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PATRIARCH HOPES FOR SLAVIC UNITY. In an interview published in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 14 April, Patriarch Aleksii II said that he hopes "for the rebirth of unity of the three fraternal Slavic peoples." He said that many people around the world will try to keep Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians apart, but that their spiritual unity will eventually triumph. PG

TURKMEN GAS PRODUCTION, EXPORTS UP. Turkmen gas production during the first quarter of 2001 grew by 23 percent compared with the corresponding period last year, Interfax reported on 13 April, quoting the Turkmen Institute for State Statistics and Information. Exports of natural gas in January-March 2001 increased by 30 percent compared with the first three months of 2000 to over 10 billion cubic meters, of which 7.5 billion cubic meters were delivered to Ukraine and 1.5 billion cubic meters to Iran. Turkmenistan is under contract to supply Ukraine, Iran, and Russia with a minimum of 46 billion cubic meters of gas this year. In 2000, Turkmenistan doubled gas extraction from 22.8 to 47 billion cubic meters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2001). LF

U.S. GRANTS ASYLUM TO FORMER KUCHMA BODYGUARD, MISSING JOURNALIST'S FAMILY... The U.S. State Department confirmed on 16 April that Washington has granted political asylum to Mykola Melnychenko, the former bodyguard of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, and the wife and two daughters of the missing journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, Reuters reported. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the decision to grant asylum was based on "standard international practice," and did not signal a change in U.S. policy toward Ukraine. Melnychenko has been in hiding in Europe since releasing audio tapes he says he recorded in the president's office that link Kuchma to Gongadze's disappearance. Kuchma has called Melnychenko a "traitor and a spy" and claims the tapes are forged. A headless corpse found outside Kyiv was initially reported, after testing, to be Gongadze's, though a later test performed outside of Ukraine said the tested tissue samples were not the journalist's. PB

...AS KYIV IN 'AMAZEMENT' OVER ACTION. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry called U.S. Ambassador to Kyiv Carlos Pascual on 14 April to demand an explanation for the granting of asylum and to express its "deep amazement regarding the decision," AP reported. The Prosecutor-General's Office said that Melnychenko has been charged with libel and forgery and that the decision to grant him asylum "ran counter to the spirit of Ukrainian-U.S. partnership." PB

THOUSANDS RALLY TO SUPPORT UKRAINIAN PREMIER. Some 2,000 people demonstrated outside the parliament in Kyiv on 17 April to show support for embattled Premier Viktor Yushchenko, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Yushchenko, who was to issue a report to the parliament on the government's work later in the day, faces a vote of noconfidence later this week. Some 217 parliament deputies signed a petition last week calling for the government to be removed. A no-confidence vote by some 226 deputies is needed for the government to be ousted. Yushchenko is regarded favorably by the West because of his attempts at reforming the country's economy. PB

KUCHMA STEPS IN TO SAVE OPPOSITION RADIO? The German press agency dpa reported on 13 April that President Kuchma instructed the National Council for Television and Radio to make a second review of the debts of Kyiv's Radio Kontinent before rescinding its broadcasting frequency. Earlier in the day, Mykyta Poturaev, the deputy head of the council, declared that Radio Kontinent's frequency would be given to another station because the station has failed to repay a 400,000 hryvni (approximately $300,000 at the time) credit it received from a state bank in 1996. Radio Kontinent Director Serhiy Sholokh said his station will appeal the decision, which he said is politically motivated. The independent Radio Kontinent has original music programs but rebroadcasts news from Deutsche Welle, the BBC, and the Voice of America. PB


RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 3, No. 14, 17 March 2001

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


(Below is the concluding part of a live telephone interview given by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on 3 April. Part 1 was published in the previous issue.)

KUCHMA: I have always believed in this chance. I'd like this chance to be a reality, I give you my word of honor. You know, I was glad when [lawmaker Serhiy] Holovatyy made public the results of German genetic tests saying that [the tested samples] were not from Gongadze's body. God willing, this may be true, there have already been [similar] examples. It was reported by our neighbors that a person disappeared and was found later. (Ed. note: possibly, Kuchma refers to the disappearance of former National Bank Chairwoman Tamara Vinnikava in Belarus, who subsequently emerged in Great Britain.) God willing, this may be true, then a lot of problems could be resolved.

KUCHMA: First and foremost, it is necessary to stop speculating on the Gongadze case. You know, there have actually been a lot of mysteries since the first day. I don't want to dwell on them, journalists dwell on them in their investigations very often.

As regards the authorities.... You know that we have invited FBI [experts]; some independent groups from Russia are also working in Ukraine. We are fully open, you're welcome, let's investigate the case together instead of doing what we have done thus far: blackmailing; psychological warfare against Ukraine [and] against the state. The point is not [personally] with Kuchma -- you should realize that -- but with the president of a country, and with Ukraine herself. Many do not want to understand that.

KUCHMA: In general, as long as the tests are inconclusive, hope is the last to die. I always proceed from this [premise].

