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Newsline - April 26, 1995

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin will lead a centrist movement of democratic forces for the upcoming parliamentary elections, Russian and western agencies reported on 25 April. Chernomyrdin said the bloc was created to prevent extremists from winning the upcoming elections and to help form a government that will be backed by a majority in the Duma after the elections, Ekho Moskvy reported. Chernomyrdin confirmed that parliamentary elections will be held on schedule and said his movement would "create the conditions for normal work" in Russia. The movement hopes to attract widespread regional support; Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakrai's Party of Russian Unity and Accord and the Duma groups Stability and New Regional Policy will join Chernomyrdin's bloc, Russian Television reported. Shakhrai said a strong centrist movement will help "stabilize the situation" in Russia and "overcome the chaos" that has characterized the parliamentary campaign to date, Ekho Moskvy reported. In the past, Chernomyrdin has described himself as a professional economic planner, not a politician. * Laura Belin

President Boris Yeltsin welcomed the new Chernomyrdin bloc, which he said would attract voters who value "experience and professionalism," Interfax reported on 25 April. Appearing on Russian Television, Duma deputy Vyacheslav Nikonov, a member of Shakhrai's party, said the movement would "express the interests of voters" and facilitate "coordinated actions" among all branches of power. Others denounced the new bloc. Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky asserted on Moscow Television that having realized the government could not credibly postpone elections, Chernomyrdin's main goal was to win the elections and "leave everything like it is today." Liberal Democratic Party member and Duma Deputy Chairman Alexander Vengerovsky complained, "The government is supposed to manage the country . . . . It is when these people go in for politics instead of working in their offices that the country sinks into chaos," Ekho Moskvy reported. Duma Constitutional Legislation Committee Chairman Vladimir Isakov of the Agrarian party called Chernomyrdin's announcement "improper," since the constitution forbids the government from participating in politics, Interfax reported. A Radio Rossii commentator predicted that the prime minister would have trouble leading an electoral bloc and the cabinet at the same time. * Laura Belin

President Yeltsin also welcomed the new left-center bloc that will apparently be led by Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin, according to Stability's Alexei Alexandrov, who met with Yeltsin 25 April, Interfax reported. The coalition includes Mikhail Shmakov's Federation of Independent Trade Unions, Vasily Lipitsky's Social Democratic Union, the Russian United Industrial Party, Yury Petrov's Union of Realists, and Lyudmila Vartazarova's Socialist Workers' Party. Rybkin, a member of the Agrarian Party, neither confirmed nor denied that he will lead the new coalition, Russian TV and Interfax reported. He said he plans to discuss the issue of the Agrarian Party joining the group with party leader Mikhail Lapshin when Lapshin returns from his tour of the country This bloc will seek to attract the votes that might otherwise go to the Congress of Russian Communities, former Vice President Alexander Rutskoi's Derzhava, Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party, and the Communists. Viktor Zorkaltsev, deputy leader of the communist group in the State Duma, said that the communists are prepared to consider all proposals about forming a bloc, Interfax reported. The Russia deputies' group is likely to join, according to its chairman Igor Shichanin. That group now brings together 38 Duma members. NTV speculated that the Women of Russia would also enter the alliance. * Robert Orttung

Rossiiskie vesti of 26 April evaluated the appearance of Chernomyrdin's and Rybkin's bloc positively as proof that "Russian politics is becoming more civilized." The simultaneous appearance of the two blocs appears to be part of Yeltsin's efforts to combat the rise of political extremism, signaled first by his 23 March decree on fascism. Radio Rossii, however, said that the blocs' main weakness is that voters will have trouble differentiating their programs, both of which stress continuity rather than radical changes. The station predicts that such an approach will not attract many voters. Russian Television speculates that Chernomyrdin and Rybkin will now be the main contenders for the post of the Russian presidency in 1996. * Robert Orttung

Reforms ordered by Defense Minister Pavel Grachev may prompt 14th Army commander, Lieut-Gen. Alexander Lebed to resign, Russian agencies reported on 25 April. Grachev's decree will reorganize the 14th Army command, forcing Lebed to choose between several other military positions offered to him, presumably not in the Trans-Dniester region of Moldova. Lebed told Ekho Moskvy that he had not yet decided how to respond to Grachev's order. "I will not agree to assume any other office," Lebed said. "So in all probability, the man you are speaking to is a potential pensioner." An NTV correspondent speculated that if he resigns, Lebed may join the election campaign as a leader of the Congress of Russian Communities. Lebed's threat to resign may foreshadow deeper involvement of military men in Russian politics, according to an observer on military matters for Moskovskie novosti. * Laura Belin

