With the kind permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, InfoUkes Inc. has been given rights to electronically re-print these articles on our web site. Visit the RFE/RL Ukrainian Service page for more information. Also visit the RFE/RL home page for news stories on other Eastern European and FSU countries.
Return to Main RFE News Page
InfoUkes Home Page
The European Commission said on 10 January that EU-funded television and radio broadcasts to Belarus will "definitely" start before the presidential elections in mid-March. The announcement came in response to reports that the EU would be unable or unwilling to speed up the tendering process after the elections were brought forward. A commission official said broadcasters seeking to win the EU contract must be able to provide preelection broadcasts to Belarus. The selections will be made before the end of the month.
The European Commission has sought to put to rest accusations that the EU is unwilling to take tough action against the authoritarian regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Belarus.
Commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin said on 10 January that the ground-breaking 2 million-euro ($2.4 million) project to start independent media broadcasts to Belarus is on track. She said television and radio broadcasts will begin before the presidential elections, which were recently brought forward to 19 March.
"There will be specific TV and radio programs dedicated to the elections broadcast ahead of the election date," she said.
Polish media last week suggested the delay in the tender would prevent broadcasts from beginning in time for the elections. But Udwin said the contracts will be awarded according to who is able to guarantee preelection broadcasts. She added, however, that the broadcasts would not likely reach full strength until some time after the elections.
Udwin said the commission has whittled down the number of candidates to a shortlist of four, and that a final decision will be made within weeks.
"I can confirm it is definitely the case that there will be a decision on the successful candidate for the new contracting for broadcasting into Belarus in January," she said. "That will happen within the month of January -- so we're just a week or two away from that now."
The EU last year advertised for companies interested and able to conduct both television and radio broadcasts into Belarus. It said it was also looking for companies open to future expansion into other media like the Internet.
Udwin said the EU shortlist includes four consortiums, each made up of two companies. The teams include one with two Polish partners, a Russian and German partnership, one made up of two Latvian companies, and a Lithuanian and Belarusian combination.
The EU had set a turnover threshold, forcing smaller interested companies in neighboring Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia to seek other partners.
Under the terms of the tender, the broadcasts will take place in Russian and Belarusian. The commission has argued that Russian-language coverage has a greater chance of being understood in Belarus, and could also attract interest in neighboring regions in Ukraine and Russia.
Last year, the EU awarded a smaller, pilot contract to broadcast to Belarus to the German international news organization Deutsche Welle. The broadcasts started on 1 November and will initially run for 12 months.
GAZPROM CUTS GAS SUPPLIES TO EUROPE IN FACE OF EXTREME COLD... Gazprom has reduced its deliveries to several European countries in response to extremely cold temperatures at home, which reached minus 31 degrees Celsius in Moscow on 19 January with no relief in sight, Russian and international media reported. Reports regarding the extent of the cuts and the countries involved vary, but Gazprom insists it is meeting its domestic and foreign contractual obligations. A spokesman told "The Moscow Times" that "the situation is very tense," adding that "it is possible that some of our partners are getting less [gas from Gazprom] than they would like." Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko said that the government is considering releasing an unspecified quantity of fuel reserves for the domestic market. In Rome, the Italian government called an emergency meeting with the heads of the largest power companies to plan a response to a 5.4 percent drop in Russian gas deliveries, the "Financial Times" reported. In Budapest, Economy and Transport Minister Janos Koka said that the 20 percent cuts Hungary is facing are "not unusual," but he noted that he is continuing international talks aimed at diversifying sources of energy imports. Russia's behavior in the recent dispute with Ukraine over gas prices prompted some countries like Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary to take steps to reduce their dependency on Russian energy supplies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2006). PM
RUSSIA BANS MEAT IMPORTS FROM UKRAINE. The Russian Agriculture Ministry announced on 18 January that it has banned the import of all livestock products from Ukraine as of 20 January, lenta.ru reported. The ministry said in a statement that the Federal Veterinary Inspectorate has determined that poor veterinary controls in Ukraine regarding the "delivery, transfer, and processing of meat [mean that] Russia is threatened with the import of animal diseases and low-grade products hazardous to human health." Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Oleksandr Baranivskyy commented later that the ban will not affect the meat-production sector in Ukraine, Interfax-Ukraine reported. He argued that his country exports little meat to its neighbor because its primary concern is supplying its own domestic market. Russia has banned the import of livestock products from third countries that have transited Ukraine since 30 December. The Federal Veterinary Inspectorate issued a statement in May 2005 similar to the latest one announcing a ban on imports of wine and fresh produce from Moldova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2005). PM
There are still 16 months to go before the Armenian parliamentary elections due in May 2007. But already signs are surfacing of tensions within the current three-party coalition government and within the opposition Artarutiun (Justice) bloc that constitutes the larger of two opposition parliament factions. And new parties and alliances are likely to emerge in the run-up to the ballot.
The first indications of tensions within the coalition government took the form of an exchange of barbs one year ago between Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, chairman of the Republican Party of Armenia and the longest-serving prime minister in the 15 years since Armenia became independent, and parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, head of the Orinats Yerkir (OY, Law-Based State) party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 28 February and 2 and 11 March 2005). Some observers in Yerevan anticipate that Baghdasarian's sometimes populist statements could herald a bid for the presidency in 2008 when incumbent President Robert Kocharian's second term expires. The constitution does not permit Kocharian to seek a third presidential term.
Then in December 2005, Baghdasarian broke ranks with the country's authorities and alleged "serious ballot-stuffing" during the 27 November nationwide referendum on a package of draft constitutional amendments. Local observers questioned official statistics according to which turnout in the referendum was over 65 percent. Baghdasarian pledged to submit evidence of that malpractice to the Prosecutor-General's Office, which had undertaken to examine allegations of fraud.
Asked on 23 December to comment on rumors of a possible coalition breakup, Baghdasarian said that despite some internal disputes, the coalition has until now succeeded in tackling the problems that have arisen, Noyan Tapan reported. But at the same time, he predicted "a serious political discussion" within the coalition in 2006 focusing on its future activities and principles. He added that he does not exclude the emergence of "different political arrangements" in the course of 2006.
Similar oblique criticism of the conduct of the referendum came from the second junior coalition partner, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun (HHD). The chairman of its bureau, Hrant Markarian (no relation to the prime minister), told RFE/RL's Armenian Service that "I think the reputation of all of us was damaged" by what he termed the "falsifications." Markarian added, however, that he does not believe the malpractice was on such a scale as to prove decisive in securing the passage of the amendments in question.
Speaking in Yerevan on 22 December at a ceremony to mark the 115th anniversary of the HHD's foundation, Markarian addressed the misgivings of some party members over the HHD's decision to join the government. He explained that the HHD's rationale for doing so was to contribute to internal political stability, which, he continued, is contingent on "justice" and eradicating corruption, a objective for which, he said, the HHD will continue to fight. Markarian went on to address President Kocharian personally, affirming that "the HHD cannot accept injustice irrespective of who perpetrates it and against whom.... The causes and consequences of this injustice are corruption, poverty, and the atmosphere of impunity in the country."
Commenting on Markarian's address, the opposition paper "Chorrord Ishkhanutiun" observed on 23 December that "It is clear that the main target of Dashnaktsutiun criticism in the forthcoming year 2006 will be the government of Andranik Markarian." The paper suggested that the HHD is well aware that it has no hope of winning a majority in the next parliament (it garnered 11 percent of the vote in 2003), and has therefore decided to create an "opposition image" for itself ahead of the 2007 elections.
Meanwhile, the independent daily "Aravot" pointed out on 11 January that there is no love lost between OY and the HHD. The paper quoted an unnamed leading HHD member as saying he would prefer the return to power of former President Levon Ter-Petrossian's Armenian Pan-National Movement to Baghdasarian's election as president. Ter-Petrossian banned the HHD in 1994, paving the way for the trial of 31 of its members on trumped-up charges of terrorism.
The apparent failure of the campaign spearheaded by Artarutiun to persuade voters to boycott the 27 November referendum resulted in a major tactical disagreement among several of its most prominent leaders. Former Prime Minister and Hanrapetutiun (Republic) party leader Aram Sargsian, who for the past two years has sought to mobilize the population to push for the peaceful overthrow of the present leadership, convened a series of rallies in December to protest the apparent rigging of the referendum outcome. At a meeting in Yerevan on 8 December, he and the heads of several other parties aligned in Artarutiun announced plans for the creation of a broad-based anti-government "civic movement" comprising not only politicians but representatives of civil society, that would launch a "serious struggle" aimed at ousting the present Armenian leadership.
But Stepan Demirchian, Kocharian's defeated challenger in the 2003 presidential runoff ballot, distanced himself and his People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) from those plans on 14 December, saying he sees no point in participating in further anti-government rallies. On 26 December, Demirchian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service that he does not think Armenia is ripe for the kind of spontaneous mass uprising that proved the catalyst for the peaceful revolutions in Georgia in November 2003, Ukraine in December 2004, and Kyrgyzstan in March 2005. Demirchian conceded that tactical differences between himself and Sargsian may precipitate the collapse of Artarutiun in 2006, but he added that "the HZhK can operate separately, while cooperating with reliable partners." He predicted that "there will certainly be regroupings in 2006 within both the government and opposition camps."
