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ANOTHER BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER JAILED FOR CHORNOBYL RALLY. A district court in Minsk on May 4 sentenced Viktar Ivashkevich, deputy chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front (BNF), to 15 days in jail in connection with an opposition demonstration that was held in Minsk on April 26 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Chornobyl disaster (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 27, 2006), Belapan reported. Ivashkevich had filed a request with the city authorities to hold the demonstration and therefore was deemed its official organizer. Although the demonstration was approved, authorities subsequently declared it illegal, explaining that it was staged later than allowed, and that the opposition should not have held a rally in front of the National Academy of Sciences, as that place had been designated only as the gathering point for a subsequent march. Ivashkevich thus became the sixth opposition leader jailed in connection with the April 26 rally. Last week, courts in Minsk jailed Alyaksandr Milinkevich, the united opposition forces' candidate in country's March presidential election; BNF Chairman Vintsuk Vyachorka; trade-union leader Alyaksandr Bukhvostau; Syarhey Kalyakin, leader of the Belarusian Party of Communists; and youth leader Zmitser Dashkevich. JM
UKRAINE MULLS LEAVING CIS. Ukrainian presidential adviser Kostyantyn Tymoshenko told journalists in Kyiv on May 5 that the Presidential Secretariat is considering Ukraine's withdrawal from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), UNIAN reported. Tymoshenko added that the issue is "not very pressing on the agenda." The previous day, Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Anatoliy Kinakh noted that the CIS "has virtually lost its economic sense," according to Interfax-Ukraine. "Hundreds of documents have been adopted within the CIS framework that are not being implemented. In particular, the procedure for forming a free-trade zone has not yet been finished, and the agreement that was signed 10 years ago [on a free-trade zone] has not yet been ratified by the Russian State Duma," Kinakh added. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili recently asked the Georgian government to assess the possible repercussions if Georgia leaves the CIS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 3, 2006). JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT URGES EU TO SPELL OUT MEMBERSHIP PROSPECTS... President Viktor Yushchenko told the conference "Common Vision For A Common Neighborhood" in Vilnius on May 4 that Ukraine finds it difficult to remain in a "suspended state," without guarantees that it can join the EU in the future, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Yushchenko stressed that Ukraine hopes to obtain a "clear signal that the philosophy of [EU-Ukraine] relations is based on the philosophy of open doors." According to Yushchenko, Ukraine would now welcome an association agreement with the EU as the next stage on its path toward achieving full membership. Current EU-Ukraine relations are regulated by the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which expires in 2008. JM
...AND PLEDGES TO GIVE 'NEW IMPULSE' TO COALITION-BUILDING. President Yushchenko told Ukrainian journalists in Vilnius on May 4 that he will make every effort to give "a new impulse" to building a governing coalition in Ukraine in order to conclude this task within "the following week or two," Interfax-Ukraine reported. Yushchenko pledged to hold a meeting devoted to this issue on May 5 with leaders of the five parties that won parliamentary representation in the March 26 parliamentary election. On April 13, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Our Ukraine, and the Socialist Party signed a protocol promising to recreate the Orange Revolution coalition that existed until President Yushchenko fired Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko in September 2005. Meanwhile, Party of Regions deputy head Mykola Azarov said on May 4 that the party has sent a draft coalition agreement to "our partners in talks," but failed to name those partners. The Party of Regions came first in the March 26 elections, winning 186 parliamentary seats. JM
RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
A Survey of Developments in Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team
MURKY REVELATIONS ABOUT ROSUKRENERGO. On April 26, the Russian newspaper "Izvestia," owned by Gazprom Media, published an article naming two hidden beneficiaries of RosUkrEnergo.
The Swiss-registered company, which is half-owned by the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom, has been at the center of a storm of controversy in Ukraine over gas deliveries from Russia and Turkmenistan.
After Yuliya Tymoshenko became prime minister in January 2005, the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) launched an investigation into RosUkrEnergo that failed to uncover the undisclosed beneficiaries of the remaining 50 percent stake in the company.
