|Wednesday, 25 November 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 5, No. 86, 01-05-04
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 5, No. 86, 4 May 2001
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES USE OF PRIVATIZATION FUNDS FOR DEBT REPAYMENTParliament deputies voted overwhelmingly on 2 May to allow the government to use up to $20 million from the privatization of state-owned enterprises in part repayment of Armenia's $114 million debt to Russia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2001). Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian said the Armenian government will try to persuade Russia to accept shares in Armenian enterprises in payment of the remaining debt. LF
 ARMENIA, LEBANON PLEDGE TO EXPAND ECONOMIC TIESOn the first day of a state visit to Yerevan, Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud met on 2 May with his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Noting the "friendly" relationship between the two countries, Kocharian said closer ties with the Arab world is one of the priorities of Armenia's foreign policy. The two presidents agreed on the need to expand the present "unsatisfactory" level of bilateral business cooperation. Lahoud met on 3 May with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, who singled out finance and banking as promising areas for expanding mutually beneficial cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
 AZERBAIJAN, TURKMENISTAN FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT ON CASPIANTalks in Ashgabat on 2-3 May between Azerbaijani and Turkmen government delegations failed to overcome the differences between the two sides over demarcating the border between their respective sectors of the Caspian Sea, Interfax and Turan reported. On 2 May, both Turan and ITAR-TASS quoted Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov as saying that Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev and his Turkmen counterpart Saparmurat Niyazov had reached agreement on the sidelines of the summit of Turcophone states in Istanbul last week on drawing the median line between their respective countries' sectors equidistant from the coastline. But on 3 May, Interfax quoted Turkmen Foreign Ministry sources as saying that Azerbaijan continues to insist on preserving the existing demarcation line, which is closer to the coast of Turkmenistan than Azerbaijan. The Turkmen Foreign Ministry reportedly criticized Azerbaijan's position as inadmissible, unconstructive, and inconsistent with the principles of international law. It warned, as Ashgabat has repeatedly done in the past, that Turkmenistan will apply to the International Arbitration Court to rule on legal ownership of two oil fields in Azerbaijan's sector to which Turkmenistan lays claim. LF
 IRAN DENIES PLANNING TO OVERTHROW AZERBAIJANI LEADERSHIPThe Iranian embassy in Baku has denied that Tehran is sponsoring radical Islamist organizations operating in Azerbaijan in a bid to overthrow the present Azerbaijani leadership, Turan reported on 3 May. The statement rejected as "irresponsible" Azerbaijani Deputy National Security Minister Tofik Babaev's 1 May claim that Iran and unspecified Arab states are using radical Islamist sects to destabilize the situation in Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2001). LF
 RUSSIA SETS TERMS FOR LIFTING VISA REGIME WITH GEORGIAITAR-TASS and Interfax on 3 May both quoted unidentified Russian officials as saying that Moscow will not lift the visa requirement for Georgian citizens that took effect on 1 January until Tbilisi abandons its policy of tolerating the presence on Georgian territory of Chechen fighters. Georgian officials maintain that the estimated 7,000 Chechens currently in Georgia are refugees, rather than fighters. President Eduard Shevardnadze stated recently that Georgian security structures have no plans to carry out joint operations with their Russian counterparts to prevent Chechen fighters from crossing the Georgian-Russian border. On 4 May, Georgian National Security Minister Vakhtang Kutateladze denied Russian media reports that radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev and some 2,500 of his men are currently encamped in the Pankisi gorge in north-eastern Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. LF