President Yeltsin has appointed Minister of Justice Valentin Kovalev to be a member of the Security Council, the president's press service announced 25 April according to Interfax. Kovalev's appointment as Justice Minister was controversial because he was part of the Communist bloc in the Duma. Since joining the cabinet, he has supported the Kremlin policy in Chechnya. The Security Council has played a major role in formulating that policy. * Robert Orttung

A Russian military working group flew to the U.S. on 25 April to discuss upcoming joint peacekeeping exercises with their American counterparts. Colonel Nikolai Malyshev, head of the ground forces' press center, told Interfax that preliminary planning for the exercises, which will be held in the U.S. in 1996, would involve more than 100 service personnel
from each country. The Russian contingent will come from the 27th Motorized Rifle Division--one of two divisions designated for peacekeeping roles. * Doug Clarke

On 25 April, Russia and the World Bank signed loan agreements totaling $555.8 million to fund economic reform and the cleanup of a massive oil spill near the Arctic Circle, Western agencies reported. The World Bank's commitments to Russia now amount to $3.6 billion. The new loans include $400 million to support the creation of private housing markets in a number of cities; $16.8 million to modernize the tax system; $40 million for training personnel in the financial industry; and $99 million to help clean up more than 100,000 tons of oil that leaked last year from a pipeline in the Komi Republic. Officials have described the last project as "a race against time" to contain the oil before the spring thaw. Also on 25 April, Interfax reported a fracture in an oil pipeline in Tyumen Oblast that caused a spill covering 30 hectares. The accident was said to have occurred on 19 April, but the management of the local oil company Megionneftgaz did not report it. * Penny Morvant

Russia's Economy Minister Yevgeny Yasin said in a 25 April Interfax interview that the "national currency will stabilize without the need to fix the rate." He commented that the ruble rate's gradual slide in line with inflation would be more favorable for Russia. Yasin said that a steady ruble and rising prices would affect home producers and exporters. As imports become cheaper, it may create the illusion that the market is being saturated, prices are falling and living standards are stabilizing, he said. Yasin said the Central Bank itself make a decision about interest rates. * Thomas Sigel

The ruble slid 16 points on 25 April to 5,081 rubles to $1 on MICEX trading, the Financial Information Agency reported. Market trading volume stood at $85.04 million for initial demand of $85.06 million against supply of $65.4 million. * Thomas Sigel

Iraq has granted Russia the right to develop two major oil fields and Fuel and Energy Minister Yuri Shafranik is in Baghdad to discuss possible cooperation on a range of energy projects, ITAR-TASS reported 25 April. However, any agreements would take effect only after the UN lifts sanctions against Iraq. When asked why Russia was selected to develop fields that are in the southeast of the country, Iraqi Oil Minister Safa' Hadi Jawad al-Habubi said, "Russians are our friends, and we are maintaining good relations with them." * Michael Mihalka

All Soviet-era nuclear warheads have been transferred from Kazakhstan to Russia, Colonel General Viktor Yesin, Russian Strategic Missile Forces chief of staff, told ITAR-TASS on 25 April. When Kazakhstan became independent, it had 104 giant SS-18 intercontinental ballistic missiles on its territory, each loaded with 10 nuclear warheads. Yesin said the transfer was completed 24 April. According to the terms of the Lisbon protocol to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-1), Kazakhstan--along with Belarus and Ukraine--pledged to eliminate the strategic nuclear weapons on their territories by 1999. * Doug Clarke

The Russian Foreign Ministry reacted quickly to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's 24 April statement that Ukraine could not accept Russia's proposals on the Black Sea Fleet issue--particularly its demand for all of Sevastopol as a Russian naval base. On 25 April, a "high official" of the ministry told ITAR-TASS that Russia's stand on the issue was "fair morally and justified" legally. The government favors establishing separate bases for the two resulting fleets, "which is the exact wording of the agreement on state-by-stage settlement of the problem signed by the presidents of Russia and Ukraine in April 1994." Kuchma said that the Black Sea Fleet problem was one of territory and not ships. The Russian official countered that there had been nothing in Russia's stand on territory during the three years of negotiations that had warranted the slightest Ukrainian concern. "Those who raise this problem now," he added, "are inventing it." * Doug Clarke

Lieutenant General Leonid Ivashov, secretary of the CIS Council of Defense Ministers, said 24 April that the CIS defense ministers plan to set up a Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee of the CIS Armed Forces, Kommersant-Daily reported the next day. The committee will be comprised of the chiefs of the general staffs of the CIS national forces, who will conduct a "profound analysis of program, theoretical, and practical matters and the coordination of the operations of CIS armies' staffs," Ivashov said. * Michael Mihalka

The Crimean parliament on 25 April voted by 57 to zero to hold a non-binding regionwide referendum at the same time as the local elections on 25 June, Interfax-Ukraine and Reuters reported the same day. The poll would ask voters whether they supported the controversial Crimean Constitution, which stipulates that relations between the autonomous region and Ukraine should be governed by bilateral treaties rather than the Ukrainian Constitution. Crimeans would also be asked whether they backed Kiev's recent crackdown on Crimean separatism and whether they were in favor of political and economic union with Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. Ukrainian Justice Minister Vasyl Onopenko and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who is on an official visit to the Czech Republic, called the vote illegal. The Ukrainian leader said Kiev might undertake further punitive action if Crimeanleaders went ahead with the unconstitutional poll. Leaders of the Ukrainian parliament said their assembly would consider overturning the Crimean deputies' decision. It would also look into dissolving the 98-member body, which has split over Kiev's crackdown. Crimean legislators also appealed to the parliaments of both Russia and Ukraine to monitor the referendum to protect the rights of the large ethnic Russian majority in the region. * Chrystyna Lapychak

On the eve of the ninth anniversary of the 1986 accident at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant, a special medical seminar revealed the results of research conducted by the Ukrainian Health Ministry among 1 million residents in the three regions most affected by the blast, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 25 April. The research revealed that in Kiev, Zhytomyr, and Rivne Oblasts, the incidence of thyroid cancer has increased by 200%, heart disease 75%, respiratory diseases 130%, and digestive illnesses 280% The death rate among inhabitants has risen by 15.7% since the accident. Health care officials also revealed that health consequences are most serious among the 233,507 cleanup workers, who have been exposed to high levels of radiation. * Chrystyna Lapychak

The Ukrainian Ministry of Statistics has released figures on non-CIS trade in January and February, Ukrainian Television reported on 25 April. Ukraine exports totaled $140 million and imports just under $40 million. Ukraine's largest exports were sugar, meat, fish, alcoholic, and non-alcoholic beverages. Its biggest imports were seed, tobacco, and cocoa. * Ustina Markus

Trud on 25 April reported that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has issued a decree firing Mikhail Katyushenka, editor in chief of the youth newspaper Znamya yunosti. Katyushenka is the fourth editor of a nationwide newspaper to be fired by Lukashenka. Previous decrees had dismissed the editors of Sovetskaya Belorussiya, Respublika, and Narodnaya hazeta. * Ustina Markus

The board of the Bank of Estonia has asked President Lennart Meri to appoint Vahur Kraft as the bank's new president, BNS reported on 25 April, Kraft, the bank's vice president since 1991, was recommended by former bank president Siim Kallas. Kallas submitted his resignation after being elected to the Estonian parliament in early March, but Meri approved it only last week. * Saulius Girnius

Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis, in an effort to eliminate hazing of recruits in the armed forces, has proposed establishing the posts of general inspector and deputy commander for educational issues, BNS reported on 24 April. He also suggested that operational groups be set up to launch speedy investigations into all disciplinary infringements. According to information gathered by armed forces staff, 2,954 cases of military discipline infringement were registered in the first three months of 1995--218 fewer than in the same period of 1994, BNS reported on 25 April. Although less than 1% of these infringements were classified as recruit hazing, a survey among soldiers revealed that 32.6% had experienced hazing between two and four times, 21.3% more than 10 times, and 9.5% regularly. Some 2,000 soldiers sought medical help in 1994, of which 50-60% were for injuries and illnesses due to hazing. * Saulius Girnius

