RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 1, No. 29, 21 December 1999

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


STANDOFF IN CRIMEA. On 16 December, 51 deputies of the 100- seat Crimean Supreme Council voted to dismiss its presidium headed by Crimean Communist Party leader Leonid Hrach, Interfax reported. The vote was the culmination of the harsh standoff between parliamentary speaker Hrach and Crimean Prime Minister Serhiy Kunitsyn, which reportedly began on 7 November, when Hrach publicly accused Kunitsyn of preparing a "criminal revolution" on the peninsula. Kunitsyn finally gained the upper hand in the standoff by mustering the support of the "Zlahoda" and "Respublika" caucuses in the Crimean legislature. Hrach, who is supported by the 45-seat Communist and People's Democracy caucus, declared the dismissal to be "destructive and illegal" (in the sense that it violated the parliamentary regulations, which give considerable leverage in the government for the Communist-dominated legislative presidium). He announced that the parliament will go into recess until January. However, Kunitsyn's supporters-- possessing a formal quorum--resolved to continue the session on 21 January. Kyiv immediately hastened to send mediators to Simferopol. It is not clear how the conflict will develop and whom Kyiv will choose to support. Ukrainian President Kuchma commented earlier this month that both Hrach and Kunitsyn "are equally responsible for the socioeconomic and political stability in Crimea."

The 7 December "Den" speculated on possible motives behind the current political crisis in Crimea and the enmity between Hrach and Kunitsyn.

According to the newspaper, the current cabinet of the autonomous republic is a "paradoxical" regional coalition based on the pro-Kuchma Popular Democratic Party and the Communist Party led by Petro Symonenko (the Crimean Communist Party headed by Hrach is a regional branch of Symonenko's organization), which opposed each other on the nationwide scale in this year's presidential elections. The serious cracks in the Crimean coalition appeared exactly during the election campaign.

Another supposition ascribes the initiation of the political crisis to the "Respublika" caucus (10 deputies) and its political ally, the "Soyuz" party, which formerly cooperated with Hrach's Communists but--"washed out from power structures by the Communists"--changed their position during the presidential election. According to "Den," Hrach's ouster was planned by the "Respublika"/"Soyuz" alliance as "the necessary condition for a new distribution of portfolios in Crimea."

"Ukraine could be compared to a sick person, lying on a table, cut up by a surgeon who lacks proper tools to finish the necessary treatment. If the world--and the U.S. in particular--waits to see what happens, the patient dies. Ukraine needs massive Western assistance."--Leonid Kuchma in the 20 December "Newsweek."

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.

UKRAINE'S KUCHMA HAILS STRONG CENTRIST SHOWING IN RUSSIAN BALLOT. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 20 December praised the strong showing of centrist parties in the Russian parliamentary elections, Kuchma's spokesman Oleksandr Martynenko told Interfax. According to Kuchma, such results mean the success of forces oriented toward introducing further democratic and market transformations. Kuchma noted that a majority of Russians demonstrated their belief that the political and economic processes in their country are irrevocable. Meanwhile, parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko said the electoral victory of Russian Communists will positively influence the development of UkrainianRussian relations. JM

CZECHS TO START DEPORTING ILLEGAL RUSSIAN, UKRAINIAN RESIDENTS. Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich on 20 December told CTK that his ministry will start deporting illegal residents from Russia and Ukraine,and that the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry is looking into ways to penalize companies that employ such immigrants without paying taxes and social insurance for them. Grulich said the illegal residents will leave the country on special trains escorted by police, and that Slovakia has already consented to allowing their transit through its territory. Grulich said the best way to combat illegal residence or employment would be to impose visa requirements for Russian and Ukrainian nationals, but that the Foreign Ministry opposes that measure. MS

On 8 December, the eighth anniversary of the Soviet Union's demise, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, signed a treaty on the creation of a union state of Russia and Belarus. This was the third attempt by those politicians to breathe life into the common state project, which had remained largely on paper. Yeltsin commented that the treaty is "epoch-making." Lukashenka--who had called the document a "laughing stock" in October--was quick to remark that he will sign another accord with Yeltsin before the end of the Russian president's term in office. He revealed to journalists that the next treaty will deal simply with a union state, not with the creation of a union state.

