Accessibility links

Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: December 5, 2000

5 December 2000, Volume 2, Number 45
LUKASHENKA MAKES 'ETHNIC CLEANSING' IN SECURITY. Belarus's authoritarian president continues to bewilder and mystify the public both at home and abroad with his highly unconventional behavior in politics. Last week's developments in Minsk richly justified the widespread opinion among political analysts that Alyaksandr Lukashenka belongs among the least predictable leaders in the world.

On 27 November, Lukashenka unexpectedly fired Security Council Secretary Viktar Sheyman, KGB chief Uladzimir Matskevich, and Prosecutor-General Aleh Bazhelka. Sheyman was replaced with Foreign Minister Ural Latypau, whose post in turn was taken by Lukashenka's aide Mikhail Khvastou. Matskevich's position was filled by Leanid Yeryn, chief of the presidential security service and Matskevich's deputy until September. The position of prosecutor-general remained vacant for two days, after which Lukashenka appointed Sheyman to assume Bazhelka's job.

In an immediate comment on this shakeup, the Charter-97 website said Lukashenka has accomplished "yet another state coup." The website noted that key posts in Belarus are now in the hands of "Russia's open proteges in Lukashenka's entourage." Belarus's premier, deputy premiers, power ministers, a number of deputy ministers, and speaker of the Chamber of Representatives are all Russian-born.

Exiled Supreme Soviet Chairman Syamyon Sharetski commented in the same key as Charter-97. "[The shakeup] should not leave any doubt in anybody that, to quote leaders of the Russian Federation, Belarus is witnessing the completion of a 'cleansing' [Russian: zachistka] of the regime from Belarusians.... In its ethnic composition, our country's dictatorial regime is almost completely Russian and, in relation to Belarus, of an occupational nature," Sharetski wrote in a statement.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told journalists on 30 November that he had been unaware about the security shakeup in Minsk until it actually took place. Putin added that he believes in Lukashenka's assurance that those replacements were planned "for a long time."

Russian newspapers, however, suggested that there may be Moscow's hand in at least one sacking. According to some reports, Moscow was repeatedly insisting on the dismissal of Sheyman, who was in charge of Belarus's arms trade and allegedly offered Belarusian weapons abroad at "dumping" prices, to the financial detriment of Russian arms dealers. This explanation seems plausible, inasmuch as Sheyman is widely believed to be Lukashenka's most loyal aide and closest pal, one of the very few of Lukashenka's 1994 election team, who are still serving the president. Sheyman's appointment as prosecutor-general two days after his sacking seems to confirm the supposition that Lukashenka acted under pressure in this reshuffle case.

According to some Belarusian independent newspapers, it is primarily Sheyman who is responsible for providing Lukashenka with security reports that maintain the Belarusian president in a continual state of suspiciousness and distrust of everybody in the government. Sheyman is also believed to be a strong supporter of continuing Minsk's policy of confrontation with the West.

Another motive for the security shakeup may be the lack of any conclusive results in the investigation of the disappearance of prominent opposition and public figures in Belarus. Incidentally, such was the reason for the shakeup given by Lukashenka, who said he fired Matskevich, Sheyman, and Bazhelka for "grave dereliction of duty" in investigating crimes, including those that "have had a wide public response."

Independent commentators, however, interpret this motive in a different way. Human rights activist Hary Pahanyayla commented that in the runup to the presidential campaign, Lukashenka intends to conceal the truth about the disappearance of oppositionists in Belarus and has appointed officials who will help him achieve that goal. Two weeks ago, a number of Belarusian media outlets have received an e-mail from an address on the Yahoo free server accusing Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's Security Service of killing Russian Public Television cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski and opposition politician Viktar Hanchar. The sender, who identified himself as a KGB officer, said the KGB arrested nine people, including five officers of the presidential Security Service, who confessed to killing Zavadski and burying him near Minsk. According to the sender, the arrested group was also involved in killing Viktar Hanchar, who disappeared in September 1999. In light of this disclosure, independent commentators assert that Lukashenka made the dismissals to prevent further compromising leaks from the KGB and other law enforcement bodies.