 OSCE OFFICIAL CALLS FOR POLITICAL DIALOGUE IN KAZAKHSTANMeeting in Astana on 3 May with Oralbai Abdykarimov, speaker of the upper house of Kazakhstan's bicameral legislature, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly chairman Adrian Severin called on the Kazakh leadership to embark on a dialogue with the opposition, Interfax reported. Severin was quoted as saying that Kazakhstan needs a strong opposition, as a weak opposition "is hysterical and incapable of compromise." In a lengthy interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 29 April, President Nursultan Nazarbaev claimed that "unfortunately -- and I stress unfortunately -- we do not have in Kazakhstan a normal opposition that would be able to offer the country a program of development and take upon itself the responsibility for implementing it." LF
 KAZAKHSTAN TO ASSESS MILITARY RESERVEA special census will be conducted in Kazakhstan this summer to determine precisely how many reservists could be mobilized for military service in a national emergency, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 3 May citing a Defense Ministry announcement. A ministry spokesman denied any connection between the planned census and the possibility of an armed incursion into Kazakhstan this summer by Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fighters. LF
 KAZAKHSTAN PLANS RAIL LINK BYPASSING RUSSIAThe Kazakh Cabinet has drafted plans for building a new rail link connecting Qostanay in northern Kazakhstan with Aqtobe in northwest Kazakhstan, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 2 May quoting Transport and Communication Ministry official Nurzhan Baidauletov. The new railroad will be about 300 kilometers long and cost about $140 million, and will make it possible to transport wheat, petroleum and other goods between the two regions without crossing Russian territory. LF
 RUSSIAN BOMBING SUSPECT DETAINED IN KAZAKHSTANSecurity officials in Kazakhstan have detained a Russian citizen, Ziyavudin Ziyavudinov, on suspicion of involvement in the bombing of an apartment building in Buinaksk, northern Daghestan, in September 1999, Russian agencies reported. Fifty-eight people were killed in that blast and a further 87 injured. Ziyavudinov was living in Almaty using forged Kyrgyz papers. Moscow will ask for his extradition, Interfax reported on 3 May. Also on 3 May, Kuanyshbek Kabdeev, who heads the Pavlodar Oblast branch of the National Security Committee, told a briefing that his officers have confiscated quantities of Wahhabi literature and video cassettes from an apartment rented by two Russian citizens from the North Caucasus in the town of Ekibastuz, Interfax reported. LF
 WESTERN OIL CONSORTIUM RESUMES OFF-SHORE DRILLING, STRIKES OIL IN KAZAKHSTANThe OKIOC consortium resumed drilling in the Kazakh sector of the Caspian on 2 May after obtaining the requisite permits from ecological agencies, Interfax reported. Drilling was suspended last month after environment watchdogs complained of an oil spill from OKIOC's Sunkar offshore rig (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2001). On 3 May, OKIOC discovered oil and gas during drilling of a test well in the East Kashagan field, which is believed to contain vast hydrocarbon reserves, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported quoting a 3 May press release by Italy's ENI, which is the operator for the project. LF
 SENIOR OSCE OFFICIAL VISITS KYRGYZSTANVisiting OSCE Parliamentary Assembly chairman Severin held talks in Bishkek on 2 May with President Askar Akaev, Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev and the speakers of both chambers of Kyrgyzstan's parliament, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Severin informed Akaev that the OSCE plans to create a Trans-Asian Parliamentary Forum that will meet yearly. He also said that the OSCE Economic Forum in Prague later this month will discuss financial aid for Kyrgyzstan. Altai Borubaev, speaker of the legislature's upper chamber, told Severin that Western organizations and government agencies, especially the U.S. State Department, exaggerate the pressures on the independent media in Kyrgyzstan. Severin also met late on 2 May with representatives of four opposition and four pro-government political parties to discuss press freedom, the relations between the Kyrgyz leadership and opposition, and the plight of jailed Kyrgyz opposition leaders, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. LF
