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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: November 14, 2000

14 November 2000, Volume 2, Number 42
WARSAW TO DISCUSS BYPASS PIPELINE WITH GAZPROM. Poland appears to have found a diplomatic formula for building a new gas pipeline from Russia to Western Europe on its territory, but there seems to be little chance that this formula will have an impact on the project's effects on neighboring Ukraine.

On 3 November, Polish Deputy Prime Minister Janusz Steinhoff said his government is ready to open talks with Russia's Gazprom on the plan to have Siberian gas transit the country on its way to European customers who currently depend on Russian transit lines through Ukraine.

Ukraine has been opposing the Gazprom project in order to keep its position as the dominant transit country for Russian gas exports, which account for some 90 percent of deliveries to Western Europe. Meanwhile, Russia has been trying to bypass Ukraine because of diversions of gas on its territory and debts of at least $1.4 billion for gas supplies.

Since July, the Russian bypass plan has kept the Ukrainian government in turmoil as it has sought to reform its energy sector, while seeking supplies of winter fuel and keeping Moscow from gaining a controlling share in the country's pipelines.

In the past, Poland has resisted the Russian plan to build a new pipeline to the north because of concerns that it could harm Ukraine, which Warsaw regards as its strategic partner. But the 3 November Polish statement represents almost a complete reversal in the government's position in a little more than two weeks. On 19 October, the Economy Ministry, which Steinhoff heads, said that "Poland continues to oppose, for economic, ecological and political reasons, the project to link the Russian and Western gas networks."

That position was modified on 24 October by President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who said Poland could agree to the new pipeline if Ukraine shares in the benefits through a joint venture or some other mechanism. Kwasniewski called the idea "a very clever compromise." But there seemed to be little reflection of the earlier positions in Steinhoff's statement on 3 November.

Under Poland's new formula for the pipeline proposal, the government would allow the project as long as it carries only new gas from Russia, rather than fuel taken from existing Ukrainian lines. While insisting that Poland's new line "must not violate the status quo of any of its neighbors," Steinhoff said that talks would start "immediately" on the project for additional gas supplies to Europe.

The latest Polish position appears to be a distinction without a difference, as far as the effects on Ukraine are concerned. First, Gazprom has already been arguing for three months that the new pipeline would be used to carry gas from Russia's Yamal Peninsula under a 1993 agreement that Poland signed for two lines to carry gas from the Arctic gas field. The first Yamal link has already been built across Poland. Ukraine's transit gas has come from other Siberian areas.

Second, the gas supplies from one region of Russia can easily be offset by supplies from somewhere else. Because fuel is a commodity, it makes little difference to consumers or transit countries whether it comes from new or old fields. And third, the addition of up to 60 billion cubic meters of annual gas transit through Poland will accomplish Russia's strategic goal of reducing reliance on Ukrainian transit, which has been one of Moscow's main objectives all along. Poland's new formula is likely to have the same effect on Ukraine as if Warsaw had agreed to the pipeline when it was first proposed.

The agreement to open negotiations on the project appears to fulfill predictions by both Gazprom officials and industry analysts that Poland would gradually relent. The only surprise may be that the turnaround in position has come so fast.

As a future member of the European Union, Poland may have a paramount interest in becoming a major route for European energy supplies. If Russia succeeds in joining its economic goals with those of Western Europe, it seems unlikely that either Ukraine or Poland will now stand in the way. (Michael Lelyveld, RFE/RL correspondent in Boston)

LUKASHENKA BLUNDERS IN GRATITUDE. Lieutenant-General Sergei Lebedev, chief of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), visited Minsk on 9 November to discuss cooperation issues with the Belarusian KGB. Lebedev also met with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who took the opportunity to lavishly thank the Russian visitor for his "support."

"I especially want to thank you for your help with information and support, for those analyses you send to me on both a regular basis and on the eve of major events, which, thank God, we have calmly survived in Belarus. I greatly appreciate the Russian Federation's secret services [for this support]. That's the way it should be," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying.

Subsequently, Lukashenka thanked Lebedev for helping train Belarusian intelligence agents: "I am particularly grateful that you, after all, help us train and provide refresher courses for our intelligence service, since, let's tell the whole truth, the Soviet Union had the most powerful intelligence service, and we have preserved much of its experience. I am very, very grateful to you."

Lebedev responded that "indeed, there is close cooperation and full understanding between us. We have been working shoulder to shoulder and, I think, will continue to work in the same way." To which, Lukashenka replied: "Thank you. I am sure of this. I think, if we combine our efforts, we will be able to reach the levels we had in the Soviet Union."

The Internet Russian-language newsletter on 10 November called Lukashenka's pronouncement about Lebedev's assistance to the Belarusian president "sensational." said that according to the law on Russia's SVR, "gathering intelligence for Belarus is outside the SVR's competence." According to, every Monday, following a tradition established during Boris Yeltsin's presidency, the SVR chief briefs the Russian president. The law, according to the newsletter, prohibits the SVR chief from passing any materials not only to heads of other states but also to Russian regional executive bodies.

