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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: September 24, 2002

24 September 2002, Volume 4, Number 36
NOTHING NEW AT LUKASHENKA'S NEWS CONFERENCE. In Minsk on 17 September, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka answered more than 40 questions at a televised news conference with the participation of more than 100 domestic and foreign journalists, Belarusian media reported. It seems that after receiving a series of humiliating news reports from Moscow regarding Belarusian-Russian integration over the past several months, the Belarusian leader wanted to reassure himself and the media that he still remains in full control of Belarusian affairs and is unwaveringly pursuing his own path.

Judging by Lukashenka's traditionally fiery conversational tone and eloquence, he may have succeeded in his intention to some extent. But even a cursory analysis of the content of his pronouncements leads one to conclude that Lukashenka has already exhausted his arsenal of arguments in support of the "Belarusian path" he champions. All arguments voiced by him during the 17 September news conference were previously used ammunition and could not completely cover the increasingly apparent suspicion that his Belarusian path in both politics and economics may lead nowhere. It is still not clear how long it will take for Lukashenka to ascertain that this suspicion is a fact. The Belarusian president suggested that 12 years (his two five-year terms plus the two years added by the 1996 referendum) may not be enough and that a constitutional referendum to make it possible for him to explore his path even beyond 2006 is an option he does not rule out.

Touching upon relations with the OSCE, Lukashenka said "the OSCE does not want to sit down at the negotiating table." The Belarusian leader reiterated his former requirement that the OSCE discuss changes to the mandate of its Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk. "But I cannot force them, you know," Lukashenka said, adding that the accreditation terms of several OSCE representatives in Minsk expired and "they, naturally, have left." At present, only one OSCE representative with a valid visa remains in Minsk.

He also expounded on what kind of assistance Belarus needs from the OSCE and other European advisers and organizations. "Before you come to Belarus, let us determine and agree on the goals of OSCE representatives and this group [OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk]," the Belarusian president said. "They tell us: 'We will help you adjust legislation.' And I say: 'Thank you, my dear ones, we have already adjusted legislation, now we will go ahead.' Or [they say]: 'We will help you create a free and democratic society.' [And I say]: 'Thank you, we are familiar with the models of free and democratic societies in Germany, France, the United States, Russia, and Ukraine. There is no need to teach us about their creation.... If you are ready to help us, help us financially, and all problems will be resolved. You could give at least the money you were giving to some people for fighting the regime, as you called it.'"

As on numerous previous occasions, Lukashenka accused unidentified Westerns sponsors of investing up to $300 million in the Belarusian opposition over several years prior to the 2001 presidential ballot. "Where is that money? Stolen, and you realize this now and do not know with whom to conduct a dialogue," he jabbed at his Western enemies and ill-wishers.

In an apparent reference to the recently published transcript of a telephone conversation between Russia's Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov and Belarus's United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 10 September 2002), Lukashenka said that the "maniacal plans" to overthrow him are "unrealizable." Nemtsov and Lyabedzka reportedly discussed models of Belarusian-Russian integration and the Kremlin's possible cooperation with the Belarusian opposition to undermine Lukashenka's position in Belarus.

Lukashenka once again took advantage of a public forum to pour scorn on the Belarusian opposition: "Yesterday, [the opposition] talked with the West. You [the West] dumped a substantial sum [of money] on them. They embezzled that money; they admitted it later themselves.... Now they turn to Russia. They think that Russia will dump [another sum of money] on them. But in Russia, they can count money and know to whom to give it. So, take it easy. These were only two sick men [editor's note: apparently, Nemtsov and Lyabedzka] who had a talk. This is my opinion."

In an apparent reference to Gazprom's recent comment that it supplies gas to Belarus on a "charity basis" (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 17 September 2002), Lukashenka presented his own estimate of Belarus's balance sheet with Russia. He admitted that Belarus owes Gazprom $215 million for natural gas but added that Minsk pays in a timely manner for current supplies. On the other hand, Lukashenka said Gazprom saves from $800 million to $1 billion annually because Minsk does not charge any transit fees for Russian gas transiting Belarus to Europe. He added that Russia does not pay anything for the use of two military radar stations located in Belarus (at Vileyka and Hantsavichy). He also recalled that Belarus provides both military and customs protection of Russia's western frontier. According to Lukashenka, Russia would have had to spend $30 billion to create the necessary defense and border-control infrastructure had Belarus not done it. "Don't think that the Russian state and the Russian leadership are subsidizing Belarus in any way," he noted.