 DETAINEES RELEASED IN SOUTHERN KYRGYZSTANPolice in Kyrgyzstan's southern Djalalabad Oblast released six people detained on 1 May for participating in an unsanctioned May Day demonstration, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2001). No charges were brought against them. LF
 KYRGYZSTAN, SVERDLOVSK SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENTKyrgyz Prime Minister Bakiev and visiting Sverdlovsk Oblast governor Eduard Rossel signed an agreement in Ala-Archa near Bishkek on 2 May on economic, cultural and scientific cooperation for the period 2001-2003, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Rossel also met with President Akaev. The two sides agreed on the opening of a Kyrgyz consulate in Yekaterinburg in September 2001. Abdyrakhman Yunusaliev, who is Kyrgyzstan's official representative in Sverdlovsk, told RFE/RL that some 400,000 people from Kyrgyzstan now live in the oblast, of whom 5,000 have acquired Russian citizenship. LF
 UZBEKISTAN TO MARK STALINIST REPRESSIONPresident Islam Karimov has issued a decree designating 31 August as a national holiday to commemorate the victims of Stalin's purges, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 May. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 MACEDONIAN FORCES SHELL ETHNIC ALBANIAN POSITIONS...Government forces began a new offensive on 4 May against ethnic Albanian insurgents in and around Vaksince, the village where two Macedonian soldiers were killed and a third taken hostage the previous day, AP reported. Defense Ministry spokesman Gjordji Trendafilov said the latest operations are "selective and we are trying to destroy legitimate objects of the terrorists," such as snipers and command posts. Trendafilov said some of the rebels are using civilians as human shields. The army is using helicopters and infantry weapons to shell several areas. The government ordered the inhabitants of 11 villages in the area, outside of Kumanovo and not far from the border with Kosova, to leave their homes before beginning the offensive, but most villagers ignored those orders. The area was declared a "liberated zone" by the rebel National Liberation Army (UCK) on 3 May. Albanian sources told dpa that two rebels have been killed and three injured in the offensive. PB
 ...AND SPORADIC RIOTING CONTINUESThe Macedonian Interior Ministry said on 3 May that an overnight curfew has been imposed on the town of Bitola, where two nights of rioting have left at least one person dead and dozens of ethnic Albanian shops and other property damaged, AP reported. Rioting by hundreds of Macedonians in Bitola, the hometown of four of the soldiers killed on 28 April, has left several people injured and at least one ethnic Albanian shopkeeper dead. Violence has also been reported in Skopje, the capital, where shots were fired at the Albanian Embassy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2001). An overnight curfew is also in effect in Tetovo. PB
 EXTREMIST GROUP CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR ATTACKS ON ETHNIC ALBANIAN SHOPSA previously unknown group calling itself the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization "Todor Aleksandrov" issued a statement on 3 May claiming it is leading the rioters' attacks on ethnic Albanian shops and other properties, the Beta news agency reported in Skopje. The organization said it is targeting business owners that give financial support to the UCK. It claims to have some 1,200 armed fighters "active" in almost all cities and towns in western Macedonia. PB
 NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL WARNS FIGHTING COULD SPARK CIVIL WAR...Lord George Robertson said on 3 May in Brussels that the renewed fighting between Macedonians and ethnic Albanians could escalate into greater bloodshed, Reuters said. Robertson said: "I think there must be great concern that this will descend into a spiral of violence and potentially into civil war. The international community must do everything to avoid that happening." Robertson reiterated his support for Macedonian Premier Ljubcko Georgievski and said he considers the ethnic Albanian rebels "cowards."
