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RUSSIA, NATO BEGIN 'OPEN SKIES' PROGRAM. The Defense Ministry announced that a group of Russian military inspectors aboard an An-30 reconnaissance aircraft will begin monitoring military installations in several NATO countries between 5-10 August under the framework of the Open Skies Treaty, Russian news agencies reported on 7 August. The treaty has been signed by all NATO members, the East European members of the former Warsaw Pact, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan. Although it was signed in 1992, it only came into force this year and envisages the visual inspection of military facilities of the former antagonists in the Cold War. The Defense Ministry added that the German Air Force will make similar overflights of Russia later this month. VY


U.S. CONGRESSMAN CONDEMNS DESTRUCTION OF CHURCH IN BELARUS. U.S. Representative Christopher H. Smith (Republican, New Jersey), co-chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, said on 6 August that he is "shocked, but not surprised" that the Belarusian authorities demolished the newly built shrine of the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in the town of Pahranichny in Hrodna Oblast (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 6 August 2002), the Helsinki Commission website reported. "This outrageous crime further demonstrates how ruthless, corrupt, and immoral [Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's rule has become," Smith said. "This [act of demolition]...strengthens my resolve to pass the Belarus Democracy Act," Smith added. The Belarus Democracy Act of 2002 calls for an increase in assistance for democracy-building activities, encourages free and fair parliamentary elections, and would impose sanctions against the Lukashenka regime, including denying his high-ranking officials entry to the United States. JM

THREE BELARUSIANS SEEK ASYLUM IN UKRAINE. Three Belarusian citizens on 6 August applied for political asylum in Ukraine, claiming they were persecuted in Belarus for opposition views and activities, AP and UNIAN reported. Uladzimir Bukhanau, Svyataslau Shapavalau, and Syarhey Korneu said in a statement to the media that Belarusian prosecutors frequently questioned them and that they were subject to police beatings and had friends who died under strange circumstances. They also said their opposition activities included the dissemination of antigovernment leaflets. The Belarusian Embassy in Kyiv did not comment on the request, but noted that the men are not political or public leaders in Belarus and had previously been denied political asylum in Russia and Germany, AP reported. JM

YULIYA TYMOSHENKO BLOC CONCURS WITH COMMUNISTS ON PROTEST GOALS. Responding to the 6 August statement by Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2002), the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (BYT) said the same day that it agrees with many proposals by the Communist Party regarding the goals of the protest campaign planned for this fall, UNIAN reported. In particular, the BYT stresses that the main goal of the planned protest campaign is to "form an efficient political system and a professional governing team" as well as to force an early presidential election in Ukraine. The BYT, like the Communist Party, believes that the issue of whom the opposition should support in a possible early presidential election should not be raised during the upcoming protest campaign. JM

COMMISSION REJECTS UFO HIT AS CAUSE OF UKRAINIAN AIR-SHOW TRAGEDY. The government commission investigating the tragic crash of a fighter jet at an air show in Lviv on 27 July (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 30 July 2002) flatly denied media reports that an unknown object in the air caused the disaster, AP reported on 6 August. "The reasons are known. Military and civil organizers of the event caused the tragedy," 1+1 Television quoted commission Chairman Yevhen Marchuk as saying. Marchuk's comments came after German RTL television showed video footage of an unidentified cylindrical object speeding under the plane just seconds before the crash. Calling for an end to "cheap sensationalism," Marchuk said investigators analyzed every possible cause and concluded that organizational failures and pilot error caused the crash. On 7 August, Marchuk said the two pilots of the jet are primarily to blame for the tragedy. "The pilots failed to follow the flight plan and performed four difficult maneuvers that they had not done before," he said at a press conference announcing results of the investigation. JM

UKRAINIAN PRISONERS END HUNGER STRIKE IN PRAGUE. Several dozen Ukrainian citizens serving their terms at the Pankrac prison in Prague, the Czech Republic, ended a one-week hunger strike on 5 August, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported on 6 August. "They protested the conditions in which they are kept, [they protested] the level of health care, they complained that it takes a long time for Czech authorities to review their cases, or they protested their imprisonment since they consider themselves innocent," an official from the Ukrainian Embassy in Prague told RFE/RL in commenting on the reasons for the strike. More than 500 Ukrainians are incarcerated in Czech prisons. JM


The Ukrainian parliament on 4 July approved by 347 votes President Leonid Kuchma's candidate for prosecutor-general, Svyatoslav Pyskun. Less than a month into his new position, Pyskun's first major move was to reopen the case against anti-Kuchma oppositionist Yuliya Tymoshenko, accusing her of violating eight articles of the Criminal Code. This follows the arrest of four of her former colleagues from Unified Energy Systems, which she headed in the mid-1990s, in Turkey on 1 June. The Ukrainian authorities are demanding their extradition to Ukraine.

Pyskun is a former lieutenant general in the State Tax Administration (DPA) and served since May as that organization's deputy head. Pyskun's appointment consolidates the growing power of the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine-united (SDPU-o), whose leader, Viktor Medvedchuk, is now head of the presidential administration. Pyskun and Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh have close ties to Medvedchuk's SDPU-o clan.

The Prosecutor-General's Office had long been discredited under its previous head, Mykhaylo Potebenko, who was elected to parliament on the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) list, because of his failure to reduce the extent of oligarchic and executive corruption. He had also failed to make any progress in solving the murder of opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze.

Pyskun promised shortly after his appointment to rid Ukraine of corruption and resolve Gongadze's murder. But as a Kuchma appointee, Pyskun is unlikely to succeed in eradicating corruption, which has always been targeted in a highly selective manner. Corrupt oligarchs who have supported Kuchma financially or politically have never been investigated.

Yuliya Tymoshenko and, after he was allowed to flee Ukraine, former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko were only accused of corruption charges after they went into political opposition to Kuchma. A Kyiv court ruled on 30 April that criminal charges against Tymoshenko and her husband, Oleksandr, who was arrested earlier in August 2000, were "groundless."

In reopening the case against Tymoshenko, Pyskun is continuing his predecessor's policy of only accusing of "corruption" individuals who are in opposition to the executive. As the newspaper "Zerkalo nedeli/Dzerkalo tyzhnya" noted in its 6-13 July edition, "People from the world of big money have become the major driving force behind Pyskun's success." Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz accused Kuchma of being directly behind Pyskun's new move against Tymoshenko, which, according to Moroz, is an attempt to intimidate the opposition ahead of an announced protest action in September. Pyskun is further discrediting the Prosecutor-General's Office, Moroz believes, by refusing to investigate the oligarchs' involvement in corruption. But opening any cases against oligarchs would be impossible now that Medvedchuk is head of the presidential administration.

As for the Gongadze case, President Kuchma said in a BBC Television documentary aired in April, "Killing the Story," that he is interested above all in resolving the murder. The most contentious issue will be whether Pyskun utilizes the tapes made illicitly by security guard Mykola Melnychenko in Kuchma's office, the FBI expert reports on the tapes, and the testimony Melnychenko has offered to give in the United States in the investigation. Pyskun has created a new investigative group on Gongadze and has hinted at undertaking a fifth autopsy on the headless corpse found in November 2000.

Why is Pyskun in such a hurry to deal with this case, which is not the only example of political repression or intimidation of journalists? And why is Pyskun in such a hurry to establish his credentials as an "anticorruption" fighter? Two factors may have a bearing on this urgency.

The first is the presidential elections due in October 2004. The Gongadze scandal is one of the main reasons why Kuchma is so discredited domestically. The "Kuchmagate" affair that erupted after November 2000 led to the creation of Ukraine's largest protest movements and the defeat of the pro-Kuchma For a United Ukraine (ZYU) in the March elections. Any candidate proposed by Kuchma to replace him as his chosen successor would stand little chance of being elected, unless Kuchma succeeds in salvaging his image.

Ukraine's political spectrum is now evenly divided into two camps. Four ideologically driven opposition groups on the left and right (Socialists, Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine Bloc, and the Communists) are pitted against an ideologically amorphous, pro-Kuchma, oligarchic center that has grown out of ZYU and the SDPU-o. The latter is working with Kuchma to ensure stage-managed presidential elections that would lead to a victory by Kuchma's hand-picked successor and his immunity from prosecution. The former seeks to push for early elections, and most want Kuchma impeached. Each side has 218 deputies in parliament, a factor that may make it difficult for Pyskun to obtain the required 226 votes to remove Tymoshenko's immunity unless the Communists switch sides and back the move.

Second, Pyskun was heavily involved in launching a trumped-up criminal case of "corruption" against Borys Feldman's Slovyanskyy bank and Tymoshenko (which is why her bloc voted against Pyskun's appointment). The executive tried every method to prevent the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc from entering parliament but failed. In a May poll conducted by the Ukrainian Center for Economic and Political Studies, Tymoshenko was seen by Ukrainians as the most radical of the four opposition groups. The poll found that her popularity had increased from 5.7 in December 2001 to 14.2 percent today, just 13 percentage points fewer than Yushchenko. She is ready to replace Yushchenko as opposition presidential candidate if he fails to rise to the challenge. Interviewed in "Moloda Ukrayina" on July 25, Tymoshenko warned that, "If we see that Mr. Yushchenko's team is not able to protect Ukraine, then we will strive to attain power independently. A potential candidate should prove his right to lay claim to this post through consistent and decisive actions and through responsibility before the people."

Pyskun's new case against Tymoshenko is Kuchma's response to Tymoshenko's prioritization of impeachment proceedings in the newly elected Verkhovna Rada, the creation of the Tymoshenko-backed Citizens Defense Committee Against Tyranny, and the threat felt by Kuchma from the uniting of four opposition groups for the first time. The opposition plans to launch mass protests calling for early presidential elections on 16 September, the second anniversary of Gongadze's abduction. During the "Kuchmagate" scandal of 2000-01, the Communists did not back the opposition, while Yushchenko was forced to be neutral as he was then prime minister and had not yet united Ukraine's national democrats into the Our Ukraine Bloc.

Pyskun's appointment to the position of prosecutor-general is not a sign of progress in the rule of law in Ukraine, as the executive has now combined two state institutions -- the State Tax Administration and the Prosecutor-General's Office -- into one office that is already being used to pursue political repression ahead of the presidential elections.