RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 1, No. 27, 7 December 1999

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

Pauperization Began After Chyhir's Resignation. Alyaksandr Sasnou, who was labor minister in Mikhail Chyhir's cabinet from 1994-96 and is now an opposition politician and independent expert, has concluded that the "swift pauperization" of the Belarusian population began after Chyhir resigned in November 1996 and President Alyaksandr Lukashenka appointed Syarhey Linh to head the government. According to "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" on 6 December, Sasnou said the average monthly wage at the time of Chyhir's resignation was $103.4, representing its peak in Belarus's entire post-perestroika period. After Linh took over and especially after Pyotr Prakapovich, a former construction specialist, was appointed head of the National Bank, the average monthly wage nosedived to $63 at the beginning of 1998. Following the Russian financial crisis in August 1998, the average monthly wage sank even further to some $33. The average monthly wage in the first eight months of 1999 amounted to $40.4, which put Belarus in sixth place among the CIS countries, after Kazakhstan ($97.7), Uzbekistan ($66.3), Russia ($60.2), Ukraine ($49.4), and Azerbaijan ($44.2).


Regrouping In Parliament. Over the past two weeks, the Ukrainian parliament saw a number of "deputy transfers." Some 20 deputies left their former caucuses to join others or to have no parliamentary affiliation whatsoever.

Ukrainian commentators and politicians suggest that the regrouping was due to the anticipated creation of a pro-government majority in the parliament. "It's nothing, don't worry, they will come back as soon as all [cabinet] portfolios are distributed," speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko told the parliament on 1 December, announcing a list of deputies who decided to change their parliamentary colors on that day. Tkachenko himself, however, should be worried more than most because the Peasant Party caucus, to which he belongs, has lost four deputies and now has only 10. According to the parliamentary regulations, a caucus must consist of at least 14 deputies (if it is unable to replenish its ranks within two weeks, it must be dissolved). Tkachenko said the Communist Party has decided to donate seven communist deputies to prop up the Peasant Party caucus, reportedly to reciprocate for the support Tkachenko gave to Petro Symonenko in the presidential election campaign. Some Ukrainian newspapers, meanwhile, reported that some deputies allegedly were bribed to change caucuses.

As of 2 December, the lineup in the Ukrainian parliament was as follows: the Communist Party--122 deputies, the Social Democratic Party (United)--33, Fatherland --31, the Popular Democratic Party--29, the Popular Rukh led by Yuriy Kostenko--28, the Revival of Regions--28, the Labor Party--27, the Left Center bloc (Socialists and Peasants)--25, the Green Party--19, the Popular Rukh led by Hennadiy Udovenko--16, Reforms-Congress --15, Independent--15, the Progressive Socialist Party--14, the Hromada party--12, the Peasants' Party--10. Twenty-one deputies remained without any parliamentary affiliation (the parliament currently has 445 deputies, while the constitution stipulates that it is to have 450).

Russian Oil To Bypass Ukraine? On 29 November, a commission of Russian governmental experts announced that there is an "economic expediency" for Russia to construct a pipeline between Sukhodolnaya and Rodionovo-Nesvetaiskaya (towns in Rostov Oblast) to bypass Ukrainian territory, "Izvestiya" reported on 30 November. At present, some 300 kilometers of the oil pipeline between Samara and the Russian port of Novorossiisk are located on Ukrainian territory. The commission asked the Transneft company to work out a bypass pipeline construction project.

According to the 30 November "Kommersant-Daily" and "Izvestiya," the reason for constructing the bypass pipeline is purely economic. Ukraine has repeatedly raised transit tariffs for Russian oil, and the cost of pumping one ton of oil through Ukraine stands at $2.35 or almost five times as much as through Russia. According to estimates by the Russian Ministry of Economy, Russia loses some $70 million every year on the Ukrainian stretch of the Samara-Novorossiisk oil pipeline.

It is expected that the bypass pipeline can be built within 18 months. The cost of the project is estimated at $113 million. Transneft will finance only 20 percent of that sum, while the rest will be provided by other investors. It is planned that the costs of constructing the pipeline will be recouped within eight years.

"Izvestiya" warned that the project may also have negative consequences for Russia. The daily argues that Ukraine would like to transfer to Russian management some of its oil refineries in exchange for a guarantee of continued Russian oil supplies. By building an alternate pipeline, Russia may harm relations with its neighbor and "lose control over Ukraine's fuel market," "Izvestiya" said.

Soviet Officers Pledge Restoration Of Socialism. Ukraine's Union of Soviet Officers (SRO), together with the Party of Communists (Bolsheviks) of Ukraine (PKBU), are to reinstate a socialist system in Ukraine in a "peaceful way." This news was revealed to Interfax on 30 November by SRO head Oleksandr Ohorodnykov. Ohorodnykov said the SRO and the PKBU intend to form a bloc to take part in the 2002 parliamentary elections. He added that his organization will not resort to terrorist actions even if the peaceful attempt to restore socialism in Ukraine fails. Ohorodnykov noted that the future socialist Ukraine should cooperate closely with Belarus and Russia, both of which, he added, should be ruled by Alyaksandr Lukashenka. He noted that the SRO has 18,000 members but has not yet been registered by the Justice Ministry. The PKBU, which is led by Colonel Oleksandr Kaspruk, has registered and has headquarters in Dnipropetrovsk.

"Today is not a day of personal triumph or victory, but a day of celebration for the entire Ukrainian community [and], in a larger sense, a day of triumph for all of Europe. The act of inauguration of the president for Ukraine crowns the list of significant events of the 20th century." -- Leonid Kuchma in his second-term inauguration speech on 30 November."

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.

...AS KUCHMA NOTES IMPORTANCE OF HIS MEETING WITH YELTSIN. After meeting with Yeltsin on 6 December, President Leonid Kuchma told reporters that the Russian government has agreed in principle on restructuring Ukraine's debt to Russia. According to Kuchma, Ukraine owes Russia some $3 billion, $1.4 billion of which is in unpaid gas bills. The two leaders also confirmed plans for the joint production of various passenger and cargo airplanes. Kuchma noted that Yeltsin was "in good form and in fine spirits" and that "the fact that we met is another indication of the importance of UkrainianRussian relations," according to Interfax. JAC

DECREE ON ABOLISHING COLLECTIVE FARMS IN UKRAINE DEEMED 'ERRONEOUS.' Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko said on 6 December that President Leonid Kuchma's decree on abolishing collective farms is an "unambiguously erroneous decree [that] undermines the lot of the entire state," Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 1999). "Nobody reckoned with either the economic expedience of [these] innovations or the losses inflicted on the country and people by the disintegration of collective farms," Tkachenko said, adding that Kuchma consulted with neither the parliament nor the people before making that decision. UNIAN quoted Vasyl Krutsenko, deputy head of the parliamentary agricultural committee, as saying the implementation of the decree will cause "starvation" in Ukraine. The committee is going to ask the Constitutional Court to examine whether the decree is constitutional. JM

UKRAINE HALTS PRIVATIZATION OF ENERGY COMPANIES. State Property Fund Chairman Oleksandr Bondar on 6 December ordered a halt to the privatization of energy suppliers, which had been decreed by the president in the summer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 1999), Interfax reported. The fund said privatization has been halted in connection with "difficulties in energy supplies in the winter period [as well as] the need to ensure efficient state control over the operation of energy companies and the process of the branch's restructuring." The privatization of energy companies has so far resulted in revenues totaling 90 million hryvni ($18.5 million). The state has retained a controlling interest in 20 of Ukraine's 27 regional energy suppliers. JM