Answering a query from a journalist of the opposition newspaper "Narodnaya volya," Lukashenka denied that he has a special nonbudgetary fund that he uses according to his own discretion. "There is no such presidential fund. If such a fund does exist, I am no longer the president. But if it does not exist, 'Narodnaya volya' will cease to exist in Belarus. Do you agree?" Lukashenka told the journalist. Lukashenka added that there is only "a special account outside the budget" in which some $20 million is currently deposited. Money paid to this account, Lukashenka explained, is for "customs payments" and comes from "the operation of the border."

"Regarding the money for arms sales, it is not your concern," Lukashenka went on. "This is a classified topic in every state. We sell only a small number of weapons, and the money for them goes into the reserves of our country, to [National Bank Chairman Petr] Prakapovich, for the needs of our children. Therefore, don't look for what is nonexistent and don't try to accuse me directly or indirectly of stealing." Lukashenka stressed that he is "the cleanest president in the world" and explained why: "I will never allow myself to take what does not belong to me. Why? Because I am the strongest believer here." Prakapovich subsequently commented that he has no idea "special account" Lukashenka referred to during the news conference.

(Last year, Finance Minister Mikalay Korbut, while speaking in the Chamber of Representatives, failed to give clear and specific answers to questions by legislator Ivan Pashkevich regarding the presidential fund. Pashkevich asked Korbut how much money is deposited in the account and in which bank, as well as how the fund's resources are spent and who is authorized to spend them. "Earlier, the president said that there was up to $1 billion from arms sales in the fund's account," Pashkevich said. Korbut replied that revenues from sales of military equipment "do not go through the budget" but are accumulated in a Belarusian bank account. "Those resources are used for maintaining the entire economy," Korbut said, adding that he does not know the total sum involved. Speaker Vadzim Papou switched off Korbut's microphone, saying that "no answer is an answer, too.")

"Soon, whether you like it or not, our relations with the West will significantly improve," Lukashenka predicted at the news conference. He said Minsk has received "signals" regarding this anticipated improvement from some Western states, but he did not name them. "I don't believe that the West is not interested in establishing close contacts with the Republic of Belarus," he noted, adding that improving relations with Europe and the United States is "a priority of Belarus's multilateral policy." (Jan Maksymiuk)

BAD NEWS FROM POLAND ABOUT ODESA-BRODY-GDANSK OIL PIPELINE... Is the Warsaw-declared "strategic partnership" with Kyiv only talk or a determined policy that may finally bear some palpable fruit? The daily "Rzeczpospolita," one of Poland's most serious opinion-shaping periodicals, suggested on 20 September that the first option may be a more probable answer.

According to "Rzeczpospolita," Poland is facing an "international scandal" because of an impending failure to make any contribution to the Odesa-Brody-Gdansk oil pipeline, which top Polish politicians, including President Aleksander Kwasniewski, long ago declared the most essential investment of the Polish-Ukrainian partnership.

Last year, Ukraine completed a 667-kilomenter pipeline linking the Black Sea port of Odesa with Brody in Lviv Oblast, near the Polish border. The first 30,000 tons of Caspian oil (supplied by a tanker to Odesa's Southern oil terminal) flowed along the pipeline this past August. The pipeline has an oil-transportation capacity of 12 million tons annually. Kyiv, which invested some $200 million in the Odesa-Brody pipeline, hopes to turn it into a major supply route for Caspian oil (not controlled by Russia) to European markets. What Kyiv currently needs is Poland's effort to prolong the Odesa-Brody pipeline to the Baltic Sea port of Gdansk so as to make the Eurasian Oil-Transporting Corridor (as Kyiv calls it) a reality. To do this, Poland would have to build a 500-kilometer stretch of pipeline from the Ukrainian border to Plock (northwest of Warsaw). Plock, which has a major oil refinery, is already linked by an oil pipeline with Gdansk.

Polish experts estimated that the cost of the Polish stretch of the Odesa-Gdansk pipeline would be 430 million euros ($422 million). But this is the only estimate made thus far by the Polish side. Despite the fact that the project has been mulled by Poles and Ukrainians since 1998, nobody actually knows whether the oil pipeline could operate on a self-financing basis, i.e., whether a barrel of oil sent from the Caspian Sea via a pipeline to the Georgian port of Supsa, subsequently in a tanker to Odesa, then via the Odesa-Gdansk pipeline to Gdansk, and finally in a tanker from Gdansk to Western Europe could be competitive on the European market.

Moreover, according to "Rzeczpospolita," the company responsible for the construction of the Polish stretch of the Odesa-Brody pipeline, the International Oil Association Golden Gate, has not done anything apart from appealing to state-controlled firms -- such as PGNiG (Poland's natural-gas distributor) and PERM (controls the Friendship oil pipeline) -- for financial support. Both PGNiG and PERM are wary about entering any deal with Golden Gate, arguing that the Odesa-Gdansk project is dubious as regards its profitability, while Golden Gate is currently a loss-making company.

