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RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
A Survey of Developments in Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team
WAR AT THE TOP? Prime Minister Leszek Miller on 24 March told Polish Radio that his government "continues to foster good, constructive cooperation with the president," adding that "he does not intend to submit the government's resignation." Miller's pronouncement apparently came in response to President Aleksander Kwasniewski's interview in the 22 March issue of "Rzeczpospolita" in which Kwasniewski said Miller must now answer the question of whether he is capable of "ruling the state in this crucial moment for Poland." Kwasniewski noted in this interview that even without the Peasant Party, the government led by the Social Democratic Alliance (SLD) has a chance to last its full term but that early parliamentary elections are also possible. Kwasniewski added that June 2004, the date of European Parliament elections, would a good time to hold such an early ballot.
In spite of the presidential office's denial that Kwasniewski is seeking Miller's resignation, for many Polish opposition politicians Kwasniewski's interview came as a clear signal that there is a growing tension between Kwasniewski and Miller and that the president wants his former party colleague out of the government and political spotlight. There has been much speculation in the Polish media about Kwasniewski's reasons for harboring such an intention. One of the most plausible explanations asserts that Kwasniewski, who ends his presidential term in 2005, is too young to retire from politics and purportedly wants to take the lead of a "refurbished" SLD after getting rid of Miller. The ongoing Rywingate case (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 14 January and 18 February 2003), which has embroiled Miller in particular and the SLD in general in a bribery scandal, is allegedly a good opportunity for Kwasniewski to weaken Miller's stance and prepare grounds for a "generation change" in the party.
Kwasniewski also told "Rzeczpospolita" that he urged Miller in September-November 2002 to notify prosecutors about Lew Rywin's bribe offer to "Gazeta Wyborcza" (which Rywin reportedly made on behalf of Miller and a "group of people in power"). "The premier made a mistake.... It was necessary to immediately pass the [Rywingate] case to prosecutors," Kwasniewski noted. "But there is also a more important question: Who is behind Rywin's offer? This still remains unexplained."
According to the weekly "Wprost," during a meeting with the SLD parliamentary caucus earlier this month, Miller asked his colleagues what he has to do now, when he is running a minority cabinet and facing Rywingate: to opt for the current parliament's dissolution and an early election or to fight against all odds, including the tension on the government-president line. The SLD caucus reportedly advised Miller to fight and assured him of its unwavering support. (Jan Maksymiuk)
PARLIAMENT APPROVES SENDING NBC UNIT TO PERSIAN GULF. The Verkhovna Rada on 20 March voted 253 to 129 with seven abstentions to endorse President Leonid Kuchma's motion to send a Ukrainian anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) protection battalion to Kuwait "for rendering help in the protection of Kuwaiti civilians from the consequences of the possible use of weapons of mass destruction." There were 401 deputies registered for the session; 12 of them refused to participate in the vote.
The motion to send the battalion to Kuwait was supported by deputies from the nine pro-presidential caucuses (Ukraine's Regions, Party of Entrepreneurs-Labor Ukraine, Social Democratic Party-united, Democratic Initiatives, European Choice, People's Power, Agrarians, Popular Democratic Party, People's Choice), 44 deputies from Our Ukraine, and nine nonaligned legislators. Since the approval of the motion required at least 226 votes, the support from the 44 Our Ukraine deputies was quite crucial for its passing. Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko refused to participate in the vote.
The possibility to redeploy Ukraine's NBC battalion from Sambor in western Ukraine to the Persian Gulf region was first mentioned by President Kuchma during his meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual on 17 February. "Ukraine is ready to take part in a UN mission on the territory of countries neighboring Iraq by assigning to the UN authority an anti-chemical, anti-bacteriological, and anti-nuclear protection battalion," Kuchma said at that meeting. The next day, Pascual told journalists that he delivered a note from the U.S. government to President Kuchma and Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko inquiring about the possibility of sending the NBC battalion to the Persian Gulf. On 20 February, Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council responded positively to the U.S. request. The council's head, Yevhen Marchuk, told journalists the same day that the decision to dispatch the battalion is in no way dependent on the UN Security Council.
