RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 1, No. 14, 31 August 1999

A Survey of Developments in Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team.


KUCHMA LISTS INDEPENDENT UKRAINE'S ACHIEVEMENTS. Speaking in Kyiv on the eve of Ukraine's Independence Day (24 August), President Leonid Kuchma summed up the results of the last eight years. Ukraine's main achievements in that period, he said, were the promulgation of the constitution, the maintenance of civic peace and accord, the creation of a "security belt" around Ukraine, the signing of the treaty on cooperation and good-neighborly relations with Russia, the halting of the decline in production, the introduction of the hryvnya (national currency), the creation of equal conditions for the country's all ethnic and religious associations, as well as granting official status to the Ukrainian language and ensuring that Russian and other ethnic minority languages can be used in the country.

A recent poll by Socis-Gallup on Ukrainian sentiment toward independence yielded the following results: 31 percent of respondents said they "absolutely support" Ukraine's independence, 30 percent are "inclined" to support it, 16 percent are "inclined" to oppose it, and 11 percent "absolutely oppose" it.

RUSSIAN BOLSHEVIKS ARRESTED FOR HOOLIGANISM IN SEVASTOPOL, WHILE UKRAINE'S RIGHT TO CRIMEA QUERIED. A Sevastopol court on 25 August sentenced 15 members of Russia's National Bolshevik Party (led by writer Eduard Limonov) to 15 days in jail for hooliganism. On 24 August, Ukraine's Independence Day, the 15 broke into a club belonging to the Russian Black Sea Fleet, climbed on to the roof, hoisted their party flag, threw leaflets, and shouted "SevastopolCrimea -Russia!" The leaflets said Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma "will choke on Sevastopol." They also protested Ukraine's jurisdiction over the city and demanded the revision of Sevastopol's status. The Bolsheviks, who came from Moscow and Smolensk, were arrested by Russian Black Sea Fleet guards and handed over to local police.

Meanwhile, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" (which is sponsored by Russian financial mogul Boris Berezovskii) continues to question Ukraine's legal rights to Crimea, despite the fact that the Russian-Ukrainian treaty on friendship, cooperation, and partnership--which guarantees the territorial integrity of both signatories--went into effect on 1 April. According to the newspaper, the ratification of the treaty breached the Russian Constitution, because although Crimea was transferred to Ukraine in 1954, it de jure remained in Russia. Therefore, Russia can claim the treaty "partly invalid" on the basis of the Vienna convention on international agreements.

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" went on to argue that since Russia has renounced its rights to Crimea under the treaty with Ukraine, Turkey could now demand the "return" of Crimea to its jurisdiction. According to this line of argument, when Crimea was incorporated into Russia in 1783, Russia signed an agreement with the Ottoman Empire (Turkey's legal predecessor) stipulating the Ottoman Empire can demand Crimea back after Russia gives up its rights to the peninsula.

TAX INSPECTORS ASSAULT ROCKET ARMY FOR TAXES. ColonelGeneral Volodymyr Mychtyuk, commander of the 43rd Rocket Army, has sent a letter to Ukrainian Premier Valeriy Pustovoytenko, warning him that the implementation in Ukraine of the U.S.-sponsored Collective Threat Reduction Agreement (known also as the Nunn-Lugar agreement) is threatened. He explained that the threat comes from tax inspectors who have begun to question the tax breaks enjoyed by some 500 Ukrainian firms that, in their capacity as subcontractors of U.S. firms, are involved in the scrapping of SS-18 and SS-20 missiles as well as the destruction of those missiles' silos and launching pads.

Chief State Tax Inspector Serhiy Merezhka published an article in the State Tax Administration bulletin arguing that Ukrainian firms should pay a 20 percent tax on the amount they receive for dismantling nuclear weaponry. According to the 21 August edition of the Ukrainian-based "Segodnya," some tax inspectors regarded this article as a normative act and tried to enforce unpaid taxes. Thus, a group of masked and armed tax inspectors (called a "unit of physical protection") terrorized the staff of the 43rd Rocket Army and confiscated virtually all documents under the pretext of "elucidating all circumstances" related to the payment of taxes.

Moreover, the Strum enterprise in Vinnytsya was fined 486,000 hryvni ($108,000) for not possessing the documentation entitling it to tax breaks from the Defense Ministry. The enterprise produced the required document after paying the fine but was not reimbursed. Premier Pustovoytenko's bid to intervene with the State Tax Administration proved futile: tax inspectors fined Strum once again, this time for 768,000 hryvni.