On 8 October, Russia's "Rossiiskaya gazeta" and Belarus's "Sovetskaya Belorussiya" published the draft treaty for "public discussion." That discussion reportedly resulted in 1,500 proposals to amend the document, but no definitive version of the draft was made public before its signing. Belarusian officials working on the draft commented last month that 99 percent of the amendments included in it were "purely technical." However, it remains unclear in what kind of state the Russians and Belarusians have been living since 8 December.

The discussion of the treaty draft, which was allegedly conducted in both countries, provoked a slew of sarcastic comments by Russian and Belarusian independent commentators alike. Belarusian official media reported that some 1.5 million people took part in this debate, including 1.1 million in Belarus. "It turns out that 400,000 Russians decided the fate of the remaining 150 million," one Russian newspaper commented wryly. Belarusian independent media reported that the "public discussion" in Belarus took the form of Soviet-style meetings at plants and factories, where management praised the unification with Russia, while workers--instead of stormily applauding as in older times-- sat gloomily silent.

According to the draft, the new union state will have the following joint bodies: a Supreme State Council, a bicameral parliament, a Council of Ministers, a court, and an Accounting Chamber. The signatory states are to voluntarily surrender part of their sovereign powers to these bodies. The document also calls for conducting coordinated foreign, military, and social policies. At the same time, however, Belarus and Russia will maintain their "sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, political systems, constitutions, state symbols, and other statehood attributes." The draft does not explain how these contradictory goals can be achieved in practice.

The signed treaty is accompanied by a timetable for the phased implementation of unification goals, for example, the introduction of a joint tax system in 2001 and a joint currency in 2005. The timetable, like the treaty itself, lacks any specifics regarding its implementation.

For Lukashenka and his regime, the 1999 treaty--even if it does not differ in essence from those signed in 1996 and 1997--has several obvious benefits. First, it ensures Russia's political protection and patronage for the Belarusian leader, who has become a pariah in international politics. Second, it extends Russia's economic assistance to Belarus's unreformed economy (Minsk will continue obtaining cheap Russian gas and oil and selling its products, which are unwanted elsewhere, on the Russian market). Third, it increases Lukashenka's possibilities as a player on the Russian political scene and doubtless will help sustain his desire to make it to the Kremlin as the ruler of both Russians and Belarusians.

Russia's benefits from the treaty are less obvious. From the economic viewpoint, there are virtually none. However, as some Russian commentators note, economic considerations in the union with Belarus are not paramount. Russia, those commentators argue, has never come to terms with the "loss" of Belarus and Ukraine eight years ago and is ready to pay dearly to get them back under its wings. Now, as Russian troops level Chechnya and Russians slowly recover their former sense of "imperial pride," Belarus's "voluntary" merger is a sign of brighter times for greater Russia. Besides, integration with Belarus is an important issue in the electoral rhetoric of all Russia's political forces.

Although it cannot be ruled out, it is hardly conceivable that Yeltsin, as his health continues to deteriorate rapidly, would want to use the merger with Belarus as a pretext for extending his term in office for yet another five years. On the other hand, it is also highly unlikely that anybody succeeding Yeltsin in the Kremlin would allow Lukashenka to influence, let alone participate in, Russia's political decision-making. Therefore, an "epochmaking" treaty, the fourth of its kind in four years, is most likely to be the next chapter in the Russian-Belarusian integration story.

It is difficult, however, to predict the end of this story. Will the Kremlin eventually absorb Belarus as the 90th subject of the Russian Federation? Or will it install a new leader in Minsk, as loyal to Moscow as Lukashenka, but devoid of pan-Slavic aspirations? The latter scenario might prove positive for the pauperized country of 10 million, all of whose energies seem harnessed either to fanning or hindering Lukashenka's personal ambitions.