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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: November 5, 2002

5 November 2002, Volume 4, Number 42
RULING COALITION WINS ELECTIONS TO PROVINCIAL COUNCILS. Because of a failure of the computer system handling the vote count, the State Election Commission has not yet announced complete official results of the local elections on 27 October. According to unofficial results of the elections to provincial councils (sejmiki wojewodzkie) that were published by the "Gazeta Wyborcza" website on 5 November, the ruling bloc Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Union (SLD-UP) won the 27 October local elections in 13 of Poland's 16 provinces, gaining 193 provincial-council seats (34 percent). The Civic Platform-Law and Justice election coalition won 102 seats, Self-Defense 100, the League of Polish Families 90, the Polish Peasant Party (PSL) 56, the German Minority (in Opole Province) seven, and other election committees 13.

The SLD-UP won a majority of provincial-council seats in Lubuskie Province. If the bloc wants to rule in other provinces as well, it must form coalitions with other groups. Premier Leszek Miller said on Polish Radio on 4 November that the "most natural" coalition partner for the SLD-UP in local self-government is the PSL, the SLD-UP's government coalition partner. However, according to the preliminary election results presented by "Gazeta Wyborza," provincial coalitions involving only SLD-UP and PSL councilors would have a majority only in Warmia i Mazury Province and Swietokrzyskie Province. Thus, it is not ruled out that the pro-European SLD-UP bloc will strike coalition deals at the provincial level with Euroskeptics from Andrzej Lepper's Self-Defense. (Jan Maksymiuk)

THE BOTTLENECK AT THE POLISH-LITHUANIAN BORDER. The Kalvarija-Budzisko border crossing from Poland to Lithuania is one of the most serious bottlenecks for trans-Europe cargo transport. It is currently the only viable route for trucks weighing more than 3.5 tons and is a main transit point for westbound traffic from Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, and northern Russia. Yet with an average of more than four hours for westbound traffic and more than two hours for eastbound traffic, the delays far exceed the expectations of the European Union. With both Poland and Lithuania now on course for EU membership, the customs authorities of the two countries last month began discussions on how to speed things up.

Increasing staff is an obvious solution. Lithuania has 104 customs officers to service the crossing -- Poland, as of the end of October, had 88 -- though an increase on the Polish side has been agreed upon. A more serious problem is capacity. As Henrika Rukseniene, public-relations director for the Lithuanian customs service, told "The Baltic Times," Kalvarija was designed for the transit of 800 cargo vehicles a day. But currently some 1,800 to 2,000 cross daily, of which, she noted, some 40 percent are empty.

Apart from urging trucking companies to rationalize and coordinate their work -- so that trucks have full loads in both directions -- an obvious step would be to open another crossing point. Discussions are, in fact, under way, about reopening the Lazdijai-Ogrodniki crossing for cargo traffic. The Lithuanians say they are ready to do this immediately. The Poles, however, are hesitant since the crossing point is in the area of a national park. Even if, as is planned, the use of this crossing will be confined to loads conforming to EU specifications as posing no threat to the environment, opening the border to cargo transport will need the approval of the Polish Environment Ministry and other relevant agencies, which, it is feared, will take considerable time to obtain.

In the meantime, reorganization of customs formalities could do much to alleviate the delays. A study of crossing points commissioned last year by the Baltic Seas Customs Conference in which eight countries -- Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia, Sweden -- participated, noted that the customs procedures on the Kalvarija side took longer than those of any other crossing points studied. The study recommended that, to remedy the situation, Poland and Lithuania should create joint border procedures, so that there would only be one set of controls, instead of, as at present, virtually the same procedures having to be gone through twice each time, once on leaving one country, and again on entering the other. (Vera Rich)

EXECUTIVE SNUBS LEGISLATURE OVER HEARING ON LAW AND ORDER. On 24 October, the Chamber of Representatives (lower house) held a planned hearing on the observance of law and order in the country. The hearing promised to be a sort of sensation in Belarus's strictly state-controlled public life, since earlier the same month, lawmakers endorsed a motion by deputy Valery Fralou to question Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman about investigations into the disappearances of some of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's major political opponents in 1999-2000.

In particular, Fralou wanted to know who gave the orders to arrest and subsequently release Dzmitry Paulichenka, the commander of an elite police unit, who was alleged to be in charge of a death squad involved in the abduction and murder of opposition politicians Yury Zakharanka and Viktor Hanchar, businessman Anatol Krasouski, and journalist Dzmitry Zavadski (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 12 June and 28 August 2001). According to allegations by two Belarusian investigators who fled to the West, the death squad was created by former Interior Troops commander Yury Sivakou after the 1996 referendum, following a written order from Sheyman, who was secretary of the Security Council at that time. Fralou also wanted Sheyman to explain why the whereabouts of journalists Dzmitry Zavadski are still unknown despite the arrest and conviction of his alleged kidnappers this past March.

Since the high-profile disappearances in Belarus are a taboo subject in both official media and among state officials, some commentators have tried to guess what prompted members of the Chamber of Representatives to make such a daring step and call Sheyman to account. "Belaruskaya gazeta" seemed to suggest the most plausible explanation by saying that many lawmakers became furious after a recent public slap by Lukashenka, when he backed down on his earlier promise and said he will not approve a bill on the National Assembly that would expand its powers (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 15 October 2002).

The hearing on 24 October proved to be a total flop. Not a single representative of the Prosecutor-General's Office or the KGB or the Interior Ministry appeared in the Chamber of Representatives that day. According to a report in "Belaruskaya gazeta" on 28 October, the executive was represented at the hearing only by Justice Minister Viktar Halavanau and the judiciary by Constitutional Court Chairman Ryhor Vasilevich. Deputy Mikalay Dubovik called the hearing a "talk between a blind man and a deaf man" and proposed to postpone it until Sheyman appears before the legislature and answers the questions he was asked. However, the lawmakers present in the session hall lacked the courage to vote on such a proposal and ended the hearing on law and order without making any specific conclusions with regard to the high-profile disappearances. (Jan Maksymiuk)

IN WAKE OF KUCHMA SNUB, WHITHER RELATIONS WITH NATO? Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma will not be invited to the NATO summit in Prague on 21-22 November. This is a major personal rebuff to Kuchma, who has been the most active CIS leader in cooperating with NATO since Ukraine joined the Partnership for Peace in 1995. Instead, NATO plans to send only a lower-level invitation to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko to participate in the summit. Kuchma's hopes of arranging an informal meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush on the sidelines of the NATO summit have been rejected by Washington.

The rebuff is a direct response to the claims made public by the United States in late September that Kuchma had personally authorized at a July 2000 meeting with Valeriy Malev, the head of the state arms-export agency Ukrspetseksport, to sell four Kolchuga radar systems to Iraq for $100 million each.

The revelations were first made public by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko in March. Melnychenko defected to the United States in April 2001 after publicly releasing tape recordings made illicitly in Kuchma's office between 1999 and 2000. The Kuchma-Malev meeting is found on one portion of these tapes that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation authenticated this past summer. (Malev died in a suspicious car accident in April just as the Kolchuga scandal first unfurled.)

Initially, Ukraine denied outright that the July 2000 meeting had taken place. After the United States authenticated the tape, however, Ukraine switched its official position, saying the meeting had indeed taken place (implying that Kuchma had in fact authorized the sale) but denied that the sale had actually gone ahead.

A team of U.S. and British experts visited Ukraine in October to investigate whether all of the Kolchugas built by the Topaz plant in Donetsk could be accounted for. A U.S. official told AP last week that their visit proved inconclusive. The official added, however, that the U.S. administration has deemed that the taped Kuchma-Malev conversation is proof enough. The source also said the U.S. administration has tentatively decided to reduce its assistance to Ukraine further, in addition to a $54 million cut announced in September.

The rebuff to Kuchma may also dash Ukraine's hopes that the summit would lead to the signing of a Membership Action Plan (MAP) between NATO and Ukraine. The conditions set out by a MAP have to be fulfilled before a country is invited to join the alliance. Ukraine first announced its intention to apply for NATO membership in May, and then officially announced this during NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson's visit to Ukraine in July.

The Ukrainian armed forces have developed extensive ties with NATO since high-level cooperation began in the mid 1990s, which has helped prepare them for military reform and has reoriented them westward. Nevertheless, they remain vastly underfunded. Ukraine's expenditure of $590 million on the military is abysmal and would require a six or sevenfold increase. Hungary, with armed forces one-seventh as large as Ukraine's, spends twice as much on its military ($1.091 billion), while Poland, with a population only slightly less than Ukraine's, spends $3.58 billion.

NATO also remains concerned about the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) and the bloated Interior Ministry (MVS), which has more men under arms than the military and has large numbers of paramilitary units. Both the SBU and MVS have been largely untouched by NATO's cooperation with Ukraine, and they are still oriented toward cooperation with Russia and within the Commonwealth of Independent States. In postcommunist states, it has been the security services and interior ministries, not the military, that have been mainly involved in human rights abuses. In Ukraine, this has included allegations of organizing eight suspicious car accidents involving officials and opposition leaders and illegal political surveillance of parliamentary deputies and the opposition.

NATO also remains concerned that Soviet-era ties between CIS intelligence services could compromise shared intelligence between Ukraine and NATO. The SBU and the MVS have also been implicated in high-level corruption, including the illegal sale of weapons abroad. Former SBU Chairman Leonid Derkach, whom the parliament forced to resign in February 2001, allegedly assisted in the illegal sale of Kolchugas to Iraq in 2000, which has now brought Ukraine's relations with NATO and the United States to the crisis point.

Since the "Kuchmagate" scandal began in November 2000, Kuchma has been semi-isolated and has not been invited by any Western government on an official visit. (His only visits to the West have been to annual conferences of organizations or international forums.) With the refusal to invite Kuchma to the NATO summit, even this avenue for traveling to the West has been closed off.

Four further problems are likely to beset Kuchma. First, the United States is expanding sanctions it first launched in late September against Ukraine. A bipartisan U.S. Helsinki Commission letter to President Bush accuses Kuchma of committing a "hostile and reckless act" that should lead to the United States' examining of other illegal activities by Kuchma, including money laundering. The Financial Action Task Force is also instituting sanctions against Ukraine for its unwillingness to halt money-laundering operations.

Second, a court case was opened in early October in the European Court of Human Rights by the wife of murdered opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze.

Third, Melnychenko is planning to release even more incriminating material from the tapes.

Fourth, the trial of former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko is due to start in California. Lazarenko, who was stripped of his deputy's immunity but was suspiciously allowed to leave Ukraine, after which he sought asylum in the United States, is accused of money laundering. The trial is likely to reveal further unpleasant information about corruption in Ukraine.

President Kuchma has two years remaining before stepping down, unless he is forced to resign early. As Ukraine's foreign policy stagnates as the president is isolated around the world, Ukraine will be marginalized as NATO and the European Union enlarge to incorporate as many as seven and 10 countries, respectively. (Taras Kuzio)

OR WAS THIS JUST A PERSONAL REBUFF? Last week, NATO said it will not invite Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to its summit in Prague on 21-22 November. Analysts say Kuchma was eager to attend personally, But NATO said Ukraine's meeting with the military alliance would be conducted at the foreign-minister level.

The snub is seen as a reaction to Kuchma's approval two years ago to sell a sophisticated radar system, called Kolchuga, to Iraq. Kolchuga is a "passive radar" system that, unlike conventional radar, can target U.S. and British warplanes flying over Iraq without the planes detecting that they have been spotted.

The U.S. government says that it does not know if the Kolchuga radar has been delivered, but in September it said it was convinced that secret recordings, allegedly of Kuchma approving the Kolchuga sale, were authentic. Kuchma has denied the allegations.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko has threatened to boycott the NATO summit and accused the United States of seeking to deny Kuchma a place at the meeting. He called the U.S. policy "misguided" but said Ukraine would not abandon its efforts to forge closer ties with NATO and the European Union. "The special relationship between Ukraine and the alliance is an integral element of European security. Therefore, the positive basis for our relationship remains unaltered, and we are not changing course. Second, I would not like the decision of the North Atlantic Council [NATO's top political body] to become the pretext for internal speculation within Ukraine. There is no crisis in Ukraine's relationship with NATO. There are certain collisions [differences] in the relationship with one of the alliance's members. But I'm sure that all of this is temporary. The collisions will pass, and the special relationship will remain," Zlenko said.

Valeriy Chalyy, the director of international studies at the independent Razumkov Center for Political and Economic Research in Kyiv, said the Ukrainian government should not react emotionally and that talks about Ukrainian membership in NATO could proceed at the foreign-minister level. Chalyy said cooperation with NATO had yielded tangible benefits for Ukraine, and it is important that these not be lost because of the present confrontation. "I'm very worried that in this situation we don't mix everything together in the same pile. We do have positive results from our work with NATO that involve many thousands of people who are committed to this work and who, in principle, see the positive prospects for Ukraine in this. I think it would be wrong to wipe out at all this with one stroke," Chalyy said.

Chalyy said the present situation should serve as a reminder to Ukraine that it must satisfy NATO political requirements for democratic practice, as well as the alliance's military criteria. "We didn't always pay attention, and we have talked about the military criteria while forgetting that the primary criteria for NATO membership lies within the domestic sphere, the political sphere -- the level of democracy, etc. And this present situation underlines the failure of Ukraine in these spheres. Therefore, I think that if a new level of ties emerges out of this situation, higher than those outlined in the existing charter, if the door is left open for Ukrainian entry into NATO, if cooperation continues to develop there between Ukraine and NATO, that's the most we should count on for the moment. And that would not be a bad result in the circumstances," Chalyy said.

The director of the independent Pylyp Orlyk think tank in Kyiv, Markian Bilynskyy, does not believe Ukraine's relations with NATO will suffer because of the accusations against Kuchma. He said, "what counts is the substance of dialogue and not who represents Ukraine at the dialogue."

"NATO as an organization is trying not to identify any personal disillusionment with President Kuchma with what's right for the relationship between NATO and Ukraine," Bilynskyy said.

Bilynskyy said Ukraine's relations with the NATO may have temporarily taken a turn for the worse, but in the long run the West wants better relations with Ukraine because of its size and importance. "I think it [the difficulties] will be a temporary issue, a temporary blip. The reason for this, I think, is that whether we're talking NATO or the EU or the World Bank, which is continuing to work here in Ukraine, we're talking about a country that is very important irrespective of the alleged machinations or moral and ethical peculiarities of its leadership. We have a country that is objectively a key player in Europe and, therefore, basing a policy on attitudes toward the personality of leaders is no way to construct a strategy," Bilynskyy said.

Kuchma has said Ukraine will continue to seek closer ties with Western Europe and its organizations. In the past he has signaled his displeasure at what he believes are unfriendly actions by the West. Bilynskyy said this may happen again, but such actions would not have a fundamental effect on Ukrainian foreign policy. "This is a not a reflection of any strategy but of the president's own whimsical personality and his perception of how much he is appreciated as a leader in the West. Nevertheless, it's episodic. It's not deep, and it doesn't mean there is a fundamental change in Ukraine's orientation. Besides, even if this president were to announce or articulate or pursue an alternative foreign-policy orientation for Ukraine, I feel it is too close to the end of his presidency, and there are too many powerful forces aligned against such a change in orientation for it to bear fruition," Bilynskyy said.

Washington has made it clear that the NATO snub is aimed at Kuchma. The United States says it does not want Ukraine to withdraw its application for NATO membership. (Askold Krushelnycky)

"I will go to Prague [anyway]." -- Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in Simferopol on 1 November, commenting on the NATO decision to hold a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission at the foreign-minister level during the NATO summit in Prague on 21-22 November.