The gradually increasing mining unrest in Ukraine is threatening to seriously affect the October presidential elections. Yesterday, over 130 Ukrainian mines–including those in the Donetsk, Luhansk, Lviv and Volyn regions–continued extracting coal, but stopped dispatching it to customers. As of yesterday, only ten mines have shut down completely. The protest is supported by both the Independent Union of Miners of Ukraine (NPGU) and the country’s official union, the Trade Union of Coal Industry Employees. The two organizations rarely find common ground, and the current accord does not promise much peace in official Kyiv. The miners are demanding wage arrears and an increase of subsidies to the coal industry for 1999. The increase–from 1.62 to 5.5 billion hryvnyas–may prove impossible, given Ukraine’s cash-strapped state coffers. The NPGU is threatening to widen the protests and put forth political demands, including resignation of the government and the president, if the miners’ demands are not met. The union promises massive unrest in May-June, when the presidential campaign officially begins (Ukrainian television, February 11).
Coal Industry Minister Serhy Tulub, who spent several days in the Donbass Region trying to persuade miners not to strike, said that the unrest at the pits is instigated by certain political organizations, which he reportedly refused to name (Fakty i kommentarii, February 10, 11; Ukrainian television, February 11). When miners from the Dnipropetrovsk Region marched on Kyiv in May and June of last year, the government openly accused former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko and his party, the Hromada, of instigating the protest. The government now has no doubt about the seriousness of the miner’s intentions. President Leonid Kuchma ordered the cabinet to prioritize payment of the miners’ wage arrears following his recent meeting with coal mine union representatives. Speaking in Kirovohrad on February 10, Kuchma described the situation in the coal industry as “critical.” “We are sitting on a powder-keg,” he said. –OV
ALIEV EXTENDS OLIVE BRANCH TO ELCHIBEY.