 ...AND EU FOREIGN POLICY CHIEF 'ALARMED' BY VIOLENCEJavier Solana said on 2 May that he is "deeply alarmed" by the recent upsurge in violence in Macedonia, Reuters reported. Solana, speaking from Brussels, said the recent ethnic fighting "risks disrupting the enhanced dialogue under the leadership of President Trajkovski and [is] seriously endangering relations between the ethnic communities of the country." Solana has led diplomatic efforts in recent weeks to defuse tensions between ethnic Albanians and Macedonians. He said an "intensification of the political dialogue is the only way to find a solution to the current crisis. I encourage all the responsible political leaders in Skopje to continue to pursue the path of dialogue and harmony." PB
 MILOSEVIC REFUSES ARREST WARRANT FROM THE HAGUEFormer Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic refused to accept a UN war crimes tribunal arrest warrant that was delivered to his jail cell on 3 May, AP reported. The warrant, which listed the war crimes charges against Milosevic, was delivered by the Belgrade District Court, it said, so that he could "get acquainted with its content." A Milosevic lawyer said the warrant was eventually stuck between the bars of Milosevic's cell after he refused to take them. The war crimes tribunal in The Hague said it considered the warrant delivered, concluding a dispute over whether the warrant had actually been given to the former president. The document was delivered to Belgrade officials last month. Court spokesman Jim Landale said the delivery of the warrant is important because it means that Yugoslav officials acknowledge the tribunal's jurisdiction. PB
 SERBIAN JUSTICE MINISTER CRITICIZES UN CHIEF IN KOSOVAVladan Batic accused Hans Haekkerup, the UN administrator in Kosova, of violating the UN mandate for the Serbian province and of promoting independence for it, Reuters reported on 3 May. Batic said: "it is clear that the UN mission in Kosovo and the man heading it...are violating their authorizations and slowly want to turn Kosovo into an independent state." Batic made his comments in Belgrade one day after a Serbian representative walked out of a meeting of Kosova's multiethnic council after Serb amendments to a blueprint for self-government in Kosova were rejected. The UN administration has the duty of allowing self-government in Kosova pending a final decision on its status. Batic said the self-government plan is being turned into a Kosova Constitution that would include a referendum on independence. PB
 UN REFUGEE AGENCY ACCUSES BELGRADE OF DETERRING RESETTLEMENT EFFORTSEric Morris, a special envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said on 3 May that Belgrade officials are blocking UNHCR "attempts to make progress on the return of those now displaced from southern Serbia." Morris added that government officials have been dragging their feet on implementing their own confidence-building measures to help resolve the conflict in the Presevo Valley. He called the measures "neither sufficiently concrete nor expeditious." Nebojsa Covic, Serbia's deputy premier and the man charged with resolving the crisis, was outraged at the statements and blamed both the UNHCR and radical ethnic Albanians for being "manipulative" and of "undermining all our efforts." PB
 MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT TO FORM GOVERNMENT WITH PRO-INDEPENDENCE PARTYThe ruling party of Milo Djukanovic said on 3 May that it will form a coalition government with the nationalist Liberal Alliance, AP reported. Miodrag Vukovic, Djukanovic's adviser, said that the conditions of the alliance, which include key posts in the cabinet and, most importantly -- a referendum on independence -- have been accepted. The deal will give the government 42 seats in the 77-seat legislature. Vukovic said the "reestablishment of Montenegrin statehood [is] a necessary condition" for the further democratization of the republic. PB
 ANTI-GOVERNMENT EDITOR FIRED FROM CROATIAN PAPERJosip Jovic, editor in chief of Croatia's third-largest daily, "Slobodna Dalmacija," was dismissed from his position by the board of the primarily state-owned newspaper after leading the paper's attacks on the reformist government that took power in January 2000, AP reported on 2 May. The daily, based in Split, had regularly labeled President Stipe Mesic and Prime Minister Ivica Racan "traitors" for their cooperation with The Hague war crimes tribunal. The move enraged veterans' groups and the former ruling Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), who called it an attack on press freedom and promised to hold protest rallies. DW
 CROATIAN JOURNALISTS STRIKE TO MARK WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAYCroatian journalists went on strike on 3 May to protest unpaid wages and call attention to the media's role in preserving democracy, dpa reported. They said many journalists go months without being paid. "Many of our members are actually facing poverty. The employers even refuse to pay for health and social insurance," said Jasmina Popovic, the head of the Union of Croatian Journalists. She added that "political pressures on journalists have also continued after the political changes" that brought in the reformist government of Prime Minister Ivica Racan. DW
