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A Survey of Developments in Belarus and Ukraine by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team
YUSHCHENKO PUTS TROUBLING CHECKS AND BALANCES ON TYMOSHENKO IN GOVERNMENT. The approval of Yuliya Tymoshenko as independent Ukraine's 13th prime minister in the Verkhovna Rada on 4 February was a remarkable political show because of several big surprises for political analysts and commentators. As well as for Tymoshenko herself.
The first surprise was the level of support Tymoshenko in particular and her cabinet in general got among the parliamentarians. Her nomination was endorsed by 373 votes, that is, by virtually all parliamentary factions aside from the Communist Party. The cabinet's program was approved by the equally astonishing number of 357 deputies. Nobody had predicted that a Tymoshenko-led government would obtain such an enthusiastic backing.
Most notably, Tymoshenko was even supported by deputies from the parliamentary caucus of the Party of Regions headed by former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, President Viktor Yushchenko's embittered rival from the presidential race. What has become of Yanukovych's postelection pledge to switch to a "tough opposition" under the Yushchenko presidency?
Yosyp Vinskyy -- a leader of the Socialist Party, which joined the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko ruling coalition after reportedly tense, last-minute negotiations -- told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on 4 February that the parliamentary support of erstwhile adherents of Yanukovych for the Tymoshenko cabinet testifies to their "complete moral downfall." Vinskyy suggested that this happened primarily because they represent in the legislature not so much the political programs or ideologies of their parties as the business interests of their leaders and sponsors.
"Business will not be in opposition, business will seek contacts with the new authorities, because our business sphere has been built on theft of state property and money," Vinskyy opined. "Evidently, they [dishonest businessmen] are now seeking contacts [with the new cabinet] in order to preserve [their possessions]." According to Vinskyy, the "disappearance" of the parliamentary opposition to the government, as testified by the 4 February approval vote, is a serious threat to the government itself, because such a situation weakens the public control over what the government does.
The second surprise was the composition of the cabinet. Taken as a whole, the cabinet is undoubtedly pro-reform and psychologically prepared to tackle the enormous task of revamping the authoritarian power system left by the 10-year rule of President Leonid Kuchma and reducing its endemic corruption. But some of Yushchenko's choices for the new cabinet have raised many eyebrows.
To start with, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the staunchest political ally of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine during the Orange Revolution, seems to be underrepresented in the cabinet. Apart from Yuliya Tymoshenko, the cabinet includes only one other politician from her party: Oleksandr Turchynov as head of the Ukrainian Security Service. Under a political deal signed between Tymoshenko and Yushchenko in July on their cooperation in the 2004 presidential campaign, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc was to obtain 23 percent of the posts in the executive branch. Even given that the political weight of the premiership may be equal to several ministerial portfolios, the assignment of just two posts to the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc out of some two dozen major cabinet jobs seems to be quite unfair.
On the other hand, the Socialist Party, which threw its support behind Yushchenko's presidential bid only following the first round of the presidential election on 31 October, was rewarded by Yushchenko with three cabinet prizes: Oleksandr Baranivskyy will head the Ministry for Agricultural Policy, Yuriy Lutsenko the Interior Ministry, and Stanislav Nikolayenko the Education Ministry. And Valentyna Semenyuk from the Socialist Party is reportedly expecting Yushchenko's nomination to head the extremely important State Property Fund, a body responsible for privatizations. Such lavish rewards has been promised despite the fact that the Socialists criticized Yushchenko's program as "liberal" and publicly asserted that the program is at grave variance with their programmatic goal of building a "socialist" Ukraine.
Why has Yushchenko apparently favored the Socialist Party, whose support was not crucial for the approval of a new cabinet (the Socialists have just 22 deputies in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada), and seemingly slighted his closest political ally, whose potential success or failure in the post of prime minister is expected to have an enormous influence on the public perception of his presidency? One possible answer is that Yushchenko is afraid that the charismatic, strong-willed, and vigorous Tymoshenko could assume too much authority in the executive branch and begin playing a political game of her own.
For the time being, that is at least until the 2006 parliamentary elections, such a development appears to be purely speculation. But it is already clear that Tymoshenko will have problems in making a single-minded and unanimous team of partners out of her current deputies and ministers. An apparently big surprise, and a nasty one for her, was the last-minute nomination of Roman Bezsmertnyy as deputy prime minister for administrative reform. In presenting the list of new ministers to the parliament, Tymoshenko said this post would remain vacant for some time. But Yushchenko, who was simultaneously signing decrees on cabinet appointments, appointed Bezsmertnyy at the end of this ceremony, thus provoking a startled and somewhat distressed shudder from Tymoshenko.
Bezsmertnyy, once a staunch supporter of President Kuchma, switched to the Yushchenko camp in 2001 and was given much credit for managing Yushchenko's parliamentary campaign in 2002 and presidential campaign in 2004. He surely deserved a political prize from Yushchenko, but his appointment to the current cabinet seems to be an ill-advised choice. Following the designation of Tymoshenko as prime minister last month, Bezsmertnyy reportedly opined that Tymoshenko is a "political blackmailer" and said he will not join her cabinet even if asked by Yushchenko.
Simultaneously, Bezsmertnyy publicly suggested that Tymoshenko may "surrender" Yushchenko -- as she "surrendered," he added, his erstwhile political ally, former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko -- either before the 2006 parliamentary election or the 2009 presidential election in order to make her own presidential bid. "Tymoshenko should realize that there should always be people beside her who will not leave her in peace," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website quoted Bezsmertnyy as saying. Is this not the task Yushchenko has given Bezsmertnyy in the new cabinet?
However, in the short term it should be expected that the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko alliance will remain strong and mutually loyal. As Yushchenko said in his address to the Verkhovna Rada on 4 February, the public expectations as regards the performance of the new government are "colossal." Meeting some of these expectations will be a hard test for political survival not only for Yushchenko but also for Tymoshenko, irrespective of whether she intends to sail in the same boat with Yushchenko beyond the 2006 parliamentary election or take an independent course in order to try her luck as a candidate in the 2009 presidential ballot. (Jan Maksymiuk)
UKRAINIAN STREET REBEL BECOMES TOP POLICEMAN. The appointment of Yuriy Lutsenko as Ukraine's interior minister was probably the most surprising cabinet choice made by President Viktor Yushchenko on 4 February, shortly after the Ukrainian parliament overwhelmingly voted to approve Yuliya Tymoshenko as the new prime minister.
Ukraine's Interior Ministry, a mammoth organization employing some 500,000 people, will now be headed not only by its first civilian minister, but also by a person who has thus far not had any significant experience in law enforcement.
To make matters even worse for Yuriy Lutsenko, the Interior Ministry, which is tasked with fighting endemic corruption in the country, is proverbially corrupt itself. Lutsenko will have to start his cabinet career with a radical cleanup of his workplace, which will hardly make him popular with his co-workers.
Until now, the 41-year-old Lutsenko has been primarily known as an opposition politician and a passionate leader of antigovernment street protests in 2000 and 2001 conducted under the slogan "Ukraine Without Kuchma," and those in November and December 2004 that have come to be known as the Orange Revolution.
Beside Yushchenko and Tymoshenko, Lutsenko was one of the most popular figures addressing orange-clad crowds from the rostrum on Independence Square, or Maydan Nezalezhnosti, in Kyiv. Pro-Yushchenko supporters dubbed him a "field commander" of the Orange Revolution, for his smooth coordination of revolutionary crowd movements between the presidential administration headquarters and the parliament building in Kyiv. Some also called him the "Maydan disc jockey," apparently for his ability to entertain demonstrators with a good joke or a story between the waves of rock music that rolled from the Independence Square stage when politicians were not making speeches.
Lutsenko's inclination to present his contribution to the Orange Revolution in an amusing manner was reflected in an interview he gave to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on 21 December, five days before the repeat election between Yushchenko and former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.
"Naturally, we have pressured Kuchma and continue to pressure him by blocking the presidential administration building and, primarily, by blocking his suburban residence," Lutsenko said. "It is in a forest, under our supervision. We are afraid that Yanukovych may attack [former President Leonid Kuchma], so we are guarding him a little bit."
Lutsenko is an electronics engineer by education. He joined the Socialist Party in 1991. From 1994 to 1996, he served in the regional administration in Rivne, his native city in northwestern Ukraine. From 1997 to 1998, he served as Ukraine's deputy science minister, and until 1999 as an aide to Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko.
In December 2000, he was one of the leaders of the "Ukraine Without Kuchma" street-protest campaign. Some Ukrainian commentators humorously note that 2001 was a period when Lutsenko, who led protesters against cordons of riot police in full gear, came closest to the problems that need to be tackled, as well as presented, by the Interior Ministry.
In 2002 and 2003, Lutsenko was sporadically involved in disabling the electronic-voting system in parliament, when the opposition could not find a different way to prevent the pro-government coalition from passing a bill. Lutsenko acknowledged in an interview last year that disabling the system was easy for him, not only because he was trained in electronics, but also because of his experience during his compulsory military service in a communications unit of the KGB troops of the former Soviet Union.
The Orange Revolution popularized Lutsenko as a sort of folk hero and jester. But most Ukrainian analysts concede that Lutsenko is vigorous, ambitious, open-minded, and knowledgeable, and that he will have few problems either turning himself into a demanding and purpose-oriented bureaucrat, or learning the basics needed to run the Interior Ministry.
The insightful, thoughtful side of Lutsenko can be seen in a perception about the Orange Revolution that he shared with RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.
"There have been two tactics for developing the revolutionary situation that was originated by the Independent Square [rallies]," Lutsenko said. "The first one, which has been urged by Yuliya Tymoshenko and other people, is to take a revolutionary path, capture [government] offices, proclaim Yushchenko's victory, and appoint a revolutionary cabinet of ministers. I have opposed such a tactic and supported an evolutionary development of events, which we are actually witnessing today. It is also a victorious tactic, even if somewhat longer. What is important, it is definitely a bloodless tactic and an elegant one, as Yushchenko says."
Lutsenko's first personnel decisions after taking office were to sack General Serhiy Popkov, deputy interior minister and commander of the interior troops, as well as Major General Hennadiy Heorhiyenko, head of the Interior Ministry's Traffic Police Department. According to Ukrainian and foreign media reports, Popkov was on the verge of bringing special-police troops to Kyiv in late December to break up the Orange Revolution. Popkov subsequently denied the media allegations, saying the troops were on battle alert but never left their deployment units.
The dismissal of Heorhiyenko was most likely connected with what ordinary Ukrainians see as the widespread corruption of the traffic police, who have turned bribe taking from drivers into their main source of income and into a habit accepted practically on a nationwide scale. "Who can trust a cop who doesn't take money?" a police supervisor asks in the famous 1973 American cop movie "Serpico." Ukraine's traffic police seem to understand trustworthiness in much the same way.
While introducing Lutsenko to the Interior Ministry staff, Yushchenko said the new minister's primary task is to discourage police from taking bribes and to mobilize them for serving the people.
Yushchenko reiterated his priorities as he addressed senior law enforcement personnel during a trip to Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region on 1 February. "I do not want to see corrupt authorities. I do not want to know the price for [obtaining the position of] police chief in Donetsk Oblast, because nobody will pay that price," Yushchenko said. "There will be a police chief who will serve several million people here, dispirited people."
Yushchenko has given Lutsenko two months to achieve the first tangible results in his new job. (Jan Maksymiuk)
"Most likely, football or hockey. I don't know. Hockey, most probably." -- An anonymous resident of Minsk, answering a question from an RFE/RL correspondent about what common interests Belarus has with Lebanon, where President Alyaksandr Lukashenka paid an official visit last week; quoted by RFE/RL's Belarus Service on 2 February.
"I have known Yushchenko for eight years now. He is competent, intelligent, sensible. Well, he may be of a mild character a little bit. Never mind. He has not been a president yet. All of us are of a mild character as long as we carry no responsibility. But when we assume responsibility, we become harsh. He is a normal man, a pro-Ukrainian man." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 9 February; quoted by Belarusian Television.
"I'd like to say what my government will not be doing. I know what responsibility these words carry, but I have the honor of telling you -- my government will not steal.... I want to say, friends, that the government not only will not steal, but also will not accept bribes." -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko in the Verkhovna Rada on 4 February, shortly before proposing to approve Yuliya Tymoshenko as the head of a new cabinet of ministers; quoted by the "Ukrayinska pravda" website.
"RFE/RL 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.
GAZPROM HEAD MEETS WITH TURKMEN PRESIDENT OVER PRICE TIFF. Gazprom head Aleksei Miller met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat on 10 February for talks on a price dispute between the state-controlled Russian gas company and Turkmenistan, Turkmen Television reported. A 10 February Gazprom press release noted only that "both sides are satisfied with the results of cooperation; the intention has been confirmed to follow existing agreements and contracts strictly in the future." Under the current contract, Russia was to buy 7 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Turkmenistan in 2005 for $44 per 1,000 cubic meters, paid half in cash and half in kind. Emboldened by recent price concessions by Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2005), however, Turkmenistan now wants $58 per 1,000 cubic meters from Russia as well. A source at the Turkmen Embassy in Moscow told "The Moscow Times" on 9 February that Turkmenistan halted natural-gas supplies to Russia in January. Official Turkmen reports of the Miller-Niyazov meeting said the sides are confident negotiations can break the deadlock, but stressed that the current price is "unacceptable." The Turkmen Embassy source told "The Moscow Times" that Turkmenistan is ready to sit tight until its conditions are met. But "Vremya novostei" reported on 11 February that Gazprom negotiators will soon make another attempt to resolve the price dispute within the framework of the existing contract. DK
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WARNS DONETSK OFFICIALS AGAINST CORRUPTION, SEPARATISM... President Viktor Yushchenko presented newly appointed Donetsk Governor Vadym Chuprun to the regional-administration's staff on 10 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2005), Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. Donetsk was one of the several regions that overwhelmingly supported Yushchenko's rival, Viktor Yanukovych, in the 2004 presidential election and threatened to seek a federal status in response to the pro-Yushchenko Orange Revolution. Yushchenko warned Donetsk political leaders against tolerating or engaging in corruption. Yushchenko pledged to work toward bringing what he estimates to be two-thirds of Donetsk's economy out of the shadow economy. He also pledged to punish any attempts at regional separatism. "There will be no further talk of separatism or federalism," Reuters quoted him as saying. "The people who proposed this absurdity to Ukraine's people will have to answer for it in a court of law." JM
...AND DEMANDS APOLOGY FOR SLANDEROUS POSTERS IN 2003. During his meeting with the Donetsk Oblast administration staff on 10 February, President Yushchenko recalled his visit to Donetsk in October 2003, when local authorities prevented his Our Ukraine bloc from holding a forum of democratic forces there and they allowed the dissemination of placards depicting Yushchenko in an SS uniform (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 4 November 2003), the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www2.pravda.com.ua/) reported. "I ask the oblast leadership: Who ordered the printing of those posters, who disseminated them?" Yushchenko said. "If you are convinced that I am really such a man, then prove it publicly. But if you cannot prove it, I'll make you apologize. I don't want to forgive you for that." JM
FORMER RIVAL WANTS TO BE UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT'S 'ALLY.' Former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who lost the presidential election to Yushchenko, said in a television interview on 10 February that he wants to cooperate with the new authorities in Ukraine, "Ukrayinska pravda" reported. "I'm planning to meet with the new authorities and discuss how we are going to cooperate," Yanukovych said. "We will be allies." Yanukovych revealed that he spent the past two weeks in a sanatorium near Moscow. He said he has not met with Russian President Vladimir Putin but had a short telephone conversation with him. "I communicated [to Putin] that I lost," Yanukovych added. JM