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RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 3, No. 15, 24 April 2001

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


YUSHCHENKO RENDERED POWERLESS. This week Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yushchenko is widely expected to face (and lose) a noconfidence vote in the parliament. Last week, 290 lawmakers supported a motion to rate as unsatisfactory the performance of Yushchenko's cabinet on Ukraine's "Reforms for Prosperity" socioeconomic program in 2000. The parliament needs 226 votes to pass a no-confidence vote in a cabinet and dismiss it.

Yushchenko's ouster is demanded by a rather unlikely alliance of the Communists with the so-called pro-presidential (and theoretically pro-governmental) center and right-of-center majority in the parliament. True, some groups from the majority -- both Rukh factions, the Fatherland Party, and the Reforms-Congress caucus -- do not want to see Yushchenko dismissed. And the Socialist Party caucus led by Oleksandr Moroz refused to vote on the appraisal of the cabinet's performance in 2000, arguing that the current developments in the parliament are a "Communist-oligarchic" plot to take over power in the country.

Until this week, President Leonid Kuchma has remained silent on the standoff between the government and the parliament. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz made a strong point last week by saying that the standoff had been "artificially provoked" by Kuchma in order to divert the public spotlight from his person and the audio tape scandal implicating him in the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Indeed, the antipresidential opposition, which not so long ago organized regular demonstrations demanding Kuchma's ouster, has recently began mustering public support for Yushchenko to prevent his dismissal (it reportedly has collected more than 3 million signatures in support of Yushchenko). And quite naturally, the Ukrainian media, both state- and privately owned, have almost completely switched to covering the conflict between Yushchenko and the parliamentary "oligarchs."

This week, however, Kuchma seems to have changed his mind about the standoff. While in Vilnius on an official trip, the Ukrainian president noted that "the government's dismissal is not to Ukraine's benefit today." He said he is ready to contribute to reaching a compromise between the parliament and the government, adding that "the situation is dependent on how this dialogue will be conducted by the government, including Yushchenko." It remains to be seen whether Kuchma's intentions are honest and whether he will be able to persuade the pro-presidential caucuses -- most notably the Social Democratic Party (United) and the Labor Ukraine groups -- not to back the Communist-sponsored no-confidence motion.

However, what seems to be already evident is the fact that Yushchenko -- whom many see as a sure presidential candidate in the 2004 elections -- will emerge politically weakened from the current standoff. If a compromise is found with the "oligarchic" caucuses (which demand no less than 10 portfolios for their people in the cabinet), then Yushchenko's control of the government -- which was never large because of the president's exclusive power to nominate and dismiss ministers -- will become reduced even further. And if the parliament ousts him, Yushchenko will face the vague prospect of maintaining his current popularity without support from the state media at least until next year's legislative elections, when he may try his luck at winning a parliamentary seat and politically surviving until the presidential ballot.

It is hardly imaginable that Yushchenko would head the antipresidential opposition following his possible ouster. Yushchenko has repeatedly demonstrated that he lacks the guts for determined, let alone extreme, actions. His preference to look for a middle ground between Kuchma and the anti-Kuchma opposition has already implicated him in morally dubious situations, as when he signed a statement (along with Kuchma and Parliamentary Speaker Ivan Plyushch) branding the opposition Forum of National Salvation as a group of political bankrupts and potential criminals. On the other hand, Yushchenko is aware that the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians are not ready to fill the ranks of the anti-Kuchma opposition and that this situation is not going to change any time soon.

As in many times in the past, Kuchma once again appears to be sacrificing the premier in order to defuse his own political problems. This time, however, the situation is radically different than on previous occasions. The parliament is poised to dismiss the head of government who is credited with achieving the first signs of economic growth since Ukraine gained independence in 1991. And if Moroz's supposition about the "Communist-oligarchic" conspiracy in Ukraine is true, then Kuchma is facing the risk of losing control not only over economic, but also political developments in the country.

