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RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 4, No. 206, 00-10-24

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: Newsline Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>

RFE/RL NEWSLINE

Vol. 4, No. 206, 24 October 2000


CONTENTS

[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

  • [01] ARMENIA, RUSSIA DISCUSS COOPERATION
  • [02] ARMENIAN PRESIDENT RETURNS FROM MEDICAL CHECKUP IN FRANCE
  • [03] FORMER ARMENIAN PREMIER EXPRESSES MISGIVINGS OVER PARLIAMENT SHOOTINGS INVESTIGATION
  • [04] OPPOSITION AZERBAIJANI POLITICIAN'S BODYGUARDS CHARGED
  • [05] AZERBAIJAN'S PARLIAMENT BEGINS BUDGET DEBATE
  • [06] GEORGIAN SKEPTICAL ABOUT EURASIAN ECONOMIC UNION
  • [07] RUSSIA TO ASK GEORGIA TO EXTRADITE CHECHENS
  • [08] KAZAKHSTAN REVERTS TO SOVIET-STYLE PLANNING?
  • [09] KAZAKH PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SUMMONS FORMER PRIME MINISTER...
  • [10] ...IMPLICATES INTERIOR MINISTRY IN DRUG SMUGGLING
  • [11] OSCE OFFICIAL ASSESSES INTER-ETHNIC RELATIONS IN KAZAKHSTAN
  • [12] KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT, CENTRAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION AT ODDS
  • [13] KYRGYZSTAN SAYS ISLAMIC THREAT DEFLECTED--FOR NOW
  • [14] TAJIKISTAN, IRAN DISCUSS BROADCASTING COOPERATION
  • [15] TAJIK GOVERNMENT ADVISER SENTENCED FOR FORGING TREASURY PROMISSORY NOTES
  • [16] TAJIKISTAN SENTENCES TWO MEN TO DEATH FOR DRUGS POSSESSION

  • [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

  • [17] YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT ADMITS SERBIAN WAR CRIMES IN KOSOVA
  • [18] ALBANIA WANTS FORMAL APOLOGY
  • [19] KOSTUNICA MEETS WITH SERBS FROM KOSOVA
  • [20] REPORT CALLS FOR 'CONDITIONAL INDEPENDENCE' FOR KOSOVA...
  • [21] ...AND ANOTHER STUDY WARNS AGAINST CONCESSIONS TO BELGRADE OVER KOSOVA
  • [22] UN ADMINISTRATION IN KOSOVA DEFENDS JUSTICE RECORD
  • [23] EU STABILITY PACT TO WELCOME YUGOSLAVIA
  • [24] SESELJ'S SERBIAN RADICALS STAGE FILIBUSTER
  • [25] BOSNIA TO PREPARE FOR RELATIONS WITH BELGRADE
  • [26] BOSNIAN DISTRICT INTRODUCES STIFF ANTI-HATE LAWS
  • [27] NEW TELEVISION RULES FOR BOSNIA
  • [28] KUSTURICA FILM FESTIVAL OPENS IN SLOVENIA
  • [29] FORMER ROMANIAN DIPLOMAT ACQUITTED
  • [30] MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT WARNS ABOUT PARLIAMENTARY RULE
  • [31] BULGARIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR FORMATION OF COALITION FOR 2001
  • [32] RUSSIA TO DISPOSE OF BULGARIAN NUCLEAR WASTE?

  • [C] END NOTE

  • [33] RUSSIA'S DOUBLE BYPASS

  • [A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

    [01] ARMENIA, RUSSIA DISCUSS COOPERATION

    Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian met separately with visiting Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov in Yerevan on 23 October, ITAR-TASS reported. Topics of discussion included a meeting of the inter-governmental economic cooperation commission scheduled for December, a joint venture in the energy sector, and the restructuring of Armenia's debt to Moscow. Adamov also met with Armenian Energy Minister Karen Galustian, after which the two ministers told journalists that they see no reason why the Medzamor nuclear power station should not continue to function after 2004, which is the tentative deadline the EU has proposed for its closure, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF

    [02] ARMENIAN PRESIDENT RETURNS FROM MEDICAL CHECKUP IN FRANCE

    Hasmik Petrosian, a spokeswoman for President Kocharian, told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 23 October that the president is in good health after a medical examination in Paris last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2000). Petrosian said that the country to which Kocharian had travelled had not been publicly announced in order to ensure that the local Armenian community did not "disturb" Kocharian. LF

    [03] FORMER ARMENIAN PREMIER EXPRESSES MISGIVINGS OVER PARLIAMENT SHOOTINGS INVESTIGATION

    Aram Sargsian, the brother and successor of Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, who was one of the eight victims of the 27 October Armenian parliament shootings, told journalists on 23 October in Yerevan that he is disappointed with the findings of the investigation into those killings, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He said he does not trust military prosecutor Gagik Djahangirian, who heads the investigation. Djahangirian has said he believes the shootings were part of an attempted coup but has not indicated who may have masterminded them. Sargsian suggested that the release of two close Kocharian associates arrested on suspicion of involvement in the killings was unjustified. He urged Djahangirian to look into the hypothesis that Vazgen Sargsian was murdered because of his opposition to the proposal that the Karabakh conflict be resolved by a land swap that would entail ceding the Armenian region of Meghri (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 2000). LF

    [04] OPPOSITION AZERBAIJANI POLITICIAN'S BODYGUARDS CHARGED

    Criminal proceedings have been launched against two of Azerbaijan Popular Front Party first deputy chairman Ali Kerimov's bodyguards on charges of hooliganism, Turan reported on 23 October. The two men are accused of having beaten the chairman of the Gyaanja branch of the association of Chernobyl invalids while Kerimov was addressing a meeting in that town the previous day. A spokesman for Kerimov said the man had tried to disrupt the meeting by addressing abusive remarks at Kerimov. Another of Kerimov's bodyguards was injured when someone threw a knife at Kerimov in the town of Masally, according to the independent newspaper "Azadlyg" on 21 October. LF

    [05] AZERBAIJAN'S PARLIAMENT BEGINS BUDGET DEBATE

    Parliamentary deputies began debating the budget for 2001 on 23 October, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. The draft, which has been approved by the government and the IMF, envisages revenues of 4.17 trillion manats ($900 million), which is 17 percent higher than this year, and spending of 4.59 trillion manats. The resulting 2 percent budget deficit is to be covered by a $38 million World Bank credit and privatization proceeds. The budget foresees an increase of 8.5 percent in GDP, a 4.5 percent increase in industrial production, and a 28 percent increase in investment. Also on 23 October, Finance Minister Avaz Alekperov told journalists in Baku that Azerbaijan anticipates receiving some $530 million next year from the export of oil and oil products, Interfax reported. LF

    [06] GEORGIAN SKEPTICAL ABOUT EURASIAN ECONOMIC UNION

    Georgia has no intention of joining the Eurasian Economic Union formed earlier this month by members of the CIS Customs Union, Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili told Interfax on 23 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2000). Menagharishvili said earlier efforts to promote economic cooperation among CIS members states did not bode well for the success of the new union. LF

    [07] RUSSIA TO ASK GEORGIA TO EXTRADITE CHECHENS

    Russian presidential aide Serghei Yastrzhembskii said in Moscow on 23 October that Russia will ask Tbilisi to extradite any of the Chechen fighters who surrendered in Georgia the previous day and are suspected of involvement in terrorism, the slave trade, or the execution of hostages, Interfax reported. Yastrzhembskii suggested that the Chechens may have been part of the force of field commander Ruslan Gelaev, who is rumored to be in Georgia (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 41, 21 October 2000). Prime News likewise identified the Chechens, who said they had entered Georgia after being subjected to a grenade attack by Russian forces in Ingushetia's Assa gorge, as Gelaev's men, adding that Gelaev had tried one month ago to recruit fighters among the Chechen refugees who have settled in Georgia's Pankisi gorge. Russian border guards deny, however, that the Chechens could have entered Georgia via Ingushetia, saying that Russian border guards fully control that border. LF

    [08] KAZAKHSTAN REVERTS TO SOVIET-STYLE PLANNING?

    Addressing a joint session of the two chambers of Kazakhstan's parliament on 23 October, President Nursultan Nazarbaev announced that the first Five- Year Plan for economic development will be adopted by the end of this year, ITAR-TASS reported. Nazarbaev said the plan is the first stage in implementation of his Kazakhstan-2030 program, which details long-term economic development strategy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 1997). Nazarbaev predicted that GDP will grow by 30 percent in the first five-year plan period, while wages will rise by no less than 25-30 percent. LF

    [09] KAZAKH PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SUMMONS FORMER PRIME MINISTER...

    Akezhan Kazhegeldin has again been summoned to the Prosecutor-General's Office in connection with charges of abuse of power and tax evasion, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported on 23 October. Prosecutor-General Yurii Khitrin said the summons was sent to Kazhegeldin's defense lawyer. To date, Khitrin has opened four separate criminal cases against the former premier. Kazhegeldin left Kazakhstan early last year and has lived abroad since then. He has ignored several previous summonses. LF

    [10] ...IMPLICATES INTERIOR MINISTRY IN DRUG SMUGGLING

    Khitrin told a session of his office's board on 20 October that the country's Interior Ministry is involved in secondary drug-trafficking, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 23 October. He said checks had revealed numerous instances in which confiscated drugs could not be accounted for. Deputy Interior Minister Bolat Bayzhasarov has admitted to negligence in the registration and destruction of confiscated drugs. LF

    [11] OSCE OFFICIAL ASSESSES INTER-ETHNIC RELATIONS IN KAZAKHSTAN

    OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel met with Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev in Astana on 23 October, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Van der Stoel told journalists after those talks that Toqaev assured him there are no inter-ethnic problems in Kazakhstan. LF

    [12] KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT, CENTRAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION AT ODDS

    The chairmen of three Kyrgyz parliamentary committees, including former Communist Party leader Absamat Masaliev, issued a statement on 21 October calling on the Central Electoral Commission to allow the Coalition of NGOs to monitor the 29 October presidential election, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 23 October. The statement noted the increasing role played by NGOs in Kyrgyzstan and characterized the coalition as an organization that is respected both in Kyrgyzstan and abroad. The Central Electoral Commission had refused to register the coalition's election observers, as the coalition itself has not been formally registered with the Ministry of Justice. LF

    [13] KYRGYZSTAN SAYS ISLAMIC THREAT DEFLECTED--FOR NOW

    General Bolot Djanuzakov, who is secretary of the Kyrgyz Security Council, told journalists in Bishkek on 23 October that all Islamic militants who infiltrated the country in August and September have been expelled, Russian agencies reported. He added that Kyrgyz troops now fully control all mountain passes along the Kyrgyz-Tajik border. But Djanuzakov again warned that until the war in neighboring Afghanistan ends, the Islamic militants who are based in that country will continue to pose a threat to the security of both Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia as a whole (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 2000). LF

    [14] TAJIKISTAN, IRAN DISCUSS BROADCASTING COOPERATION

    The chairman of the Tajik government's Television and Radio Committee, Ubaydullo Radjabov, told Asia Plus-Blitz on 24 October that during talks in Dushanbe the previous day, he and his Iranian counterpart, Saidmushin Sharifzoda, and Iranian Ambassador to Tajikistan Saidrasul Musavi had discussed possible cooperation, including the broadcast of joint television and radio programs. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi is expected to arrive in Dushanbe on 25 October for talks with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov. LF

    [15] TAJIK GOVERNMENT ADVISER SENTENCED FOR FORGING TREASURY PROMISSORY NOTES

    Tajikistan's Supreme Court has sentenced Akbar Sotiboldiev, a former adviser to the chairman of the Council of Ministers, to eight years' imprisonment for fraud, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 24 October. The court established that in 1995 Sotiboldiev forged the signatures of the Tajik Finance Minister and the chairman of the National Bank on bills of exchange to the value of $15 billion and transferred 16 of those forged bills to a Turkish commercial bank. LF

    [16] TAJIKISTAN SENTENCES TWO MEN TO DEATH FOR DRUGS POSSESSION

    A regional court in Khojand sentenced two men to death on 22 October for possession of large quantities of narcotics, AP reported. When arrested last year, the two men had with them 422 kilograms of raw heroin and 3.5 kilograms of opium. LF

    [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

    [17] YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT ADMITS SERBIAN WAR CRIMES IN KOSOVA

    Vojislav Kostunica told the U.S. television news program "60 Minutes II" that he is "ready to...accept the guilt [sic] for all those people who have been killed. [I acknowledge] what [former President Slobodan] Milosevic had done, and as a Serb, I will take responsibility for many of these, these crimes," AP reported on 24 October. He made the statement in response to a question about whether Serbian forces were guilty of genocide in Kosova in 1999. Kostunica added: "Those are the crimes and the people that have been killed are victims. [But] there are a lot of crimes on the other side [as well]. Serbs have been killed." Asked whether he thought Milosevic will stand trial for his crimes, Kostunica replied: "Somewhere, yes." This is the first time that a top-ranking Serbian leader has admitted that Serbian forces committed war crimes. Most opposition leaders prefer not to discuss the subject or give evasive answers. Officials of the Milosevic regime and many nationalists place the blame on "Albanian separatists and terrorists" and "NATO bombs." PM

    [18] ALBANIA WANTS FORMAL APOLOGY

    The Albanian parliament passed a resolution on 23 October welcoming the change of government in Belgrade, Reuters reported. The legislature stressed, however that "the state of Serbia should make a public apology for the monstrous crimes of its military and police structures in Bosnia and Kosova... The parliament of Albania expects that President Vojislav Kostunica will express himself clearly on the right of the people of Kosova to self-determination through a referendum." The legislators added that there can be "no question" of Kosova's being returned to Serbian control. They called on Belgrade to make a goodwill gesture by freeing the hundreds of Kosovars held in Serbian jails. PM

    [19] KOSTUNICA MEETS WITH SERBS FROM KOSOVA

    Kostunica has met in Belgrade with a delegation from Kosova's Serbian National Council headed by Mitrovica Serb leader Oliver Ivanovic, "Vesti" reported on 24 October. Ivanovic told the daily that relations between Kosova's Serbs and the representatives of the international community in the province have improved considerably since Kostunica's election. Ivanovic added that the local Albanians lost "their main political trump card" when Milosevic fell. PM

    [20] REPORT CALLS FOR 'CONDITIONAL INDEPENDENCE' FOR KOSOVA...

    An international commission has prepared a 297-page study for UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan that calls for "conditional independence" for Kosova. Full independence would come only once the leadership of the 90 percent ethnic Albanian province proves it can guarantee minority rights and establish stable relations with its neighbors. The Independent International Commission on Kosovo, which was formed at the initiative of Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, concluded that it has a "moral obligation" to make recommendations even though few leaders in the international community are willing to discuss independence. Commission head Richard Goldstone, who is a South African judge and former chief prosecutor of the Hague-based war crimes commission, said in New York on 23 October that "it's not realistic or justifiable to expect the Albanians in Kosovo to accept rule from Belgrade," AP reported. Goldstone added that an "international security presence" will be necessary in Kosova "for years to come," before local people are fully ready to take charge of their own affairs. PM

    [21] ...AND ANOTHER STUDY WARNS AGAINST CONCESSIONS TO BELGRADE OVER KOSOVA

    The International Crisis Group (ICG) has warned the international community in a new report not to let its "new-found love affair with Belgrade" lead Kosovars to think the province will be returned to some form or other of Serbian rule, "The Guardian" reported on 23 October. The study warned that Kosovar extremists will gain popular backing if the population feels that the international community has turned a deaf ear to the idea of independence. The ICG believes that it would be "catastrophic" for the intentional community to allow Belgrade to send troops or police back into Kosova, as some Serbian opposition leaders have demanded. PM

    [22] UN ADMINISTRATION IN KOSOVA DEFENDS JUSTICE RECORD

    Sylvie Pantz, who is co-chair of the justice department at the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), said in Prishtina on 20 October that she welcomes outsiders' views on UNMIK and its work, but she argued that a recent critical OSCE report on UNMIK's justice system expected too much, too soon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2000). Pantz stressed that "it is true that the judicial system of Kosovo still falls short of international standards. However, I find this report too ambitious, in some points unrealistic, academic and luxurious for Kosovo at the beginning of the 21st century." Pantz added in reference to the OSCE report's authors: "When making your criticisms, your observations, you have neglected to put everything in the right context, the context of today, the year 2000, in Kosovo," Reuters reported. PM

    [23] EU STABILITY PACT TO WELCOME YUGOSLAVIA

    Bodo Hombach, who is the coordinator for the EU's Stability Pact, said in Brussels on 23 October that Yugoslavia will be admitted to the grouping at a meeting in Bucharest on 26 October. This will be the first international body to which Belgrade has been admitted since the fall of Milosevic earlier this month, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

    [24] SESELJ'S SERBIAN RADICALS STAGE FILIBUSTER

    Deputies from the Serbian Radical Party staged a marathon "discussion" in the Serbian parliament on 23 October to block legislative action on setting up a transitional government and calling new elections for 23 December, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The Radicals were marginalized in the September elections and may well be eliminated as a political force in the December vote. PM

    [25] BOSNIA TO PREPARE FOR RELATIONS WITH BELGRADE

    The joint presidency authorized the Foreign Ministry on 23 October to prepare an agenda for discussions with Belgrade on the opening of diplomatic relations between Bosnia and Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 2000). PM

    [26] BOSNIAN DISTRICT INTRODUCES STIFF ANTI-HATE LAWS

    The multi-ethnic district assembly of Brcko passed legislation on 23 October providing for prison sentences of up to five years for persons convicted of inciting others to ethnic hatred, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. A second law provides for sentences ranging up to three years for persons who publicly attack the legal status of the Bosnian state or the district of Brcko. The move follows recent violent Serbian nationalist demonstrations by high school students (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 2000). Meanwhile in Tuzla, several thousand mainly young people protested against rampant crime and corruption in the city police and judiciary. PM

    [27] NEW TELEVISION RULES FOR BOSNIA

    Wolfgang Petritsch, who is the international community's high representative for Bosnia, issued a ruling on 23 October governing the operations of federal and public television and radio, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

    [28] KUSTURICA FILM FESTIVAL OPENS IN SLOVENIA

    Films by the Sarajevo director Emir Kusturica will be shown in Ljubljana between 24 October and 4 November, Radio 24-UR reported. A highlight will be a showing of his best-known film, "Do You Remember Dolly Bell?" Kusturica spent most of the years following the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in Belgrade. His film "Underground" was blasted by Muslim and Croatian critics for "whitewashing" Serbia's responsibility for the 1991- 1995 conflicts. An ethnic Muslim, Kusturica engaged in public polemics with leaders close to Alija Izetbegovic, whom he accused of being provincial religious bigots. Kusturica's pre-1991 films, nonetheless, represent for many former Yugoslavs a golden age of their country's cinema. PM

    [29] FORMER ROMANIAN DIPLOMAT ACQUITTED

    The Romanian Supreme Court on 23 October acquitted former diplomat Mircea Raceanu of treason charges, Romanian media reported. Raceanu, a high- ranking diplomat under Nicolae Ceausescu's regime, was charged with "treason by transmitting secret information" to the CIA and espionage; he was sentenced to death in 1989. That sentence was later commuted to 20 years in prison. After the 1989 change of regime, Raceanu was released from prison and soon after became a U.S. citizen. In 1998, Raceanu asked for the annulment of his conviction on the grounds that he had not been given a fair trial. ZsM

    [30] MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT WARNS ABOUT PARLIAMENTARY RULE

    Petru Lucinschi said on 23 October that he still believes the Moldovan people should be allowed to decide if the country is ruled primarily by the parliament or the president, ITAR-TASS reported. Speaking on state television, Lucinschi said "the parliament has assumed the functions of the administration in the country, but there are no traditions for this." He argued that the standoff between the president and the parliament over the strength of the executive branch has created a situation in Moldova that "may have unpredictable consequences and may even lead to the loss of statehood." He added that he will not be a candidate in the upcoming election in the parliament for a new president. PB

    [31] BULGARIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR FORMATION OF COALITION FOR 2001

    Petar Stoyanov has urged the ruling Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) party to seek alliances with other political factions to form a broad coalition government after the parliamentary elections in 2001, Reuters reported. Stoyanov said after a meeting with leaders of the UDF that "we all agreed that a broader coalition would give Bulgaria better possibilities to meet the challenges of the EU talks." Prime Minister Ivan Kostov agreed, saying: "We have started a long marathon [of EU negotiations] in which a broad base is very important for government and the UDF is ready to seek such a base." PB

    [32] RUSSIA TO DISPOSE OF BULGARIAN NUCLEAR WASTE?

    Officials at Bulgaria's Kozloduy nuclear power plant said on 23 October that Russia has agreed to store nuclear fuel that is being reprocessed there, Reuters reported. In a statement, the Kozloduy nuclear power plant said that last week Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov "told our delegation, led by Bulgarian State Energy Agency President Ivan Shilyashki,...that radioactive waste obtained in reprocessing spent nuclear fuel will not be returned to Bulgaria." However, Russian law on environmental protection bars the storage of nuclear waste from foreign countries (see also Part I). The USSR used to reprocess and store the spent fuel from Kozloduy under a bilateral treaty, but that agreement expired in 1990. Since then, Kozloduy has been storing the unprocessed fuel on site. It made its first shipment of the fuel to Russia last year and plans to send another at the end of this year. PB

    [C] END NOTE

    [33] RUSSIA'S DOUBLE BYPASS

    by Jan Maksymiuk

    Russia's Gazprom, Germany's Ruhrgas and Wintershall, Italy's SNAM, and Gaz de France signed a memorandum of understanding in Moscow on 18 October to study and develop a new section of the planned Yamal-Europe gas pipeline. The project calls for the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline--currently under construction--to be linked to Slovakia, where it would connect with a network of gas pipelines to Germany, Italy, and France. Such a link, while traversing Polish territory, would bypass Ukraine.

    It remains to be seen if the project is feasible. In the meantime, all gas experts agree that the main goal of the agreement--regardless of whether it can be implemented--is to intimidate Ukraine into ceasing to siphon off Russian gas transiting Ukrainian territory and into paying for Russian gas more efficiently. According to some Russian estimates, Ukraine's debt for Russian gas stands at $2.5 billion (Kyiv admits to owing some $1.4 billion). Gazprom, however, says Ukraine stole 15 billion cubic meters of transit gas in 1999-2000 (worth some $900 million).

    Gazprom's chief Rem Vyakhirev commented that the bypass pipeline scheme will make it possible to increase Russian gas supplies to the EU. But it remains a mystery how this can be done by simply constructing a pipeline to Slovakia through Poland without completing the entire Yamal-Europe pipeline. Most likely, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma was aware of this when on 19 October he shrugged off the deal by saying that "it takes a lot of time [to proceed] from the project to its practical implementation." At the same time, Kuchma stressed that the capacity of Ukraine's existing gas pipeline network can be increased by 30 percent.

    The estimated cost of that part of the Yamal-Europe pipeline that would be built to avoid Ukraine is $1 billion. It is not unfeasible that Gazprom and its Western partners could invest such a sum immediately after the project's feasibility study is completed in favor of the Slovak connection. For Russia, the implementation of the project would mean obtaining great political leverage in Ukraine. Without Russian gas supplies in payment for transit, Ukraine would become a country as politically and economically dependent on the Kremlin as Belarus.

    Warsaw is well aware of all the consequences connected with the bypass pipeline project. That's why a number of Polish top officials hastened to assure Kyiv earlier this year--when the bypass pipeline project became known to the public--that Poland would not support any gas supply scheme that would be to the detriment of Ukraine, Poland's "strategic partner."

    Many Polish politicians believe that the survival of sovereign and independent Ukraine is a guarantee that Poland itself will not return to "the Russian sphere of influence" and that the political changes that took place in Eastern and Central Europe a decade ago are irreversible. Given Poland's complicated and tragic fate in the 20th century, one should not dismiss such fears among Poles as trivial or groundless.

    Europe wants more Russian gas in order to become more independent from OPEC countries in terms of energy consumption, while Poland wants to be in Europe, that is, in the EU as soon as possible. Moscow has calculated that these two aspirations can be utilized to exert pressure on Ukraine. According to this line of reasoning, Poland will not oppose the bypass pipeline project too strongly if Berlin or Paris (both of which have a powerful voice in Brussels)--ask Warsaw to come to its senses and agree. For this reason, Gazprom signed a deal with its Western partners on building the pipeline even without securing the permission of the country across which the pipeline is supposed to run. Moscow bypassed Poland in its political maneuvering, just as it wants to bypass Ukraine in gas transit.

    From an economic point of view, Gazprom's project offers Poland more revenues for Russian gas transit. Some Ukrainian commentators say it is only a matter of time until Poland, pressed by its Western allies, will say "yes" to Gazprom's offer. For the time being, Poland has called for an international conference of all countries interested in the construction of a gas pipeline linking Russia's Yamal peninsula with Western Europe.

    Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin put Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko in charge of negotiations with Poland on building a gas pipeline stretch to bypass Ukraine. Can Ukraine prevent the bypass pipeline scenario from being implemented? In an attempt to do so, Kyiv has proposed to Moscow that the latter jointly manage Ukraine's gas transport network. Putin reportedly showed interest in the proposal during his recent meeting with Kuchma in Sochi. But Khristenko has noted that "currently our position is that joint management is only possible if 51 percent of a consortium controlling Ukraine's gas transport system is in the hands of Gazprom." It seems that Kyiv is not yet ready to accept this technical parameter as the starting point for talks with Moscow on Russian gas supplies.

    24-10-00


    Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
    URL: http://www.rferl.org


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