In one point both independent and official commentaries on the shakeup coincide--namely, that the replacements were accomplished to strengthen the president's position before next year's presidential elections. Lukashenka made it explicitly clear on 28 November, during his televised meeting with the KGB top leadership (see below). Lukashenka routinely burst out with a lengthy tirade against his alleged foreign and domestic enemies. This time, however, his public pronouncement was much more incoherent than on previous occasions. In tone, it verged on the hysterical, while in content, it presented a paranoiac picture of a global plot against the Belarusian president, with NATO as the most mischievous plotter.

"There have left only low values in your pack of cards. No matter how you shuffle them, they will not become trump cards," Andrey Sannikau, Lukashenka's former deputy foreign minister, commented on the recent dismissals and appointments in an open letter to the Belarusian president. While this statement may be true in the long run, on a tactical scale Lukashenka appears to have reinforced his ranks through promoting "foreign legionnaires." It is general feeling in Belarus that the 2001 presidential elections will be a crucial event in the country's political history. According to some observers, Lukashenka distrusts native Belarusians in his government, because they are likely to show "emotional weakness" in the struggle for power in the country where they have ethnic and cultural roots. As for Russian-born politicians, they are apparently more inclined to please the leader who pays them than to care about Belarus's political future or economic well-being.

LUKASHENKA WHIPS KGB INTO COMBAT SHAPE TO WARD OFF ANTICIPATED NATO ONSLAUGHT. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 28 November met with KGB senior officers to introduce them to Leanid Yeryn, the newly appointed KGB chief. During the meeting, Lukashenka touched upon a broad range of domestic and international issues. Following are excerpts from his address to the KGB forum, as quoted by Belarusian Television in its "special report" on 28 November.

On the KGB's efficiency: "If you get no results, get ready for layoffs in the KGB. I don't need a muddleheaded [intelligence-gathering] system that gives no result. This refers to your analytical work, too. Hence the task [is] to obtain timely information about the plans and intentions of foreign centers--I mean secret information that can by obtained only by a special service--and to actively enlighten [those] abroad about the situation in Belarus according to [your] means and capabilities. I don't need analyses of the press. I can read perfectly well and I read all newspapers."

On spying on Western diplomats in Belarus: "It is necessary to establish a tight counterintelligence watch over foreign diplomats in the country [and ensure that they observe] Belarusian law, as we are required to do in the West and other states, [and] to actively record their illegal activities, which are in abundance. Possibly, you record them. Alas, I don't know anything about that."

On the feeling of guilt for the disappearance of people in Belarus and on an anticipated "impalement": "All the fraternal media in unison with Western well-wishers are trying to blame me, the president of the country, for the disappearance of people, well-known people. The latest disappearances are those of [Russian Public Television cameraman Dzmitry] Zavadski, [former National Bank Chairwoman Tamara] Vinnikava, [police officer Aleh] Baturyn. And those three earlier ones [ed. note: Yury Zakharanka, Viktor Hanchar, Anatol Krasutski]. They are shouting unanimously: Lukashenka is to blame! They [call themselves] democrats. They are posing as democrats! They have already convicted me without trial. Me, the head of state. Thus, in order to prevent journalists from feeling discomfort because of all those high-profile cases and crimes, I want to say the following: Yes, it is me who is to blame for what has taken place in the country. Me. Because I am the president. Therefore, do not look for culprits. I am fully responsible for [those disappearances]. I emphasize once again: do not look for culprits, I am the only one to blame. But I will be tried by those who are attempting to [try me] now, only when the people refuse to trust me and when [my opponents] seize power. Then they will impale me without trial and investigation--you know it well--to the music of approving howls from Western teachers of democracy."