A further possible blow to Artarutiun is the rumored imminent defection of one of its leading members, Viktor Dallakian, who is reported to have agreed to serve as nominal head of Prosperous Armenia (BH), a new pro-government party currently being established by wealthy oligarch Gagik Tsarukian. According to "168 Zham" on 11 November, Tsarukian aspires to a "big faction" in the Armenian parliament that would include "a number of prominent entrepreneurs and politicians" whom the paper declined to identify. In a 21 December interview with the daily "Haykakan zhamanak," Tsarukian said BH aims to unite influential and uncorrupt people to tackle unspecified political and socio-economic problems.
Dallakian declined on 11 January to comment to RFE/RL's Armenian Service on the rumors of his alignment with Tsarukian, but he too hinted at "the emergence of new serious political forces that will play a serious role in Armenia's political life."
Others, however, have questioned whether money alone can transform BH into an influential political party. Prime Minister Markarian pointed out in an interview published on 14 January in "168 zham" that even if Tsarukian spends millions on his election campaign, "you can't create a powerful party in one year or six months. It may...have powerful resources. But these are different things." At the same time, Markarian admitted that he and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian have recently met several times with Tsarukian in a bid to dissuade him from establishing a new political party. Sarkisian for his part denied on 16 January any connection with BH, saying he has not been invited to join its ranks and does not expect to be. He added, however, that he will announce at the end of this month whether or not he plans to run as a candidate from Prime Minister Markarian's HHK in the 2007 parliamentary ballot.
Some Yerevan commentators believe that BH is intended to provide support for Sarkisian's candidacy in the 2008 presidential election. Others have suggested that President Kocharian has given the green light for the creation of several new opposition forces that will compete among themselves for influence and votes and thus preclude the possibility of an opposition victory next year.
UKRAINIAN SECURITY BODY BACKS PRESIDENT'S STANCE ON CABINET OUSTER. The National Security and Defense Council (RNBO) on 18 January urged the Verkhovna Rada to annul its 10 January no-confidence motion in the cabinet of Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov, thus supporting an earlier demand by President Viktor Yushchenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2006), Ukrainian media reported. Yushchenko chaired a session of the RNBO earlier the same day. The RNBO also responded to Yushchenko's calls to hold a referendum on constitutional reforms passed in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2006) by advising him to set up a special commission to analyze the reforms that were adopted by the Verkhovna Rada as a compromise to overcome a presidential-election deadlock. The Verkhovna Rada is expected to hold a session on 19 January with the participation of Yushchenko and cabinet ministers to discuss the current standoff between the government and the parliament. RNBO Chairman Anatoliy Kinakh told journalists on 18 January that the RNBO expects the legislature to annul its dismissal of Yekhanurov's cabinet and to take an oath of allegiance from several new judges of the Constitutional Court in order to make this body operational. JM
LEAFLETS PREDICTING RUSSIAN INVASION APPEAR IN UKRAINE... Interfax-Ukraine reported on 18 January that unidentified distributors have been disseminating leaflets in the port of Henichesk near the Azov Sea, predicting a Russian military intervention in Ukraine. The report was confirmed by the Russian newspaper "Trud" in its 19 January issue. The leaflets, attributed to the Party of Regions led by former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, reportedly claim that Russia "has made the decision to bring a limited contingent of Russian troops and special units to Ukraine to establish control over gas pipelines considered vital to Russia." The leaflets also urge locals "to come to the nearest peacekeeping headquarters within the first 14 days of the Russian military operation to provide them with names and descriptions of Orange Movement activists." The Russian Black Sea Fleet has a radar station in Henichesk. Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko told journalists in Kyiv on 17 January that the Russian Black Sea Fleet had illegally deployed a group of its marines at the radar station in Henichesk, adding that Russian troops movements in Ukraine should be coordinated in advance with Ukraine. According to "Trud," the Henichesk marines are armed only with rubber batons. JM
...AS KYIV NOTIFIES MOSCOW OF UNAUTHORIZED MOVEMENT OF TROOPS IN CRIMEA. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has called on the Russian Foreign Ministry to abide by the bilateral agreement on the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 19 January, citing Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vasyl Filipchuk. Filipchuk said Kyiv sent a note to Moscow saying that Russia has violated the agreement by making unauthorized relocations of its troops and military equipment in Crimea. He did not elaborate. Meanwhile, Interfax-Ukraine quoted an unidentified source in the Russian Black Sea Fleet as saying that fleet commanders deployed armed marines at four major lighthouses on the Crimean coastline. The protection of Sarych, the southernmost lighthouse on the peninsula, was reportedly reinforced with an armored personnel carrier. JM
German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid a six-hour visit to Moscow on 16 January in which she made it clear that she wants to develop good relations as part of a "strategic partnership" between the two countries. She showed, however, that she is ready to speak her mind on thorny topics and reach out to the Russian opposition, in clear contrast to her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder, who prided himself on his close political and personal friendship with President Vladimir Putin and called him a "flawless democrat."