 REPUBLIKA SRPSKA COURTS TO FILE WAR CRIMES CHARGES AGAINST BOSNIAN SERBSSpeaking in Banja Luka on 2 May, Republika Srpska Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic said that local courts will file 14 war crimes charges in the next 10 days, AP reported. He added that Bosnian Serbs can no longer ignore the existence of the war crimes tribunal in The Hague and that the Bosnian Serb entity will have to find a way to define relations with the tribunal. "Ignoring it will only keep us in this situation in which only our people are arrested or killed during arrest, while our politicians then compete...[with] each other condemning the arrest," he said. The new government, in power since November, has established an office for cooperation with the tribunal and is preparing draft legislation legalizing such cooperation. DW
 BOSNIAN PRESIDENCY VISITS BANJA LUKA FOR FIRST TIME SINCE WARFor the first time since the 1995 war, Bosnia's three-member presidency has visited Banja Luka, capital of the Bosnian Serb Republika Srpska, dpa reported on 3 May. The Serbian member of the presidency, current Presidency Chairman Zivko Radisic, called the trip a significant political step toward mutual trust, coordination, and responsibility for Bosnian state institutions. The presidency met with the top officials of the Republika Srpska, including President Mirko Sarovic, Prime Minister Ivanic, and parliament Speaker Dragan Kalinic, as well as local authorities. DW
 ALBANIAN EDUCATION MINISTRY APPROVES TEXTBOOK FOR USE OUTSIDE ALBANIAThe Albanian Education Ministry on 2 May approved an Albanian-language textbook to be used in elementary schools throughout Albania, and in ethnic Albanian areas in Kosova, Macedonia, and Montenegro, AP reported. Despite fears that the move could add to concerns among Albania's neighbors of the formation of a "Greater Albania," Education Minister Ethem Ruka said the primer's aim was to make it easier for ethnic Albanians in Kosova, Macedonia, and Montenegro to attend schools and universities in Albania, where the two main Albanian dialects were standardized in 1972. DW
 ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT CRITICIZES FORMER GOVERNMENTSRomanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 3 May presented a White Book on taking over power that blames former governments for the present economic hardships, Romanian media reported. The document presents data referring to the country's economic and social situation for the period of 1997 --2000. Ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania deputy Florin Georgescu, the chairman of the committee that compiled the White Book, said former governments had implemented economic policies that raised inflation and lowered GDP and living standards. The White Book acknowledges some positive aspects such as raising exports and hard currency reserves. Leaders of the former government coalition members, the National Liberal Party and the Democratic Party, accused the compilers of the report of using incomplete and "manipulated" data. ZsM
 ROMANIAN OFFICIALS ON NATO ACCESSIONPrime Minister Nastase said on 2 May that Romania will evaluate its status in the NATO accession process after the alliance decides on the major topics related to accession, Mediafax reported. Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said the same day that Romania's NATO accession bid is a "strategic" decision, and not a conjectural option. He added that Romania hopes to be invited in 2002 to join the alliance, but should that not happen, it will not change its options. Geoana said that Romania's chances will improve following military reform and economic growth. On the other hand, Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu said the same day that the 2002 Prague NATO summit may be Romania's "last chance" for accession. ZsM
 EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RAPPORTEUR ON VISAS FOR ROMANIAN CITIZENSThe European Parliament rapporteur on Romania, Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne, said on 2 May in the Transylvanian city of Cluj that this year the EU might lift visa requirements for Romanian citizens traveling to EU member countries, Mediafax reported. She added, however, that the Romanian citizens and local communities "hold the key for achieving pro- European objectives." In related news, Nicholson also said that corruption is still at a high level in Romania, Mediafax reported. She said she is satisfied with the way the Romanian government wants to handle corruption, adding that the lack of a free market is the main generator of corruption. ZsM
