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END NOTE: KUCHMAGATE, ACT III
BELARUS REJECTS WORLD BANK LOAN TO FIGHT TUBERCULOSIS, AIDS. The Belarusian government has said it will not borrow $28.8 million from the World Bank for a previously agreed-upon project to combat tuberculosis and AIDS, Belapan reported on 26 February, citing Luca Barbone, World Bank director for Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine. Belarusian government officials reportedly told Barbone earlier this week that the decision to abandon the project was prompted by a "serious improvement" in the tuberculosis situation in Belarus, adding that the incidence of the disease has declined to a point where the government can cope with the problem without international assistance. JM
UKRAINIAN INTELLIGENCE DEFECTOR HANDS OVER ALLEGED SPYING ORDERS. General Valeriy Kravchenko, a former intelligence officer at the Ukrainian Embassy in Berlin, has passed a purported confidential dossier to opposition lawmaker Mykola Tomenko to corroborate his allegations last week that the Security Service has been illegally spying on opposition activists and cabinet members abroad, AFP and Interfax reported on 26 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2004 and End Note below). Tomenko, who is head of the parliamentary Committee for the Freedom of Expression and Information, reportedly said the dossier appears to be credible. He was expected to hold a news conference in Kyiv on 27 February regarding the documents provided by Kravchenko, the Our Ukraine website (http://www.razom.org.ua) reported. According to Tomenko, Kravchenko is ready to testify in court in Ukraine if the Prosecutor-General's Office opens a criminal case in connection with his allegations. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ASKED TO PREVENT CLOSURE OF OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz has asked President Leonid Kuchma to prevent the liquidation of the opposition newspaper "Silski visti," which was found guilty in January of fomenting interethnic strife in an anti-Semitic publication (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 3 February 2004), Interfax reported on 26 February. Moroz said in an open letter to Kuchma that the court that ruled on the case made "a legally illiterate decision to close [the newspaper] under far-fetched accusations." Moroz claims that the court violated the law by using the Criminal Code in the case against "Silski visti," which he believes should have been considered a civil case. Moroz warned that the closure of "Silski visit" might lead to the fomentation of "anti-Semitism in day-to-day life" and create an "explosive situation." "Silski visti," which primarily targets rural readers, has a circulation of more than 500,000. The newspaper is believed to be linked to the Socialist Party. JM
KYIV ASKS WARSAW TO CLARIFY LOST PRIVATIZATION TENDER. The Ukrainian Embassy in Poland has requested that the Polish Foreign Ministry supply an official explanation of the results of a recent tender to privatize Poland's Huta Czestochowa steelworks, in which the Indian-Dutch-British holding LMN beat the Industrial Union of Donbas, Interfax reported on 26 February. According to Polish Radio, the Ukrainian side believes that the Polish Treasury Minister's decision regarding the privatization of Huta Czestochowa was based on political rather than economic considerations. The Ukrainians are also reportedly offended by Deputy Treasury Minister Andrzej Szarawarski's reported remark that Poland wants to collaborate with upper-division players rather than accidental investors. JM
MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTER HOPES TO RENEW NEGOTIATIONS WITH ROMANIA ON BASIC TREATY. Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan told journalists in Chisinau on 26 February that Moldova hopes Bucharest will agree to renew negotiations on a basic treaty between the two countries, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Stratan said Moldova is not "waging a diplomatic war on any of its neighbors. We strive for good bilateral relations with Romania, Ukraine, and the Russian Federation and none of these good relations should divert us from our path toward European integration." Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said last year that Bucharest is no longer interested in signing such a treaty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September and 1 October 2003). Stratan also said he is highly optimistic regarding Moldova's chances for EU integration, despite challenges posed by the envisaged EU-Moldova Action Plan for Chisinau. Moldova's European option, he said, "is irreversible." He said he hopes Moldova will be in a position to begin negotiations in 2007 to become an EU associate member. Stratan also welcomed the recent EU decision to prolong its travel ban on members of the Transdniester leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2003). MS
OSCE MISSION HEAD IN MOLDOVA SAYS NEGOTIATIONS TO BE RESUMED IN LATE MARCH. Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission head in Moldova William Hill said on 26 February that the five-party negotiations on resolving the Transdniester conflict will be resumed in late March, Infotag reported. Aside from the two rivals, the negotiations include the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine as mediators. According to Infotag, Hill also said that inclusion of the EU as a fourth mediator might accelerate achieving a lasting resolution of the conflict. The agency quoted him as saying: "We are working closely with [EU Commission Foreign and Security Affairs head] Javier Solana and believe that the EU's contribution to conflict settlement would be invaluable and have a positive influence. The EU renders a considerable assistance to the OSCE in the Transdniester question. We try to work as colleagues, not as rivals." MS
KUCHMAGATE, ACT III
The series of scandals collectively known as Kuchmagate first erupted in November 2000 when Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz released excerpts from audio recordings made in President Leonid Kuchma's office by presidential security service officer Mykola Melnychenko. In September 2002, Kuchmagate-2 began when the U.S. government announced that the FBI had confirmed that the Melnychenko tapes revealed that Kuchma authorized the sale of Kolchuga radar systems to Iraq in July 2000.
Kuchmagate-3 began a day before Kuchma's 19 February visit to Germany, where he met with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. One day before Kuchma arrived in Germany, Valeriy Kravchenko, an officer of the Security Service (SBU) assigned to the Ukrainian Embassy in Berlin, visited the offices of Deutsche Welle and gave an interview in which he claimed he had refused to obey orders sent by SBU headquarters demanding that he follow parliamentary deputies, especially from the opposition, and even government ministers when they visited Germany. Kravchenko said the latest orders he received demanded that he monitor preparations for an upcoming Our Ukraine forum in Kyiv that was being assisted by people in Germany.
Kravchenko said he refused to obey these purported orders because under the 2001 law on intelligence, the SBU has no right to meddle in politics or spy on the opposition. President Kuchma oversees control over the "power ministries" and was therefore likely aware of these "illegal" orders, according to Kravchenko.
Kravchenko told Deutsche Welle he complained to SBU headquarters, but was informed by his superiors that "it was none of my business and that I must obey the orders from the center." Kravchenko said he ignored the orders, and after he was replaced on 16 February by another SBU officer he decided to go public. Kravchenko showed the orders to Deutsche Welle, which said they appeared to be official SBU documents. He has offered the documents to the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office and parliament's human rights ombudsman. Our Ukraine deputy Mykola Tomenko brought some of the documents to Ukraine on 26 February, after having met with Kravchenko in Germany the day before. In his Deutsche Welle interview, Kravchenko said responsibility for the orders lies with SBU Chairman Ihor Smeshko and the head of the SBU directorate on intelligence, Oleh Synyanskyy. SBU Chairman Smeshko is reportedly aligned with the Social Democratic Party-united led by Viktor Medvedchuk.
The SBU and Kuchma were obviously taken off guard by Kravchenko breaking ranks with the SBU and publicizing these purported orders. Kuchma, who has been isolated in the West since the previous Kuchmagate episodes and who may have been hoping to use the Berlin visit to present a reformed image of himself, was visibly angered when the issue dominated his press conference with Schroeder at the end of his visit.
The SBU has issued a statement claiming that Kravchenko's allegations are "absurd in nature" and denying that the SBU has ever issued any such order or undertaken any actions, "including political meddling, that are banned according to Ukrainian laws." Kuchma also ridiculed the idea that the Ukrainian authorities, including the SBU, would attempt to shadow the opposition. "This is absolutely absurd," Kuchma said at the press conference.
However, it is notable that the Ukrainian authorities denied all of the allegations that surfaced during the first and second acts of Kuchmagate, and those denials were then contradicted by the revival of Soviet-era jamming of Western radio stations that broadcast the allegations. In the wake of the latest scandal, Deutsche Welle's Ukrainian FM rebroadcaster, Radio Kontynent, issued a statement claiming that the station was jammed on 19 February through the use of "methods that were used in Soviet times" when it aired Kravchenko's interview.
Kravchenko's allegations, if true, would not come as a surprise. Western NGOs working in Ukraine have claimed that they are routinely followed by the SBU. The International Republican Institute told the "Kyiv Post" in January that its staff believed they were being tailed as they traveled around Ukraine and suspected their telephones were tapped. During elections, Ukrainian drivers and interpreters used by foreign OSCE observers, who are officially invited to Ukraine, are regularly questioned as to whom the observers meet and what they talk about. Western intelligence services have also noticed that SBU officers working out of embassies abroad have begun to collect information on members of the Ukrainian diaspora who make a habit of criticizing the present leadership in Ukraine.
Since Kuchma was re-elected in 1999, Ukrainian oppositionists and former diplomats have also complained that they are followed by the SBU and their telephones are tapped. Parliamentary deputies have found listening devices in their offices. When Ukrainian parliamentarians went to Prague to meet Melnychenko in late 2000, they were followed and upon returning to Ukraine their video interview was destroyed by Customs, even though their official status exempted them from undergoing customs control.
Prior to, and during, mass anti-Kuchma demonstrations in 2000-03 the opposition and student members were regularly approached, warned, and interrogated by the SBU and Interior Ministry. Kravchenko told Deutsche Welle that all state institutions are being used to "compromise the opposition and to obtain information about it."
Bohdan Sokolovskyi, a former adviser to the Ukrainian embassies in the United States and Germany, partially confirmed Kravchenko's allegations in an interview with "Ukrayinska pravda." He said that while serving as a diplomat in those countries, he was followed by individuals he believes were SBU agents. Sokolovskyi characterized Kravchenko, whom he knew while serving in Germany, as "without doubt a conscientious and patriotically inclined Ukrainian citizen." After this interview he was released from his duties by the Foreign Ministry.
Ironically, the latest development in the Kuchmagate saga coincides with the purported promulgation on 18 February of an as-yet-unpublished presidential decree that Kuchma has described as ensuring the "de-KGB-ization" of Ukrainian state structures through the removal of SBU officers. This step, according to Kuchma, will contribute to the process of democratization in Ukraine.
It is, however, widely believed to be routine practice for such decrees to be ignored or even countermanded by secret instructions (such as the "temnyky" through which the presidential administration controls state and private television coverage) or Soviet-style "telephone law." The scale of the deception can be seen when secret instructions issued by the presidential administration to undermine the opposition or media freedom are leaked. Only after complaints are made are decrees issued to investigate the very same infringements that the leaked instructions ordered. If Kravchenko's claims pan out, he has revealed the degree of legal nihilism that pervades the very top of the Ukrainian leadership.