TURKMEN PRESIDENT OUTLINES GAS PRIORITIES. In an interview published in "Vremya novostei" on 26 September, Saparmurat Niyazov said that Ashgabat has not rejected outright any of the proposed gas export pipelines currently under discussion, including the Trans-Caspian pipeline. But he added that proceeding from "national interests," the Turkmen leadership will implement only those pipeline projects that benefit Turkmenistan, noting that financial guarantees are required before a final agreement can be signed on the Trans-Caspian project. Niyazov said that Ashgabat has agreed to a Russian request to increase gas exports this year from 20 billion cubic meters to 30 billion cubic meters but that Russia has not yet agreed to Turkmenistan's proposed price hike from $36 to $38 per 1,000 cubic meters. He hinted that Turkmenistan will renege on the preliminary agreement negotiated two months ago by Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Timoshenko, whereby Ukraine will pay $36 per 1,000 cubic meters of Turkmen gas, of which only 40 percent will be paid in cash (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 2000). Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma was to have traveled to Ashgabat this month to finalize that agreement. LF
RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
A Survey of Developments in Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team.
BELARUS-RUSSIA UNION ADVANCES BACKWARD. Last week, Belarus took a decisive step backward in its integration with Russia when it announced it is re-introducing customs checkpoints on the Russian border as of 1 October. The action applies to commodity shipments by third countries, while the movement of Russian shipments will continue to be free. The Belarusian side says the move is in response to the similar measure taken by Russia earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 18 April 2000).
Russia re-introduced customs control on the border with Belarus after it had become apparent that owing to lower Belarusian duties, many exporters to Russia brought their commodities to Belarus, paid customs duties there, and subsequently re-shipped those commodities for sale in Russia. Moscow said it suffered heavy losses owing to this practice and resolved to put an end to it.
"Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" reported on 20 September that following the Russian move, the shipment of goods from Russia to Belarus has remained at the previous level, while from Belarus to Russia have fallen threefold. This means, the newspaper concluded, that Belarus's revenues from customs duties have fallen by approximately the same factor.
"Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" also reported that Moscow has more unpleasant surprises for Minsk in store: Russia is soon to simplify the rules for collecting customs duties on some 2,000 commodity items. The Belarusian newspaper commented: "The point of the Customs Union for our country was in the fact that our duties would be lower, while the system of levying customs tariffs simpler. It has become clear in the end that Russia will not make any concessions [to Belarus in the sphere of customs regulations], so Belarus's State Customs Committee finally decided to re-establish customs checkpoints."
There have been no customs checkpoints on the Belarusian-Russian border since 1995, when Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and then Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin dug out a border pole in a symbolic ceremony that was broadly publicized in both countries' media. "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" reported that Minsk is planning no ceremony for repositioning the former border poles.
OPPOSITION BID FOR AIR TIME YIELDS HATEFUL RESPONSE. Vintsuk Vyachorka, leader of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front Party, which is boycotting the 15 October legislative elections, asked Belarusian Television for air time in order to be able to explain to the country his party's position on the upcoming ballot. Even in terms of the generally low ethical and intellectual standards of the Belarusian state media, the "Panarama" main newscast's response on 19 September was surprising in its hateful tone, disparaging content, and primitive and illogical reasoning. It seems that under its newly elected chief, Viktar Chykin, Belarusian Television is exhibiting new degrees of hatred toward the opposition. The program's commentator Ya. Myaleshka said:
Television viewer Vintsuk Vyachorka, who shares this function with that of chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front Party, has sent a letter to the leadership of national television in which he asks that he be granted air time to present his position [on the elections] and quotes strange rationales [for his request]. According to Vyachorka's logic, a boycott of the elections is a form of participation in them. Most likely, Mr. Vintsuk [Vyachorka] remembered how some time ago, under the watchful eyes of his staunch Bolshevik-Leninist father (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 5 September 2000), he studied at night scientific communism with dialectical materialism. As the saying goes, you cannot ruin your talent, even if you drink too much. [The knowledge of] Marxist dialectic is a special talent. However, it is a double-edged sword. For example, Vyachorka did not participate in the parade of homosexuals in Minsk, despite the fact that the organizers warmly invited opposition leaders. The invitation, incidentally, was explained by the fact that abroad, main oppositionists to the regime [ed. note: it is not specified which regime is meant] behave very tolerantly toward sexual minorities. However, Vyachorka, so to speak, boycotted the invitation from the queers. Here is a question: If you were told that Vyachorka did participate in the parade of homosexuals, but in a particular form, would that be an offense to him?"
