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BELARUSIAN-RUSSIAN RIFT OVER INTEGRATION DEEPENS. Pavel Borodin, the state secretary of the Belarus-Russia union, told Russia's NTV television on 16 June that the draft constitutional act proposed by the Belarusian side earlier this week is "nonsense" and a "simply foolish" document. Borodin's remarks follow Russian President Putin's criticism of the Belarusian-Russian integration model being pursued by Minsk (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 18 June 2002). Borodin's pronouncements elicited an acerbic reaction from Mikhail Charhinets, chairman of Belarus's Council of the Republic Commission for International Affairs and National Security. "It is time for Borodin to realize that he is in a post where each word should be well-considered, and that he receives his salary from the treasuries of both states," Charhinets told journalists in Minsk on 17 June. Charhinets also demanded that Borodin reveal the whereabouts of "several hundred thousand [rubles] of union money" that, according to the Belarusian lawmaker, "circulated among commercial structures." Borodin's spokesman labeled that demand slander. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT URGES 'EUROPEAN CHOICE'... President Leonid Kuchma on 18 June delivered his state-of-the-nation address to the Verkhovna Rada, in which he urged lawmakers to pursue the "European choice, which is a continuation of the general course of Ukraine since the moment it became independent," Ukrainian media reported. "The optimal choice is full-fledged membership in the European Union," Kuchma stressed. But he was quick to add that "while moving toward Europe, we should not forget our other objectives...[and] we should develop our strong ties with Russia." Speaking about Ukraine's foreign-policy priorities, Kuchma named "Euro-Atlantic integration" and underscored the importance of the country's strategic partnerships with Russia, Poland, Germany, and the United States. JM
...CALLS ON PARLIAMENT TO COOPERATE WITH GOVERNMENT... Kuchma also called on the Verkhovna Rada to cooperate with the government. He said the creation of a "coalition cabinet" is possible only after the emergence of a workable parliamentary majority. Kuchma admitted that there should be a mechanism enabling the parliament to impeach the president. At the same time, however, he stressed that the president should have the right to disband the legislature in the event it fails to create a viable majority. JM
...BUT FAILS TO CONVINCE SOME. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc failed to appear in the chamber for Kuchma's speech, UNIAN reported. The bloc said in a statement that listening to Kuchma's state of the nation address in the parliament is a "window-dressing act." The bloc accused Kuchma of avoiding "direct and open dialogue" with society in recent years. Shortly before the address began, Socialist Party lawmaker Yuriy Lutsenko presented Kuchma with a pair of peasant shoes, saying: "For your trip to Europe." Kuchma reportedly threw away the present with the comment: "One needs to have something in one's head though." JM
On 3 June, Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski traveled to Moscow for his first official visit to Russia. He was invited on the four-day visit by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov to discuss a number of long-standing issues in bilateral relations. However, although leading Russian politicians including President Vladimir Putin called Saxecoburggotski's visit a "turning point" in relations, Bulgarian observers were more skeptical about the results of the trip.
During much of the postcommunist period, relations between the two former allies seesawed with the political orientations of Bulgaria's governments. Relations were better when the Socialist Party (BSP) was in power in the immediate postcommunist period and worsened as soon as the anticommunist Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) came to the helm. One consequence of the strained relations of recent years was that Saxecoburggotski's visit was the first by a Bulgarian prime minister to Russia since that of Zhan Videnov of the BSP in 1995.
Saxecoburggotski's predecessor, Ivan Kostov of the SDS, strictly opposed warm relations with Russia. He feared that the former oppressor would regain its once tremendous influence over Bulgarian politics and economics; in the communist period, even Bulgaria's leadership sometimes referred to the country as a "Soviet republic." As a result, many questions between Russia and Bulgaria remained open: Russia's debt to Bulgaria; unsolved problems regarding former Soviet property in Bulgaria, mainly stemming from mixed Soviet-Bulgarian enterprises; Russian licenses for Bulgarian ordnance factories; Bulgarian licenses for cigarette production in Russia; and more recent problems stemming from the introduction of visa requirements for Russian citizens after the European Union lifted its visa requirement for Bulgarian citizens. These bilateral problems were further complicated by Russia's opposition to Bulgaria's aspirations to join NATO.
These unresolved issues have not, however, prevented Russian businessmen from making Russia one of Bulgaria's largest trading partners, if not the largest. Russian companies such as LUKoil and Gazprom have a considerable stake in Bulgaria's economy. At the same time, the traditionally strong presence of Bulgarian agricultural products on the Russian market has diminished considerably.
Saxecoburggotski, for his part, seems to have been aware of the pitfalls in bilateral relations before he left for Moscow. He repeatedly called for pragmatism and tried to play down the importance of his visit. He was accompanied only by a small delegation of experts and his wife. Most media outlets opted not to cover the trip closely, which later led to a number of misunderstandings.
The most important result of the visit was a supplement to the Agreement on the Settlement of the Mutual Obligations Between the Russian Federation and Bulgaria. Russia's debt to Bulgaria was reduced and will be repaid both in cash and in nuclear fuel for Bulgaria's Kozloduy power plant. Bulgaria, for its part, agreed to have its MiG-29 fighter jets serviced at Russia's RSK MiG factories. But what is even more important -- and what was one of the reasons for Kostov's reluctance to improve Russian-Bulgarian relations -- the supplement linked the debt settlement to the condition that Bulgarian authorities register former Soviet property in Bulgaria as Russian. In doing so, the Bulgarian government risks a dispute with Ukraine, which also claims some of this property.
On his return from Russia, Saxecoburggotski faced numerous questions from the Bulgarian media. Most of these questions, however, focused on an incident during the signing ceremony when Bulgarian Ambassador to Russia Iliyan Vasilev hesitated before signing the document. Later, this hesitation was explained by a lapse in protocol that resulted in only one copy of the document being available. But the media speculated that the document might have been changed at the last moment to include passages that had not been agreed upon.
Bulgarian media also criticized the lack of results of Saxecoburggotski's visit. Some journalists, such as Maria Pirgova of "Dnevnik," even went so far as to say that the prime minister did not manage to lay out Bulgaria's interests for the Russian leadership. Instead of introducing a new pragmatism, Pirgova wrote, Saxecoburggotski -- formerly the king of Bulgaria -- acted like a monarch and was treated as such by his Russian hosts.Georgi Karasimeonov, director of the Sofia-based Institute for Legal and Political Studies, believes that relations between Russia and Bulgaria still suffer from old ideological problems. "In Bulgaria, there still persist the old passions from the period of Russophiles and Russophobes. In Russia, some still cannot accept the fact that Bulgaria is not the loyal vassal it used to be," Karasimeonov said in an interview with the daily "Standart." But unlike Pirgova, Karasimeonov believes that Saxecoburggotski's visit contributed to the improvement of bilateral relations.
However slight the immediate results of Saxecoburggotski's visit might seem, the mere fact that his government is trying to reestablish good relations with Russia should be regarded as a positive sign. But, as Russian Ambassador to Bulgaria Vladimir Titov pointed out in an interview, the many open questions between the two countries still need to be resolved.
