Accessibility links

Breaking News

Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: October 19, 1999

19 October 1999, Volume 1, Number 21
Confusion Over Theft Of Anti-Aircraft Missiles. Police reported on 11 October that thieves broke into the Mesko armaments plant in Skarzysko-Kamienna, southern Poland, and stole six anti-aircraft missiles that had been brought there for repairs under a Defense Ministry contract. Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz said all the stolen missiles were 17-year-old Strzala (Arrow), which had been made under Russian license. The shoulder-launched missiles are 1.5 meters long and weigh 20 kilograms.

Subsequent Polish media reports said a total of nine missiles (seven real and two dummy ones) had been stolen, along with a missile launcher. According to unconfirmed rumors, one Grom (Thunder) missile, which is reportedly similar to the U.S. Stinger shoulder-launched missile, was also swiped. On 13 October, the police reported that the launcher and all the stolen missiles, except one real missile and one dummy, were found. A local police officer was quoted as saying that the "most important" missile had been found, too, but he did not elaborate.

Polish Television report on 13 October offered four hypotheses on who stole the missiles:

According to the first hypothesis, they were stolen by a teenager who likes tinkering with mechanical objects. A similar missile theft took place five years ago at the Mesko plant.

The second says a criminal group took the missiles for the explosives they contain, rather than to use them as weapons.

The third says Mesko workers themselves made off with the missiles. The Mesko plant is currently undergoing restructuring and will see lay-offs as part of that process. According to this version, frustrated workers carried away the missiles to inflict damage on the plant management. If this were indeed the case, they hit the mark because the theft has created "massive confusion" in Poland, according to Polish Television.

The fourth hypothesis suggests that espionage was behind the incident: the reason for the theft was to obtain a unique targeting mechanism that is fitted in the most modern Grom missile. Officials involved in the case have unanimously denied that any Grom missile disappeared.

Another issue highlighted by the theft is the security of such missiles. It transpired that the plant was guarded only by a few guards, in contravention of the law on the protection of state secrets, which was adopted in March to meet NATO standards. Under that law, armaments factories should be surrounded by high, double walls, their premises should be well-lit, and guards and cameras should provide for security there.

The State Protection Office accuses the Defense Ministry of negligence, saying that the missiles should not have ended up at the Mesko plant because the plant has no industrial security certificate from the Military Intelligence Service. According to Polish Television, the Military Intelligence Service "feels" that such a certificate should have been issued by the State Security Office. Besides, military officials assert that the stolen missiles are not classified weapons.

Meanwhile, the provincial prosecutor's office in Kielce said there were two break-ins at the Mesko plant recently. After the second break-in, 398 detonators with hexogen explosive charges and eight detonators with TNT disappeared.

"The fact that for three days it was not possible to specify how many missiles had disappeared from a secret both shocking and frightening," Polish Television commented.

Authorities Arrest Oppositionists, Pledge To Continue Dialogue. Official sources reported that police arrested 92 people following clashes between the riot police and participants in the anti-government "freedom march" in Minsk on 17 October. Some 20,000 people attended that gathering--the largest number of protesters at any single event in Belarus since spring 1996. The Minsk City Prosecutor's Office has opened a criminal case against the organizers of the march, including against the arrested leader of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party, Mikalay Statkevich.

Mikhail Sazonau, an aide to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, told state television on 18 October that the police "will act resolutely" against such protests as the 17 October march. At the same time, Sazonau--who is a government representative helping prepare an OSCE-mediated dialogue with the opposition--said the government is still willing to negotiate with oppositionists.

As prerequisites for starting those talks, the opposition has asked the government to release political prisoners, stop oppressing opposition activists and the independent press, and grant opposition politicians access to the state-controlled media. The authorities have not complied with any of these requests so far.

Lukashenka Tightens The Screws On Private Business. The Belarusian president has issued a decree introducing the state regulation of wages paid by private entrepreneurs, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 12 October. Labor Ministry official Alyaksandr Charnabryvets told RFE/RL that the decree is aimed at ensuring social justice in the private business sphere. He said that workers at private companies have often complained that they are very poorly paid.

Under the decree, wages in the private sector must be made in accordance with the so-called national scale of wage rates.

Alyaksandr Patupa, deputy chairman of the Belarusian Union of Entrepreneurs, told RFE/RL that the decree is another example of the anti-market policy of the Belarusian government, whose goal is to extend Soviet-era regulations to the private business sphere.

Trade With Ukraine Plunges. From January-August, the trade turnover between Belarus and Ukraine decreased by 44 percent, compared with the same period last year, to stand at $438 million. During this period, Belarus had a negative trade balance with Ukraine totaling $95 million. And its exports to that country fell to $267 million from $527 million in January-August 1998.

According to a Belarusian Foreign Ministry expert on 11 October, the main reason for the decline in Belarusian exports was the fact that Ukraine has already switched to collecting value-added tax and customs duties on goods in the country where those goods are to be sold (the so called "country-of-destination" system). Belarus has not yet introduced that measure and thus Belarusian exporters continue to pay VAT twice (in Belarus and, in this case, also in Ukraine).

According to the independent "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta," the reason for the plunge is to be found in the Belarusian economy: the country produces poor-quality commodities at relatively high production costs and cannot compete with foreign exporters. On the other hand, Belarus does not have enough money to pay for Ukrainian imports. The newspapers points out that Belarus's trade with Russia also plunged: from $6.44 billion in January-August 1998 to $4.25 billion during the same period this year.

