Accessibility links

Newsline - February 20, 1995

Chechen and Russian military commanders have agreed to extend an ongoing two-day cease-fire until 19 February, Russian and Western agencies reported. The two sides also reached agreement on exchanging lists of prisoners at their third meeting in Ingushetia on 17 February. Chechen military Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai, and Ingush Vice President Boris Agapov called for talks at the political level to resolve the Chechen crisis. In contrast, Sergei Filatov, head of Yeltsin's presidential staff, told Interfax on 18 February that the Chechen people must first elect a new leadership before such talks can take place. Chechen mufti Muhamed Alsabekov said at a 17 February news conference in Moscow that Chechen religious leaders would support neither the head of the government of national trust, Salambek Khadzhiev, nor Provisional Council chairman Umar Avturkhanov, nor Ruslan Khasbulatov, according to Interfax. Meanwhile, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times on 18 February, Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev threatened a terrorist campaign in Russia. On 19 February, Col.-Gen. Anatoly Kulikov, the commander of Russian federal troops in Chechnya, accused Chechen forces of violating the cease-fire with an attack on Russian troops south of Grozny on 18 February, ITAR-TASS reported. Although Kulikov said the possibilities for stopping hostilities were "exhausted," Ostankino television and ITAR-TASS reported on 19 February that Russian and Chechen military representatives were discussing a possible time and venue for future talks. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

Three new political parties held founding congresses on 18-19 February, but President Yeltsin sent a welcoming address to only one of them, Russian TV's "Vesti" reported. Yeltsin's address to the congress of the Social Democratic Party was read by the president's chief of staff, Sergei Filatov. The congress elected Aleksandr Yakovlev, the Federal Broadcasting Service chairman, to lead the new party and former Moscow KGB head Yevgeny Sevastyanov to be one of Yakovlev's five deputies. In an interview with ITAR-TASS, Yakovlev, the architect of liberal reform under former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, denied claims that the new political group is in the pocket of the president. Yakovlev specifically named Yegor Gaidar's Russia's Choice and Grigorii Yavlinsky's Democratic Alternative parties as potential allies. At a similar founding congress, former Finance Minister Boris Fedorov launched the new "Forward, Russia!" party. He also pointed to Gaidar and Yavlinsky as potential partners. At the same time, Fedorov identified "Forward, Russia!" as the party of democratic opposition to Yeltsin. Meanwhile, State Duma member Viktor Kobelev founded a third new political movement, Vozrozhdenie derzhavy (Revival of the Great Power), to contest the coming elections, Interfax and AFP reported 18 February. Kobelev was a former ally of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, but left his party after coming into conflict with him. The leader of the new party rejected alliances with other political groups because their platforms were too "dogmatic." The main plank of the movement's platform is "to save and resurrect Russia." -- Julia Wishnevsky and Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

A conference on local government bringing together federal and provincial leaders took place in the Kremlin on 17 February, Interfax reported. President Yeltsin told the conference that "an updated system of municipal self-rule will work for the territorial integrity of Russia." In his speech, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said that, traditionally, local governments have been seen as extensions of the federal authorities and that it will take many years to overcome that legacy. The writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn told the conference that local governments are the key to Russia's future. He supported the sections of Yeltsin's draft legislation that emphasize separating power between federal and local authorities and granting the local governments financial independence. Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai said Yeltsin will now set up a "public council" to put together a final draft for consideration by parliament. Chuvash President Nikolai Fedorov rejected a proposal to abolish the ethnic republics advanced by a number of speakers, including Solzhenitsyn. Both Solzhenitsyn and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov warned that it would not be wise to adopt a single law on local government for both Russia's cities and rural areas. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

The ultra-nationalist and unofficial "All-Russia Army Officers Assembly" opened its annual meeting on 18 February in Moscow by singing both the Russian and Soviet national anthems and then continuing with its usual attacks on the government, the defense minister, and the West, Interfax reported. Retired Col.-Gen. Vladislav Achalov railed against the media and the authors of "the uncountable number of books of reminiscences" for revealing military secrets to the West--which he said was aiming to "weaken the Russian military potential and obtain Russian know-how." He asked the 300 delegates to work out concrete measures that would "contribute to uniting the aspirations of all patriotic forces in restoring the combat preparedness, honor, and dignity of the Russian armed forces." Retired Gen. Valentin Varennikov called for a law forbidding the use of the army in internal armed conflicts. He charged that the military was being used as a scapegoat for the failure of politicians to solve the crisis in Chechnya. On 19 February, Stanislav Terekhov, leader of the Union of Officers, told Interfax that the conference would become a permanent body which would "act for strengthening the defense capacity of the country and unmask anti-national forces which destroyed the USSR and are completing this process in Russia." -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

