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RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 3, No. 26, 10 July 2001

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

LUKASHENKA, HIT WITH TOMATO, SHOWS CLEMENCY. Following his proposal two weeks ago to check the physical condition of potential presidential candidates in a sporting event (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 26 July 2001), Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka invited leaders of political parties as well as aspirants seeking to register for the presidential race to take part in a relay race in Minsk on 3 July during festivities to mark the country's Independence Day. Participants in the race were free to choose among competing on foot, roller skates, or roller blades. Lukashenka chose to race with roller blades.

During the race, 45-year-old Syarhey Laptseu, a deputy of the Minsk City Council in 1990-96, hit Lukashenka with a tomato. Laptseu was immediately arrested, and a district court on 4 July sentenced him to seven days in jail for petty hooliganism.

After the verdict, Laptseu explained to journalists that he followed the old tradition of hurling tomatoes at bad actors: "The decision [to throw a tomato] came spontaneously, a few minutes before I did it. The purpose of my act was to attract public attention to the system existing in our country, where the media are monopolized, prominent [opposition] figures disappear, the economy crumbles, and the nation dies out. In addition to Chornobyl, we have another disaster in the person of the president and his decrees."

The next day, Lukashenka ordered Laptseu released from prison. According to what Laptseu was told by police officers, the president showed clemency in view of the fact that Laptseu's offense did not entail any adverse consequences. "I feel as if I have contributed to enhancing Lukashenka's electoral image," Laptseu commented, adding that his release was illegal, since the president cannot change court rulings.

As regards the 3 July relay race, only two aspirants out of the 20 gathering signatures in the presidential election campaign accepted Lukashenka's invitation and took part in it. "They are normal guys," Lukashenka commented on their sporting effort. Belarusian Television, which misses no opportunity to discredit Lukashenka's opponents, noted on 7 July that most presidential hopefuls are oldish people and suggested that they are suffering from heart and blood pressure problems as well as from "obesity."


'COMMERCIAL' OIL, GAS DEPOSIT DISCOVERED IN THE BLACK SEA. Mykola Ilnytskyy, head of the state-owned Chornomornaftohaz joint stock company (a part of the Naftohaz Ukrayiny monopoly), told Interfax on 3 July that an offshore drilling rig struck a "commercial" amount of oil and gas near Zmiyinyy island (Serpents Island), some 55 kilometers east of the Danube delta. "It is clear for us even today that this region of the Black Sea is primarily oilbearing," Ilnytskyy added. He did not specify the water depth at which the rig works or at what underground depth drills hit oil. Chornomornaftohaz advertises its maximum offshore operating depth as 86 meters of water, and its maximum drilling depth as 6,000 meters.

The discovery of the oil and gas deposit may add heat to Ukrainian-Romanian talks on the demarcation of the continental shelf around Serpents Island. The island was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1946 and subsequently turned into a military fortress. While not agreeing to return the island to Romania, Ukraine pledged to deploy no "aggressive weapons" on it and agreed to consider it "uninhabited," which, under international maritime legislation, means that Kyiv cannot claim an exclusive economic zone around it.

"If the [2002 parliamentary] elections are relatively democratic, the new parliament's first decision will most likely include one on launching an impeachment procedure and, accordingly, another one on early presidential elections at the end of 2002. But if the elections are undemocratic, one may foresee the adoption of an amended version of the constitution and, as a consequence, the possibility of the election of Leonid Kuchma for a third term lasting until November 2009." -- Ukrainian political scientist Mykola Tomenko, answering a question from U.S. foreign policy experts about the possibility of Kuchma's early departure in 2001; quoted by Interfax on 9 July.

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.

RUSSIA TO SEND AID TO UKRAINIAN FLOOD VICTIMS. Prime Minister Kasyanov on 9 July ordered his government to spend 19.1 million rubles ($640,000) and $39,200 on the purchase of relief supplies for floodravaged regions in Ukraine, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

NEW RUSSIAN TARIFF HURTS UKRAINE. The Russian government has introduced a 30 percent tariff on potato and corn starch to protect domestic producers, a levy that will hit Ukraine more heavily than any other country, RIA-Novosti reported on 9 July. VY

POLAND HAS NOT YET AGREED TO RUSSIAN PIPELINE BYPASSING UKRAINE. Polish Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski said in Kyiv on 9 July that Warsaw has not yet made a final decision to support construction of a Russian gas pipeline bypassing Ukraine, RIA-Novosti reported. He said that the Polish government is also considering other routes that would link Ukraine more closely with Western Europe. VY

UKRAINE, MOLDOVA PLEDGE TO SETTLE MUTUAL PROBLEMS. Ukrainian Premier Anatoliy Kinakh and his Moldovan counterpart Vasile Tarlev declared in Kyiv on 9 July that their countries are ready to resolve a number of serious problems in trade and economic cooperation, Interfax reported. Tarlev vowed that on 12 July the Moldovan parliament will ratify the Moldovan-Ukrainian border treaty. Tarlev was responding to Ukrainian Transport Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko's warning that Kyiv will ensure "rigorous parity" in cross-border shipments if Chisinau fails to ratify the treaty. Both sides also pledged to simplify border control by establishing joint border checkpoints. Tarlev promised that Moldova will replace a triple customs control procedure on a railroad line that thrice crosses the Ukrainian-Moldovan border with a single customs check. JM

POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER IN UKRAINE. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 9 July met with Polish Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, Ukrainian Television reported. Kuchma expressed his satisfaction with the pace of the Ukrainian-Polish dialogue at all levels. Bartoszewski responded that the wish to promote Ukrainian-Polish relations is mutual. Bartoszewski told journalists that Ukraine should take advantage of the international political climate, which is extremely favorable for the country to step up integration with the West, PAP reported. Bartoszewski noted that irrespective of the result of the 23 September parliamentary elections in Poland, Warsaw's policy toward Kiev will not change. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT APPOINTS ECONOMY MINISTER. Kuchma has appointed Oleksandr Shlapak as economy minister, thus filling the last vacancy in Premier Kinakh's cabinet, Interfax reported on 10 July. Prior to his appointment, Shlapak was deputy economy minister. JM

POLISH PRESIDENT ASKS FORGIVENESS FOR JEDWABNE POGROM. "For this crime, we should beg the souls of the dead and their families for forgiveness. This is why today, as a citizen and as president of the Republic of Poland, I apologize," Aleksander Kwasniewski said in Jedwabne on 10 July, at a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the Jedwabne pogrom (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 6 and 20 March 2001). In 1941, Polish neighbors herded into a barn and burned alive hundreds of Jedwabne Jews. The National Remembrance Institute is currently clarifying the role of the Nazi troops in the massacre. Kwasniewski's speech and the dedication of a monument to the murdered Jews were broadcast live on Polish Television. The inscription on the Jedwabne monument reads: "In memory of the Jews of Jedwabne and surrounding areas, men, women, and children, fellow-dwellers of this land, murdered and burned alive at this site on 10 July 1941." JM