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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: November 7, 2000

7 November 2000, Volume 2, Number 41
BUZEK SKEPTICAL ABOUT BYPASS GAS PIPELINE. The 2 November "Gazeta Wyborcza" published an interview with Premier Jerzy Buzek about the recently discussed project to build a Yamal-Europe gas pipeline that would bypass Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 24 October 2000). Below are excerpts from that interview.

Gazeta Wyborcza: Was the government surprised by Gazprom's agreement with EU firms [to conduct a bypass pipeline feasibility study]?

Buzek: We were not surprised, we knew about the talks. ...The Polish government is closely watching the course of those negotiations, we have proposed a meeting of all interested parties to discuss the European system of gas deliveries. When it comes to details regarding the directions and methods of gas transit, the Polish government certainly will not miss the negotiations. Nothing will be decided about us without us.

Gazeta Wyborcza: For the time being, Poland is drawing no profits from Yamal gas transit. Russian President [Vladimir] Putin says Poland may earn $1 billion [annually] on gas transit by means of a new pipeline. Does your government has its own [profit] calculations?

Buzek: It is difficult to calculate profits from gas transit, I do not want to comment on that 1 billion. Along with obtaining transit revenues, it is equally important to strategically strengthen Poland as a country via which Europe receives gas. We are becoming an important link in the European system of security, balance, and stability. ...

Gazeta Wyborcza: Poland opposes bypassing Ukraine in this new pipeline project. However, there are opinions that we are engaging in the defense of Ukraine's interests more than Ukraine itself.

Buzek: It is obvious that we are most concerned about our own interests and security. However, independent, democratic, and developing Ukraine is an element of our national security. On the other hand, it is true that we need to hear Ukraine's strong voice in this matter.

Gazeta Wyborcza: There are links between capitals and people in Gazprom and Ruhrgas, a German firm. We buy almost all of our gas from Gazprom. Almost all the gas that transits our territory is received by Ruhrgas. Does Poland not feel besieged by Russia and Germany?

Buzek: Not at all. If gas supplies from the East to the West are increased, we will gain from this, our geographical location will become a source of our strength.

THE LIBYAN CONNECTION. Alyaksandr Lukashenka's trip to Libya on 31 October and 1 November once again highlighted two aspects of his regime that the Belarusian state media have sought to hide from Belarusians for several years.

First, Lukashenka is such an unwelcome guest outside the CIS area that the only foreign state visits he can make are to countries generally considered international outcasts. Indeed, Lukashenka's two previous foreign trips were to Fidel Castro's Cuba (September 2000) and Slobodan Milosevic's Yugoslavia (April 1999).

Second, Belarus is in such desperate need of trade contacts and foreign investments that official Minsk does not miss a single opportunity to explore cooperation possibilities even with the least expected countries in terms of geographical location and technological advancement.

"Such wealth as [that] in Libya one cannot possibly find in any other state. There is oil, big money, a huge market for our goods. And let's tell the whole truth -- our relations [with Libya] are developing rather well," Lukashenka commented to the Belarusian media before his flight to Tripoli. After landing in that city, he was shown on Libyan Television smiling and assuring Muammar Gaddafi that he is ready for "large-scale cooperation" and that "cooperation with Libya is very easy because of our similar positions."

Back in Minsk, Lukashenka commented that Belarus can expect "tremendous results" from his trip to Libya. "[Libya] is an extremely rich country. ...But this is a country that does not have the level of industry, agriculture, and infrastructure that we have. In other words, our production -- beginning with wood processing and ending with latest technologies, including in the military area -- are much needed there. Second, we would like to take advantage of [Libyan] investments in our economy. Therefore I asked Gaddafi's help in this regard. We are extremely interested in attracting Libyan capital to Belarus. In general, [the Libyans] are people who support and understand us."

However, the officially announced results of the visit are somewhat less than impressive. The two sides signed agreements on mutual protection of investments, the creation of a joint trade and economic commission, and cooperation in education, science, and culture. The current trade turnover between the two countries is also unimpressive. According to Belarusian Television, so far this year Belarusian exporters have signed contracts with Libya worth only $1.5 million.Those contracts are for supplies of photographic materials, cables, and tires to the North African country.

Belarusian and Russian commentators suggest that Libyan-Belarusian cooperation in the military sphere may be more profitable for both partners. Most of Libya's military equipment is Soviet-made, and Belarus could provide repair and maintenance services and spare parts as well as new weapons to Tripoli. According to Belapan, Lukashenka charged his closest aide, Security Council Secretary Viktar Sheyman, with the task of drafting a military cooperation accord with Libya.

FOOLED IN TOBRUK. Last week, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on an example of Belarusian-Libyan cooperation in the sphere of construction services.

On the eve of Lukashenka's trip to Libya, some 40 Belarusian construction workers returned from Tobruk, where they had worked under a four-month contract negotiated by the Belarusian Patriotic Youth Union. But three members of that team returned from Tobruk before the four months were up and without money. They told an RFE/RL Minsk correspondent the following story.

The workers' contracts said they would each be paid $400 a month. However, in Tobruk their personal contracts were taken away by the contractor and "revised" so that their monthly wage shrank to $260. The contractor also removed from the contract the provision of medical insurance. Moreover, it turned out that the construction site they were working on had only one crane, and the Belarusian constructors were largely forced to transport construction materials by hand. And to add insult to injury, a Yugoslav team working at a nearby site was paid $1,500 per capita a month for basically the same work. Three construction workers from the Belarusian team left Tobruk in protest -- they were not paid anything. The rest worked for the duration of the contract and were paid $250 (not $260) for each of the four months.

