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RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
A Survey of Developments in Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team.
GOVERNMENT FACES UPHILL BATTLE IN ACHIEVING NATO ASPIRATIONS. Ukrainian Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko visited the Czech Republic and Slovakia this week to discuss ways of strengthening Ukraine's military cooperation with these two NATO countries. Both Prague and Bratislava assured Hrytsenko that they support Ukraine's NATO bid. But the Ukrainian defense minister was reluctant to speculate on when Ukraine might join the alliance. He appears to be aware that Ukraine's NATO accession depends not only on support from NATO members, but also on the ability of the Ukrainian government to cope with its domestic agenda.
Czech Defense Minister Karel Kuehnl said during a joint news conference with Hrytsenko in Prague on 15 November that the Czech Republic wants NATO next year to prepare a "realistic" plan for Ukraine's NATO accession.
The Czech defense minister said his country can help Ukraine resolve some of the problems it is encountering on its path toward NATO integration.
"There are three spheres where the Czech Republic can share its experience in the transformation of its armed forces," Kuehnl said. "This is primarily the so-called personnel management; that is, a wide sphere ranging from education to social issues. Furthermore, it is financial-resource management. Finally, we have a common problem of disposing of unnecessary ammunition."
But Ukraine faces a number of hurdles to its NATO accession that Czech expertise might not help overcome.
For example, carrying out the military downsizing required to join NATO by 2008 threatens to strain Ukraine's budget. This is because such massive cuts could mean that the state will have to pay to retrain and find jobs for discharged servicemen.
Ukraine is currently undergoing reforms that will reduce its 280,000-strong military to some 140,000 troops by 2012. It is also restructuring its combat capabilities to comply with NATO standards.
As part of this reform effort, Ukraine last year cut 70,000 military personnel. The military is to be reduced by a further 40,000 servicemen this year, and by 18,000 annually in the coming years.
Some Ukrainian politicians and economists are also worried that Ukrainian NATO accession could ruin or significantly damage the country's military-industrial complex. They argue that the country's defense industries will become obsolete after the military switches to weapons and military technologies used by NATO troops.
Such an outcome could result in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in Ukraine and, possibly, a disruption of cooperation ties with Russia's military industries.
But the main obstacle to Ukraine's NATO membership seems to be presented by ordinary Ukrainians. Most still retain the Soviet-era perception that the alliance is a hostile organization, or are unconvinced about the advantages of NATO membership.
According to a poll conducted among 11,000 respondents in May, more than half of all Ukrainians oppose the country's NATO entry, while fewer than one in four support the move.
Hrytsenko said in an interview with RFE/RL that a government trusted by the people can change this perception of NATO among Ukrainians.
"First, it is a problem of informing people about what NATO is and what it is not. The government has not yet done this. It can seriously tackle this issue only after the conclusion of the [2006 parliamentary] election campaign, which is not a favorable background for this," Hrytsenko said. "Second, it is a problem of public trust in the government. If the government resolves successfully economic, social, and all other problems, then citizens trust this government and support its foreign-policy course."
Ukraine has more than a decade of experience in dealing with NATO.
In 1994, it became the first CIS country to join the Partnership for Peace. The partnership was a program of security and defense cooperation that NATO offered to nonmembers after the breakup of the Soviet Union and the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact.
In 1997, NATO offered Ukraine a "Distinctive Partnership" status that underlined the country's important role in maintaining European stability. A NATO-Ukraine Commission was established to coordinate further development of bilateral relations.
In May 2002, then-President Leonid Kuchma announced Ukraine's goal of achieving NATO membership.
In November 2002, NATO foreign ministers adopted a NATO-Ukraine Action Plan. The plan aims to expand bilateral relations and to support Ukraine's reform efforts toward integration with Euro-Atlantic security structures.
NATO-Ukraine contacts have increased following Viktor Yushchenko's victory in the 2004 presidential election.
President Yushchenko earlier this year visited NATO headquarters in Brussels. There he confirmed that he considers a course toward NATO a strategic political goal, and he urged the alliance to take relations with his country to a "qualitatively new level."
Shortly afterward, NATO and Ukraine launched an "Intensified Dialogue" phase in their relations, which is expected to lead to the opening of direct talks on Ukrainian NATO membership.
However, NATO officials persistently emphasize that the speed of Ukraine's integration will be closely related to the country's pace of implementing political, economic, and military reforms.
In May, President Yushchenko told Ukrainians that he will seek a referendum on the country's NATO and EU membership. Thus, considering the lack of support for NATO accession among the population, the Ukrainian government is facing an uphill task in persuading them that NATO membership is truly beneficial. (Jan Maksymiuk -- Marianna Dratch from RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service contributed to this report.)
LEFTISTS COMMEMORATE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION WITH ANTIGOVERNMENT RALLIES. An estimated crowd of 10,000 people took part in an antigovernment picket in front of the government's headquarters in Kyiv on 7 November. The picket, as well as a somewhat smaller rally on Independence Square shortly before it, was organized by the Communist Party of Ukraine to commemorate the 88th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia.
In 2000, the tradition of celebrating Revolution Day on 7 November ended when it ceased to be a state holiday in Ukraine, but Ukrainian communists and other leftists continue to mark the date with street demonstrations every year. Such rallies are usually attended by older people and pensioners; that is, by those Ukrainians who harbor nostalgia for the Soviet era and routinely vote for forces that pledge to reestablish the former Soviet superpower in one form or another, be it a hypothetical union of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus or the proclaimed Single Economic Space that involves these three predominantly Slavic countries plus Kazakhstan.
This year, the attendance at October Revolution rallies in Ukraine was hardly better than in previous years. Apart from the 10,000-strong demonstration in Kyiv, there was only one more major rally in Mykolayiv in southern Ukraine, which attracted some 5,000 people. The attendance at 7 November demonstrations in other Ukrainian cities was reportedly quite low: Kirovohrad -- 1,000 people, Odesa -- 1,000, Simferopol -- 1,000, Dnipropetrovsk -- 600, Sumy -- 500, and Sevastopol -- 400.
This is a rather puzzling fact, for at least two reasons. First, Ukraine is on the eve of a major campaign for the March 2006 parliamentary elections. The Communist Party of Ukraine, which earlier this year formed the so-called Left-Wing Front as an election coalition for 2006, could seemingly use its rallies on the anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution as a test as well as propagandistic confirmation of its political readiness to enter the parliamentary campaign as a meaningful force. Judging by what actually took place this 7 November, the Communists continue to remain a minor political player in Ukraine.
Second, this 7 November Ukrainian left-wingers had a unique chance to hurl all of their repertoire of political and socioeconomic criticism at a single and clear-cut target -- President Viktor Yushchenko and his government. To them, Yushchenko embodies all the evils that have plagued Ukraine since its independence in 1991. To name just a few points of this repertoire -- Yushchenko is a pro-Western politician and wants Ukraine to be integrated with the West in the World Trade Organization, NATO, and the EU; Yushchenko is a nationalist and anti-Russian politician; Yushchenko is an oligarch and wants to sell Ukrainian national assets to either Western economic moguls or Ukrainian oligarchs of his own ilk. In short, President Yushchenko is a much better target for leftist criticism on 7 November than his predecessor, Leonid Kuchma, was in the past decade.
As should be expected, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko listed all these points regarding Yushchenko in his speech on Independence Square in Kyiv, and they were voiced in different variations by local communist leaders in other Ukrainian cities. But the general impression of Ukrainian media and commentators was that this year's October Revolution commemorations were sluggish and uninspiring for adherents of the communist ideology in Ukraine, despite the fact that the country is now governed by combatants and followers of the "nationalistic" and "anti-Russian" Orange Revolution. This may be a signal that Ukraine's communists and leftists, in general, need a new political agenda or new leaders -- or both.
There also is no unity or solidarity among Ukrainian leftist forces regarding the celebrations of Revolution Day. The Socialist Party of Oleksandr Moroz was conspicuously absent from Kyiv streets on 7 November. The party has several ministers in the government, so it probably decided to stay away from what promised to be an antigovernment public event. And Communist Party followers prevented the Progressive Socialist Party of Natalya Vitrenko -- a no less fierce opponent of President Yushchenko than Symonenko -- from laying flowers at the only remaining monument to Vladimir Lenin in Kyiv. The Communists consider the Progressive Socialists to be sidekicks of the Donetsk oligarchic clan, whose political arm is the Party of Regions led by former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.
What was actually new during the 7 November rally and picket in Kyiv was the appearance of a relatively new group called the Eurasian Youth Union of Ukraine, which was represented by two dozen young Ukrainians. The organization is an apparent branch of the International Eurasian Movement, which is sponsored by some forces in Russia as a "Eurasian" response to what they see as the onslaught of Western "Atlanticism" on Russia and its post-Soviet neighbors, including Ukraine. Members of the Eurasian Youth Union of Ukraine busied themselves in Kyiv on 7 November by throwing rotten oranges at government building, and police reportedly arrested nearly all of them in the process. It is difficult to say whether in the future this group will be able to pose a more serious treat to the Yushchenko government than 7 November. However, its emergence seems to be emblematic, and those trying to rebuild a "Eurasian" empire have not yet run short of initiatives, supporters, or money. (Jan Maksymiuk)
"RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova 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.