"Segodnya" suggests that tax inspectors are so eager to impose fines because they take a 30 percent cut for themselves. If a court finds that a fine was illegally imposed, the money is returned not from the State Tax Administration's budget but from the State Treasury. This practice of enforcing taxes is threatening the disruption of the Collective Threat Reduction program in Ukraine, according to "Segodnya."

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "Whatever one may think, thanks to this reform today's Poland is neither Ukraine nor Belarus." -- Polish parliamentary deputy Stefan Niesiolowski on 23 August, commenting on the sweeping economic reform launched by Poland's first non-communist government, formed 10 years ago under the premiership of Tadeusz Mazowiecki.

"The ancient town of Brahin [in the radioactively contaminated area of Homel Oblast], whose population was 80 percent Belarusian only 20 years ago, today bears witness to a rather different ethnic situation. All Jews have left the town, many Belarusians were resettled following the Chornobyl accident, and now a majority of Brahin residents consists of illegal and half-legal migrants from the Caucasus and Asia. They have seized our houses (including my own), [they] are building a mosque. ...They have brought with them not only Islam and Turkic languages, but also drugs and crime. They are given various assistance (including humanitarian aid for those affected by the Chornobyl accident), virtually all of them have no jobs and pay no taxes." -- Letter in the 23 August "Nasha niva" from a reader in Homel.

"We have come to a firm conclusion: 31 October 1999 will not be a day of regular elections, it will be a turning point in Ukraine's history. The citizens must elect not a president but a savior of the state. Judging by all appearances, if the incumbent president stays in power, the state will be ruined completely, Ukraine will lose its sovereignty. We appeal to all people of good will: Let us unite! The Fatherland is in danger! Your children and grandchildren face slavery in the future. We address Leonid Danylovich Kuchma with a categorical demand: Stop mocking at the good, hard-working, and patient people! Over the six years of your premiership and presidency, Ukraine has lost more than during the Nazi occupation. Report immediately to the people on your rule. Confess your guilt. Ask the people for pardon. Such a step is the only good deed that you still can do for Ukraine." -- From the 24 August appeal of four presidential hopefuls--Yevhen Marchuk, Oleksandr Moroz, Volodymyr Oliynyk, and Oleksandr Tkachenko. The four pledged to choose one joint candidate from among their ranks in order to beat Kuchma in the first round of the 31 October elections.

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.

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONISTS SAY KUCHMA SHOULD NOT MEET LUKASHENKA. A group of prominent Belarusian oppositionists has appealed to Ukrainian political parties and organizations to "remind" Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma that Lukashenka is now a "usurper," Belapan reported on 30 August. The appeal calls Kuchma's planned meeting with Lukashenka in Belarus a "political and moral mistake. To support Lukashenka means to approve the restoration of the Russian empire," the Belarusian oppositionists conclude. JM

KUCHMA SAYS LEFTIST PRESIDENT SPELLS UKRAINE'S ISOLATION. Leonid Kuchma said in Simferopol on 30 August that Ukraine will find itself in "political and economic isolation" if a left-wing candidate wins this fall's presidential elections, Interfax reported. Kuchma argued that if a leftist president is installed in Ukraine, "the world will never agree to restructure or write off our debts, and we will become bankrupt and a default will be declared." He expressed the conviction that his re-election will make it possible for Ukraine to restructure its debts. "Poland had $15 billion of its external debt written off, and it is time to do the same for Ukraine," the "Eastern Economic Daily" quoted Kuchma as saying. JM

UKRAINE, GREECE SIGN MILITARY COOPERATION ACCORD. Greek Defense Minister Akis Tsohatzpoulos and Ukrainian Industry Minister Vasyl Hureyev, meeting in Kyiv on 30 August, signed an agreement on military and technical cooperation, Interfax reported. Ukraine will soon supply two hovercrafts worth $100 million to the Greek navy. Tsohatzpoulos told journalists that Greece is also interested in buying tanks and transport planes from Ukraine. JM

SLOVAKIA TO INTRODUCE VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR UKRAINIANS. Inspecting the Slovak-Ukrainian border on 30 August, Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner told journalists that Slovakia will "probably" introduce visa requirements for Ukrainian citizens and nationals of other former Soviet countries by the end of 1999, CTK reported. He said he would have preferred the requirement to have been introduced a long time ago but noted that Slovakia wished to coordinate its visa policy with that of the Czech Republic and other Visegrad group countries. Pittner said that the Slovak government regards the border with Ukraine as being "the future eastern border of the EU" and that "Brussels views it the same way." MS