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RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 3, No. 2, 23 January 2001

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


KUCHMA SACKS 'THE ONLY MAN' IN CABINET. President Leonid Kuchma on 19 January sacked Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko following a request from the Prosecutor-General's Office that indicted her on charges of gas smuggling, document forgery, and tax evasion. The charges relate to the period in 1996-97, when Tymoshenko headed the Unified Energy Systems of Ukraine and was involved in gas and energy deals with Russia. If found guilty, she will face 10 years in prison. ProsecutorGeneral Mykhaylo Potebenko argued that Tymoshenko, while remaining in her cabinet post, might influence the investigation of her case. The 20 January "Zerkalo nedeli" scathingly remarked that, following this logic, Kuchma should also fire Potebenko and a number of other officials who are implicated in the disappearance of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze and can influence the investigation of Gongadze's case.

Yuliya Tymoshenko commented on her dismissal to "Zerkalo nedeli" as follows:

"Possibly, I should say at this moment that the president brazenly violated the constitution by adopting the resolution [to dismiss me] on his own, without a request from the prime minister. But such a fact is nothing new. With regard to my person, unlawful and illegal methods of struggle have been used since a long time, beginning with the unfounded instigation of criminal proceedings and ending with the reanimation of a five-year-old Zaporizhzhya case, which the Prosecutor's Office already opened and closed twice...

"Another thing is important: My dismissal is the most graphic proof that the president's business entourage if far stronger than the government and those government members who are trying to introduce order in the country. Today it has became ultimately clear that order in the fuel and energy sector is not needed either by the president of the so-called oligarchs. [My dismissal] confirms all what I have said before. Now the operators of shadow businesses may mark 19 January in the calendar with a red pencil as the 'Day of Liberation of Oligarchs.'

"I do not intend to leave the country. Irrespective of where I am -- in prison, or at liberty -- I will now, once and for all, go over to the opposition against the current regime. I hope the Fatherland Party will support me."

Premier Yushchenko has not commented on Tymoshenko's sacking. Kuchma's spokesman, Oleksandr Martynenko, said the prime minister's job was safe and quoted the president as saying Yushchenko will have a say in choosing Tymoshenko's replacement.

Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz commented to Interfax that Tymoshenko's sacking is intended to discredit Yushchenko's cabinet and divert the public opinion from the tape scandal implicating the president in Gongadze's disappearance. Moroz added that the charges currently brought against Tymoshenko had been known to the president and law enforcement bodies even before she assumed her cabinet post. Moroz noted that "this circumstance did not embarrass the president when he appointed her as prime minister."

Ukrainian Popular Rukh leader Yuriy Kostenko said Tymoshenko's sacking is a preparatory step for ousting Yushchenko's entire cabinet. Kostenko added that Tymoshenko's dismissal will also destabilize the political situation in Ukraine, since now the parliament will find it extremely difficult to form a "constructive majority" if Tymoshenko's Fatherland Party, which controls 31 seats in the 449-strong legislature, refuses to cooperate with the government.

Tymoshenko's heroic effort to reform Ukraine's crimeridden fuel and energy sector has led to changing most utility payments in the sector from barter to cash. In doing this, she had to resort to some administrative measures, which provoked criticism not only from the oligarchs, whose interests she allegedly harmed, but also from market-oriented politicians and international experts. But it is beyond doubt that she belonged to the most effective government members in Ukraine. Her personal courage and determination -- she pursued her line despite the arrest of her husband -- has earned her the nickname of "the only man" in Yushchenko's cabinet. And, owing to her extremely handsome and telegenic appearance, she was also called "the world's most beautiful deputy premier." There is no way for Kuchma to find a match for Yuliya Tymoshenko to fill the vacancy after her, even if he wanted to. But obviously, he will not.

"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.

MOSCOW CONCERNED BY GUUAM'S FOCUS Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko on 22 January said that Moscow has noticed "signs of increased military cooperation" in the activities of GUUAM, the regional association involving Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova, Interfax reported. Such a tilt represents "a divergence from its initially declared goals," he said. PG

RUSSIA-UKRAINE BLACK SEA SQUADRON PLANNED. Admiral Viktor Kravchenko, the chief of the naval staff, told Interfax on 22 January that Russia intends to work with Ukraine to set up a joint naval squadrom based in Sevastopol. Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry told the Russian news service the same day that Moscow has renewed training flights of the TU-95MS over the extreme north. PG

TYMOSHENKO DECLARES WAR ON UKRAINE'S OLIGARCHS. Yuliya Tymoshenko, who was sacked by President Leonid Kuchma from the post of deputy premier last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001), told journalists on 22 January that the president dismissed her under pressure from oligarchs, Ukrainian media reported. Tymoshenko said she is not going to fight personally against Kuchma but she declared her intention of becoming a unifying factor for Ukrainians in their struggle against oligarchic clans. She promised to support Premier Viktor Yushchenko providing that he continues "the course we have built together." Tymoshenko seems to have moderated her stance since last week, when she said she will remain in opposition "to the current regime." JM

UKRAINE'S PRO-MOSCOW ORTHODOX CHURCH ASKS POPE TO DELAY VISIT. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate has asked Pope John Paul II to postpone his Ukrainian visit which is scheduled to take place from 23-27 June. The church warned the pope against meeting representatives of other Ukrainian Orthodox groups, which the Moscow Patriarchate considers as "schismatics." "If during your visit there is a meeting between Your Holiness and anyone of the schismatic would mean the practical end of all relations between our churches," Reuters quoted from the Moscow Patriarchate's statement. The statement also suggested that the visit may contribute to whipping up tensions between Orthodox and Uniate believers in Ukraine. Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the same day that the pope's trip to Ukraine will go ahead as planned. JM

UKRAINIAN RIGHT-WING FORCES UNITE. Some 30 political parties and public associations have created a union of national democratic forces called the Ukrainian Right Wing (Ukrayinska pravytsya), Interfax reported on 21 January. In particular, the union includes the Ukrainian Popular Rukh, the Fatherland Party, the Ukrainian Republican Party, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, and the Ukrainian Cossacks. The union's declared goal is to coordinate efforts for "embodying the Ukrainian national idea" and create an electoral block of the right-wing forces. JM

A GAGAUZ-TRANSDNIESTER ALLIANCE? The moving up of elections in Moldova has prompted officials in Gagauz-Yeri to step up their contacts first with the unrecognized government of the Transdniester and then with Russian officials, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 18 January. On 4 January, Gagauz leader Dumitru Croitor signed an accord with separatist leader Igor Smirnov on expanding cooperation, and in the coming week Croitor is slated to travel to Moscow to seek greater support, according to the Russian newspaper. On 22 January, Smirnov told U.S. envoy Carey Cavanaugh that the talks on a settlement are continuing, not due to Moldova's positive position, but to the mediation efforts of Russia, Ukraine and the OSCE. Smirnov also said the Transdniester is "not bound" by the decisions of the OSCE 1999 Istanbul summit, in which it had not participated. PG