"A dismal rule of the state without any orientation points and prospects, criminality as an element of management, bandit persecution of those who are not silent. Such is today's face of our power system -- dim-witted, malicious, and hypocritical. And we, Viktor Andriyovych [Yushchenko] -- some to a lesser extent and the others to a larger extent -- are part of that face. When one hears your comments about why you signed the letter of the three [see Ukrainian item above] or sees you during an Easter mass in the company [of Kuchma], one wants to ask: 'With whom have you gotten mixed up?' And what is being expected from you by those who place stake on you, in particular, by the [anti-Kuchma] opposition? Their hope is a complete illusion, particularly since you have never said you do not agree with the president's policy in the power engineering, agriculture, utilities, and other spheres of life. It is impossible to defend you, Viktor Andriyovych, there is no reason to defend you." -- Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, speaking before the parliament on 17 April following Yushchenko's report on the government's performance in 2000; quoted by "Tovarysh," the press organ of the Socialist Party of Ukraine.

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.

RUSSIAN CUSTOMS CONFISCATES GUNS FROM AMERICAN HUNTERS. Russian customs officials last week confiscated 10 guns and 400 bullets from a group of Americans who had planned to hunt in Kamchatka, Interfax reported on 23 April. The trip had been organized by a Ukrainian tourist firm and the proper documents had not been filed, the news service said. PG

ARMENIAN OFFICIALS DISCUSS ENERGY PRIVATIZATION FAILURE... Members of the Armenian government commission to oversee the privatization of four of the country's energy distribution networks offered diverging reasons on 23 April for the failure of the international tender for them, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2001). Justice Minister David Harutiunian said that one of the two final contenders, the U.S. energy company AES Silk Road, had withdrawn in order to acquire two networks in Ukraine which, Harutiunian said, is considered "a less risky zone" than Armenia. Harutiunian also said that bidders may have been deterred by last-minute changes the Armenian government made to the rules for the tender. Those changes included depriving the future owner of the right to make major personnel changes without the consent of employees. A second commission member, Gagik Minasian, said that the government will decide within two months what further steps to take, including whether to announce a new international tender. LF

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT TO HOLD NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE ON PREMIER TODAY. The parliament on 24 April voted by 268 to 26 to hold a Communist-sponsored no-confidence vote in Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko later in the day, Reuters reported. The move is expected to bring down the government and put the country's reformist course pursued by Yushchenko at risk. Some 2,000 supporters of the prime minister demonstrated outside the parliament, chanting "Communists to Moscow! Oligarchs to jail!" Yushchenko on 24 April went on a trip to Greece, while President Kuchma is currently in Lithuania. JM

PACE TO VOTE UKRAINE OUT OF COUNCIL OF EUROPE? The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is expected to vote on 26 April on a motion of its Monitoring Committee to expel Ukraine from the Council of Europe. In its recommendation to exclude Ukraine, the Monitoring Committee listed a stream of complaints against Ukraine, including "murders of journalists" and "repeated aggression against and continuing intimidation of journalists, members of parliament, and opposition politicians in Ukraine," Reuters reported. However, PACE President Lord Russell-Johnston said the vote will be mostly symbolic as the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe -- which makes the final decision -- is unlikely to back any expulsion call. "All the previous experience of the Committee of Ministers in terms of precedent indicates that the answer will be negative," the agency quoted Russell-Johnston as saying. JM

UKRAINIAN CABINET ASKS KUCHMA TO FIRE STATE BROADCASTING CHIEF. All ministers have signed a petition by Premier Yushchenko to President Kuchma to change the management at the National Television and Radio Company of Ukraine (NTRCU), the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported on 24 April, quoting Yushchenko's spokeswoman, Natalya Zarudna. Zarudna said all members of the government agree that NTRCU chief Vadym Dolhanov is in fact working against the president since state television often gives airtime to critics of the government. Zarudna added that state television does not fulfill its main function of providing objective information. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PRAISES RELATIONS WITH LITHUANIA. Leonid Kuchma and his Lithuanian counterpart Valdas Adamkus declared in Vilnius on 23 April that bilateral relations between their countries can serve as an example for other European states to follow, BNS reported. The presidents had attended the signing by the countries' respective social and labor ministers of an agreement ensuring pension payments to native retirees residing in the other country. Kuchma repeated that Ukraine has no objections to Lithuania's joining NATO and, like Lithuania, wants to become a member of the European Union. President Kuchma also had lunch with Lithuanian Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas and a meeting with Parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas during which the advantages of greater economic relations were discussed. In the evening Adamkus hosted a dinner for Kuchma as well as Polish President Aleksandr Kwasniewski and UNESCO Secretary-General Koichiro Matsuura, all of whom were to speak at the international conference "Dialogue Among Civilizations" on 24 April. SG.