President Yeltsin has signed a decree calling for the publication of archive documents dealing with the history of nuclear weapons in the Soviet Union, Interfax reported on 18 February. The project "aims at reconstructing an objective picture of the emergence of the national nuclear industry and the history of the creation of nuclear weapons in the Soviet Union," according to the decree. The report said an unclassified book would be published covering nuclear developments through 1954, but it did not indicate when it would be available. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

The Russian government intends to "stop or radically reduce the allocation of centralized credits to the agro-industrial sector," First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais said at a conference with leaders of territorial property management committees, property funds, and bankruptcy agencies, Segodnya reported on 18 February. Chubais said the process of crediting the countryside is ineffective. "In receiving a credit, everybody understands that it can neither be returned nor can interest be paid on it," he said. The minister noted that assistance to the countryside must be provided, but in the shape of budget financing and by introducing a special tax patterned after a value added tax. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais called January's financial results "catastrophic" in a speech before an expanded board meeting of the State Property Committee, Segodnya reported on 17 February. Budget revenue was 6 trillion rubles (4,314 rubles to $1) instead of the 13 trillion rubles planned. Chubais said the main reasons for the crisis were the slow pace of cash privatization and delays in IMF talks on a $6 billion loan which had been included in first quarter budget revenues. The budget envisions the sale of state property to generate 9.1 trillion rubles in revenue. In January, the proceeds amounted to only 13 billion rubles. Chubais also noted that by the end of 1994, privatization measures came to a virtual standstill and he called upon the State Property Committee to move the process along. "The domestic economy will not survive investment postponement for another year," he said. -- Thomas Sigel , OMRI, Inc.

The Russian securities market has been in crisis since the fall of 1994, Securities and Stock Market Commission director Dmitry Vasilev said at a conference on 17 February, Interfax reported. The director said the crisis was caused by low demand for Russian bonds and securities which is linked to lack of consumer confidence due to imperfect legislation regarding stock exchange operations. Neither the government nor market agents have devised an effective market control mechanism. Vasilev also said Russia's unfavorable economic situation and the Chechen crisis have affected the bonds and securities market. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

President Yeltsin has issued a decree barring the media from advertising alcohol, tobacco, and the services of unregistered healers on the grounds that they pose a threat to public health, Reuters reported on 18 February. Under the decree, media that break the law will be sued and their revenues used to fund public health programs. In December 1994 , the Duma passed a law on its first reading banning tobacco and alcohol advertising. Public health has deteriorated rapidly in Russia in recent years and life expectancy has fallen sharply, particularly for men. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

The leadership of the Russian Federation of Independent Trade Unions decided on 17 February to set up an electoral association, called Trade Unions of Russia, and select candidates for a federal list, Interfax reported. Federation chairman Mikhail Shmakov said other unions might also join the association which would consider entering into a coalition with the Agrarians, Communists, and the Socialist Workers' Party. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

There was a sharp increase in the number of strikes this January in comparison with the same month in 1994, Radio Rossii reported on 18 February. Strikes occurred at 95 organizations, mostly in the education sector. The main reason for the industrial action was late payment of wages. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

Despite the assassination of a parliamentary candidate in Bishkek on 16 February and an appeal for a postponement by representatives of the intelligentsia on 18 February, the second round of parliamentary elections took place in Kyrgyzstan as scheduled on 19 February, ITAR-TASS reported. Voter turnout was estimated at more than 60%. Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev admitted procedural violations, characterizing the voting as "free and competitive but not absolutely honest," Interfax reported on 19 February. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

Some 20,000 people attended a protest meeting in Erevan on 18 February convened by the opposition "Alliance for National Accord" to demand the resignation of President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, 300 journalists from a number of publications financed by the temporarily banned Dashnak Party continued to demonstrate outside the president's official residence demanding that the ban be lifted and that they be allowed to resume work. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.


