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RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 4, No. 16, 23 April 2002

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

POLISH PRESIDENT CONDEMNS 'OPERATION VISTULA.' Last week President Aleksander Kwasniewski expressed regret over "Operation Vistula" -- a forced expulsion by the communist authorities in 1947 of some 140,000 ethnic Ukrainians from their native areas in the southeastern part of the country to Poland's newly acquired northern and western territories, the so-called Recovered Lands, Polish media reported. In a letter to the National Remembrance Institute (IPN) and participants in the IPN-organized conference on "Operation Vistula" in Krasiczyn near Przemysl (southeastern Poland), Kwasniewski wrote:

"On behalf of the Polish Republic, I would like to express regret to all those who were wronged by [this operation].... The infamous 'Operation Vistula' is a symbol of the abominable deeds perpetrated by the communist authorities against Polish citizens of Ukrainian origin.... It was believed for years that 'Operation Vistula' was the revenge for the slaughter of Poles by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) in the east in 1943-44. Such a reasoning is fallacious and ethically inadmissible. It [involves] a principle of group accountability with which we cannot agree. The slaughter of Poles cannot serve as an excuse for the brutal pacification of Ukrainian villages and the expulsion of populace. 'Operation Vistula' should be condemned."

Professor Eugeniusz Mironowicz from Bialystok University, a historian specializing in the Polish communist authorities' policies vis-a-vis the country's ethnic minorities, presented a political background of 'Operation Vistula' at the conference in Krasiczyn. Mironowicz argued that the Polish authorities were determined to solve the problem of the Ukrainian minority by resettlement immediately after the liberation of Poland from the Nazis. In September 1944, the Polish Committee of National Liberation (an interim governing body) signed accords with the governments of the Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania on repatriation and exchange of population. In theory, the repatriation process should have been voluntary, but in practice forcible and violent methods were applied to Ukrainians, who were decidedly unenthusiastic about resettling in the Ukrainian SSR.

In 1944, the government tried to prompt Ukrainians to leave their villages in the Bieszczady Mountains by increasing taxes and quotas of compulsory supplies of agricultural products to the state. This policy proved to be only partly successful: in 1944, some 80,000 Ukrainians of the estimated community of 600,000 left Poland for the Soviet Union. In 1945, the government sent considerable armed forces to the southeastern part of the country. In the autumn of 1945, these troops joined police, security-service forces, and border guards in the compulsory relocation of Ukrainians to the Soviet Union. There were many fights between Polish troops and UPA guerrillas who wanted to prevent the resettlement. The peak of the deportation of Ukrainians to the Soviet Union occurred in the autumn of 1946, when some 200,000 people were relocated within four months. In total, according to official data, some 490,000 Ukrainians were expelled from Poland to the Ukrainian SSR.

According to Mironowicz, in November 1946 the General Staff of the Polish army proposed to the government to dispose of the remaining Ukrainians -- and ethnic Lemkos who inhabited the adjacent Beskid Niski region but remained fairly reserved about defining themselves as Ukrainians and supporting UPA fighters -- by way of "internal deportation." The "internal deportation" meant a compulsory dissipated resettlement of some 140,000 people in Poland's Recovered Lands. The government made a formal decision on the deportation of Ukrainians in the spring of 1947. Polish textbooks of history assert that the official go-ahead for "Operation Vistula" was given a day after the assassination of General Karol Swierczewski -- Poland's deputy defense minister -- by the UPA in an ambush in the Bieszczady Mountains on 28 March 1947. Mironowicz said the killing of Swierczewski served as a convenient pretext for the communist authorities to launch a drastic resettlement operation, but in fact it had nothing to do with the chain of political decisions that were made on the deportation earlier. "Operation Vistula" began on 28 April 1947.

