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Newsline - February 15, 1995

Sporadic exchanges of gunfire continued in Grozny on 14 February, despite a heavy weapons cease-fire agreement signed the day before by Chechen and Russian commanders, Interfax reported. A Chechen commander in Shali, a town southeast of Grozny where many forces loyal to Chechen President Dudaev have regrouped, expressed skepticism over the Russian commanders' motives in agreeing to a cease-fire. Federal Counterintelligence Service chief Sergei Stepashin likewise told Interfax he doubted the cease-fire would lead to a full-scale truce. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, speaking in Stockholm, said he was confident that a political solution to the Chechen conflict could now be reached provided that "criminal structures" are disarmed and that "free and fair" elections could be held in Chechnya before the end of the year. Arkady Volsky, in his capacity as a member of the committe for reconstruction of Chechnya, said agreement had been reached in talks with the Chechen Council of Elders on a provisional coalition government in the republic. Russian presidential adviser Emil Pain likewise argued that the Chechen population should now decide on the composition of local government bodies. * Liz Fuller

A growing number of Russians are urging that those responsible for unleashing the Chechen war be brought to justice, recent reports indicate. Anti-war activist Maria Kirbasova told Interfax on 14 February that the Soldiers' Mothers Committee intended to sue the organizers of the Chechen operation in the International Court of Justice in the Hague. Also, some top Russian legal professionals have reportedly agreed to cooperate with the public tribunal set up in Moscow earlier this year to put the initiators of the war on trial, Russian TV reported on 10 February, (see OMRI Daily Digest , 26 January 1995). At least two distinguished lawyers who allegedly have demonstrated an interest in the public tribunal are on record as having belonged to the close circle of Yeltsin's legal advisers. They are Sergei Alekseev, former chairman of the Soviet Committee for Constitutional Surveillance and a principle supporter of the new constitution, and Valerii Savitsky, Russia's leading expert on criminal law. Yeltsin nominated Savitsky to the Constitutional Court twice, only to have him rejected by the Federation Council as a liberal. * Julia Wishnevsky

Aleksandr Sobyanin, an expert for the Russia's Choice group in parliament, has proposed the establishment of a single pro-reform electoral coalition, Interfax reported on 14 February. The coalition would have a single list of candidates for the next State Duma elections that would consist of one name for each of the chamber's 450 seats. Sobyanin said the reformist groups in today's Duma (Russia's Choice, Yabloko, and the unregistered December 12 Liberal Democratic Union) should form the nucleus of the list, which could also include house members who were elected in single-seat constituencies and have "proved their loyalty to the course of democratic, political, and economic reforms." He also gave Russia's Choice members proposals for legislation to prevent rigging in the next Duma election, scheduled for December this year. * Thomas Sigel

Grigorii Yavlinsky, head of the All-Russia Democratic Alternative Party, has embarked on the presidential election campaign trail, according to a 14 February article in Segodnya. Addressing the party's founding congress, held 11-12 February, Yavlinsky spoke of food shortages, inflation woes, and the West's dissatisfaction with Yeltsin's handling of the Chechnya situation. Delegates from 46 regions around Russia warmly supported Yavlinsky's platform, which stresses the "de-bureaucratization" of Russia, the creation of a rule-of-law democratic state with a market economy, and a sufficient defense system. * Thomas Sigel

Russia's Choice leader Yegor Gaidar said he believes a policy of economic and political pressure combined with negotiations would have been enough to gradually reintegrate Chechnya into the Russian fold, according to an interview with Interfax on 14 February. He said the regime of Dzhokhar Dudaev had been coming under increasing pressure due to the republic's economic isolation. Unfortunately, he added, Dudaev's weakness was provocative, and the temptation to send in troops to resolve the problem too great for some Russian politicians. Gaidar said the Chechen operation had demonstrated the incompetence of several top military commanders, and he stressed the need for a military reform program that would reduce the size of the army while making it more effective and guaranteeing the social welfare of its personnel. He also said the Chechen operation had shattered hopes for an improvement in the economy in 1995. On regional policy, he said true federalism and the effective operation of a free market is the only way to guarantee the country's territorial integrity. At present, he noted, Russia is a unitary state in which the budget of a region "is shaped for a few months during talks between the local leader and a deputy finance minister. The well-being of the regions depends on the corridors of power in Moscow rather than on common sense in economic policies." In his opinion, the sources of federal and regional revenues, spheres of responsibility, and financial support mechanisms need to be more clearly defined. * Penny Morvant

In the 13 February installment of his weekly program on Ostankino, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn condemned the Russian privatization program and its author, Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais. He claimed that only 3% of the country's property had been distributed equally among the population. He went on to voice concern that the property would be auctioned and, as a result, bought at cheap prices by "new Russian" millionaires or foreigners who, he said, have no moral right to possess it. Solzhenitsyn also attacked the decision to dismiss the former chairman of the State Committee on Property, Vladimir Polevanov, who had attempted to renationalize some key industries. "The moment the honest minister Polevanov started to improve the ills of privatization, he was immediately fired," he said. * Julia Wishnevsky

The government ran a further 53-trillion-ruble debt (4,224 rubles to $1) on Central Bank of Russia credits in 1994, which brings the total debt to 66 trillion rubles, Interfax reported on 14 February. In a presentation to parliament, the bank's acting chairwoman Tatiana Paramonova said its gross credit to commercial banks increased from 4 trillion rubles to 14 trillion rubles in the past year. She described central bank credits as "the main channel of money into the Russian economy." Paramonova stressed the bank was working in every way to stimulate investment into the industrial sector through commercial banks. On 1 February, the central bank introduced a new regulation for different rates for commercial banks' mandatory reserves. A maximum of 22% interest is charged on short money, 15% on a 90-day credit, and 10% on any credit for more than 90 days. Paramonova said the bank may consider a lower rate for credits over 90 days. * Thomas Sigel

State Duma Chairman Ivan Rybkin said he believes Russia should have a special place in NATO, international agencies reported on 14 February. One idea would be to give Russia a position similar to France, which shares in the political decisionmaking but is not part of the integrated military structure. Recounting his discussion with NATO Secretary-General Willy Claes, Rybkin told ITAR-TASS a special arrangement for Russia could be set up by NATO as "a gesture of goodwill." Rybkin called for greater international understanding of Russia's position in the Chechen war, which he said might not have happened if Russia had become a member of the European Community in the early 1990s. * Michael Mihalka

In reaction to Western criticism of Russia's nuclear cooperation deal with Iran, both countries oppose the use of "double standards" in implementing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigorii Karasin told ITAR-TASS on 14 February. Karasin said the treaty is an important building block for the global security system and said that Russia supports its unlimited extension when it comes up for review at a conference in April-May 1995. "Eternal and unconditional prolongation would help increase efficiency of the treaty, expand its universal character, boost the reduction and elimination of nuclear arsenals, and consolidate international stability," he said. Under the deal, announced on 8 January and worth an estimated $800 million, Russia is to complete the Bushehr nuclear power plant in southeastern Iran, which the German company Siemens started building in the 1970s. Iran insists the plant is purely for civilian use, but the U.S. is concerned about the possibility of Iran's developing nuclear weapons. A CIA report in September 1994 warned that Russia was a key source of nuclear technology in Iran's drive to become a nuclear power. * Michael Mihalka and Penny Morvant

The Health Ministry announced that infant mortality rates had declined from 193 per 10,000 live births in 1993 to 187 per 10,000 in 1994, Interfax reported on 14 February. The ministry said there were far fewer deaths from respiratory diseases, injuries, and food poisoning and argued that the figures were evidence of an improvement in mother and child care services. In 1994, 1.1 trillion rubles were spent on mother and child care from the federal budget and another 1 trillion rubles from regional budgets. * Penny Morvant

In a poll conducted by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion in February, 83% of respondents said inflation was their greatest concern. Next on the list was the increase in crime--58%, followed by the economic crisis and fall in output--50%. The proportion concerned about ethnic disputes increased to 32% from 16% in July 1994. Thirty-three percent were concerned about armed conflicts on Russia's borders, as opposed to 15% last July. Few were worried about disputes in the country's leadership--12%, the danger of Fascism--6%, and the danger of a military dictatorship--5%. * Penny Morvant

CIS military integration will start with the formation of a chiefs of staff committee and four regional collective security zones, according to Lt.-Gen. Leonid Ivashov, secretary of the CIS Defense Ministers Council. The Western Zone would have Belarus "as the key element" and include the Kaliningrad and Smolensk regions of Russia. "Ukraine and Moldova will be in touch . . . if needed," Ivashov told Interfax on 14 February. The Caucasus Zone would include Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, and the North Caucasus republics of Russia. Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and part of Kyrgyzstan would form the Central Asian Zone, with Turkmenistan cooperating "on some elements."Finally, the Eastern Zone would be made up of Kazakhstan and those parts of Russia and Kyrgyzstan not in other zones. Ivashov said that it was assumed that if one state in a zone were attacked the rest would help it repulse the aggression. He talked of "Coalition Defense Forces" which would train jointly and have common standards. The proposals are to be submitted to the CIS heads of states at the end of this year. * Doug Clarke

Jozef Oleksy of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) has confirmed his readiness to form a government, Gazeta Wyborcza reports. A statement issued on 14 February after eight-hour coalition talks said the two parties have agreed on a joint program and the division of ministerial posts. Oleksy is to begin talks with individual candidates on 15 February. SLD leaders indicated that party proportions in the cabinet would remain roughly the same but that only one deputy prime minister, from the Polish Peasant Party (PSL), would be chosen (there are now three deputies). The coalition also accepted an SLD proposal to consolidate the economic ministries but resolved to postpone any restructuring until draft legislation is completed. Gazeta Wyborcza cites unofficial sources as reporting that current Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Grzegorz Kolodko is likely stay on to oversee the consolidation, if only because the economist Dariusz Rosati was considered likely to refuse the offer. The PSL overruled SLD proposals to give the task to former Finance Minister Marek Borowski. * Louisa Vinton

While the coalition talks reportedly proceeded smoothly, Oleksy failed to reach agreement with President Lech Walesa on the three "presidential" ministries. Walesa, in a telephone conversation on 14 February, proposed Zbigniew Okonski for defense, Andrzej Milczanowski for internal affairs, and former deputy foreign minister Andrzej Ananicz for foreign affairs. In an interview with Polish Radio on 15 February, Oleksy stressed that the constitution requires him merely "to seek the president's opinion" on the three ministries. That opinion is non-binding, despite the practice of previous premiers to give Walesa veto power over the three posts. Moreover, Oleksy argued, the "constructive no-confidence vote" gives the Sejm the power to elect a "parliamentary government" that the president is obliged to appoint. Oleksy's interpretation is in keeping with the spirit of Poland's "little constitution" but provides for a collision course with the president. Walesa has consistently argued that the constitution empowers him both to select the three "strategic" ministers and to block the appointment of any government he does not accept. * Louisa Vinton

President Leonid Kuchma on 13 February said the special commission drawing up a constitutional bill on the separation of powers has nearly completed its work, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 14 February. Kuchma, at a meeting with local authorities in the west Ukrainian city of Lviv, said agreement must be reached on only two articles before the bill is ready for final debate in the parliament in March. As proposed by Kuchma, those two articles would give the president sweeping executive powers, including the exclusive right to appoint a government without the parliament's approval and the authority to dissolve the legislature under certain conditions. The president said once the bill was approved, he would give priority to reforming the country's antiquated judicial system and creating a constitutional court to ensure the institutional changes provided for by the bill are implemented. * Chrystyna Lapychak

The U.S. Department of Defense on 14 February announced that it was financially supporting a joint venture between a U.S. company and Kommunar Production Association of Kharkiv to manufacture cellular telephones in the Ukrainian city. The Pentagon will provide $3.2 million in Nunn-Lugar funds for the $7 million project, with Federal Systems Group of Virginia putting up the rest. Kommunar, with some 18,000 employees, formerly produced missile and space guidance control systems for military satellites. This latest conversion initiative is within the framework of a March 1994 agreement between the Pentagon and the Ukrainian Ministry of Machine Building, the Military-Industrial Complex, and Conversion. * Doug Clarke

The opposition Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) has begun collecting signatures for a petition demanding that the country's leadership denounce the CIS Collective Security Pact, Belarusian Radio reported on 13 February. The petition also requests that the government acknowledge the unfairness of agreements signed with Russia, halt the building of Russian military bases on Belarusian territory, and remove all Russian military forces from Belarus. The BNF said that the agreements signed with Russia will drag Belarusian servicemen into Russian military conflicts and that Belarus will be exploited by Russia for its strategic location between Russia and the West. * Ustina Markus

Belarusian Television reported on 13 February that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has signed a decree regulating the country's external economic activities. The decree calls on the Ministry of External Economic Affairs to formulate Belarusian policy on foreign trade activities, and to coordinate that policy with other state and legal bodies. Meanwhile, the Belarusian forestry industry has become that country's first economic sector to obtain credits from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Belarusian Radio reported on 14 February. The EBRD has released $42 million to be used to develop forestry technology, establish new technical manufacturing plants for wood products, and to protect Belarusian forests against fires and vandals. * Ustina Markus

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigorii Karasin said on 14 February that the resolution approved by the Estonian parliament the previous day calling for the recognition of Chechnya is "provocative" and "irresponsible" and will "inevitably have negative consequences for Russian-Estonian relations," Interfax reports. But Estonian Prime Minister Andres Tarand said his government has no intention to discuss official recognition of Chechnya in the near future. He added that the parliament's call for recognition could not be classified as interference in Russia's internal affairs since "human rights abuses on a mass scale are not a state's internal matter." * Saulius Girnius

Latvian Interior Ministry press secretary Normunds Belskis said most of the Afghan and Kurdish refugees sent back to Latvia from Estonia in December during an attempt to reach Sweden have been sent home or to West or East European countries, BNS reported on 14 February. Belskis refused to say which countries for reasons of "confidentiality," but he noted that some refugees have relatives living in the West. The refugees were held in barracks in Riga and were guarded by the Mobile Police. * Saulius Girnius

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Povilas Gylys, on a two-day visit to Norway, held talks with Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, Foreign Minister Bjorn Tore Godal, and members of the Norwegian parliament Foreign Affairs Committee, BNS reported on 14 February. Norwegian officials noted that although Norway voted in a referendum not to join the European Union, it supported Lithuania's integration into it and NATO. The two foreign ministers signed agreements on mutual customs assistance and an accord providing for exchange of information on nuclear facilities and prompt notification of nuclear accidents. * Saulius Girnius

Economic ministers and the Czech National Bank on 14 February agreed on amendments to the foreign exchange law that should make the koruna fully convertible later this year, Czech media report. If approved by the cabinet and the parliament, the measures will ease restrictions on individuals and firms obtaining hard currency, transferring money abroad, and taking out foreign loans. Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus said the timetable for deregulating the koruna will depend on when the parliament adopts the law, but he hopes it will come into effect by mid-year. Changes in limits on the amount of koruny Czech citizens can take abroad--5,000 koruny per trip with an annual ceiling of 100,000 koruny--have yet to be decided. * Steve Kettle

Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin, during the second day of his visit to Slovakia, told reporters on 14 February that Moscow fears a new division of Europe if East European countries are admitted to NATO. He said that although Russia would not stop Slovakia from joining NATO, he warned the organization not to create artificial tensions in Europe. He also said he did not understand why Slovakia wants to join the alliance "so quickly" when no danger exists. Slovak Premier Vladimir Meciar said his discussions with Chernomyrdin on NATO were uncontroversial and that "Russia considers this matter our internal affair," Narodna obroda reports. The two premiers also discussed economic issues and began preparations for a free trade zone. Meciar asked "Why should we leave the Russian market? It is our obligation to return back where we were," Pravda reports. With regard to Slovakia's controversial nuclear plant now under construction at Mochovce, Meciar said on 14 February that it will be completed even if the EBRD fails to provide a loan. Russia and Slovakia signed an agreement the previous day whereby Russia will provide funding, technology, and nuclear fuel for the plant. * Sharon Fisher

The two governing parties--the Hungarian Socialist Party and the Alliance of Free Democrats--have agreed to appoint a new minister without portfolio to supervise privatization, MTI reports on 14 February. The two parties also agreed to extend the authority of the finance minister: he will approve all economic proposals forwarded to the government. The AFD originally opposed creating the new post and wanted the finance minister to supervise privatization. The extension of the finance minister's authority was a compromise solution. The coalition partners expect to reach agreement on the candidate for the new post later this week. * Edith Oltay

The Washington Post and the BBC on 15 February report that the Clinton administration has again made a major change in its policy toward the former Yugoslavia in the hope of cobbling together a settlement before fighting resumes in Bosnia in the spring. The new plan calls for the immediate lifting of sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro for two months, with extensions if President Slobodan Milosevic agrees to several conditions. Those include recognizing the other former Yugoslav republics in their Tito-era boundaries, tightening his dubious blockade of the Bosnian Serbs, and pressuring Pale to accept the Contact Group's peace plan. The policy was agreed to only after much heated discussion, with opponents fearing that once the sanctions are lifted they will not be reimposed, even if Milosevic flagrantly breaks any promises he makes. The Serbian president is unlikely to agree to recognize Croatia's and Bosnia's frontiers, since that would mean giving up hopes of a Greater Serbia that he harbored even before starting the current war. * Patrick Moore

Radio Bosnia and Herzegovina reported on 14 February that government forces have reversed most, if not all, the gains the Serbs made in their counteroffensive last fall. The broadcast claimed that the Fifth Corps has retaken the strategic Debeljaca Hill from the Serbian forces there, which consist of units from both Bosnia and Krajina as well as of those loyal to local kingpin Fikret Abdic. If the reports are correct, then the government forces now control the frontiers of the UN-declared "safe area" of Bihac. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 15 February also notes that the UN is trying to confirm the Bosnian claims. * Patrick Moore

Ever since President Franjo Tudjman announced last month that UNPROFOR must leave Croatia when its current mandate runs out on 31 March, there has been much speculation as to whether his decision will stick. Some observers suggested that he had to stand by the new policy because of domestic political pressures. Others felt that equally strong demands from Washington and the EU would force him to reconsider. Now Vecernji list, Nasa Borba, and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 15 February suggest that a compromise may have been found. The reports quote Deputy Director of the German Foreign Ministry Klaus-Peter Klaiber and the Croatian ambassador to the US as saying that UNPROFOR may be able to stay but under redefined conditions. Vecernji list notes that Klaiber did not spell out what changes he had in mind and whether they would be major or minor, but the Contact Group has reportedly made a concrete proposal to Zagreb. The Frankfurt daily quotes Ambassador Sarcevic as saying that "a new UN contingent for controlling the frontiers and monitoring human rights could be accepted." Elsewhere, Slovenia's foreign minister told his German counterpart that he hopes UNPROFOR's mandate can somehow be renewed but added that he understands that Croatia cannot accept a UN presence that merely serves to protect Serbian conquests and effectively partition the country. * Patrick Moore

Momcilo Trajkovic, leader of the Serbian Defense Movement for Kosmet, has called for unity among "all political forces, regardless of party affiliation, to hinder the [creation of a] parallel state of Albanian separatists in Kosovo and Metohija," the state-run Borba reports on 15 February. Trajkovic alleged that the Kosovar shadow government is harboring a "war option." Since the abolition of Kosovar autonomy in 1989, the Albanians have followed a program of non-violent resistance. According to the independent Nasa Borba, Trajkovic admitted that his organization has not yet gotten an answer to an open letter addressed to various institutions and parties in December calling for the creation of a "national council in which all political parties would work out one common national program." But he said that 40,000 people in Pristina have so far signed the letter. Reuters reported on 13 February that Albanian President Sali Berisha said a peace conference on former Yugoslavia, as proposed by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, should discuss the Kosovo crisis and invite the Kosovar shadow state government as that country's "legitimate representatives." * Fabian Schmidt

The Macedonian government wants UN-brokered talks with Greece, AFP reported on 14 February. Foreign Minister Stevo Crvenkovski said Macedonia favors dialogue, but only under UN auspices. Dimitar Bercev of the Foreign Ministry's economic desk revealed that the Greek trade embargo, which was implemented one year ago, has cost Macedonia about $500 million. Macedonia has been forced to reroute its trade through Albania and Bulgaria since Greece closed Thessaloniki harbor to Macedonian imports and exports. A ton of oil imported earlier via Greece cost $19; it now costs $57 via the Bulgarian port of Burgas. * Stefan Krause

Seventy-one opposition deputies on 14 February tabled a motion expressing "deep concern" over what was described as the government's massive dismissal of local mayors and councilors and requesting their reinstatement until court decisions are taken on a case-by-case basis. In a communiqué released the same day and broadcast by Radio Bucharest, the government admitted that 133 mayors and 98 councilors have been dismissed over the last two years. But it noted that the dismissals were warranted on such grounds as corruption and abuse of office. The government also rejected accusations that those personnel changes were directed against the opposition, pointing out that some of those dismissed belonged to the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania. * Dan Ionescu

The Romanian government, in a 14 February statement, has provided details of Premier Nicolae Vacaroiu's forthcoming official visit to the neighboring Republic of Moldova. The visit, scheduled for 20 and 21 February, is to take place at the invitation of Moldovan Premier Andrei Sangheli. The statement said the visit will offer the opportunity to analyze in depth "ties between the Republic of Moldova and Romania and prospects for economic integration and consolidation of the common cultural and spiritual space" of the two countries. The Romanian delegation will include Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu, Transportation Minister Aurel Novac, and other senior government officials. * Dan Ionescu

Greek government spokesman Evangelos Venizelos said on 13 February that Athens will probably sign a customs union agreement between the EU and Turkey, but only if several points are cleared up first, Reuters reported the same day. Greece last week drew criticism from most of its EU partners for saying it would veto the union. The Greek government has linked the customs union issue to EU membership talks with Cyprus. It is also demanding that less money be offered to Turkey to implement the union and that Greece receive more compensation for potential losses sustained by its textile industry. Turkish Foreign Minister Murat Karayalcin said his country hopes to overcome Greek objections, but not at too high a price. Meanwhile, the other EU members rejected most of Greece's conditions, AFP reported on 14 February. * Stefan Krause

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave