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PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION PROBES RYWINGATE... On 8 February, the ad hoc parliamentary commission to investigate allegations that film producer Lew Rywin tried to solicit a $17.5 million bribe on behalf of Prime Minister Leszek Miller began its first public interrogations in the case now known in the Polish media as "Rywingate." The first person questioned by the commission was "Gazeta Wyborcza" Editor in Chief Adam Michnik, who on 27 December published a secretly taped conversation with Rywin in which the latter, claiming to have support from a "group of people in power," offered to lobby the government for a favorable media law that would allow Agora S.A., the newspaper's publisher, to buy the private Polsat television station. Michnik's public testimony, according to Polish commentators, has added little substance to what was already known from the "Gazeta Wyborcza" article. ("RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 18 February)

...AS POLISH TV HEAD IMPLICATED... "Gazeta Wyborcza" Editor in Chief Michnik suggested during his testimony before the ad hoc parliamentary commission that Polish Television Chairman Robert Kwiatkowski and Wlodzimierz Czarzasty, a member of the National Radio and Television Council -- who were allegedly mentioned by Rywin as the people behind his bribe offer -- had plans to privatize the second channel of the public Polish Television and might have been interested in eliminating Agora as a potential buyer by embroiling it in a bribery scandal. On 10 February, the parliamentary commission called for Kwiatkowski's suspension and asked the prosecution for the right to examine his telephone bills. "In light of certain facts uncovered in the course of the commission's work...and doubts as to the public television station's objectiveness in covering its sittings, as well as Kwiatkowski's use of public television to disseminate his private views, the commission believes Kwiatkowski should be suspended from his functions until [the commission] has completed its work," the commission said in a statement. The Polish Television Supervisory Board, which has the authority to suspend or sack Kwiatkowski, voted on 14 February to leave him in his post. ("RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 18 February)


CPJ CONCERNED OVER ALLEGED DEATH THREAT AGAINST EDITOR. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a report on 19 February about Vira Kytayhorodska, editor in chief of the twice-weekly paper "Bukovynske Viche" in the western city of Chernivtsi. Kytayhorodska said on 16 February that a local government official has threatened to kill her for republishing an article on 7 February that accused Chernivtsi Oblast Governor Teofil Bauer of corruption and violating customs regulations. The official, Chernivtsi regional council Deputy Chairman Ivan Muntyan, told CPJ that he did not threaten Kytayhorodska. He said that he called the editor to ask why she had reprinted the article without checking its claims. The original article appeared in the 29 January edition of "Reporter," a newspaper in the neighboring city of Ternopil. On 14 February, Kytayhorodska sent a letter to President Leonid Kuchma and Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Pyskun requesting protection. A local police official confirmed that Kytayhorodska's letter and claims are being reviewed to determine whether they warrant an investigation. (CPJ, 19 February)

RUSSIA, UKRAINE, BELARUS, KAZAKHSTAN AGREE ON JOINT ECONOMIC ZONE... President Putin and the presidents of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan held an unexpected meeting in the Moscow suburb of Novo-Ogarevo on 23 February, after which they announced that they had reached agreement in principle on the creation of a "joint economic space" covering the four countries, Western and Russian news agencies reported. Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said the countries will prepare an agreement on the project by September and take measures to coordinate their economic policies and legislative environments. Putin said the four countries have agreed to create a supranational commission on trade and tariffs that will be based in Kyiv and will be initially headed by a representative of Kazakhstan. He said this commission will not be subordinate to the governments of the four countries. The ultimate goal of the economic alliance will be the creation of a regional-integration organization that will be open to other countries that might want to join, Putin said. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev said the new economic zone will not replace the CIS, but represents a new form of integration under which economic ties will have priority over political relations. VY

RUSSIA CELEBRATES ARMY DAY... Several leftist and nationalist organizations led by the Communist Party held demonstrations on 23 February to mark Defender of the Fatherland Day, Russian news agencies reported. President Putin decreed the day a state holiday last year, and this year marked the first time it was officially celebrated as a non-working day. About 3,000 marchers in Moscow carried portraits of Josef Stalin and placards with anti-American slogans protesting a possible military action against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. President Putin -- together with Ukrainian President Kuchma, Kazakh President Nazarbaev, and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka -- participated in several ceremonies feting the Russian Army, and the presidents declared the celebration "a joint holiday," RTR reported. Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov (independent) announced that he has introduced a bill in the Duma that would abolish the holiday, which in the Soviet era was known as Red Army Day and since 1993 has been called Russian Army Day, NTV reported on 22 February. On 23 February 1918, the Red Army suffered a defeat at the hands of German troops near Pskov, a fact that has long been kept from the public, Yushenkov said. Instead, he said, the holiday should celebrated on 7 September to mark the anniversary of the Russian Army's victory over Napoleon near Borodino in 1812. VY

OUR UKRAINE LEADER BLAMES 'TOP-ECHELON CRIMINALS' FOR PROPAGATING FAKE LETTER. Our Ukraine head Viktor Yushchenko on 21 February charged that "criminals in politics who are in the top echelons of power" are responsible for preparing and disseminating a false message to voters that attacks fellow opposition politician Yuliya Tymoshenko, UNIAN reported on 22 February. The letter bears what appears to be his signature and was distributed primarily by post in western Ukraine earlier this month. "Only they [those in power] are capable of using state institutions like Ukrposhta [the state postal service] in such a way," Yushchenko added. Some 2 million leaflets bore the logo of Our Ukraine and his portrait, as well as his signature, under a text touching upon his relations with Tymoshenko, the leader of the eponymous opposition bloc. The bogus letter suggests that Tymoshenko's place is in prison and calls her a "Trojan horse" among Ukraine's national-democratic forces. The letter charges that Tymoshenko's real aim is to prevent Yushchenko from becoming president. "This is ignoble and primitive," Yushchenko said, adding that the message was concocted to sow discord among the leaders of democratic forces. "Our relations have never been, are not, and will never be base. We are political partners," Yushchenko said in reference to Tymoshenko. JM