TRILATERAL GAS TRANSIT CONSORTIUM FORMED (11 JUNE) The presidents of Russia, Ukraine, and Germany signed a joint statement pledging to establish a trilateral consortium to ensure reliable delivery of natural gas to Europe. The consortium will utilize the existing Ukrainian and Russian pipelines, according to a "joint-use" agreement that has yet to be defined, CEE News Flash (Bluebull) reported. All three presidents signed the statement in St. Petersburg, Russia. German President Gerhard Schroeder proposed that German gas giant Ruhrgas be allowed to participate in the consortium. Ruhrgas already has formal relations with the Russia gas giant Gazprom, which includes a gas-delivery contract and stock ownership. Deutsche Bank is also the lead manager of the Gazprombank Eurobond issue. Ruhrgaz and Gazprom are cooperating in the development of the Yamal natural-gas field in the Arctic, which will be a large factor in meeting future European gas needs. (PMJ)
GAZPROMBANK IS READY TO ISSUE SECOND EUROBOND TRANCHE (13 JUNE) Gazprombank President and Executive Board Chairman Yurii Lvov announced on 12 June that preparation for issuing the company's second five-year Eurobond tranche, amounting to 200 million euros, has begun. The actual process will most likely take place between July and September. According to the CEE newsgroup, the decision to start the project was approved on 7 June at an annual shareholders meeting. The exact timing of the Eurobonds placement will be determined after the second round is issued by Gazprombank's owner, Gazprom. According to Eurobond regulations, there should be at least 90 days between each issue. The bank's subsidiary in Holland will attract Eurobonds in exchange for the bank's 100 percent guarantee. Deutsche Bank will be the lead manager of the second tranche. The bank management believes that the new Eurobond rate will not increase above 9.13 percent annually, which was the estimated rate for the five-year Gazprom Eurobonds issue, totaling $500 million, RosBusiness Consulting reported on 11 June. The first tranche of Gazprombank's Eurobonds, totaling 200 million euros, started in December. According to the bank's executive board, Gazprombank's first Eurobond issue was divided up among 43 investors, mostly from Italy, Germany, and Great Britain. The redemption time of the issue was two years, while the dividend rate is under 10 percent. (IM/PMJ)
By tradition, a fourth wedding anniversary is marked by gifts of fruits and flowers. Last month marked the fourth anniversary of Russia's ratification of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR). Pick your metaphor, but only Russia's record of violating human rights seems to be flowering. What fruits, then, have their been from this treaty?
By signing the ECHR, Russia accepted the obligation "[to] secure to everyone within [its] jurisdiction the rights and freedoms" described in the treaty. Russia recognized the authority of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to enforce this obligation, and the right of individuals to petition the court alleging violations by the Russian state. Such a right is virtually unheard of in international law, which is typically more concerned with sovereign states than individuals.
But has this remarkable convention borne fruit in Russia? Yes and no. In a series of rulings over the past 12 months, for the very first time the Russian state has found itself squarely in the European human-rights dock. Another positive sign comes from Russia's highest courts, where the ECHR is increasingly cited in legal decisions. This July, a new Criminal Procedure Code -- strongly influenced by Russia's European commitments -- will enter into force earlier than expected thanks to a Russian Constitutional Court ruling citing the ECHR for support.
Nevertheless, serious obstacles counsel against buying gifts for the crystal or silver jubilee just yet. In the first three years since ratification, not a single Russian case was declared admissible by the European Court of Human Rights. The dearth of admissible cases was not, however, for lack of complaints. By the end of 1999, Strasbourg had received almost 2,000 complaints; by this time last year, more than 6,000 complaints had been lodged against Russia. Most of the complaints, however, were routinely rejected as inadmissible on technical grounds that reflected the scant attention that has been paid to educating Russia's capable and growing cadre of human-rights lawyers on how to bring a case to Strasbourg. Some legal specialists even predict a heightening of these procedural barriers by the court, some of whose members fear the deluge of Russian cases that could choke the already slow docket of the court.
In June 2001, that deluge began. The court, for the first time, declared a Russian case admissible, i.e., suitable for a decision by the court on the merits of the complaint. The case of Burdov v. Russia involved a Russian pensioner who had been awarded state compensation in 1991 failing health resulting from his assistance in emergency operations during the April 1986 Chornobyl nuclear disaster. The pensioner, who won a civil suit in a Russian court in 1997 for continued lack of payment, nevertheless failed to receive any of the funds owed him until March 2001 (when, warned of this ECHR action, Russia paid up). The court ruled that, since Russia never acknowledged its violation of Burdov's rights, the case deserved to be heard on its merits.
In a remarkable decision in May, the European court doubled the historical significance of the Burdov case, making it also the first case against Russia to be decided on its merits and the first monetary award assessed for violation of the treaty. Two years after applying to the European Court of Human Rights, six years after his first legal victory in the Russian legal system, and 12 years after his obligatory service at Chornobyl, Anatolii Tikhonovich Burdov finally won his case. The court held that the right to a fair trial included the right to execution of a court judgment; lack of funds was no excuse for the interminable delay Burdov suffered. But, in a sad coda to such a historic case (and one that underlines the limitations of the ECHR process for immediate practical relief to victims), the court held Burdov's claim for $300,000 in damages to be excessive. For his troubles, Burdov was finally awarded 3,000 euros ($2,715).