But what is most shocking in the "Rzeczpospolita" report is the assertion that several top managers and shareholders of Golden Gate are people whose names have been linked for years with major economic scandals in postcommunist Poland.

"It seems that President Kwasniewski and Premier [Leszek] Miller, and earlier, politicians from the cabinet of [Jerzy] Buzek -- who publicly supported the project -- did not know what they were talking about, " "Rzeczpospolita" wrote in a commentary to its long article with revelations about the Odesa-Gdansk pipeline project. "How was it possible? Maybe, like [Polish United Workers Party Secretary Edward] Gierek some time ago, they were simply misinformed. This is one version. The other is that someone has a murky business in this undertaking. It is hard to say which version is worse. Both are compromising for the Polish authorities. And our pompous declarations regarding a strategic partnership with Ukraine appear quite miserable in this context."

President Kwasniewski has ordered National Security Bureau chief Marek Siwiec to examine the "Rzeczpospolita" allegations regarding the construction of the Odesa-Gdansk pipeline. Kwasniewski stressed that he did not change his "political opinion" about the project, adding that the participation of Poland in the construction of the pipeline "is important for including Ukraine in European structures." (Jan Maksymiuk)

...AND MORE BAD NEWS FROM AZERBAIJAN. The free-trade agreement between the four current member states of GUAM -- Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and Moldova (Uzbekistan suspended its membership earlier this year) -- comes into force this month. But relations between the two most prosperous members, Ukraine and Azerbaijan, have recently been soured by Azerbaijani reluctance to use the new Ukrainian Odessa-Brody oil pipeline. At the fifth session of the Azerbaijan-Ukraine intergovernmental commission for economic cooperation at the end of August, the Azerbaijanis said they had "no oil to spare" to fill the Ukrainian pipeline.

This pipeline and the Odessa oil terminal that it serves were constructed to convey oil shipped across the Black Sea from the ports of Novorossiisk (Russia) and Supsa (Georgia) to Central and Western Europe. The Ukrainian operator of the pipeline (as its name, Transnafta, suggests) saw its role as that of a transporter; the oil would remain the property of the shippers, who would pay transit fees to Ukraine. However, Natik Aliev, the president of the Azerbaijani State Petroleum Company (SOCAR), made it clear that if Ukraine wants Azerbaijani oil to fill the pipeline, it must buy it outright, and then sell it on. The Transnafta chairman, Oleksandr Todiychuk -- eager to get the pipeline into operation -- at once announced that his company is negotiating both with SOCAR and with Western oil firms operating in Azerbaijan to buy oil to fill the pipeline.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister Oleh Dubyna had a meeting with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, at which he proposed that the Azerbaijanis should take part in an international consortium to operate the pipeline, noting that the pipeline could transport the oil to Europe "without it being mixed" with oil from other sources. Dubyna pointed out that in the near future, Ukraine will sign an agreement with Poland on extending the pipeline from Brody to Gdansk and that the European Union will shortly make a recommendation on the strategic importance of the pipeline.

President Aliyev expressed his "support" for the proposals. Azerbaijani First Deputy Prime Minister Abbas Abbasov, however, stressed that Azerbaijan favored a diversity of export options for its oil. The Azerbaijanis needed more information, he implied, on the commercial details of the Ukrainian pipeline. Oil chief Natik Aliyev likewise said that there could be "no talk of any [Azerbaijani] participation at present." Both Abbasov and Natik Aliyev stressed that the proposal has to be considered solely on commercial viability. (In other words, the fact that Ukraine and Azerbaijan are members of GUAM will not be allowed to be a factor in this particular deal.)

The current capacity of the Odessa-Brody pipeline is 9 million tons a year, and it will eventually increase to 14 million tons. Azerbaijan's annual output is a little over 15 million tons, 8.9 million tons of which is at present pumped along the Baku-Novorossiisk and Baku-Supsa pipelines. However, Azerbaijan is involved in another major export project: the building of a pipeline from Baku via Georgia to Ceyhan in Turkey. Although construction of this pipeline has only just begun -- the groundbreaking ceremonies were on 18 September, and there is currently a major political row in Azerbaijan over alleged Armenian ties of one of the subcontractors (Consolidated Contractors International Company) -- Azerbaijan's major involvement in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline might well deter it from any long-term commitment to Odessa-Brody. (Vera Rich)

UKRAINIAN SOCIETY AND 'KUCHMAGATE' TWO YEARS LATER. For the past two years, the unsolved murder of Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze and the unanswered questions of "Kuchmagate" (the scandal connected with the publication of secret audio tapes made by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko in President Leonid Kuchma's office) are still two of the most serious topics in Ukrainian political life. Kuchmagate has raised such fundamental issues of Ukraine's political transformation as the legal and moral legitimacy of the authorities, widespread corruption of the political and economic elite, and systematic persecutions of the political opposition and free media.

