UKRAINIAN LEGISLATORS PLEDGE TO CREATE PRO-GOVERNMENT MAJORITY. Eleven parliamentary caucuses and groups have initialed an agreement on the creation of a pro-government majority in the legislature, Interfax reported on 24 December. The agreement was signed by leaders of the Social Democrats (United), the Revival of Regions, the Fatherland, the Popular Democratic Party, the Labor Party, the Green Party, both caucuses of the Popular Rukh, the Hromada party, the Reforms-Congress, and the Independents. The pro-government majority is expected to be made up of some 250 deputies in the 450-seat legislature. The Communist Party, the Peasant Party, the Socialist Party, and the Progressive Socialist Party did not take part in the agreement. JM
ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN KYIV TO BOOST TIES. Vartan Oskanian and his Ukrainian counterpart, Borys Tarasyuk, signed six agreements in railway transportation, pharmaceutics, tourism, culture, and education in Kyiv on 24 December, AP reported. Ukraine also agreed to let Armenia use its Black Sea port of Ilyichevsk for shipping. Ukrainian presidential spokesman Oleksandr Martynenko said Oskanian urged President Leonid Kuchma "to help Armenia integrate into Europe." JM
UKRAINE TO IMPORT 1.5 MILLION TONS OF GRAIN. Ukraine plans to import some 1.5 million metric tons of grain by 1 September 2000, Interfax reported on 24 December. The imports are reportedly necessary to maintain a steady supply of bread and to avoid price hikes. JM
RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
A Survey of Developments in Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team.
OFFERING RESIDENCE REGISTRATION. If a foreigner wants to stay in Poland longer than for several days, he/she has to officially register the address of his/her stay within the 48 hours after arriving in the country (that rule was introduced in 1974). Actually, nobody in Poland is able or cares to enforce this rule with regard to all foreigners visiting the country. However, it can be, and is, used against those who came to Poland to take up illegal employment or for some other purposes that are in conflict with the Polish law. In particular, the lack of residence registration may serve as a reason for deportation of illegal workers from Poland's eastern neighbors--Belarus, Ukraine, or Russia.
Therefore, some people in Polish cities and towns along the eastern border have taken up the business of providing-- for small remuneration--residence registration for visitors from the east. Such a registration certificate allows its holder to stay legally in Poland for three months, shielding him/her from deportation during that period. If a foreigner has a job in Poland, he/she goes back home in Belarus or Ukraine for a day or two before the expiration of those three months, then returns to Poland and repeats the registration procedure, usually with the same owner of the residence where he/she is supposed to live. But in most cases, foreigners registered in such a way do not even know the location of the address where they are supposed to reside.
The "Polityka" report says the average cost of residence registration for Ukrainians in Przemysl, southeastern Poland, is 20 zlotys (some $4) per person. So the business is not very lucrative. However, the weekly reports that the city administration office in Przemysl registers some 100 foreigners every week. And one resident of Lublin managed to register 172 foreigners in his apartment. "Even if the common sense of a [city administration] official tells him that something is foul here, he has no right to refuse residence registration to those asking for it. There is no regulation that could justify such a refusal," a city official from Przemysl told "Polityka."
BELARUS SEEN AS 'MONEY LAUNDERING MACHINE.' Tamara Vinnikava- -former chairwoman of the Belarusian National Bank, who disappeared from under house arrest in Minsk in April and reappeared in the media on 13 December (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 21 December 1999)--disclosed some sensational information about the operation of Belarus's economy to RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 18 December.
According to Vinnikava, following the presidential election victory by Alyaksandr Lukashenka in 1994, Belarus has been transformed by Russian criminal capital into a "money laundering machine." In her opinion, Belarus today is managed not by Lukashenka, but by "Russian oligarchs" who gave money for his election campaign. "Today [Russian] oligarchs rule the republic. Alyaksandr Lukashenka cannot make any appointment without coordination with them.... It is not Lukashenka who does not reform the national economy, it is not Lukashenka who does not privatize factories. Today it is very convenient to have gigantic enterprises [in Belarus] that consume [huge amounts] of metal and purchase fertilizers for [vast areas] of land.... It is convenient for oligarchs to supply trainloads of production in exchange for [Belarusian] budget money," Vinnikava told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service director Alexander Lukashuk. However, she declined to mention any names.
To launder their dirty money, Vinnikava argued, Russian oligarchs supply Belarus with more products that it actually needs. The multiplicity of currency exchange rates in Belarus is instrumental for them in obtaining huge profits. "The point is that today oligarchs supply raw materials to the Republic of Belarus. They supply more that we need. They supply them at lower prices than, for example, to Ukraine or other countries. Because it is they who take the profit. Even if they lose owing to the difference in prices, they make it up during the operation of converting [payments] into hard currency," Vinnikava noted. And added: "Why is there the need for a single [Russian-Belarusian] currency? Because Russia must be paid for what it supplies. And it will supply ceaselessly. Because there is money laundering [underway]. Belarus has been transformed into a money laundering machine."
RFE/RL's Belarusian Service asked Stanislau Bahdankevich, who headed the Belarusian National Bank directly before Vinnikava, to comment on her revelations.
According to Bahdankevich, Vinnikava's presentation of economic realities in Belarus is exaggerated. He said: "Russia supplies us mainly with oil and gas. The share of these supplies is very significant. As regards other supplies, they are not so big. Belarus supplies more finished products to Russia than Russia to Belarus. We receive more raw materials and energy resources."
Bahdankevich was also doubtful about the profits obtained by Russian suppliers in trade with Belarus: "I am of the opposite opinion--it is Russia that today finances the Lukashenka regime. Russia supplies fuel to Belarus at prices two or three times lower lower than to Europe, the Baltics, or Ukraine. For 1,000 cubic meters of gas, we today pay $30, while Ukrainians $60. But even for such supplies we are not able to pay in a timely manner."
As to who takes advantage of the multiplicity of currency exchange rates in Belarus, Bahdankevich said: "Indeed, there is a problem with exchange rates. And there is profiteering. But again, I doubt that it is Russian capital that speculates on the Belarusian market. I think it is primarily Lukashenka's entourage that profiteers."
Asked why Vinnikava reappeared with her disclosures right now, Bahdankevich commented: "Possibly, on one hand, Vinnikava wants to vindicate herself, on the other, it is also possible that Russian oligarchs are ready to surrender Lukashenka, because in actual fact Lukashenka is a barrier to an inflow of Russian capital into Belarus. He does not conduct reforms, he does not privatize big enterprises, and so on."
YUSHCHENKO PROMISES RESULTS ON THE 101ST DAY. Speaking to the parliament on 22 December before his confirmation as prime minister, National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko presented the economic policy guidelines of his future cabinet. Yushchenko stressed that "we have so little time for decisive action: literally a few months. I do not want to dramatize [the situation], but these are the months of Ukraine's last chance."
Yushchenko said he visualizes his cabinet as a "monolith of like-minded persons." According to him, the success of the cabinet is conditional on the smooth operation of three "mechanisms" in Ukraine's system of power: a) joint responsibility of the government and the parliament; b) a Stabilization Pact "that will introduce consensus between the executive power and major economic entities that basically shape production costs and prices"; c) a mechanism for the development of a civic society.
Regarding the near future, Yushchenko told the parliament: "During the first 100 days, we, jointly with you, have to take and implement a majority of indispensable political decisions. As soon as on the 101st day, we should see convincing results that could confirm the efficiency of our joint actions."
Yushchenko announced that no later than in February he will present a program of action called "1,000 Days of Reforms in Ukraine." During those 1,000 days, the government intends to introduce major reforms in five areas: a) state administration; b) the consolidation of state finances and the strengthening of the national currency; c) the creation of "normal conditions" for economic activity; d) the resolution of the foreign debt problem; e) improvements in the social sphere ("poor people are to see their life improved in the next few months").
"Yushchenko is a puppet of the IMF and works against Ukraine's national interests," -- Ultra-left Progressive Socialist Party leader Natalya Vitrenko during the 22 December parliamentary debate before the confirmation of Viktor Yushchenko as Ukraine's prime minister. Quoted by Reuters.
RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report is prepared by Jan Maksymiuk on the basis of a variety of sources including reporting by "RFE/RL Newsline" and RFE/RL's broadcast services. It is distributed every Tuesday.