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UKRAINIAN INTELLIGENCE GENERAL SAYS SECRET SERVICES SPYING ON OPPOSITION, GOVERNMENT. General Valeriy Kravchenko told Deutsche Welle in Berlin on 18 February that he possesses "evidence of criminal activities" by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's regime, Ukrainian news agencies and the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www2.pravda.com.ua) reported. Kravchenko alleged that Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) chief Ihor Smeshko and Main Intelligence Directorate chief Oleh Synyanskyy have been ordering their subordinates abroad to spy on Ukrainian opposition lawmakers and cabinet members "starting from ministers and higher up." Kravchenko claimed that he, as an intelligence officer and adviser to the Ukrainian Embassy in Berlin, has also received such an order. He declared that he is ready to hand over the evidence to the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office and the Verkhovna Rada's Human Rights Committee. Later the same day, the SBU called Kravchenko's statement "absurd," Interfax reported. The SBU acknowledged that Kravchenko, born in 1945, is its officer, adding that earlier this month he was ordered to return to Kyiv but refused to obey the order. The SBU suggested that Kravchenko is pursuing "mercantile interests" in publicizing his revelations. JM
10 UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENTARY GROUPS REACH ACCORD ON CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM. Leaders of 10 caucuses in the Verkhovna Rada -- eight pro-government groups, the Communist Party, and the Socialist Party -- have signed an accord in which they vow to pool efforts for finalizing planned constitutional reform in the country, UNIAN reported on 18 February, quoting Oleksandr Zadorozhniy, permanent presidential representative in the Verkhovna Rada. Zadorozhniy said the signatories agree on all issues connected with the constitutional reform except the choice of a proportional electoral system. He added that lawmakers will decide on a proportional election bill next week. Our Ukraine and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc refused to sign the agreement. "[The accord's importance] should not be exaggerated," Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz commented. "The Socialist Party caucus will act together with all the opposition caucuses in parliament [regarding the proportional election system], completely in line with earlier agreements." JM
UKRAINIAN PRO-GOVERNMENT GROUPS FORM 'COALITION OF DEMOCRATIC FORCES.' Leaders of pro-government parties and parliamentary caucuses in the Verkhovna Rada signed an agreement on 18 February establishing a "coalition of democratic forces," Ukrainian news agencies reported. The signatories pledged to implement proposed constitutional reform, guarantee the victory of a coalition candidate in the 2004 presidential election, and create favorable conditions for the stable and effective functioning of the coalition government. The document was signed by Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych and Regions of Ukraine caucus head Raisa Bohatyreva; Agrarian Party leader Ivan Kyrylenko and Agrarian Party caucus head Kateryna Vaschuk; Popular Democratic Party leader Valeriy Pustovoytenko; Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs leader Anatoliy Kinakh, Labor Ukraine Party leader Serhiy Tyhypko, Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs-Labor Ukraine caucus leader Ihor Sharov, Social Democratic Party-united leader Viktor Medvedchuk, and Social Democratic Party-united caucus head Leonid Kravchuk; Democratic Initiatives caucus leader Stepan Havrysh; People's Choice caucus leader Mykola Hapochka; and People's Power caucus leader Bohdan Hubskyy. JM
ROMANIA, UKRAINE UNABLE TO OVERCOME IMPASSE OVER SERPENTS ISLAND. Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana told journalists on 18 February that Romania and Ukraine have made "little progress" in talks on sharing the oil-rich continental shelf in the Black Sea, AFP and Mediafax reported. Geoana spoke after talks with visiting Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryshchenko. Geoana said Romania cannot under any circumstances agree to what he called "attempts by Ukraine to change the international judicial status of Serpents Island (Zmiyinyy Ostrov)." Romanian media reported earlier this week that Ukraine is populating the uninhabited island in order to be able to claim an exclusive economic zone around it under international maritime legislation. Hryshchenko, who also met with President Ion Iliescu, said the dispute is ultimately an "economic one" and "therefore one about money." Geoana said the Ukrainian side has brought new proposals that experts in Bucharest will study, but stressed that considering that no agreement has been reached in 21 meetings over the disputed island, it is likely that Bucharest will have to ask the Hague-based International Court of Justice to rule on the matter (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 2003). MS
Last week, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka threatened to renounce unspecified "agreements" with Russia if the latter persists in demanding a higher price for gas deliveries and a stake in Belarus's Beltranshaz gas pipeline operator for a price Belarus deems too low. The Kremlin has so far not reacted to this threat. However, Gazprom has not concluded any contract on gas deliveries to Belarus in 2004, and Minsk has been supplied with Russian gas in an "emergency mode" by two other traders, Itera and Transnafta. Since Itera and Transnafta deliver gas extracted by Gazprom and via Gazprom's pipeline network, it is Gazprom that actually controls the gas-supply situation in Belarus.
A short-term gas-supply contract with Transnafta, which was signed by Beltranshaz last week, expired on 17 February, and Minsk is again facing the dilemma of whether to sign short-term supply deals with the two smaller traders, bow to the Gazprom demands, or siphon off Gazprom's gas that goes in transit across Belarus to Europe. At the center of the gas controversy is Gazprom's demand that Minsk -- if it wants to receive gas at Russia's domestic price -- sell a controlling stake in Beltranshaz, whose value is estimated by the Russian company at $600 million. Minsk, on the other hand, says Beltranshaz is worth $5 billion and is reluctant to give control over the national pipeline network operator to the Russians.
"We are offered some $300 million or $400 million [by Gazprom for pipeline operator Beltranshaz]...for what international auditors value at $5 billion," Lukashenka said, adding that agreeing to such a deal would constitute a "crime." "Speaking straightforwardly, the problem is as such: 'Give us [Beltranshaz] for free, then we will open a gas valve for you,'" Lukashenka said in characterizing the Russian position. "And now they keep on opening and closing it. They are blackmailing [our] country and people, and they are probably blackmailing Western Europe, because [their] gas goes across Belarus to Western Europe."
Lukashenka added on 13 February that he would demand higher transit fees on natural gas bound for Europe in exchange for a price of $50 per 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas. Neighboring Ukraine currently pays the same $50 price for Russian gas. But Lukashenka added that Gazprom wants no part of such a deal. Meanwhile, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 February that Gazprom agreed to a higher transit fee proposed by Minsk -- $1.05 for the transportation of 1,000 cubic meter of gas along 100 kilometers. Beltranshaz Chairman Pyotr Pyotukh reportedly refused to sign a relevant transit agreement with Gazprom head Aleksei Miller, arguing that both sides should sign this agreement in a package with a contract on Gazprom's gas supplies to Belarus in 2004. Pyotukh reportedly wants Russian gas to be delivered in 2004 for $40 for 1,000 cubic meters.
The Belarusian president also proposed swapping a 50 percent stake in Beltranshaz for a gas deposit on Russia's Yamal Peninsula from which Belarus could extract some 15 billion-20 billion cubic meters of gas per year (20 billion cubic meters is approximately Belarus's annual gas consumption). "Why are Americans and Germans allowed to extract gas there, and we are not?" Lukashenka asked. "And why it is legally permissible in Russia to buy just 20 percent of such a [state-owned] asset, while they demand that we give them all, and moreover free of charge?" he added. "Izvestiya" reported on 17 February that nobody in Gazprom is going to consider this proposal seriously. "The situation is the same if somebody wanted to buy potatoes from us and, displeased with the price, told us: 'Give us your garden and we will grow what we need on our own," an unidentified source in Gazprom told "Izvestiya."
The current Belarusian-Russian gas dispute seems to indicate that the Kremlin is firmly bent on forcing Lukashenka to accept its own rules of the game in the integration of the two countries. Several years ago, Lukashenka's complaints about Russia's "blackmail" with regard to its younger sister, Belarus, would have surely fell on the sympathetic ears of those Russian politicians who used the Russian-Belarusian integration rhetoric to promote their own political goals. Now, when many of them appear to have espoused "imperial" views, building a union state with Belarus is no longer a desired currency on Russia's political market. Russian President Vladimir Putin's proposal of 2002 -- either Belarus becomes incorporated by the Russian Federation or pays its gas and other bills in full -- seems to be the Kremlin's official policy with regard to Belarus.
For Lukashenka, the resolution of the current gas dispute appears to be of great importance as well. If he gives in and starts paying higher gas bills, he may earn some favor in Moscow -- and the chance that the Kremlin might accept the prolongation of his rule beyond 2006 (when his second term ends) would look much better than it does now. But at the same time, the Belarusian economy, which is being kept afloat thanks to cheap Russian gas, may finally collapse and bury his chances to curry favor among Belarusian voters who would enable him to stay afloat in politics.