©2003 RFE/RL, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

With the kind permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, InfoUkes Inc. has been given rights to electronically re-print these articles on our web site. Visit the RFE/RL Ukrainian Service page for more information. Also visit the RFE/RL home page for news stories on other Eastern European and FSU countries.

Return to Main RFE News Page
InfoUkes Home Page

ukraine-related news stories from RFE

...AND RAISES EYEBROWS WITH MYSTERY MIDDLEMAN Gazprom's contract with an obscure Hungarian firm to supply Turkmen gas to Ukraine in 2003-06 dredges up memories of murky schemes to divert profits, "Vedomosti" reported on 27 February. Under the terms of the contract, Eural TG -- founded on 6 December with $12,000 in start-up capital in the Hungarian town of Csabdi by Israeli citizen Zeev Gordon and three Romanian citizens under the direction of former Hungarian official Andras Knopp -- will pay Gazprom $470 million in transit fees annually and receive from Ukraine 13.7 billion cubic meters of gas with a market value of at least $600 million, making for a tidy profit of $130 million (or more, if the gas is sold on international markets). Gazprom drew criticism in the past for similar schemes with middleman Itera, and the company had promised to "cut out the middleman" and make its gas deals more transparent. Gazprom Deputy CEO Aleksandr Ryazanov told "Vedomosti" that the new arrangement gives both Gazprom and Ukraine's Naftogaz "equal additional revenues." Observers were not convinced. "The Moscow Times" reported on 28 February that "investors are up in arms" over the report. Hermitage Capital Management's Vadim Kleiner told the newspaper, "There is no reasonable explanation for this fact." United Financial Group's Pavel Kushnir seconded him, calling the deal "very, very strange." DK


Nothing confirms the reality of power like the humility of petition. In the old days of Muscovy, humble requests to the ruler of the land were candidly termed "chelobitnye" -- literally, "beating one's forehead against the ground" -- in a presumed reference to the Mongol traditions that made their way into Russian life after the Golden Horde overran Kievan Rus in the 13th century. Under the Soviets, Central Committee decisions often issued forth against a backdrop of imploring collective letters from workers, peasants, and intellectuals to the general secretary of the Communist Party.

With Mongol overlords as scarce as epistolary-minded proletarians these days, the torch has passed to new hands. Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller and Rosneft President Sergei Bogdanchikov offered up a homage to tradition with a 17 February missive to President Vladimir Putin proposing an ambitious scheme for reapportioning licenses to develop oil and gas fields in eastern Siberia and Yakutia. The heads of the two state-controlled behemoths -- whom "Vedomosti" on 27 February accurately described as "part state officials, part oligarchs" -- want to unite the oil and gas fields of Chayanda, Kovykta, Upper Chona, Talakan, and Mid-Botuoba into a single project and auction off the rights. Miller and Bogdanchikov argue that it will be easier to develop the fields as a single group, "Konservator" reported on 28 February.

Eastern Siberia hardly lacks for hydrocarbons. "Vedomosti" reported on 26 February that the Chayanda gas field has reserves of 1.2 trillion cubic meters of natural gas; Talakan 124 million metric tons of oil and 47 billion cubic meters of gas; Kovykta 1.88 trillion cubic meters of gas; Upper Chona 200 million metric tons of oil and 95.5 billion cubic meters of gas; and Mid-Botuoba 51.6 million metric tons of oil and 547 billion cubic meters of gas.

According to "Vedomosti," President Putin liked the idea and scrawled on the letter, "Proposal deserves attention and support." "Gazeta" reported a slightly different resolution on 27 Feburary: "Review proposal."

Whatever the merits of the authors' arguments, and whatever the president's actual resolution, the letter bumps up against one rather thorny issue: Only two of the five fields are still up for grabs. Licenses to develop the remaining three fields -- Kovykta, Upper Chona, and Mid-Botuoba -- are already in the hands of lawful owners. Licenses for Kovykta and Upper Chona belong to Rusia Petroleum, the main shareholders in which are British Petroleum (BP), Tyumen Oil Company (TNK), and Interros; Mid-Botuoba belongs to local Yakut oil company Taas-Yuryakh-Neft.