The newly appointed Ukrainian ambassador to Poland, Oleksandr Nykonenko, also sent a letter to last week's conference in Krasiczyn. Nykonenko wrote that Kwasniewski's apology is an important step in assessing the Polish communist regime's crimes against ethnic Ukrainians. "There is a lot being done to overcome 'ghosts of the past' in Poland and in Ukraine," PAP quoted from Nykonenko's letter.

Some Polish media noted, however, that while Poland is really doing a lot to look at its past from a new perspective in a bid to overcome historical barriers to friendly Polish-Ukrainian relations, Ukraine is doing decidedly too little. The private TVN Television, while praising Kwasniewski's statement on "Operation Vistula," commented simultaneously that Warsaw is still waiting for Kyiv's official apology for massacres of the Polish population in Ukraine's Volhynia region in 1943. According to Polish historians, the UPA brutally murdered between 60,000 and 70,000 Polish civilians in Volhynia in 1943. In connection with these massacres, the IPN branch in Lublin has launched an investigation into crimes of genocide committed by Ukrainian nationalists (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 8 May 2001).

GAZPROM TO TAKE OVER BELARUSIAN GAS PIPELINES? The independent Minsk-based weekly "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" on 15 April shed more light on the meeting of the Supreme Council of the Russia-Belarus Union in Moscow on 12 April, where both sides signed three agreements: on extending Russia's domestic prices for its energy resources (gas and electricity) in Belarus, on extending Russia's domestic railways tariffs on Belarusian shipments, and on what President Alyaksandr Lukashenka called "a single system of gas provision" (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 16 April 2002). According to the weekly, the third document -- called "The Agreement Between the Government of the Republic of Belarus and the Government of the Russian Federation on Increased Cooperation in Gas Industry" -- touches upon the planned privatization of gas pipelines running across Belarus.

The weekly's editorial office got hold of a draft version of the agreement. Since this draft version was approved by Belarus's Economy, Finance, Foreign Affairs, and Justice ministries, the newspaper assumed that its provisions had also been kept in the final text signed in Moscow.

The agreement, initiated by Russian's gas monopoly Gazprom, envisages the creation of a "joint-stock Belarusian-Russian commercial gas-transit company." Belarus's Belpaliuhaz, the state-owned fuel and gas supply concern, is obliged by the agreement to draw up a business plan and establish the value of the Belarusian gas-transit system run by the Beltranshaz national gas transporter (Belpaliuhaz's property is not to be included in the planned joint-stock company). PricewaterhouseCoopers or Deloitte & Touche are to be invited for such an evaluation.

The agreement commits the Belarusian government to an investment contract with Gazprom which, "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" argues, is to play the role of a strategic investor in Beltranshaz. The new gas corporation will assume Beltranshaz's current functions: domestic sales of gas and its transit via Belarus, the construction and development of Belarus's gas-transit system, the securing of full payment for gas to the supplier, and the running of the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline.

The agreement includes a provision insuring the Russian side against political risks. Article 9 of the agreement stipulates: "The investments Russian businesses will make in the form of property and other assets and the financial or material means invested in Belarus may not be freely nationalized or requisitioned." Nationalization of the planned joint-stock company is only possible in the event of full and immediate compensation of the cost of nationalized property.

The Belarusian side stipulated a mutual clearance procedure for writing off up to $72 million of its debt to Gazprom. Instead of paying a penalty for late payments for gas supplied in 1997-99, Belarus relieves Russian builders from VAT and customs duties during the construction of the Belarusian section of the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline.

The agreement confirms the provision now in force: In the annual gas balance, Russia's Energy Ministry will earmark the resources required by Belarus. All the terms of gas supply to Belarus will be determined, as they are now, by contracts between Gazprom and Beltranshaz.


KYIV DENIES ILLEGAL SALE OF RADARS TO IRAQ. Serhiy Borodenkov, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry press service chief, told journalists on 16 April that "Ukraine has not sold, is not selling, and does not plan to sell any weapons to Iraq," adding that the Ukrainian leadership has not been involved in any illegal arms deals with Iraq, UNIAN reported. Borodenkov's statement came in the wake of recent media reports alleging that in 2000 President Leonid Kuchma approved a sale of $100 million worth of air-defense radar systems to Iraq in contravention of UN sanctions.

The basis for this allegation appears to be the recently publicized recording of a conversation between Kuchma and Ukrspetseksport chief Valeriy Malev (who died in a controversial automobile accident in March), allegedly made by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko in Kuchma's office on 10 July 2000. The "Ukrayinska pravda" website on 15 April published a transcription of that recording. An excerpt is translated below:

KUCHMA: What is Kolchuga?

KUCHMA: Who makes it?

KUCHMA: Can you sell it without the Jordanian?

KUCHMA: Just watch that the Jordanian keeps his mouth shut [expletive]. Otherwise they can detect the shipment.

Topaz Director Yuriy Ryabkin told the 19 April "Holos Ukrayiny" that the only country Ukraine has ever sold Kolchugas is Ethiopia. "We shipped three installations to Ethiopia, set them up, and that was it. We have had any more export deals, I can say this for sure," Ryabkin said.

"Holos Ukrayiny" noted that under a recently signed contract, another four Kolchugas are to be sold to China, but they have not been shipped yet. There are other proposals, but all of them are still under consideration, the newspaper added.

Ryabkin also commented on the conversation between Kuchma and Malev: "This was a private conversation. There can be any private conversation about anything, even about arms supplies to Iraq. Suppose somebody approached Malev and said, 'sell me the equipment on these conditions.' And, during one of his reports to the president, Malev says, 'here is a proposal from Iraq, and there have been no other proposals yet.' Well, they discussed it. So what? This was a private conversation that did not result in any decisions."

"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.

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES UKRAINIAN PROTECTIONIST MEASURES. Alyaksandr Lukashenka met with Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko on 22 April and discussed trade and economic cooperation, Belarusian Television reported. "We are very concerned about the restrictions Ukraine has been introducing in trade with the Republic of Belarus over recent years," Lukashenka said. "I think those antidumping sanctions and the rise in duties on petrochemical goods -- and on other goods, as far as I am aware -- will not do any good... If such trends are taking place in Belarusian-Ukrainian trade relations, you should understand that we will also have to take appropriate measures," Lukashenka added. JM

FORMER BELARUSIAN EXECUTIONER SEEKS ANTI-LUKASHENKA TRIAL. Aleh Alkayeu, Belarus's former executioner, told Reuters on 22 April that he is ready to testify in an international court against President Lukashenka. Last year, Alkayeu fled from Minsk to the West and divulged that he was ordered by his superiors to make the pistol used for executions in Minsk's death-row prison available for alleged political killings perpetrated by a government-organized death squad (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 28 August 2001). Alkayeu is in possession of the executioner's logbook, which shows that in 1999 Interior Ministry officials twice borrowed the pistol. Opposition leaders Yury Zakharanka and Viktor Hanchar as well as businessman Anatol Krasouski disappeared on the days Alkayeu's pistol was on loan. JM

UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL RESIGNS. Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko told journalists on 22 April that he resigned his post in order to take a seat in the Verkhovna Rada, Ukrainian media reported. Potebenko was elected a deputy from the Communist Party list. The Ukrainian opposition has repeatedly called for Potebenko's dismissal. Potebenko, who had headed the Prosecutor-General's Office since 1998, oversaw several high-profile investigations of journalists' killings and allegations of illegal arms exports, but none of these cases have been brought to a clear conclusion. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT IN LEBANON. Leonid Kuchma visited Beirut on 22 April and met with his Lebanese counterpart Emile Lahoud. The two sides signed agreements on preventing tax evasion and double taxation, on cooperation in air services, and on education and scientific research, Interfax reported. JM

