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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
POLAND'S GAS DEAL WITH NORWAY OFFERS RELIEF TO UKRAINE. A deal reached on 29 August between Poland and Norway could spell the end of Russia's long campaign to pressure Ukraine over its pipelines that transport Russian natural gas.
The "Financial Times" reported that Norway's agreement to sell 74 billion cubic meters of gas to Poland over a 16-year period will reduce Warsaw's dependence on Russia for fuel supplies.
Under the agreement, the deliveries by Norway's Statoil to the Polish Oil and Gas Company will start in 2008 and rise quickly to 5 billion cubic meters annually through 2024. Although the amount seems relatively small, Poland consumed only about 11 billion cubic meters of gas last year. Over 60 percent of that amount was imported from Russia.
The deal is important because of the three-way tensions that have been building between Russia, Poland, and Ukraine over Kyiv's use of Russian gas and Moscow's attempts to solve the problem.
Some 90 percent of Russia's gas exports to Europe run through the former Soviet pipelines in Ukraine. But Russia has frequently accused Ukraine of illicitly tapping gas. Ukraine also owes an estimated $1.3 billion for past Russian supplies.
In July 2000, Russia announced it would try to build a bypass line through Poland and Slovakia to reduce its reliance on Ukraine and eventually double its energy exports to the European Union.
But getting Poland's consent has been problematic. Although Warsaw sent mixed signals, it ultimately was unwilling to take part in a plan that would undercut Ukraine.
The agreement with Norway, which has been debated for months, may help Poland in at least two ways. It limits Moscow's power to pressure Warsaw over its stand on the bypass by ending its role as the monopoly supplier. It may also satisfy an EU directive on diversifying energy sources, which may aid Poland's drive to join the EU.
On the downside, Poland will pay more for Norwegian gas, which will require a new pipeline to be built across the Baltic Sea. Poland's neighbor Germany may also be displeased, since Germany's Ruhrgas is a shareholder in Russia's Gazprom and a partner in studying the bypass plan.
While the results may be mixed, the effects of the pending deal have been notable in recent weeks.
After more than a year of friction, Russia and Ukraine are close to an agreement on rescheduling Kyiv's gas debts on terms that could give Ukraine as much as a decade to pay.
Upon taking office in May, Ukrainian Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh took a tougher position than his predecessor Viktor Yushchenko on countering Moscow's demands that Kyiv convert the arrears of its power sector into sovereign debt. Ukraine has also fought off Russian proposals to control the transit lines.
A compromise may be found, but it also seems likely that Ukraine's harder line has been the result of a sense that Russia's bypass plan would fail.
At a meeting to mark Ukraine's 10th anniversary of independence, Russian President Vladimir Putin again raised the pipeline issue with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, according to Reuters. But there were no reports that Kwasniewski agreed to the bypass plan.
RUSSIAN INTERNET PROJECT TARGETS UKRAINE. A new Russianlanguage website devoted to Ukraine appeared last month at http://www.ukraine.ru. The website is attributed to Russia's National Information Service Strana.ru. Editor in Chief Sergei Sklyarov explains his goals for the website in the following way:
"[Russia's] closest neighbors are beyond the field of vision of [Russian] media outlets, newsmakers, and experts.... The closest and one of the largest of Russia's neighbors -- Ukraine -- is gradually becoming a blank spot on the map of foreign news. The lack of information entails the lack of experts' attention, the lack of experts' attention entails the silence of the media, and the silence of the media entails the lack of information. This is a vicious circle that creates the situation of an unintentional informational quasi-blockade.... The project Ukraine.ru is the first serious step toward breaking this blockade. The project consists of two parts -- references and news. The references part (the 'Map of Ukraine' catalogue) is a regularly updated source of full information about the most significant spheres of life of present-day Ukraine -- politics, economics, religion, elections, the history of the country. The news part is presented as a news tape consisting of a priority piece of news labeled 'urgent,' a main subject including information about a key event in Ukraine or around her, and two topics of the day that present topical materials of interest for the Russian public. Apart from these, the website has a chapter of interviews -- updated every day -- which consists of exclusive interviews with leading Ukrainian and Russian experts, politicians, and representatives of the authorities, [as well as those of] public and business organizations.... The website is primarily oriented toward Russian users who are interested in Ukrainian problems -- journalists, analysts, and experts on Ukraine."
The Ukrainian independent website "Ukrayinska pravda" on 27 August run a comment by Oleksandr Brams offering an insight into the appearance of the above-mentioned Internet project.
According to "Ukrayinska pravda," the Ukraine.ru website was actually created by specialists from Russia's Fund of Effective Policy (FEP), following an order from the Kremlin. FEP is a private political-consulting organization set up in 1995, which has gradually become Russia's leading organization in the development of the Russian Internet. FEP head Gleb Pavlovskii and FEP board chairwoman Marina Litvinovich are widely believed to be chief political consultants of the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to the "Ukrayinska pravda." FEP has launched some 40 Internet projects, including such important and influential Internet publications as Strana.ru, Lenta.ru, Vesti (http://www.vesti.ru), and Gazeta.ru.
Brams believes that the inauguration of the Ukraine.ru website reflects Russia's increasing political interests in Ukraine and the Kremlin's intention to influence Ukraine's information sphere in the run-up to next year's parliamentary elections. Brams said: "It is obvious that the Ukraine.ru project will vigorously participate in the division of money that will be spent by Ukrainian politicians and parties for advertising in the upcoming elections. There is no doubt that this informational project will be...one of the most frequently visited websites devoted to Ukraine." Brams added that in the first two days of its existence, the Ukraine.ru website already outdistanced the "Ukrayinska pravda," Ukraine's most popular website, in the number of website hits per day by some 10-30 percent.
