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Newsline - January 5, 1995

On 4 January Russian President Boris Yeltsin ordered the Russian military to desist from bombing the Chechen capital Grozny at midnight that night, according to Russian radio and television. The exact military situation in Grozny on 4 January was unclear: the Russian Interior Ministry press service as quoted by Interfax of 4 January claimed that Russian interior ministry troops "continued to force militants out of Grozny during the morning;" other Russian media reported that Chechen forces were retreating southwards from the city. ITAR-TASS reported that Russian troop reinforcements were being sent to Chechnya, and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Egorov told a press conference in Mozdok that Russian forces could be in control of Grozny by 5 January. He also said that the Chechen "government of national revival" headed by Salambek Khadzhiev would begin work in Grozny as of 5 January. Russian presidential advisor Emil Pain told Interfax on 4 January that empowering either Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai or Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to negotiate with the Chechen leadership in place of Egorov and intelligence chief Sergei Stepashin could expedite the resumption of talks on a political settlement of the Chechen crisis. Interfax on 4 January quoted the head of the opposition Chechen Provisional Council, Umar Avturkhanov, as stating that his forces will not comply with Yeltsin's demand to surrender their weapons until Dudaev's forces have been completely neutralized. Also on 4 January, Interfax quoted an unidentified senior Russian Foreign Ministry official as stating that Moscow is drafting an official response to the OSCE proposal to send a group of experts to evaluate the human rights situation in Chechnya. * Liz Fuller

"The situation in Chechnya is not a subject for the talks," Nikolai Spassky, the Russian Foreign Ministry's North American Department Director, told Interfax on 4 January. Spassky was referring to talks between Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev and US Secretary of State Warren Christopher, tentatively scheduled to be held on 17 or 18 January in Geneva. Spassky did, however, say that except for Chechnya, both sides would discuss the entire gamut of bilateral relations and would likely concentrate on affairs in Europe, including the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. * Stan Markotich

The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the ambassadors of Afghanistan, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and the Turkish charge d'affaires on 4 January and warned them that their respective governments should take all necessary steps to preclude the further recruiting and dispatch to Chechnya of mercenaries from their countries, AFP and Interfax reported. Iranian President Ali Akbar Rafsanjani warned on 4 January that the Russian military intervention in Chechnya could undermine Russia's links with the Islamic world, according to AFP, which further quoted a statement by Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mahmud Mohammadi published in the Iranian press that the Iranian government has offered to send humanitarian aid to Chechnya "to relieve the sufferings of the Chechen people." In Ankara, Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ferhat Ataman condemned the Russian military intervention and resulting civilian casualties which he saId could have serious destabilizing consequences for the entire Caucasus region, and affirmed that Turkey considers a cease-fire declaration "indispensable." * Liz Fuller

Russian human rights envoy Sergei Kovalev arrived in Moscow on 5 January, a day after he told a news conference in the Ingush capital, Nazran, that he was going to meet President Boris Yeltsin and foreign ambassadors to inform them about human rights violations that have taken place in the course of Russian air attacks on Grozny. Kovalev also carried an appeal signed by 84 Russian POWs held prisoner in the cellar of the Presidential Palace in Grozny who condemn the Russian military intervention in Chechnya. According to Kovalev, he and his fellow human rights campaigner, Oleg Orlov, will return to Grozny if the military action there continues. Along with three members of the State Duma Human Rights Commission, Kovalev and Orlov had been in Grozny monitoring the situation personally since 14 December 1994. The three deputies--Valerii Borshchev of the liberal Yabloko faction in the Duma, and Mikhail Molostvov and Yulii Rybakov (both of Russia's Choice) remain in the cellar of the Presidential Palace. * Julia Wishnevsky

Since the new Russian Constitution does not make provision for the legal replacement of the president, Yeltsin should resign his post voluntary, Grigorii Yavlinsky, the leader of the liberal Yabloko faction in the State Duma, told ITAR-TASS on 4 January. Yavlinsky believes that after the failure of the Russian military action in Chechnya that has cost the lives of hundreds of civilians as well as young Russian conscripts who were killed or are being held prisoner in Chechnya, those responsible for the deed could no longer remain in power in Russia. Yavlinsky's call was echoed by that of the only liberal politician who had supported the use of force against the breakaway Caucasian republic, Boris Fedorov, the head of the Liberal-Democratic 12 December Union in the Russian parliament. Fedorov called for a vote of no confidence in the government because of its poor performance in the Chechen crisis. Unlike Fedorov, Yavlinsky figures in opinion polls as a front-runner for the post of Russian president and thus has a vested interest in elections being held as soon as possible. * Julia Wishnevsky

Yeltsin press secretary Vyacheslav Kostikov said that rumors of political instability in Moscow are unfounded, Interfax reported on 4 January. Kostikov pointed out that all was calm in Moscow and that President Boris Yeltsin had a normal day holding numerous meetings and then quietly went home. Kostikov blamed the rumors on Yavlinsky's demand that Yeltsin should resign, which he dismissed as merely the opinion of one man. * Ustina Markus

An initiative group headed by Tatyana Novikova has collected over 1.6 million signatures in support of an all-Russian referendum on early presidential elections in the spring of 1995, Interfax reported on 4 January. Supporters of the MMM joint-stock company's president, Sergei Mavrodi, were behind the initiative to gather the signatures. They have now been handed over to the prefect of Moscow's Southern Administrative District. The collection of signatures does not mean a referendum will be held immediately since the final decision on its holding is made by the president. * Ustina Markus

The Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations told Interfax on 4 January that Russian trade with non-CIS countries in 1994 increased by 7% compared to 1993, amounting to more than $76 billion. Russian exports to non-CIS countries increased 9% to $48 billion. Most of the positive trade was due to the increase in the export of raw materials, oil and petroleum products. Russian machinery exports were down 16% and made up less than 5% of the country's total exports. Some 70% of the exports went to industrialized countries, particularly the EU. Russian imports amounted to $28 billion, an increase of 5% over 1993. Half of the imports were food stuffs and consumer goods. * Ustina Markus

The Russian Petroleum Information Agency reported that the feasibility study for developing the Yamal gas fields will be concluded in the first quarter of 1995, Interfax reported on 4 January. The gas reserves of the Yamal fields are said to be 10 times greater than the Shtokman field reserves in the Barents Sea. The project is estimated to be worth over $100 billion. The Ukrainian designing firm Pivdenihiprohaz is a major developer of the feasibility study and the Russian firm, Gazprom, will implement the project. * Ustina Markus

On 4 January ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported remarks by Employment and Labor Minister Gennadii Melikyan, in which the minister said that actual national unemployment was at least three times that reported in official statistics. According to Melikyan, roughly 5.1 million people are jobless, a figure contrasting sharply with the official number of 1.5 registered unemployed. Melikyan also stressed that if people on leave without pay and the underemployed could be factored into the equation, that would effectively add another 4.8 million to the ranks of the unemployed, who would thus number 13% of the working-age population. Melikyan observed that the high rate of unemployment could spur social tension, making joblessness one of the gravest social problems confronting Russia today. * Stan Markotich

In efforts to make the workplace more efficient, more than a quarter of Russia's industrial enterprises reduced staffing in 1994, according to a report from the Federal Employment Service (FES) to Interfax on 4 January. Reductions also occurred in the transportation (10%), communication (10%) and agricultural sectors (7%). The FES stated that unemployment has affected 1.9% of the work population. More than 73% of the unemployed live in urban areas and about 27% live in rural regions. Unemployment experts believe the downsizing process in all work sectors will continue in 1995. * Thomas Sigel

A total of $51.22 million was sold on 4 January at the Moscow Interbank Currency Exchange (MICEX) on the first trading day this year of the U.S. dollar, Interfax reported on 5 January. With a stated demand for $83.26 million, creating a substantial difference between supply and demand. Dealers reported to the Financial Information Agency (FIA) that the Central Bank sold $31.8 million during the session, which opened 45 minutes late due to the absence of a Central Bank certificate confirming that banks wishing to buy dollars had transferred ruble payments to MICEX accounts. As a result, the Central Bank was the primary seller, offering $10 million sums at rates of 3,569 and 3,570 rubles per dollar. At the Interbank money market, however, the ruble lost more points with the dollar costing 3,606 to 3,609 rubles in same day payments and between 3,622 and 3,629 rubles in one-day spot transactions. * Thomas Sigel

On 4 January Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev's National Security Council accepted the resignation of Interior Minister Abdybek Subalinov and his three deputies, Interfax reported. Although the National Security Council criticized the ministry as "incapable of organizing an effective struggle against the criminal world or ensuring law and order in the streets," and called for a radical reform of its work, Akaev charged Subalinov with continuing to head the ministry until a competent successor is appointed. * Liz Fuller

On 4 January Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told a government meeting that 11 of 30 documents which would establish the basis of an economic union between Russia and Belarus have been completed, Interfax reported. In another report, defense minister Anatol Kastenka said that if Russia would be willing to lift trade barriers and sign a customs union, then Belarus would allow Russia to use military facilities on its soil for only a nominal land rent. He added that Belarus did not want to negotiate the use of military installations in Belarus separately from other issues. * Ustina Markus

Latvian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins on 3 January sent a note to Russian ambassador Aleksandr Rannikh protesting that Russian military personnel had not left Latvia on schedule, RFE/RL's Latvian Service reported on 4 January. The troops were to have left Latvia by the end of August, but because of the lack of housing in Russia the Latvian authorities had allowed discharged troops and their families to remain until the end of 1994. Riekstins's note said that Russian soldiers remained in the country and asked for a list of them. Latvian officials have rejected Russia's claim that only 1,115 soldiers are involved, saying that there are many more. * Saulius Girnius

Interior Minister Kaido Kama told reporters on 3 January that the government had suspended granting Estonian citizenship to people "on general grounds," Interfax reported on 4 January. Kama indicated that the moratorium did not concern ethnic Estonians and the republic's permanent residents who were registered prior to the country's independence. Kama said the suspension was necessary because of the continuing investigation of Citizenship Department employees who are alleged to have sold passports illegally. He denied statements in the press that the moratorium had been adopted to reduce the number of potential non-ethnic Estonian voters in the 5 March parliamentary elections. * Saulius Girnius

Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak on 4 January said he will not accept the resignation of Foreign Minister Andrzej Olechowski, Polish and international agencies report. He commented that, although Olechowski had been doing a poor job, he had decided to give him another chance "so that he can prove himself." Pawlak's remark angered President Lech Walesa, whose spokesman Leszek Spalinski responded by saying "this was a statement that does not serve Polish interests." Olechowski, a close Walesa ally, tendered his resignation last week for the second time in two months after he was named in an anti-corruption probe. Justice Minister and Prosecutor-General Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz listed Olechowski as one of 58 high-ranking Polish officials who serve on the boards of companies in which the government has a stake. The foreign affairs portfolio has been one of the main bones of contention in the ongoing feud between the president and the prime minister. * Jan Cleave

Another issue in that feud is filling the defense portfolio, which has been vacant since November when Piotr Kolodziejczyk was forced to resign over a dispute about the reform and control of the army. Polish and international agencies report that Walesa on 4 January refused to accept Pawlak's nominee for defense minister, Longin Pastusiak, a civilian who has a long communist record. The president was quoted as saying that Pastusiak "used to blame NATO for all the evil in the world" and therefore could not act as defense minister in a country seeking membership in the Western military alliance. Walesa continues to back Zbigniew Okonski, a former deputy foreign trade minister, as his only candidate for the post. Under the Polish Constitution, the prime minister can appoint an acting defense minister but requires the approval of the president to swear in a full minister. * Jan Cleave

The former commander of the Belarusian border guards, deputy Yauhen Bachrou, has said that he is unhappy with the 1995 budgets for the defense ministry and border guards, Belarusian Radio reported on 4 January. In his opinion, the 798 billion rubles allotted for the military is insufficient and the small budget would prevent the armed forces from attracting any qualified specialists to work for them. In addition, the 88.3 billion allocated to the border guards would not allow them even to complete building projects which have already been started. * Ustina Markus

As quoted by Interfax on 4 January, Ukrainian Defense Minister Valery Shmarov has said that Ukraine plans to salvage unoccupied strategic missile silos beginning this summer. He said they would not be blown up as they were located near populated areas. The Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START-1) treaty allows a silo to be destroyed either with explosives or by excavating to a depth of at least 8 meters. For the SS-19 and SS-24 silos in Ukraine, this would mean that roughly the top one-third of the silo would have to be dug away. Both the US and Germany are providing money to Ukraine to help pay for silo elimination. * Doug Clarke

Anatoly Halchynsky, economic advisor to President Leonid Kuchma, says Ukraine's new national currency, the hryvna, will be introduced sooner than planned as a vehicle for financial stabilization, reversing earlier plans to secure the economy before issuing the new tender, AP reported on 4 January. According to his proposal, the hryvna would be ushered in over a two-month period when it would circulate alongside the temporary currency, the karbovanets. Although the aide would not provide an exact date, he told reporters that a package of seven decrees on fiscal reform will be sent to Kuchma's office within a fortnight, after which, he expects, the president will make his decision on timing. Halchynsky also said the Ukrainian government is counting on a $1.5 billion IMF stand-by loan to be used as a stabilization fund to support the hryvna. * Chrystyna Lapychak

Alexander Razumkov, a top presidential advisor, told a news briefing on 4 January that the Ukrainian government's chief goals in 1995 are to achieve economic stabilization, reform the political system, step up its fight with organized crime, stabilize the political situation and create a favorable environment for further reforms, especially by strengthening ties with Russia and other CIS countries, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Razumkov expressed hopes that the parliament would approve a new constitutional law on division of powers, giving the president strong executive authority, and thus avoid the need for a national referendum on the issue. He predicted that if the law was passed in early 1995, a new constitution could be adopted by the end of the year. * Chrystyna Lapychak

Speaking on 4 January, Democratic Union (DU) Chairman and former Premier Jozef Moravcik expressed his party's concern about certain steps taken by the current government, particularly in relation to the electronic media, Pravda reports. He also criticized the restrictive character of the provisional budget in the areas of education and health care and the slashing of the budget of the presidential office. According to Narodna obroda and Sme of 5 January, the Christian Democratic Movement, DU, the Hungarian Christian Democratic Movement and the Social Democratic Party plan to request that the Constitutional Court review two controversial privatization laws recently passed by the parliament. * Sharon Fisher

During a meeting on 4 January, Hungarian Ambassador to Slovakia Jeno Boros presented a letter from Hungarian Premier Gyula Horn inviting Slovak Premier Vladimir Meciar to visit Hungary. The two prime ministers would discuss broad bilateral issues, including the basic treaty between the two states, as well as European integration and cooperation in international organizations. A date for the visit has not yet been set, Pravda reports. * Sharon Fisher

The BBC reported on 5 January that follow-up talks on the ceasefire agreement between Bosnian government and rebel Serb representatives had broken down. The Los Angeles Times quoted a UN spokesman as adding that fighting was continuing in parts of the Bihac pocket, notably around Bosanska Krupa and Cojluk. Those actions were launched by the Serbs, whose ally Fikret Abdic similarly has not been living up to his pledge to respect the four-month truce in his Velika Kladusa fiefdom. The Los Angeles paper also cited UN reports that the Serbs were preventing the evacuation of 35 sick and wounded people from Gorazde, two of whom had since died. Meanwhile in Washington, international media reported on 5 January that the new Republican majority leader in the Senate, Robert Dole, had introduced legislation the previous day to end American compliance with the arms embargo against the Bosnian government. He said it would put the necessary pressure on the Bosnian Serbs to get them to accept a peace agreement. Reuters quoted a State Department spokesman as responding that such a move would be "the wrong thing to do at this very important point in the crisis in Bosnia." * Patrick Moore

Reuters reported on 4 January that the Croatian government has threatened to end all talks with break-away Serb forces unless the latter begin implementing last month's economic agreement. So far the only part of the pact to materialize has been the reopening of the main east-west highway. Further provisions call for, among other things, the reopening of the Adria pipeline connecting Rijeka with Central Europe. Croatian chief negotiator Hrvoje Sarinic said that his government will not talk about or sign anything more until existing pledges are carried out. He also suggested that Croatia might not renew UNPROFOR's mandate when it runs out on 31 January. * Patrick Moore

These statements seem to fit an established pattern in Croatian policy since the UN's presence there began at the start of 1992: Croatia makes much noise in the weeks leading up to the renewal of the mandate to the effect that the UN must aid the reintegration of the occupied territories into Croatia if the troops' stay is to be prolonged. Zagreb's allies then quietly pressure it into extending the mandate, while the Croatian government publicly claims victory, pledging not to renew the agreement again if the territories in question remain under Serb control much longer. As part of the apparent ritual, the chief of the general staff recently said that he would not rule out a military solution to the Krajina question. This possibility has also been a central subject of the Croatian rumor mill, amid reports of increased conscription levies in Split and elsewhere. President Franjo Tudjman, however, seems to be publicly taking the line that for now diplomacy offers the best hope for Croatia to realize its goals. * Patrick Moore

Reuters reported on 4 January that the London-based International Center for Censorship had protested to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic over his attempts to take over the daily Borba and extend censorship over the independent media. That paper itself said that some 3,000 people had formed a "ring of freedom" around its Belgrade offices on 1 January in response to a call by the Independent Media Union. One speaker said that "our weapons are words of truth and they reflect hard facts," but added that now more than words is needed to stop government from destroying the freedom of the press and airwaves and that of individuals. In other Serbian developments, that same paper noted that the Steering Committee of the independent union at the Ikarus-FAO plant had entered the sixth day of a hunger strike for back pay. Government officials continued to ignore the men's requests for talks. Politika on 5 January, for its part, reported that rump-Yugoslavia and Russia had concluded an economic agreement that provides for mutual most-favored-nation trading status. The text must first be approved by the Federal Assembly. * Patrick Moore

The Romanian Foreign Ministry expressed on 4 January concern over the conflict and loss of life in Chechnya, an RFE/RL correspondent in Bucharest reported on the same day. A spokesman for the ministry said Romania considered the Chechen conflict a Russian domestic problem but would like to see both sides conduct peace talks "in the spirit of the OSCE documents to which the Russian Federation had committed itself." Asked if the conflict in Chechnya would prompt Romania to increase efforts to join NATO, the spokesman said all Romania could do was "to complete the steps that are expected from all countries that have joined the Partnership for Peace program." In a related development, the opposition Civic Alliance denounced the Russian intervention in Chechnya as "genocide" and "a continuation of the imperialist policies of the former Soviet Union." * Michael Shafir

The US ambassador to Romania, Alfred Moses, said in an interview with VOA on 2 January that NATO will not admit new members from among the countries of Eastern and Central Europe in 1995, Radio Bucharest reported on the next day. However, he added, the criteria for admission will be decided in the course of the year and, with this purpose in mind, talks will be conducted with these states, Romania included. Moses said the admission of new members by NATO was a long process, since it involved approval by the parliaments of the organization's present 16 members. On a different matter, Moses said there was hope that the US Congress will decide to forego the yearly revision of Romania's MFN status. He said Romania's emigration policies were "liberal" and from a "strictly technical point of view" the country met the conditions imposed by the US Congress, but matters such as the political and economic situation, as well as respect of human rights, are usually also taken into consideration before a decision is made. * Michael Shafir

The National Coordinating Council of the Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) has proposed its candidates for the posts of leader of the UDF's parliamentary group and for vice president of the National Assembly, Demokratsiya reported on 5 January. The council urged the deputies to elect Iordan Sokolov their chairman. Of the 15 parties that are members of the UDF, nine supported Sokolov, three favored Petar Stojanov and three abstained. UDF leader Ivan Kostov and his predecessor Filip Dimitrov, who were also proposed, refused to stand for office. Ivan Kurtev was named the UDF's candidate for vice president of parliament. According to the coalition's statute, the National Coordinating Council recommends a candidate for faction leader. Demokratsiya also reported that the leaders of the UDF and the People's Union expressed their will to cooperate in the new parliament. * Stefan Krause

Former Defense Minister Valentin Aleksandrov has been accused of being personally responsible for corruption in the civil administration of the Bulgarian army. In interviews given to 24 chasa and Standart, lawyer and former chief of the Defense Ministry's Social Administration Milcho Doychinov said he received documents concerning the misappropriation of army property--in this case army-owned apartments--from Aleksandrov himself and from some of his closest collaborators. Doychinov himself had been arrested and questioned on the same charges at the end of December. * Stefan Krause

Fadil Sylejmani, a professor at the self-proclaimed Albanian language university in Tetovo, said that the work of the institution will continue even though police tried to physically destroy it, Nova Makedonija reported on 5 January. Sylejmani said that the Macedonian government "will not gain anything other than its own loss of face" if it continues to oppose the university. Meanwhile, a journalist for the Kosovar Albanian dailies Rilindja and Bujku, Ramush Tahiri, said that the expulsion of Kosovar legislators from their Macedonian havens affects all Macedonian citizens. Tahiri added in a letter to Macedonian Interior Minister Ljubomir Frckovski that the government's conduct showed an undemocratic spirit. He also said that "the measures the Macedonian authorities take against the Albanians now will be taken against all citizens tomorrow." The letter was published in Flaka on 5 January. * Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Pete Baumgartner and Steve Kettle