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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: July 20, 2004

20 July 2004, Volume 6, Number 26

The next issue of "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report" will appear on 3 August.
OPPOSITION PREPARES FOR PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION. The opposition parties constituting the Popular Coalition Five Plus -- the Belarusian Popular Front, the Belarusian Party of Labor, the United Civic Party, the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly, and the Belarusian Party of Communists (PKB) -- are going to ensure that their common candidate is on the ballot in each of the country's 110 districts for the 17 October legislative elections. PKB leader Syarhey Kalyakin told journalists on 15 July that Five Plus will field two candidates in each district so that the first-choice nominee can be replaced by the back-up one if needed. According to Kalyakin, the coalition's parties will not have any candidate quotas, and nominees will be selected solely on the basis of their popularity in each particular district.

The Popular Coalition Five Plus seems to be the strongest opposition force in the country now, if the word "strong" may be applied to the Belarusian opposition under President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's autocratic rule. After the controversial constitutional referendum in November 1996, the opposition has been driven out by Lukashenka from "systemic politics" -- that is, primarily from the country's legislature and elective self-government bodies -- and marginalized in the domestic political arena. Major opposition parties boycotted the 1999 local polls and the 2000 parliamentary ballot, in protest against the country's antidemocratic election legislation. The return of the opposition into "systemic politics" took place in the 2001 presidential election and the 2003 local polls, but in both cases with frustratingly poor results (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 14 July 2004).

As in several previous election campaigns, there is no unity in the ranks of the Belarusian opposition. Apart from the Popular Coalition Five Plus, two other opposition groups have declared their intention to take part in the election: the European Coalition Free Belarus based on the Charter-97 human rights organization and the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Popular Assembly); and the Young Belarus bloc based on the opposition Youth Front (a youth arm of the Belarusian Popular Front). It is still possible that other groups claiming opposition to the government will emerge closer to the election date and field their candidates.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Christian Party (KKhP), led by exiled Zyanon Paznyak from Poland, is calling on Belarusians to boycott the 17 October elections. "Only a boycott gives the people a chance for victory, a possibility to renounce the election farce," Paznyak said in a message to a KKhP conference in Minsk earlier this month. "There are no elections whatsoever, [election] protocols record only those results that are conveyed from the top," KKhP acting Chairman Yuras Belenki told RFE/RL last week. "In such a situation there is only one way of counteraction for society -- to show its attitude to the farce by refusing to go to the polls."

However, boycotting may be an unfeasible option on 17 October. According to a recent survey by the Minsk-based Independent Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Studies (NISEPI), some 63 percent of voters said they will take part in the October elections. The boycott proposed by the KKhP was supported by only 10 percent of respondents. Commenting on the survey last week, NISEPI Director Aleh Manayeu said that "pro-democracy forces" stand a "realistic chance" of winning seats in the Chamber of Representatives on 17 October. According to him, the survey established that the Belarusians are increasingly looking forward to changes. However, he added, opposition forces may count on success in the election only if they manage to establish a single pro-democracy alliance and advertise their nominees as independent candidates.

Belarus's Election Code has long been criticized by both the domestic opposition and European experts for undemocratic provisions regarding the formation of election commissions (political parties may not be represented on them), powers of election observers during the voting and vote count, and early voting (which is effectively outside any control). Three deputies of the Chamber of Representatives -- Valery Fralou, Uladzimir Parfyanovich, and Syarhey Skrabets -- staged an 18-day hunger strike last month demanding liberalizing changes to the Election Code, but their relevant bill was overwhelmingly voted down on 22 June. Thus, the current election campaign will be conducted under the old rules.

Candidates for the 17 October election may be proposed from 8 August to 6 September, while their registration with district election commissions will take place from 6-16 September. After the registration, candidates will be able to begin their campaigns, which must be financed exclusively from the state budget and a special election fund created by the Central Election Commission for voluntary donors. Each registered candidate may obtain up to 950,000 Belarusian rubles ($440) from the state budget for covering his/her campaigning expenses. If a candidate exceeds the sum allocated to him/her from the state budget and the special election fund, his/her registration may be canceled.

Regretfully, it should be expected that, as in the legislative election campaign in 2000, opposition and/or independent candidates will face many difficulties during the registration process. In 2000, some 2,000 prospective independent candidates were refused registration on technicalities. Last week the Justice Ministry signaled a new problem for the opposition. Justice Minister Viktar Halavanau's threatened that he will use "penalties" against the Popular Coalition Five Plus if its leaders fail to register by mid-August. Halavanau said the coalition must be registered just like any other public association, otherwise the alliance will be illegal. To support this view, Belarusian Justice Ministry officials even quoted a Russian-language dictionary, which reportedly says that "coalition" means the same as "association."

In theory, all registered candidates will be allotted the same amount of air time for campaigning on state-run television and radio. But in practice, Belarusian Television has already been conducting an intense preelection campaign of vilifying the Belarusian opposition parties and activists for several months. Belarusian viewers are regularly offered prime-time antiopposition propaganda features and documentaries with such telling titles as "The Road to Nowhere" or "Political Pedophilia." It will be extremely hard to offset such propaganda for candidates disfavored by the government with their official campaign resources, which may not exceed $440 per person.

In other words, as many times in the past 10 years of his rule, it is President Alyaksandr Lukashenka who shuffles and deals cards in the election game. His opponents will be lucky if they manage to join this game. Winning it seems to be beyond their current capabilities. (Jan Maksymiuk)

FORWARD AND BACKWARD: ODESA-BRODY PIPELINE STORY CONTINUES. Last week, Ukraine's Ukrtransnafta oil-transport company and Poland's PERN Przyjazn enterprise established a joint venture, Sarmatia, to build a pipeline from Brody on the Ukrainian-Polish border to Poland's Plock oil refinery, which is linked by pipeline to the Baltic Sea port of Gdansk. This will allow oil from Ukraine's Odesa oil terminal to be pumped to Poland, and then on to Central and Western Europe. According to a Polish-Ukrainian intergovernmental accord signed earlier this year, the construction of a Brody-Plock pipeline should take place in 2004-05 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2004). However, it is now estimated that Sarmatia will require some three years to raise the necessary investment and construct the pipe. Until the Brody-Plock link is in operation, the Ukrainians plan to use their pipeline in the reverse direction -- to pump Russian oil received via Belarus to Odesa, from which it will be shipped by tanker through the Bosphorus to the Mediterranean.

Ukraine's announcement of the "reverse use" of the pipe has caused international criticism. The European Commission has issued an expression of "concern," pointing out the increased risk to the sensitive Black Sea and Bosphorus posed by such shipments. (Turkey has for years been trying to ban all oil shipments from the Bosphorus; hence the pipeline now being constructed to convey Caspian and Central Asian oil from Baku in Azerbaijan to Ceyhan on Turkey's Mediterranean coast). Moreover, the EU noted, the reverse use of the pipeline also puts at risk the security of energy resources delivered to Central Europe and Ukraine itself.

However, the "reverse-flow" decision has wider political implications. The Odesa-Brody pipeline was completed in 2002, but found no immediate customers for its oil. The Poles had no money to build the forward links to Plock, and Western oil companies proved reluctant to sign a firm contract. Almost immediately, however, the Russians put forward their "reverse-flow" proposal. Both in Ukraine and internationally (particularly in Washington) this was seen as an attempt by Moscow to strengthen its ties with Ukraine, and the choice of flow direction became in effect a choice of political alignment. After long and acrimonious debates (and considerable urging from the United States), in February the Ukrainian government ruled that the pipeline would be used, as originally planned, to deliver Caspian oil to Europe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2004). On 4 July, however, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych signed an amendment to this decision, striking out the words "from Odesa to Brody."

Four days later, the supervisory council of Ukrtransnafta gave its managers the right to sign contracts with the Russian-British company TNK-BP on the reverse use of the pipeline. This deal includes a credit agreement to fill the pipeline and transport up to 9 million tons of Russian oil a year. According to Ukrtransnafta, the credit (in the form of Urals oil worth $108 million) will be provided to the company for three years at 8 percent interest. During the first year, Ukrtransnafta will pay interest only. Repayment of the credit will be from the proceeds of transporting the Russian oil.

Although the European Commission statement of concern "acknowledges" that the decision on how to use the pipeline is a matter for the Ukrainian government to settle, it also notes that the decision was made "unilaterally," implying perhaps that the matter should have been raised at the EU-Ukraine summit in early July. Ukraine, however, could counter with the argument that neither the "old" EU nor new member Poland had done anything practical about the Brody-Plock link; on 27 April, on the eve of the EU enlargement, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma grumbled that the 3 million euros ($3.5 million) promised by the EU for the Brody-Plock pipe still remained "on paper," while the Poles had, so far, not even turned a spade or allocated any money for it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2004). And after signing the new amendment, Yanukovych commented that it meant that the pipeline could be used in either direction, as "circumstances required" -- a remark apparently intended to defuse international criticism.

Nevertheless, it is perhaps significant that the decision on "reverse flow" coincided with several other indications that the Ukrainian political pendulum is currently swinging away from Europe and the West. On 8 July, Kostyantyn Koltun, director-general of Ukrainian aviation equipment and engine manufacturer Motor-Sich, warned a conference in Kyiv that membership in the World Trade Organization could be disastrous for the Ukrainian aeronautics industry. On 15 July, Finance Minister Mykola Azarov uttered the gloomy prognostication that Ukraine's current economic performance and the lack of a pro-Ukraine lobby in Brussels ruled out any chance of Ukraine's joining the EU in the foreseeable future. Likewise, the Ukrainian government has recently made it clear that it will defy world environmental opinion by constructing the Bystraya canal through the sensitive eco-system of the Danube River delta.

The establishment of Sarmatia, however, suggests that, as far as the Odesa-Brody pipeline is concerned, the options remain open. (Vera Rich)

"I recently visited Kuchma, we were flying in one helicopter with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and looking down on Novhorod Siverskyy [a district town in Ukraine's Chernihiv Oblast, which borders on Belarus's Homel Oblast and Russia's Bryansk Oblast]. There are our lands bordering on each other there. So, if you fly over Belarus, you can see that every field has been sown and looked after, that someone has been doing something there. True, there are some shortcomings, too. Some fields, particularly in [Belarus's] Vitsebsk Oblast, are not plowed [as accurately] as in the Soviet times, some of them were abandoned, and immediately afterward they turned themselves into swamp or covered themselves with shrubs. But such situations are rare. As for [Ukraine's Chernihiv region], almost all land there looks this way! All! ...Only the land plots adjoining farmhouses are cultivated, because people feed themselves on them. Villages are gray and dreary. A depressing sight. Roads are dreary and bumpy, villages are dreary. Looking at this gives you the creeps." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 16 July, explaining to villagers in Vitsebsk Oblast why they are lucky to be living in Belarus under his rule; quoted by Belarusian Television.

"I think that the future of Europe is currently one of the most topical and urgent issues in the world. And President [Leonid Kuchma], following his withdrawal from office, will be one of the leading experts in this issue. This is one of the possible spheres of his activities after his withdrawal. True, to become a full-fledged member of the global club of top-class experts, he lacks just one thing -- a command of the English language." -- Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Pinchuk, Kuchma's son-in-law, in an interview with the 17-23 July issue of "Zerkalo nedeli."

"I think that [Kuchma's] experience and knowledge will continue to do Ukraine a service, and I hope that this knowledge will be of use for Ukraine's rapprochement with Europe.... I will most likely distress some of your readers, but my opinion is that the Kuchma era will not end on 22 November [when Kuchma concludes his second presidential term]." -- Pinchuk; ibid.