Brams also argues that the Ukraine.ru website is primarily intended for Ukrainian users. He cites Russian Internet developer Anton Nosik to support his point:
"The newly created Ukraine.ru is hardly pursuing informational goals. The target audience of any Moscow media outlet that writes about Ukrainian matters are Ukrainian readers, not Russian ones. And the Russian media tell those Ukrainian readers: this is how the Kremlin is viewing Kuchma, your elections, candidates, Lazarenko and Tymoshenko. The stance of the Big Brother may be of interest for some people in Kyiv. As for Russian readers, if they suddenly become interested in Ukrainian topics, they will look for Ukrainian information resources, not for a 'look from Moscow.'"
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.
MOSCOW GETS A EUROPE SQUARE, TO HAVE AN ASIA ONE TOO. Moscow city officials on 2 September marked the start of construction of a new Europe Square near the Kiev railroad station, Interfax-Moscow reported. The city will soon create an Asia Square as well since, in the words of Moscow Mayor Luzhkov, "Russia is a Euro-Asiatic country." PG
UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR WANTS EX-PREMIER TO BE ARRESTED FOR TWO MURDERS. Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko has sent a letter to the parliament asking permission to arrest former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko, Interfax reported on 3 September. Ukrainian prosecutors suspect Lazarenko of involvement in the contract killings of parliamentary deputy Yevhen Shcherban in 1996 and of former National Bank Governor Vadym Hetman in 1998. Lazarenko is currently in prison stemming from U.S. money-laundering charges in San Francisco, but possesses immunity from prosecution at home as a member of the parliament. JM
UKRAINE, FINLAND SIGN MILITARY COOPERATION DEAL. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk and his Finnish counterpart Jan-Erik Enestam signed a memorandum on military cooperation between the two countries in Kyiv on 3 September, Interfax reported. Enestam told journalists that Ukraine can be a partner in modernizing Finnish Sovietera T-72 tanks if Helsinki opts to modernize the equipment instead of buying new technology. On 4 September, Enestam and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko discussed Finnish-Ukrainian cooperation on peacekeeping operations and within NATO's Partnership for Peace program. JM
POLAND, NORWAY SIGN 16-YEAR NATURAL GAS SUPPLY CONTRACT. Poland's state-run fuel giant Polskie Gornictwo Naftowe i Gazownictwo (PGNiG) and five Norwegian companies on 3 September signed a gas supply deal, Polish and international news agencies reported. Under the $12 billion agreement, the Norwegian firms are to supply 74 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Poland between 2008 and 2024. The contract also provides for the construction of a 1,100-kilometer gas pipeline from Norway to Poland. The deal is widely seen as a major step on the part of Poland to reduce its dependence on Russian gas. Polish Premier Jerzy Buzek commented that ensuring the diversification of gas supplies is one of the greatest achievements of his government. President Aleksander Kwasniewski praised the deal, but some politicians from the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) said they will "review" the gas contract if the SLD wins the elections (see also "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 4 September 2001). JM
WHO IS BANKROLLING MACEDONIA'S ARMS SPREE? Macedonian Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva said on a recent tour of European capitals that Western governments owe her country financial assistance and support, but "The Sunday Times" on 2 September reported that Skopje -- or one of its friends -- has ample money to fund an arms buildup. The article reported that Macedonian security forces are "gearing up for all-out war in the autumn," quoting unnamed "Western intelligence sources." The article added that "NATO observation teams watched four cargo planeloads of military hardware and spares arriving in secret flights at Petrovec airport near...Skopje last week. The sources said that...all were from Eastern Europe. The shipments followed the arrival several days earlier of a giant Antonov transport plane from Ukraine, carrying what the sources believed were sophisticated Russian-made SA-13 antiaircraft missile systems." It is not clear why Skopje needs such weapons to fight "terrorists." The article added that the military is seeking to upgrade its SU-25 aircraft to achieve "pin-point accuracy in raids." Ongoing training flights "cost thousands of dollars an hour," one Western expert noted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2001). PM
SMIRNOV BOYCOTTS MEETING WITH MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT... Separatist leader Igor Smirnov on 31 August failed to attend a scheduled meeting with Vladimir Voronin in Holercani, near Chisinau, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Smirnov said he was skipping the meeting in protest against the change of Moldovan custom seals and the introduction of an excise tax by Moldovan custom authorities. He said the measures amount to a declaration of an "economic blockade" on the Transdniester. Voronin dismissed Smirnov's complaint as "mere excuses" aimed at further procrastinating on negotiations for a settlement and said that the introduction of the custom seals is in line with the demands of the World Trade Organization, of which Moldova has recently become a member. He also said Transdniester authorities abused the Moldovan custom seal they were using earlier in order to engage in "illegal transactions." On 2 September, Transdniester custom officials prevented Moldovan custom officers from reaching the new customs posts, which are on Ukrainian territory, and there were reports of squabbles between the sides. On 3 September, Flux reported that the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has also protested against the Moldovan measures. Earlier, Ukraine, Moldova, and the Transdniester agreed to set up joint customs points on Ukrainian territory as of 1 September, but Tiraspol never acted on that project. MS