RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 2, No. 20, 30 May 2000

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


CRIMEA FACING ANOTHER POLITICAL CRISIS? The 100-seat legislature of the Crimean Autonomous Republic on 24 May voted 68 to 20 to dismiss the peninsula's government led by Premier Serhiy Kunitsyn. An adopted resolution says the performance of the Crimean cabinet and its head has been unsatisfactory this year.

Ukraine's First Deputy Premier Yuriy Yekhanurov commented the next day that the ouster of the Crimean cabinet will destabilize the situation on the peninsula. "The economy is improving and positive trends are increasing, so the tension that took place [in Crimea] is quite absurd," Interfax quoted Yekhanurov as saying.

More harsh were comments by presidential administration staff chief Volodymyr Lytvyn who said that President Leonid Kuchma has every reason "to cancel" the ouster of Kunitsyn's cabinet. According to Lytvyn, the best solution would be for the Crimean parliament to revoke its resolution on the cabinet's ouster because of alleged violations of parliamentary procedures during the vote. Lytvyn said: "[If the Crimean parliament] fails to demonstrate its good will and understanding of the situation, Ukraine's president, within the framework of its powers, will do everything to ensure political stability in Crimea [and] to direct the work of the autonomous republic's authority bodies toward resolving economic problems, not political quarrels. The president has already acquired unpleasant experience in resolving such problems," Lytvyn added, in an apparent allusion to the abolition of the Crimean constitution and the introduction of a direct presidential rule in Crimea at the beginning of Kuchma's first term in office.

It seems, however, that it will not be easy for Kuchma "to cancel" the Crimean parliament's decision on Kunitsyn's dismissal. According to the Crimean constitution, the head of the Crimean government is appointed and dismissed with approval of the Ukrainian president. But if the Crimean premier is dismissed by a two-thirds majority (at least 67 votes), the president is obliged to approve such a dismissal unconditionally. Lytvyn argued that the Ukrainian constitution--which in his opinion is superior to all Crimean laws--does not include any provision on the unconditional dismissal of the Crimean premier. Lytvyn, however, had to admit that Ukrainian legislation is "contradictory and imperfect" in this particular case, adding that Kuchma's possible cancellation of Kunitsyn's ouster should be submitted to the Constitutional Court for expertise.

Kunitsyn commented that the legislature dismissed him to protect patrons in the peninsula's energy sector from an anti-corruption drive he had launched. Kunitsyn, however, mentioned no names. He also noted that there "were no economic arguments" against his government, stressing that his cabinet had spurred industrial growth early this year and halved its debt to public sector workers.

The recent cabinet dismissal is seen by some commentators as the culmination of the protracted standoff between parliamentary speaker Leonid Hrach, leader of the Crimean branch of the Communist Party of Ukraine, and Kunitsyn, who is supported by Kyiv and generally regarded as a reformer, even if a half-hearted one. Kuchma's mediation will surely aim at retaining the uneasy balance of power between Hrach's pro-Moscow Communists and those in both the parliament and the government who remain more or less loyal to Kyiv. It has not been clear yet whether Kuchma will surrender Kunitsyn and look for another man to head the Crimean cabinet or seek Kunitsyn's reinstatement.

"Since communism is a threat for the whole world, not just for Ukraine...I was astonished and shocked to see that communist statues and emblems still stand on I don't know what historical or aesthetic pretexts. A Lenin Kiev to me seems as shocking as having a statue of Adolf Hitler in Tel Aviv." -- French extreme nationalist JeanMarie Le Pen at a news conference in Kyiv on 23 May; quoted by Reuters.

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.

UKRAINIAN ARMY TROOPS TO BE REDUCED. Ukraine's National Council of Security and Defense has set target figures for reducing the number of army troops, Interfax reported on 29 May. The council announced that Ukraine's armed forces will total 400,000 by 31 December 2000 and 375,000 by 31 December 2005. Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk said the reductions are intended to bring the Ukrainian army closer to European models. He added that army units will be made more mobile, multifunctional, and efficient in combat. The numerical strength of Ukraine's army in 1997 was 476,000 troops. JM

U.S. AMBASSADOR URGES KYIV TO SET CHORNOBYL CLOSURE DATE. U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Stephen Pifer said on 29 May that Ukraine could improve its chances to raise funds to shore up the sarcophagus over Chornobyl's destroyed reactor if Kyiv announces a date to close the whole nuclear power plant, Reuters reported. "There have already been about $400 million raised to build a new sarcophagus over the destroyed reactor. We still need about $350 million and I expect that my government will shortly be announcing a fairly sizeable contribution," Pifer noted. He said Chornobyl will be one of the issues on the agenda during U.S. President Bill Clinton's visit to Ukraine on 5 June. JM

CRIMEAN COMMUNISTS RE-ELECT LEADER. Crimean Communists on 29 May re-elected Crimean speaker Leonid Hrach as first secretary of the Crimean Republican Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine, Interfax reported. They also adopted a resolution obliging Crimean Communists "to expose the anti-popular essence of Ukraine's regime, free all spheres of life from oligarchic domination, replace today's 'democracy' with genuine people's democracy, and gradually return social guarantees to the working people." The Crimean branch of Ukraine's Communist Party, which Hrach has led for nine years, has 8,600 members. JM