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TAJIKISTAN SIGNS DEFENSE ACCORD WITH UKRAINE. Meeting during a summit of CIS defense ministers, Tajik Defense Minister Colonel General Sherali Khayrulloev and Ukrainian Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko signed a new bilateral accord on defense cooperation on November 24, the Avesta website reported. The new agreement calls for the staging of five joint training exercises and provides for closer military and technical cooperation, including the training of Tajik military specialists by Ukraine to repair tanks and armored personnel vehicles. RG
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BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT MAKES OFFER TO KYIV ON COORDINATING GAS-TRANSIT RATES... President Alyaksandr Lukashenka suggested to a group of Ukrainian journalists in Minsk on November 23 that Belarus and Ukraine could work out a joint stance on "oil and gas issues," including a coordinated policy on tariffs for Russian natural gas transited to Europe, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. "What if we pursued a single policy in talks with Russia on this matter?" Lukashenka said. "Would it be worse? It would be better. So let's do it." Lukashenka complained earlier in that interview about Moscow's declared intention to increase the price it charges Belarus for natural-gas exports in 2007 from the current rate of $47 per 1,000 cubic meters to possibly as much as $200. Lukashenka also suggested the possibility of raising tariffs for cargos in transit from and to Russia in order to make up for an anticipated Russian gas-price hike. "For instance, 100 million tons of cargos is annually transported from Western Europe to Russia and back via Belarus. We can earn a billion if we charge $10 per ton. And there will be no questions regarding the price of gas then," he said. JM
...AND SUGGESTS UNION STATE WITH UKRAINE. President Lukashenka said in the same interview with Ukrainian journalists in Minsk on November 23 that he would welcome the idea of a union state with Ukraine as a more feasible political formation than the declared union with Russia because of the "comparable" sizes of Belarus and Ukraine, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. "Pray God it happens some time. Believe me, everybody would have to take this [Belarusian-Ukrainian] state into consideration. We would bargain a great deal from the world for our peoples," Lukashenka said. JM
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT CLAIMS HE STOLE VOTES FROM HIMSELF. While speaking with Ukrainian journalists in Minsk on November 23, President Lukashenka admitted to rigging the March 19 presidential election, in which he officially obtained 83 percent of the vote, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. But Lukashenka claimed that he falsified the election in favor of his rivals. "Yes, we falsified the last election. I have already told the Westerners [about this]. As many as 93.5 percent of voters voted for President Lukashenka. But they said this was not a 'European' result. So we made it 86 [percent]," he said. "The Europeans told us before the election that if there were 'European' figures in the election, they would recognize our election. And we tried to make European figures," Lukashenka explained, noting that the move nevertheless has not resulted in recognition of the ballot. Meanwhile, Mikalay Lazavik, secretary of Belarus's Central Election Commission (TsVK), said on November 24 that the TsVK "is not aware of any fraud" in the March presidential election. According to Lazavik, the official results reflect the "genuine will" of the people. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CALLS ON PARLIAMENT TO DECLARE 1932-33 FAMINE GENOCIDE. President Viktor Yushchenko on November 24 called on the Verkhovna Rada to recognize the Holodomor [Famine] of 1932-33 as an act of genocide against Ukrainian people, Ukrainian media reported. "I believe that when we are talking about the tragedy of Ukrainian people in 1932-1933, you can call it nothing but an act of genocide against the Ukrainian nation.... I want to call on all Ukrainian politicians to adopt a clear stance on this matter, be courageous and get up from their knees," Yushchenko said while opening an exhibition of famine-related documents declassified by the Security Service of Ukraine. As many as 10 million Ukrainians may have died in the famine provoked by the Soviet leadership under Josef Stalin in a bid to force peasants to give up their land and join collective farms. A dozen foreign legislatures have recognized the 1932-33 Holodomor as genocide, but the Ukrainian parliament has not yet done so. Some lawmakers from the ruling Party of Regions -- apparently lending an ear to protests from Moscow -- have proposed dropping the word "genocide" from a relevant bill, suggesting that the Holodomor be called a "tragedy" instead. JM
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT PROPOSES UNION WITH UKRAINE
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka made some surprising announcements on November 23 as Minsk prepared to host a summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Meeting in the Belarusian capital with a group of Ukrainian journalists, Lukashenka informed them that Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko had "announced" that he will not be coming to the CIS summit on November 28. Lukashenka also proposed the formation of a Ukrainian-Belarusian state, and even admitted to rigging Belarus's last presidential election.
The news that the Ukrainian president would not be coming to the summit came as quite a shock to the journalists, as neither Yushchenko or any of his aides had issued such a statement.
Later in the day, Vitaliy Hayduk, secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, refuted Lukashenka's comments by saying Yushchenko was, in fact, planning to visit Minsk.
Apparently out of concern that Yushchenko might refuse to meet with him, Lukashenka touted the potential success of such talks. "If only Belarus and Ukraine could reach an agreement, the configuration of economic and political relations in the region would completely change," he said.
Asked by the Ukrainian journalists to clarify what he had in mind, Lukashenka said Minsk and Kyiv could work out a joint stance on "oil and gas issues," including a coordinated policy on tariffs for Russian gas transit to Europe. "What if we pursued a single policy in talks with Russia on this matter?" Lukashenka said. "Would it be worse? It would be better. So let's do it."
Lukashenka did not conceal his concern over Moscow's declared intention to increase the price it charges Belarus for natural gas in 2007. Belarus could find itself paying as much as $200 per 1,000 cubic meters, compared to the current rate of $47. By insisting on the price hike, Gazprom has made clear that it wants Lukashenka to give up control over Beltranshaz, Belarus's gas-pipeline operator.
After complaining to the Ukrainian journalists about the expected price increase and about what he sees as Moscow's intention to put Belarusian economic entities in a disadvantageous position compared to Russian businesses, Lukashenka admitted that he would welcome the idea of forming a union state with Ukraine. He went so far as to suggest that, because of the "comparable" sizes of the two states, such a union might even be more feasible than one with Russia.
According to the Belarusian president, such a political formation could face a bright future. "Pray God it happens some time. Believe me, everybody would have to take this [Belarusian-Ukrainian] state into consideration," Lukashenka said. "We would bargain a great deal from the world for our peoples."
Vintsuk Vyachorka, leader of the Belarusian Popular Front, told RFE/RL's Belarus Service that, in making such comments, Lukashenka is beginning to promote an idea first proposed by the Belarusian opposition 15 years ago. At that time, Vyachorka noted, the opposition sought to seek closer ties and, if possible, a union with Ukraine and the Baltic states in order to counter Russia's political and economic clout.
According to Vyachorka, such a move on the part of Lukashenka testifies to his desperation in the face of Russia's economic pressure. "I think that today Mr. Lukashenka has no response to this challenge, to this deadlock into which he himself has brought our country," he said.
Another prominent opposition activist, United Civic Party deputy head Alyaksandr Dabravolski, agrees with Vyachorka. But Dabravolski does not believe that Lukashenka is serious in speaking about a union with Ukraine. According to Dabravolski, Lukashenka is merely trying to blackmail Moscow.
"Now, when Russia wants to obtain actual money for its energy resources, it has become apparent to everybody that there is nothing behind the [Belarus-Russia] union state," Dabravolski said. "There is neither foundations nor a roof. All opposition forces have warned that it is necessary to talk with Russia about cooperation while taking into account real [national] interests. Now, as usual, Lukashenka will try using blackmail or persuasion."
Will Lukashenka broach the union idea to Yushchenko if the Ukrainian president does, in fact, come to Minsk for the summit? Such a scenario cannot be ruled out.
It is quite reasonable to assume that if the two were to meet in the future, the issue of Russian gas supplies to, and Russian gas transit through, Belarus and Ukraine might come up. Both countries now seem to have similar problems in ensuring their energy security. In other respects, however, any potential understanding between Lukashenka and Yushchenko is unlikely.
In March, Ukraine held parliamentary elections that were praised in Europe as almost exemplarily fair and democratic. The same month, Lukashenka was reelected for his third straight term in a ballot that was internationally decried as deeply flawed and fraudulent.
Lukashenka on November 23 acknowledged that he rigged the March presidential election. But he claimed to have stolen the vote from himself, not from the opposition. "Yes, we falsified the last election. I have already told the Westerners [about this]. As many as 93.5 percent of voters voted for President Lukashenka. But they said this was not a 'European' result. So we made it 86 [percent]. That is true," Lukashenka said. "If we were to start recounting ballots now, I don't know what we would do with them. The Europeans told us before the election that if there were 'European' figures in the election, they would recognize our election. And we tried to make European figures."
If Lukashenka, in fact, went to such lengths to be recognized by Europe to no avail, then it is easy to understand why he is becoming increasingly bitter toward Europe, in particular, and the West in general.
But it would be unrealistic for Lukashenka to expect sympathy, either publicly or privately, from his Ukrainian counterpart who is still enjoying the positive international response to the Orange Revolution and successful parliamentary elections.