Black Sea Fleet commander Admiral Eduard Baltin said the treaty on Russian-Ukrainian friendship and cooperation initialed in Kiev on 8 February did not resolve any issues regarding the fleet, Ukrainian radio reported on 17 February citing an interview in Slava Sevastopolya. While the agreement calls for future meetings between Russian and Ukrainian delegations to resolve the division of the fleet, Baltin said it does not commit either side to anything. Baltin also criticized Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets who had initialed the agreement, saying he led the talks badly and did not know the real state of affairs within the fleet. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Valerii Shmarov on 18 February met with a Russian military delegation headed by Viktor Glukhikh, Ukrainian Radio reported. The two sides discussed joint production of military hardware, including the TU-70 and TU-334 aircraft, and the exchange of military information. They also signed an agreement on military-technical cooperation and on setting up a financial group to be called "International Aviamotors." Interfax reported on 17 February that Vyacheslav Chrnovil, leader of the national-democratic Rukh, criticized Shmarov for attempting to restore the ex-USSR military-industrial complex rather than building a national one. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

The National Bank of Ukraine has deferred a measure aimed at restricting the use of foreign currencies in local transactions, Interfax-Ukraine and AFP reported on 18 February. The government urged the bank to delay the move, announced in November, in an effort to halt the rapid "dollarization" of the Ukrainian economy. Ukrainian Deputy Premier Ihor Mityukov said the ban was still necessary but that the government was not yet prepared for it. Experts believe there are some $10 billion in circulation in Ukraine or hidden in private savings. High inflation has significantly devalued the temporary Ukrainian currency, the karbovanets--although it has remained stable since December, trading at 130,000 and 145,000 karbovantsi to $1. Ukraine hopes to follow the example of other former Soviet republics, such as Russia and the Baltic States, which have banned the use of the dollar and other currencies in domestic business. -- Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 17 February announced he has ordered the halting of the weapons destruction mandated by the 1990 conventional armed forces treaty (CFE). Interfax quotes him as saying he did not intend to destroy the country's armed forces under the guise of reforming them. While Belarus has met the CFE's two interim destruction quotas, it must destroy by 17 November 1995 more than 650 tanks, 500 armored fighting vehicles, and 50 combat aircraft in order to comply with the treaty. Lukashenka said the desire of neighboring Poland and Lithuania to join NATO is giving cause for concern. He also revealed he intends to have closer contacts with the Russian armed forces, provided Belarusian troops are not required to serve outside the country. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

The Finnish Foreign Ministry on 17 February said that Estonia, Finland, and Sweden are to ban access to the ferry "Estonia," which sank off the Finnish coast on 28 September at a cost of more than 900 lives, Reuters reported. The three countries will sign an agreement stating that attempts to raise victims or objects from the ferry will be punished. The statement says: "The spot is regarded as being the grave of the victims which the governments wish to be respected as their place of burial." -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

Algirdas Brazauskas told the Sejm on 17 February that distrust between Lithuania and Poland was fading into the past, BNS reported. He said the "misunderstanding" over the Polish-Lithuanian border "must be eliminated as soon as possible." He went on to propose the creation of a common peacekeeping battalion and joint control of air space and sea borders. President Lech Walesa and Brazauskas signed a declaration on cooperation to improve bilateral relations. He also discussed with Senate President Adam Struzik and Sejm speaker and prime minister candidate Josef Oleksy issues relating to ethnic minorities in both countries. Brazauskas returned to Vilnius on 18 February. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

An accord on the construction of a $2.5 billion segment of a natural gas pipeline connecting Russia's Yamal peninsula with Germany was the main fruit of Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's visit to Warsaw on 18-19 February, Gazeta Wyborcza reported. The visit, postponed repeatedly since May 1994, focused almost exclusively on economic issues, although President Lech Walesa did use the occasion to restate Poland's determination to join NATO. The pipeline agreement guarantees Poland natural gas supplies until 2010. The Polish government will reportedly cover $300-350 million of the costs and extend customs and tax preferences on the import of building materials. The two sides agreed to restrict to Polish firms the right to distribute gas in Poland and to allow Russia to employ its own professionals in building the Polish segment. Construction of the first 102 km begins in April. But the two sides failed to sign planned agreements on weapons production and fishing in the Sea of Ochotsk. Scattered demonstrations against the Chechen war were held in Warsaw during the visit. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

