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BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION VIES FOR ELECTION COALITION. The opposition alliance formed by the United Civic Party, the Belarusian Popular Front, the Belarusian Party of Labor, the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly, and the Belarusian Party of Communists will hold a parliamentary election campaign in 2004 under the name of the Popular Coalition Five Plus, Belapan reported on 13 November, quoting United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka. Lyabedzka said the Popular Coalition Five Plus is seeking to enlist cooperation from pro-democracy individuals and non-governmental organizations in the election campaign. Meanwhile, the opposition Social Democratic Party (Popular Assembly) led by Mikalay Statkevich has called on pro-democracy activists and organizations to join the recently created opposition coalition Free Belarus in order to lead a coordinated election campaign in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 4 November 2003). JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WANTS TO KNOW HOW TO DISBAND PARLIAMENT. President Leonid Kuchma on 13 November requested that the Constitutional Court supply an official interpretation of the provisions in the Ukrainian Constitution pertaining to the dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada prior to the expiration of its term, Interfax reported, quoting the presidential press service. Kuchma said in his request that his move was provoked by the blockade of the ongoing parliamentary session by "certain deputies, groups, and caucuses." In particular, Kuchma wants an elucidation of the provision of Article 90 of the basic law stipulating that the president may terminate the authority of the Verkhovna Rada if it fails to hold a plenary sitting within 30 days of a regular parliamentary session. Lawmakers from Our Ukraine, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and the Socialist Party have recently disrupted several daily sittings of the Verkhovna Rada, demanding that the authorities account for the foiled Our Ukraine congress in Donetsk on 31 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2003). JM
LITHUANIAN INTELLECTUALS URGE PRESIDENT TO RESIGN. Some 400 known cultural and social figures have signed an appeal to Rolandas Paksas calling on him to resign and thus "preserve the authority of the presidential institution," "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 14 November. The appeal, organized by the Open Lithuanian Foundation, states that Paksas "will not be able to escape responsibility for purposefully or unintentionally made mistakes and will be unable to regain the trust of the Lithuanian people regardless of how effectively his apparatus works." Noted historian Edvardas Gudavicius said he previously did not think Paksas should resign, believing that only Paksas' advisers had ties with criminal groups. He said his opinion changed, however, when the president, instead of cooperating with the ad hoc parliament commission formed to investigate these ties (see "RFE/RL Newsline, " 4 November 2003) tried to influence its work. In an apparent attempt to distract attention from the commission's hearings, which were broadcast live on radio and television for the first time on 14 November, Paksas is planning to make trips to Iraq next week, and to Ukraine on 1-3 December. SG
PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER COMPLAINS ABOUT ROMANIAN TREATMENT OF UKRAINIAN MINORITY. Visiting Ukrainian parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn said on 13 November after talks with Romanian Senate Chairman Nicolae Vacaroiu that Romania does "too little" for its Ukrainian minority, Mediafax reported. Lytvyn said there is only one Ukrainian high school in Romania, which has neither a library nor a reading room. In comparison, he said, in Ukraine there are 94 schools where teaching is in Romanian, and several universities in Ukraine prepare Romanian-language teachers to serve in those schools, all of which are permanently provided with Romanian-language books. Vacaroiu said in reply that Romania respects the rights of national minorities and has been commended for it by the Council of Europe. Lytvyn was also received by Premier Adrian Nastase, who said he hopes the Romanian Senate will ratify the basic treaty between the two countries by the end of this year. MS
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT IN MOLDOVA. Visiting Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said in Chisinau after talks with his Moldovan counterpart Vladimir Voronin on 13 November that Ukraine wants to see a negotiated settlement putting an end to the conflict with Transdniester, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Kuchma said such a settlement is important not only for Moldova, but also for Ukraine, which "is interested of having a stable state as its neighbor." He said Ukraine's attitude toward the Transdniester conflict continues to be based on the principles of "non-interference in [Moldova's] domestic affairs and respect for Moldova's territorial integrity." Voronin said there are "no outstanding issues with Ukraine, and we have the good intention of turning our bilateral relationship into a model for Europe as a whole." For us, he said, "Ukraine is an example of political partnership and good neighborly relations." The sides signed several agreements, including one on free trade. Kuchma also met with Premier Vasile Tarlev and parliamentary speaker Evgenia Ostapciuc and was decorated by Voronin with a high state order. He also visited Ukrainian peacekeepers in the security zone dividing Moldovan and Transdniester forces. MS
Although Poland and the Czech Republic joined NATO together in 1999, the two countries have taken markedly different paths in reforming and retooling their militaries to better contribute to the Atlantic alliance.
Poland's thinking reflects that of an emerging regional power that wants a military and a role to match its ambitions. The Czechs, like many other small countries that have joined NATO, are seeking to identify niche areas where they can make modest, yet meaningful, contributions.
The differences in approach reflect changing strategic and political realities for NATO. As the alliance expands from its current 19 members to 26 and continues its evolution from a defensive alliance designed to counter the Soviet threat to a more proactive and flexible fighting machine, different demands are being made on new members depending on their specific capabilities and geographic locations.
Warsaw made international headlines in April by agreeing to a $3.5 billion deal to purchase 48 F-16 fighter jets from the U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin. U.S. officials at the time referred to the agreement as "the contract of the century."
The Czech Republic, meanwhile, has more modest aspirations as it ponders how to replace its aging fleet of Soviet-made MIG fighter jets. Prague is considering proposals to either lease 14 British/Swedish-made Gripins, or to buy 14 used F-16s. While few questioned the Polish F-16 purchase, many in Prague have openly questioned whether a small country like the Czech Republic needs supersonic fighter jets at all.
Similar differences also exist in the countries' plans to downsize their respective armed forces. Poland currently has 150,000 men under arms, with plans to reduce that number over the next six years to 100,000 -- half of whom will be draftees and half volunteers.
The Czech government plans to phase out conscription altogether by 2006, reduce its armed forces from the current 50,000 personnel to an all-volunteer force of 35,000, and close half of the country's 150 bases. Prague has decided that rather than try to have it all, it can best contribute to NATO by directing most of its military resources into a few small niche areas where it can fulfill specific needs.
''We tried to figure out how to play the best role as a small country with limited resources,'' Czech Defense Ministry strategic planning director Jan Vana said in an interview last year. ''The idea was to specialize, but we weren't going to specialize in cooks.''
The Czechs decided to create what Vana calls ''centers of excellence'' and ''active assets'' that can meet NATO's needs. These included two anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) units, a mobile field hospital, and a new passive radar system.
Other small countries have followed the Czechs' lead in specializing, most notably the seven countries that were invited to join the alliance at NATO's November 2002 Prague Summit. Slovakia is working closely with the Czechs to improve its own NBC unit. Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are cooperating to operate a Baltic-wide radar system that guards the northwestern frontier of NATO's airspace. Romania and Slovenia have each touted their militaries' skills in fighting on mountainous terrain.
NATO officials say niche contributions will be a key part of a new rapid-deployment force that the alliance unveiled in October. The force currently has 9,000 troops and will be expanded to 20,000 by 2006.
Warsaw is also focusing on specific areas of excellence, most notably the country's special forces, which have received high marks for their performance in Iraq. But Poland, which is four times the size of the Czech Republic and shares borders with Ukraine and Belarus, accounting for a large part of NATO's eastern frontier, faces greater security threats than the Czech Republic and therefore does not have the luxury of only specializing in a few niche areas.
"Poland is not small enough to specialize," said Bronislaw Komorowski, deputy chairman of the Sejm's National Defense Committee. "It is a frontier country in NATO and cannot afford to eliminate certain forces. Being a frontier country, we must have a military prepared to defend our territory -- land, sea, and air."
But Poland, alone among the former communist states that have joined NATO, aspires to play a leading role in Central and Eastern Europe.
"Poland has a chance to play the role of leader in this part of the world," Komorowski said.
...AFTER WHICH SPS GOES ON THE ATTACK. Then, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 14 November, Nemtsov countered in the televised debate by saying that SPS is not asking for "a marriage" but to "put out the fire of an authoritarian regime." "Chubais and Yavlinskii don't love each other, so what? Forget about your differences!" Nemtsov said. During the period of the debate when candidates are allowed to ask each other questions, Nemtsov asked Yavlinskii what connects him to Russia, since he was born in Ukraine, his family lives in England, and he spends half of his time abroad. Yavlinskii responded that he does not see anything bad in being born in Ukraine, and that his family lives in Moscow but his youngest son studies in England because there is no place in Russia to study his particular high level of mathematics. "Kommersant-Daily," which is controlled by Boris Berezovskii, asked why Nemtsov would ask such a question of a potential comrade-in-arms and concluded that now the leadership of SPS feels freed of any obligations to Yabloko and will support President Putin in the March 2004 presidential election. JAC