On alleged NATO attempts to depose him: "The statement of a NATO official that Belarus will be the next country [to experience NATO interference] (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 28 November 2000) was not [a surprise] to us, thanks to you and your intelligence work, and thanks to the Russians, too. This has not been a secret for us for at least six months, or more precisely, since the Yugoslav conflict and war [in 1999]. Therefore, that chatter of his [NATO official Jamie Shea] was not a slip of the tongue, it was an intentional leak to wag a finger or shake a fist in order to intimidate the president and the Belarusian people--look out, be submissive, or else you'll get it [just] as Yugoslavia [did].... This was an intentional leak in order to put me and others in [our] place. The $108 million that, as we have disclosed jointly with you, [was allocated by the West] for the parliamentary and presidential elections [in Belarus], is now circulating among the opposition. You are witnessing the activation of its aggressive actions.... The opposition, Western institutions, and their branches in Belarus have united and are behaving without restraint.... The conclusion: [all this is] direct evidence of foreign leverage and interference, to the point of military intervention, even if for the time being [only] in the form of blackmail, as well as the desire to destabilize the situation. The dress rehearsal and trial of strength has already taken place--the parliamentary elections. They have lost and now say: he created a totalitarian machine that trampled [us] with its caterpillar tracks. They [the regime] elected whom they wanted to. They [the opposition and its Western supporters] thought that they would triumphantly march into Belarus as [the Nazis did] in 1941, only using different methods."

On the preparation of the military for NATO intervention (with a flashback to Slobodan Milosevic's downfall): "Realizing and knowing this, I decided as early as this summer, in the month of May, it seems to me, to inspect the armed forces. This was the main reason why I began to visit troops. We have done a great deal, a colossal amount of work, owing to that inspection. We have spurred the armed forces on. We have brought into an ideal condition everything that they have there. Today all the armored equipment is combat-ready, the aircraft that are now being repaired will return to their units in a battle-worthy condition in the first quarter [of 2001]. We have earmarked huge sums to equip primarily the Air Defense and the Air Forces. You know Yugoslavia's experience. And you know that I sent [Security Council Secretary Viktar] Sheyman to Yugoslavia, [as well as] my son and a group of specialists, possibly someone from the KGB was there, too, in order to study what was going on there. We got into there on purpose and studied every meter and centimeter of the war in Yugoslavia. I presented a pattern to Milosevic, according to which he was going to be thrashed. Everything took place exactly as I told him, including the [recent Yugoslav] elections.... I knew that I myself might be confronted with such a situation. But I was right when I said that [NATO and the opposition] were too late. There will be no Yugoslavia in Belarus."

GRISLY TAPE HITS KUCHMA--AND UKRAINE. A political bomb exploded in Kyiv during Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz's address to the parliament on 28 November. No immediate casualties have so far been reported, but observers of the Ukrainian political scene predict that the toll may be heavy.

Moroz said President Leonid Kuchma ordered that independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze be "gotten rid of" and "systematically monitored" the implementation of his order. According to Moroz, Gongadze's disappearance was planned and carried out by Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, with the participation of presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn. "It is necessary to put an end to the country's sliding into the darkness of criminality and banditism," Moroz told the lawmakers.

Following his address to the parliament, Moroz played journalists an audio recording that he said he believes to be taped conversations between Kuchma, Kravchenko, and Lytvyn about Gongadze. According to Moroz, the recording testifies to the fact that Kuchma "personally gave instructions" with regard to the Gongadze case and monitored how those instructions were implemented. Moroz said the tape was provided to him by an unnamed officer from Ukraine's Security Service (SBU). Moroz added that the officer is ready to testify in court if a trial is opened in connection with the Gongadze case. Moroz also noted that unspecified foreign experts have said the recording is authentic.

The presidential press service said in a statement on 28 November that Moroz's accusations "have no grounds whatsoever and are full insinuations, and accordingly, as insults and slander, are subject to Ukraine's Criminal Code." The statement added that Moroz made his allegations in a bid to boost his declining popularity. Ukrainian media reported that presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn has sued Moroz for slander. As for Kuchma, he commented that Moroz's allegation is "a provocation, possibly, with the participation of foreign special services."