Asked to comment on the situation, an official from the Belarusian Patriotic Union told the RFE/RL correspondent that the three dissenters should have worked in Tobruk until the end of their contract. According to the official, they could manage without medical insurance and should be happy with $250 a month since they are unlikely to earn such money in Belarus.

'LUKAMOL' URGED TO DISSOLVE. The Belarusian Patriotic Union was created by Alyaksandr Lukashenka in 1997 in a bid to find broader support for his policies among Belarusian youth. Since the union was modeled on the Soviet-era Komsomol (the Youth Communist League), it has been nicknamed Lukamol. Other Belarusian youth organizations do not conceal their contempt for Lukamol, which receives lavish state subsidies. A recent appeal to the Lukashenka-sponsored union by Malady Front, Maladaya Hramada, the Association of Belarusian Students, and other non-state youth organizations is characteristic of that stance:

"The failure of the [October legislative] elections shows that the dictatorial regime will soon kick the bucket. Probably, you have already guessed that the government in Belarus will be very different in a year.... Backstairs influence, discounts at discos and psychiatric clinics, admission to veterinary clinics without waiting in lines will not last forever," the non-state organization wrote, urging Lukamol members to renounce their membership and burn their membership cards during the planned rally of Belarusian youth organizations on 12 November.

MORE HEADACHES FOR YUSHCHENKO, KUCHMA. Some Ukrainian media have suggested that there is a full-scale cabinet crisis in Ukraine and that radical decisions in Kyiv are imminent.

Last week, Council of National Security and Defense chief Yevhen Marchuk announced that the government presented "unreliable" data on the situation in the energy and fuel sector. Marchuk said that in an earlier report to the parliament, Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko overstated the level of cash revenues in the energy sector as well as the amount of fuel stored for this winter. Tymoshenko previously claimed to have raised the level of cash payments to some 70 percent of the energy sector. According to Marchuk, a large part of the revenues was made up of credits granted by banks to state enterprises under pressure from the government. Premier Viktor Yushchenko said he does not share Marchuk's conclusions, adding that they are "insincere." Yushchenko even threatened his resignation over that controversy. "If my mission here [as prime minister] is deemed to be ineffective, then let it be undertaken by someone else," Interfax quoted Yushchenko as saying.

Tymoshenko told STB Television on 4 November that Marchuk's report is politically motivated. "I understand very well who is today working in the fuel and energy complex. I want to say that the talk of my dismissal...began practically from the first day of my work in the cabinet. But I think that I have achieved positive results as the leader [of the fuel and energy sector] and I have no reason to resign. I will never leave the government [of my own volition]," Tymoshenko declared.

One of the piquant and simultaneously unclear circumstances of the controversy is the fact that Marchuk's report was signed by several ministers, including Fuel and Energy Minister Serhiy Yermilov. It is publicly known that Yermilov is unhappy with Tymoshenko's reform in the energy and fuel sector, but his endorsement of Marchuk's conclusions affects not only Tymoshenko but also Yushchenko. Tymoshenko's possible dismissal by Kuchma would almost certainly entail the resignation of Yushchenko.

Time will tell whether Kuchma will risk such a radical cabinet reshuffle. But one thing is certainly clear: for the Western financial organizations that are waiting to see results in Ukraine's reformist effort, Yushchenko's ouster is certainly not the kind of action they hope to see.

"This is not a draft budget, this is already a budget, I have signed it." -- Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 29 October about a 2001 budget bill, on which the Council of the Republic (upper house) voted four days later. Quoted by RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 2 November.

"None of the neighboring countries -- except, perhaps, Russia -- has as huge an army as Belarus (if seen in terms of the country's population) does. I live beside a military town, so I know very well the real combat readiness of our [brave] warriors. They do not drive tanks or armored personnel carriers because there's no fuel. They do not launch missiles because this is too costly. They do not fire from submachine guns because they need to economize on cartridges. They loiter about, half-hungry, dressed in anything they think suitable -- because there's not enough money for standard uniforms. Whom do we want to fool with this 100,000-strong army? And the main thing -- against whom are we getting ready to fight? Against Poland or Lithuania, which are backed by NATO? Or, maybe, against Ukraine, a no less beggarly country than ours?" -- Mikola Sinyuha from Lida Raion, Hrodna Oblast, in a letter to RFE/RL's Belarusian Service. Quoted on 26 October.

"Today we must rise up and drive away this fascism of the 20th century -- the International Monetary Fund -- from Ukraine!" -- Volodymyr Marchenko, a leader of the ultra-left Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine, during a rally on 29 October. Quoted by Interfax.

"Give back [our] savings [lost after the USSR breakup] according to the exchange rate in 1991-1992: 1,000 rubles=$1,785+moral damages." -- A placard at a rally organized by the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine on 29 October. Quoted by Interfax.

"Closer to winter, we may find it completely impossible to breathe --because of the concentration of gas in the atmosphere." -- The Internet newsletter "Ukrayinska pravda" on 1 November, commenting on the current Ukrainian-Russian standoff over gas transit and supplies.