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Newsline - January 27, 1995

As artillery shelling of Grozny continued on 26 January, Chechen Foreign Minister Shamseddin Yussef, speaking in Washington, threatened to launch a terrorist campaign in Moscow. Meanwhile, Chechen Military Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov issued a statement affirming that the Chechens will not retreat from Grozny and have made preparations for conducting a prolonged partisan war, Reuters reported. * Liz Fuller

In a meeting with journalists on 26 January, Federation Council Chairman Vladimir Shumeiko outlined the reconstruction plan for Chechnya adopted by the Security Council the day before, Interfax reported. Pending the election of a new government, presumably this year, an interim administration will be formed on the basis of the National Salvation Committee, a body comprising members of the former Chechen-Ingush parliament, the Chechen diaspora, and the clergy. The council plans to analyze the state of the economy and infrastructure in greater detail before drafting a plan of assistance. Electricity, water supply, telecommunications, and oil extraction should be restored first. According to Shumeiko, revenue from 4 million tons of crude oil a year could offset the costs of reconstruction. A special zone will be set up along the Russian border area that crosses the territory of North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Chechnya, and Dagestan. A member of the Russian cabinet, with the rank of deputy prime minister or higher, will remain permanently in the Chechen Republic to implement the measures. * Robert Orttung

Former first deputy commander of Russian ground forces, Col.-Gen. Eduard Vorobev, said 26 January that the Chechen campaign was poorly planned and too hastily executed, Russian and Western agencies reported. Vorobev, who was fired by Defense Minister Pavel Grachev for his refusal to lead the attack, laid blame for the ensuing high "human, economic, and political losses" on the minister's reluctance to inform Yeltsin that more time was needed to plan the operation. * Liz Fuller

Russian Human Rights Commissioner Sergei Kovalev met with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 26 January to discuss the Chechen war, according to Ostankino's "Vremya." In the meeting, which lasted 90 minutes instead of the scheduled 40 minutes, Kovalev said he tried to convince Chernomyrdin to negotiate directly with President Dzhokhar Dudaev, as the only Chechen leader who commands respect and obedience in the republic. He also told the prime minister that it is "senseless" to talk with representatives of the Chechen diaspora in Moscow or with leaders supported by the Russian government. At the end of the meeting, Kovalev said he was not sure whether the prime minister agreed with him but added, "Chernomyrdin stopped short of repeating the official formula of Yeltsin's administration that they would not talk with `bandits.'" Earlier that day, the New York-based human rights organization, Freedom House, announced their decision to give this year's Freedom Award to Sergei Kovalev, whom they credited "with galvanizing Russian public opinion against the war in Chechnya." * Julia Wishnevsky and Liz Fuller

A combination of factors threaten the prospects of the IMF deal with Russia, Reuters reported on 25 January. An IMF delegation is in Moscow to assess the country's economic prospects in light of a possible $6.25 billion standby loan. The IMF has already lent Russia $4 million. Political chaos and the Chechnya troubles are undermining prospects for a tight 1995 budget, which is necessary to secure the loan. The removal of Privatization Minister Vladimir Polevanov, who had sought to renationalize some natural resource firms, provides one hopeful sign that discipline may be restored. But Grigorii Yavlinsky, head of the Yabloko group in the Duma, said the situation remains fluid and there is no guarantee that Polevanov's replacement will have different ideas on nationalization. "How do we know that tomorrow, someone from the circus or the zoo won't be appointed to his position? The truth is Yeltsin is surrounded by advisers giving him wrong advice. Just like (ex-Soviet leader Mikhail) Gorbachev, he has a special talent for plucking these people from obscurity." However, in the final analysis, the fate of the IMF loan depends on the attitude of the Group of Seven (G7), whose finance ministers meet in Toronto on 3-4 February. * Michael Mihalka

The Russian ruble fell 16 points in MICEX trading on 26 January, closing at 4,004 rubles to the dollar, reported Russian agencies. A total of $207.81 million was sold with an initial demand of $229.72 million and initial supply at $202.81 million, and 61 commercial banks participating. The central bank was the main bidder in the trading session and purchased about $150 million. MICEX representative, Oleg Osemnuk, told Interfax that overshooting the 4,000-ruble mark "has psychological rather than economic overtones." He said buyers will have to adjust to the new rate. Meanwhile, Aleksandr Potemkin, director of the central bank's foreign transactions department, told the Financial Information Agency that the fall of the ruble in January, at a weekly rate of 4.5%, reflected inflationary processes. Potemkin said the status of the currency market was predictable and could be attributed to the central bank's monetary moves to "put an end to panicky dollar-buying and selling of rubles." Since the beginning of the year, the central bank has increased the annual refinancing rate from 170% to 200%, to keep a step ahead of inflation. * Thomas Sigel

The U.S. Department of Defense will provide Russia with $20 million to improve the physical security and accounting of nuclear-weapons-grade uranium and plutonium currently being held in laboratories, research institutes, and nuclear processing plants, according to a 24 January Pentagon press release. The release said the assistance package had been under negotiation for nearly a year, and the 20 January agreement marked the first time Russia had agreed to accept U.S. help in protecting these materials. * Doug Clarke

President Yeltsin praised the Russian military for detecting and tracking a Norwegian research missile on 25 January. The event caused a stir after Interfax erroneously reported that the missile had been aimed at Russia and then shot down by air defense forces. Yeltsin said he had used his "black box" for the first time during the event, Interfax reported on 26 January. "I immediately contacted the defense minister and the generals, and we kept track of that missile from beginning to end," he said. He added that the military leadership did not think it had the capability of detecting such a small missile immediately, "but we did, and found where it landed, fairly far from our coasts." The missile was launched from Andoya in northern Norway, and landed in the vicinity of the Svalbard Archipelago. The closest it came to Russia was about 250 kilometers from the country's airspace. * Doug Clarke

Ostankino will become the most widely watched, most powerful, and most competitive Russian TV channel, according to its new general director, Vladislav Listev. The Russian TV star was named to the post at the first meeting of the Board of Directors of Public Russian Television (Ostankino), according to "Vremya" on 25 January. Former acting chairman Aleksandr Yakovlev was elected chairman of the board. In a separate development, "Vremya" said, Marina Nekrasova has been appointed head of Yeltsin's information center, where she will be in charge of the president's press service. Sergei Nosovets, acting chief of the Directorate on Information Guarantees for the Presidential Administration, will serve as Nekrasova's deputy. Since Nosovets' appointment to the directorate, Nekrasova produced Ostankino's propaganda programs "Moscow, the Kremlin" and "First Hand," which aired official points of view. * Julia Wishnevsky

In his first trip outside Moscow since the beginning of the Chechen crisis, Yeltsin traveled on 26 January to Lipetsk, a Russian city located some 400 kilometers south of the capital. Presidential aide Viktor Ilyushin claimed the trip symbolized the normalization of events in Chechnya, Komsomolskaya pravda reported. Public access to the president was confined to workers in three factories which have benefited from his reforms, The Washington Post reported. At the airport, he told journalists he will "make monthly visits to the regions, if there aren't any disruptions," Rossiiskie vesti reported. At one of the factories, Yeltsin declared the Duma had no right to set up a commission to investigate the Chechen events and said he would set up his own committee for that purpose, Interfax reported. * Robert Orttung

The Duma passed a bill "On TV and Radio Broadcasting" in its second reading, Interfax reported 26 January. The bill will be returned to the legislature for final debate and possible passage by 10 February. In its present form, the bill bars federal, regional, and other local authorities, as well as individuals and public associations, from controlling the programming policy of a TV or radio company. There are exceptions, however, for broadcasts of elections, advertisements, erotic programs, and broadcasts from zones where a state of emergency is in force. The legislation provides for a 16-member commission on radio and TV broadcasting. The president will appoint its members to six-year terms on the basis of candidates submitted along party lines by the president himself and both houses of the Federal Assembly. The commission's operating procedures must be approved by two-thirds of its members. * Robert Orttung