The coalition parties submitted a constructive no-confidence motion, signed by 111 deputies, on 17 February, Rzeczpospolita reported. According to the constitution, the vote may take place no sooner than seven days after the motion is tabled. The Sejm could debate the motion during its 1-3 March session, but Sejm speaker and prime minister candidate Jozef Oleksy told reporters the vote would be scheduled only if the composition of the new cabinet were settled beforehand. Oleksy met again with President Lech Walesa on 18 February, but no agreement was reached on the defense and foreign affairs posts. Walesa warned that he will take "tough decisions" if the formation of the new cabinet drags on too long. Rzeczpospolita reported that conflict has erupted within the Democratic Left Alliance over Oleksy's plans to retain Wieslaw Kaczmarek as privatization minister. There is also an internal dispute within the Polish Peasant Party over Oleksy's determination to remove both Foreign Trade Minister Leslaw Podkanski and Agriculture Minister Andrzej Smietanko. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

Czech President Vaclav Havel, addressing a 17 February seminar on Czech-German relations, argued that the time has come for the Czech Republic and Germany to stop issuing apologies and sending "bills for historical grievances." He said both sides should cease demanding war and post-war damages, with the exception of compensation for Czech victims of the Nazi regime. He argued against linking such historical events as the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia and the post-war expulsion of Sudeten Germans with contemporary political and legal issues. Both Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus and Foreign Affairs Minister Jozef Zieleniec welcomed Havel's speech. But Franz Neubauer, the leader of the largest Sudeten German organization in Germany, said Sudeten Germans were disappointed with Havel's speech because "while until now he has rejected [the principle of] collective guilt as inhuman and unjust, he is now essentially making a large part of the Sudeten Germans jointly responsible for their expulsion." -- Jiri Pehe, OMRI, Inc.

The post-communist Party of the Democratic Left held its third congress on 18-19 February in Poprad. Despite the party's poor performance in last fall's parliamentary elections, in which it won only 13 seats, Peter Weiss was re-elected as chairman, with 53.91% of the vote, Narodna obroda reports. Brigita Schmoegnerova was elected deputy chairwoman for economic and social policy, beating former Economy Minister Peter Magvasi. Milan Ftacnik, Pavol Kanis, Viliam Sopka, and Juraj Horvath were elected deputy chairmen. The victory of Weiss, Ftacnik, and Schmoegnerova shows that the PDL remains committed to strengthening its position as a modern social democratic party. It is expected that the PDL will be admitted to the Socialist Internationale next year. Schmoegnerova said the party is now preparing a shadow cabinet. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

Fifty-two journalists from Slovak Radio have sent a letter to Slovak Radio director Jan Tuzinsky protesting the recent dismissal of Washington correspondent Peter Suska. Tuzinsky, a parliament deputy for the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, claimed the decision was economic, not political. But the letter, published in Sme on 18 February, maintains the decision is not only political but also "endangers the independence of Slovak broadcasting" and contravenes the constitution. The journalists claim that Suska was removed because of his criticism of the Slovak delegation's performance at the trade and investment conference in Cleveland, Ohio, in mid-January. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

One ethnic Albanian died and 28 people were wounded, including nine policemen, when shots were exchanged during clashes between ethnic Albanians and Macedonian police in Mala Recica, near Tetovo, on 17 February, Nasa Borba reported on 20 February. The riots followed a police crackdown on the self-proclaimed Albanian-language university in Tetovo, which opened on 16 February. The riots began the next day when some 200 ethnic Albanians tried to force their way into the university building. Witnesses and official reports say the first shots were fired by the protesters. The rector of the university, Fadil Sulejmani, and a leader of the Forum for the Defense of Human Rights were arrested the same day. The funeral of 33-year-old Abduseljan Emini on 19 February was attended by about 10,000 people and took place without incident. After the funeral, a group of youths marched to the police station to demand the release of Sulejmani, but they dispersed after one of their leaders appealed to them to avoid excesses, international agencies reported on 17 and 18 February. Sulejmani had warned of armed clashes before the university opened. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

Following his meeting with Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski on 18 February, the leader of the Party for Democratic Prosperity (the largest ethnic Albanian party in Macedonia) said a compromise over Albanian-language higher education can be found. But Menduh Thaci, an independent parliament deputy and leader of a group that split away from the PPD, denounced the police violence, saying neither the government nor the Macedonian intellectuals have "a minimum of understanding" for the Albanians' demands. Thaci called on Albania and international organizations for assistance. In an interview with Deutsche Welle's Albanian-language service on 19 February, he claimed that pro-Serbian forces were behind the clashes. Flaka on 20 February reported that policemen painted the symbol meaning "only force saves the Serbs" on the university building during the raids. The Interior Ministry, however, denied Albanian claims at a press conference on 18 February that Serbian police were involved in the clashes. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

The UNPROFOR representative in Skopje, Hugo Anson, said the UN peacekeeping forces deeply regretted the violence in Tetovo and urged ethnic Albanians and the Macedonian government "to continue the path of dialogue, goodwill, compromise, and restraint," AFP reported on 18 February. He added that the UN Security Council is committed to ensuring respect for the "sovereignty and territorial integrity" of Macedonia and asked all citizens to regard themselves foremost as Macedonian citizens "and only afterwards as members of various ethnic groups." The Albanian government condemned the shooting as a "criminal act of violence . . . which does not serve the too-fragile stability in the region," Reuters reported, citing a declaration read on Albanian Television and Radio Tirana. "The terror exercised against Albanians and the killing of a demonstrator shows the existence of an anti-Albanian police state [in Macedonia]," the statement said. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

Nasa Borba on 20 February reports that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, during three-day talks with Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, categorically refused to recognize Croatia's and Bosnia and Herzegovina's borders in exchange for the suspension of most UN-imposed sanctions against the rump Yugoslavia. Kozyrev, for his part, had arrived in Belgrade openly sympathetic to the president's position. The two leaders issued a statement on 19 February saying "the lifting of sanctions is the first essential step that needs to be taken toward a definitive solution to the Yugoslav crisis." Kozyrev openly criticized Western nations for what he called their "haggling" over peace in the former Yugoslavia. He urged that Milosevic's peace initiatives be rewarded with the prior lifting of economic sanctions, AFP reported. Kozyrev and Milosevic met in Karadjordjevo, about 100 km north of Belgrade, from 17-19 February, following proposals by the Contact Group that the economic boycott against rump Yugoslavia be suspended if Belgrade recognizes Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in their present borders. -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

Serbian authorities on 18 February slapped a media blackout on the Milosevic-Kozyrev talks. But Reuters reported the same day that Serbia's state-run media openly scorned any suggestions that Belgrade extend recognition to Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in exchange for the suspension of sanctions against rump Yugoslavia. The state-run daily Borba rejected outright the idea that recognition could be the first step toward solving regional problems, noting that "the diplomatic table is burdened with problems that would have to be solved in advance [of recognition]." Reuters also reported that the Bosnian Serb leadership on 17 February was planning to propose that Milosevic press ahead with the "unification of all Serbs." -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

News agencies reported on 18 February that Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, at a meeting with U.S. Contact Group representative Robert Frasure, said fears of new fighting are unfounded, despite Croatia's decision that UNPROFOR must leave by 30 June. Frasure repeated American warnings that Zagreb's policy is foolhardy since it places too much hope on a deal with Milosevic and excessive confidence in the Croatian military. Meanwhile, at the U.S. Air Force base at Ramstein, Germany, the UN commander in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lt.-Gen. Rupert Smith, participated in NATO exercises to simulate the possible evacuation of UNPROFOR from Bosnia. On a more optimistic note, Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic told an international audience about his plans for the economic development of his embattled republic. His government has given priority to foreign backing for some 400 private and state enterprises dealing with infrastructure and basic necessities. The goal is to replace relief aid as soon as possible. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

The main umbrella organization uniting Romania's centrist opposition appears on the verge of splitting after decisions taken by the organization's council on 17 February, Radio Bucharest and Romanian Television reported the same day. The council rejected proposals submitted by the Party of Civic Alliance, the Romanian Social Democratic Party, and the Liberal Party '93 that the DCR be restructured to distinguish it from its member parties and civic movements. The council also decided that member parties, with the exception of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania, must run joint lists in the 1996 local and general elections and back the same candidate in the presidential elections. Finally, the council demanded that the HDFR explicitly state its respect for the country's constitution, including the provision defining Romania as a "unitary and national state." The HDFR, the PCA, the RSDP, and the LP '93 representatives refused to sign the modified protocol, prompting DCR President Emil Constantinescu to say the implication is that the four parties "are no longer active in the DCR." But he added that the parties' leaders have 30 days in which to change their minds. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

Moldovan Prime Minister Andrei Sangheli told Interfax on 17 February that the referendum among residents wanting to join the Gagauz autonomous region will be held on 5 March. Sangheli said the areas in which the referendum is to be held will be determined by a government commission headed by Deputy Prime Minister Valeriu Bulgari. He also said the elections for a Gagauz assembly will take place in May. The Moldovan parliament approved in December limited autonomy for the Gagauz minority. Villages in which the Gagauz make up more than half of the population will automatically become part of the autonomous region. The referendum is designed to help determine which other areas become part of that region. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave