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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.
GUAM -- A REGIONAL GROUPING COMES OF AGE. GUAM -- a regional grouping of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova -- always seemed like just another talking shop. This was especially true in a region with what some might consider an excess of regional groupings, like the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and others. After Uzbekistan left the body in 2002, many commentators questioned whether GUAM even had a future. But the recent advent to power in Georgia and Ukraine of openly pro-Western leaders breathed new life into the grouping. And with countries threatening to leave the CIS, GUAM has set its sights much higher.
Surrounded by a bevy of wine glasses and photographers last week in Kyiv, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili enjoyed a glass of one of his country's biggest exports.
The wine festival in the Ukrainian capital was a clear show of solidarity, after Russia recently banned Georgian wine in a move many think is political.
That spirit of bonhomie also seemed evident in the more serious business of politics. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who was elected the first-time secretary-general of GUAM, spoke enthusiastically of the region's prospects.
"I am firmly convinced that our region has great potential and that it will become one of the most promising regions in modern Europe. This concerns not only energy or transport projects but also security projects, I'm sure," Yushchenko said.
The presidents of the four GUAM countries adopted a new charter, rules of procedure and financial regulations. And crucially, the leaders also expressed their desire for increased cooperation with NATO and the European Union.
They also gave the organization a new name. GUAM will now be known as the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development-GUAM.
This apparent reawakening is likely to irritate Russia. From the outset, Moscow has reacted to GUAM with mistrust and hostility, perceiving it as a secret weapon with which the United States, a GUAM funder, planned to emasculate the CIS.
Whatever the cause, the CIS -- which rose from the ashes of the Soviet Union in 1991 -- seems to be in trouble.
In recent weeks, Saakashvili has repeatedly hinted at possibility of his country withdrawing from the CIS.
In Ukraine and Moldova, senior politicians have alluded to the possibility of leaving the CIS. Of the four GUAM countries, only Azerbaijan has ruled out leaving the body.
Aleksandre Rondeli, the president of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies in Tbilisi, thinks that GUAM's transformation is part of the disintegration of the CIS.
"GUAM in the beginning was created mostly as a certain kind of resistance toward Russian security policy. But now it's developing into a serious, full-fledged international organization, but with an economic basis," Rondeli says.
Indeed, at the Kyiv meeting, economic cooperation was high on the agenda.
Since its inception, the presidents of the GUAM member states have consistently stressed the anticipated benefits of economic cooperation. That means, in the first instance, the construction of export pipelines for Caspian oil and gas that bypass Russian territory. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil-export pipeline is to be formally inaugurated next month and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum gas pipeline will go into operation this fall.
Much of the renewed cooperation will now be concentrated on reducing dependence on Russian oil and gas. Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova are all reliant on Russia for gas supplies. But Azerbaijan could replace Russia as Georgia's supplier when gas from its Shah-Deniz field starts flowing through Georgia in the next few months.
At the May 23 summit, the presidents took another bold step, announcing that they had signed a protocol on creating a free-trade zone and a customs union.
Saakashvili, speaking to RFE/RL's Georgian Service, stressed that the renewed interest in the alliance was for self-protection: "It is very important that, at a time of real economic sanctions against Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, at a time of new obstacles and embargoes, we have agreed to introduce a free-trade regime among our countries, because it offers concrete benefits to all [GUAM member] countries, all citizens, all producers."
But is this likely to amount to much? Katinka Barysch, chief economist at the London-based Centre
for European Reform, says that since the breakup of the Soviet Union there have been numerous attempts to create political and economic cooperation. She says that most of these initiatives have been only mildly successful as trade between countries has not increased.
"My impression is that the policymakers in the former Soviet Union have a very statist and traditional view of international relations. The state is supreme over markets and there is a clear distinction between high politics and low politics," Barysch says.
And high politics is big presidents getting together and signing deals, and that very often includes economic deals, but this isn't really something that's driven from the ground up, that's driven by the business sector. The motivation behind that seems to be political."
Konstantin Kosachyov, the head of the Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, has no doubt that the motivation for GUAM is political. In an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service, Kosachyov said he couldn't see what the countries had in common:
"I find it extremely hard to imagine that something actually unites these countries, in particular slogans on democratic elections and adherence to the idea of progress. And that explains Russia's reaction -- we find it strange to see an alliance formed not on a positive but on a negative note; not for something, but against something."
Besides, there could be tensions within the grouping itself. Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova have unequivocally pro-Western and pro-NATO orientations, whereas oil-rich Azerbaijan has taken a more nuanced position.
Speaking after the summit, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev was keen to stress how the organization wasn't about confrontation. "It is not aimed against anybody," he said. "We didn't gather here to make friends in order to oppose someone else."
(RFE/RL's Liz Fuller, Luke Allnutt, Claire Bigg, and the Russian, Ukrainian, and Georgian services contributed to this story.)
NEW PARLIAMENT CONVENES, SETS DEADLINE FOR COALITION. The inaugural session on May 25 of Ukraine's newly elected parliament effectively launched a 30-day countdown for the formation of a ruling coalition. Deputies from the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Our Ukraine, and the Socialist Party passed a resolution adjourning the session until June 7, by which time they expect to present a coalition accord on a new government.
All seemed in order as the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada convened for its first session today -- but the composure on the Ukrainian parliamentary rostrum was short-lived.
A dispute among deputies erupted immediately after the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Our Ukraine, and the Socialist Party -- the three allies in the 2004 Orange Revolution -- proposed that the session be postponed until June 7.
By that time, they pledged, the three groups will have agreed on the principles of a renewed coalition. The motion eventually passed with 240 votes.
Dissent came from the ranks of the Party of Regions and the Communist Party, whose members argued that the Orange Revolution allies have had enough time to agree on a coalition and should allow the legislature get to work.
The March 26 parliamentary vote in Ukraine, which was internationally praised as fair and democratic, produced a legislature comprising five forces: the Party of Regions (186 seats), the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (129), Our Ukraine (81), the Socialist Party (33), and the Communist Party (21).
Over the past two months, the five parliamentary groups have held several joint meetings chaired by President Viktor Yushchenko and many bilateral and trilateral conferences devoted to the formation of a parliamentary majority, but all of them proved fruitless.
In mid-April the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Our Ukraine, and the Socialist Party signed a protocol pledging to work toward creating such a parliamentary majority. Their subsequent efforts led to the preparation of two draft coalition accord -- one endorsed by the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and the Socialists, the other worked out by Our Ukraine.
The main stumbling block in the coalition talks is the question of who will become prime minister. Tymoshenko has made no secret of her desire to regain the post she held before being dismissed by Yushchenko in September. But the restoration of Tymoshenko as prime minister is exactly what the president and his political partners from Our Ukraine would like to avoid.
Yushchenko officially split with Tymoshenko after she accused some of his closest allies of corrupt practices and of running a "second" government. All of them were subsequently elected to the Verkhovna Rada from the Our Ukraine list. If the former Orange Revolution allies eventually decide to restore their coalition and Tymoshenko becomes prime minister once again, the old conflict may reignite.
There is also another source of potential discord between the president and Tymoshenko. Tymoshenko promised during the election campaign to cancel a gas-supply deal that Yushchenko's cabinet signed with Gazprom in January. The deal raised the gas price for Ukraine from $50 to $95 per 1,000 meters and gave RosUkrEnergo, an opaque Swiss-based company owned half by Gazprom and half by two Ukrainian businessmen, the role of sole supplier.
The cancellation by Tymoshenko of the gas deal with Gazprom could lead to a serious conflict between Kyiv and Moscow. Russia could cut gas supplies to Ukraine, as it did for a short time in January, or impose trade sanctions, as it recently did with regard to Georgian and Moldovan wines. Ukraine, which currently sends some 22 percent of its exports to Russia, would hardly benefit from any trade ban from Moscow.
Another hurdle to an Orange coalition is the Socialist Party's opposition to some goals pursued by Yushchenko's presidency. In particular, the Socialists object to Ukrainian aspirations to join NATO. They also object to the privatization of land, thus undermining Yushchenko's efforts to implement reforms he pledged during the 2004 Orange Revolution in an effort to bring the country closer to the European Union.
If Our Ukraine doesn't allow Tymoshenko to realize her dream of regaining her seat as prime minister, she will most likely switch to the opposition, and Yushchenko will have to seek a coalition with the Party of Regions led by Viktor Yanukovych -- his former presidential rival.
Such a coalition, with 267 votes in the Verkhovna Rada, would provide solid support for its cabinet, provided that the two seemingly mismatched parties could adopt a consistent program.
Both parties represent the interests of major oligarchic groups in Ukraine, so in theory they could very easily agree on a set of basic economic reforms. But difficulties could emerge in the determination of foreign-policy priorities, as Yanukovych's party is generally seen as Russia-leaning, in contrast to the Western-oriented Our Ukraine.
But for Yushchenko, this coalition option is fraught with much more serious dangers than mere differences of opinion on foreign policy. The Party of Regions, which won the March 26 vote, would most likely demand the post of prime minister. It is not clear whether Yushchenko would prefer Yanukovych or someone else from his party to Tymoshenko as prime minister.
Under the constitutional reform that went into effect in January, presidential powers in Ukraine were substantially reduced to the benefit of the parliament and the prime minister. Since the Party of Regions has many politicians with great experience in running the government under former President Leonid Kuchma, Yushchenko should think twice before handing the keys to the cabinet over to them. Such experienced politicians could do more to diminish the role of the president in practice than the constitutional reform did in theory.
Yushchenko told the Verkhovna Rada today that he will expect the new cabinet to embody his future vision for Ukraine.
"The government should be made up of those who, as a single team, will ensure Ukraine's development on the basis of European values, who are capable of consolidating the nation, stimulating economic reforms, and respecting the rights and freedoms of the people," Yushchenko said.
However, the president could find these goals very difficult to achieve -- not only because of discrepancies among the potential coalition parties but also because of the personal ambitions of their leaders. (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.
END NOTE: U.S. NAVY STOPOVER SPARKS ANTI-NATO PROTESTS IN UKRAINE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
UKRAINIAN PARTIES REPORTEDLY ON SCHEDULE ON COALITION ACCORD. Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus head Roman Bezsmertnyy told journalists on June 2 that his party has already agreed on a program of action and procedural issues with the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and the Socialist Party in preparing a coalition accord to form a new government, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www.pravda.com.ua) reported. Bezsmertnyy added that the three parties are now tackling "the sharing of responsibility spheres," which seems to be a euphemism for the distribution of government portfolios. Bezsmertnyy pledged that the coalition talks will be completed by June 7, when the Verkhovna Rada resumes its first session inaugurated on May 25 (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," June 2, 2006). JM
OSCE CHIEF CALLS FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACEKEEPING FORCE IN TRANSDNIESTER. Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) chairman in office, said on June 1 that Russian peacekeepers in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region should be replaced by an international contingent, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. De Gucht, on a two-day visit to Moldova, said a new international force could monitor the Transdniester portion of the Ukrainian-Moldovan border, as well as munitions dumps in the region. ITAR-TASS quoted De Gucht as saying that the OSCE is ready to provide 10 million euros ($12.8 million) to finance the pullout of Russian troops, equipment, and ammunition within a three-month period. De Gucht is scheduled to hold talks with Transdniestrian authorities and visit peacekeepers on June 2. Also on June 1, De Gucht said new customs rules in place on the Transdniestrian portion of the Ukrainian-Moldovan border are important for transparency, Interfax reported the same day. BW
U.S. NAVY STOPOVER SPARKS ANTI-NATO PROTESTS IN UKRAINE
Ukrainian opposition lawmakers have demanded the dismissal of the foreign and defense ministers, blaming them for allowing a U.S. naval ship to enter the port of Feodosiya in Crimea last week without the required parliamentary authorization. Feodosiya residents have blockaded the port, protesting what they see as an unwelcome NATO intrusion into Ukrainian territory.
The U.S. cargo ship "Advantage" anchored in Feodosiya on May 27, bringing what Ukrainian Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko described as U.S. "technical aid." Seamen offloaded construction materials to build barracks for Ukrainian sailors at a training range near the town of Staryy Krym, not far from Feodosiya.
Two days later, Feodosiya residents, mobilized by local chapters of the pro-Russia Party of Regions, the Natalya Vitrenko Bloc, as well as the Russian Community of Crimea, began to picket the port. Displaying anti-NATO slogans written in Russian, they are continuing to block the U.S. cargo from getting to its destination. The BBC reported that several hundred people were present at the demonstration.
"Advantage" has also reportedly left a group of U.S. servicemen in Feodosiya to guard the unloaded cargo, but their presence has not been officially confirmed.
The situation has angered many Ukrainians. According to the constitution, the deployment of foreign troops on Ukrainian territory must be approved by the parliament for each individual case. The Party of Regions, led by former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, has said in a statement that the disembarking of the U.S. naval ship in Feodosiya was an example of "brutal contempt" for the constitution manifested by the government. A group of opposition deputies has drafted a resolution to dismiss the Ukrainian defense and foreign ministers over the Feodosiya incident.
But Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk on May 31 denied that the government breached the law. "The authors of this political provocation claim that there has been a violation of the law about foreign military units crossing into Ukrainian territory," he said. "But there are no such units."
The government is planning to hold six separate military exercises in Ukraine in 2006 with the participation of foreign troops, including the multinational Sea Breeze 2006 exercise with a sizable NATO contingent. However, an authorization of these exercises by the Ukrainian parliament is still pending. In February, the previous Verkhovna Rada rejected a presidential bill on allowing foreign troops to take part in the maneuvers planned for 2006.
Tarasyuk assured journalists on May 31 that the government will obtain permission from parliament. "The government will do everything necessary to ensure that the parliament, when it resumes its work, considers a bill allowing foreign troops into the country for taking part in military exercises," he said.
The newly elected Verkhovna Rada will resume its work on June 7, when the three allies in the 2004 Orange Revolution -- the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Our Ukraine, and the Socialist Party -- are expected to come up with a coalition accord to form a new government. A potential parliamentary debate over the Feodosiya incident will most likely complicate the formation of a ruling coalition. It could create additional hurdles to approving the planned multinational military exercise in 2006, and exacerbate political divisions within the new legislature.
There are commentators in Ukraine who clearly see a "Russian hand" behind what is taking place in Feodosiya. Historian Mykhaylo Kyrsenko told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service earlier this week that people in Feodosiya have been lured into anti-NATO protests by pro-Russian political forces to further Russian interests in Ukraine. "Those who reject or block this [U.S.] aid are opposing Ukraine's interests and serving another country. Which country? It is not difficult to guess, once you see in what language they write their posters with," Kyrsenko said. "Therefore, I would make a distinction between these hapless, deceived people and the organizers of this provocation."
Foreign Minister Tarasyuk suggested that the anti-NATO demonstration in Feodosiya may be a cover for problems connected with the deployment of a Russian naval force in another Crimean port, Simferopol. "I have one piece of advice for the initiators of this provocation -- they should turn their attention to the disgrace of the free use of land plots and buildings by units of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in violation of Ukrainian law and bilateral agreements," Tarasyuk said.
In a broader perspective, the Feodosiya protest may impair Ukraine's chances for a significant advance this year on its path toward NATO membership. Some officials in Kyiv, including Tarasyuk, hope that, at the NATO summit in Riga in November, Ukraine will be offered a Membership Action Plan. Such plans are usually the last step before receiving an official invitation to join the alliance. The outburst of anti-NATO sentiments in Feodosiya will hardly make NATO members more supportive of this advancement idea.
Sociological surveys in recent years show that Ukraine's official aspirations to join NATO are firmly supported by some 15-20 percent of Ukrainians and firmly opposed by some 55-60 percent of them. There seems to be an informal consensus at present between the administration of President Viktor Yushchenko and the opposition that Ukraine's potential NATO entry should be approved in a nationwide referendum. But opinions differ on when such a plebiscite should be held.
The Russia-leaning opposition forces would like to stage it as soon as possible, when Ukrainians are more likely to say "no" than "yes." Yushchenko says the referendum should be held in "due course" but does not specify any date.
Moscow, which officially does not object to Ukraine's NATO aspirations, would hardly remain unmoved if Kyiv was actually accepted by the alliance. Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin was quite explicit about this on May 30. "When a neighboring country becomes a member of the North Atlantic military bloc, then, I'm sorry -- then this strategic partnership [with Russia] should be viewed from a different angle and [it should be reviewed] whether this strategic partnership relationship should continue to exist at all," Chernomyrdin said.
Making Ukrainians like NATO rather than fear it seems to be only a part of the tricky job Yushchenko has to do in order to fulfill his ambitions of Euro-Atlantic integration. A no less tricky task will be to persuade his compatriots that NATO membership for their country does not necessarily mean a disastrous break with Russia.