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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: May 12, 2006

12 May 2006, Volume 8, Number 18

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's recent criticism of Russia for using natural gas as a political weapon is by no means new. Similar charges leveled 24 years ago during the Cold War resulted in an embargo on the sale of gas-extracting equipment to the Soviet Union and to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) purported destruction of a Soviet gas pipeline.

In 1982, as the Soviet Union was beginning construction of a $22 billion, 4,650-kilometer gas pipeline from Urengoi in northwest Siberia to Uzhhorod in Ukraine with the intention of supplying Western Europe, the CIA issued a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) titled "The Soviet Gas Pipeline in Perspective."

The NIE, regarded as the definitive product of the U.S. intelligence community, reached several conclusions, among them that the Soviet Union "calculates that the increased future dependence of the West Europeans on Soviet gas deliveries will make them more vulnerable to Soviet coercion and will become a permanent factor in their decision making on East-West issues."

In addition, according to the NIE, the Soviets "have used the pipeline issue to create and exploit divisions between Western Europe and the United States. In the past, the Soviets have used West European interest in expanding East-West commerce to undercut U.S. sanctions, and they believe successful pipeline deals will reduce European willingness to support future U.S. economic actions against the USSR."

The Urengoi gas field, located in northwest Siberia's Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, was one of the largest Soviet gas fields. The main customers for Urengoi gas were West Germany, France, and Italy.

The initial volume of the pipeline was to be 40 billion cubic meters per year, which would mean that Soviet gas could account for 30 percent of German and French gas imports, and 40 percent of Italy's. Such figures were approaching a dependency level too great for the White House to accept.

Washington apparently dealt with these concerns in a direct manner initially. In January 1982, U.S. President Ronald Reagan purportedly approved a CIA plan to sabotage a second, unidentified gas pipeline in Siberia by turning the Soviet Union's desire for Western technology against it. The operation was first disclosed in the memoirs of Thomas C. Reed, a former Air Force secretary who was serving in the National Security Council at the time. In "At the Abyss: An Insider's History of the Cold War," Reed wrote:

"In order to disrupt the Soviet gas supply, its hard-currency earnings from the West, and the internal Russian economy, the pipeline software that was to run the pumps, turbines, and valves was programmed to go haywire, after a decent interval, to reset pump speeds and valve settings to produce pressures far beyond those acceptable to pipeline joints and welds.

"The result was the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space," he recalled, adding that U.S. satellites picked up the explosion. Reed said in an interview that the blast occurred in the summer of 1982.

The sabotage operation, however, did not halt the construction of the Urengoi pipeline. The CIA was forced to revise its tactics.

Responding to the Soviet leadership's support for the 1981 crackdown on Poland's Solidarity movement, Reagan announced a program of sanctions on companies selling gas-drilling equipment and turbines for gas-compressor stations to the Soviet Union while urging European states not to buy Soviet gas.

Officially it was declared that this was in retaliation for Soviet support for martial law in Poland. But it is also plausible that the strategy was meant to ease U.S. concerns about the construction of the Urengoi-Uzhhorod gas pipeline.

The embargo, however, was easier to declare than to implement.

Norwegian scholar Ole Gunnar Austvik wrote in an article titled "The U.S. Embargo of Soviet Gas in 1982" that a delegation under the auspices of the U.S. State Department sought to induce the Western Europeans not to buy Soviet gas and to choose alternative sources of energy.

"The arguments in favor of such diversion were close to our notion of economic warfare, even though the whole range of arguments was actually used. An economically strong Soviet Union is more dangerous than a weak one," Austvik wrote. "The U.S. compensation package contained two main components; American coal and Norwegian gas were presented as alternatives to Soviet gas."

Neither alternative, however, existed. The United States did not produce enough coal to meet Europe's needs and even if it did, the logistics of transporting it there were overwhelming. Furthermore, at the time Norway's gas production was not sufficient to replace Soviet gas. By November 1982, after the United States increased its grain sales to the USSR, the gas sanctions were terminated.

Originally, the Urengoi pipeline was projected to go through East Germany, but the West German government protested and it was rerouted through Soviet Ukraine. The West Germans were concerned that in the event of a crisis, the East Germans could turn off the valves and stop supplies. Soviet Ukraine was seen as the more reliable transit route.

The 1982 NIE states that the West Europeans' prime energy goal at the time was to "reduce their dependence on OPEC," at the time a significant Western concern arising from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil boycott of 1973. The oil crisis that ensued from that boycott may have fueled U.S. concerns regarding Soviet gas, lest the Soviet Union someday copy OPEC's tactic.

In November 1983, the CIA issued another NIE, titled "Soviet Energy Prospects Into the 1990s," which, in many ways, foresaw the current predicament.

"If Moscow lands contracts to supply even half of the West European gas-demand gap now foreseen for the 1990s, an additional pipeline...would be required...and dependence on Soviet gas could approach 50 percent of gas consumption for major West European countries, far in excess of the 30 percent share that we and some West European governments regard as a critical threshold for political risk" the NIE stated. (Roman Kupchinsky)


When Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and his Polish counterpart Lech Kaczynski travel together to the Polish village of Pawlokoma on May 13, they will be taking another step toward coming to terms with their nations' common historical legacy.

One of the darker stains of that legacy is represented by the village of Pawlokoma, where ethnic Ukrainian inhabitants were killed by a Polish military group in 1945. The Ukrainian and Polish presidents will attempt to rectify that tragedy by unveiling a memorial to the victims during their visit.

Today, Pawlokoma is home to about 500 residents in southeastern Poland, 50 kilometers from the Polish-Ukrainian border.

