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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: May 4, 2004

4 May 2004, Volume 6, Number 16
PACE WANTS TO CUT TIES WITH MINSK OVER DISAPPEARANCES. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on 28 April adopted a strongly worded resolution calling on member states of the Council of Europe to apply a "maximum of political pressure," including sanctions, on the government of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka until it launches a credible, independent investigation of the alleged involvement of high-ranking Belarusian officials in the disappearances of opposition politicians Yury Zakharanka (disappeared on 7 May 1999), Viktar Hanchar (16 September 1999), and Anatol Krasouski (disappeared with Hanchar), as well as journalist Dzmitry Zavadski (7 July 2000).

The resolution says such an investigation needs to be launched following the resignation of Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman, who has been accused of orchestrating the disappearances and their subsequent cover-up in his former function as Security Council secretary. The resolution also recommends that the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers considers suspending the participation of Belarus in various Council of Europe agreements and activities, as well as any contacts between the council and the Belarusian government on a political level, until sufficient progress has been made in the postulated investigation.

The resolution followed a report on the disappearances prepared by Cypriot lawmaker Christos Pourgourides and approved by the PACE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights in January. Pourgourides's report -- as many former accounts and reports by independent media (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 12 June and 28 August 2001) -- suggests a high-level government cover-up in the disappearances and the involvement of several high-ranking officials (including current Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman and Sports Minister Yury Sivakou) in orchestrating them.

"We have not resolved to isolate Belarus completely," Pourgourides told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 28 April. "We have resolved to stop political contacts with the [Lukashenka] regime.... We have decided that we will assist with every possible means all opposition groups, independent media, and all those people who are fighting for democratic changes in Belarus."

In the past, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has not reacted to such critical resolutions by European bodies or "political pressure." It is not clear what "sanctions" may be adopted by European states with regard to the Belarusian regime. Pourgourides suggested that criminal legislation in some European states -- for example, in Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands -- allows judicial bodies to launch criminal proceedings against Belarusian officials over the disappearances. (Jan Maksymiuk)

NO CIRCUS WITHOUT LUKASHENKA. The embassies of EU member and acceding countries failed to obtain official permission to stage a show in Minsk on 1 May to celebrate the EU expansion, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 27 April, quoting French Ambassador to Belarus Stephane Chmelewsky.

The European diplomatic missions planned to organize a large circus performance featuring European artists for some 1,700 people in the building of the State Circus in Minsk and subsequently screen a specially taped address to the audience by European Commission President Romano Prodi.

"We did not obtain administrative permission to hold this show, and I don't know why," Chmelewsky said.

"Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on 29 April provided more details. Belarusian Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynau reportedly told the European ambassadors that he is "99 percent sure" that permission for the circus would be given at the "highest level." An application for such permission was submitted in early April.

However, on 26 April the Belarusian Foreign Ministry notified the European diplomatic missions in Minsk that it failed to present the circus project to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, because he was touring the Chornobyl-affected areas in Homel Oblast. But the show may be staged, the ministry added, if addresses of European ambassadors and Prodi to the public are excluded from the program. The EU ambassadors rejected this as "evident blackmail," "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote, and the show was canceled.

The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" report on the frustration of the EU's plans to stage a circus performance for Belarusians is titled "Kein Zirkus ohne Lukaschenka." (Jan Maksymiuk)

KGB CATCHES SPIES, AS USUAL. Belarus's State Security Committee (KGB) announced that it had caught Colonel Kazimierz Witaszczyk, defense attache at the Polish Embassy in Minsk, red-handed on 27 April while he was receiving documents with classified information from an unidentified person, Belarusian Television reported on 29 April. "[The documents] pertained to the defense capabilities of our country, in particular, to the structure and armament of individual units and subunits of the Belarusian Army," the station said. A KGB officer told the station that one classified document concerned the recent redeployment of the 302nd Surface-to-Air Missile Brigade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2004). The KGB also said that Witaszczyk left Belarus within 12 hours of his detention. The Polish Defense Ministry confirmed on 29 April that Witaszczyk was recalled to Warsaw "for consultations."

According to the KGB, the Polish intelligence service, through its spies in the Polish Embassy in Minsk, tried to obtain secret information from a Belarusian officer. "However, since the [spying] operation was controlled by us, we also controlled the officer who played the role of a spy," RFE/RL's Belarusian Service quoted KGB spokesman Alyaksandr Bazanau as saying.

A source in the Polish Embassy told RFE/RL that the role of the spy was played by Alyaksey Bezvyaselny, a journalist of "Vo Slavy Rodiny" (For the Glory of the Fatherland), the press organ of Belarus's Defense Ministry. According to the source, Bezvyaselny often visited the Polish Embassy in Minsk. During the detention of Witaszczyk, Bezvyaselny and the Polish diplomat were reportedly having a lunch in a Minsk restaurant. "These were simply the old methods and a lack of professionalism," the source in the Polish Embassy opined, adding that the detention of Witaszczyk was a "provocation" intended to aggravate Polish-Belarusian relations. The source suggested that the detention intentionally coincided with the date of a planned visit of Belarusian Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski to Warsaw. Belarusian media reported that Sidorski cancelled his planned visit to Warsaw to attend the European Economic Summit on 29 April.

A similar trick for spy catching was used by the Belarusian KGB in 2002. A district court in Minsk in September 2002 convicted Yauhen Kukushkin, the head of the Cabinet of Minister's Committee for Securities, for a foiled attempt at selling state secrets to two Russian companies and sentenced him to five years in prison. A KGB officer went under cover and arrested Kukushkin as the latter -- while believing the officer to be a representative of the Russian firms -- tried to sell computer discs allegedly containing information about the operation of Belarusian defense enterprises. (Jan Maksymiuk)

KUCHMA SLAMS POLAND FOR INACTION OVER ODESA-BRODY... President Kuchma harshly criticized Poland on 27 April for what he sees as Warsaw's lack of cooperation in making the Odesa-Brody oil pipeline a route for transporting Caspian oil to Europe. Kuchma said Poland has not made a "single poke of a shovel" and not allocated any funds to prolong the Odesa-Brody pipeline to Plock. Earlier this year, Warsaw and Kyiv signed an intergovernmental accord on extending the pipeline to Plock in 2004-05 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2004).

Kuchma also satirized the EU stance over the issue, saying that Brussels has pledged a "big sum" of 3 million euros ($3.5 million) for the Odesa-Brody-Plock project but the money still remains "on paper." "There have been no proposals from either suppliers of oil [to the Odesa-Brody pipeline] or potential buyers," Kuchma said. "This is an impasse scenario for Ukraine." The Ukrainian president said he does not believe that Caspian oil deposits are sufficient for making the Odesa-Brody pipeline work to its full capacity.

The following day, Kuchma said the Odesa-Brody pipeline, if used for transporting Caspian oil to Europe, could only make losses. Therefore, he asserted, Ukraine should reconsider its former decision and use the pipeline for shipping Russian oil from Brody to Odesa. "The fact is that as of today there is neither a Caspian oil seller or its buyer," Kuchma said. "As for Russian oil, it does exist, and we can earn $90 million in [annual] profits from the reversed [use of the pipeline]."

Meanwhile, Steven Pifer, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, who visited Kyiv last month, presented the reasons for the direct use of the Odesa-Brody pipeline in an interview with the 30 April-15 May issue of the Kyiv-based "Zerkalo nedeli."

According to Pifer, there are refineries in Germany and Slovenia that use Caspian oil transported by tankers through the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits. The transport of those volumes of oil via Odesa-Brody could be less costly and more competitive. Pifer called on the Ukrainian government to create an expert group to study the transport of Caspian oil through the Odesa-Brody pipeline and work out a "realistic project."

Pifer said Washington believes that the use of Odesa-Brody in the reverse mode -- for pumping Russian oil, which is now shipped to Odesa by railway -- will not increase the volume of Russian oil sent in transit across Ukraine. But if it increases, Pifer added, then the Turkish straits will become even more clogged than they are now. In January, Pifer said, oil tankers had to wait one month to get through the Bosporus and Dardanelles.

Moreover, Pifer recalled that other countries, including Bulgaria and Romania, have plans to construct oil pipelines as well. If Ukraine starts to use Odesa-Brody in the reverse mode, he argued, then competitors may take advantage of such a temporary respite and deprive Ukraine of its current gas-transporting opportunities.

"Commercial profits from the reverse use [of Odesa-Brody] is one issue," Pifer said. "But there is another one, of a geopolitical importance. If Ukraine wants to integrate with Europe, this is one of the best ways to integrate its energy system with that of Europe." (Jan Maksymiuk)

...AND EU FOR 'BULLYING' UKRAINE OVER MEMBERSHIP. Speaking at the European Economic Forum in Warsaw on 29 April, President Leonid Kuchma urged the EU to clearly define Ukraine's European integration prospects. "Only God knows where Ukraine is today, even though we have chosen a strategic direction towards Europe long ago," Kuchma said. "We are not asking much from the EU today, we just want to know one thing -- whether the EU would like to see us part of the union.... Over the last few years we have not received any clear signals that Ukraine is welcome in the European Union."

Furthermore, Kuchma told journalists in Warsaw that the Ukraine-EU Troika meeting at the level of foreign ministers in Dublin earlier the same day sent a "negative signal" by failing to make a decision on granting Ukraine market-economy status. "The decision was not made," he said. "They are still chasing the hare around." After returning to Kyiv, Kuchma compared Ukraine's relations with the EU to a bullfight. "This whole thing reminds me of a 'corrida,' where Ukraine is a young bull running after the red cloth while [the EU] is standing still," Ukrainian Television quoted him as saying. "[However], the red cloth has somewhat faded in the sun and is not as bright as it used to be, so we are not rushing so eagerly towards it."

A week earlier Kuchma openly admitted that Ukraine may not obtain EU membership in the foreseeable future. Speaking at a forum in Kyiv on the country's economic strategy in 2004-15, Kuchma stressed that Ukraine's final goal is full-fledged EU membership but added that "haste is inappropriate." It should be remembered here that in his annual address to the Verkhovna Rada in 2002 Kuchma predicted that Ukraine would become a member of the World Trade Organization in 2002-03, while in 2003-04 it would hold talks with the European Union on associate membership and sign the relevant agreements.

What's more, Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Azarov -- who is the government's plenipotentiary for European and Euro-Atlantic integration but is also seen as the main promoter of the Single Economic Space of Ukraine with Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus -- said in an interview with the Kyiv-based weekly "Biznes" on 26 April that Ukraine has "adjusted" its European integration priorities. "Ukraine's unalterable course toward integration with Europe is not at all equivalent to EU entry," Azarov said. "We are focusing not on joining the EU but on the creation of economic, social, and legal standards in Ukraine that could allow us not to beg for EU membership but calmly decide -- join [the EU] or not." (Jan Maksymiuk)

"Today, we see the will of the previous generations being fulfilled. Europe and the world are finding again the opportunities that were once lost in the war and in the tragic postwar divisions. This struggle was long and difficult." -- Former Solidarity Chairman and Polish President Lech Walesa speaking on 3 May at a flag-hoisting ceremony for the 10 new EU member countries at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

"This is communism." -- Lech Walesa at a news conference in Strasbourg on 3 May, a few minutes after the above-mentioned flag-hoisting ceremony, responding to a question about labor-market restrictions imposed by Austria and Germany on migrant workers from the new EU members; quoted by "The Irish Times" on 4 May.

"We will conduct the same foreign policy that we have conducted so far. Whoever criticizes our policies cannot reproach us for making a major mistake [in the foreign-policy sphere].... We have not gotten into Afghanistan or Iraq, or into other hot spots. We have not embroiled our people or state in any dubious activities." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 26 April, quoted by Belapan.

"Indeed, we have not gotten into anything, because we are not being allowed to go into any place.... But we have gotten into self-isolation instead. And this is the shortest way to poverty. Look, not only foreign leaders, but also Russia's governors have already stopped receiving Lukashenka or flying to Minsk." -- Belarusian opposition politician Stanislau Shushkevich, former Belarus's head of state, commenting on Lukashenka's statement above; quoted by Belapan.

"As a criminal lawyer, I have no doubt in my mind at all that these disappearances have been ordered at the highest possible level in the establishment in Belarus. I cannot be certain that the order was given by the president himself but I'm absolutely certain that [it was given] by people [who were] very, very close to the president. As regards the president of Belarus, I have no doubt that he personally gave an order for the cover-up." -- Cypriot lawmaker Christos Pourgourides, a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe rapporteur on high-profile disappearances in Belarus, during a news conference in Strasbourg on 28 April; quoted by the Council of Europe website (

"Liberalization in Belarus in the past three years has somewhat resembled the Loch Ness monster. Practically everybody speaks about it but no one has seen it. Belarusian policymakers, while adopting thousands of normative acts, constantly assure us that the level of economic liberty is increasing. They are reminiscent of the owners of hotels and bars nearby the Loch Ness, who lure tourists from the entire world." -- Belarusian independent economic expert Yaraslau Ramanchuk, quoted by Belapan on 27 April.

"Paradoxically, in the past 10 years the pro-Western Ukrainians have found support and understanding in the United States rather than in the European Union. The European side has proposed nothing new apart from the idea of a 'buffer zone,' which is already 100 years old. [This zone] is a sort of gray territory between Russia and the West, intended to serve the sole purpose of not erecting any barriers to their, Russia's, and the West's partnership." -- Ukrainian writer Yuriy Andrukhovych in "Berliner Zeitung" on 2 May, quoted by the "Ukrayinska pravda" website.