RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 1, No. 10, 3 August 1999

A Survey of Developments in Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine by the Staff of RFE/RL Newsline

HOW THEY ARREST PEOPLE IN MINSK. The following are descriptions, based on RFE/RL's Belarusian Service and Belapan reports, of three out of a 100 or so recent arrests in Minsk:

ALEH VOLCHAK, a human rights activist, was arrested by plainclothes policemen in Minsk on 21 July, along with two friends. The arrest took place in the evening, after the opposition rally that marked the end of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's legitimate term in office. At a police station, policemen separated Volchak from his friends and beat him for some 10 minutes. Volchak demanded that an ambulance be sent for him, but a police officer on duty called for it only three hours later, when he noticed that Volchak was on the verge of losing consciousness. Volchak was taken to the hospital where it was determined that he had received many injuries and suffered traumas. The doctor who examined Volchak said he should be hospitalized immediately, but the accompanying policemen said Volchak is a "criminal" and took him back to the station, where he spent another 18 hours undergoing interrogation. Interrogators threatened that he would be punished with a long prison term for "malicious hooliganism" during the rally. But they finally released him, telling him he is a witness in the investigation of the 21 July unsanctioned demonstration. Volchak told RFE/RL that he was beaten most likely for his appeals to policemen during the demonstration not to obey the orders of an illegitimate president but to side with Belarus's legitimate legislature-- the opposition Supreme Soviet.

VALERY SHCHUKIN, a deputy of the opposition Supreme Soviet, a journalist, and a self-professed "true communist," was arrested on 22 July while trying to force his way into a Minsk court building to attend the trial of his parliamentary colleague, Andrey Klimau. The trial was open, but policemen prevented him from entering the courtroom, saying they had received instructions not to let him in. The policemen detained Shchukin, drew up a report, and took him to an administrative court, where he was immediately tried for "petty hooliganism." According to the policemen's testimony, Shchukin, while trying to enter the court building, used foul language and pulled the policemen by their uniforms, threatening them and behaving violently. According to Belapan, there were large discrepancies between the written report and the spoken testimony of the policemen. In addition, a witness testified that Shchukin behaved correctly, if emotionally. As for Shchukin, he told the judge that he could not have pulled at anybody's clothes because his hands were occupied during the incident: in one, he held a tape recorder, in the other, several newspapers. Shchukin played an audio recording of the incident to the judge, demonstrating that the only phrases he uttered were his demands that the policemen "take their hands off" him and "obey the law," to which one of the policemen responded: "Don't push your law down my throat. I am the law." The judge ordered Shchukin to be detained for 15 days.

TATSYANA SNITKO, a Belarusian correspondent for the Ukrainian newspaper "Ukrayina moloda," was arrested with her friend, the journalist Tsina Klykouskaya, on 27 July, following the opposition march to mark the pre-1996 Independence Day (in 1996 Lukashenka moved the holiday to 3 July). Klykouskaya had waved to a bus full of special purpose policemen in bulletproof vests and with shields. The bus stopped and several policemen dashed at the two women, forcing them into the vehicle and taking them to a police station, where they met some 40 detained oppositionists. Snitko switched on her tape recorder and began asking some of them about the circumstances of their arrest. According to Snitko, police officers at the station were very embarrassed when they discovered that the two women were journalists. In Snitko's own words: "We were simply requested [by the station chief] in a very kind manner to leave the station. The requests began: 'Could you please...?' To which I replied: 'No, I couldn't. Excuse me, but you have refused for two years to let me in here to get information about the people [you arrest]. Now you brought me here on your own, and I thank you very much for that.' In the end, the chief went away in a very unhappy mood, and afterward some fleshy guy pushed me and the others out of there."


WHY DID KUCHMA FIRE KURATCHENKO? Most commentators tend to agree that President Leonid Kuchma fired First Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Kuratchenko on 31 July because of the latter's embarrassing proposal, made at a government meeting on 28 July, to change Ukraine's economic course. Kuratchenko stressed the need to revive state economic planning and to revise relations with the IMF. In particular, he proposed that Ukraine's foreign debt be restructured, with servicing deadlines put off by three to five years in order to use the money saved to pay overdue wages and pensions. "I'm not against cooperation with the IMF, but we should have a greater degree of freedom and not work under a dictate," AP quoted Kuratchenko as saying on 29 July.

Kuratchenko's remarks appeared to come at a particularly sensitive time for Kuchma, who in a presidential election year urgently needs further payments from the IMF's $2.6 billion loan program to reduce the heavy burden of both foreign and domestic debt obligations. A sternly worded statement issued by the government on 29 July seems to confirm there is a connection between Kuratchenko's economic proposals and his dismissal. In particular, the statement notes: "It is a difficult time for our country. Cabinet of Ministers members once more affirm their unity and commitment to the course of economic and social reform. ... Any attempts to review social and property relations and to return to Soviet planning methods of managing the economy or the failure by the state to acknowledge its internal and external obligations will lead only to civil conflict and the external isolation of Ukraine. It is a road to nowhere," according to Reuters.

Another reason for Kuratchenko's dismissal could be his stance in what the 30 July "Eastern Economic Daily" called the "conflict among cabinet members over the fuel and energy sector." Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko on 28 July proposed that Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov be reprimanded for his poor performance, including disrupted supplies of fuel for the harvest campaign. Kuratchenko strongly opposed the motion to reprimand Plachkov, threatening to resign if Pustovoytenko continued to press the matter. According to Oleksandr Moroz, leader of the Socialist Party and a presidential candidate, Kuratchenko knows only too well the real reasons for Ukraine's recent fuel crisis. In Moroz's opinion, one of the main reasons for the crisis is the fact that before the start of the harvest campaign the UkrTatNafta oil refinery sold some 500,000 tons of oil products--or 25 percent of the total required by Ukrainian farmers--to foreign customers. Pustovoytenko, Moroz noted, is chairman of UkrTatNafta's advisory board.

"I felt long ago that I can be useful [for Ukraine]. ...When I became a raion head [in the mid-1970s]...this was a largescope job for me. But after three or four years of work I felt that I was on the point of bursting open--not because of my ambitions or my ego, but because I simply felt that it was not enough for me, that I could be more useful." -- Ukrainian parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko in an interview in the 29 July "Den."

"I really pity him. He is a man who has tackled an unsuitable business." -- Tkachenko on President Leonid Kuchma in a 29 July interview with "Den."

RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report is prepared by Jan Maksymiuk on the basis of a variety of sources including reporting by "RFE/RL Newsline" and RFE/RL's broadcast services. It is distributed every Tuesday.

RUSSIA TO REOPEN RADAR STATION IN BELARUS. Visiting Colonel-General Vladimir Yakovlev, commander of the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces, said on 2 August that this year Russia will test a Soviet-built radar in Baranavichy, Belarus, and put it back into service in 2000, Interfax reported. According to Yakovlev, the Baranavichy facility is expected not only to substitute for the old radar station in Skrunda, Latvia, but also to make Russia's early warning system against missile attacks even more effective and reliable. He added that Russia will supply information on missile launches to Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW FIRST DEPUTY PREMIER. Leonid Kuchma on 2 August appointed Anatoliy Kinakh, head of the Union of Entrepreneurs and Industrialists, as first deputy prime minister. Kinakh, leader of the pro-government Popular Democratic Party, was deputy prime minister for industrial policy from July 1995 to September 1996. He will now be responsible for fuel and energy issues. Kinakh replaces Volodymyr Kuratchenko, who was fired by Kuchma last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 1999). JM

UKRAINIANS DO NOT BELIEVE IN FAIR PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS. A June poll conducted by Socis Gallup revealed that 58 percent of respondents think that the presidential elections in Ukraine will be unfair or dishonest, Interfax reported on 2 August. In addition, 57 percent believe that the elections will have no influence whatsoever over developments in the country. Meanwhile, a July poll by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation put the popularity ratings of Ukraine's presidential candidates as follows: Leonid Kuchma 24.3 percent, Natalya Vitrenko 17.4 percent, Petro Symonenko 13.1 percent, Oleksandr Moroz 7.2 percent, Yevhen Marchuk 4.3 percent, Hennadiy Udovenko 3.6 percent, and Oleksandr Tkachenko 2.5 percent. JM

MULTINATIONAL COMPUTER MANEUVERS START IN UKRAINE. A multinational military computer exercise, codenamed Peace Shield-99, began on 2 August at the Yavorivskyy training range near Lviv, ITAR-TASS reported. The exercise, attended by 1,300 servicemen from 14 countries, is taking part under a cooperation program between the U.S. Department of Defense and the Ukrainian Defense Ministry. Its main purpose is to train brigade commanders and chief of staffs in conducting a multinational peacekeeping operation. JM

SLOVAK INTERIOR MINISTER HINTS AT KGB INVOLVEMENT IN MURDER. Ladislav Pittner on 2 August said police are investigating allegations that the main suspect in the murder earlier this year of former Economy Minister Jan Ducky was a KGB colonel. Pittner told the Bratislava weekly "Plus 7 dni" that police are trying to establish the true identity of Ukrainian mobster Oleg T., whose underworld name is Alex. He said the matter is "delicate" and "complicated" because the Ukrainian mafia combines organized crime with legal activities. He also said that police are investigating allegations by former Slovak Counter-Intelligence deputy director Jaroslav Svechota that the KGB may have been involved in the 1995 abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son. According to Svechota, the abduction was prompted by efforts to destabilize Slovakia and damage its reputation with the EU and NATO. MS