This past November, the European court declared another case admissible, Kalashnikov v. Russia. The Court will hold a hearing on its merits in July. The facts of this complaint were particularly gruesome, all the more so for their ubiquity in the Russian penal system. Suspected of embezzlement from the small Siberian bank of which he was president, Kalashnikov was held in pretrial detention for more than four years, crushed with 24 other prisoners into a 17- square-meter cell designed for eight. He also complained of beatings by guards and a variety of other abominable conditions.
Kalashnikov filed at least 15 motions for release and began a hunger strike to protest his detention, all in vain. Release was always refused on the same grounds: "the seriousness of the offense" and the "danger of his obstructing the establishment of the truth while at liberty." Refusals continued even after the investigation of his case had been completed, making interference with the truth impossible. In the ultimate display of Kafkaesque bureaucratic gall, the prosecution obtained a further delay in Kalashnikov's trial to conduct a psychiatric evaluation of Kalashnikov "in view of the length of the applicant's detention." Incredibly, Russia argued that Kalashnikov's claim was inadmissible because he had not exhausted the Russian appeals process before making his international claim. These arguments fell on deaf ears in Strasbourg. The merits of the case will be heard in July.
On the legislative side, ECHR obligations have strongly
influenced Russia's new Criminal Procedure Code, which was approved
in December. Prior to this reform (when Russia still operated under
the heavily revised Soviet-era code), initial custody and pretrial
detention were decisions that rested with the prosecutor, not with
the judge. But a prosecutor, who investigates, prosecutes, and may
appeal an acquittal, hardly possesses the objectivity or independence
to determine such questions. The new Criminal Procedure Code --
passed with an eye to promises made when Russia signed the ECHR --
now assigns that function to judges, in line with all other modern
criminal procedure codes.
Critics of the Russian criminal justice system aren't holding their breath, however. A 1996 law on habeas corpus (giving judges the power to review the lawfulness of arrests) is grossly underutilized. At an informal meeting with five current Russian judges specializing in criminal cases, the author was told that both financial and psychological impediments justified gradual adoption. One judge argued that immediate adoption of court-supervised detention would require the doubling of judges in the Russian criminal justice system. Another noted that the shift in power from prosecutor to judge was presently impossible: Neither set of officials possessed the education, experience, or even mentality for such an abrupt change. The code's gradualism (judicial control of arrest and detention was delayed until 2004), not shock therapy, was the best approach.
In a surprising, and inspiring, decision this March, however, the federal Constitutional Court disagreed and struck down this transitional period. The court heard petitions from several Russian citizens who, like Kalashnikov, were suspects in criminal cases and placed in pretrial detention by order of the prosecutor. The citizens argued violation of Article 22 of the Russian Constitution: "arrest, detention, and custody shall be permitted only by authority of judicial order." Due to the transitional provisions of the Russian Constitution, however, Article 22 was in a state of suspended animation pending the adoption of the new Russian Criminal Procedure Code, which itself continued the delay. The court, however, put an end to this gradualism, making repeated and direct citation to the European Convention on Human Rights. The court ruled that since a new law of criminal procedure had been passed, the transitional period established in the constitution was over. The court directed the Federal Assembly to ensure that the provisions of the new Criminal Procedure Code establishing judicially controlled pretrial detention enter into force on 1 July. Work in the Federal Assembly to comply with that order continues now.
These cases demonstrate some of the most frustrating aspects of the European human-rights regime. The plodding pace of the court's overcrowded docket and the award of paltry sums for egregious violations offer little compensation for individual victims. But the pressure that the ECHR has put on Russia has helped spur reform of both Russia's courts and legal codes. A growing cadre of human-rights lawyers, inspired by recent cases, can contribute to increasing professionalization of Russia's criminal justice system. Will Russian participation in the ECHR human-rights regime see many more anniversaries? The only certainty is that, so long as Russia is a member, allegations of human-rights violations will continue to flood the Strasbourg court's docket. This marriage is worth saving.
(Jeffrey Kahn will be in Moscow this June lecturing at a Council of Europe summer school for human-rights lawyers. His new book, "Federalism, Democratization and the Rule of Law in Russia," will be published by Oxford University Press in July.)
emergency operations during the April 1986 Chornobyl nuclear
his obligatory service at Chornobyl, Anatolii Tikhonovich Burdov
UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT SUBMITS 2003 BUDGET GUIDELINES TO PARLIAMENT. Finance Minister Ihor Yushko told the Verkhovna Rada on 19 June that the government will draft a 2003 budget bill calling for a 0.5 percent deficit and an inflation rate below 10 percent, UNIAN reported. The parliament is currently viewing budgetary-policy guidelines for 2003. Meanwhile, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc has reportedly started collecting signatures in support of its motion to dismiss Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh's cabinet. Our Ukraine lawmaker Yevhen Zhovtyak told UNIAN that President Leonid Kuchma has decided to replace Kinakh with Donetsk Oblast Governor Viktor Yanukovych. According to Zhovtyak, by promoting Yanukovych, Kuchma wants to counterbalance the recent appointment of Viktor Medvedchuk (from the "Kyiv clan" of oligarchs) as presidential administration chief with a concession to the "Donetsk clan." JM
UNITED UKRAINE BEGINS SPLITTING INTO FACTIONS. The pro-presidential United Ukraine parliamentary group decided on 18 June to reorganize itself into "a bloc of caucuses, deputy groups, and individual deputies," UNIAN reported, quoting Labor Ukraine Party leader Serhiy Tihipko. Tihipko noted that groups and deputies within the restructured United Ukraine will continue to coordinate their parliamentary work. It is expected that United Ukraine will split into six groups. Five of them -- Labor Ukraine, Popular Democratic Party, Ukraine's Regions, Ukraine's Agrarians, and Industrialists and Entrepreneurs -- will reflect the party composition of Our Ukraine. The sixth group, called Power of the People (Narodovladdya), is to include Our Ukraine deputies with no party affiliation. UNIAN reported on 19 June that the People's Democracy group, consisting of 17 lawmakers, has already been registered by the Verkhovna Rada Secretariat. JM
UKRAINIAN MINERS HOLD PROTESTS OVER WAGE ARREARS. Some 90 coal miners from Luhansk Oblast launched a hunger strike on Independence Square in Kyiv on 18 June, demanding payment of overdue wages. "We are determined to stay here until the government pays our money. In some months, we get only one-third of our salaries -- and sometimes nothing. It is impossible to live like this," one of the protesters told Reuters. The same day, some 70 miners from Donetsk Oblast picketed the parliamentary and governmental headquarters in Kyiv with similar demands, AP reported. JM
POLISH RADICAL AGRARIAN LEADER ANNOUNCES MORE PROTESTS. Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper told journalists in Lodz on 18 June that his organization has a complete plan of nationwide antigovernment protests, the first of which is scheduled for 25 June (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 18 June 2002), PAP reported. "[The protest] on 25 June will start off a series of large protest actions. We will organize surprise blockades in cities, but that's not all -- we have more protests planned after 25 June," Lepper said. He added that Self-Defense does not fear police intervention during the protests since "most of the police are on our side anyway." Lepper appealed to Prime Minister Miller for talks on "the state's social, economic, and fiscal policies" and added that if the talks prove "satisfactory," the protests may be called off. JM
CHISINAU, TIRASPOL TO RESUME NEGOTIATIONS. Negotiations between Moldova and the breakaway Transdniester region will be resumed in Kyiv on 26-27 June, Infotag reported on 18 June, citing Transdniester "Foreign Minister" Valerii Litskay. The meeting will be the first following a nine-month break and will be attended by the mediators in the conflict: Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The sides are to resume talks on a special status for the region. MS