Accessibility links

Newsline - March 1, 1995

On 28 February, a four-day conference opened in Moscow at which representatives of the Russian military and civilian leadership are to assess the performance of Russian troops in "restoring constitutional order" in Chechnya, Interfax and Nezavisimaya gazeta reported. Defense Minister Pavel Grachev rejected as largely unfounded both widespread criticism of the abysmal performance of Russian ground troops and what he termed "populist pronouncements by individual senior military officials" concerning inadequate preparation and planning. In the latter case, he was presumably referring to his rival General Aleksandr Lebed, who dismissed the entire conference as a pointless "show." Grachev said he had held talks with Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev in Mozdok on 6 December, at which Dudaev had said his position was hopeless, but claimed he was a hostage of his entourage, and therefore could not comply with Russian President Boris Yeltsin's ultimatum to disarm. Grachev further claimed that Dudaev's forces, which allegedly include up to 6,000 mercenaries from Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Turkey, and the Baltic states, are currently retrenching in the towns of Gudermes and Shali. Col.-Gen. Fedor Ladygin, head of the General Staff Main Intelligence Department, predicted it will not be possible to eliminate Chechen resistance in the near future. However, Chechen opposition Provisional Council chairman Umar Avturkhanov said there will be no large-scale guerrilla war in Chechnya and that resistance to Russian forces would not last for long. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

At the same conference, Grachev said the contract servicemen had not shown their worth in combat, and the military would have to rely on conscription. Training should be adjusted to prepare troops for local disturbances and urban combat rather than for a major war, he said. Grachev told the commanders the Russian armed forces could not drop below 1.7 million men, and a large contingent would be required in the Caucasus region for some time. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

Grachev also warned that troops could expect continued acts of terrorism in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 February. Meanwhile, terrorism occurred on another front as a suicide bomber blew himself up at the Russian consulate in Rabat, Morocco. He died, but no injuries were reported among embassy staff. He was reportedly wearing a placard with the word "Chechnya" written on it in Arabic. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

About $5 billion, or 2.5% of Russia's GNP, has been spent on military operations in Chechnya, according to Andrei Illarionov, director of the Institute of Economic Analysis. The calculations were based on official statistics provided by Russia's Defense Ministry for the operation in Chechnya beginning last December, Interfax reported on 28 February. The numbers do not include assets required to restore the republic's economy. Illarionov said defense expenditures, which amounted to 4.1% of the GNP over 11 months of 1994, jumped to 6.6% last December. That caused the federal budget deficit for 1994 to rise to 10.4% of the GNP. Meanwhile, Illarionov noted that while January inflation reached 17.8%, February's rate should be around 12%. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

President Yeltsin has asked Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to suspend the dismissal of Sergei Gryzunov, chairman of the State Press Committee, Interfax reported on 28 February. A presidential source said Gryzunov's case would be reevaluated, citing protests from journalists and the public. Although Chernomyrdin told reporters, "You know why" Gryzunov was fired, the reasons remain unclear and have sparked a debate in the Russian press. Rossiiskie vesti wrote on 1 March that "the lack of an intelligible official explanation" indicates serious decisions are now made "in the undercover style of cadre politics." On the same day, Komsomolskaya pravda wondered which "government circles" decided to fire the press chairman, since Gryzunov was "the last to know," while Yeltsin claims to have been "misinformed" on the matter. Many journalists say Gryzunov is being punished for refusing to take part in official disinformation on the Chechen crisis. Gryzunov said Mikhail Poltoranin, chairman of the Duma press and information committee, may have lobbied for his dismissal. Recently, Gryzunov had proposed that the finances of one of "Poltoranin's favorite" newspaper's, Rossiiskaya gazeta, be investigated. Gryzunov told Interfax on 28 February that even though he was fired without cause, the public controversy over his dismissal proves that democratic reform in Russia is irreversible. He praised the Russian public and Yeltsin for rejecting "behind-the-scenes intriguing" in the affair. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc.