Armenian Intelligence Service officers arrested three members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsyutyun) in Erevan on 26 January, Interfax reported. A spokesman for the intelligence service denied any knowledge of the arrests. The federation was suspended for six months for alleged involvement in terrorism and drug trafficking. * Liz Fuller

Addressing a conference of foreign ministers from Central Asia in Moscow on 26 January, Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev argued that attempts by the CIS to "normalize the situation in Tajikistan" do not conflict with parallel efforts by the UN or the OSCE, Interfax reported. A member of Kozyrev's staff criticized the UN's reluctance to provide peacekeepers for Tajikistan and advocated increasing the number of UN observers stationed in the republic. There are 18 at present. He also predicted that a date will soon be announced for the fourth round of UN-sponsored talks in Moscow between the Tajik government and the opposition, which are tentatively scheduled for early February. * Liz Fuller

Russia and Kazakhstan signed an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation between border regions, Interfax reported on 26 January. The accord paves the way for increased interregional trade and the simplification of customs controls for border-area residents. But the timetable for implementing the agreement remains uncertain. Bolshakov was quoted as saying Russia will not remove customs posts until Kazakhstan has brought its legislation into line with the customs agreement signed by Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan in Moscow on 20 January. * Penny Morvant and Michael Mihalka.

President Yeltsin said on 26 January that relations with Ukraine are not as good as desired, Interfax reported. He said that he had planned to visit Ukraine last November and sign a treaty on friendship and cooperation, but did not go because the agreement had not been drafted. Yeltsin blamed Ukraine for this, saying the country's opposition to dual citizenship had stalled the process. Yeltsin said Russian cannot make concessions over this issue and said he would not visit Ukraine until the treaty is drafted. * Ustina Markus

On the first day of ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, Nobel Prize laureates and delegates from 27 nations whose citizens were prisoners drafted an "appeal for peace and tolerance," to be proclaimed on 27 January, Rzeczpospolita reports. World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman sent a telegram saying he did not feel entitled to participate in the ceremonies as he had not been a prisoner at Auschwitz. Journalists interpreted his comment as an implicit swipe at President Lech Walesa, who was scheduled to speak three times during the two-day ceremonies. But the general tone was one of reconciliation aimed at countering charges that Polish organizers were attempting to "Polonize" or "Christianize" the event. Izrael Gurman of the Yad Vashem Institute stressed that "the Polish nation is not responsible for Auschwitz . . . but because this land is soaked with blood, because more than 3 million Jews lived here, we have a shared responsibility." After the official ceremonies, several hundred Jews (including Rabbi Avi Weiss, who was briefly detained by police on 25 January for picketing a Catholic church), local residents, and German President Roman Herzog prayed for Holocaust victims at Birkenau. * Louisa Vinton

The Constitutional Commission, currently preparing the draft constitution for submission to the National Assembly, voted on 26 January to define the president as "the guarantor of continuity" in the executive branch, rejecting the broader French-style Presidency proposed by President Lech Walesa. The vote on the issue was 43 to three. The commission also opted to retain the pendulum-swing procedures for forming a government that are now in force. Only two deputies favored giving the president the right to appoint and dismiss the premier. The bicameral parliament structure was preserved in the draft, but the Senate was saved from elimination by only a three-vote margin. The commission voted on 25 January to eliminate any preamble from the draft constitution, thus avoiding fractious debate on whether to include formulations referring to God, history, Solidarity, or "we the people." This pragmatic decision reflects the parliament's inability to reach consensus on the Church's role in public life or to come to a shared moral assessment of communism. The commission does not have the last word on the constitution. After the National Assembly votes on the draft, the basic law must be approved in a national referendum. * Louisa Vinton

Ukrainian citizens have started bidding for shares in state-owned enterprises at the country's first voucher auction center, AP reports. The center was opened on 26 January in the central Ukrainian city of Zhytomyr. Yurii Yekhanurov, chairman of the State Property Fund, said at the opening ceremony that the government is now showing that "we really are implementing radical reforms in our economy." After long delays due to resistance from the hard-line parliament, Ukraine began distributing vouchers to citizens in five regions, including Zhytomyr, at the beginning of the year. The crowd was small, however, at the auction center on its first day. Shares in 49 companies, including a sugar refinery and machine factory, were available. Citizens may bid for between 3% and 80% of a company's shares over a one-month period. Some 8,000 medium-sized and large businesses are slated to be transferred into private hands this year. Vouchers will be distributed to the rest of Ukraine's residents in February as auction centers are opened throughout the country. * Chrystyna Lapychak

The Ukrainian Justice Ministry issued a statement on 26 January saying the initiative to hold a referendum on the restoration of the USSR was a threat to Ukraine's sovereignty, TANJUG reports on 26 January. Leftist forces in the heavily Russified eastern regions of Ukraine have been collecting signatures for a petition to bring the issue of a new political alliance with Russia and other republics to a national referendum. Ukrainian leaders have condemned the initiative as a potential catalyst for civil strife in the country. A ministry spokesman announced that anyone forcefully campaigning to merge Ukraine with a new union of former Soviet republics would risk a seven-year prison term. A public opinion poll taken in December by the Kiev-based International Sociological Institute revealed that 64% of Ukrainians continue to support their country's independence. * Chrystyna Lapychak

Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Hakio Yanahisa was in Ukraine from 24 to 26 January on an official visit, Ukrainian Radio reported. Yanahisa met with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and passed on a note from Japan's Prime Minister Tomichi Murayama pledging Japanese help for Ukraine's economic reform. Yanahisa's visit was intended to prepare for Kuchma's trip to Japan in March. * Ustina Markus

Reuters reported on 26 January that some 20,000 demonstrators rallied in Minsk to demand higher wages. Uladzimir Hancharyk, head of the Federation of Belarusian Trade Unions, said that wages had to keep pace with rising prices. He warned that the unions would strike if the government did not meet their demands. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said he was "insulted" by the demonstration since the unions had promised to be patient with his economic program. * Ustina Markus

The Belarusian Prosecutor-General's Office has stopped its investigation into Former Defense Minister Paval Kazlouski's alleged abuse of office, Interfax reported on 26 January. President Lukashenka had accused Kazlouski of using state assets for the wedding last summer of Kazlouski's daughter to the son of Chairman of the Supreme Soviet Mechyslau Hryb. It was alleged that Kazlouski used 300 paratroopers to guard the wedding site. The Prosecutor-General's Office said the charge was not proven. Kazlouski has demanded that Lukashenka rescind the decree demoting him from colonel general to lieutenant general. He has also demanded a public apology from Lukashenka. Before Lukashenka's election as president, Kazlouski filed a libel suit against him because Lukashenka had accused him of corrupt practices. * Ustina Markus

The Estonian General Staff announced on 25 January that senior air force officers from the Baltic Republics have proposed a single airspace monitoring system. Interfax reports that the system would combine military and civilian radar sites and would be part of a future unified air defense system. Such a system was approved in principle by Baltic military leaders in November. * Doug Clarke

Lennart Meri returned to Tallinn on 26 January after a five-day working visit to Switzerland, BNS reports. During his trip, he met with members of the Zurich regional parliament and gave a speech at the Vontobel Bank's annual meeting of diplomats and financial leaders. He also held talks in Bern with President of the Swiss Confederation Kaspar Villiger and the heads of both chambers of the Swiss parliament. The talks focused on Estonia's political development and how the war in Chechnya would affect relations between Russia and Europe. The Estonian president also addressed the Institute for International Relations in Bern and helped persuade several well-known Swiss companies to open subsidiaries in Estonia. * Saulius Girnius

The Latvian parliament on 26 January approved the candidacy of Peteris Apinis as health minister, BNS reports. The 37-year-old Apinis replaces Normunds Zemvaldis, who resigned on 16 January. A graduate from the Riga Medical Institute in 1982, Apinis was one of the founders of the Latvian Physicians' Society and is currently its vice president. The Saeima also approved Latvia's Way member Mariss Andersons as parliament deputy, replacing Valdis Birkavs, who has suspended his mandate during his term in office as foreign minister. * Saulius Girnius

Two ministers who apparently deserted their party leader in a key cabinet vote on 25 January did so at his request to calm recent tensions within the governing coalition, Czech media report on 27 January. Only Civic Democratic Alliance leader Jan Kalvoda voted against a resolution rejecting his charges that the counterintelligence service BIS illegally collected information on political parties. CDA ministers Vladimir Dlouhy and Jiri Skalicky said Kalvoda asked them to vote for the resolution. But another leading member of the CDA, Tomas Jezek, sharply criticized Kalvoda for making his charges public at a press conference. In an interview with TV Noza, Jezek said Kalvoda's action has damaged the country in the most serious way since the fall of communism in November 1989. The issue has dominated Czech politics for the past two weeks, highlighting differences and tensions among the four coalition parties. * Steve Kettle

Slovak opposition parties
on 26 January condemned a parliamentary resolution passed the previous day criticizing President Michal Kovac for his response to a letter from William Orme, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. The opposition, in a statement to TASR, called the resolution an attempt to prepare the public for Kovac's removal from office and a serious violation of the constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and forbids censorship. Meanwhile, Milan Knazko of the opposition Democratic Union warned that at its next session, scheduled for early March, the parliament might try to take away the union's 15 parliamentary mandates, Narodna obroda reports. Knazko said eight of these mandates would go to the government coalition and seven to the opposition, giving the coalition the 90 votes needed to change the constitution and thus shorten the term in office of Constitutional Court judges and the president. In other news, the parliament on 25 January approved the nomination as attorney-general of Michal Valo, a political independent who served as Czechoslovakia's deputy military attorney-general until the end of 1992. The final decision on his nomination will be made by Kovac. * Sharon Fisher

Newsday reports on 27 January that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has made fresh moves to break the logjam in the international Contact Group efforts to involve the Bosnian Serbs in serious negotiations about the current peace plan. The Contact Group and the Bosnian government take the position that the Serbs must first "accept" the plan as a basis for talks, while Pale basically wants an open agenda. Carter calls the idea of first requiring the Serbs to accept the plan "kind of forcing on the Bosnian Serbs the government's language." He now suggests that the Serbs be allowed to enter negotiations "on the basis" of the plan but without formally accepting it. This is unlikely to wash with the Bosnian government. But perhaps what is most interesting about Carter's move is how he made it. While White House officials said they asked Carter to keep open his lines of communication with Pale to ensure that the current cease-fire remains alive, Carter apparently took the latest initiative without consulting Washington but by sending a letter to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. He then informed the U.S. government in a fax sent to the Belgrade embassy. When asked why he chose to deliver the message to his own government in such a way, the former president said: "Well, I didn't send it to them. I sent it to Milosevic." * Patrick Moore

Reuters on 26 January quotes French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe as saying the Contact Group must keep working to bring the Bosnian Serbs around to negotiations. He told reporters that the mediators "must try and try again [but] not by asking the Sarajevo government to agree to further concessions." He added that much has already been achieved and argued that one should avoid "painting the bleakest possible picture about Bosnia." Meanwhile, dpa reports that another Serbian artillery attack on Bihac claimed many civilian lives. Reuters added that Serbs hauled a Muslim journalist from a UN armored transport at a Sarajevo checkpoint and detained him. The agency also said government forces have resumed their siege of UN forces in Tuzla after presenting fresh demands, including that the UN stop making reconnaissance patrols. The UN rejected the government's position as violating the cease-fire agreement. * Patrick Moore

Former Greek Prime Minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis on 26 January met with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade, AFP reported the same day. Mitsotakis said Milosevic reassured him Serbia would not recognize Macedonia until the conflict between Athens and Skopje is resolved. Vecher on 27 January quotes Mitsotakis as saying that Milosevic might help in solving the problems between the two countries. Mitsotakis added that the Serbian president's "policy of peace" is supported by the Greek people and parties, Politika reports. * Stefan Krause

The Party of Social Democracy in Romania, the main ruling party, has said the Romanian government never proposed to ban the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania. In a declaration broadcast by Radio Bucharest on 26 January, the PSDR rejected the claim by six Hungarian parliamentary parties (see OMRI Daily Digest, 24 January 1994) that Romanian democracy was endangered, saying that ethnic minority rights are more respected in Romania than in Hungary. The PSDR added that the democratization process in Romania is threatened only by the HDFR's policies of promoting "personal, local government, and territorial autonomy" based on ethnic criteria. In another development, Nicolae Taran, vice president of the Party of Civic Alliance, told Radio Bucharest that the HDFR's demands for autonomy make it impossible for his party to continue collaborating with it. Both the PCA and the HDFR are members of the opposition Democratic Convention of Romania. Taran said the DCR must immediately take a clear position opposing that of the HDFR, unless it wants to be perceived by the electorate as an organization pursuing anti-national interests. * Michael Shafir

Felipe Gonzalez, on a two-day visit to Romania, met with Prime Minister Nicolae Vacaroiu, President Ion Iliescu, Chamber of Deputies Chairman Adrian Nastase, Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu, and leaders of the opposition, Radio Bucharest reported. Gonzalez and Vacaroiu signed economic and cultural agreements on 25 January. At a joint press conference with Iliescu the same day, Gonzalez said Spain would support Romania's "political, economic, and security aspirations" of integration into European structures. * Michael Shafir

Education Minister Ilcho Dimitrov has said the predominantly ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom is anti-constitutional and its policies are harming national interests. Dimitrov, in an interview with 24 chasa on 27 January, added that he did not take an active part in the forceful Bulgarization of ethnic Turks' names in the 1980s, as the Turks have charged. But in an interview with Standart, he admitted that he was head of the Coordinating Council of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, responsible for the so-called "renaissance process." MRF deputy Ibrahim Tatarla, in an interview with 24 chasa, accused Dimitrov of being "the ideologist behind the assimilation of minorities." * Stefan Krause

Defectors from the Social Democratic Party have formed a new group, the Social Democratic Union, Reuters reported on 26 January. The SDU's leader is Teodor Laco, who was appointed minister for culture in President Sali Berisha's latest government reshuffle. After Laco's appointment, the SDP left the coalition with Berisha's Democratic Party, saying its leadership had not been consulted about the move. Laco, who violated the party consensus by supporting Berisha's referendum on a draft constitution in November, said that 30 members of the SDP's 90-strong Central Committee have joined the SDU. The SDP now has six legislators, and the DP's only coalition partner is the SDU, whose sole parliamentary representative is Laco. Meanwhile, the joint military exercise involving troops from the U.S., Albania, Italy, Britain, and Germany began in Durres on 26 January. * Fabian Schmidt

One day after President Sali Berisha proposed the legalization of private radio stations, police closed down Radio Vlora and detained its director, Ferdinand Llambro, international agencies reported on 26 January. Llambro, who started up the private station with money he earned working in Greece, did not have a license to broadcast. He avoided any political commentary in his popular music programs. Another unlicensed private station is broadcasting from Patos, in southern Albania. * Fabian Schmidt

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave