Gas issue tests friendship
The agreement between the European Union and Russia to increase the Russian gas supply to the countries of Western Europe (see previous news reviews) continues to dominate Ukrainian news. Claims that certain Russian business and political circles want to build a new pipeline bypassing the territory of Ukraine remain a central theme in the major political and economic struggle for which countries will benefit from the new pipelines.
"The Russian smile has appeared to be bared teeth" (Ukrainska Pravda)
Some confusion and uncertainty was provoked by the position of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin who made his Ukrainian counterpart believe that officially Russia has not yet come to a final decision. However, early this week Russian vice prime-minister, Viktor Khrystenko, who is responsible for the national gas-energy complex, informed the media of orders he got from the President.
The major points come down to a proposal to sign intergovernmental agreements between Russia and Ukraine as for the gas supply to the country and to convince Polish officials of the necessity to build a pipeline bypassing Ukraine. It means, on the one hand, that Russia introduces tougher conditions for the supply of its gas to Ukrainian consumers and, on the other hand, that the Kremlin shows that the Gazprom initiative has never been just an idea of one Russian business structure (this is how it was presented in many media outlets last week) but the official economic and political position of the Russian authorities.
And what about the Polish smile?
The official Polish position in this question is a remarkable one. Since the territory of Poland is the only geographical alternative for Russia to build a pipeline bypassing Ukraine, the Polish stance on this question is crucial. During the past weeks, high authorities from Warsaw have struggled for their Ukrainian partners and friends, showing sometimes (according to several Ukrainian media outlets) more persistence in the "Ukrainian question" than Kyiv have in defending national strategic interests.
On Tuesday, the strong Polish position was somehow swayed by the announcement of President Aleksander Kwasniewski that Poland could agree with the Russian proposal to build a new pipeline through the territory of Poland. However, once again Poland would agree with such a step only on the conditions that Ukraine would not be forgotten when other involved sides would share the economic benefits of the project.
On the one hand, the Polish president's suggestion can be viewed as an economically profitable compromise for all. On the other hand, however, Ukraine feels that it loses its last ally and also importance of its own participation in the project. Because although Poland still insists on Ukrainian involvement in the project, perceived to be just an economic partner in the construction and exportation of the new pipeline without being involved geographically (meaning Ukraine will not anymore be "monopolist on the European market of gas transit,"- this is how the newspaper Den' identifies the national problem) does not sound to be very attractive to the country's officials.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Victor Yushchenko went to Warsaw to meet his Polish colleague Jerzy Buzek for governmental negotiations. The pipeline for Russian gas undoubtedly became the major topic of their discussion. Prime Ministers agreed to produce a common Polish-Ukrainian strategic plan and position as for the construction of a new pipeline. A special working group headed by the vice Prime Ministers of both countries will be created with the aim of solving this problem.
Commenting on the official position of Warsaw, the Polish Prime Minister stressed that strategically "Poland and Ukraine have an intention to serve mutual interests in the question of gas supply to Europe," Radio Free Europe reports.
And in other news...
- First vice Prime Minister Yekhanurov announced on Wednesday that the government expects that General Domestic Product this year can grow by at least three to five percent in comparison with last year, Radio Free Europe reports (quoting Interfax). The vice Prime Minister also confirmed that the newly privatised food and wood processing companies were among the major factors contributing to anticipated GDP growth.
- Due to general efforts of the public, media and certain members of the national parliament, the popular newspaper Silski Visti has renewed its publications after temporary closure (see previous news reviews). Journalists are certain that they would been successful in restarting the newspaper if not for the widespread support of the population and numerous protests of the newspaper's friends and colleagues.
- National Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources Ivan Zajets has made a proposition to the General Session of the Assembly of the United Nations Organisation to proclaim the day of the Chornobyl nuclear power station's closure (December 15, 2000) as an international day of remembrance of the struggle with the consequences of technological catastrophes.
- On 25 to 27 of October, President Kuchma conducted the official visit to Portugal. Results of his meetings with Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio and Prime Minister Antonio Guterres can be named as very successful. Several bilateral agreements have been signed in the sphere of trade, education, science and media. Mr Kuchma also believes that the intergovernmental agreement between the two countries on assistance and mutual protection of investments will increase the presence of Portuguese businessmen on Ukrainian markets in the near future.
Natalya Krasnoboka, 28 October 2000
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Den', daily national newspaper
Inopressa Ru, on-line source of foreign publications on Russia and Eastern Europe
Kyiv Post, weekly national newspaper
Korrespondent, on-line weekly
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
UA Today, on-line information agency
Ukrainska Pravda, on-line independent