The investigation was dropped, reportedly on the orders of President Viktor Yushchenko, after Tymoshenko was dismissed as prime minister in September 2005. Just months later, following a bitter dispute between Ukraine and Russia over gas supplies, RosUkrEnergo was named as the middleman in a new deal for the supply of Russian and Turkmen gas to Ukraine. The development led to claims by the Ukrainian government that the Kremlin had imposed RosUkrEnergo's role on Ukraine.
While clearing up the issue of RosUkrEnergo's beneficiaries, "Izvestia" failed to shed light on many other outstanding questions regarding the company -- and raised a few new ones.
The article was signed by what appears to be a non-existent Russian journalist named "Vladimir Berezhnoi." According to a report in the April 27 edition of "The Moscow Times," the article was written by an "Izvestia" staff member under a pseudonym "after a Gazprom representative showed him the PwC [PriceWaterhouseCoopers] audit" that named the previously undisclosed beneficiaries of RosUkrEnergo. "Vladimir Berezhnoi" does not exist, "The Moscow Times" reported.
The hidden beneficiaries were named as Dmytro Firtash and Ivan Fursin, two Ukrainian nationals. Firtash, according to "Izvestia," holds 90 percent of the shares of the Austrian-based Centragas, which is part of RosUkrEnergo, while Fursin holds 10 percent.
According to figures provided by Raiffeisen Bank, RosUkrEnergo earned a profit of $500 million in 2005, half of which went to the hidden beneficiaries of Centragas and the other half to Gazprom Bank.
One of the points of contention in the RosUkrEnergo case is whether Gazprom was aware of the beneficiaries of a company they helped create. Gazprom spokesmen have consistently claimed that they did not know who the owners of Centragas were. The Ukrainian side has claimed that it would be inconceivable for Gazprom to enter into a multibillion dollar deal without first knowing who they were dealing with. A former SBU investigator close to the case told RFE/RL: "They could have been Chechen terrorists who were using the company to launder money for their own needs. The Gazprom story does not hold water."
Firtash's and Fursin's names were revealed after a Swiss-based branch of PriceWaterhouseCoopers audited RosUkrEnergo's activities from July 2004 to December 2005. The results of the audit were made available to Gazprom on March 31, 2006.
Three weeks later the names appeared in the "Izvestia" article, which came on the heels of a "Wall Street Journal" article that reported that the organized-crime unit of the U.S. Department of Justice was conducting an investigation into the ownership structure of RosUkrEnergo. According to the Austrian media, U.S. officials reportedly traveled to Vienna to discuss the case with Austrian banking and government officials, while RosUkrEnergo officials were summoned to Washington for talks.
The article in "Izvestia" was disdainful of the U.S. investigation and suggested that U.S. law-enforcement officials not interfere. One explanation offered by the "Ukrayinska pravda" website as to why the names of the beneficiaries were leaked was that Gazprom was worried that the U.S. investigation of RosUkrEnergo would follow a money trail that could lead to high-level Gazprom officials along with prominent Russian and Ukrainian officials -- both past and present.
Firtash and Fursin, according to comments printed in "The Moscow Times" on May 3 by Oleksander Chaliy, a former Ukrainian deputy foreign minister who was in charge of the latest gas negotiations with Russia, are not the ultimate beneficiaries of RosUkrEnergo. "Firtash is not the end of the chain. He is just the beginning and the beginning of a big scandal for the top leadership of Ukraine," Chaliy said.
The "Ukrayinska pravda" website commented that the release of the information by "Izvestia" was meant to preempt the U.S. Justice Departmentís investigation and hopefully end the case before it got too close to the real beneficiaries. (Roman Kupchinsky)
OPPOSITION SEEKS DIRECTION AFTER PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. There are essentially two ideas among the Belarusian opposition about how to proceed after the presidential election in March, which led to the largest outburst of antigovernment protests in Belarus in the past decade. A younger generation of opposition activists wants former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich, who has no party affiliation, to lead a broad movement focused on bringing about political change in Belarus. But some opposition parties appear wary of losing their political stature, and prefer to continue to make all strategic decisions pertaining to the opposition through a collective body or a national convention.
