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BELARUS AND UKRAINE: PRESIDENTS THAT FALL SHORT OF EUROATLANTIC STANDARDS. Two scandalous political developments have burst onto the international agenda prior to the NATO summit in Prague on 21-22 November. The first concerns the Czech Republic's denial of a visa to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, effectively preventing him from coming to the country to participate in a sitting of the EuroAtlantic Partnership Council (EAPC). The second is NATO's decision to hold a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission at the summit at the foreign-minister level in an apparent attempt to prevent Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma from coming to Prague. While Lukashenka will definitely not appear in Prague, Kuchma has preferred to keep NATO in suspense until the very last moment. According to what appear to be deliberately unconfirmed media reports from Ukraine, Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko will come to Prague at the head a Ukrainian delegation to the NATO-Ukraine Commission talks, while Kuchma is considering leading another delegation to a session of the 46-member EAPC.

It is no wonder that media always seek sensational and spicy aspects of any event, irrespective of how serious or historically momentous that event might be. Therefore, their focus on the turmoil caused by Lukashenka and Kuchma in the context of the Prague summit is understandable. But it is also true that, in general perception, the NATO summit in Prague -- which is expected to extend NATO membership invitations to as many as seven postcommunist states and has been labeled in advance a historic event -- lacks the momentousness it would have had if NATO membership had been offered to those seven Central and Eastern European states 10 years ago. The past decade has greatly blurred the Cold War division line in Europe, while the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States have radically redefined the North Atlantic alliance's military goals and priorities. In fact, the upcoming expansion of NATO seems to be a political move rather than a military one, while the military consequences of this step might more greatly affect other parts of the globe than Europe itself.

As in the case of the three Central European states (Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary) that were admitted to NATO in March 1999, it will take years before the new members -- Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, and Bulgaria -- are able to make a palpable contribution to NATO's "firepower." This aspect of NATO enlargement is obviously understood by NATO planners and strategists, and it has also spawned a great deal of ironic commentary in Russia as well as in the United States, which now seems to uphold NATO's military reliability completely with its own efforts. However, the political significance of the current NATO expansion should not be underestimated. In actual fact, the inclusion of these seven new countries into NATO is in reward for the progress they made toward shaking off their "Eurasian" political legacy and acquiring new, "Euro-Atlantic" identities. It is also a clear sign of how greatly the realm of democracy and political stability in Europe has expanded since the breakdown of communism in Europe in 1989, including headway into what was formerly known as the Soviet Union. For the countries that were admitted to NATO in 1999 or are to be admitted in the second wave following the Prague summit, NATO membership is firm evidence that they belong to the West. Their future membership in the EU will only confirm and seal this eventuality.

"We are convinced that fundamental human rights and freedoms are not being protected and respected in Belarus, and that is one of the basic values upon which the EuroAtlantic alliance was founded," Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said in justifying the visa denial to Lukashenka. Few would deny that human rights in Belarus are abused, freedom of speech is suppressed, and political choices are limited. Similar accusations, however, can justly be made with regard to some regimes in post-Soviet Central Asia that will be represented by their leaders at the Prague summit. Does this mean Lukashenka is correct in claiming the West resorts to "double standards" in assessing the level of democracy in Belarus in comparison with post-Soviet Central Asian countries? To a certain degree, yes. But it also should be taken into account that none of NATO's "partners for peace" in Central Asia has been suspected, as has Belarus, of rendering military assistance to Saddam Hussein's regime and training Iraqi antiaircraft gunners who could conceivably be asked to down NATO aircraft.

It seems that NATO applied a similar rationale in not inviting the Ukrainian president to Prague. The record of human rights abuses and suppression of media under the rule of Leonid Kuchma actually puts Kuchma on a par with Lukashenka. But here, too, the decisive reason for snubbing the Ukrainian leader appeared to be the U.S. allegation that Kuchma approved the sale of an early-warning radar system to Iraq -- potentially putting the lives of NATO pilots at risk through the work of another NATO "partner for peace."

On the other hand, if Kuchma chooses to come to Prague in defiance of NATO hints that he is not welcome, it seems unlikely that he will be denied a Czech visa the way that Lukashenka was. Like it or not, it was under Kuchma's rule that Ukraine has asked for and been granted a place in the waiting room of Europe. This fact alone arguably grants Kuchma the right to somewhat different treatment by European leaders than that afforded Lukashenka. Ukraine has essentially found the path it must pursue, with or without Kuchma. Under Lukashenka, Belarus has failed to find a place within any alignment, defying through its actions both political expediency and common sense. Most likely, the West has come to the conclusion that life will be much simpler if it ignores Belarus's current leader. (Jan Maksymiuk)

UKRAINIAN PREMIER-DESIGNATE MEETS WITH PARLIAMENTARY GROUPS. Donetsk Governor Viktor Yanukovych, who was appointed prime minister by President Leonid Kuchma last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2002), began meeting parliamentary caucuses on 19 November ahead of an expected vote on his approval in the Verkhovna Rada on 21 November, international and Ukrainian news agencies reported. "I see my role as stabilizing the work of the government and developing cooperation with the parliament. We need stability. Everyone is sick of instability," Reuters quoted Yanukovych as saying. The People's Power, Agrarian Party, Social Democratic Party-united, and European Choice parliamentary groups have reportedly decided to support Yanukovych. Yanukovych was proposed for the post by the Ukraine's Regions parliamentary caucus. The current lineup in the Verkhovna Rada is as follows: Our Ukraine (110 deputies), Communists (61), Labor Ukraine-Party of Entrepreneurs and Industrialists (42), Social Democratic Party-united (39), Ukraine's Regions (37), Socialists (21), Democratic Initiatives (22), European Choice (20), Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (18), Popular Democratic Party (16), Agrarians (16), People's Power (16), People's Choice (15). There are also 16 nonaligned deputies in the 449-strong Verkhovna Rada. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WRAPS UP CHINA VISIT. President Kuchma on 19 November wound up his four-day visit to China, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the Ukrainian Embassy in Beijing, the visit resulted in "laying down the foundation for strategic partnership" between China and Ukraine. President Kuchma met with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, parliamentary Chairman Li Peng, Deputy Prime Minister for economic affairs Li Lanquing, and Defense Minister Chi Haotian. The embassy said Ukraine regards China "as its key political and trade partner in the Asia-Pacific region." The sides reportedly examined the possibility of delivering An-140 planes from Ukraine to China and prospects for boosting cooperation in aircraft building. The two countries signed an intergovernmental agreement on the protection of intellectual-property rights, a protocol on cooperation in aircraft building, and a joint declaration on the results of talks in which China expresses a readiness "to render Ukraine active support for its admission to the World Trade Organization." JM

ESTONIAN PRESIDENT VISITS AUSTRIA. Arnold Ruutel held talks in Vienna on 19 November with Austrian President Thomas Klestil on future relations between Russia and Ukraine, on the one hand, and the EU and the seven countries that are expected to receive invitations to join NATO later in the week in Prague, ETA reported. Unlike his Lithuanian and Latvian counterparts Valdas Adamkus and Vaiva Vike-Freiberga, Ruutel will not attend the NATO summit as he will be visiting Italy on 20-22 November. The main aim of Ruutel's visit was to take part in celebrations on 20 November marking the 90th birthday of Pan-European Union President Otto von Habsburg that began with a mass in St. Stephen's Cathedral and continued with a festive meeting in the Hofburg. SG

At the precise moment the Euro-Atlantic community is opening its arms to a large group of new NATO and EU candidates, it is simultaneously turning a cold shoulder to certain soon-to-be-neighbors. The West is zeroing in on and looking to isolate the leadership of two problem countries that represent some 60 million people on the future EU's doorstep.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma (both of whose countries already border NATO) have been told by the alliance that they are unwelcome at this week's Prague summit. In the case of Lukashenka, the Czech Republic rejected the his entry-visa application, and he is now facing a possible Europe-wide travel ban. In response, Lukashenka has suggested he might loosen his own country's border controls and flood Western Europe with illegal immigrants and narcotics.

Ukraine's Kuchma is embroiled in a major controversy connected with his country's alleged transfer of a Kolchuga radar system to Iraq, an act that has put the Ukrainian president squarely in Washington's crosshairs.

Belarus and Ukraine have settled into a particularly alarming pattern of behavior, where one is more likely to hear of illegal arms deals and "disappearances" of opposition figures and independent journalists, than news of credible economic or political reforms. This behavior raises profound questions concerning the shape and character of the new, enlarging Europe: Will countries not on a near-term EU or NATO track manage to strike a reform course to enable their productive and meaningful participation in modern European affairs? Or will these societies remain stuck in place, effectively shutting off the road to stability and prosperity and thus increasing the likelihood of new dividing lines in Europe?

The Baltic states and other candidate countries of Central Europe are proceeding apace with their reform and modernization efforts and soon expect to be full members in the two desired Western clubs (the Czechs, Hungarians, and Poles already became full members in NATO in 1999). Slovenia and Slovakia, which missed out on the first round of NATO enlargement, are this time around expected to receive invitations to join both the trans-Atlantic alliance and the EU. And with a post-11 September push, Bulgaria and Romania also are expected to be welcomed into NATO.

Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova -- none of which is on the Western organizations' short lists -- stand in stark contrast. EU President Romano Prodi offered precisely such a differentiated vision of Europe last month, affirming that the Balkans are "fated to join the European family," while giving a much less generous appraisal of the three lands to the enlarged EU's immediate east.

Belarus, a self-isolated state of 10 million people, has recently refused to extend the diplomatic accreditation of the last remaining member of the OSCE's Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG), Alina Josan, thereby completing its emasculation of the OSCE representation in Minsk. That mission had been engaged in monitoring Belarus's commitments on political and human rights issues, and Josan's expulsion at the end of October followed the expulsion by the Belarusian authorities of the AMG acting head in April 2002, the deputy acting head in June 2002, and its human-dimension officer in September 2002.

In recent years, former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka, opposition politician Viktar Hanchar, Hanchar's businessman friend Anatol Krasouski, and journalist Dzmitry Zavadski, all have disappeared and are believed dead. Minsk is suspected of selling dual-use technology to Baghdad. The Belarusian leadership, not eager to build links to the West, has oriented itself toward a set of outlaw states around the globe.

Ukraine has dug itself into a particularly deep hole in its relations with the United States. Washington has said that there is a "crisis of confidence" in bilateral relations and has suspended $55 million in aid in the wake of Kyiv's reported $100 million sale of a Kolchuga radar system to Iraq. A UN report issued in 2002 under the auspices of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) found that in 1999 Ukraine sent two helicopters and spare parts to Belgrade just before the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia began. And there is, of course, the horrifying case of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, in whose murder the Ukrainian president has been implicated.

By engaging in such behavior, these countries risk acquiring the image in Western public opinion of virtually unsalvageable cases. This is, however, only part of the equation. How Belarusians and Ukrainians view themselves remains an open question. Do they see a place for themselves in the West?

European prosperity and security are not divisible. Therefore, sooner or later, the EU must find a coherent and cohesive policy approach to the unstable lands on its eastern flank, ideally in a coordination and cooperation with the United States.

Discussion of EU and NATO enlargement creating new dividing lines is frowned upon in Euro-Atlantic discourse. But the reality is that forward-looking countries in the Central and Eastern Europe have dedicated themselves to joining the Western family of truly democratic states. The question is not really whether there will be a new dividing line. Instead, it is whether countries on the new Europe's margin -- among them Belarus and Ukraine -- will ultimately choose to take the difficult but very much needed steps to ensure that any new dividing line does not become permanent.