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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: July 25, 2000

25 July 2000, Volume 2, Number 26
POLITICIANS EXPRESS CONCERN OVER GAS PIPELINE PROJECT BYPASSING UKRAINE. During President Aleksander Kwasniewski's talks with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, at the Kremlin on 10 July, the Russian side proposed constructing a gas pipeline from Russia to Slovakia via Poland and bypassing Ukraine, PAP reported. "We talked about that both one-on-one as well as at a plenary meeting. Talks are in progress on the matter; it is more an economic and less a political question," Kwasniewski said later at a press conference.

Former Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek said the Polish government will not agree to such a project. "I can assure you that there has been no such agreement from the side of the Polish government and what's more, I am convinced there will be no such agreement, for it's not in Poland's interests, and I think the Russian side is also aware of that," Geremek told Warsaw-based Radio Plus.

Presidential adviser Stanislaw Ciosek, who was the long-standing Polish ambassador to Moscow, told PAP that during the talks at the Kremlin, Kwasniewski did not make any commitments on the issue of building a gas pipeline from Russia to Western Europe. He assured that "we will not disturb our relations and partnership with Ukraine."

Andrzej Majkowski, another Kwasniewski aide, told the agency that the negotiations on the construction of the gas pipeline will be conducted by Deputy Prime Minister and Economics Minister Janusz Steinhoff. Majkowski added that economic considerations are being given more weight in the project than political ones.

On 12 July, Kwasniewski called Ukraine President Leonid Kuchma and assured him that "we will not be supporting anything that would be aimed against Ukraine and that would have an overtly anti-Ukrainian character," according to PAP. Ukrainian politicians, including Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, had earlier expressed unease at the possibility that a pipeline might be built bypassing Ukrainian territory.

According to the president, the question of how Poland and Ukraine are to participate in the transit of energy supplies remains open. "This is in their interest and in ours, and this is a different discussion: not about whether we are for or against Ukraine, but about what to do for Poland and Ukraine to benefit from this," PAP quoted Kwasniewski as saying. According to Kwasniewski, the worst thing that could happen would be the exclusion of Poland and Ukraine from the new transit arrangements.

On 14 July, Kwasniewski told Polish Radio that there is no Russian proposal in writing for the construction of a gas pipeline through Poland and avoiding Ukraine. He added: "What we should do first of all is organize a group of experts, professional people and see what Russian offers involve--carry out the economic, ecological and political analyses.... And there is one thing that I can say directly to you: that we will certainly be thinking in terms of the Polish interest, since that is our obligation and honor, to act in this way. Second, we will of course be striving for the Ukrainian interest to be protected too. And third, we want to have good contacts with Russia. And fourth, we have nothing at all against making a profit out of all this."

On 15 July, Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek assured his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yushchenko, at a meeting in Zamosc (eastern Poland) that Poland will keep Ukraine's interests in mind regarding decisions about gas transit from Russia. "We want Ukraine to be included in a safe European system of gas supply that provides deliveries from different directions," Buzek added.

Following his talks with Ukrainian Fuel and Energy Minister Serhiy Yermilov in Warsaw on 21 July, Economics Minister Janusz Steinhoff assured the Ukrainian visitor that Poland will not agree to Russia's request to build a gas pipeline on Polish territory that would allow Moscow to bypass its main transit route to the West, which now runs through Ukraine. Steinhoff said, however, that Poland would like to finalize the 1993 agreement with Russia, which provides for building two segments of the Yamal pipeline on its territory, which would have a total capacity of 64 million cubic meters. The first segment, which was opened last year with half of that capacity, transports gas to Germany. The route of the second segment will be negotiated with Russia, but Steinhoff noted that it cannot pose a threat to Ukraine.

"Today, the Polish side confirmed its resolute position on the strategic partnership with Ukraine. I am particularly happy because we clarified the issues that threatened Ukraine's economic interests. And I also say that the Ukrainian side will honor its obligations," Polish Radio quoted Yermilov as saying.

BALCEROWICZ BECOMES SHEVARDNADZE'S ADVISER. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze announced on 17 July that Leszek Balcerowicz--Poland's former finance minister and the author of the "shock therapy" that put Poland on a market economy track--has agreed to become his adviser, PAP reported on 17 July. Shevardnadze said Balcerowicz "will help execute a more energetic course of economic reforms" in Georgia. He added that if Georgia were a country without perspectives, Balcerowicz would not have agreed to accept that post. According to the Georgian president, Balcerowicz's mission in Georgia will be financed by the United States.

DEFECTOR KIDNAPPED IN POLAND TO COMPROMISE OPPOSITION? A scenario reminiscent of a Hollywood action movie developed in Belarus last week, creating a large stir among both the authorities and the opposition.

