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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: August 28, 2001

28 August 2001, Volume 3, Number 32
PRISON OFFICIAL CONFIRMS DEATH SQUAD ALLEGATIONS. In an interview with the Minsk-based independent "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" on 22 August, Aleh Alkayeu, the warden of Minsk's death-row prison, confirmed allegations that top Belarusian officials and an elite police unit (SOBR) were involved in the killing of opposition figures Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar as well as Hanchar's friend, businessman Anatol Krasouski.

Zakharanka disappeared on 7 May 1999, while Hanchar and Krasouski on 16 September 1999. The Belarusian opposition had repeatedly demanded that the authorities investigate those disappearances but no information on the fate of Zakharanka, Hanchar, and Krasouski was available until June 2001, when former Belarusian investigators Dzmitry Petrushkevich and Aleh Sluchak fled to the U.S. and subsequently disclosed some details of the investigation in which they were involved.

According to Petrushkevich and Sluchak, Zakharanka, Hanchar, Krasouski, and ORT cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski were killed by SOBR people who were organized into a "death squad" under the command of Interior Ministry officer Dzmitry Paulyuchenka, following orders from Security Council Secretary Viktar Sheyman and Interior Minister Yury Sivakou. The death squad allegedly tested its killing method on criminals before moving on to political murders. According to the two former investigators, the death squad killed some 30 people in total.

Petrushkevich and Sluchak also disclosed that prosecutors and KGB investigators discovered the existence of the death squad during the investigation of the Zavadski case and arrested Paulyuchenka. Former Prosecutor-General Aleh Bazhelka made an attempt to find Zavadski's body -- which was allegedly buried in the Northern Cemetery in Minsk -- but was prevented from doing so by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. In a surprising security shake-up in November 2000, Lukashenka sacked Bazhelka and replaced him with Sheyman. The Belarusian president also fired KGB Chairman Uladzimir Matskevich and appointed Leanid Yeryn to lead Belarus's secret police. Sheyman ordered Paulyuchenka's release from jail.

According to suppositions voiced in some Russian and Belarusian media, Lukashenka paid for Matskevich's silence by financing his treatment abroad and appointing him Belarus's ambassador to Yugoslavia. The current whereabouts of Bazhelka are not known -- there were rumors reported by Belarusian independent media that Bazhelka is in Russia waiting for the outcome of the 9 September presidential election.

Last month, Uladzimir Hancharyk -- the head of the Trade Union Federation and one of the contestants in Belarus's presidential race -- made public documents confirming the complicity of Sheyman and Sivakou in the killing of Zakharanka, Hanchar, and Krasouski. Hancharyk presented a photocopy of a report written by the former chief of the police department for criminal investigation, Mikalay Lapatsik, to Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumau. Lapatsik said in the report that Sheyman ordered SOBR to kill Zakharanka, Hanchar, and Krasouski. The three were allegedly killed by shots from a pistol used for executions in SIZO-1, Minsk's death-row prison. Other documents revealed by Hancharyk say that then-Interior Minister Sivakou authorized two Interior Ministry officers to take the pistol out of SIZO-1 on two occasions. The documents mention Aleh Alkayeu, who gave the weapon to those officers following orders from his superiors.

Alkayeu, who is currently in Germany, said in an interview with "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" on 22 August and confirmed in another interview with "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on 24 August that the documents revealed by Hancharyk are authentic. Alkayeu confirmed that he gave the weapon used for executions on two occasions to people from the Interior Ministry -- on 30 April 1999 (the pistol was returned on 14 May, while Zakharanka disappeared on 7 May), and on 16 September (the pistol was returned on 18 September, while Hanchar and Krasouski disappeared on 16 September in the evening). Alkayeu said that on both occasions the receipt and return of the pistol were noted in a special book and countersigned, adding that he is in possession of that book.

Alkayeu was responsible for carrying out the death sentences at SIZO-1. During his service term, the death penalty was invoked 130 times and always with the same pistol, a PB-9 with a silencer, which was fired into the back of prisoners' heads. Alkayeu was present at all 130 executions.

Alkayeu said, however, that one time he was ordered to break the execution routine by allowing an outsider -- SOBR commander Paulyuchenka -- to be present at an execution of five convicts. Alkayeu told "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta":

"[Paulyuchenka] came to SIZO [and] introduced himself. I offered him a drink just in case -- it is not easy to look at an execution. Not everyone is able to endure such a stress. He refused. Then we came to the site of the executions. On that day five people were executed. He was present at the execution of each of them. At one moment, he asked the executioner why the man shoots in the head instead of in the heart. 'If you shot in the heart -- [Paulyuchenka] says -- there would be less blood.' This question struck me: a man who has never killed anybody cannot know how to shoot better and how much blood is let from where.... In connection with this, I want to emphasize: the pistol with which the death penalty is carried out in SIZO is intended only for shooting people and only at point-blank range. I emphasize: at point-blank range. In other words, it is inefficient at ranges where an ordinary pistol is used."

Why should Paulyuchenka and his alleged death squad use the very same pistol meant for executions? Alkayeu offered two explanations to "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta":

"[This pistol] was necessary to impart a ritual of execution to a killing. In order to relieve some of the burden of responsibility from people performing this act: here you have a special weapon -- this is not a killing, this is a sentence to be carried out. Possibly, there even was a verdict. A false one. Sivakou likes various rituals," Alkayeu noted.

Alkayeu also said this method for killing political opponents of the regime might have been invented to dump the blame on him:

"This operation had a certain [amount of] perfidy in regard to myself and the two other SIZO workers who are authorized to handle the pistol. At some moment, all the blame could be dumped on us. Let's suppose the bodies are found after a year, five years, 10 years.... [the newspaper's ellipsis] Who is made accountable? If more time had passed, I could have hardly been able to explain anything in a comprehensible way. [Moreover], if the book that registers the issuing of the [execution] weapon disappeared, or if the witnesses who saw Paulyuchenka coming to SIZO disappeared.... [the newspaper's ellipsis] That would be the end, the chain [of evidence] would be broken."

Alkayeu noted that should Lukashenka lose the 9 September election, dozens of people who are now intimidated and afraid would promptly agree to testify and the mystery of the disappearances of opposition figures in Belarus would be solved "within a week."

KUCHMA SPEAKS ABOUT ACHIEVEMENTS OF INDEPENDENCE. "Independent Ukraine came into being ultimately and irrevocably," Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said in Kyiv on 23 August, at a gala meeting to mark the 10th anniversary of the country's independence.

Kuchma said some 17 million young people have been educated in schools and education institutions of independent Ukraine. "We have a potentially powerful human resource, not burdened with canons of the past, which is capable of taking responsibility for the future," Interfax quoted the Ukrainian president as saying.

Kuchma stressed that the nation's main achievement in the past 10 years is the peaceful way in which Ukraine's independence has been established.

"One thing is beyond doubt: the Ukrainian state has never taken up arms against its citizens, and its soldiers have not fought against other countries," Kuchma said.

Kuchma noted, however, that this peaceful way of building Ukraine's independence has had its price too. "We were forced to make grave compromises with enemies of democracy, private ownership, free entrepreneurship, [as well as] of the very independence and statehood," he said.

The Ukrainian leader admitted that "the results of the decade [of independence] are not such as we would like to see them or such as they could be." But he added that "great deeds are [usually] accompanied by great difficulties."

Kuchma took advantage of the solemn occasion to stress his own role in Ukraine's transformation: "As the head of state, I have demonstrated to Ukrainian society and the entire world my dedication to the lawful, generally accepted democratic principles of resolving the problems [that surfaced during Ukraine's transformation]," he said.

"The Ukrainian Weekly," a respected publication of the Ukrainian diaspora in the U.S., interviewed a number of Ukrainian politicians "from different points on the Ukrainian political horizon" on what they think is the greatest achievement of Ukraine's 10 years of independence. An evidently baffled correspondent of the weekly reported in its 26 August issue: "The politicians that were approached gave answers that were uncannily similar, giving us pause to wonder at times during our interviews whether some giant prank was not being played and whether we were not the butt of the joke.... The response, although less than enthusiastic and optimistic, nonetheless succinctly explains an incontrovertible fact: State independence is in and of itself by far the most important achievement for a Ukrainian nation that suffered over 300 years of imperial hegemony, according to the politicians we queried. Everything else is secondary and simply follows logically from that which happened first."

From 25 July to 5 August, the GfK-USM polling center conducted a survey among 1,000 Ukrainians on their assessment of the first decade of independent Ukraine. Of those polled, 32.2 percent said "not everything took place [in independent Ukraine] as it should have," while 51.5 percent said "everything took place in the way it should not have." Only 6.6 percent declared that "everything took place as it should have," while 9.7 percent were unable to answer the question.

In a poll conducted by the Oleksandr Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies among 2,007 adult Ukrainians from 14-23 August, 80.5 percent of respondents said they would participate in a referendum on Ukraine's independence if such a referendum were organized today -- 67.9 percent of them declared they would back Ukraine's independence. In the December 1991 referendum, Ukraine's independence was supported by some 91 percent of voters. The same poll found that 51.1 percent of Ukrainians believe that Ukraine has failed to become an independent state in the past 10 years following the declaration of its independence; only 36.6 percent said Ukraine is an actually independent state.

UKRAINE, BELARUS ARE AMONG LEADERS OF ARMS EXPORTS. A U.S. analysis of international arms sales says the United States, Russia, and France are the three leading exporters of military hardware to developing countries. It also ranks Belarus and Ukraine within the top 10.

Experts say this is not surprising because Belarus and Ukraine still have the factories used to make the arms and other military equipment that were the hallmark of the Soviet economy before the breakup of the USSR.

The 83-page report is titled "Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 1993 to 2000." It is prepared and updated each year by the U.S. Congressional Research Service. Like its other studies, the service distributes its documents only to members of Congress, who often share them with the news media.

The report focuses on the world's top three arms exporters. The U.S., it says, ranked first in agreements to sell arms during 2000. These contracts totaled $12.6 billion, or nearly 50 percent of all international arms contracts throughout the year. Russia was the second-leading nation in this category, agreeing to sell $7.4 billion worth of arms, or just over 29 percent of the value of all such contracts. France was third, contracting to sell $2.1 million worth of military hardware, or a bit more than 8 percent of the total.

Often, the report cites exports by only the leading seven countries: the U.S., Russia, France, Britain, China, Germany, and Italy. But more detailed tables deep within the report rank Belarus No. 8 in arms deliveries to developing nations in 2000, and Ukraine at No. 10. Both delivered to their clients military hardware valued at $200 million.

For the period from 1997 through 2000, Ukraine ranked eighth in such deliveries, with a total of $1.5 billion, and Belarus ranked ninth, with a total of $1.1 billion. The two former Soviet republics were not ranked for the period from 1993 through 1996 because their sales volumes were so low at that time.

Aside from the ethical questions of weapons proliferation, such international sales can be important to a nation's economy. But analysts interviewed by RFE/RL say their dependence on arms exports can be an indication that the economies of Belarus and Ukraine may be stagnating.

Richard Thornton is a professor of history and international affairs at George Washington University in Washington. He told RFE/RL that the amount of military hardware that both Belarus and Ukraine delivered to foreign customers last year shows that their economies have not evolved properly from the Soviet era.

"Their economies remain very narrowly focused in the way that they were before communism collapsed. All of these were part of the Soviet economy then, and one of the fundamental reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union was the fact that they could not expand their domestic economic base in a way sufficient to account for consumer needs," Thornton noted.

Thornton says the blame lies squarely with the leadership in both countries. He was reminded that after World War II, U.S. companies quickly shifted production from military hardware to consumer goods. Thornton says this refitting or "retooling" of factories has not happened yet in the manufacturing sectors of the Belarusian and Ukrainian economies.

"They've had a decade to undertake a retooling process, and I don't see it happening," he said.

According to Thornton, this stagnation is particularly puzzling given the amount of money that the International Monetary Fund and private Western industries have invested in the countries to help them broaden their economies. Now, he says, private investment has fallen off because Belarus and Ukraine have also failed to modernize their legal systems to ensure that investments are safeguarded and that contracts are upheld.

Anders Aslund is an economic analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a private Washington policy center. He agrees that Belarus and Ukraine have until recently been slow to expand their economies. He says the government of Belarus has shed so little of its Soviet past that it is shunned by many other countries. In fact, in terms of arms sales, Aslund told RFE/RL that the Belarusian government has no scruples about who its customers are for military hardware.

"Belarus is prepared to sell to whomever, and since that is almost an outcast state, they [Belarus] are probably the most dangerous ones from a U.S. foreign policy perspective," Aslund noted.

Aslund says the same was true for Ukraine until last year, when economic reforms were instituted by Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine's prime minister at the time, and Yuliya Tymoshenko, who controlled the country's energy sector.

Yushchenko's government has since lost a vote of confidence in parliament, but Aslund says President Leonid Kuchma appears not to be abandoning Yushchenko's economic reforms. And he says these reforms are likely to produce economic growth of at least 10 percent this year. He cited aggressive economic growth in such sectors as agriculture, land ownership, and light industry, to name just three.

"There has been a massive structural change in the last 1 1/2 years. Before that, it [Ukraine's economy] was extremely stagnant for a long time," Aslund said.

As for Belarus, Aslund says the only hope is that the people vote President Lukashenka out of office in the 9 September elections. He says he is slightly optimistic about the future of the country's economy, but only because Lukashenka's re-election is not assured.

(RFE/RL senior correspondent Andrew F. Tully wrote this report.)

"Relations between Poland and Israel are never normal, they are always either exceptionally good or exceptionally bad." -- Attributed by Polish Television on 22 August to Israeli Ambassador to Poland Shevah Weiss.

"We do not need to go to the West -- we are already there. We do not need to strive for the benevolence of the West -- we are part of it." -- President Leonid Kuchma, speaking to a solemn gathering in Kyiv on 23 August to mark Ukraine's 10th anniversary of independence; quoted by Interfax.