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RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 3, No. 18, 15 May 2001

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

LUKASHENKA'S CHALLENGERS PLAN COOPERATION. Earlier this month, five Belarusian politicians -- Uladzimir Hancharyk, Syamyon Domash, Syarhey Kalyakin, Pavel Kazlouski, and Mikhail Chyhir -- issued a statement pledging to pool their efforts in order to defeat Alyaksandr Lukashenka in this year's presidential elections. They explained at a news conference that they are going to register as presidential candidates (each of them needs to collect 100,000 signatures from registered voters for this purpose) and then select a single contender from among them. "We will have enough common sense after the registration to sit at a roundtable and agree on a single candidate," Hancharyk told journalists.

The five issued a joint appeal saying that "[Our victory over Lukashenka] is necessary for:


PUTIN NOMINATES CHERNOMYRDIN AS AMBASSADOR TO KYIV. Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprising move last week by appointing Viktor Chernomyrdin as Russia's ambassador to Kyiv in place of Ivan Aboimov. Chernomyrdin belongs to the heavyweights of the Russian political scene: he was a longterm prime minister (1992-98) under Russian President Boris Yeltsin and before that post he headed Russia's gas monopoly Gazprom.

"The time has come for us to take a serious approach to the development of the relationship with one of our essential partners, Ukraine, and it is essential to create the indispensable preconditions for that, including staff changes.... It would hardly be possible to find a person who knows so well the weak and the strong sides of the Russian economy and all of this about Ukraine as well," Putin commented on his decision regarding Chernomyrdin. Simultaneously, Putin made Chernomyrdin the Russian president's "special representative for the development of Russian-Ukrainian trade and economic ties."

Chernomyrdin said the proposal to become Russia's envoy in Ukraine was "unexpected" by him but added that he is "not afraid" to move from Moscow to Kyiv. "It is not the first time I am to leave Moscow. The main thing [for me] is my job, not the place of residence. I love Russia and respect Ukraine," Interfax quoted him as saying. Many Russian and Ukrainian media noted that Chernomyrdin's wife is a native Ukrainian.

Many commentators in Russia and Ukraine see Chernomyrdin's appointment as an openly political move by President Putin, who is allegedly seeking to increase Russia's political influence in Ukraine and to resolve the Russian-Ukrainian disputes over Russian gas transit across Ukraine and the payment for Russian gas supplies (according to different estimates, Ukraine owes Russia from $1.4 billion to $2 billion).

"Of course, this appointment has to do with the [future] ownership of the gas transport system of Ukraine, and with the fight between Gazprom and Shell for control of this system. [Chernomyrdin] is the former head of Gazprom and has always defended the interests of this corporation. His appointment means that Gazprom is very serious in its intention to defend its positions," Kirill Frolov of Russia's CIS Institute told RFE/RL.

Ukrainian political analyst Anatoliy Hrytsenko told RFE/RL that Chernomyrdin's behind-the-scenes experience qualifies him for finding a pragmatic solution to the gas dispute: "He's a man who knows all the legal and shadowy schemes that allowed Russian and Ukrainian businessmen to build their capital in the early 1990s. He's a man who knows the economic interests of all the [players] involved on the Ukrainian side. He's a man who will have direct contact with the administration and president in the Kremlin -- and not only through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I think he will add pragmatism and a practical approach to solving economic problems."

But some Ukrainian politicians and observers see Chernomyrdin's appointment as a threat to Ukraine's economic and even political independence. "This is an attempt to establish an even stronger diktat of the Russian economy over the Ukrainian one," Popular Rukh of Ukraine leader Yuriy Kostenko said. And Kyiv-based political scientists noted that "Chernomyrdin's appointment [means] that Ukraine has lost some part of its sovereignty. All weak countries are loosing their sovereignty in the context of globalization, but we are doing it rapidly and in an Eurasian direction.... Now the Russian Embassy [in Ukraine] will become a center of power, one of the centers of government in Ukraine that will influence Ukrainian political decisions."

Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to appoint former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin as ambassador to Ukraine appears to open the door to more such political appointments.

That possibility was explicitly raised by the Russian media on 10 May. Citing "an informed source," the Interfax news agency said Chernomyrdin's appointment reflects a Kremlin interest in making use of former officials who have broad political and economic experience and who have "not lost their political weight and personal connections."

Such reports in turn seem certain to spark speculation about who might be the next such nominee. Among the most obvious candidates is former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who recently visited Washington and who has assumed a new and much higher profile in Moscow since the departure of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

In one sense, Putin's appointment of Chernomyrdin effectively brings Russia in line with the pattern in many Western countries whereby leaders often name as ambassadors to especially important countries their personal friends, major campaign contributors, or senior politicians at the end of their careers -- leaving other positions for professional diplomats.

Instead of viewing this as a slight, most of the countries to whom such ambassadors are dispatched tend to view it as a special sign of interest and respect. Thus, for example, the Japanese have been pleased that the American ambassador there had earlier served as senior U.S. senator.

Often these political ambassadors, precisely because they have a direct line to the chief of state at home, are able to accomplish more than professional but less wellconnected diplomats. And because they are so perceived, they may in fact be able to do so. Chernomyrdin's ties to Putin and even more to the powerful Russian gas monopoly Gazprom may allow him to accomplish more than any emissary from the Russian Foreign Ministry could.