Russia's Finance Ministry plans to further develop a securities market in an attempt to improve the system of state borrowings and balance the internal state debt, Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Kazmin said at a Moscow seminar on 28 February, Interfax reported. According to Kazmin, introducing a securities market with longer terms of repayment, together with a reasonable level of accessibility and attraction to investors, will help lower Russia's high inflation rate. Kazmin said the number of banks which have licenses to distribute treasury bonds has increased from 9 to 17, and another 15 commercial banks are on a reserve list. The decision to issue treasury bonds was adopted on 9 August 1994. The total amount in the first issuance reached 4 trillion rubles with repayment terms of three months, six months, and 12 months. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

A CIA analyst told Congress that Russia might not ratify START II, AFP reported on 28 February. Peter Clement, head of the CIA's Russian affairs division, told the U.S. Senate foreign affairs committee that some Russian lawmakers say the country's nuclear forces should not be reduced because the Chechen war showed that conventional forces are ineffective. The upcoming elections "will complicate matters further," he added. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

The first U.S. commission to verify Russian compliance with the START I treaty arrives in Moscow on 1 March, Interfax reported. The group will verify initial data about numbers and types of strategic nuclear weapons on 56 inspection tours within Russia. The group will also visit Ukraine and Russian military installations in Belarus and Kazakhstan. Another U.S. team will carry out a "demand" inspection on 2 March in which the Defense Ministry will have nine hours to take the team to any area it requests. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

The Federation Council failed to muster enough votes on 28 February to override a presidential veto of the law on political demonstrations, Interfax reported. Only 28 deputies supported the override, far short of the 118 necessary for a two-thirds majority. The State Duma had overridden the presidential veto on 22 February. Yevgeny Krestyaninov, chairman of the Federation Council regulation commission, said deputies must now start working from scratch on a new law. The Council also failed to pass two laws already approved by the Duma: "On Television and Radio Broadcasting" and "On Changes and Amendments to the Decree on Mass Media." The Council rejected the legislation because some of its terms were unacceptable, but did not specify exactly which provisions. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

The Federal Counterintelligence Service has arrested Alexei Vedenkin, deputy chairman of the Russian National Unity party, Interfax and Reuters reported on 28 February. In a recent television broadcast, entitled "Fascism in Russia. Who?," he said he wanted to execute Russian Human Rights Commissioner Sergei Kovalev and State Duma defense committee chairman Sergei Yushenkov, both of whom had been critical of the use of force in Chechnya. Vedenkin said he had drawn up a hit list of 150 other liberals and proposed erecting a statue to Defense Minister Grachev. The television program showed Vedenkin sharing meals with Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, but that party appeared to dissociate itself from Vedenkin when it released a denunciation of fascism on 27 February. Moskovsky komsomolets reported on 1 March that Vedenkin is no more than an "adventurist" who tries to make himself appear more important than he really is, and, therefore, was an easy target for the security services. Nevertheless, Andrei Loginov, head of the presidential administration's department on relations with political parties, associations, and parliamentary factions, urged the adoption of "urgent police measures" to oppose the fascist threat. He said a presidential decree currently being drafted will take a tough approach to the problem. Yeltsin is also planning to hold an anti-fascist conference, possibly in the second half of April. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

In meetings with the rump Yugoslavia's defense minister, Pavle Bulatovic, Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev said, "The UN Security Council and the Contact Group owe Belgrade," Interfax reported on 28 February. Kozyrev added that he favored lifting sanctions against Belgrade, especially since Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic had supported the Contact Group's peace plan. He continued, "I am sure the UN Security Council and the international Contact Group have not fulfilled their . . . commitments." Referring to the military agreement signed between Moscow and Belgrade on 27 February, he said any actual military-technical cooperation between Russia and rump Yugoslavia must await the lifting of international sanctions. Bulatovic's visit to Moscow was featured prominently in Nasa Borba. -- Michael Mihalka and Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais said Russia's miners would not go ahead with a strike scheduled for 1 March, Interfax reported on 28 February. The Russian Coal Industry Workers' Union had announced on 23 February that it was postponing an indefinite strike called for 1 March until 15 March. Chubais said agreement had been reached on many issues and that the government had paid the miners a total of 1.6 billion rubles by the end of February, Ostankino TV reported. Chubais admitted, however, that the money disbursed by the government did not cover its entire debt and the situation in a number of areas remains tense. A major problem, he said, was nonpayment by consumers, particularly in Vorkuta and Primorsky Krai. He added that the government intended to send a commission to those regions and was taking steps to arrange payment by debtors. Meanwhile, Interfax reported that miners in Primorsky still intended to strike on 1 March and they reserved the right to call an indefinite strike. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

The minimum monthly wage of 20,500 rubles is a mere 12% of the subsistence minimum, the Labor Ministry told Interfax on 28 February. A Russian requires 170,000 rubles a month to buy food and other essentials and pay utility bills. In January, the average cost of the minimum consumption basket of 19 basic items was 135,000 rubles. On 27 February, Labor Minister Gennady Melikyan said average monthly pay was just over twice the subsistence minimum. Melikyan also noted that the share of the population's income earned at official jobs has been shrinking and that the difference in pay between the lowest and highest income groups is continuing to grow. Officially, the richest 10% earn 15 times the poorest 10%, but the actual difference is much larger. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

No report today.