Merkel's Russian journey was the latest in a series of inaugural foreign trips she has made since taking office in November. Moscow had to wait until she had gone to Paris, Brussels -- first to NATO and the EU and then for an EU summit -- and Washington. Prior to her election as chancellor, she made it clear that she intended to distance herself from what was known as Schroeder's Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis and replace it with a more balanced policy associated with her political mentor and Schroeder's predecessor, Helmut Kohl. That approach included maintaining good relations with Washington and Paris alike and acting within the EU as an advocate for the interests of the small and medium sized countries, being careful to avoid the impression of being overbearing.
Shortly before her trip to Moscow, moreover, she made it clear that she has a different, more critical approach to Russia and its political life than did Schroeder, which many German observers attribute to the fact that she grew up in the former East Germany. She told the weekly "Der Spiegel" of 9 January that she hopes that Russia will take as democratic a path of development as is possible. She added that one must understand the traditions from which Russia is emerging and be careful not to "systematically transfer our understanding of democracy" to Russian conditions. Merkel noted, however, that "there are developments [in Russia] that cause me concern, such as the new legislation regarding NGOs." She argued that the lesson for her country of the recent Russian-Ukrainian gas price dispute is that Germany needs to have "good, stable relations with Russia" but also to diversify its energy sources so as not to be dependent on any particular one. It will be necessary to import Russian gas, but that must not be the only or primary source of Germany's energy supplies, Merkel argued. She described German-American relations as a "friendship" because they are deeply rooted in "the normal lives of the people." She used the term "strategic partnership" for Berlin's ties to Moscow, however, adding that "we do not yet share as many values with Russia as with America."
These remarks set the tone for her 17 January visit, the atmosphere of which one German daily described as "cool but not frosty by Moscow standards." In the Russian capital, she noted the "breathtaking increase" in bilateral trade, the volume of which grew in 2005 by 30 percent to a record level of $32 billion. She and Putin discussed Iran, the Middle East, the Balkans, Russia's current G-8 presidency, and energy issues, including the controversial North European pipeline project, which will run underneath the Baltic Sea and was agreed by Putin and Schroeder in 2005.
Putin assured her of the reliability of Russian gas deliveries, for which she said she was "thankful." Merkel added that "the Baltic Sea gas pipeline is indeed an investment in Europe's energy security. I have already said that it should be made clear to the Baltic countries and Poland that this project is not aimed against anyone." Putin noted that "many questions -- if not a panic -- arose among many of our European partners in connection with the discussion of relations between Russia and Ukraine in the gas sector." He argued that gas supplies to Europe are "now in no way connected to deliveries to Ukraine.... If people in Europe understood the essence of the problem and the agreements we have reached, they would breathe a sigh of relief and be grateful to both Russia and Ukraine."
If her approach on such issues was somewhat more forceful than Schroeder's, while still being diplomatic, she went on to raise matters that her predecessor avoided. She brought up Moscow's policies in Chechnya and the North Caucasus, as well as Russia's controversial legislation on NGO's. Putin responded politely that he found it "very pleasant that our partners are so interested in [Russia's] internal affairs."
After her meeting with Putin, she held a reception at the German Embassy for guests who included members of the State Duma, religious leaders, and some prominent critics of Putin's rule, whom Schroeder refused to meet with. At the gathering, Valentina Melnikova, head of the Union of Soldiers' Mothers Committees, said Merkel told the activists she appreciates the difficulty of their situation. "She did not give us any promises, but told us that what we are doing is important," Melnikova noted. She added that Merkel spoke with the opposition leaders "in Russian, which she speaks very well, and she wished us courage and luck." Melnikova said they talked about Chechnya, the Kremlin's tightening of control over the political process, and the spread of xenophobia and racism in Russia.
Merkel will attend the special Russian-German consultations in Tomsk in April. Putin has been invited to the international air show in Berlin in May, and another round of consultations will take place in Dresden in October.