Criminalization Of Economy Continues. Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko told a 11 October seminar on the role of prosecution agencies that Ukraine is witnessing the increased "criminalization" of economic relations. According to his data, so far this year Ukraine's law enforcement bodies have detected 100,000 violations of the law in the economic sphere. Prosecutors launched 9,000 criminal proceedings, and some 46,000 people have been or may be held responsible for various wrongdoings in the economic spheres.

Deputy Prosecutor-General Olha Kolinko told the same seminar that the "inexpedient use of funds" totaling 292 million hryvni ($65 million) has prevented the construction of nuclear reactors at the Rivnenska and Khmelnytska nuclear power plants from being completed. According to Kolinko, this summer's severe shortage of gasoline in Ukraine was caused by the unlawful activities of fuel dealers, who created an "artificial" deficit and subsequent hikes in the price of gasoline. Another problem is the agro-industrial sector, where, according to Kolinko, tax evasion and thefts abound. "Following an examination of the economic entities that grow, store, and process agricultural products, [Ukraine's prosecutors] have opened 827 criminal cases against those who evade taxes and revealed 175 fictitious firms.... Because of misdeeds by managers of agricultural enterprises and because of swindles by traders, some farms had no means to harvest new crops," Interfax quoted Kolinko as saying.

Who Fathered The An-140 Passenger Plane? On 11 October, President Leonid Kuchma and other officials watched a test flight of a new An-140 passenger plane. Kuchma called the plane a "modern miracle," while congratulating the Kyiv-based Antonov Design Bureau and the Kharkiv State Aviation Enterprise that designed and build the aircraft. The plane can carry 52 passengers or 20 passengers and 3.65 tons of cargo for a distance of 2,300 kilometers at a maximum speed of 555 kilometers per hour. It is expected to cost some $7 million. Demand for the plane is estimated at 100 machines within Ukraine and some 500 in Russia and other post-Soviet states by 2005, according to AP.

The Moscow-based "Segodnya" wrote on 13 October that Ukraine has "cheated its elder brother, Russia, to the full" regarding the development of the An-140. According to the newspaper, Russia's budget has almost entirely financed the development of the plane, but Ukraine says the machine is solely its own "child" because, as "Segodnya" put it, Russian budget allocations do not give Moscow copyright rights. Russia has the right only to buy 70 An-140 machines from Ukraine ahead of other customers, but "Segodnya" argues that Russia does not have sufficient funds to take advantage of this priority treatment. As regards the copyright for the plane's design, they belong solely to Ukraine's Antonov Design Bureau. According to "Segodnya," future Russian customers will have to pay dearly for An-140 design charts and schemes.

"I think that the main reason for the failures of Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, or Slovakia is the low level of their political elite. [That elite] has not been able to define a goal for people's joint [reformist] effort, explain that goal, or organize citizens [to undertake] consecutive tasks. It has also proven to be surprisingly egoistic, susceptible to corruption to a far larger degree than what we see in Poland. Although we are right in complaining about our politicians, they nonetheless have not put us to such shame as one [Ukrainian] ex-premier has put the Ukrainians--he was arrested at the French-Swiss border with a Panamanian passport when he was driving to draw stolen money from a bank account." -- Former Polish Foreign Minister Andrzej Olechowski, quoted by the 10 October "Wprost."

"Balcerowicz thinks that if state finances are okay, everything else is okay as well, but that is not always so." -- Freedom Union activist Wladyslaw Frasyniuk on UW leader and Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz, quoted by PAP on 13 October.

"The United States of Russia and Belarus have exceptionally bright prospects in every conceivable area." -- Vladimir Gusev, chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee for Industry, commenting on the planned Russia-Belarus union state to ITAR-TASS on 12 October.

"This is just an empty exercise. We are getting too excited over what is only a simulation of a serious undertaking." -- Aleksei Kuzmin, director of the Moscow-based Institute of Social and Political Studies, commenting on the recently published draft treaty on the Russian-Belarusian union state; quoted by Belapan on 14 October.

Answering a question put by the 12 October "Nezavisimaya gazeta" whether Alyaksandr Lukashenka is an illegitimate president of Belarus in the eyes of Europe, OSCE Minsk Monitoring and Consultative Group head Hans Georg Wieck said: "No, we do not say that. We say only that his democratic mandate has expired and it is necessary to hold democratic elections. European states do not consider him a democratic president."

Nowadays "CIS summits are held specially for the sake of Kuchma in order to give a possibility for the head of states and authoritative politicians to support him on the eve of the presidential elections," Lukashenka commenting on the 8 October summit of CIS prime ministers in Yalta (Belarus refused to participate in that meeting). Quoted by the 12 October "Izvestiya."

"Involuntarily, it comes to mind that the president of a friendly country has somewhat exaggerated the extent of his influence on Ukraine's electorate and the international situation as a whole," Kuchma's spokesman Oleksandr Martynenko responding on 15 October to Lukashenka's remark above on CIS summits. Quoted by AP.

"Kuchma doesn't even plan to change his reform course. What's the second half of the path? Everyone has to understand that to vote for Kuchma means to vote for Ukraine's colonization. This is how this reform course will end." -- Natalya Vitrenko, quoted by Reuters on 13 October.

"I have no doubt that we will never return to the old system. Today, on the whole, the presidential elections are the last and deciding battle for many parties." -- Leonid Kuchma on 13 October, quoted by Interfax.