Despite the opposition's overwhelming loss to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's in Belarus's presidential election in March, the organization that represents the major opposition parties in Belarus saw room for optimism in the election result.
The Political Council of Democratic Forces, which assisted opposition candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich in his bid to prevent Lukashenka from winning a third term in office, has assessed the opposition election campaign as satisfactory.
Official results had Milinkevich winning just 6 percent of the vote in the March 19 election, which monitors from the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) said failed to meet democratic standards.
However, the Political Council has determined that Milinkevich actually achieved 20 percent support -- numbers that were confirmed last month by an independent post-election survey.
Those results, the Political Council believes, are strong enough for the entire democratic camp to build upon in posing a greater challenge to Lukashenka's authoritarian regime in the future. And here is where the problems begin.
Last month, a group of younger and more radical opposition activists, who protested against the election result in a five-day tent camp on October Square in Minsk, proposed that Milinkevich lead a broad movement in Belarus with the aim of deposing President Lukashenka.
One of those activists is Ihar Lyalkou from the Belarusian Popular Front (BNF). The BNF proposed Milinkevich as a presidential candidate during an opposition convention in August 2005, which gave Milinkevich a narrow edge over Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the United Civic Party (AHP).
"The main thing we want today in the country and the democratic movement is to create the situation in which this movement could come to real power. We have, in both the provinces and Minsk, teams of professionals who are ready even today to become Alyaksandr Milinkevich's closest aides in the leadership of the movement," Lyalkou said.
Lyalkou and his colleagues do not want to abolish the Political Council of Democratic Forces. But Lyalkou told RFE/RL that they want Milinkevich to be solely responsible for executive decisions in the new movement.
"The movement should have the Political Council composed of the leaders of political parties. The council should remain in order to define basic, strategic directions of the movement's activity. And there must be some executive body -- which should be staffed not according to party quotas but according to exclusively professional qualities [of the staff]. This national committee should be formed by Mr. Milinkevich personally," Lyalkou said.
On April 26, during an opposition rally in Minsk to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Chornobyl disaster, Milinkevich announced the creation of a Movement for Freedom. Milinkevich predicted that the opposition, if united, could depose Lukashenka in the next two years through actions of civil disobedience.But some are skeptical of the idea of making Milinkevich the primary voice of the opposition, including AHP deputy head Yaraslau Ramanchuk.
"The movement makes sense if it is built on the currently existing coalition and includes both [opposition candidate Alyaksandr] Kazulin's party [Social Democratic Party] and the youth that does not belong to any party or youth groups. I think this initiative is disastrous for Milinkevich as a politician," Ramanchuk said.
Ramanchuk said that the Political Council of Democratic Forces should continue to coordinate opposition actions in the future, with strategic political decisions being made at national conventions.
Ramanchuk told RFE/RL that the people who want Milinkevich to be a national opposition leader represent only one political party and do not speak for the majority of the demonstrators -- mostly young people with no party affiliation -- who came to October Square in March to protest the election.
"The people who promote the movement led by Milinkevich belong to one group -- the BNF. They have been, are, and will continue to be in politics and the BNF. What, are they essentially going to run this movement? Therefore, I don't want Alyaksandr Milinkevich's electoral potential to be lost because of such initiatives," Ramanchuk said.
But Lyalkou argues that from now on Milinkevich should be promoted in Belarus as an icon of the anti-Lukashenka opposition: "The situation is such that for the first time in the past 12 years we have had a real, generally accepted -- both within our country and abroad -- leader who is an alternative to Lukashenka. Therefore, the starting conditions for a real change of the situation in the country are very good."
Judging by Ukraine's example, Lyalkou may be right. The opposition to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's regime began to score significant political successes only after Viktor Yushchenko united it under the banner of the Our Ukraine bloc in 2002 and became its clear leader. By the beginning of 2005, Yushchenko was heading the country. (Jan Maksymiuk) (Yury Drakakhrust from RFE/RL's Belarus Service contributed to this report.)
"RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova 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.