The result of 20 March vote in the Verkhovna Rada came as a surprise to many Ukrainian commentators. They apparently expected that the parliament would oppose sending the NBC unit to the Persian Gulf or at least approve it by a very narrow margin, particularly since many parliamentary caucus leaders, including Valeriy Pustovoytenko (Popular Democratic Party) and Mykola Hapochka (People's Choice) from the so-called pro-presidential majority, spoke against the redeployment and what they saw as Ukraine's engagement on the U.S. side in a then-anticipated war against Iraq. Besides, the Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies found in a poll conducted from 27 February to 5 March that 90.5 percent of Ukrainians do not support the military action in Iraq.
President Kuchma held consultations with the leaders of pro-presidential caucuses before the vote and spoke with Yushchenko on the morning of 20 March, after it was already known that the Iraq war had begun. There have been no reports on the arguments Kuchma presented during these meetings to make lawmakers approve his motion. An unsigned memo that was attached to the motion and distributed among lawmakers said the dispatching of the NBC battalion to Kuwait would add to "the strengthening of Ukraine's international authority and enhancing its image as a participant in complex international processes," according to "Ukrayinska pravda." The memo also hinted at the economic benefits Ukraine could derive from sending the NBC unit: "As regards the economic aspect, Ukraine is interested in reducing the price for oil, and this, in the opinion of most international experts, is a major goal of the U.S. action against Iraq. Moreover, rendering assistance to civilian population in the region, our state will have a considerable chance to be engaged in the restoration of Iraq's economy in the post-conflict period."
The opposition parliamentary caucuses -- the Communists, the Socialists, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc -- voted against the motion. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz spoke for many when he said in the Verkhovna Rada that Ukraine has no interest whatsoever in sending the NBC battalion to Kuwait and that the approval of the motion would only benefit President Kuchma, who is seeking to repair his tarnished relations with Washington in the wake of the Kolchuga allegations and the killing of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Moroz advised lawmakers not to step into the U.S.-Iraq conflict, stressing that Ukraine has to "sort [things] out" with "its own Hussein."
Commenting on the vote in the 23 March issue of "Zerkalo nedeli," Moroz said: "The point is that if the outcome of the operation planned by the U.S. depended on the participation or nonparticipation of the Ukrainian battalion, then we could speak about pluses. Then America's respect for Ukraine could provide grounds for gaining such pluses. But since the president thrust himself [upon Washington] with his proposal only for one reason -- to make them forget about the sale of Kolchugas and about some other things -- what benefits will [Ukraine reap] in the event the U.S. concludes its operation successfully? None. It is an exclusively personal, not even political, initiative.... [And the vote showed one more time that] lawmakers from the majority are fully dependent on the presidential administration.... In order to save one man's skin, they gave up the interests of the state in general."
In his speech to the Verkhovna Rada before the vote, Yushchenko did not appeal either to reject or support the motion. But, according to press reports, the "general impression" he produced was that he was in support of sending the Ukrainian troops to Kuwait. "The fact [of the U.S. attack on Iraq] took place at 4 a.m. Every man, while choosing between war and peace, will choose peace. But the fact did take place," he said.
Commenting on the vote to "Zerkalo nedeli," Yushchenko said: "Because of the foreign-policy course pursued by Ukraine in recent years, we always find ourselves sitting on two chairs. We do not like the dictatorship. We do not like the [anti-Iraq] coalition. What do we like? Tell me, is it we who made a decision about war or peace? Nothing of the sort. We have not been asked about this. But we have been asked about something else: What is our attitude to victims of the conflict, people lying on the streets and needing our assistance? Will we extend our helping hand to these people or not? It is necessary to proceed from this. I call it politics."
Former Foreign Minister Hennadiy Udovenko, a prominent politician from Our Ukraine, commented that the support of 44 Our Ukraine lawmakers (including himself) for the motion "will not add votes to the bloc," UNIAN reported. "Even if Yushchenko's popularity is high, he needs 16 million votes to win the presidential election, while we have [only] 6 million. We need to fight for the votes of Ukrainian pacifists, while in this case we have put ourselves in opposition to them," Udovenko said.
Other observers of the Ukrainian political scene tend to agree that Our Ukraine's support for the motion to send the NBC unit to the zone of the Iraq conflict may backfire on Yushchenko, resulting in a diminished electoral backing. "The nation, which does not want the war, dispatched to a blazing desert its own battalion at its own costs, without having clearly understood for what purpose and why," Olena Zvarych from the pro-Yushchenko "Ukrayina moloda" wrote in "Ukrayinska pravda" on 24 March.
