version was approved by Belarus's Economy, Finance, Foreign Affairs, and Justice ministries, the newspaper assumed that its provisions had also been kept in the final text signed in Moscow.

The agreement, initiated by Russian's gas monopoly Gazprom, envisages the creation of a "joint-stock Belarusian-Russian commercial gas-transit company." Belarus's Belpaliuhaz, the state-owned fuel and gas supply concern, is obliged by the agreement to draw up a business plan and establish the value of the Belarusian gas-transit system run by the Beltranshaz national gas transporter (Belpaliuhaz's property is not to be included in the planned joint-stock company). PricewaterhouseCoopers or Deloitte & Touche are to be invited for such an evaluation.

The agreement commits the Belarusian government to an investment contract with Gazprom which, "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" argues, is to play the role of a strategic investor in Beltranshaz. The new gas corporation will assume Beltranshaz's current functions: domestic sales of gas and its transit via Belarus, the construction and development of Belarus's gas-transit system, the securing of full payment for gas to the supplier, and the running of the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline.

The agreement includes a provision insuring the Russian side against political risks. Article 9 of the agreement stipulates: "The investments Russian businesses will make in the form of property and other assets and the financial or material means invested in Belarus may not be freely nationalized or requisitioned." Nationalization of the planned joint-stock company is only possible in the event of full and immediate compensation of the cost of nationalized property.

The Belarusian side stipulated a mutual clearance procedure for writing off up to $72 million of its debt to Gazprom. Instead of paying a penalty for late payments for gas supplied in 1997-99, Belarus relieves Russian builders from VAT and customs duties during the construction of the Belarusian section of the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline.

The agreement confirms the provision now in force: In the annual gas balance, Russia's Energy Ministry will earmark the resources required by Belarus. All the terms of gas supply to Belarus will be determined, as they are now, by contracts between Gazprom and Beltranshaz.

KYIV DENIES ILLEGAL SALE OF RADARS TO IRAQ. Serhiy Borodenkov, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry press service chief, told journalists on 16 April that "Ukraine has not sold, is not selling, and does not plan to sell any weapons to Iraq," adding that the Ukrainian leadership has not been involved in any illegal arms deals with Iraq, UNIAN reported. Borodenkov's statement came in the wake of recent media reports alleging that in 2000 President Leonid Kuchma approved a sale of $100 million worth of air-defense radar systems to Iraq in contravention of UN sanctions.

The basis for this allegation appears to be the recently publicized recording of a conversation between Kuchma and Ukrspetseksport chief Valeriy Malev (who died in a controversial automobile accident in March), allegedly made by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko in Kuchma's office on 10 July 2000. The "Ukrayinska pravda" website on 15 April published a transcription of that recording. An excerpt is translated below:

MALEV: There is a need for a special operation. We have been addressed, approached by Iraq -- through our Jordanian intermediary -- regarding the purchase of four Kolchugas. They will pay $100 million right away.

KUCHMA: What is Kolchuga?

MALEV: Kolchuga is a station for passive detection of air targets.

KUCHMA: Who makes it?

MALEV: [The Donetsk-based plant] Topaz. Its cost.... Four pieces makes a system. One system costs $100 million.

KUCHMA: Can you sell it without the Jordanian?

MALEV: Leonid Danylovych, I suggest that [former Security Service chief] Leonid Vasylyovych [Derkach] conduct a special operation. [It's necessary] to look at the structure of exports from our territory to Iraq. There [have been] KRAZ [trucks' parts] sent in boxes. [It's necessary] to see how to mark those boxes. That is, everything should go there in boxes from here. And we will send there people with [forged] passports to assemble [the system] and deploy [it].

KUCHMA: Just watch that the Jordanian keeps his mouth shut [expletive]. Otherwise they can detect the shipment.

Topaz Director Yuriy Ryabkin told the 19 April "Holos Ukrayiny" that the only country Ukraine has ever sold Kolchugas is Ethiopia. "We shipped three installations to Ethiopia, set them up, and that was it. We have had no more export deals, I can say this for sure," Ryabkin said.

"Holos Ukrayiny" noted that under a recently signed contract, another four Kolchugas are to be sold to China, but they have not been shipped yet. There are other proposals, but all of them are still under consideration, the newspaper added.

Ryabkin also commented on the conversation between Kuchma and Malev: "This was a private conversation. There can be any private conversation about anything, even about arms supplies to Iraq. Suppose somebody approached Malev and said, 'sell me the equipment on these conditions.' And, during one of his reports to the president, Malev says, 'here is a proposal from Iraq, and there have been no other proposals yet.' Well, they discussed it. So what? This was a private conversation that did not result in any decisions."

"A free man should not reconcile himself to the fact that he is imprisoned for deeds he considers natural. If you reconcile yourself to that, they will lock you up for anything. But if they see that you do not give up even there [in prison], they treat you in a quite different way. They speak to you in a different way. Because they see a free man before them." -- Belarusian journalist Stanislau Pachobut, who was on a hunger strike while serving his 10-day jail sentence for his participation in a rally protesting the trial of his colleagues, Mikola Markevich and Pavel Mazheyka, in Hrodna; quoted by RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 15 April.

"Unfortunately, in Russia they know too little about Belarus. This is strangely enough, but it's a fact. And if sometimes they know something, they know it in a distorted form -- it's a fact, too. Recently, there has been a tendency to keep silent on what is going on here. When one talks with Russians, particularly with ill-wishers, they show themselves to be, if I may say so, such nonexperts on Belarus that sometimes one feels sorry for talking with them." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka during a meeting with Russia's Rostov Oblast Governor Vladimir Chub; quoted by Belarusian Television on 17 April.