A group of SBU officers who are responsible for ensuring security of the head of state said in a statement that it is "impossible" to eavesdrop on Kuchma's communications links or offices. But what is particularly noteworthy, no official or body have so far explicitly said that Moroz's tape is a fabrication.

The Internet newsletter "Ukrayinska pravda" ( Gongadze was chief editor before his disappearance on 16 September--published a transcribed version of the recording that Moroz had made available on 28 November. The initial transcription consisted of nine "episodes" of conversations between unidentified interlocutors. Later "Ukrainska pravda" provided identification tags that attribute individual statements to Kuchma, Lytvyn, and Kravchenko. Among other things, the interlocutors discuss Georgian-born Gongadze and ways to get rid of him. The options include deportation to Georgia and kidnapping by Chechens for ransom. The conversations are in a Ukrainian-Russian linguistic mix (popularly called "surzhyk" in Ukraine). It is particularly shocking to read the vulgar language used by the interlocutor identified as Kuchma.

Last week, fragments of Moroz's tape were available on the web in real audio format at: Dutch journalist Corine de Vries, who writes for the Amsterdam-based "Volkskrant," told RFE/RL on 29 November that she had received a copy of Moroz's tape for evaluation "several weeks ago." She sent it to a Dutch laboratory for analysis and was subsequently told by experts that the quality of the recording is too poor to draw definite conclusions about its content.

There are numerous versions circulating in Ukraine as to who or what is behind the Moroz's tape scandal. The Kyiv-based "Zerkalo nedeli" in its 2 December issue listed several of them.

According to one version, the tape was passed to Moroz by "U.S. special services" in order to destabilize the situation in Ukraine, impeach Kuchma, and launch an early presidential election. Following Kuchma's ouster, the power could be taken by Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, whom the U.S. and the West would allegedly like to become Ukraine's president and, in this way, "to transform Ukraine into a real buffer between the unifying Europe and the re-emerging Russian empire," according to "Zerkalo nedeli."

Another version focuses on "Moscow's hand" in the scandal. According to this line of reasoning, Moscow has more recordings of what was being said in Kuchma's office. By publishing a part of them through Moroz, the Kremlin is blackmailing Kuchma that it may publish more unless he becomes obedient. According to the newspaper, Moscow may pursue the goal of bringing Ukraine back into the Russian sphere of political and economic influence or, in other words, of making Ukraine "a second Belarus."

There are also versions alleging that the scandal was prepared by Ukraine's Security Service in order to drive a wedge between Kuchma and some "oligarchs" who wield much influence in the presidential office. According to this version, SBU chief Leonid Derkach, who belongs to the so-called Derkach-Pynchuk oligarchical group, intended to diminish the political clout of the Volkov and Surkis-Medvedchuk oligarchical groups as well as compromise Interior Minister Kravchenko.

Whatever the true reasons behind the disclosed tape, it is obvious that the scandal has hit not only Kuchma or some other top officials but also Ukraine as a whole. The country in which the president is blamed for ordering his ministers to liquidate an independent journalist can hardly be regarded as democratic and credible in the international arena.

"We have tied our currency not to the dollar, as all states have done, but to the Russian ruble. Russia, for example, [tied its ruble] to the dollar." -- Lukashenka on 30 November, quoted by Belarusian Television.

"Russia is practically doing for us what the IMF is doing for Russia." -- Lukashenka on 30 November, quoted by Belarusian Television.

"[It is not enough to say that] Ukraine has come here for a long stay--it has come for ages." -- Leonid Kuchma during the opening of a new Ukrainian embassy in Minsk on 1 December; quoted by Belapan.

"Ukraine is now being determinedly transformed into a second Belarus, and this transformation is being furthered not only by the authorities but also by society. The most significant difference between Ukraine and the neighboring state is our hypocrisy: we continue to make pretensions [of decency], while they in Belarus have long ago ceased to bother themselves with such attempts." -- "Zerkalo nedeli" on 2 December.

(Compiled by Jan Maksymiuk)