Reaction to the idea was uniformly negative. "Izvestiya" termed the whole business of letters from captains of industry to the head of state a "pernicious practice." The newspaper went on to call such correspondence lobbying "amoral and destructive both for the reputation of business itself and for its relations with the authorities." A 27 February editorial in "Vedomosti" calmly noted that the examples of Latin America and Asia show that state monopolies in the energy sector are corrupt and inefficient. An industry representative huffed sarcastically to "Vremya novostei" on 28 February, "Maybe we'd be better off if we unified all the oil and gas companies in Russia."

Gazprom spokesman Igor Plotnikov told "Vedomosti" that the idea is not to annul existing licenses and hand them over to Gazprom and Rosneft, but rather to create a consortium to develop a new superfield cobbled together from what are now five separate fields. As for the legal niceties, a Rosneft representative resorted to the power of the obvious, explaining, "Only the state can determine the legislative mechanisms to support this idea."

While a redistribution of existing licenses would be sufficiently scandalous to render it highly unlikely, Gazprom and Rosneft will be strong contenders for a license for the Chayanda and Talakan fields if they can convince the powers that be to tie them together. Talakan is mainly an oil field, while Chayanda holds mostly gas, a good mix for a Gazprom-Rosneft tandem, "Konservator" reported on 28 February. Some argue, however, that Gazprom and Rosneft lack the financial resources to develop the fields. A source close to Yukos offered a solution to "Vremya novostei" on 28 February, explaining that the two state companies plan to divvy up the rights to eastern Siberia's remaining assets and then make them available to foreign companies for a hefty price.

Gazprom CEO Miller's last letter to Putin was the 24 December "Conception for Developing the Gas Market in the Russian Federation," a heartfelt plea to postpone the reform-inspired dismemberment of the natural-gas monopolist. If the president's comments at Gazprom's recent 10-year anniversary party about the need to preserve the monopoly as a "single organism" are any indication, the letter did not fall on deaf ears.

Eastern Siberia's riches, and especially the Talakan and Chayanda fields, represent a new arena for competition and enrichment in the Russian energy sector. Should their letter serve them well, Miller and Bogdanchikov are sure to be joined by other petitioners, foreheads pressed to the oil-rich ground in a tradition that is perhaps better left to wither than to flourish. DK


RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 5, No. 8, 4 March 2003

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

THE DIFFICULTIES OF POLISH-UKRAINIAN HISTORICAL RECONCILIATION. Since the mid-1990s, the Polish and Ukrainian political classes have fostered a close partnership with the aim of building relations based on a commonality of interests, something that is a unique example of close bilateral cooperation in Central and Eastern Europe. But cooperative relations between Poland and Ukraine at the state level camouflage disquiet at the societal level, where memories of past persecution and suffering continue to alienate the neighbors from one other. In this context, the preparations to commemorate Poles who died at the hands of Ukrainians in the mid-1940s may revive old antagonisms and introduce new strains into the relationship.

The "war within a war" took place between Poles and Ukrainians in the shadow of bigger battles of World War II, when both tried to assert their control over the eastern fringes of prewar Poland, i.e., modern-day western Ukraine, in a series of bloody encounters that claimed thousands of victims on both sides. The military wing of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), conducted "ethnic cleansing" that resulted in between 60,000 and 100,000 Polish deaths. The killings, which started in March 1943 and carried on until early 1944, were intended to "cleanse" Volhynia and eastern Galicia by provoking the mass exodus of the Polish population to prepare the area for a Ukrainian takeover. It was not only the sheer scale and brutality of the killings that shocked the Poles but also the fact that the UPA units were often assisted by peasants from neighboring Ukrainian villages. In turn, the UPA actions elicited reprisals on the part of the Poles in which approximately 15,000 to 30,000 Ukrainians died.

In December 2002, in a letter to the head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, Viktor Medvedchuk, Marek Siwiec, head of the Polish Bureau of National Security, outlined the Polish view of how the events ought to be commemorated. Apart from marking and renovating the graves of the slain Poles, erecting a monument to them, and being granted access to Ukrainian archives, Poland suggested that the Ukrainian president make an appropriate symbolic gesture of apology for the atrocities. Siwiec suggested that at the culmination of the commemoration at a ceremony in Volhynia in July this year, the Ukrainian president make a historical gesture akin to that of German Chancellor Willy Brandt, who knelt before the Monument of the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1970. These plans for the commemoration are likely to have some reverberations within Ukraine and Poland, as well as the potential to adversely affect relations between the two states.

First, Polish demands elicit diverse reactions within Ukrainian society. Ukrainian political and intellectual elites, along with historians, remain profoundly divided in their attitudes to the UPA, which range from condemnation to glorification. In line with Soviet-era historiography, which depicted the OUN and UPA as bourgeois nationalists and Nazi collaborators, left-wing parties in Ukraine refuse to recognize, let alone acclaim, these organizations as patriotic. In contrast, the center-right and radical right-wing parties, which have their power base in western Ukraine, consider the OUN and UPA as a high point of the national-liberation movement. This view is shared by the population of western Ukraine and the Ukrainian diaspora, but is not, however, easily transplanted to the rest of Ukraine, where most people remain either ambivalent toward, or hostile to, these organizations. As a result, there is a reluctance to embark on exposing the wrongdoings of the national-liberation movement along the lines suggested by the Poles (who condemn the OUN and UPA as criminal organizations) at a time when their actual role is either widely unknown or questioned.

Moreover, Ukraine lacks an individual with the moral authority from within the political elite to express an apology on behalf of the nation. President Leonid Kuchma, while remaining the head of the state and coordinating the commemorations on behalf of the Ukrainian side, lost any moral right to speak in the name of the nation in 2000 when he was implicated in a killing of a journalist and other misdeeds. Also, the issue may be politicized in the run-up to the presidential elections next year. The most popular contender, Viktor Yushchenko, is strongly supported in western Ukraine, where the UPA is praised for its role in fighting for an independent Ukraine. In pursuit of political gain, the exposure of the UPA's deeds may be used to label Yushchenko as a nationalist UPA sympathizer, something that is likely to discredit him in other parts of Ukraine, where people's views of the OUN and UPA are based on Soviet-era propaganda claims of the OUN and UPA as Nazi collaborators.

Furthermore, Poland's plans for the commemoration expose the asymmetry characterizing Polish-Ukrainian relations. The prevailing attitude in Poland is that it has the right to expect an apology from Ukraine. Some openly hint that Ukraine "owes" this to Poland, especially given the latter's role as Ukraine's bridge to the West. And Ukrainian President Kuchma, keen to limit his isolation, may be willing to meet Polish demands. Perhaps more disturbing for the Ukrainians is the thought that Poland is exploiting this asymmetrical relationship to impose on Ukraine its own version of history in which it depicts the Ukrainian guerrilla movement as criminal. The pursuit of "apology by diktat" threatens to alienate the proponents of Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation in Ukraine. This would be a setback for genuine reconciliation at the societal level.

Within Poland, the situation is no less complex, as Polish authorities come under considerable pressure from Poles resettled after the war from Poland's eastern borderlands, including Volhynia and Galicia. Their views on wartime events lay bare all the resentment that has been festering in the collective memory of Poles traumatized by their experiences at the hands of Ukrainians. They adhere to a scheme of Polish-Ukrainian history, which is informed by personal memories of suffering, in which Poles are viewed as victims of genocide by Ukrainian criminal organizations.

So far, the Polish political class has adopted a strategy of pushing historical grievances to one side, but this is criticized as "appeasement" by right-wing forces in Poland. Fearing a radicalization of attitudes, the Polish leadership has taken the lead in staging the commemoration to prevent an escalation of tensions. However, Polandís decision to commemorate the death of ethnic Poles (and Ukrainians who suffered protecting the Poles) and leave aside the ethnic Ukrainians (who died at the hands of Poles in reprisals) means that an opportunity is being missed to turn the anniversary into a more inclusive, conciliatory remembrance of victims of interethnic violence.

The plans for the commemoration also testify to the difficulties that historians face in diverging from the established scheme of history that is centered on the martyrdom of the nation. While factual data on the killings have been amassed, Polish and Ukrainian historians have engaged in heated debates over the motives behind the UPA actions, and, in particular, whether they constituted deliberate genocide or not. The range of terms used to describe Ukrainian actions go from "genocide," "ethnic cleansing" and "mass murder" to the quite mild "anti-Polish actions."

At the same time, popularized accounts of atrocities continue to take precedence over debates on the reasons for hostilities in the Polish-Ukrainian borderlands. As Bogumila Berdychowska, a Polish advocate for Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation, put it, "our common history did not start in 1943"; grievances that found their violent culmination in 1943-44 accumulated over a longer period of time. The killings had their roots in the political, social, and economic background to interethnic relations, as well as wartime developments, e.g., Polish interwar policies toward the Ukrainian minority, as well as Soviet and German wartime provocations. But any acknowledgement of this complexity is largely missing from the official proclamations and media coverage of the subject in Poland.

If carefully staged, the commemoration of Volhynia may help to deal with painful historical legacies in Polish-Ukrainian relations. But the chances are that it may actually contribute to the renewal of prejudice and negative stereotypes. After nearly 15 years of independence, historical reconciliation at the societal level between Poland and Ukraine still remains a distant goal.

This report was written by Kataryna Wolczuk, a lecturer at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, European Research Institute, the University of Birmingham, U.K., and co-author of "Poland and Ukraine: a Strategic Partnership in a Changing Europe?" (London, Royal Institute of International Affairs, 2002).


OPPOSITION TO REVIVE EFFORTS TO TOPPLE KUCHMA. A congress of opposition legislators of all levels in Kyiv on 2 March called on Ukrainians to take part in protests to depose the current ruling regime. The congress, which attracted some 2,000 people (including 1,405 opposition deputies as delegates), was organized by the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc. Deputies from Our Ukraine, including its leader Viktor Yushchenko, attended the congress as guests.

The three opposition parties are planning on 9 March to renew their 2002 "Rise Up, Ukraine!" campaign, which was intended to force President Kuchma to resign from his post and to call early presidential elections in the country. In an adopted declaration, the three parties pledged to organize "local headquarters of the unified opposition forces" in order to coordinate antigovernment actions at the regional level and to establish a regional network of "people's control" over the authorities.

Another adopted declaration calls for the consolidation of opposition forces. "We declare the consolidation of opposition forces at present and for subsequent political steps," the document reads. The document, however, was not signed by Our Ukraine. Our Ukraine is reportedly planning to organize a separate congress of opposition forces in early April. It is clear that Yushchenko does not want to identify himself too closely with the radical slogans of the Communists, the Socialists, and the Tymoshenko Bloc, as well as with their drive to get rid of Kuchma at any cost. Most likely, Yushchenko does not believe in the success of the "Rise Up, Ukraine!" campaign, i.e., in ousting Kuchma before the end of his term, and is positioning himself for the regular presidential election in 2004.

Addressing the congress, Yushchenko called on opposition forces to unite "at any price," UNIAN reported. He did not say, however, whether Our Ukraine would take part in the restarted anti-Kuchma campaign and reacted coldly to the proposal that Our Ukraine together with the three opposition groups ignore President Kuchma's annual address to the Verkhovna Rada and fail to appear in the session hall during Kuchma's speech. "The best thing at this congress would be to speak from the rostrum in the language of reason," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website quoted Yushchenko as saying at the 2 March gathering of opposition lawmakers. "Let emotions speak on the streets. Now we must take every opportunity to speak about what unites us."

Yuliya Tymoshenko told journalists that the problem of fielding a joint presidential candidate from the opposition will be tackled only after the official announcement of a presidential race.

Meanwhile, as if to counterbalance the propagandistic impact of the opposition congress on 2 March, presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk told last week's issue of the Kyiv-based "2000" weekly that if he wanted to gather all deputies of all levels who belong to his Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o), he would need a stadium. According to Medvedchuk, the SDPU-o has some 10,000 legislators of all levels, beginning with the Verkhovna Rada and ending with rural councils.

Medvedchuk also told the weekly that, as regards the executive branch, the SDPU-o has two ministers, three oblast governors, and 166 district heads.

"The authorities today are as strong as never before," Medvedchuk noted. "I will put it this way: The more active the opposition is, the more effective and powerful the authorities become." (Jan Maksymiuk)

"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.

UKRAINIAN MINERS STRIKE OVER WAGES, REFORMS. Miners from about 70 Ukrainian coal mines went on strike on 4 March, demanding an increase in wages and an end to the government-led restructuring of the sector, ITAR-TASS reported. AP estimated the number of miners participating in the strike at around 2,000. The protest was launched by the Ukrainian Independent Trade Union of Miners, which is led by Mykhaylo Volynets. Volynets told journalists that wage arrears in the coal-mining sector total 1.3 billion hryvnyas ($244 million). According to Volynets, the sector's ongoing reforms "may ruin the industry." The government decided in December to reorganize 18 state-owned coal-mining holdings and seven production associations into 21 joint-stock companies with an eye toward their eventual privatization. JM

DID FORMER PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SEEK TO CLOSE GONGADZE CASE? The Verkhovna Rada on 4 March asked Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun to investigate whether his predecessor, Mykhaylo Potebenko, abused his position and asked the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) to close its investigation into the presumed September 2000 death of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, UNIAN reported. The motion follows a Piskun interview in the 28 February issue of the "2000" weekly in which he said Potebenko, while serving as prosecutor-general, sent a letter to former SBU Chairman Leonid Derkach ordering him to halt the investigation into Gongadze's disappearance and presumed death. Piskun claimed he has obtained the letter. Potebenko last month requested that the legislature move a vote of no confidence in Piskun. JM

EU REPORTEDLY TO RECOGNIZE UKRAINE AS MARKET ECONOMY. European Commission official Timo Hammaren hinted that the European Union might recognize Ukraine as a "market economy" later this month, ahead of any such concession by United States, Interfax reported on 3 March. The move presumably would lead to trade benefits for Ukrainian exporters. Hammaren said the requirements of the EU with respect to "market economy" status are different from those of the United States. He said the EU might sign the relevant document by the end of March. "We promised Ukraine [that we would] give our answer in late March," he said, according to Interfax, adding that there are grounds for Kyiv to expect a positive answer. JM

NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL MEETS ROMANIAN LEADERS, ADDRESSES PARLIAMENT. NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson met on 3 March with President Ion Iliescu and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, and addressed a special session of the Romanian bicameral parliament, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau and international news agencies reported. After his talks with Nastase, Robertson told journalists that Romania should not take the ratification of its NATO invitation for granted. "Keep the reform process going. You have achieved a lot, but the reform process is important for NATO and for the Romanian people," Reuters quoted him as saying. Robertson said Romania must continue to strengthen its military capabilities, to bring its information security in line with NATO standards, and to continue reforms in the public administration and judiciary to rid the country of corruption. In his speech to parliament, Robertson said Romania might contribute forces to the NATO rapid-reaction force that is currently being set up. He also said that once Romania joins NATO, it will have an important role to play in the organization's relations with Russia and Ukraine. MS

ROMANIA WANTS NATO EXPANSION TO CONTINUE. Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said on 3 March that his country hopes NATO expansion will continue and will eventually include other states, among which he mentioned Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro, Mediafax reported. He also said that during his talks with President Iliescu (see above), Lord Robertson inquired about relations between Bucharest and Chisinau, as well as about Romanian-Russian and Romanian-Ukrainian relations. MS