 EU OFFICIALS ON CHILD PROTECTION IN ROMANIAEuropean Commission Delegation to Bucharest chief Fokion Fotiadis said on 2 May that the reform of the Romanian child protection system is on the right track, but that reducing the number of children raised in orphanages depends on improving living standards, Mediafax reported. He added that the Romanian government has made the necessary juridical modifications and now also has the money to implement the reform. Fotiadis said the reform should concentrate on reducing the number of children raised in orphanages and prevent any more children being accepted into these institutions. In related news, Baroness Nicholson on 2 May said that the Declaration on Children's Rights signed and ratified by Romania has not been successfully applied due to "significant translation errors." She did not elaborate, but added that the problem of children's rights has to remain a priority for the government and has to be assumed by the entire Romanian society. ZsM
 PRM CONFRONTED WITH INTERNAL DISPUTESThe Steering Committee of the opposition Greater Romania Party (PRM) on 2 May decided to cancel its 1999 fusion agreement with the Democratic Forces Party (PFD), Mediafax reported. The decision gives a 15-day limit for former PFD members to decide if they want to stay in the party or leave it. Observers note that PFD leader and PRM deputy and Deputy Chairman Dorin Lazar Maior recently strongly criticized the PRM leadership. Maior said the four PRM parliamentarians coming from the PFD will not leave the party, in order to resist the conservatory structures of the PRM. He added that the party is divided into two contradictory structures, a "conservative, nostalgic" one and a "reformist and anticommunist" one. ZsM
 ROMANIANS STILL FAVOR EU INTEGRATIONAn opinion poll released on 2 May shows that three-quarters of Romanian citizens still support the country's EU accession bid and consider it a long-term option, Mediafax reported. The poll released by three polling institutes shows that half of those favoring EU integration support it unconditionally, while another 25 percent agree but with conditions. Only 5 percent reject EU integration and 20 percent are undecided. On the other hand, a Eurobarometer opinion poll released by the European Commission on 30 April placed Romania in last place among the EU citizens' preferences for new member countries to be accepted. Only 33 percent of respondents would favor Romania's accession, while 45 percent reject its admission. ZsM
 ROMANIAN, MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTERS ON BASIC TREATYRomanian Foreign Minister Geoana on 2 May said he discussed with his Moldovan counterpart Nicolae Cernomaz the issue of the basic political treaty between the two countries, Mediafax reported. Geoana said the issue will be analyzed in the future. He added that during Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin's Bucharest visit earlier this week the two parties decided to establish business centers in the two capitals aimed at promoting bilateral economic relations. Voronin also discussed with Romanian officials the possible establishment of joint ventures for entering the CIS market. ZsM
 FORMER BULGARIAN KING'S POLITICAL PARTY NOW LEGALBulgaria's Central Election Committee officially registered King Simeon II's movement to run in a coalition in the 17 June parliamentary elections, AP reported. The National Movement for Simeon II will form a coalition with the Bulgarian Women's Party and the Movement for National Revival. But the coalition will reportedly bear the name of Simeon's movement. Simeon was forced to create the coalition with the two registered parties after the Sofia City Court refused to register his movement because it failed to fulfill all of the nine requirements needed to register. The Supreme Court upheld the verdict after it was appealed by Simeon. The most recent poll showed that some 35 percent of respondents would support Simeon II's movement if elections were held now. The ruling Union of Democratic Forces would get about 18 percent and the Socialists some 17 percent. Ivan Krastev, director of the Center for Liberal Strategies, said that although the king's popularity is high at the moment, he said it is still early. "The strong support he has gained in a short time can easily be lost if he makes a wrong move," Krastev said. PB
[C] END NOTE
 WHAT NOW AFTER YUSHCHENKO?By Jan Maksymiuk
One answer to this question suggests itself almost automatically: another political turmoil in Ukraine. Irrespective of what form it may take, it will surely not benefit the country's economy.
The best scenario for the country would be to obtain a "technical premier" with no political ambitions; an administrator who would only look after the economy and prevent it from sliding into chaos until next year's parliamentary elections, which are generally expected to structure both the parliament and society to a far greater degree than they are structured now. One of the bleakest scenarios would be to install a Communist (or someone like Progressive Socialist Party leader Natalya Vitrenko) in the post of prime minister and to subject Ukraine to a situation similar to that of Belarus's malady -- self-isolation from the West and reintegration with Russia. But for some reason, Ukrainian commentators and analysts exclude the possibility of a Communist being named prime minister from their various scenarios of future developments.
When 263 lawmakers voted on 26 April to oust Yushchenko for what they say was the government's unsatisfactory performance in 2000, there were few commentators in Ukraine or abroad who took this official explanation at face value. Indeed, under Yushchenko's cabinet Ukraine posted its first post-Soviet economic growth, restructured a total of $2.6 billion of commercial debt, stabilized the hryvnya, launched the privatization of collective farms, increased pensions by 40 percent, and -- according to official reports -- increased real incomes by some 6 percent. It should be noted that all of this was achieved without resorting to external loans. Even if some parameters of the "Reforms for Prosperity" program were not met by Yushchenko's cabinet, its term was in no way a complete failure.
As regards the ulterior motives for Yushchenko's dismissal, many commentators say Ukraine's oligarchic parties -- the Social Democratic Party (United), the Democratic Union, and the Labor Ukraine bloc -- want to take over the helm of power jointly with the Communist Party in order to better position themselves for next year's parliamentary elections. Some also believe Yushchenko's ouster was orchestrated by President Leonid Kuchma, who resented the premier's growing popularity among Ukrainians and, additionally, had long wanted to divert the public attention he attracted from the tape scandal implicating him in the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. If this second supposition is true, then Kuchma may have seriously miscalculated the situation.
On the day Yushchenko was dismissed, another important vote took place in the Ukrainian parliament: 209 lawmakers voted to put Kuchma's impeachment on the parliamentary agenda (only 17 votes short of the required majority to launch a debate on the issue). The measure was supported by the Communist Party, the Fatherland Party, Rukh, and Solidarity groups (the "oligarchic parties" did not back that measure). But it was certainly a clear warning to Kuchma: Should he try to significantly impede the "Communist-oligarchic" takeover in Ukraine, it will be no problem to muster the 226 votes needed to put the impeachment issue on the agenda. Such a development, coupled with former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko's powerful push to organize an anti-Kuchma referendum, would make Kuchma's position extremely shaky, to the point that his pre-term exit would suddenly cease to be just a theoretical issue in the country.
If Kuchma understood the hint that lay in the impeachment debate vote, then he should propose a candidate to head the government who will be accepted primarily by oligarchs. But even such a move will not secure his future. If the Communists accept the leadership of the parliament as their reward for helping the oligarchs oust Yushchenko, then an oligarchic cabinet may try to get rid of Kuchma with more powerful levers than a parliamentary vote.
Yushchenko's future seems unclear as well. Many admit that by sticking to his political principles and refusing to bargain with oligarchic parties over his dismissal, Yushchenko has developed a political personality and now has a good chance to remain in the spotlight of Ukrainian politics for a long time -- and even to run for president. But as of now, he has neither clear political allies nor leverage in media (the state-controlled media work for Kuchma, while private ones work for various oligarchs). Yushchenko has announced that he does not want to be linked to any specific opposition party, but will try to build a broad, nationwide coalition of reformist forces -- a prudent statement by someone who aspires to become the president of all Ukrainians. But in actual fact, for the time being he can count only on support of the opposition groups united in the Forum of National Salvation and the For the Truth civic initiative. And these groups have so far been successfully marginalized by the state media and administration.
It is highly probable that in the near future we will be witnessing the competition of no less than four significant forces in the political arena in Ukraine: the pro-Kuchma administration; the oligarchs; the anti-Kuchma opposition, in an alliance with Yushchenko's "broad reformist coalition;" and the Communists (who are unlikely to remain for a long time in the current situational alliance with the oligarchs). Judging by all appearances, the impending political turmoil is set to be far greater than that provoked in the past by several standoffs between Kuchma and the parliament.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty