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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: August 10, 2004

10 August 2004, Volume 6, Number 28
SPORTS MINISTER BANNED FROM ENTERING GREECE OVER DISAPPEARANCES. Last week, Greek authorities banned Belarusian Sports Minister Yury Sivakou, who is due to lead Belarus's delegation to the Summer Olympic Games from 11-29 August, from entering Greece.

The ban was agreed to by all EU members and is based on Sivakou's alleged involvement in the disappearance of three opposition politicians and a journalist in Minsk. The current Dutch EU Presidency said on 6 August that Sivakou's presence in Athens would be "completely inappropriate." The ban is linked to a grim story of the disappearances of opponents of President Alyaksandr Lukasehnka's regime in Belarus.

In a December 2003 report, Cypriot lawmaker Christos Pourgourides, a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) rapporteur on high-profile disappearances in Belarus, suggested that former Security Council Secretary Viktar Sheyman (now prosecutor-general); Sivakou, a former interior minister; and Interior Ministry officer Dzmitry Paulichenka might have been involved in arranging the disappearance of Yury Zakharanka (7 May 1999), Viktar Hanchar, Anatol Krasouski (16 December 1999), and journalist Dzmitry Zavadski (7 July 2000).

"The interviews I conducted in Minsk [in November 2003] have led me to believe that steps were taken at the highest level of the state to actively cover up the true background of the disappearances, and to suspect that senior officials of the state may themselves be involved in these disappearances," Pourgourides wrote in his report. Pourgourides urged member states of the Council of Europe to apply "maximum political pressure" on the Belarusian leadership, including "sanctions," to force a credible independent investigation of the disappearances and the alleged involvement of high-ranking officials in them.

"I don't know this man, I don't want to know him, I have no stance whatsoever on his report, I haven't read his report," Lukashenka said at a news conference in July, while answering a question about Pourgourides. "It's time to put this long play [the case of high-profile disappearances in Belarus] somewhere in a chest." Greece's Olympic ban on Sivakou has strongly reminded Lukashenka who Pourgourides is and, possibly, signaled to the Belarusian president that Europe does not want to forget the disappearances in Belarus.

The first public allegations as to what may have actually happened to Zakharanka and Hanchar, Lukashenka's political associates in 1994-95 and opponents in subsequent years, were made in mid-2001, in the run-up to the 2001 presidential election in Belarus. Dzmitry Petrushkevich and Aleh Sluchak, two investigators from Belarus's Prosecutor-General's Office who defected to the West, accused then Security Council Secretary Viktar Sheyman and then Interior Minister Yury Sivakou of forming a "special unit of rapid reaction" (SOBR) under the command of Dzmitry Paulichenka "to fulfill any orders, including killings." According to Petrushkevich and Sluchak, the SOBR worked out a pattern of "perfect murder" by killing some 30 major criminals of the Belarusian underworld. The two investigators charged that this "death squad" also killed Zakharanka, Hanchar, and Krasouski in 1999 and Zavadski in 2000.

Petrushkevich's and Sluchak's charges were confirmed in August 2001 by Aleh Alkayeu, who had been in charge of the unit executing the death penalty in the SIZO-1 prison in Minsk. According to Alkayeu, Zakharanka, Hanchar, and Krasouski were killed by Paulichenka's "death squad" with the special pistol that was used for executions in the death-row prison. Alkayeu confirmed that, following orders from Sivakou, he gave the weapon on two occasions to people from the Interior Ministry -- on 30 April 1999 (the pistol was returned on 14 May, while Zakharanka disappeared on 7 May), and on 16 September (the pistol was returned on 18 September, while Hanchar and Krasouski disappeared on 16 September in the evening). According to Alkayeu, Paulichenka and his people used the execution pistol as a psychological prop, in order to impart a ritual of execution to killings.

Leaning on the revelations of Alkayeu, the findings of independent journalists and families of the disappeared, as well as on interviews with officials in Minsk, Pourgourides was able to present in his report a picture of the official cover-up of the true reasons behind the disappearances. According to Pourgourides, former Prosecutor-General Aleh Bazhelka and former KGB chief Uladzimir Matskevich discovered the role of Paulichenka's "death squad" in the high-profile disappearances in Belarus. Following an arrest warrant from Bazhelka and Matskevich, Paulichenka was arrested on 22 November 2001. But then matters took a dramatic turn.

In a surprising security shake-up on 27 November 2001, Lukashenka fired Sheyman, Matskevich, and Bazhelka. Sheyman was replaced with Foreign Minister Ural Latypau, while Matskevich's position was filled by Leanid Yeryn. The position of prosecutor-general remained vacant for two days, after which Lukashenka appointed Sheyman to assume Bazhelka's job. Paulichenka was released at approximately the same time. In January 2003, the criminal cases regarding the disappearances of Zakharanka, Hanchar, and Krasouski were closed. In 2002, two of Zavadski's kidnappers -- members of an elite unit of the Belarusian Interior Ministry -- were sentenced to life in prison. The trial was held behind closed doors, and the court reportedly did not inquire about what happened to Zavadski after he was kidnapped.

Pourgourides' conclusions, as well as those of opponents of Lukashenka in Belarus, are that Paulichenka's release and the Belarusian security shake-up in November 2001 were prompted by the fact that investigators from the KGB and the Prosecutor-General's Office discovered that Zakharanka, Hanchar, Krasouski, and, possibly, Zavadski, were killed by Paulichenka's group, following orders from Sheyman and Sivakou. What is more, Bazhelka and Matskevich were reportedly close to finding the bodies of the slain politicians. Now, however, Bazhelka and Matskevich remain silent. Lukashenka reportedly paid for Matskevich's silence in 2001 by financing his treatment abroad and appointing him Belarus's ambassador to Yugoslavia.

Following the Pourgourides report, PACE adopted a strongly worded resolution on 28 April calling on Council of Europe member states to apply a "maximum of political pressure," including sanctions, on the government of President Lukashenka until it launches a credible, independent investigation of the alleged involvement of high-ranking Belarusian officials in the disappearances of the opposition politicians and journalist Zavadski. The resolution says such an investigation needs to be launched following the resignation of Prosecutor-General Sheyman. The resolution also recommends that the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers consider 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 suggested investigation.

The current ban on Sivakou's travel to Greece seems to be one of the postulated "sanctions" against the Lukashenka regime regarding the high-profile disappearances. It remains to be seen whether some other punitive measures against the Belarusian regime on the part of the European community may follow. However, irrespective of what Europe may do with regard to Lukashenka, the disappearances in Belarus -- as with the Heorhiy Gongadze case in Ukraine -- indicate what appears to be an insurmountable psychological barrier in establishing closer relations between the ruling regime and its opponents. One side does everything possible to cover up or postpone revealing the grisly story, while the other demands that the truth be disclosed without any reservations. Nobody has so far come up with any idea what to do to overcome this hurdle and bring the two warring sides closer together in order to make them cooperate on issues of mutual interest. (Jan Maksymiuk)

YUSHCHENKO BEGINS 'PEOPLE'S ELECTION CAMPAIGN.' Speaking on Radio Liberty on 3 August, Oleksandr Zinchenko, manager of Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko's presidential election campaign, said that this campaign will be different from that of his main rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. "The people's president will have a people's election campaign," Zinchenko asserted.

Unfortunately, Zinchenko did not provide many enlightening details regarding this type of campaigning. He claimed, however, that Yushchenko has "hundreds of prepared campaigners in every town and village."

The presidential campaign for Yushchenko formally began on 4 July when the Central Election Commission registered him as a presidential hopeful. It is apparent to everybody in Ukraine that Yushchenko cannot count on the propagandistic resources of the majority of the electronic media in the country. Indeed, the only television channel sympathetic to Yushchenko's presidential bid -- 5 Channel owned by Yushchenko's political ally Petro Symonenko -- has recently reported that its programs were removed from several cable distribution networks in eastern and southern Ukraine. Other television channels -- whether state-owned or private -- remain generally biased in favor of Yanukovych's presidential bid.

Under such circumstances it appears that the only efficient way for Yushchenko to promote his presidential platform is to hold as many face-to-face meetings with voters in the regions as possible. Therefore, on 3 August, Yushchenko started his presidential campaign tour of Ukraine in Odesa Oblast. Yushchenko's campaign staff, judging by press reports, has been prepared for such an eventuality. But some aspects of the mechanics of his campaign provoke anxieties on the part of his sympathizers, who fear that this campaign may lack the impetus and energy it needs to be fully efficient.

Yushchenko started his presidential campaign with an impressive rally of some 50,000 people, who saw him off submitting registration documents to the Central Election Commission in Kyiv on 4 August. Credits for such a remarkable start were generally given to Oleksandr Zinchenko, whom Yushchenko appointed as his campaign manager in mid-June (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 22 June 2004). Yushchenko was generally praised for this nomination, which he reportedly made under pressure from some Our Ukraine activists who have became dissatisfied with the performance of Roman Bezsmertnyy, head of the Our Ukraine staff.

However, further developments -- primarily an inconspicuous start of Yushchenko's regional tour of Ukraine -- have somewhat diminished faith in Zinchenko's capabilities to sufficiently organize Yushchenko's election campaign. First of all, some observers maintain that Zinchenko and Bezsmertnyy have not shared their responsibilities within the Our Ukraine bloc as smoothly as was expected.

According to the Kyiv-based weekly "Zerkalo nedeli," there is a multilayered system of responsibilities in Our Ukraine as regards its leader's presidential bid. The highest "legislative authority" in the bloc is a Coordinating Committee, which consists of Yushchenko (chairman), Yuliya Tymoshenko (first deputy), Zinchenko (manager of the election campaign), Bezsmertnyy (head of the bloc's staff), as well as prominent Our Ukraine leaders and activists: Yuriy Kostenko, Mykola Martynenko, Anatoliy Matviyenko, Petro Poroshenko, Viktor Pynzenyk, Ivan Plyushch, Borys Tarasyuk, and Oleksandr Turchynov. Every member of this committee is simultaneously a coordinator of Yushchenko's campaign in specific regions.

It is noteworthy that the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc -- a staunch political ally of Our Ukraine in the presidential election campaign -- has to take care of the most populous Ukrainian regions. Turchynov coordinates Yushchenko's campaign in Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, Luhansk, Kyrovohrad, Sumy, and Volhynia Oblast, while Matviyenko is responsible for Khmelnytskyy and Kharkiv oblasts.

Zinchenko personally leads the "executive" arm of Yushchenko's presidential campaign: press services, speechwriters, election experts, and the administrative apparatus of the bloc. He is also responsible for working out a campaign strategy, negotiating with potential political allies, and maintaining relations with the media. Zinchenko and Bezsmertnyy reportedly share equal responsibility for staging rallies, advertising Yushchenko's presidential bid, coordinating Yushchenko's representatives in regional election commissions, and solving legal problems in the campaign. Yushchenko is the only one allowed to directly comment on the political campaign or, following a prior agreement with him, Tymoshenko, Zinchenko, Poroshenko, Martynenko, Kostenko, Pynzenyk, and Tarasyuk can as well.

According to "Zerkalo nedeli," Bezsmertnyy's sole responsibility is financing all campaign actions and measures, which he does in cooperation with Our Ukraine's "cashier," lawmaker and businessman Davyd Zhvaniya.

Because of this complicated distribution of political and organizational responsibilities in Yushchenko's bloc, his presidential campaign has not yet settled into a smooth rhythm or acquired a satisfying scope. "Zerkalo nedeli" suggests that many local leaders of Yushchenko's campaign treat working on it only as a convenient opportunity to spend campaign money. At the same time, the weekly emphasizes that Yushchenko's people have not yet been able to tap his main asset in the campaign -- the enthusiasm of ordinary citizens who are ready to work for him without any expectation of payment or other compensation. (Jan Maksymiuk)

"Ahead of us we have elections to our parliament [on 17 October] and, possibly, other political actions. If we work intensely in August and September we will make a great contribution to the coffer of this political campaign." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka at a 5 August conference devoted to the ongoing harvesting campaign; quoted by RFE/RL's Belarusian Service. According to many Belarusian commentators, these words include a hint to an upcoming constitutional referendum to ask for changes that would allow a third presidential term for Lukashenka.

"[Ukraine's] full-fledged membership in the European Union and NATO, as before, remains a major component of our strategy. However, in operational terms, we have made corrections for the near future to reflect today's situation, taking into account not only our Ukrainian realities but also the current situation in the Euro-Atlantic community. This, as a matter of fact, is all. None of the already planned measures for developing our relations with NATO and the EU have been canceled. This is out of the question." -- Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, explaining in the 6 August issue of "Fakty i kommentarii" why he removed the provisions about preparing the country for full-fledged membership in the EU and NATO from Ukraine's military doctrine in July.