KUCHMA: I have no grounds [to believe otherwise]. When Russian expert Ivanov announced that there is a 99 [percent of certitude that the found body is Gongadze's], I said I'm a man who deals with certitudes, therefore I cannot doubt [Ivanov's finding, I cannot assume] that such an expert as Ivanov may resort to a falsification. Because this is [his] professional domain, in which he will never allow himself to act against his ethics.

I have begun [to think that Gongadze may be alive] after some people told investigators in Lviv, Vinnytsya, [and] the Volyn region that they saw him after [his disappearance]. Particularly since those statements were made by people who studied with him. Were those statements deliberately [falsified], or what? Up until now they have not withdrawn [their statements]. Second, the German experts questioned [the identity of the discovered corpse]. God willing, [Gongadze may be alive]. Let's hope for something anyway.

KUCHMA: The positive thing is that I've seen who is who. I've seen people who work with me, not only in my closest entourage. First of all, those on Pechersky Pahorby where the offices of the government, the parliament, and the presidential administration are located.

KUCHMA: No, I've never placed my security above all other issues. I've never paid any attention to that. The protection service of the Ukrainian president is perhaps the least numerous not only in Europe but also in the postSoviet area. It is not I who should handle [my own] protection. There is a service that should protect and be accountable. They handled it badly, and I fired the head of the state protection service. This was made [not for the sake of showing my authority], this was an example that one needs to carry out one's duties conscientiously.

RFE/RL: Did you plan to oust [former Security Service head Leonid] Derkach and [former Interior Minister Yuriy] Kravchenko, or was [their sacking] the result of some emergency situation in Ukraine? Are they responsible for what happened?

KUCHMA: The Security Service is responsible for that. It is unambiguous.

KUCHMA: For what.... If such things take place.... This is state security, this is national security, [Melnychenko's deed was] practically at the level of [state] treason, at the level of spying. I do not accuse Major Melnychenko, or former major, to be exact. I do not accuse [him], I [only] say that these are traits [of his antistate activities]. These traits should be evaluated in court. But that was a concern of the Security Service. If the president feels discomfort in this issue, then the Security Service failed in its role, didn't it? That was their duty. If the president was eavesdropped on in actual fact, then was that not a concern of the Security Service?

KUCHMA: I don't know of anybody else. I have great doubts that it was Melnychenko who eavesdropped [on me]. In my view, Melnychenko was a tool who was used and subsequently thrown out, that's all.

RFE/RL: Mr. President, I couldn't simply believe when I read an announcement that Mr. [Volodymyr] Radchenko, head of the Security Service of Ukraine, is willing to meet with Melnychenko. Is this true?

KUCHMA: And why not? I said on several occasions that we guarantee Melnychenko's security and that he may come back, but he will be held accountable under Ukrainian law. But if [Radchenko] is willing to meet with Melnychenko, let them meet.

KUCHMA: No. I only want to look in his eyes, because I don't remember him. To look in his eyes [to see] how they avoid looking in mine. I do not treat such people as humans. You know how he should be called.

RFE/RL: By the way, he claims that he swore allegiance not to the president but to Ukraine.

KUCHMA: Do not oversimplify. Who swears allegiance personally to President Kuchma? He swore to Ukraine. There is a law. Who swears allegiance to [U.S.] President [George] Bush? There is a law on state protection, and clear-cut duties are written down in it.

RFE/RL: Derkach and Kravchenko quit the government, or more precisely, you helped them quit. Are you planning further replacements? There are many rumors in Ukraine that Premier Viktor Yushchenko, [presidential staff head Volodymyr] Lytvyn, [State Tax Administration head Mykola] Azarov, and [Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo] Potebenko will quit in the same way. The list is very long.

KUCHMA: The opposition proposes [its own] list: everybody should quit, the opposition should remain. But I want to ask the opposition: Is it only power that you want? And where is your program of what you want [to do]?

I announced more than once that I'm not going to dismiss Yushchenko. If I had wanted, I would have done this long ago. As for replacements, you know the way cabinet changes are made: the prime minister make proposals, we confer on them, then we make decisions. In this way, the minister of fuel and energy was recently replaced. Surely, there will be replacements in the future as well. But this is a process, a sort of creative process. Some [officials] are unable to cope with what they have to cope with, others see that they are unfit for their jobs and quit the government of their own will. This is a permanent process, even though the change of personnel does not contribute to stability in both politics and economy.

RFE/RL: Regarding [former Deputy Premier] Yuliya Tymoshenko. Only one aspect. Can you imagine a woman ruling the Ukrainian state?

KUCHMA: In the near future -- no. I proceed from the mentality of Ukrainians. Look at statistics: the attempts of women's parties to win parliamentary seats have failed everywhere. Therefore, I rule out such [a development] for the time being. There is no woman at the Olympus [of Ukrainian politics] who could draw attention to herself with something positive, constructive, with her work, devotion to Ukraine, and not with her own interests.