It should be added that the above-mentioned parade, as well as other events planned within the framework of the "Gay Pride 2000" festival in Minsk, did not take place because the authorities disrupted the planned festival (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September 2000).
THE MOST DIFFICULT YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE. A poll conducted by the Ukrainian Center for Economic and Political Studies from 28 July to 10 August among 2012 Ukrainians showed that nearly half of Ukrainian citizens believe 1999 and 2000 have been the most difficult years in the nine-year history of Ukraine's independence. Of those polled, 26.5 percent pointed to 2000 as the most difficult year, 22.6 percent to 1999, 7.8 percent to 1998, and 6.6 percent to 1991.
The poll found that 32.3 percent of Ukrainians would like to emigrate from Ukraine and settle in another country, while 61.5 percent said they would prefer to stay at home. The difficult economic situation was quoted as the main reason for leaving Ukraine forever (81.7 percent).
The main reason for the dire economic situation was believed to be the lack of professionalism of the country's leadership (36.6 percent), the disruption of old economic ties (25.8 percent), and the non-observance of laws (13.8 percent).
The poll also found that Ukrainians are very distrustful of their political elite: 72.1 percent said they cannot think of anyone who could be given the title "the conscience of the Ukrainian nation," while 2.7 percent suggested Premier Viktor Yushchenko, 2 percent Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, 1.7 percent Minister of Culture Bohdan Stupka, and 1.5 percent President Leonid Kuchma.
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 DEPUTY PREMIER QUIZZED ABOUT TIES TO LAZARENKO. Yuliya Timoschenko has given U.S. federal agents a deposition and answered questions about her past connections to former Ukrainian Premier Pavlo Lazarenko, who is being held in the U.S. on embezzlement charges, dpa reported on 26 September, citing Interfax. Timoschenko was the number two person in Lazarenko's Hromada party and in the mid-1990s was the president of Ukraine's United Energy Systems (UES). Ukrainian authorities have accused Lazarenko of giving the UES a monopoly on Russian gas imports in return for cash payments to his offshore bank accounts. Timoschenko has denied any wrongdoing. U.S. investigators are also questioning Vladimir Falkovich and Timoschenko's husband, Oleksander, who are former UES board members. PB
UKRAINIAN POLICE DEFUSE BOMB AT NEWSPAPER'S OFFICE. A homemade bomb was found and disarmed by police at the offices of the "Bulvar" newspaper in Kyiv on 26 September, AP reported. Police said the bomb was defused three minutes before it was set to go off. Officials with "Bulvar" said they had not received any threats. Meanwhile, police said there is still no information on the disappearance of missing journalist Heorhiy Gongadze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2000). PB
Romania___________10_______4_______4______18 Ukraine____________3_______7_______5______15 Belarus____________2_______1_______10______13 Bulgaria___________5_______3_______2_______10 Poland_____________4_______4_______1_______9 Czech Rep._________2_______1_______3_______6 Hungary____________3_______1_______1_______5 Slovakia___________1_______3_______1_______5 Lithuania__________2_______0_______2_______4 Slovenia___________2_______0_______0_______2 Croatia____________1_______0_______1_______2 Latvia_____________1_______0_______1_______2 Estonia____________0_______0_______2_______2 Moldova____________0_______1_______0_______1 Yugoslavia_________0_______1_______0_______1 Albania____________0_______0_______0_______0 Bosnia-Herzeg._____0_______0_______0_______0 Macedonia__________0_______0_______0_______0