But prior to the outbreak of World War II, the Polish village boasted a population of 1,200 -- about 900 Greek Catholic (Uniate) Ukrainians living among Roman Catholic Poles.

In March 1945, a detachment of Polish anti-Nazi guerrillas from the Home Army (AK) subordinated to the Polish emigre government in London shot to death hundreds of Ukrainian inhabitants of Pawlokoma. The Ukrainians were herded in a local Greek Catholic church, interrogated and likely tortured, and then taken to a local cemetery where they were executed.

President Yushchenko and President Kaczynski will travel on May 13 to Pawlokoma to unveil a memorial dedicated to that tragic event. An inscription on the memorial places the number of victims of the 1945 massacre at 365.

However, this figure is questioned by some Polish historians, including Zdzislaw Konieczny.

Konieczny -- who lives in the Polish town of Przemysl, some 40 kilometers from Pawlokoma -- is the author of a book on the Pawlokoma massacre. According to him, the AK group killed some 150 Ukrainian men in Pawlokoma -- while women and children were spared and ordered to march to Ukraine.

Konieczny argues that the massacre was retaliation for numerous killings of Poles from Pawlokoma and neighboring villages carried out by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA).

The UPA was created by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) in Nazi-occupied Ukraine in 1942. The armed force pursued the ideal of an independent Ukraine, which led it to fight Polish, Soviet, and Nazi forces at various times.

Konieczny said in an interview with the Polish daily "Nasz Dziennik" on May 10 that the immediate motive behind the massacre was the abduction by the UPA of a dozen Poles from Pawlokoma in January 1945. The then-Polish communist police in the area, according to Konieczny, were too weak to react to the capture, while Soviet troops were not trusted by the local population.

"In this situation the Polish pro-independence underground decided to conduct a retaliatory action in Pawlokoma, which had been known for anti-Polish manifestations. The purpose of [this action] was to warn the OUN-UPA that Poles would not tolerate its further attacks against and killings of the Polish population in Pawlokoma and neighboring villages," Konieczny told "Nasz Dziennik."

Petro Potichny, a Ukrainian emigre historian and UPA veteran, wrote a book on Pawlokoma in which he traced the history of the village back to the 15th century.

Poland's current eastern border with Ukraine and Belarus lies roughly along the Curzon Line. It originated as a demarcation line proposed in 1919 by the British foreign secretary, Lord Curzon, as a possible armistice line between Poland and Bolshevik Russia during the then-Polish-Soviet war.

Potichny told RFE/RL that the Pawlokama massacre reflects a wider pattern of the behavior of Poles toward Ukrainians during World War II along the ethnic Ukrainian-Polish borderland on both sides of the Curzon Line.

"It was not an isolated episode. It was, so to say, a [purposeful] policy of the Polish nationalist underground," Potichny said. "But not only that of the nationalistic underground. The communist authorities, too, did similar things. They primarily intended to finally remove Ukrainians from these lands. Therefore, Pawlokoma is just a symbol of all that."

But Potichny admits that Ukrainians, too, were responsible for the murderous Ukrainian-Polish war fought by the UPA and the AK during the Nazi occupation and afterward.

"If one is to attribute blame, one needs to say that the Ukrainians are mostly to blame for what took place east of the Curzon Line, while the Poles are mostly to blame for what took place west of this line," Potichny said.

In July 2003, the then-presidents of Ukraine and Poland -- Leonid Kuchma and Aleksander Kwasniewski, respectively -- met in the village of Pavlivka in the Ukrainian region of Volhynia to commemorate ethnic Poles murdered by the UPA in 1943. Kuchma and Kwasniewski unveiled a memorial to several hundred Poles killed by the UPA in that particular village.

According to Poland's National Remembrance Institute, in 1943 the UPA murdered some 60,000 civilian Poles in Volhynia, in anticipation of an independent Ukrainian state after the war and a plebiscite on which country, Poland or Ukraine, should possess the disputed area. The Polish AK subsequently resorted to retaliatory actions. According to Ukrainian estimates, the AK may have killed in retaliation as many as 20,000 Ukrainians in Volhynia.

The postwar period only added to the Polish-Ukrainian record of mutual wrongs and prejudices. In 1947, the Polish communist government forcibly resettled some 140,000 Ukrainians from their native areas in southeastern Poland to Poland's newly acquired northern and western territories. The official excuse for that mass expulsion was the desire to undercut the social base of support for the UPA in the area.

Will the Ukrainian and Polish governments manage to transfer their official determination to reconcile both nations over their history to ordinary Ukrainians and Poles? This may prove to be a tricky task. But as Polish historian Bogumila Berdychowska from Warsaw argued to RFE/RL, this task, if completed, could beneficially invigorate the development of Polish-Ukrainian relations, which in other respects are now almost exemplary.

"Closing historical accounts is very important for present-day politics," Berdychowska said. "The relations between independent Ukraine and Poland testify to one thing: There are no principal disagreements as regards contemporary politics [between the two countries]; there are no principal disagreements as regards economic relations. Actually, the only source of conflicts lies in history."

In 2002, President Kwasniewski officially condemned the forcible resettlement of Polish Ukrainians by the communist authorities in 1947. Poles expected that President Kuchma in 2003 would respond with an official apology for the wartime massacres of Poles in Volhynia. But Kuchma did not fulfill that expectation.

One should not expect any official apologies from President Yushchenko or President Kaczynski in Pawlokoma. However, their meeting there seems to be a significant, even if small, step toward Ukrainian-Polish reconciliation. (Jan Maksymiuk, with contributions from Natalia Tchourikova of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.)