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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: January 2, 2000

2 January 2000, Volume 2, Number 1
Poland Reacts To Yeltsin's Resignation 'With Attention.' A statement issued on 31 December and read out to newsmen by Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek said the Polish government received with attention Boris Yeltsin's decision to step down and hand over presidential duties to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, PAP reported. At the threshold of a new year, Poland wishes Russia success in building democracy and the prosperity of its citizens, the document says. Poland notes with satisfaction recent statements by Prime Minister Putin which indicate a will to develop "partner-like" and good neighborly relations between the two countries, the statement concludes.

Answering questions from reporters, Geremek said early presidential elections in Russia will improve the chances for victory of Prime Minister Putin. Geremek added that the change in the presidential seat in Moscow did not mean a change in policy.

Jerzy Marek Nowakowski, the chief foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek, said Russia will become more stable after Yeltsin's decision to step down. He added that Putin will try to stay on Yeltsin's political course: from communism to democracy, from collective to market economy, and from the Soviet Union to a new Russia.

According to Marek Siwiec, President Aleksander Kwasniewski's chief national security adviser, the change at the top in Moscow will have no consequences for Poland in the short term. "Poland is not directly dependent on changes at the Kremlin," he noted.

President Aleksander Kwasniewski sent a congratulatory cable to Putin and a letter to Yeltsin on 31 December.

"You are taking up new duties at the moment when we are entering a new millennium. This has a symbolic dimension. I believe that we shall jointly work to ensure peace, stability, democracy and development for our countries and the nations of the whole region," Kwasniewski wrote to Putin.

"Under your leadership, Russia entered the road of democratic development, beginning the process of deep reforms, which, despite inevitable difficulties, will bring--I am convinced of this--well-being and prosperity to Russia and its peoples.... We, the Poles, are especially grateful to you for your commitment to overcoming the difficult legacy of Polish-Russian history, for revealing the painful truth of the Katyn tragedy to the world, [which] created a foundation for the normalization of relations between our countries and opened the road to rapprochement and reconciliation of the peoples of Poland and Russia," Kwasniewski wrote to Yeltsin.

NATO's 1999 Targets Not Achieved. "Gazeta Wyborcza" reported on 30 December that Poland has failed to fulfill three of the 24 "minimum requirements" that it pledged to meet by the end of 1999 when it joined NATO in March.

According to the daily, three airfields has not been modernized so as to enable NATO planes to land there. Second, Polish planes still have not been provided with a friend-foe recognition system, which means that in a military conflict they might be identified as enemies and shot down by NATO air defenses. Third, Poland has not prepared a squadron of MiG-29 fighters and two squadrons of Su-22 warplanes for collaboration with NATO (the friend-foe recognition system was installed only on eight MiGs, while the squadron consists of 12 aircraft).

Defense Deputy Minister Bogdan Klich, who is responsible for contacts with NATO, confirmed the report but noted that the reasons for the delay in achieving the 1999 NATO targets does not lie solely with Warsaw: there were delays in the supply of the friend-foe recognition system and of appropriate plans for the reconstruction of Polish airfields. Klich added that other NATO members have fulfilled only 50 percent of the tasks they were obliged to fulfill in 1999, but he did not mention any names.

Meanwhile, Bronislaw Komorowski, chairman of the parliamentary national defense commission, told Polish Radio on 27 December that owing to low outlays on defense, the so-called Army 2012 program of modernizing and adapting the Polish armed forces to NATO standards will be cut back. According to Komorowski, the program was developed "on financial hopes rather than realities" by the former left-wing cabinet led by Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz. Now the Defense Ministry and the General Staff are working on a six-year army modernization plan. Under that plan the Polish army's numerical strength may be reduced to 150,000 troops.

Kwasniewski Most Popular Politician in 1999. In a poll held by CBOS polling center in early December, 26 percent of respondents elected President Aleksander Kwasniewski politician of the year 1999 (in a similar poll held in 1998, Kwasniewski won with 21 percent support). Deputy Prime Minister Leszek Balcerowicz came second with 6 percent support (5 percent in 1998), Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek was third with 4 percent support (14 percent in 1998).

CBOS also asked respondents to name the most important events in Poland in 1999. Thirty percent said the most important event was the Pope's visit to Poland in June, while 23 percent mentioned Poland's entry into NATO. Only six percent mentioned the four reforms--in administration, education, health service, and pensions--introduced in 1999.

Yeltsin's Resignation Sparks Hope And Apprehension. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said in his New Year address that Boris Yeltsin's resignation was "a step of a courageous man," adding that "my heart cannot accept this political loss for me." Lukashenka emphasized Yeltsin's personal contribution to "the sacrosanct cause of the unification of our nations."

According to Uladzimir Nistsyuk from the opposition Supreme Soviet, "Yeltsin's ouster means that Lukashenka loses his powerful foothold" in Moscow. "Now [Lukashenka] will have to talk with a completely different man, with a wise, wary, and strong-willed pragmatic one. I did not see any glow in Putin's eyes as Yeltsin and Lukashenka were signing the treaty on the creation of the Belarusian-Russian state," Nistsyuk commented to Belapan.

Alyaksandr Sasnou, head of the National Executive Committee (Belarus's shadow cabinet), noted that the Belarusian-Russian relations may change following Putin's takeover: "Of all Russia's recent premiers, Vladimir Putin--except for, maybe, Sergei Kirienko--is the most right-wing one. And the right-wingers, as is known, like and know how to count money. Therefore, I will not be surprised if Belarus is presented [by Putin] with stiff bills to be paid." Sasnou did not rule out that once Putin is elected president, he will demand that Belarus join Russia simply as another subject of the Russian Federation.

According to Syarhey Kastsyan, chairman of the committee for international ties in the Chamber of Representatives, the change in Russia's leadership will not affect Belarusian-Russian relations. Kastsyan told Belapan that the Russian power ministries, which back Putin, are interested in making the union state a reality as soon as possible. For this reason, Kastsyan concluded, the integration of Belarus and Russia can even be accelerated by Putin.

Stanislau Bahdankevich, leader of the opposition United Civic Party, said Putin's takeover means a setback for Lukashenka. Putin's possible presidency, according to Bahdankevich, may further the democratic processes in Belarus. "Even though Putin is an intelligence officer, he is a man of pro-European views. Putin is from St. Petersburg, a city with strong democratic traditions. His ties to right-wing forces instill optimism," Bahdankevich told Belapan.

According to Zyanon Paznyak, an exiled Belarusian opposition leader, the passing of presidential powers from Yeltsin to Putin indicates "an offensive of Russian fascism.... Russia has been captured by the KGB and Yeltsin has ceased to control the situation." In Paznyak's opinion, Putin's possible presidency spells a bleak scenario for Belarus: "As soon as Putin becomes president, an occupation of Belarus will take place. While earlier Yeltsin played integration games with Lukashenka, now the opinion of [Lukashenka] will be of no importance for Russia." Paznyak believes that Putin's takeover means that "Russia has obtained its own Lukashenka."

Lithuanian Lawyer To Defend Former Belarusian Premier. Belarusian lawyers are afraid to defend Mikhail Chyhir, a former prime minister who was accused of abuse of office and embezzlement, and spent eight months in prison in 1999, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 27 December. Chyhir's wife, Juliya, told RFE/RL: "Our all lawyers are dependent on the authorities. Although they are indignant when I say so, this is true. Because if some of their actions do not please the authorities, the authorities will simply take their licenses from them. The eleven people whom I trust have declined my request [to defend my husband] by saying: 'This is a purely political case, and I cannot help you properly. Therefore, I do not want to be paid money for nothing'."

Juliya Chyhir said prominent Lithuanian lawyer Algirdas Paulauskas has agreed to defend her husband in the trial that is expected to begin this month.

Kyiv Not Disturbed By Yeltsin's Resignation. President Leonid Kuchma announced on 31 December through his spokesman Oleksandr Martynenko that Yeltsin's resignation was "a step of a courageous man who is worried over the future of his country and all Russians." Kuchma said he is sure that Putin as Russia's acting president "will continue to develop the strategic partnership" between Russia and Ukraine.

Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko stated that Yeltsin's decision was "a logical continuation of his life-long outlook" and testifies to the fact that events in Russia "develop in the context of the normalization of the situation in the country." Yushchenko praised Yeltsin as "a wise and talented man who made a great deal of efforts to develop Ukrainian-Russian relations."

Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko commented that Yeltsin's resignation was expected by both Ukrainian and Russian communists. "Most likely, clans [ed.: further not specified] have already decided who will rule Russia in the future, therefore [the succession in the Kremlin] was decided in this way," Interfax quoted Symonenko as saying.

Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz commented that Yeltsin "realizing the inevitability of this step, made a skillful and balanced move." According to Moroz, following Yeltsin's resignation the relations between Russia and Ukraine will be given "more substance."

IMF Sets Conditions For Resuming Loan. Following the visit of its mission to Kyiv from 2-14 December, the IMF listed more than a dozen "urgent measures" that should be taken by the government before the IMF resumes its $2.6 billion loan program for Ukraine, Interfax reported on 31 December, quoting a source in the government.

The IMF recommends that Kyiv pass a "realistic" 2000 budget with a surplus and observe strict budgetary discipline in both collecting revenues and making expenditures.

The IMF urges the government to sharply reduce or even eliminate settlements with promissory notes in 2000, thus making a significant step to reduce barter and other "non-cash" operations in the economy.

The IMF insists on the elimination of all tax exemptions and privileges and the reduction of the number of taxes.

The IMF also insists on the elimination of all export taxes and restrictions. Ukraine must also ban the introduction of new export taxes and restrictions.

Ukraine must sell for cash the gas obtained as payment for gas transit.

The IMF sees the need for the government to work out an program of privatization in order to attract key investors to important economic sectors. The government should close by mid-2000 a number of big bankrupt enterprises in accordance with Ukraine's new law on bankruptcy.

The government should also reduce the number and duration of different inspections and checks in the economic sector as well as diminish the role and number of monitoring and controlling organizations.

The IMF has so far disbursed $965 million to Ukraine within the framework of the $2.6 billion loan program which was inaugurated in September 1998. The program was suspended in September 1999.

Constitutional Referendum Becomes More Realistic Threat. The Central Electoral Commission has registered 218 initiative groups that want to collect signatures in support of a nationwide constitutional referendum, Interfax reported on 30 December. The registration followed the decision of a district court in Kyiv on 21 December, which obliged the commission to register the first initiative group from Zhytomir. The groups propose for the referendum questions connected with holding a nationwide vote of no-confidence in the current parliament, terminating the current parliament's powers by the president, reducing the number of parliamentary deputies, creating a bicameral legislature, lifting deputy immunity, and introducing a rule to adopt the country's Constitution by a nationwide referendum. According to the current Constitution, a popular initiative to hold a nationwide referendum must be supported by at least 3 million signatures that must be collected in at least two-thirds of Ukraine's regions (at least 100,000 signatures in each of them).

President Leonid Kuchma has voiced the idea of holding a referendum on the dissolution of the current parliament and the creation of a bicameral legislature during the presidential election campaign. He repeated it quite recently, in the process of confirming of a new prime minister. Most commentators considered that idea to be simply a threat in order to create a pro-government majority in the parliament. Now, however, after the registration of the support groups, the referendum idea may gain a momentum of its own.

More than 50 parliamentary deputies have asked the Supreme court to cancel the decision registering the initiative group from Zhytomir as illegal. In the opinion of parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko, the referendum cannot be held because Ukraine has no law on referendums. He also told Interfax that the country has no money for holding nationwide plebiscites.

"The policy of the president remains the same." -- Alyaksandr Lukashenka in his New Year address to the nation. Quoted by Interfax on 3 January.