SVR spokesman Boris Labusov denied that the SVR provides intelligence to Lukashenka, saying only that it cooperates with Belarus's intelligence service within the framework of a 1992 agreement. "But it follows from Lukashenka's words that he personally--precisely like the president of Russia--regularly obtains up-to-date reports and analytical materials from the SVR, which allow him to resolve many serious problems.... In other words, Lieutenant-General Lebedev violates the law or--if President [Vladimir] Putin has asked him to supply Lukashenka with information--the law is violated by Putin," commented.

The website concluded that "proceeding from the fact that Lukashenka's main problem--not so much of an internal as of external nature--is the opposition as well as unsuccessful attempts by the CIA to depose him by using the tested scenario of 'a wave of popular wrath,' it turns out that the SVR works against the Belarusian opposition.... If Alyaksandr Ryhoravich [Lukashenka] had held his tongue more tightly, nobody would have known about it. Judging from everything, Lukashenka will not receive a subsequent report from the SVR anytime soon."

This is the second time in the past month that Lukashenka has succeeded in publicly embarrassing the Kremlin with his lavish thanks. The previous time was in Sochi on 19 October, when Lukashenka thanked Putin for the latter's support for and congratulations following the "free and democratic" elections to the Chamber of Representatives in Belarus on 15 October. "I want to thank you in front of the journalists for this grand stance that Russia took during our political events. You know how fierce the pressure was," Lukashenka said on Russian television. Visibly embarrassed, Putin interrupted the Belarusian president by remarking, "We do not interfere in internal affairs." To which Lukashenka replied: "No, you did not interfere, you supported us strongly. Russia has never taken such a definite stance, has never supported Belarus so firmly as now."

'CREEPING ROMANIANIZATION.' "Kievskie vedomosti" on 7 November reported that a growing number of Ukrainians are applying for Romanian citizenship in addition to their Ukrainian one. Romanian legislation allows dual citizenship, while in Ukraine it is prohibited to have citizenship of another country.

According to the newspaper, there are rumors in Ukraine that Romania, by providing its citizenship to Ukrainians, is conducting a policy of "creeping expansion" with the final aim of "reacquiring Northern Bukovina [Chernivtsi Oblast] and Southern Besarabiya [part of Odesa Oblast]," which belonged to the Romanian state before World War II. Some Romanian parties, according to those rumors, are dreaming about restoring a "Great Romania" that would include Moldova and the above-mentioned parts of Ukraine. Some Ukrainian observers draw attention to the fact that 300,000 Moldovans (including 50 percent of Moldovan lawmakers) have already acquired Romanian citizenship.

The Romanian Embassy in Kyiv explained to "Kievskie vedomosti" that, according to Romania's law on citizenship, Romanian citizenship may be granted to "former Romanian citizens who were deprived of it before 22 December 1989 for various reasons...even in the event that they have a different citizenship and do not intend to move for permanent residence in Romania." The same rule applies to descendants of those "former Romanian citizens."

According to the newspaper, Ukrainians apply for Romanian passports primarily for economic reasons. "It is possible to obtain preferences for small businesses [by holding such passports]. Besides, Romania has a chance of entering the EU sooner than Ukraine, and then the Romanian passport will become priceless, since it will open for its holder the way to all Europe," "Kievskie vedomosti" wrote. "But for what purpose does Romania need Ukrainian citizens?" the newspaper asked, without answering that rhetorical question.

Some Ukrainian officials shrug off fears about Romania's "creeping expansion" in Ukraine, arguing that the problem of the redivision of state frontiers in Europe no longer exists. But others suggest that the Helsinki Conference Final Act does not rule out separate regions within countries holding referendums on joining one or another state. "If Chernivtsi Oblast acquires a critical mass of Ukrainian-Romanian citizens, might they not decide on one beautiful day--let's say, on the day of Romania's accession to the EU--to become full-fledged participants of that holiday?" "Kievskie vedomosti" wrote.

"There are many empty buses; fill them with people!" -- A police colonel in Minsk on 12 November ordering his troops to arrest participants in the "[We Want] Changes!" march organized by Belarusian youth organizations. Quoted by Belapan.

"Nobody will take from us the right to live in a free and independent Belarus, neither riot troops, nor Lukashenka, nor the empire, nor the dictatorship." -- Pavel Sevyarynets, head of the opposition Malady Front, ahead of the unauthorized youth march in Minsk on 12 November. Quoted by Belapan.

"I sometimes listen to you [RFE/RL's Belarusian Service] and I am very dissatisfied with how you treat the elder generation. You present us as narrow-minded communists who are ready to please any authority and who have brought Lukashenka to power. Yes, I and my friends voted for Lukashenka. Because we believed that he would not allow what we had built to be ruined. And he has not allowed that. But the trouble is that he is not creating anything new.... Our state is stagnating while all the neighbors have moved forward." -- Syarhey Protas, a pensioner from Minsk. Quoted by RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 9 November.

"My principal dream is to have a single Ukrainian Orthodox Church." -- Leonid Kuchma on 7 November. Quoted by Interfax.

"The Great October Socialist Revolution anniversary is our historical holiday, our genetic holiday, since we have been born in the country that was created thanks to this holiday." -- Crimean parliament speaker Leonid Hrach to a 7 October meeting in Simferopol. Quoted by Interfax.