Citing unofficial sources, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 19 July that former Belarusian police officer Aleh Baturyn, who received asylum in Poland, had been kidnapped in Poland by Belarusian special services and transported back to Minsk. Baturyn quit his job at the Interior Ministry in February, accusing it in an open letter of provoking clashes with the opposition (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 15 February 2000). On 21 July, Belarusian Television quoted Baturyn as saying from the U.S. embassy in Minsk: "What was voiced by Radio Liberty is not true. I have never said that I was kidnapped by the Belarusian secret service." Belarusian Television reported that Baturyn had been transported in a U.S. embassy vehicle to the Belarusian-Polish border and returned to Poland. The report, however, failed to mention why and how Baturyn suddenly appeared in Minsk and why he left the country--apparently unobstructed--where criminal proceedings have been instigated against him in connection with his defection.

Later developments and comments have helped somewhat to clarify the mysterious appearance of Baturyn in Minsk.

A U.S. embassy official told Belapan that Baturyn had been forced to make the 21 July statement in exchange for his safe return to Poland.

Baturyn himself told Belapan from Warsaw on 23 July that he was kidnapped by unknown assailants in Poland, taken to Minsk, and forced to make compromising statements about the Belarusian opposition and the U.S. embassy in Minsk.

Baturyn said he was attacked by two unknown men in Warsaw on 16 July. "After I had been hit in the stomach, I ceased to resist," Baturyn said. The men ordered Baturyn to go to Minsk, adding that if he followed their instructions, he would be treated well and receive a lot of money. According to Baturyn, he traveled to Minsk by train via Kyiv and Moscow over three days--his guards were in the same car, but not the in same compartment. He had a microphone attached to his shirt during the journey. Baturyn said he made an unsuccessful escape attempt shortly after entering Ukraine but was again harshly beaten.

In Moscow, Baturyn was instructed by an unknown man to give an interview to Belarusian Television and say that his open letter (which denounced Belarus's Interior Ministry for using illegal practices in dealing with the opposition) was in fact written by Anatol Lyabedzka, chairman of the opposition United Civic Party. He was told to say that Lyabedzka had paid him a large sum of money for his consent to sign the letter and that he, Baturyn, had received that money in the presence of another opposition leader, Vintsuk Vyachorka, and of a U.S. embassy representative, who had promised Baturyn asylum in the United States.

Baturyn said he finally managed to escape his guards in Minsk, where he initially hid in a friend's house and subsequently made his way to the U.S. embassy. Baturyn added that the statement he made to Belarusian Television about Radio Liberty was "coordinated" with the Belarusian authorities. According to him, an official who negotiated his transfer to Poland with the U.S. embassy threatened him that if he refused to make that statement, the criminal case against him would be put "into full swing" and he would have to attend KGB investigations "for years."

Official propaganda immediately took advantage of Baturyn's reappearance. Presidential aide Syarhey Posakhau told Belarusian Television on 22 July that Baturyn's case constituted a "monstrous provocation" planned by "special services" to "provoke dissatisfaction within Belarus, among the people, and...portray Belarus as a police state." Posakhau failed to name which special services were responsible for the alleged provocation but suggested that Belarusian oppositionists Syamyon Sharetski, Stanislau Shushkevich, and Mechyslau Hryb might have "actively participated" in it. The Belarusian KGB issued a statement saying that "the situation surrounding the so-called 'kidnapping' of Baturyn is yet another example of how some circles within the country and outside it are trying to inflame the situation in the republic, including making the Belarusian authorities and the national special services responsible for disappearances of people." And President Alyaksandr Lukashenka noted that Baturyn's disappearance was similar to other disappearances in Belarus--a reference to ORT cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski and oppositionists Viktar Hanchar and Yury Zakharanka.

AUTHORITIES PREPARE MORE BANS ON OPPOSITION? So far this month, the opposition United Civic Party has received two warnings from the Justice Ministry, Belapan reported on 20 July. Under Belarusian legislation, the authorities can seek a ban on an organization if the latter receives two official warnings within a year.

The first warning says the party is using for its official correspondence paper bearing an emblem that does not comply with that authorized by the ministry. According to the ministry, the party's e-mail address is placed too close to the emblem. "The United Civic Party has illegally integrated its Internet data with its emblem," a ministry official explained to Belapan.

The second warning says that the emblem used on the party's correspondence differs somewhat from that used on the party's stamp.

Anatol Lyabedzka, the party's chairman, commented that the warnings are politically motivated and may be regarded as part of the authorities' policy of "repression" against their political opponents. "We have been using this emblem and this stamp for five years, and there have never been any remarks from the Justice Ministry, even in a spoken form. The written warnings appeared all of a sudden, after the party had refused to participate in this autumn's electoral farce," Lyabedzka said, referring to the parliamentary elections scheduled by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka for 15 October.

The ministry has also issued a similar warning to the Belarusian Language Association, a prominent NGO involved in promoting the Belarusian language in Belarus's public life. One of the association's latest actions was to collect signatures in support of a university in which all instruction would be given in Belarusian. Belarus has no such university or other higher educational institution.