At the same time, the ongoing, latent political crisis in the country has also led to certain positive trends associated with the signs of emerging democratic activism. The opposition protest action "Rise Up, Ukraine!" is an example of this.

The authorities have so far managed to "marginalize" (or, to use a technical term coined by official political consultants in Ukraine, "to canalize") opposition activities and the mass political protests that resulted from Kuchmagate. In official media outlets, the large-scale political scandal and public reaction to it have often been presented as a routine criminal case and an insidious intrigue by political opponents, who are often portrayed as "irresponsible adventurers, losers, and marginal players." The remark by Interior Minister Yuriy Smyrnov at a recent news conference about "criminals and mentally ill people who are attracted by the upcoming protests" is fully in line with this manipulative strategy.

However, unresolved issues of the Kuchmagate scandal have also confirmed that Ukrainian society suffers from a lack of trustworthy moral authorities (individuals and institutions) that advocate public interest in the search for truth in the Kuchmagate story. Kuchmagate has shown that private feelings and emotions still do not transform into public opinion, which is an important tool of civil society. Paraphrasing the Georgian philosopher Merab Mamardashvili, we can say that during Kuchmagate, the Ukrainian public has demonstrated its disability to draw moral and political conclusions regarding complex issues. And public actions in the absence of developed public opinion have so far appeared to be inconsistent and irresolute.

However, it would not be fair to accuse the Ukrainian public of political passivity in fighting for their rights. One should take into account that the official propaganda machinery has contributed enormously to making the moral and rational choice of political positions for a majority of citizens a very complicated and nearly impossible issue.

According to a poll of a representative sample of 1,800 respondents by the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Sociology in March 2001, the more people were informed about Kuchmagate from various sources, the more they believed in the authenticity of Melnychenko's tapes.

Some international bodies have claimed that the portions of the tapes they reviewed were authentic, and Ukrainian authorities have acknowledged that their voices are on the tapes. Paradoxically, however, the main question raised by the scandal is not about the authenticity of Melnychenko's tapes as such, but rather about the possibility, even if hypothetical, of bringing a case allegedly involving the country's top officials to court in Ukraine. This important point has not become a legal question in Ukraine. The reasons for this are people's underdeveloped legal culture and the absence of a system of civic control over the authorities. It is noteworthy that the erstwhile intentions of some officials, including Verkhovna Rada speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, to protect their "honor and dignity" from "the lies on the tapes" have remained unfulfilled. And newly appointed Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun is still hesitating about whether to question Melnychenko directly.

An analysis of the March 2001 survey also reveals a clear correlation between the level of respondents' knowledge of Kuchmagate and their readiness to take part in the "For the Truth" protest campaign in 2001. Kuchmagate has confirmed the axiom that citizens' knowledge and free access to different sources of information increase their ability to make political decisions and develop their political culture.

Is the situation different today? What are the prospects for the "Rise Up, Ukraine!" protest campaign? As previous experience has shown, sociological measurement of the population's protest potential can hardly estimate all the complexity and unpredictability of future events. Statistical laws could be very unreliable for assessing the situation of a political crisis. Sociologists know about the so-called "shifted-involvement" phenomenon, when a seemingly inert civil society, which is concentrated during "calm" periods upon local community-oriented issues and initiatives, actively mobilizes itself during nationwide political crises of the kind Ukraine is experiencing now. The near future will show whether a weak, though slowly emerging, Ukrainian civil society can take another important step in its development.

(This report was written by Dr. Viktor Stepanenko, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Sociology, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, and director of the Center for Public Policy Development.)

CORRECTION: The item titled "Migrants, 'Murashky,' And The Polish-Ukrainian Border" in the 17 September 2002 edition of "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report" should have specified that those tourists from the European Union, the United States, Canada, Switzerland, and Japan traveling to specific Ukrainian sea resorts for a stay of no longer than eight days may enter Ukraine without a visa. This regulation was introduced by Ukraine's Foreign Ministry in July. Such tourists can purchase their visas at the Simferopol and Odesa airports and the Odesa seaport.

"We must fight those who are today the main guardians of injustice, [of] the deficiency of law, lawlessness, and falsehood; those who rule today; those who have cheated the people: the Democratic Left Alliance.... The Democratic Left Alliance is a party of nomenklatura nouveau riches, a party of the people who manifest their contempt for society in the most shameless way." -- Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski at a wildly applauding convention in Warsaw on 22 September, where PiS inaugurated its local election campaign (Jaroslaw Kaczynski's twin brother, Lech Kaczynski, is running for the mayor of Warsaw); quoted by PAP.