10 November 2004, Volume 6, Number 41
BELARUSMINSK WAGES PROPAGANDA WAR AGAINST WASHINGTON. The 2 November presidential elections in the United States have provided Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka with ammunition for attacking the U.S. government for transgressions that are usually ascribed by Washington to Minsk; namely, for failing to observe democratic election standards. "The presidential election, according to their [U.S.] standards, are inadmissible for us," Lukashenka said on 4 November. "If we had staged an election like they did in the United States, we would have been crushed a long time ago."
The same day, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that the United States did not meet many international commitments regarding elections and failed to make "sufficient efforts" to eliminate the serious shortcomings of the U.S. electoral system that were discovered by a fact-finding mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in September 2004. "Therefore, we are not surprised by many reports on the disappearance of a large number of ballots sent by mail, the malfunctions of the electronic-voting system, intimidation of voters, the absence of voters on voter registers, the impossibility to freely obtain information from precinct and district commissions about the procedure and places of voting," the statement said. "[These facts] cast doubt on the transparency and democracy of the U.S. elections," the Foreign Ministry concluded.
Minsk's list of deficiencies of the U.S. electoral system essentially reflects the pre-election findings of the OSCE Election Observation Mission for the 2 November elections, which consisted of 92 monitors from 34 countries, including Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia. The mission, which published its preliminary report on the U.S. presidential ballot on the OSCE official website (http://www.osce.org) on 4 November, said in particular that election lists in some of monitored constituencies were inaccurate and gave rise to allegations of voter fraud; voter-registration applications were allegedly not processed and eligible voters were improperly removed from some lists at some constituencies; and there were alleged examples of harassment and intimidation of voters.
The OSCE mission noted, however, that it was not provided with "first-hand evidence" to substantiate the above-mentioned allegations or to demonstrate that such practices were widespread or systematic. Therefore, the general conclusion of the OSCE mission was that the 2 November elections in the United States "mostly met" the commitments agreed to by 55 OSCE members in the Copenhagen Document of 1990, which catalogs international election standards for full-fledged democracies. The mission also noted that the election took place in a "highly competitive environment," while the leading candidates enjoyed "the full benefits of free and vigorous media coverage" throughout the campaign.
Such "niceties" of the electoral process in the United States as "highly competitive environment" and free media, however, were ignored by the Belarusian state-owned media, which, according to Belapan, focused only on negative findings of the OSCE mission in presenting the U.S. presidential elections. This comes as no surprise, considering that the United States is the most vocal and consistent critic of the authoritarian regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, while U.S. nongovernmental organizations are among the most generous foreign sponsors of pro-democracy activism in Belarus. Therefore, the Belarusian regime misses no opportunity to strike back at the United States.
Lukashenka first made disparaging remarks about the U.S. electoral system in October, following the adoption of the Belarus Democracy Act by the U.S. Congress. According to Lukashenka, the United States has "the most archaic election system" in the world. "As a result, the current president [George W. Bush] obtained fewer votes than the one who took second place [Al Gore]," Lukashenka added.
"Yet, [in spite of its archaic character], the U.S. electoral system has been working effectively for decades," one Belarusian analyst sarcastically said in reference to Lukashenka's pronouncements, Belapan reported on 9 November. "At any rate, it has proven to be a reliable filter preventing marginal politicians with an inexhaustible stock of cheap populism from taking the top post in the country."
Lukashenka's desire to take propagandistic revenge on Washington is not limited to the domestic public alone. The website of the Belarusian Embassy in Washington (http://www.belarusembassy.org) announced on 4 November that Belarus introduced a draft resolution called "Situation of Democracy and Human Rights in the United States of America" in the Third Committee of the 59th Session of the UN General Assembly. The move seems to be in response to a draft resolution on the situation with the human rights in Belarus that was earlier introduced in the same committee by the United States, the EU, and the Netherlands.
Belarus's resolution proposes that the UN General Assembly urge the U.S. government to become a party to all core international human rights instruments, thus allowing the international community to monitor the situation of human rights in the United States in full; to bring the U.S. electoral process and legislative framework into line with international standards; to end immediately the practice of incommunicado and secret detentions and ensure that conditions of detention conform to international standards for the treatment of prisoners and take into account the needs of members of particularly vulnerable groups; and to bring the actions of its police and security forces into conformity with its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as other relevant international standards.
Henadz Buraukin, independent Belarus's ambassador to the United Nations in the pre-Lukashenka era, told RFE/RL's Belarus Service on 5 November that it is very unlikely that the resolution will be supported by a majority of UN members. "I cannot say that the situation with democracy in America is ideal," Buraukin added. "But, speaking frankly, [if I had been in Lukashenka's place], I would have been ashamed to point to others' ailments. I would have started with curing my own." (Jan Maksymiuk)
UKRAINEBATTLING FOR THE MIDDLE GROUND. Ukraine's 31 October presidential election has more in common with the U.S. presidential vote than just taking place around the same time. How central and southern regions voted was of huge importance to both races.
As expected, Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych won easily on his home turf in the eastern, industrialized, pro-Russian part of Ukraine. In the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and the Republic of Crimea, he tallied up more than 69 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results. Similarly, voters in western Ukrainian regions, such as Lviv Oblast, turned out in large numbers to support challenger Viktor Yushchenko, head of the Our Ukraine bloc of parties. Yushchenko dominated in Lviv, Ternopil, Rivne, Volyn, Chernivtsi, and Ivano-Frankivsk oblasts where he got more than 65 percent of the vote. The battlegrounds were the central and southern regions, where Yushchenko won the central part and Yanukovych won the south.
As the candidates prepare for the second round, the regions of Kirovohrad, Poltava, Kherson, and Chernihiv appear to be up for grabs. There, neither Yushchenko nor Yanukovych received more than 45 percent of the vote, although in Kirovohrad only 87 percent of the vote was counted as of 2 November. While charges of obstruction of opposition campaign events, polling-station irregularities, and the blatant use of administrative resources surfaced across the regions of Ukraine, it is perhaps not unreasonable to suggest that the battleground regions will provide a special target for abuse during the second round on 21 November.
Already Kirovohrad, located in the center of Ukraine, has been the subject of any number of intrigues during the first round. Central Election Commission Chairman Serhiy Kivalov told reporters on 3 November that one reason that the count of the election's final results had slowed down was because of the absence of data from district No. 100 in Kirovohrad. The chairman of that district, Volodymyr Babiy, according to Interfax, disappeared along with 25 members of the election commission and an official stamp on election day. On 1 November, Our Ukraine parliamentarian Volodymyr Yavorivskyy told Channel 5 that local skinheads stole "all of the documents from three polling stations" in Kirovohrad.
In addition, the Committee for the Voters of Ukraine (KVU), a nonpartisan NGO, reported that on election day a bus with 20 passengers went from village to village in the Svitlovodskyy Raion of the oblast carrying officials from the raion Pension Fund and Agriculture Department, who were carrying absentee voter certificates with them. Representatives of the oblast headquarters for the Yushchenko campaign also claimed that people were voting more than once. A group of four-15 people visited several polling stations and the area and cast their votes at each one. Once they noticed that they were being followed, they disappeared.
Of course, such tactics would only make a real difference to the final total if they are duplicated on a mass scale. It is the use of so-called administrative resources that likely has the strongest impact on the ballot box. And, as the head of the central government in Kyiv, Prime Minister Yanukovych has an advantage over any opposition. According to the KVU, in Volyn Oblast, the deputy head of the oblast administration Stepan Rodych brought the group of absentee voters with him (about 30 people) for voting at one polling station. First deputy head of Volyn Oblast state administration Volodymyr Panchyshyn also dropped by the same polling station for a "visit" on election day.
Yushchenko charged that such activities were routine on election day. In an article in the "Financial Times" this week, Yushchenko wrote that "in regions where the regime's candidate looked certain to lose, organized groups engaged in multiple voting through voter absentee cards provided by local government officials." He also alleged that local election commission officials were subject to harassment and threatening phone calls, which local police did nothing to check. "Ukrayina moloda" reported on 2 November that, according to election observers, the most common violation in rural areas was the presence of observers near ballot boxes who also happened to be top officials of enterprises and organizations representing a certain candidate. According to the daily, these "observers" would stand near the ballot boxes to "control their workers at the moment they dropped their ballot papers."
Following charges of routine interference by local officials during the first round, Yanukovych told reporters on 3 November that law enforcement bodies will investigate such cases of interference by local authorities. He said that any "breaches" committed in his name were a "conscious provocation" and no exceptions must be made. However, if the KVU is correct in its conclusion that each oblast administration was ordered to produce a certain number of votes for Yanukovych, local administration officials might find themselves in hot water not for interference but for not interfering enough. (Julie A. Corwin)
WHY PUTIN VOTED FOR YANUKOVYCH. Prior to 31 October, a visitor to Moscow could not help but think that he was in Ukraine. The city was plastered with billboards featuring the smiling face of Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian candidate seeking the Ukrainian presidency. What was the purpose of such expensive campaigning in a city where only 1,000 eligible Ukrainians actually voted in the 31 October election? Who were these giant billboards trying to impress?
In an editorial following the election's first round, "The Moscow Times" wrote that the level of Russian interference in the election was "unprecedented." This view was voiced earlier by a number of political commentators, including Nina Khrushcheva, grand-daughter of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who wrote in the "The International Herald Tribune" on 30 October that Russian President Vladimir Putin, by promoting the Ukrainian government's candidate, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, was attempting to revive the Russian empire.
Khrushcheva also alleged that Gazprom, the Russian state-controlled gas monopoly, had made secret contributions amounting to several million U.S. dollars to the Yanukovych campaign.
Other observers noted that Russia needs to keep Ukraine within its orbit and still others speculated that Russia is promoting the rise of an undemocratic Ukrainian state in order to make it ineligible for NATO and European Union membership.
Why did the Russian political and business elite expend so much energy and money to support Yanukovych over Viktor Yushchenko?
It is known that Yushchenko was not opposed to dealing with Russia as an equal partner, and had sent emissaries to Moscow to discuss these matters with major Russian companies and obtain their support prior to the election. Apparently they returned empty-handed.
During Yushchenko's tenure as prime minister from December 1999-April 2001 there were no complaints of discrimination from Russian companies doing business in Ukraine, or any charges that he was advocating a "Ukrainian nationalist" agenda. His removal from office was apparently due to his efforts to clean up corruption in the Ukrainian energy sector, widely perceived to be the source of millions of dollars of illegal income for leaders of oligarchic clans and their political protectors in both Ukraine and Russia.
By the same token, as prime minister, Yanukovych was neither pro-Russian or anti-Western. There were no visible pro-Russian measures taken by the Yanukovych government prior to the announcement of his candidacy for president. The only notable exception was Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's signing of the Single Economic Space agreements, the development of which Yanukovych played a minor role. In fact, Yanukovych was often criticized for the total lack of Russian investments in his own power base-- the Donetsk region -- where Russian companies were not allowed to buy any businesses.
Throughout 2003 and 2004, the Russian government began implementing a large-scale program of integration of the former Soviet republics in the European part of the former Soviet Union. The main reason for this integration was to insure for itself a safe and reliable transit corridor for the export of Russian energy to Europe. This manifested itself in the creation of the Single Economic Space, an idea conceived by Putin and strongly supported by Kuchma.
THE OIL FACTOR
The Russian Federation is as reliant on income from energy exports as Europe is dependent on Russian energy. This delicate balance became more critical by 2004 as oil and gas prices began rising due to increased demand in Asia and instability in the Middle East and elsewhere.
European purchases of Russian energy maintain Russia as a viable state. Tax receipts from Gazprom alone constitute almost 30 percent of the Russian budget, and 90 percent of Gazprom's gas transits Ukraine on its way to European markets.
In October 2003, Putin declared that the pipelines carrying oil and natural gas to the West were built by the Soviet Union and it is Russia's prerogative to maintain them in order to protect its national interests, "even those parts of the system that are beyond Russia's borders." This became a crucial part of the so-called "Putin doctrine" and a clear sign that events in Ukraine would be considered critical to Russian national interests.
By 2003, the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom and the Ukrainian state energy company Naftohaz Ukrayiny began the final round of talks on creating an "international consortium" to maintain and expand the existing gas pipeline that transits Ukraine. The Russian side clearly wanted to have some measure of control over the pipeline and feared that if a conflict arose between Ukraine and Russia, the first pressure point the Ukrainians would use against Russia would be to turn off the tap. In return for Ukrainian acquiescence, the Russians agreed to liquidate Naftohaz's debt of $1.4 billion by deducting it from future transit costs charged by Ukraine for pumping Russian gas to Europe.
With the gas transit question under some "control," the Russian administration began focusing on the oil-transit infrastructure.
The Druzhba oil pipeline running through Ukraine had never been an issue, but the Odesa-Brody pipeline -- built to diversify the transit routes of Caspian oil and send it north to Polish and German refineries, at the same time allowing Ukraine to diversify its energy suppliers -- became a crucial factor in the coming decision to whom to support in the coming elections.
By mid-2004 the Russian-British oil company TNK-BP announced that the flow of the Odesa-Brody pipeline would be reversed -- pumping TNK-BP oil south to the newly built Ukrainian oil terminal Pivdennyy and from there by tanker through the Bosphorus to European refineries.
This decision came on the heels of a letter from Russian Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko explaining his government's position on the Odesa-Brody pipeline. According to Interfax news agency on 18 June, the Russian minister wrote that Russia was not interested in seeing oil in the Odesa-Brody pipeline flow in its intended direction -- to Brody. Khristenko motivated this by stating that there were no markets for Russian light oil in northern Europe and that by sending oil north to Brody, the markets in southern Europe would be destabilized for Russian and Kazakh light oil.
In effect, Khristenko was telling the United States and the West that Odesa-Brody was off-limits to them. The argument that Russian light crude did not have a market in northern Europe was somewhat exaggerated since Polish and German refineries had already agreed in principle to process light Caspian crude, which meant that they had buyers for their product.
Writing in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" of 10 October 2003, Reagan-era U.S. national security adviser Robert McFarlane said that "when Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych was in Washington this week, certainly one issue for discussion was last week's decision by Ukraine's state pipeline company to move forward toward reversing the use of the Odesa-Brody oil pipeline in Russia's favor.... Russian oligarchic interests, however -- with Britain's BP unfortunately in tow -- wish to use that pipeline themselves, in the opposite direction.... This would cancel all the hopes that had been vested in the Ukrainian pipeline."
In the debate about the direction of the Odesa-Brody pipeline, Yanukovych initially took the side of the West and thwarted TNK-BP's efforts to send it in the reverse direction. Only after Khristenko's letter did he change his mind and begin supporting the TNK-BP project.
By reversing the flow of the Odesa-Brody pipeline, Prime Minister Yanukovych and President Kuchma made a major concession to Russian demands. They also prevented the diversification of their country's oil supplies, along with upsetting Western plans for diversifying the transit routes of Caspian oil, and increased the volume of oil being loaded onto ships from Pivdennyy. The volume of oil by election day had risen to 5 million tons.
The West was firmly opposed to having more oil from Russia go by tanker through the already crowded Bosphorus. The Ukrainian opposition led by Yushchenko was furious and many of its leaders came out angrily against this decision. Many Yushchenko supporters were privately saying that TNK had paid enormous bribes to Ukrainian officials in order to reverse the direction of Odesa-Brody, although TNK officials were quick to deny this.
By the spring of 2004. Russia saw that in order to maintain existing schemes in the energy business it was vital that the future president of Ukraine continue Kuchma's policies. The only man who fit the bill in their eyes was thus Yanukovych, who apparently could be convinced to change his views, as he did in the case of Odesa-Brody.
The choice of Yanukovych was also dictated by his relations with the Donetsk clan, the informal group of individuals and companies that controls the industrial and financial life of the Donetsk region in Ukraine.
The Donetsk region produces about 20 percent of the country's GDP. Since the clan's power derives from the region's industrial might, Donetsk needs energy to thrive -- above all electricity, oil, and natural gas. In order to continue production, the Donetsk would surely need assurances that such deliveries would continue -- and Yanukovych presumably provided such assurances.
There were other likely factors that led to Putin's support for Yanukovych, among them thwarting any Ukrainian progress toward joining NATO, and showing Poland -- which supported Ukraine's efforts to join the EU -- that Ukraine was now in the pro-Russian camp along with Belarus.
Russian spin doctors who worked for Yanukovych's campaign avoided all mention of these factors and focused on themes in the media that were mostly agitprop meant to pander to views held by Russian and Ukrainian pensioners. The most prominent of these were Yushchenko's alleged "nationalism" and "anti-Russian views," his wife's former employment in the U.S. State Department, the "wild nationalists and cold warriors" on his staff, and the support allegedly provided by the United States to his campaign.
As for the billboard campaign in Moscow, a possible explanation for their appearance is that they were put up in order to blatantly proclaim to Western diplomats and businessmen in the capital that henceforth, Russia, and not the West, will determine Ukraine's political orientation. (Roman Kupchinsky)
WILL JOURNALISTS STOP BEING SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE? Something quite unexpected happened on 28 October in Ukraine, three days before the crucial presidential ballot. On that day, a group of some 40 telejournalists from four private-owned channels signed a statement protesting the pressure exerted on them during the election campaign and expressing their concern about a "threat of distorted coverage of the decisive period of the elections." The signatories simultaneously undertook to honestly cover the election campaign and called on their colleagues to do the same.
The statement asserts that to ensure unbiased coverage, Ukrainian news programs need to report on "all socially important events," present "all important point of views on reported events," and check "all broadcasted information" as well as attribute it to specific sources. Within the next week, the statement was signed by nearly 300 other Ukrainian television reporters from more than two dozens channels, including the most influential, state-owned UT-1 (see http://www.telekritika.kiev.ua).
This statement alone gives fairly good insight into the problems encountered by Ukrainian reporters working for state-owned or private television channels. Most international and domestic studies and surveys of Ukrainian television broadcasting concur that Ukraine's airwaves are dominated by the government's point of view and that television coverage is ridiculously homogenous.
Such a situation is being maintained primarily by temnyky (in Ukrainian journalistic lingo: themes of the week) -- unsigned instructions sent by the presidential administration on a daily basis to major television channels to tell journalists what "socially important events" to cover and what "points of view on reported events" to publicize. Given that all Ukrainian broadcasters must have their licenses renewed every five years, Ukrainian news editors generally follow the prescriptions included in temnyky.
The "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www2.pravda.com.ua), a fiercely antigovernment online newspaper, reported on 3 November that there has been a noticeable change in coverage by major Ukrainian pro-government channels, including the state-controlled UT-1 as well as the private-owned ICTV, New Channel, and Inter since the 28 October journalistic protest. "The television broadcasting has changed," "Ukrayinska pravda" wrote. "This has been noted by both insiders and ordinary viewers who, since this past Thursday [28 October], have received much fewer overtly dirty interpretations of events and heard again the voices of those whom they were previously advised to ignore."
According to "Ukrayinska pravda," the presidential administration considered two possible reactions to this journalistic "rebellion" -- either discipline the disobedient journalists with cautionary sackings or allow them to "let off steam" for the time being and tighten the screws at some later date. Since no conspicuous dismissals have taken place, "Ukrayinska pravda" concluded that the latter option has prevailed for now.
It remains to be seen whether the current journalistic defiance will continue beyond the three weeks separating the 31 October presidential ballot from the runoff on 21 November. A similar outburst of journalistic disobedience came in late 2002, when the Verkhovna Rada organized a debate on the situation in the Ukrainian media and the word "temnyky" became a phrase of the day in Ukraine. "Television news coverage in Ukraine is made by remote control," journalist Andriy Shevchenko told the Verkhovna Rada in December 2002. "Someone else, not journalists, edits news programs, shoots and disseminates videos, writes texts, and selects comments by governors, which are subsequently sent to all channels. Let us admit honestly: instead of news coverage, Ukraine gets lies."
Shevchenko subsequently became involved in setting up an independent trade union of journalists, but that initiative has withered without achieving any tangible results. At that time, his colleagues apparently preferred relatively well-paid jobs and "remote control" in the state-owned and oligarchic media to the fight for freedom of expression in a trade union with uncertain prospects of success. There are reasons to believe that if Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych wins the presidential race, this new journalistic protest will be nipped in the bud as well.
Television in Ukraine, as perhaps in a majority of countries around the world, is among the most efficient tools of political propaganda and control. All but one of Ukraine's television channels are controlled and/or heavily influenced by either the government or oligarchs supporting the government's policies. It is thus little wonder that Ukrainian television channels have appeared to lend massive support to Viktor Yanukovych's presidential bid and to work in concert against opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko.
The OSCE Election Monitoring Mission for the 31 October presidential ballot, apart from observing the voting itself, organized a monitoring of the behavior of major Ukrainian media outlets in the presidential campaign from 3-24 September. The mission selected six national television channels, two regional television stations, and nine daily newspapers for its qualitative and quantitative study of election coverage in prime-time news (see http://www.osce.org). The findings of the media monitoring were alarmingly homogeneous. On the government channel (UT-1) and pro-Kuchma oligarchic channels -- Inter, 1+1, ICTV, STB, New Channel, TRC Ukraine -- the coverage of Yanukovych was rated essentially as either positive or neutral, while that of Yushchenko was either negative or neutral. In addition, Yanukovych got three to four times more airtime than Yushchenko.
This reporting pattern was visibly reversed on the pro-Yushchenko Channel 5, which devoted approximately the same amount of airtime to Yanukovych and Yushchenko during the monitored period. The coverage of Channel 5 was also deemed more balanced -- the amount of negative material about Yanukovych exceeded the positive by 50 percent. Curiously enough, Channel 5 also provided negative coverage of Yushchenko, which constituted nearly 20 percent of all the airtime devoted to him. This, however, did not prevent Channel 5 from getting into trouble during the election campaign. Its bank accounts were frozen by a court, and the channel faced a threat of closure by the authorities.
"We are not soldiers, as our managers wanted us for a long time to be," "Ukrayinska pravda" wrote on 3 November, expressing sympathy with and encouragement for the current journalist remonstration against the pressure and "remote control" in information policy. "We are professionals who have the irrefutable right and duty to determine what should be broadcast to people. We are journalists, not they."
"They" seem to be on the defensive at the moment in Ukraine. Will "they" counterattack? (Jan Maksymiuk)