The warning says the association's stamp includes a symbol that does not comply with that registered by the ministry. The ministry also notes that the name the association uses in its official correspondence is not identical with that spelled out in the association's charter.

POLTERGEIST RAGES IN BABRUYSK. Residents of a private house in Babruysk (Mahileu Oblast) have come across the phenomenon usually referred to as a poltergeist, Belapan reported on 19 July. According to the owner of the house and her granddaughter, at 10 p.m. on 13 July the house's doors began inexplicably to slam, the light turned on and off, pillows were torn up, water leaked through the ceiling, and the window blinds caught on fire. The owner called for a municipal emergency team to come to the house, and the members of that team became witness to the mischievous pranks of the invisible ghost. The rescuers could do nothing except for advise the woman to take tranquilizers for the night. The next day, the mysterious happenings in the house continued. The owner appealed for help to the priest of a local church. When the priest tried to consecrate the dwelling haunted by the unholy spirit, the blinds caught on fire once again.

NEW COMMUNIST PARTY EYES VOTERS OF THE OLD ONE. A 15 July congress of 205 delegates from 19 Ukrainian oblasts as well as from the cities of Kyiv and Sevastopol founded the Communist Party of Ukraine (Renewed) [Komunistychna partiya Ukrayiny (onovlena)], Interfax reported. The congress elected Mykhaylo Savenko, a lawmaker from the Labor Ukraine parliamentary caucus, as head of the party.

"We are ready to cooperate with everybody who upholds our idea of building a socially just society on the basis of a parliamentary system of rule, and we do not intend to form an opposition to the elected authority. Also, we do not intend to split the left-wing camp--we simply need to normalize [ozdorovyty] it and, after having consolidated around us its most active and progressive part, to restore the former influence and authority of Communists," the congress' press service quoted Savenko as saying.

Savenko told Interfax that his party intends to create a bloc for the 2002 parliamentary elections. He said the bloc will consist of democratically oriented leftist and rightist parties that "want to create a parliamentary republic" in Ukraine. According to Savenko, the current leftist movement in Ukraine suffers from "Fuehrerism" [vozhdizm], which results in the left wing's "permanent election defeats."

Savenko said his party has nearly 2,500 members. He added that once the party is firmly established, "we and Symonenko will divide up the votes of the [communist] electorate."

Communist Party of Ukraine leader Petro Symonenko, who earlier warned his comrades about an anticommunist plot drawn up by President Leonid Kuchma's administration (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 22 February 2000), commented that he did not know about the founding congress of the rival communist organization. He said the new communist party was created by "traitors who are carrying out tasks posed by the presidential administration. The creation of a new communist party was the result of a planned action that aims at not only splitting the leftist movement but also disorienting the electorate. This confirms the opinion that rumors about early parliamentary elections are not groundless," Symonenko noted.

UKRAINE SEEN AS 'STORE' OF ILLEGAL MIGRANTS. According to Pavlo Shysholin, deputy chief of the State Border Protection Committee, Ukraine has acquired nearly 70,000 illegal migrants over the past five years, Interfax reported on 17 July. "Illegal migration as a form of organized transnational crime has acquired a threatening character in the country. During the past 18 months, Ukraine has transformed itself from a transit country into a country storing illegal migrants," Shysholin noted.

Shysholin said that last year Ukraine's border guards detained 14,646 illegal migrants, but only 369 of them were deported from the country. According to him, 95 percent of illegal migrants in Ukraine are from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Vietnam, China, and Bangladesh. Shysholin said Ukraine's visa policy is unable to cope with this situation.

"Having experienced 50 years of totalitarianism, whose roots are embedded in the errors of the materialistic doctrine, revolution and class struggle, we are watching, with the most profound anxiety, the development of the European Union, in which we can see elements of the same dangerous utopia. That is why we clearly say: Europe--yes, the European Union--no!" -- Jan Lopuszanski, a radical right-wing candidate in the Polish presidential race, in his program speech on 23 July. Quoted by PAP.

"The declaration of [Ukraine's] state sovereignty, which was adopted 10 years ago, during the existence of the USSR, is not an ordinary document. Do not think that it was easy for me to press the button during the voting [in the legislature]. I was pondering which button to press." -- Leonid Kuchma on 16 July; quoted by Interfax. Kuchma was a people's deputy when the Ukrainian SSR's Supreme Council passed the state sovereignty declaration on 16 July 1990. On 24 August 1991, the same body declared Ukraine to be an independent state.

"[Our] citizens and descendants will not understand us." -- Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yushchenko, commenting in Moscow on 19 July on Gazprom's possible construction of a new gas pipeline bypassing Ukraine in order to prevent the siphoning off of Russian gas transiting Ukrainian territory. Quoted by Interfax.