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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: June 1, 2004

1 June 2004, Volume 6, Number 20
POLLSTER SAYS ELITES ARE OVERWHELMINGLY DISSATISFIED WITH GOVERNMENT. The Minsk-based Independent Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Studies (NISEPI) conducted a poll in May among "more than 60 policymakers, media managers, scientists, and businessmen who represented approximately equally the state and nonstate sectors," Belapan reported on 31 May. The poll revealed that the overwhelming majority of Belarusian experts are displeased with the performance of the Belarusian government -- this dissatisfaction was declared by 87 percent of respondents from the state sector and 97 percent of those from the nonstate sector. As regards President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, his work was criticized by 90 percent and 100 percent of respondents from the state and nonstate group, respectively.

Asked to assess the urgency of political and economic changes in Belarus on a 10-point scale (where 1 denoted the opinion that "changes are unnecessary" and 10 stood for "radical changes are necessary"), the respondents provided an average estimate of 9.3 (an average of 8.6 for those in the state sector and 9.5 in the nonstate one). "In other words, attempts of the authorities to persuade at least the elites that the country has formed a correct political and economic model of society...that secures a worthy life for the population...are not finding the required support," NISEPI commented on this result.

NISEPI also found that 93 percent of respondents believe that the upcoming parliamentary election -- preliminarily set for 17 October -- will not be free or fair; 89 percent of them (including 83 percent of experts from the state sector) said they think that the officially announced results will not correspond to the actual results of the vote. Asked about their election preferences (it was possible to name more that one party), 77 percent of respondents said they will vote for the opposition Popular Coalition Five Plus, 61 percent for candidates fielded by the Respublika group in the Chamber of Representatives, and 50 percent for those supported by the opposition coalition Free Belarus. Just 7 percent said that they will vote for pro-Lukashenka candidates. Only 29 percent opined that international monitoring could influence voting results, whereas 57 percent said that it could not and 11 percent found it difficult to answer.

"The voters from the elites cannot influence the final election results in a noticeable way, because they constitute only an insignificant part of the entire Belarusian electorate," NISEPI commented on the aforementioned figures. "However, as regards the election campaign itself -- the formation of election commissions, the tone of statements in the media, the vote count, etc. -- the position of the elites, primarily from state institutions, may have some influence."

NISEPI also asked its respondents about the recent arrest of Mikhail Marynich, a former Belarusian nomenklatura man, who in 2001 unsuccessfully tried to challenge Lukashenka in the presidential election. Marynich, a former Belarusian ambassador to Latvia, Estonia, and Finland as well as former foreign-trade minister, was arrested by the KGB in late April on charges of stealing official documents and illegal possession of firearms. KGB investigators also seized more than $90,000 in cash from Marynich (the money was reportedly received by him from Russia to sponsor some candidates in the legislative elections). Subsequently, however, Marynich was formally charged only with "illegal actions regarding firearms, ammunition, and explosives." Marynich reportedly claims that the pistol found at his dacha was planted there in order to build a case against him.

Of the more than 60 state and independent experts polled by NISEPI, 82 percent thought that the arrest of Marynich is politically motivated, while just 2 percent said that the Marynich case is criminal and 8 percent thought that the politician was arrested on both political and criminal grounds. NISEPI commented that the behavior of law enforcers in the Marynich case unavoidably leads "any unbiased observer" to the conclusion that "the authorities are applying the repeatedly used method of neutralizing potential opponents by charging them with a criminal offense." "If this scenario is followed through, we should expect another high-profile trial and the removal of Mr. Marynich from big politics for a certain period. Previous experience suggests that the prospects for a verdict of not guilty are slim," the pollster added. (Jan Maksymiuk)

KYIV NOT SO EAGER TO INTEGRATE WITH MOSCOW? Vasyl Baziv, deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, made a rather unexpected statement on 28 May when he told journalists at a regular briefing in Kyiv that Ukraine does not intend to coordinate the process of joining the World Trade Organization(WTO) with the three other signatories of the accord on the creation of the Single Economic Space (SES), Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. "It is our position that every country has already gone its way and should now follow its own path," Baziv said. "The main thing is not to enter the WTO together or separately, but to enter it as soon as possible."

Baziv's statement was made less than a week after the SES summit in Yalta, where the four presidents talked a lot about the coordination of their policies toward forming a closer economic and trade alliance (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 25 May 2004). In particular, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev stressed in Yalta that the cooperation within the SES would allow the four states to present the same conditions while applying for membership in the WTO. Now Baziv has said something that may be viewed as a clear move to avoid such coordination. True, Baziv added that after becoming a member of the WTO, Ukraine intends to help its SES partners enter the organization.

It remains to be seen whether Baziv's statement will not be renounced by President Leonid Kuchma in the near future, thus becoming only another item on a much longer list of Kyiv's incoherent or even somewhat schizophrenic official pronouncements concerning Ukraine's "multivector" foreign policies. But Moscow has already reacted with surprise to Baziv's words. Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Dmitrii Sukhoparov told "Vedomosti" that without a coordinated position of the SES signatories with regard to WTO membership, it will be difficult for them the reach the declared goal of forming a free-trade zone. "If during the talks with WTO members one [SES] country agrees to sharply decrease customs tariffs, it would be senseless for the other countries of the [SES] four, with a view to forming a free-trade zone, to conduct negotiations on tougher conditions," Sukhoparov added.

There were also people in Kyiv who raised eyebrows. "I don't know what happened and why such statements were issued by the presidential administration," Hanna Herman, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's spokeswoman, told "Vedomosti" about Baziv's briefing. "The prime minister permanently stresses the need to coordinate the process of joining the WTO," she added. Is Kuchma making a fool of Yanukovych in the run-up to the presidential elections in which Yanukovych is poised to be the main candidate of the pro-Kuchma forces? Or is it just Kuchma's usual method of pursuing politics -- to make a step toward Russia and then balance it by making another one in the opposite direction?

Meanwhile, acting Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka appealed to the European Union last week -- with the obvious goal of preventing Russia from restoring its influence over Ukraine -- that the alliance's 25 states make a clear pledge that Ukraine has a chance for EU membership in the future. Also, European Commission President Romano Prodi seemed to back down last week on his categorical statement reported in early May that neither Ukraine nor Belarus has any prospect of joining the EU. Prodi told the Kyiv-based "Den" newspaper on 27 May that he was misquoted. "I did not make the statement attributed to me," Prodi said. "We are working together [with Ukraine] on further strengthening our relations in the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy. This policy arose in response to EU expansion, but it is not aimed at expansion.... This question [expansion] is not on the agenda yet."

Whether Brussels is serious in its work with Kyiv -- and vice versa -- may be seen fairly soon. Kyiv has signaled that it hopes to obtain market-economy status from Brussels -- a sine qua non for obtaining WTO membership -- during an EU summit planned in The Hague in July. In order to grant such status, Brussels demands that Kyiv relax its state intervention in determining pricing policy and upgrade its legislation on bankruptcy to meet European standards. If everything goes well and Ukraine's economy is recognized as a market one in July, then Kyiv will have a real chance to join the WTO in 2005 and considerably boost its chances of moving closer to Europe, regardless of who becomes Ukraine's president this autumn. If not, the world will most likely continue to witness a wearisome and frustrating tug-of-war between Russia and Europe over what to do about Ukraine -- include it in a Russia-dominated free-trade zone or make an EU buffer zone, or perhaps leave the country where it is now -- in Europe's twilight zone. (Jan Maksymiuk)

"We should do everything in a very concrete way. Because in this turmoil, in this difficult economic situation -- the external economic situation -- we could lose our country. You see what has been going on outside our state, what is happening to the prices of energy resources. If we fail to brace ourselves up and show people how to behave in this complicated economic situation, we will not survive. It is very difficult to survive considering the current prices of oil and metals that we buy. That is why I am beginning to [stir] the state apparatus, the whole country." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 28 May, explaining the reasons behind his recent extensive tours of Belarusian regions.

"People have relaxed so much...and they think that it is Lukashenka or someone else who will continue to show them their way or carry them in his arms. They have relaxed to such an extent that it gives you a scare. People do not care for their lives, for themselves, for their health." -- Lukashenka; ibid.

"Of course we want to preserve our country, its sovereignty and real independence. But we cannot do this without ensuring the energy security of our state. More and more frequently we are confronted with the question: Where should we buy energy resources and how should we diversify their supplies to our country? The problem is not in diversification for the time being. So far it has been cheaper for us to buy [energy resources] from the Russian Federation. The problem for us is how to replace 25 percent of the currently consumed energy resources with other types of fuel, domestic types of fuel, in order to be able to produce electricity and heat using our own resources.... There is no other task that is more important for the country today." -- Lukashenka on 31 May; quoted by Belarusian Television.

"I'm not the one who paints everything that has happened [in Ukraine] only in black. Primarily because today the president [Leonid Kuchma] is not criticized only by lazybones. The epoch of Kuchma is coming to an end. I'm ready to speak about a drama involving this politician, who would like to remain in Ukraine's history as a reformer but his name has been linked to many scandals, failures, and problems. However, while speaking about the current president, one should not forget objectivity." -- Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko in an interview with the Russian website; quoted by the "Ukrayinska pravda" website on 31 May.