RUKH TO SUPPORT SINGLE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE, DESPITE SPLIT. The Popular Rukh of Ukraine will support Hennadiy Udovenko as the party's candidate in the presidential elections in Ukraine this fall, dpa reported on 1 March. Rukh was divided when a 28 February extraordinary congress elected Yuriy Kostenko as its chairman to replace former Soviet dissident Vyacheslav Chornovil (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 1999). Kostenko said Udovenko can win the presidential elections if all national and democratic forces unite around his candidacy. Chornovil and his supporters also confirmed their support for Udovenko. JM

UKRAINE DISCUSSES ELECTRICITY DEBTS TO RUSSIA. Anatolii Chubais, head of Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES), met with Ukrainian leaders in Kyiv on 1 March to negotiate ways of repaying Ukraine's debts for electricity supplied by his company. Ukrainian commercial companies owe $123.5 million to EES, and Chubais wants the Ukrainian government and the stateowned company Ukrenergo to cover that sum. Ukraine's newly appointed energy minister, Ivan Plachkov, said before the talks that the government will not bear responsibility for the "debts of commercial companies," AP reported on 1 March. EES, whose electricity exports accounted for 3 percent of Ukraine's needs last year, suspended supplies to Ukraine on 1 January. JM

FIRST ORE SHIPMENT FOR ZENICA. A Turkish freighter arrived at the Adriatic port of Ploce on 1 March with 7,500 tons of Ukrainian iron ore for the Zenica iron and steel works. This is the first shipment of raw materials to arrive in Ploce for Zenica since the Bosnian war began in 1992. Some 240,000 tons are slated to reach the huge iron and steel complex by the end of 1999. Shipments of raw materials to Zenica accounted for some 50 percent of Ploce's prewar commercial activity, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

In less than two weeks, Poland is to become a full member of NATO. Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek recently spoke in Warsaw with an RFE/RL correspondent about the possible effects of Poland's NATO membership on its relations with Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia.

Noting that entry into the Western military alliance will give Poland a much-needed and long-awaited guarantee of national security, Geremek commented that the move will inevitably have an impact on relations with neighboring countries. But he was quick to emphasize that "Poland, as a member of NATO, will be even better equipped to improve those relations." This is particularly true, he argued, with regard to Ukraine, which he described as one of Poland's strategic partners. "Ukrainian independence is deeply rooted in the Polish national interest," he said. "And we have a very good relationship. We have the feeling that Ukraine sees Poland's accession to NATO as a chance for her security."

Geremek was less upbeat about Poland's relations with Belarus. Minsk, he said, currently appears to "be lacking confidence" in Poland's accession to NATO and "is angry with NATO enlargement." Belarusian officials, and particularly President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, have consistently and vociferously opposed NATO's eastern enlargement, seeing it as a threat to their country's security and a danger to peace in the region.

Geremek questioned the scope of the fear expressed in Belarus. "The question," he said, "is whether [this fear stems from] political elites of the country, the president of the country, or the Belarusian nation. Poland wants to have good relations with Belarus, with the Belarusian state, and with the Belarusian people."

Geremek said that Poland would make every effort to convince Belarus, by moving gradually in a "step-bystep" fashion, that Warsaw's NATO entry is "in the interest of Belarus." He said Poland's membership in the alliance will contribute to strengthening political stability and eliminating conflicts in the region.

But for Poland the central foreign policy issue remains the nature of its relations with Russia. Geremek recalled the centuries of Polish-Russian conflict in which Russia had been the main player in a series of partitions of Poland. More recently, under communist rule, Moscow determined both Poland's government and politics for more than four decades. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has suffered a major decline in its international influence. But, as Geremek put it, "the shadow of Russia is still in the region."

Moscow has strongly opposed Poland's entry into NATO but was finally forced into accepting it. However, Russia remains opposed to any further eastern NATO expansion. Even recently, Geremek said, it has tried to use negotiations with the West on conventional forces in Europe as "an instrument" to reduce the status of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic within NATO by imposing restrictions on their military strength.

Yet, Geremek appears optimistic about the future. Pointing out that he visited Moscow as recently as the end of January, Geremek said he has the feeling that [by] becoming a member of NATO, "we can, in a more determined way, obtain loyal dialogue and cooperation with Russia. Russia understood that Poland is becoming a member of NATO, and Russia cannot say no. [There is] no possibility of a Russian veto in this case. And Russia can see in Poland's accession to NATO a good argument for her good relations with NATO. Poland, as member of NATO, will be the nation the most interested in the establishing good relations between Russia and NATO."

Geremek emphasized that Poland is, and will remain, interested in developing friendly relations with Russia for a number of reasons: economic, cultural, and political. He said Russia is still a big power. And he noted that while Russia may currently be "sick" and that this sickness may last for very long time, Russia is still important for Poland.