OUR UKRAINE TO BECOME A PARTY? Yuriy Kostenko, the leader of the Ukrainian Popular Rukh (a constituent of the Our Ukraine election bloc), said on 22 April that his organization is ready to form a single national-democratic party on the basis of Our Ukraine, UNIAN reported. According to Kostenko, the new party can be set up "through the democratic election of party leaders of all levels -- from bottom to top -- at raion and oblast conferences and at a [nationwide] congress." Kostenko added that the process of forming the party may be concluded within in the next two months. JM

LITHUANIA CLOSES TWO MORE CHAPTERS IN EU ENTRY TALKS. At a meeting of chief negotiators for EU entry in Brussels on 22 April, Lithuania closed the chapters on Institutions and on Justice and Home Affairs in its negotiations for EU membership, ELTA reported. This raised the country's number of completed chapters to 26 of 31. It was agreed that Lithuania would have 12 seats (the same as Ireland) in the 732-seat European Parliament, and seven (the same as Ireland, Finland, Denmark, and Slovakia) of the 345 seats in the European Union Council. The justice chapter requires Lithuania to pay more attention to halting corruption, organized crime, drug trafficking, and illegal migration, and to change its visa policies. From 1 January 2003, visas will be required for Belarusian and Ukrainian citizens, as well as train passengers and truckers going to Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast via Lithuania. Beginning on 1 July 2003, residents of Kaliningrad will need visas to enter Lithuania. The five chapters not yet completed are Agriculture, Energy, Regional Policy, Finance and Budgetary Provisions, and "Other," which deals with issues that are specific to Lithuania. SG

Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister Nikolai Vassilev on 9 April said that Russia has claimed ownership over some of the property of Bulgarian tobacco monopoly Bulgartabak, Reuters reported. Russia's claim is likely to be an additional obstacle to the already difficult privatization sale. Vassilev told a news conference that if Moscow's claims proved to be well-founded, Sofia would consider various options, including providing a stake in Bulgartabak to cover the claims. "Russia says that there are historical documents signed some 55 years ago, according to which Russia owns some of Bulgartabak's properties in the capital [Sofia] and in the countryside," said Vassilev. He said that, according to Moscow, Russia gained ownership of that property after World War II as part of reparations it received from Germany. Bulgaria was a German ally during the war and German tobacco firms had subsidiaries in Bulgaria then. Bulgartabak has 22 domestic subsidiaries, including 12 processing factories; nine cigarette factories; and one producer of tobacco driers, filters, and packaging. It also has five subsidiaries in Russia and one each in Ukraine, Romania, and Yugoslavia. The privatization sale is for a majority stake of up to 80 percent in Bulgartabak and 3 May has been set as the deadline for submitting bids. "We are concerned that if the government keeps a golden share it could affect investors' interest because they want to make sure they will have full control on how to run the company," the International Monetary Fund's resident representative in Sofia Piritta Sorsa told Reuters. Nonetheless, officials have said that up to 13 potential investors have expressed interest in Bulgartabak, but industry majors like Philip Morris and British American Tobacco (BAT) would prefer to buy only its best factories. The social impact of Bulgartabak's sale is a politically sensitive issue, especially in the tobacco-growing regions populated by Bulgaria's impoverished ethnic Turkish minority. Bulgartabak was beleaguered by feuding and infighting on the board earlier this year. The company has also been viewed as an outdated and clumsy company.

Concern has been rising over illegal production of tobacco products and cigarettes in the Black Sea region. In Georgia, value-added taxes make domestically produced cigarettes higher in cost than smuggled or imported cigarettes. BAT believes that smuggled or counterfeited cigarettes account for 60 percent to 70 percent of the Georgian cigarette market, citing Russia as a major source of illegal imports. (see "RFE/RL Business Watch," 15 January 2002) However, other sources indicate that counterfeit production of cigarettes is a significant factor in the Abkhaz economy. One source indicated that the production of counterfeit cigarettes in Abkhazia represents approximately 50 percent of the separatist government's revenue. (JMR)