UKRAINIAN PREMIER PLEDGES TO PAY PENSION BACKLOG BY OCTOBER. Viktor Yushchenko on 25 July said the government will pay all pension debts by 1 October, three months earlier than the cabinet promised in February, Interfax reported. "The government has received a direct order from President Leonid Kuchma...who has set the task of putting an end to this shameful phenomenon," Yushchenko noted. According to figures released by Yushchenko earlier this month, the state owed a total of 1.45 billion hryvni ($268 million) as of 1 January, and only 32 percent of Ukraine's pensioners had been paid in full. As of 1 July, 62 percent had received full payments, but the government still owed some 850 million hryvni to pensioners. JM
UKRAINE TO REQUIRE FOREIGN PASSPORTS FOR TRAVEL TO RUSSIA, BELARUS. Viktor Kyryk, head of the Consular Department at the Foreign Ministry, has announced that people traveling between Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus will require passports in the near future, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported on 25 July. Kyryk noted that this requirement is intended to reinforce control over the border. Currently, there is no formal passport control at Ukraine's borders with Belarus and Russia, and Ukrainians can visit those countries using only internal passports or other identity cards. JM
U.S. JUDGE DENIES BAIL FOR UKRAINIAN EX-PREMIER. A U.S. judge on 25 July denied bail for former Ukrainian Premier Pavlo Lazarenko, who is in a federal prison outside San Francisco and is accused of money-laundering. The judge said Lazarenko might attempt to flee the country rather than stand trial on charges of laundering the $114 million that he allegedly received in bribes while serving as Ukraine's prime minister. JM
TURKMENISTAN, UKRAINE RESOLVE GAS DEBT DISPUTE. During talks in Ashgabat on 25 July with visiting Ukrainian Deputy Premier Yuliya Timoshenko, Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov agreed to extend by two years the deadline for repayment of Kyiv's restructured debt for deliveries of natural gas in 1993-1994, Interfax reported. One third of the total $211 million debt must be paid in cash before the end of 2002, and the remainder in goods and services for Turkmenistan's oil and gas sector. In addition, before the end of this year Ukraine will pay $27 million out of a total $107 million owed to Turkmenistan by Naftohaz Ukrainy. It is not clear whether agreement was also reached on further Ukrainian purchases of Turkmen gas or when deliveries, which were halted in May 1999, will be resumed. LF
An article in a Russian government newspaper suggests that Moscow may be preparing to launch a new campaign to force Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze to become more cooperative with the Russian Federation.
The Russian military newspaper "Krasnaya zvezda" on 25 July sharply criticized the Georgian government for allowing a Chechen information center to operate in Tbilisi, a story picked up and given broader circulation by the ITAR-TASS news agency. The newspaper said that Moscow had officially protested the existence of this center but that Georgia had ignored Russia's demand that the Chechen center be closed.
This Russian complaint is part of a broader effort by Moscow to seek the closure of pro-Chechen organizations around the world. In the last few weeks alone, the Russian authorities have criticized Ukraine, the U.S. and other countries for allowing unofficial Chechen representations to operate in their capitals. Indeed, Russian criticism of Tbilisi on this point appears to be part of a larger campaign--some of it in public, like the latest Moscow article, and some of it through diplomatic channels--against the independent approach Shevardnadze has shown in his dealings with Moscow and the Russian-sponsored Commonwealth of Independent States.
Since returning to Georgia in 1992, Shevardnadze has sought closer relations with the West, something many in Moscow view as an effort to distance his country from Russia. He has also promoted pipeline routes like Baku-Ceyhan and organizations like GUUAM (a trade and security grouping comprising Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova), both of which Moscow opposes and has tried to disrupt.
Diplomats who have met with Shevardnadze since the last CIS summit in Moscow say that he has sometimes appeared shaken by the new harder line taken by Russian President Vladimir Putin. A confirmation of that may be the apparent rush of the Georgian president to appear more agreeable with Moscow. Earlier this week, for example, Shevardnadze categorically rejected Russian media reports that $34 million had passed through Chechen missions in Georgia and elsewhere to anti-Moscow Chechen fighters. He went out of his way to say that Russia is acting "absolutely correctly and without delay" in its efforts "to strengthen the border," noting that Georgia, too, is working to strengthen security along that frontier. The OSCE recently deployed several dozen observers along that border.
Shevardnadze's remarks come on the heels of three other developments that appear to be part of a new Russian campaign against him. First and perhaps most significant, an extraordinary congress of the People's Patriotic Union of Georgia last weekend called for the creation of "a fraternal and equal union between Georgia and Russia." This group, which unites 18 left-wing parties and groups in Georgia, issued an appeal to Putin saying that "in the fraternal constellation of a new union, Georgia will be able to restore its virtually lost independence and territorial integrity and revive the country's economy."
Such appeals parallel those already made by Armenian groups seeking to pressure Yerevan into joining the Russia-Belarus Union and appear to reflect a Russian effort to intervene in Georgian domestic politics.
Second, Putin used his meetings in Central Asia earlier this month to put pressure on Tashkent to devote more attention to the CIS than to GUUAM, a shift that calls into question Shevardnadze's regional policies and leaves him and his country potentially more isolated.
And third, Moscow appears to be dragging its feet on the withdrawal of some of its military bases from Georgia under the terms of the OSCE accords signed in Istanbul in 1999. While Georgian officials last week claimed that talks between the U.S. and Russia were "successful" in arranging American financing for the withdrawal, Russian agencies said that the talks did not "yield results."
Shevardnadze has long sought the removal of Russian forces from Georgia, but Moscow has been less interested in such a move. By creating difficulties in these talks with Washington, Moscow can put additional pressure on Tbilisi to accept a greater and longer Russian presence on Georgian territory than it might otherwise be willing to agree to.
Indeed, the visit to Tbilisi last week by Colonel General Vitalii Gritsan, the head of the coordinating service of the CIS border guards departments, may have been intended to signal Russia's interest in continued involvement in bilateral cooperation with Georgian units. While Moscow's immediate target of this campaign is Shevardnadze, the Russian leadership clearly intends its treatment of the independent-minded Georgian leader as an object lesson for other governments in the region.
But past Russian efforts of this kind suggest that Moscow may generate a backlash not only in Georgia but elsewhere, leading Shevardnadze to revive his efforts to gain greater Western support and other regional leaders to look outward as well.