KUCHMA: Absolute nonsense. First, I have [taken] many trips in Ukraine. In June I am to be in Italy, at a gathering of the Central European Initiative countries, in Naples. And in the near future -- there is a meeting of countries of the Black Sea region in Romania.

KUCHMA: You know, I don't plan trips to the U.S., it is the U.S. that plans those meetings. I don't think Ukraine is a top priority for the new U.S. administration. But the foreign minister has already paid a visit there. The defense minister is also scheduled to visit the U.S. There is an absolutely normal dialogue under way.

On Ukrainian-Russian Relations

KUCHMA: I see that you want to do away with me on the birthday of my grandson. (Ed. note: Kuchma addresses the interviewer in second person singular, which is fairly informal, if not unkind, in the Ukrainian language on such occasions.)

KUCHMA: I will call you on the birthday of my granddaughter. (Ed. note: Again, the address is in second person singular.)

RFE/RL: This is a very important issue: Russia and Ukraine. Your opponents voice fears that....

KUCHMA: And why don't you listen to my supporters, why do you interview only my opponents? My supporters -- I want to stress that -- outnumber my opponents by thousands to one. Now let us look at who my opponents are. All of them have been asked [previously] to leave the government: ministers, deputy premiers, and so on.

KUCHMA: All of them will come.

KUCHMA: I'm speaking seriously. Here is my press secretary sitting beside me, I'll instruct him to get in touch with you. Tell him whom he has to contact, a dialogue will be established without fail.

RFE/RL: Very well. Thank you. We are taking you at your word. We will be reminding Mr. [Oleksandr] Martynenko (Ed. note: Kuchma's press secretary), Mr. Lytvyn, [Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Viktor] Medvedchuk, and everybody else that you urged to come to Radio Liberty.

KUCHMA: You're welcome.

KUCHMA: I will instruct Lytvyn today, as to Medvedchuk, I can only ask him, because he is from a different power branch.

RFE/RL: Still, I have a question.[Some] opponents say Ukraine is losing its independence. Some even claim that you are personally pushing Ukraine into Russia's embrace. Could you say a few words about this?

KUCHMA: I can say this is absolutely untrue. Untrue, as regards the loss of independence. I'm convinced today that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is not pursuing the goal of subordinating Ukraine to himself. They cannot manage it [even] with Belarus, because of economic reasons. Besides, let us put things in their places.

Why should Ukraine -- in whose trade turnover Russia's share has fallen to 40 or 39 percent -- reject this [cooperation with Russia]? So why does all of Europe want to cooperate with Russia? Tell me, please.

I will tell you. Because both Ukraine and Europe are consuming Russian gas, without which we cannot manage. Russian oil, other Russian raw resources. Moreover, [Russia] for Ukraine means a market [for Ukrainian products]. What, are we allowed into Europe [with our products]? Europe is closed for us. So, we should leave Russia. And go where? If one thinks seriously, if one is a serious politician, one cannot put this question in this way.

National interests lie exactly in this. The EU countries are taking exactly the same positions, believe me. Ukraine should have good relations with Russia, [for the sake of] regional security, European security, and, in general, stability on the European continent. All of us are interested in a stable Russia, all of us without exception, including Europe. So let us proceed from this. I think we will not come back to the Cold War era, even though the EU borders are advancing on us, so to say, every day. Therefore, it is necessary today to realize [the need for] cooperation.

KUCHMA: I will put it in the simplest way. Give me, please, original cassettes. I have no more questions. Give me original cassettes, then I will make conclusions, then conclusions will be made by the organs that can make them. By those that made conclusions regarding the first cassette, where everything was doctored. You know, I haven't listened to the cassettes, and I'm not going to listen to them. Because I said this was a provocation from the very beginning, this is the position I took and will stick to it.

I repeat once again: the material on the first tapes, which were made public in the parliament by Moroz, is a gross falsification, an absolute one. Unfortunately, [those recordings] do not include a lot of interesting issues that were discussed in my office and that I can recall. Or conversations with the head of the Supreme Council, with the head of the government, and so on. I have doubts all the time as to what is on those cassettes. Besides, I will say once again that Major Melnychenko was incapable of taping all that is publicized today. There are some powerful forces that had the possibility to tape that. But again, let us look at the original tapes.

KUCHMA: I'd like to add something as a conclusion. I'm always ready for a dialogue. If some problematic questions appear, I'm ready to give an interview on any topic to any broadcaster, either by the phone or to a journalist beside me. And to answer frankly questions about the events that are taking place, to present my opinion on these events. I think [that following such interviews] there will be much more understanding between the Ukrainian authorities and Radio Liberty, and this means that we will have a broader view in the future.

RFE/RL: We sincerely support your idea. Our people from the Kyiv bureau [of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service] will quite soon contact you, so do not turn them away.

KUCHMA: Agreed, I will not turn them away. I'm instructing my press secretary [in this regard].

"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.