The right-wing Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists has issued a statement calling on Ukraine to withdraw from the CIS immediately, suspend its nuclear disarmament, halt negotiations with Russia over dividing the Black Sea Fleet and signing a friendship and cooperation treaty, and fortify the country's borders, UNIAR reported on 28 February. The statement was prompted by an interview with Russian ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky published in Vseukrainski vedomosti. Zhirinovsky told the newspaper that "The Russian army will march over Ukraine, eliminating everything in its way, and will deploy its garrisons everywhere it meets resistance." -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Lech Walesa continued his game of cat and mouse with the ruling coalition on 28 February, refusing to discuss the composition of the proposed new cabinet with prime minister candidate Jozef Oleksy, Gazeta Wyborcza reported. The president's spokesman said Oleksy came to the meeting "unprepared." Unless he was actually appointed prime minister, the spokesman argued, Oleksy lacked the constitutional authority to conduct cabinet consultations. Walesa's move forces the coalition to proceed with the constructive no-confidence vote on 1 March, without any certainty that the president will cooperate afterward by naming Oleksy prime minister, as the constitution requires. The president may be aiming--as he has done in the past--to strengthen his bargaining position in talks on the new cabinet. But the sarcasm and nonchalance that have infused recent presidential statements suggest that Walesa is determined to try to block the formation of any new government and may even intend to use the constitutional ambiguity that will arise after Pawlak is ousted and before Oleksy is appointed to try to dissolve the parliament. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

Party colleagues from the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) needed several hours on 28 February to persuade prime minister candidate Jozef Oleksy to continue attempting to form a new government, Gazeta Wyborcza reported. After his unsuccessful meeting with President Lech Walesa, Oleksy was apparently ready to give up. "I don't want to, but it looks as if I'm going to have to [try]," Oleksy reportedly told parliament deputies from the Polish Peasant Party (PSL), paraphrasing Walesa's familiar saying about running for president. Oleksy concluded that the president's attitude signaled a "lack of good will" that would undermine any new government. But SLD leader Aleksander Kwasniewski announced that "the new government will be elected, regardless of the president's opinion." Most PSL deputies also favored a tough stance, although some supporters of Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak see the president's opposition as a good reason to leave the current cabinet in office and simply change a few ministers. Both parties voted on 28 February to impose discipline in the constructive no-confidence vote. Any deputy who votes against will be thrown out of his caucus. The biggest opposition parties will abstain. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

Leonid Kuchma, on returning from a two-week working vacation in western Ukraine, has taken further steps to accelerate economic reforms, Interfax reported. He issued a decree on 27 February offering shares in restructured joint-stock companies on the Ukrainian stock exchange. Some 30% of those shares will be up for sale to individual and corporate investors, and the proceeds will finance the establishment of new voucher auction centers throughout Ukraine as well as a national electronic stock exchange. Ukraine's privatization agency, the State Property Fund, was instructed to compile a list of 100 joint-stock firms from the so-called "D category" of enterprises, which includes large monopolies, defense plants, and most enterprises whose value exceeds 45 billion Ukrainian karbovantsi. Shares in companies in the "C category" (comprising companies worth between 0.7 and 45 billion karbovantsi) that are not sold at voucher auctions will also be made available through the Ukrainian stock exchange. -- Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.

Komsomolskaya pravda on 28 February reported that Belarus has decided to disband its committee for the exchange of information with the U.S. on MIAs and POWs. The committee helped determine the fate of 10 Americans shot down in Vietnam. Until the breakup of the USSR, the participation of Soviet servicemen in the Vietnam War was kept secret, and all servicemen who took part were pledged to silence. Some 150 retired air defense officers who participated in the war currently live in Belarus. Along with servicemen throughout the former USSR, they have been providing the U.S. with information on American MIAs and POWs. In exchange, the U.S. gave Belarus information on a dozen Belarusians captured or missing in Afghanistan. The head of the Belarusian committee, Lt.-Gen. Cherhinets, said he has information on another five US servicemen listed as missing. But now that the committee has been disbanded, it is uncertain whether this information will be made available to the U.S. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Russian Ambassador to Riga Aleksandr Rannikh on 27 February handed over to Latvian Prime Minister Maris Gailis a letter from his Russian counterpart, Viktor Chernomyrdin, Reuters reported the next day. Chernomyrdin promised to help find "a peaceful and conflict-free solution" to the problem of the estimated 2,000 Russian retired servicemen who are still in Latvia, despite agreements signed by Russia saying they would leave by 31 August 1993. Latvia agreed to give the Russian servicemen temporary residence permits until 30 April if they registered by 1 March. Less than half have done so and could therefore be deported. Russia has asked that the retirees be allowed to remain in Latvia until the end of the year so that problems with their resettlement can be resolved. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

Algirdas Brazauskas--accompanied by the foreign affairs and health ministers, three parliament deputies, and 29 businessmen--arrived in Jerusalem for an official three-day visit on 28 February, Western agencies reported. At a welcoming ceremony hosted by President Ezer Weizman, Brazauskas said he was ashamed that some of his countrymen murdered Jews during World War II and pledged to prosecute war criminals. He was confronted outside the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial by dozens of protesters carrying signs reading: "No rehabilitation for Lithuanian Nazi murderers." Brazauskas also met with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

More than 85% of all software programs marketed in the Czech Republic are pirated, causing legal producers to lose 5.5 billion koruny since 1993, Czech media reported on 1 March. Experts say 35% of video cassettes and 8% of compact discs are also illegal copies. The latter are mainly produced in Bulgaria. Pirating is one of the major sources of "dirty money" in the Czech Republic, alongside prostitution and drug dealing, according to Mlada fronta dnes. The newspaper quoted Alenca Kinclova of the Czech Anti-piracy Alliance as saying that courts regularly levy "ridiculously low" fines rather than imposing the maximum punishment for forgery or infringement of copyright. Offenders can be sentenced up to five years in prison or fined 2 million koruny. -- Steve Kettle, OMRI, Inc.

An IMF representative is expected to take part in the 1 March session of the Slovak parliament committee on finance, currency, and the budget, at which the 1995 draft budget will be discussed. The last IMF mission to Slovakia was on 18 January-1 February, when representatives decided to delay the third installment of Slovakia's stand-by loan. Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Sergej Kozlik on 9 February said that the installment was delayed only because the 1995 budget had not yet been approved. The budget, approved by the government on 15 February and expected to be passed by the parliament in early March, has been criticized as unrealistic. It provides for a budget deficit of 21 billion koruny, GDP growth of 5%, 10% annual inflation, and a 14% unemployment rate. According to a Sme on 1 March, the IMF recommends the following goals: a budget deficit of 13 billion koruny, GDP growth of 2%, 8% annual inflation, larger foreign currency reserves, the implementation of structural reforms, lowering the import surcharge to 5% by the end of June and eliminating it by the end of 1995, speeding up privatization (by the coupon method, in particular), and gradually liberalizing energy prices for households. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

The Hungarian parliament on 28 February ratified the Hungarian-Russian basic treaty by a vote of 264 to 2, MTI reports. The treaty was signed by former Prime Minister Jozsef Antall and Russian President Boris Yeltsin in December 1991, but its ratification by the Russian parliament was delayed because of some deputies' objections to the passage condemning the former Soviet Union's intervention in Hungary in 1956. The State Duma finally ratified the treaty in January 1995. Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs emphasized that the document was very important for Hungary because Russia was its largest trading partner in Eastern Europe. The two countries will exchange documents on the treaty during Prime Minister Gyula Horn's visit to Russia next week. -- Edith Oltay, OMRI, Inc.

This is how leading UN refugee official Sylvana Foa described the latest wave of Serbian "ethnic cleansing" in the Banja Luka area, where the Muslim population has dropped from 500,000 three years ago to 37,000. She said that "it looks like the mopping up of what is left, mainly old people," AFP reported on 28 February. Vecernji list on 1 March carries a similar report on the fate of the local Croats. Meanwhile, in the Bihac pocket, news agencies reported that fighting increased on 28 February and that unknown gunners subjected nine empty relief trucks to heavy shelling, forcing the crew to take shelter in armored vehicles nearby. Bosnia and Herzegovina marks its third anniversary of independence on 1 March with political, cultural, and sporting events in Sarajevo. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

The New York Times on 1 March reported on the deepening feud between the world organization and the Atlantic alliance over at least two flights by unidentified aircraft near Tuzla in mid-February. NATO says they were its own normal patrols or "commercial aircraft on approved airways in Serbian airspace." The UN replies that "the idea that trained officers could mistake a low-flying transporter over Tuzla for a commercial aircraft flying at 35,000 feet in Serbian airspace is frankly ludicrous and insulting." The UN has hinted that the U.S., possibly together with Turkey, is secretly dropping arms to the Muslims, a charge NATO firmly denies. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Nasa Borba reports on repeated hints by Croatia that it is willing to accept some form of international presence on its borders once UNPROFOR's mandate runs out on 31 March. Other accounts suggest that Zagreb is desperate to bring in NATO or WEU patrols as the only means to avoid another war. The problem is that to patrol Croatia's borders, the forces would have to position themselves between Krajina and both Bosnian Serb territory and Serbia proper, which the Serbs generally reject. NATO has also publicly rejected Croatian President Franjo Tudjman's calls for it to form a new international force in Croatia. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

The ethnic Albanian legislators in the Macedonian parliament have boycotted the parliament's latest session, Flaka reported on 1 March. The legislators, who have four minister posts in the coalition government, are demanding serious negotiations on higher education in Albanian and a solution to the conflict over the self-proclaimed Albanian-language university in Tetovo. They took the decision to boycott the 1 March session following the police crackdown on their university on 17 February. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

Tanjug, citing local police sources, reported on 28 February that 63 Roman Catholic graves have been desecrated in the town of Novi Sad, in the Serbian province of Vojvodina. According to police sources, the incidents seemed to be random acts of vandalism, possibly with no connection to ethnically or religiously motivated groups. -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

The executive board of the Liberal Party '93 announced on 28 February that it has recommended that the party's National Council not sign the revised protocols of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR). A final decision on whether the LP '93 will withdraw from Romania's main opposition alliance is expected to be taken on 11 March, when the party's National Council is scheduled to meet. Dinu Patriciu, a leading member of the LP '93, was quoted by Radio Bucharest as saying that only a number of "noisy" political formations have remained in the alliance and are trying hard to "give the impression that the CDR still exists." -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

Ion Iliescu, in a letter addressed to Senate Chairman Oliviu Gherman on 28 February, asked the parliament to approve the participation of Romanian troops and a medical unit in the UN peacekeeping force in Angola, Radio Bucharest reported. Iliescu proposed sending an 800-strong infantry battalion and a field hospital with 200 staff. He said the troops could leave by mid-May and the hospital could be ready as soon as 15 April. Under the Romanian Constitution, the parliament must be consulted before any decision is taken on sending Romanian troops abroad. Romania sent a medical unit to the UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia last year, but this would be the first time it has contributed troops to a UN mission. -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

Mircea Snegur, in a recent interview with RFE/RL, summarized by Infotag on 27 February, said the international community would like to see Moldova as a zone of security and stability in the region. He said he had witnessed once again the support of the international community during his visit to Washington in late January. According to Snegur, the United States believes Moldova has taken a step forward compared with other former Soviet republics and deserves support. Answering a question about the possible expansion of NATO, Snegur noted that membership in that organization should be based on mutually acceptable international accords and should not be damaging to any country. He further praised the economic advantages of Moldova as a member of the CIS. As for relations with Romania, he said "they remain priority ones for Moldova." -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

The National Coordinating Council of the Union of Democratic Forces on 28 February approved changes in the coalition's statutes, Demokratsiya reported the following day. The National Conference is to be the UDF's highest body. It will be called at least once a year and attended by representatives of the UDF's local and regional councils and member organizations. The conference will elect the chairman of the UDF and his deputies for two years. Until now, they were elected for one year by the National Coordinating Council, in which each of the 15 member organizations has one seat. A newly established National Executive Council--to include the UDF chairman, his deputies, the chief secretary, and the chairman of the parliament faction--will be in charge of day-to-day affairs. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, and the U.S. will hold joint military maneuvers in Greece in May within the framework of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, AFP reported on 28 February. The Greek army announced that Germany will attend as an observer and that Albania has been invited to participate in the same capacity. No answer has been received from Tirana yet. The Greek and Bulgarian chiefs of staff, Adm. Christos Lyberis and Gen. Tsvetan Totomirov, have also agreed on the details of joint naval exercises in the Black Sea. Totomirov is on a three-day visit to Greece and is to meet with Greek Defense Minister Gerasimos Arsenis. Arsenis visited Sofia last week where he signed a bilateral defense accord with his Bulgarian counterpart, Dimitar Pavlov. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

German President Roman Herzog and Albanian Foreign Minister Alfred Serreqi have signed a joint declaration pledging to expand cooperation and deepen mutual ties, Rilindja Demokratike reported on 1 March. Herzog, on a two-day visit to Albania, expressed support for the re-establishment of Kosovo's autonomy and called on Albania to prevent the Yugoslav conflict from spreading. He also discussed Albania's further participation in NATO's Partnership for Peace program, minority questions, and the situation in Macedonia. Albanian Democratic Party leader Eduard Selami did not attend a reception at the German embassy in Herzog's honor, as expected, but instead went to a party meeting in Fier to discuss his own position within the party, Populli PO reported the same day. Selami had offered his resignation before the meeting because of continuing disputes with DP government members. An extraordinary party meeting on 5 March will decide on Selami's fate. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

[As of 12:00 CET]
Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave