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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: September 4, 2001


4 September 2001, Volume 3, Number 33
POLAND
POLAND'S GAS DEAL WITH NORWAY OFFERS RELIEF TO UKRAINE. A deal reached on 29 August between Poland and Norway could spell the end of Russia's long campaign to pressure Ukraine over its pipelines that transport Russian natural gas.

The "Financial Times" reported that Norway's agreement to sell 74 billion cubic meters of gas to Poland over a 16-year period will reduce Warsaw's dependence on Russia for fuel supplies.

Under the agreement, the deliveries by Norway's Statoil to the Polish Oil and Gas Company will start in 2008 and rise quickly to 5 billion cubic meters annually through 2024. Although the amount seems relatively small, Poland consumed only about 11 billion cubic meters of gas last year. Over 60 percent of that amount was imported from Russia.

The deal is important because of the three-way tensions that have been building between Russia, Poland, and Ukraine over Kyiv's use of Russian gas and Moscow's attempts to solve the problem.

Some 90 percent of Russia's gas exports to Europe run through the former Soviet pipelines in Ukraine. But Russia has frequently accused Ukraine of illicitly tapping gas. Ukraine also owes an estimated $1.3 billion for past Russian supplies.

In July 2000, Russia announced it would try to build a bypass line through Poland and Slovakia to reduce its reliance on Ukraine and eventually double its energy exports to the European Union.

But getting Poland's consent has been problematic. Although Warsaw sent mixed signals, it ultimately was unwilling to take part in a plan that would undercut Ukraine.

The agreement with Norway, which has been debated for months, may help Poland in at least two ways. It limits Moscow's power to pressure Warsaw over its stand on the bypass by ending its role as the monopoly supplier. It may also satisfy an EU directive on diversifying energy sources, which may aid Poland's drive to join the EU.

On the downside, Poland will pay more for Norwegian gas, which will require a new pipeline to be built across the Baltic Sea. Poland's neighbor Germany may also be displeased, since Germany's Ruhrgas is a shareholder in Russia's Gazprom and a partner in studying the bypass plan.

While the results may be mixed, the effects of the pending deal have been notable in recent weeks.

After more than a year of friction, Russia and Ukraine are close to an agreement on rescheduling Kyiv's gas debts on terms that could give Ukraine as much as a decade to pay.

Upon taking office in May, Ukrainian Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh took a tougher position than his predecessor Viktor Yushchenko on countering Moscow's demands that Kyiv convert the arrears of its power sector into sovereign debt. Ukraine has also fought off Russian proposals to control the transit lines.

A compromise may be found, but it also seems likely that Ukraine's harder line has been the result of a sense that Russia's bypass plan would fail.

At a meeting to mark Ukraine's 10th anniversary of independence, Russian President Vladimir Putin again raised the pipeline issue with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, according to Reuters. But there were no reports that Kwasniewski agreed to the bypass plan.

(RFE/RL correspondent Michael Lelyveld wrote this report.)

BELARUS
POLL SUGGESTS SECOND ROUND IN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. In August, the Minsk-based Independent Institute of Socioeconomic Studies (NISEPI) held a poll among 1,518 respondents throughout the country on their electoral and political preferences. The poll's margin of error was 3 percent.

Of those polled, 57.2 percent declared that they intend to participate in the presidential ballot on 9 September; 31.2 percent said they are "likely to participate"; 5.6 percent said they are "likely not to participate"; 4 percent have decided not to participate; and 2 percent were unable to decide on their participation.

NISEPI asked two questions regarding the voting preferences on 9 September. In one question -- a "closed one" -- the institute mentioned four names of possible presidential candidates: Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Syamyon Domash (who was still a candidate at the time the poll was conducted), Uladzimir Hancharyk, and Syarhey Haydukevich. In the other -- an "open one" -- the respondents were asked to name the candidate for whom they will vote.

Answering the "closed question," 47.4 percent of respondents said they will vote for Lukashenka. Domash was supported by 12.1 percent of voters, Hancharyk by 11.4 percent, and Haydukevich by 4.1 percent. Of those polled, 10.6 percent said they will not support any of the candidates, while 14.4 percent were unable to answer the question.

In the "open question," 44.4 percent of respondents declared their support to Lukashenka, 12.4 percent to Domash, 11.2 percent to Hancharyk, 3.3 percent to Haydukevich, and 3.3 percent to other politicians. Of those polled, 22.2 percent were unable to answer this question, while 4.2 percent gave a "different answer" than that of mentioning a specific name.

According to NISEPI, the popularity rating of Hancharyk, the unified opposition candidate (following Domash's withdrawal from the presidential race in his favor), amounted to some 20 percent by the end on August. Despite the decisive lead of Lukashenka, NISEPI argues that the incumbent president may meet his match in Hancharyk provided that the opposition pools its election efforts. Some 25 percent of voters, NISEPI stresses, have not yet decided whether they will participate in the 9 September vote. Moreover, NISEPI recalls that no later than in June Hancharyk was backed only by 1 percent of voters, and Domash by 3.1 percent.

Only 23.8 percent of respondents claimed that they are sufficiently informed about presidential candidates, while 65.4 percent said they do not possess sufficient information about them. Asked about their sources of election information, 53.7 percent of respondents named television, 53.4 percent newspapers, and 30.4 radio. Only 13.9 percent said they got their information from election posters and leaflets.

It is also interesting to look at a list of the most popular media outlets among Belarusians. NISEPI found that the most popular television channels in Belarus are Russia's ORT (93.1 percent of respondents watch it) and RTR (80.7 percent). Belarusian Television is watched by 77.1 percent of respondents and Russia's NTV by 54.9 percent. Among radio stations, the most popular are Belarusian State Radio (49 percent), local state-run radio stations (37.9 percent), FM stations (35.6 percent), and Russian radio stations (31 percent). The most popular newspapers are the pro-Lukashenka "Sovetskaya Belorussiya" (read by 39.4 percent of respondents) and two local versions of the Russian newspapers "Argumenty i fakty" (38.5 percent) and "Komsomolskaya pravda" (34.7 percent).

The most popular pro-opposition newspapers, "Narodnaya volya" and "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta," are read by 12.3 percent and 11.2 percent of respondents respectively.

RFE/RL's Belarusian Service, according to the NISEPI poll, was listened to in August by 11.3 percent of Belarusians.

NISEPI also found that Belarusians remain divided as to whether the upcoming presidential ballot will be honest: only 17.8 percent of respondents said they are sure that the election will be fair, while 40.2 chose the answer "I hope that the election will be fair." The option "I doubt that the election will be fair" was chosen by 26.9 percent of respondents, while 11 percent said they are sure that the election will not be fair.

One question by NISEPI touched upon the possibility of a "Yugoslav scenario" in Belarus following a vote rigged by the authorities: "If you conclude that the results of the presidential election are falsified, how will you behave?" The answers were as follows: "I will accept [the results], because it will be too late to change them" -- 42.6 percent; "I will take part in mass protest actions in order to try changing these results" -- 11 percent; "I will not accept those results and will be very upset, but I will not take part in mass protest actions" -- 27.9 percent. Of those polled, 18.5 percent were unable to answer that question.

UKRAINE
RUSSIAN INTERNET PROJECT TARGETS UKRAINE. A new Russian-language website devoted to Ukraine appeared last month at http://www.ukraine.ru. The website is attributed to Russia's National Information Service Strana.ru. Editor in Chief Sergei Sklyarov explains his goals for the website in the following way:

"[Russia's] closest neighbors are beyond the field of vision of [Russian] media outlets, newsmakers, and experts.... The closest and one of the largest of Russia's neighbors -- Ukraine -- is gradually becoming a blank spot on the map of foreign news. The lack of information entails the lack of experts' attention, the lack of experts' attention entails the silence of the media, and the silence of the media entails the lack of information. This is a vicious circle that creates the situation of an unintentional informational quasi-blockade.... The project Ukraine.ru is the first serious step toward breaking this blockade. The project consists of two parts -- references and news. The references part (the 'Map of Ukraine' catalogue) is a regularly updated source of full information about the most significant spheres of life of present-day Ukraine -- politics, economics, religion, elections, the history of the country. The news part is presented as a news tape consisting of a priority piece of news labeled 'urgent,' a main subject including information about a key event in Ukraine or around her, and two topics of the day that present topical materials of interest for the Russian public. Apart from these, the website has a chapter of interviews -- updated every day -- which consists of exclusive interviews with leading Ukrainian and Russian experts, politicians, and representatives of the authorities, [as well as those of] public and business organizations.... The website is primarily oriented toward Russian users who are interested in Ukrainian problems -- journalists, analysts, and experts on Ukraine."

The Ukrainian independent website "Ukrayinska pravda" on 27 August run a comment by Oleksandr Brams offering an insight into the appearance of the above-mentioned Internet project.

According to "Ukrayinska pravda," the Ukraine.ru website was actually created by specialists from Russia's Fund of Effective Policy (FEP), following an order from the Kremlin. FEP is a private political-consulting organization set up in 1995, which has gradually become Russia's leading organization in the development of the Russian Internet. FEP head Gleb Pavlovskii and FEP board chairwoman Marina Litvinovich are widely believed to be chief political consultants of the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to the "Ukrayinska pravda." FEP has launched some 40 Internet projects, including such important and influential Internet publications as Strana.ru, Lenta.ru, Vesti (http://www.vesti.ru), and Gazeta.ru.

Brams believes that the inauguration of the Ukraine.ru website reflects Russia's increasing political interests in Ukraine and the Kremlin's intention to influence Ukraine's information sphere in the run-up to next year's parliamentary elections. Brams said: "It is obvious that the Ukraine.ru project will vigorously participate in the division of money that will be spent by Ukrainian politicians and parties for advertising in the upcoming elections. There is no doubt that this informational project will be...one of the most frequently visited websites devoted to Ukraine." Brams added that in the first two days of its existence, the Ukraine.ru website already outdistanced the "Ukrayinska pravda," Ukraine's most popular website, in the number of website hits per day by some 10-30 percent.

Brams also argues that the Ukraine.ru website is primarily intended for Ukrainian users. He cites Russian Internet developer Anton Nosik to support his point:

"The newly created Ukraine.ru is hardly pursuing informational goals. The target audience of any Moscow media outlet that writes about Ukrainian matters are Ukrainian readers, not Russian ones. And the Russian media tell those Ukrainian readers: this is how the Kremlin is viewing Kuchma, your elections, candidates, Lazarenko and Tymoshenko. The stance of the Big Brother may be of interest for some people in Kyiv. As for Russian readers, if they suddenly become interested in Ukrainian topics, they will look for Ukrainian information resources, not for a 'look from Moscow.'"

QUOTES OF THE WEEK
"I have long ago ceased to be a happy man in the full sense of the word. My understanding of happiness is that of a major state official. It is true what people say -- I am very happy when I meet people and when people understand me and say 'thank you' to me." -- Alyaksandr Lukashenka, quoted by Belarusian Television on 29 August.

"Our dear brothers and sisters! A deadly danger is hovering over the world. The West, led by the United States (G-7), has begun to insolently and impertinently dictate to the entire world how people should live and whom they should elect as their president. Having essentially unleashed a third world war, having destroyed the defiant and peace-loving Yugoslavia, these hawks are now trying to subdue the last stronghold of resistance in Europe -- the peace-loving and independent Republic of Belarus. They have set a goal according to the Yugoslav scenario: to falsify the results of the upcoming election with any possible means and to prevent the re-election of Alyaksandr Lukashenka for a new term by replacing him with a Belarusian Kostunica -- Uladzimir Hancharyk." -- The Moscow-based "Pravda" on 31 August; this "open letter" was attributed to "Cheslav Vysotskii, secretary of the underground Central Committee of the Communist Party of Lithuania."

"It only seems at first glance that oh! the president has power, oh! the president has something else. No. This is a very difficult job [to be a president]. The president has no days off. Neither days nor nights. I simply want order in the country and [I want] people to live in peace and tranquility." -- Alyaksandr Lukashenka in a propaganda film broadcast on Russia's RTR television on 2 September; quoted by Belarusian Television.

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