TURKMENISTAN SETS NEW GAS PRICE FOR 2006. President Saparmurat Niyazov told a cabinet meeting on 18 November that Turkmenistan will raise the export price of its natural gas for all purchasers to $60 per 1,000 cubic meters beginning on 1 January, turkmenistan.ru reported. Niyazov gave Turkmenistan's business partners until 10 December to conduct negotiations and draw up contracts. The report noted that Russia and Iran currently pay $44 per 1,000 cubic meters for Turkmen gas, while Ukraine pays $58. But Oleksiy Ivchenko, head of Ukraine's state-run oil and gas company Naftohaz Ukrayiny, told reporters in Kyiv on 19 November that Niyazov's announcement does not apply to Ukraine, which has already signed a 2006 contract with Turkmenistan to buy gas for $44 per 1,000 cubic meters, Unian reported. DK
BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES CONFISCATE PASSPORT OF ETHNIC POLISH ACTIVIST. Belarusian border guards on 20 November confiscated the passport of Andrzej Poczobut -- an activist of the Union of Poles in Belarus (SPB) who remains loyal to former SPB Chairwoman Anzhelika Borys -- when he was returning to Hrodna from Warsaw, where he met with Polish Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, Belapan reported. "I was detained for more than three hours on the border. They confiscated my passport because my foreign-travel stamp was annulled earlier," Poczobut told the agency. In order to be allowed to travel abroad, Belarusians need to have a special stamp in their passports from a relevant visa and registration department. Poczobut managed to get to Poland through Russia and Ukraine. Marcinkiewicz reportedly promised support to members of the former SPB leadership that was ousted in August, at an SPB congress which Warsaw said was orchestrated by Belarusian special services (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August and 9 September 2005). Meanwhile, Borys on 17 November was questioned by investigators for the 53rd time this year and accused of embezzling SPB funds in 2004, PAP reported. JM
SACKED UKRAINIAN PREMIER WANTS ORANGE REVOLUTION UNITY TO BEAT RIVAL. Former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, who was sacked by President Viktor Yushchenko in September, has appealed to former political allies of the Orange Revolution to unite in order to prevent the possible return to power of former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, Reuters reported on 19 November. "I think we can unite before the [26 March parliamentary] elections or perhaps after them. I will make every effort to unite our forces.... A counterattack headed by Yanukovych as a possible candidate for prime minister is very real. We must not let down our guard," Tymoshenko told journalists in Kyiv on 19 November. She said she will take part in official celebrations of the first anniversary of the Orange Revolution on Independence Square in Kyiv on 22 November. According to a poll conducted by the Razumkov Center among 1,993 Ukrainians from 3-13 November, Yanukovych's Party of Regions is backed by 17.5 percent of voters, the pro-government Our Ukraine Bloc (the Our Ukraine People's Union, the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, and the People's Rukh) by 13.5 percent, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc by 12.4 percent. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS OFF ON DAY OF FREEDOM. President Viktor Yushchenko has signed a decree establishing a Day of Freedom on 22 November, the date on which Ukrainians in 2004 launched popular protests known as the Orange Revolution, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 21 November, quoting the presidential press service. The decree was signed "with the aim of promoting the ideals of freedom and democracy in Ukraine [and] ingraining the feeling of national pride in citizens, while taking into account the historic experience of events in the autumn of 2004." According to the Labor Code, the Day of Freedom can become a day-off in Ukraine only after the decree is endorsed by the Verkhovna Rada. JM
UKRAINIAN COURT RULES TO REINSTATE FORMER PROSECUTOR-GENERAL. The Shevchenkivskyy district court in Kyiv ruled on 18 November that President Yushchenko's decision last month to sack Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun was illegal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 18 October 2005), Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. The court also ruled that Piskun must be restored to the post. Justice Minister Serhiy Holovatyy, who represented Yushchenko in the court, commented after the verdict that the president's team "lost the first battle but will win the war," adding that he will appeal the ruling after obtaining its full text. Piskun, who was appointed prosecutor-general in July 2002, was already dismissed by former President Leonid Kuchma and reinstated by another Kyiv district court in December 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2004). JM
KAZAKH PRESIDENT VISITS KYIV. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and his Ukrainian counterpart Yushchenko signed a Kazakh-Ukrainian action plan for 2005-2006 in Kyiv on 18 November, Ukrainian media reported. Yushchenko commented that the current Ukrainian-Kazakh relations are "practically cloudless," adding that trade between the two countries now stands at some $1 billion annually and may be increased by one-third in the following two to three years. Yushchenko also told journalists at a press conference of both leaders that his talks with Nazarbaev ended with Kazakhstan's agreement to buy seven Ukrainian An-148 planes. "We export to Ukraine oil and gas, farm goods, and other items. There have been no other proposals. And none are needed. Kazakhstan is a sufficiently democratic country," Nazarbaev said in response to the question as to whether he discussed the Orange Revolution with Yushchenko. Nazarbaev, who has been in power since 1989, will run for reelection on 4 December. JM
BREAKAWAY TRANSDNIESTRIAN AUTHORITIES OPEN MINT, CIRCULATE CURRENCY. Authorities in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region opened their own mint on 18 November, saying the locally minted money would go into circulation on 21 November, Flux and ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "This will enable us to cover the shortage of cash money and ensure our financial security," Transdniestria's self-proclaimed president, Igor Smirnov, said at an opening ceremony, according to ITAR-TASS. Yuri Tverdohleb, head of Moldova's "state bank," said some of the equipment for the mint was bought in Germany and some was made locally. Transdniester began circulating its own banknotes -- featuring the 18th-century Russian military commander Aleksander Suvorov -- in 2000 but had to mint the coins in Poland. Late last year, Moldovan and Ukrainian authorities stopped a truck in Lviv, Ukraine, that was carrying coins to Transdniester from Poland. Moldova filed a formal complaint with the European Union over the incident. BW