But in another sense, Putin's action may represent a step toward the restoration of the Soviet-era pattern in the assignment of ambassadors. From the death of Stalin to the end of the Soviet Union, Moscow regularly named Communist Party officials to head its missions to satellite countries, dispatched some defeated political opponents into diplomatic exile in smaller states abroad, and generally sent professional diplomats to most other states.

From the establishment of the Soviet bloc after World War II until the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet government generally sent Communist Party functionaries, sometimes with brief training at the Diplomatic Academy in Moscow and sometimes without, to serve as its pro-consuls in Eastern European capitals. And these ambassadors more often reported to the CPSU Central Committee than to the Soviet Foreign Ministry.

Moscow also used ambassadors as a form of political exile for those who had lost out in power struggles in the Soviet capital. Former Prime Minister Vyacheslav Molotov was perhaps the most famous: He was ultimately dispatched to Outer Mongolia. But others also were sent into a similar kind of exile often in a succession of increasingly dim positions.

Elsewhere, the Soviet government generally used professional diplomats, except when -- as in Afghanistan -- Moscow had a broader political agenda that required the assignment not of a diplomat but of a Communist Party official.

The immediate reaction to Chernomyrdin's appointment suggests that many Russian politicians and commentators are drawing from both the Western and the Soviet model. Thus, some have suggested that Chernomyrdin will do especially well precisely because of his ties to the leader in the Kremlin, a kind of analysis familiar to students of Western diplomatic appointments.

But others in their remarks have drawn implicitly on the earlier Soviet pattern, speculating that this may be a form of political exile or an effort to promote a special Russian zone of influence in what many in Moscow continue to call "the near abroad," the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Because Chernomyrdin is the first of this kind of Russian ambassador under Putin, it is impossible to say which of these models of the politics of diplomacy is the more appropriate or even whether Putin is seeking to create a new and entirely different model from either of the two.

"Take the five-year plans, the struggle for peace, the mad armaments race, or the space [exploration] -- everything in our history was a bluff, if not a crime. The only good achievement of the [Soviet-era] older generations in the 20th century was the victory over the German Nazism. But one has doubts about that victory, too. First of all, about its imperative unambiguousness. We know what that victory has staved off for mankind. And that, perhaps, is beyond doubt. But what have we achieved with that victory? Every victory should not only take but also give something. The defeated countries -- Germany, Italy, Japan -- came to terms with their defeat and because of this defeat they were given the possibility to flourish economically and develop freedom and democracy. While we, the victors, have so far not been able to achieve basic freedoms and to feed ourselves." -- Belarusian writer Vasil Bykau in a comment to RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 9 May. Bykau, born in 1924, fought as a Red Army junior officer in World War II in Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, and Austria. Bykau has been living abroad for several years (currently in Germany), saying that life under the Lukashenka regime in Belarus is unbearable for him.

"Today the post [of prime minister] should be assumed by a horse that is able to pull a plow. And I will try to hold the handles of that plow."-- Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 8 May; quoted by Interfax.

"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 INVESTIGATORS KNOW WHO KILLED GONGADZE? "As far as I am informed, [investigators] have practically traced the assassins [of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze]," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website quoted President Leonid Kuchma as saying on Russia's ORT television channel on 14 May. Kuchma did not elaborate. The same day the Left Center parliamentary group addressed the Prosecutor-General's Office with a long list of unanswered questions regarding the Gongadze case and the eavesdropping on Kuchma's office by former bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko. Left Center noted that eight months after Gongadze's death the public still does not know who killed Gongadze and for what reasons. Meanwhile, Myroslava Gongadze has said the body of her husband can finally be buried, since there are no reasons to distrust the recent findings of U.S. experts who confirmed that the beheaded corpse found near Kyiv last year is that of Heorhiy Gongadze. JM

UKRAINIAN, TURKMEN PRESIDENTS SATISFIED WITH COOPERATION ACCORDS. Ukrainian President Kuchma and his Turkmen counterpart Saparmurat Niyazov expressed satisfaction over nine cooperation accords they signed in Kyiv on 14 May, Interfax reported. Apart from an agreement of Turkmen gas supplies in 2001-2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2001), both sides signed an accord on mutual economic cooperation in 2001-2010, as well as a number of intergovernmental agreements. Kuchma said the signing of the accord on Turkmen gas deliveries to Ukraine in 2001-2006 is a "historic" event. "Everybody perfectly understands what gas means for Ukraine's economy: it means not only economy but also politics, and energy security," Kuchma added. "There is no area that we dropped out of our cooperation," Niyazov commented on the Ukrainian-Turkmen accords he signed with Kuchma. JM

APPOINTMENT OF NEW UKRAINIAN PREMIER SAID TO BE 'VERY COMPLICATED.' Roman Bezsmertnyy, the presidential permanent representative in the parliament, told Interfax on 14 May that the process of nomination of a new prime minister will be "very complicated." According to Bezsmertnyy, there will be several variants for tackling this problem, which will be "contradictory to a significant extent." President Kuchma earlier pledged to propose a candidate for the post of prime minister by the end of May. Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko noted that the parliament can approve a new prime minister no earlier than in June. JM