It is not clear for the time being who will bear the costs connected with the deployment of the Ukrainian battalion in Kuwait. "Ukrayinska pravda," referring to the above-mentioned memo, reported that the United States is expected to finance the deployment, paying $5.8 million to ship the Ukrainian troops and equipment to Kuwait, $50,000 for feeding them while in transit, and $700,000 to support the battalion for every month it spends in the Persian Gulf.
Furthermore, the weekly "Grani" reported on 24 March that President Kuchma's decree of 21 March ordering the redeployment of the NBC battalion to Kuwait includes an interesting provision instructing the government "to prepare the Odesa-Brody oil pipeline for transporting Iraqi and Middle Eastern oil to Europe." (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 NBC BATTALION STARTS MOVING TO KUWAIT. Two Ilyushin-76 transport aircraft on 25 March began to airlift soldiers and equipment of the Ukrainian anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) battalion to Kuwait, Interfax reported. Within the next few days, two planes with troops and equipment on board are expected to fly to Kuwait every 24 hours, and the Il-76 planes could be replaced by more powerful Ruslan and Mriya aircraft. Defense Minister Volodymyr Shkidchenko told journalists the same day that four servicemen of the battalion have refused to go to Kuwait, "owing to different reasons." The Verkhovna Rada approved sending the NBC unit to Kuwait last week (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 26 March 2003). JM
FORMER UKRAINIAN DEPUTY PREMIER ARRESTED IN GRAIN PROBE. Police have arrested former Deputy Prime Minister for Agriculture Leonid Kozachenko on charges of tax evasion and abuse of office, Reuters reported on 25 March, quoting Prosecutor-General's Office spokeswoman Polina Bashkina. Bashkina said Kozachenko's detention stemmed from an investigation launched earlier this month at the order of President Leonid Kuchma, who is concerned by a deficit of grain and a rise in bread prices in Ukraine. Prosecutors last week said the actual grain crop in Ukraine in 2002 was "significantly lower" than the previously announced 38.8 million tons. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT INTRODUCES NEW CABINET JOB. President Leonid Kuchma has signed a decree introducing the post of cabinet minister for relations with the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Ukrainian news agencies reported on 25 March. JM
POLISH BROADCASTING AUTHORITY HEAD RESIGNS. Juliusz Braun, head of the National Radio and Television Council (KRRiT), resigned his post on 25 March but said he will keep his place on that nine-member body, PAP reported. Braun said his vision of Poland's public life and media runs counter to that of KRRiT Secretary Wlodzimierz Czarzasty and "some important politicians" from the ruling Democratic Left Alliance who, he claimed, are seeking to limit the freedom of media in the country. Earlier this month, Braun told the parliamentary commission investigating the Rywingate scandal that the work on amending a media law last year involved some "shady dealings" on the part of some KRRiT members. President Kwasniewski immediately called on Braun and the entire KRRiT to step down (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 11 March 2003). "It is a step in [the] right direction," presidential minister Dariusz Szymczycha said of Braun's decision. JM
POLAND GETS READY TO ISSUE VISAS FOR EASTERN NEIGHBORS. Deputy Foreign Minister Slawomir Dabrowa told the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee on 25 March that 12 consular offices and 290 new employees are concluding preparations for issuing visas for citizens of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine as of 1 July, PAP reported. The government estimates that the Polish consulates in Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia will issue some 1 million visas annually. Russia suggested earlier this month that the introduction of a new visa regime between Poland and Russia should be postponed until the end of this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2003). JM
EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT ADDRESSES MOLDOVAN CONCERNS. European Commission President Romano Prodi on 25 March told Moldova's new chief of mission at the EU, Mihai Popov, that the EU policy of outlining its future relations with EU neighbors should not be understood as the delineation of the organization's final and definitive borders, Flux reported. Prodi said the policy should rather be interpreted as the EU's readiness to "widen and consolidate relations" with those countries. He said Moldova will thus be considered a "privileged neighbor." Prodi added that the timing of accession of new members to the union continues to depend on the efforts of each candidate, and above all on their economic performance and political democratization. He also said the EU is ready to actively participate in resolving the Transdniester conflict, side-by-side with the OSCE and the other two mediators -- Russia and Ukraine. MS