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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: October 15, 2005

15 October 2005, Volume 7, Number 36
EUROPE URGES KYIV TO PUSH AHEAD WITH REFORMS. President Viktor Yushchenko's administration received two friendly but blunt messages last week urging it to further its declared European-integration aspirations through deeds rather than words. One exhortation came from the European Commission in Brussels, the other from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg.

"Our door remains open," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told visiting Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov in Brussels on 6 October. "The future of Ukraine is in Europe. The best way to achieve it is not to discuss all the time European Union membership but to achieve concrete results, pragmatic results." Barroso added that the March 2006 parliamentary elections will be a "very important test for the credibility of all the democratic processes in Ukraine."

The day before, a PACE session in Strasbourg adopted a monitoring report on Ukraine urging the country's leaders to preserve "their steadfast resolve" in carrying out necessary reforms. "The preparation and conduct of the 2006 parliamentary and local elections in line with Council of Europe standards will be a major test for the new authorities," the report reads. "The 2006 election will show whether Ukraine has passed the point of no return on its road to becoming a truly democratic European state governed by the Rule of Law."

The PACE monitoring report is the sixth since Ukraine joined the Council of Europe in 1995. Apart from an inventory of the progress the country has made so far toward meeting Council of Europe standards, includes a long list of measures that the government still needs to take in order to accelerate the country's transformation into a European democracy.

In the not-so-distant past, PACE was used vigorously by lawmakers from Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc as a convenient forum for slamming the corrupt and unreformed regime of former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and putting it to shame before Europe. Now Yushchenko and his adherents will have to assume a different and arguably more difficult role in Strasbourg: explaining why they are themselves reluctant to deliver what they previously demanded from Kuchma.

PACE thus urges the Ukrainian authorities to bring to justice those who ordered, organized, and executed the murder of Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000. "[PACE] regrets that the case of those who allegedly executed the murder has been separated from the main case-file and has been qualified as a murder committed by a group of persons following their prior collusion, which is seen as a step towards excluding from the prosecution the masterminds and organizers," the report states.

Addressing enthusiastic PACE lawmakers in Strasbourg on 25 January, two days after he took his oath of office, President Yushchenko promised that the Gongadze case would go to court "in a month or two." This week, Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun announced that the case might work its way to court by the end of October or early November. But many observers in both Strasbourg and Kyiv worry that alleged links between the Gongadze murder and former and present senior Ukrainian officials -- including those implicated in the so-called Melnychenko tapes -- will never be held responsible by a court.

In particular, the Melnychenko tapes arguably suggest that Kuchma might have been the main instigator of the abduction and subsequent execution of Gongadze and that current parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn -- who was head of the presidential administration in 2000 -- might have been an accomplice to that crime. Some say Yushchenko will never allow Kuchma to be implicated in the Gongadze case, citing a secret deal to that effect purportedly made during the 2004 Orange Revolution. According to that scenario, Kuchma then backed Yushchenko in the 2004 election standoff in exchange for a guarantee of freedom from prosecution after the Yushchenko takeover. As for Lytvyn, he and his People's Party -- following the breakup of the original Orange Revolution coalition -- appear to be Yushchenko's main political allies in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

The PACE report also urges Ukrainian authorities to bring to justice the masterminds behind the 2004 election fraud; adopt laws on the presidency and on the cabinet and guarantee conditions for the functioning of a parliamentary opposition; transform state broadcasters into public service channels; and adopt a law on investigative commissions in the Verkhovna Rada. It is not difficult to foresee that Yushchenko might not be particularly enthusiastic to follow any of these recommendations.

One should remember that on 22 September, to secure parliamentary approval of Yekhanurov as the country's new prime minister, Yushchenko signed a "memorandum of understanding" with his former presidential rival, Viktor Yanukovych, whereby he pledged to draft a bill on amnesty for those guilty of election fraud. Implementing the PACE recommendation on the 2004 election fraud would mean Yushchenko backing down on that memorandum. He does not appear to be in the mood for such a move, with the parliamentary support for Yekhanurov's cabinet shaky and Yanukovych's parliamentary group potentially useful during some crucial votes in the future.

As another case in point, take the recommendation on delineating legislatively the powers of the president and those of the Council of Ministers. Yushchenko supported the idea during Kuchma's rule, arguing that the adoption of such laws would make any constitutional reform unnecessary. But he might have had second thoughts, since such laws would clearly define what he is allowed to do and what he is proscribed from doing. As his behavior thus far testifies, he might not be enthusiastic about surrendering decision-making prerogatives. He has appointed ministers, deputy ministers, and chief officers of other central executive bodies as well as regional governors without consulting with the prime minister, as advised in the constitution.

Adopting a law on the opposition would imply, among other things, providing legislative guarantees to the opposition to lead important committees in the Verkhovna Rada. Transforming state broadcasters into public-service channels would primarily mean losing leverage among those media -- hardly a desirable development for any government, let alone Yushchenko's with its current inability to muster sufficient political and legislative support for its policies. Giving a precise formulation of the prerogatives of an investigative parliamentary commission could risk unpredictable political troubles for Yushchenko, particularly after the appearance of the allegations that his presidential campaign might have been sponsored from abroad by self-exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovskii.

However, the PACE report includes one passage that can only be welcome by Yushchenko. The report "deeply regrets" the adoption of the constitutional reform on 8 December 2004, which is to take effect in January and substantially curtail Yushchenko's powers in favor of the parliament and the government. The report stresses that the reform bill, which was a broad political compromise aimed at breaking the political impasse in the presidential election, included two undemocratic provisions: One relates to the imperative mandate of parliamentary deputies, the other to the powers of the Prosecutor-General's Office. And the report essentially concludes that the reform was illegal, since it was adopted without prior consultation with the Constitutional Court, as required by the constitution. PACE urges Ukrainian authorities "to address these issues as soon as possible, in order to secure the legitimacy of the constitutional amendments and their compliance with European standards."

One can assume that Yushchenko will readily lend an ear to this recommendation, especially as his new justice minister, Serhiy Holovatyy, is said to be a staunch opponent of the constitutional reform. So at least on this one point, PACE's expectations of Yushchenko might be vindicated -- even if that would actually mean reversing a reform, not pushing ahead with it. (Jan Maksymiuk)

IS KYIV ON STABLE PATH TOWARD INTEGRATION WITH WORLD ECONOMY? Ukraine's new prime minister, Yuriy Yekhanurov, describes his government as "technocratic" -- motivated, he says, not by ideology, but by a desire to improve the country's politics and economy. Yekhanurov recently visited Moscow and Brussels in an effort to do just that by securing a place for Ukraine in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and eventually in the European Union and NATO.

The key to Yuriy Yekhanurov's success in integrating Ukraine into the world economy will be how he deals with Russia. That's according to experts who follow developments in Ukraine closely.

Until its independence in 1991, Ukraine had long been controlled by Moscow, and as recently as last year's presidential election, Russian President Vladimir Putin had worked to help ensure the victory of his favored candidate, Viktor Yanukovych.

That effort failed when Viktor Yushchenko eventually prevailed following the Orange Revolution. Last month, however, Yushchenko fired Yuliya Tymoshenko as prime minister, even though it was Tymoshenko who led the protests that brought Yushchenko to power. Some now question the strength of Yushchenko's presidency.

Once he replaced Tymoshenko, Yekhanurov's first order of business was to travel to Moscow to improve trade relations with Russia, then to Brussels for talks with officials of the European Union and NATO.

After holding talks with his Russian counterpart, Mikhail Fradkov, in Moscow, he told reporters: "There have been no meetings between the prime ministers [of Ukraine and Russia] this year. This is not normal, and now we should work more intensively to catch up on what was left undone, and also look objectively at those problems that we have now."

The Russian media tended to portray Yekhanurov's Moscow visit as a significant step backward for an economically independent Ukraine, according to Georgeta Pourchot, who studies the region for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonpartisan policy-research center in Washington.

Pourchot said some Russians and much of the Russian news media believe none of the country's Eastern European neighbors can enjoy good political and economic relations with Moscow and integrate with the West at the same time. Therefore, she said, they view Yekhanurov as something of a supplicant in Moscow.

"If there is a new government in place [in an Eastern European country] that says, 'Oh, we're interested in European integration or NATO integration,' some circles in Moscow automatically see that as mutually exclusive with a good relationship with Russia," Pourchot said. "These [Russian] newspapers -- right now they're all gloating that Yekhanurov came to Moscow two days after the [Ukrainian] cabinet was confirmed, and [they conclude that] this definitely proves that Ukraine now is moving toward Russia."

Pourchot said that assessment may, in fact, contain some truth. She points to the barter system under which Ukraine gets Russian oil in exchange for Moscow's use of Ukrainian pipelines to ship Russian fuel to the West. Pourchot said that with the price of fuel rising, Russia is threatening to have Ukraine pay the market price for what it gets from Russia, something Ukraine can't afford.

In this way, Pourchot said, Russia can use this threat as leverage to keep Ukraine within it sphere of influence.

James Millar, a professor of economics and international affairs at George Washington University in Washington, agrees that the Russian government believes it has this leverage, but he calls it a miscalculation. He told RFE/RL that this arrangement puts Ukraine on equal footing with Russia on fuel and that Kyiv has plenty of leverage of its own.

"In a sense, both Russia and Ukraine are dependent on each other, at least for the immediate future, and Europe depends upon both of them for oil and gas because Ukraine provides a major source of the pipelines that carry gas and oil to Europe, and Russia needs that revenue [from Europe]. So there is something to negotiate [laughs], and it will be interesting to see how it comes out," Millar said.

Meanwhile, Ukraine has its own internal impediments to integrating with the West. They include the need to enact economic reforms and limit bureaucratic encumbrances on the economy. Yekhanurov said such legislation can be passed by next month, but Pourchot said that expectation is far too optimistic, given Ukraine's current political state.

And Pourchot said membership in NATO and the EU -- and especially in the WTO -- are even further beyond the horizon.

"I doubt [the Ukrainians] are going to do much before the next elections -- next spring, in [2006], the parliamentary elections. Are they likely to integrate faster rather than slower? Is it going to take them a long time? Yes, it will take them a long time. I don't see Ukraine getting even near Brussels [NATO or WTO membership] in very serious terms before 2010, if not later," Pourchot said.

Millar said he can understand Pourchot's pessimism, but he said he is encouraged by Yushchenko's decisiveness in replacing Tymoshenko, and expects quicker progress. However, he isn't making any predictions as to when Ukraine might join the EU or the WTO.

"I'd say that when Yushchenko decided to make a deal with his former opponents, many people felt, 'Well, that's the end of things [the Orange Revolution].' But that hasn't turned out to be the case. That turned out to be a political decision that has really maintained him fairly well. I'm fairly positive [about Yushchenko's leadership]. I think Ukraine's playing its cards pretty well. But Russia is likely to overplay their cards, and I think that will not work to their benefit. It'll work to Ukraine's benefit," Millar told RFE/RL.

Millar said if Yushchenko and Yekhanurov maintain their focus, Ukraine should integrate steadily -- and, one day, thoroughly -- into the world economy. (Andrew Tully)

EU LAUNCHES FIRST 'NEIGHBORHOOD POLICY' MISSION IN POST-SOVIET SPACE. Moldova and Ukraine celebrated the launch of an EU "Border Assistance Mission" on 7 October, giving 50 EU experts a free hand to monitor the comings and goings on the border between the two countries. The exercise aims at clamping down on the smuggling known to be rife on the Transdniestrian/Ukrainian border. In the long run, the European Union hopes to erode the wealth base of the separatist Tiraspol regime and force it to resolve its conflict with Moldovan officials in Chisinau.

What worries the EU about the breakaway region of Transdniester is not so much what is known about it, but rather what is not.

Experts on the ground say international news stories depicting Transdniester as a "black hole" seething with large-scale trafficking of arms, people, and drugs conceal a more complex reality.

No one seems able to substantiate the more serious charges. But few doubt that Tiraspol takes full advantage of its porous border with Ukraine. The money made by smuggling helps Tiraspol deflect pressure to resolve its conflict with Chisinau.

In an attempt to put a stop to this, the EU negotiated a two-year deal, starting on 1 December, allowing roving teams of customs and border-control experts to check borders in both countries.

At the opening ceremony at the Moldovan Palanca border post on 7 October, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner described the effort: "What we will do is deploy a number of mobile teams, consisting of approximately 50 border guards and customs officials from EU member states, to the most relevant locations along the entire border, including the Transdniestrian segment. These experts will make unannounced visits to any location on the Moldovan-Ukrainian frontier."

The EU teams will not operate on Transdniestrian territory.

The EU, Moldova, and Ukraine do not have identical agendas. Chisinau seeks leverage on Transdniester, claiming it sells large quantities of weapons and serves as a transit route for drugs.

"We are sure this will make it possible to stop all smuggling activities, including trafficking in human beings, drugs, and arms, which take place along the Transdniestrian segment of the Moldova-Ukraine border," Andrei Stratan, Moldova's foreign minister, claimed on 7 October.

Pressed for details, Stratan declined to elaborate. EU officials told RFE/RL that a team of EU experts touring Moldova and Ukraine for 10 days in August did not meet a single local official with specific knowledge of trafficking of such gravity.

Ukrainian officials told RFE/RL that they are aware of black marketeers smuggling meat, alcohol, cigarettes, sugar, and fruit. The few guns seized have been of Soviet or Russian manufacture. EU and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) experts claimed Transdniester is not on a major drug-trafficking route.

Most fraud perpetrated on the Transdniestrian border is thought to be transit-related: Consignments of goods arriving at the Ukrainian port of Odesa are declared as headed for Tiraspol and not taxed by Ukraine. Authorities in Tiraspol confirm receipt, but the goods are often diverted to Ukraine.

Ferrero-Waldner said the EU hopes the tightening of the border will divert the illegal revenues pocketed by Tiraspol into Moldova's coffers. "What we can realistically deliver I think is, first, information on what is really going on there and this is very important," Ferrero-Waldner said. "Second, that more revenues go to the taxpayer and -- first to the [Chisinau] government, of course, and thus indirectly benefit the Moldovan people. Third, that the revenues of Transdniester are being reduced -- illegal revenues."

EU officials said they will support an undertaking by Ukraine in May to start blocking Transdniestrian exports that have not passed through Moldovan customs. This is expected to force Transdniestrian companies to register in Moldova.

Ferrero-Waldner stopped short of saying this strategy is designed to oust Tiraspol leader Igor Smirnov. EU officials admitted that they hope the pressure will force Tiraspol to make concessions, seek a settlement with Chisinau, and eventually hold free elections.

The EU has also become active in the mediation effort conducted by the OSCE. Together with the United States, the EU will attend the next Moldovan-Transdniestrian talks later this month as an observer. The OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine currently run the talks.

The EU's special representative to Moldova, Adrian Jacobovits de Szeged, told RFE/RL the EU backs an Ukrainian plan envisaging elections in Transdniester.

"I think one of the most important things that we have to achieve is what the Ukrainians call the democratization of Transdniester -- [that is,] that we come to have free and fair elections there in the way we understand in the West 'free and fair elections,'" Jacobovits de Szeged said. "And I think together with Ukraine, I hope with Russia, we have in our talks which we are having now, seven-sided talks with the United States present as well, to try and achieve that."

Jacobovits de Szeged said Tiraspol could not be a "convincing" interlocutor until it holds free elections.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has given the EU border mission his full backing. However, Ukrainian officials speaking to RFE/RL suggested a more specific agenda. The EU mission's limited budget of 8 million euros will only allow it to train and instruct Moldovan and Ukrainian personnel.

The deputy chief of Ukraine's southern border command, Major General Mykola Babakov, told RFE/RL that he expects his officials to simply "exchange experiences" with EU experts. He said Ukraine is more interested in modern equipment for customs inspections and passport controls, as well as access to European information databases.

At the 7 October ceremony at Palanca, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk appeared to take a similar approach. "We hope that the mission will not only conduct border monitoring, but also provide practical assistance in development of border infrastructure," Tarasyuk said.

An EU official told RFE/RL that equipment might eventually be donated to Ukraine. (Ahto Lobjakas)