Roman Jagielinski, who is also minister of agriculture, arrived in Vilnius on 24 April for a two-day visit to discuss expanding free trade between the two countries and to speak about Poland's experience in transforming agriculture in line with European Union standards, BNS reported. He held talks the same day with President Algirdas Brazauskas and Lithuanian Minister of Agriculture Vytautas Einoris. Jagielinski on 25 April visited the international agricultural fair "AgroBalt 95." * Saulius Girnius
Wladyslaw Bartoszewski said in Washington that Poland is ready for full membership in NATO but preparations for entering the EU will take more time, international agencies reported. After meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry, Bartoszewski announced that the first Polish-U.S. military exercises will start in three months. Bartoszewski on 25 April quoted U.S. Vice President Al Gore as telling him that "there will be no problem about whether Poland is going to be in NATO, but there is a problem about when and how." He called for a definitive statement from NATO that no outside country will be able to veto the entry of new members and that the enlargement process will "not be prolonged ad infinitum." Asked about Russia, Bartoszewski played down the influence of nationalist leaders such as Vladimir Zhirinovsky. He commented that "the real threat to Russian democracy stems from the generals and from defense-industrial circles, which would like to see another Afghanistan or another Chechnya because events like that simply justify their existence." * Jakub Karpinski

Leonid Kuchma arrived in Prague on 25 April for a two-day state visit, Czech and international media reported. He told a news conference that Ukraine hopes for early integration into European institutions and that the first step would be membership in the Council of Europe. President Vaclav Havel said the Czech Republic, which is to take over the Presidency of the Council of Europe this year, will support Ukraine's application. Havel also said he hoped for expanded economic ties with Ukraine. The two presidents are due to sign a friendship and cooperation treaty on 26 April. Kuchma told Czech Television he is concerned about the possible eastward expansion of NATO, which could leave Ukraine as a buffer state between the Western alliance and a collective security bloc of the CIS. * Steve Kettle

Leaders of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and the Christian Democratic Party (KDS) held preliminary talks on 25 April about a possible merger before the June 1996 parliament elections. If the two groups merge, they will run under the banner of the ODS, the dominant force in the four-party coalition, Mlada fronta dnes reported. The ODS and the tiny KDS joined forces in the last elections as coalition partners. Leaders of both parties said talks will continue but the KDS also plans to discuss a possible merger with another governing party, the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party. A final decision cannot be taken before the party congresses, which are due in December. * Steve Kettle

A Prague court gave the six members of the Czech rock group Branik eight-month suspended sentences on 25 April for racist texts attacking blacks, gypsies, and Asians. The group broke up shortly after the offending album appeared in 1991. One song contained the lines: "Your mission is sacred, you're going to beat those swine; niggers, gypsies, and yellows, don't let them live in peace." The prosecuting state attorney immediately appealed the sentences, believing them to be too lenient, Czech media reported. * Steve Kettle

The Slovak parliament's Mandate and Immunity Committee on 25 April began disciplinary action against Democratic Union deputy Milan Knazko for referring to Slovak National Party members as "neo-fascists" and Association of Workers of Slovakia members as "neo-bolsheviks" at the last parliament session. Committee votes to bring charges against two other opposition deputies for recent statements failed to gain sufficient support, Pravda reports. Also on 25 April, the Slovak government approved amendments to the criminal code that "create conditions for a more effective fight against bribery and corruption," Slovenska Republika reports. Meanwhile, parliament chairman Ivan Gasparovic announced that at the seventh session of the parliament, scheduled to begin on 3 May, the administration of supervisory body of the Slovak Information Service will be discussed. Ivan Lexa, who was elected to the parliament last fall as a deputy of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, currently heads both the SIS and the supervisory body. * Sharon Fisher

The Slovak parliament commission charged with investigating the "constitutional crisis" of March 1994, when Vladimir Meciar was removed as prime minister in a no-confidence vote, has interviewed a number of former and current parliament deputies. Ivan Korbela, who left the MDS and was interviewed on 25 April, said the goal of the commission is to discredit President Michal Kovac and to remove him from office, Sme and Pravda reported. A second commission, set up to review the petition lists of the Democratic Union (the party needed at least 10,000 valid signatures to compete in last fall's elections), is also continuing its work, according to Dusan Macuska, an MDS deputy who heads both commissions. * Sharon Fisher

Britain on 25 April announced that it is seeking relief for its contingent of 350 peacekeepers patrolling the Bosnian Muslim enclave of Gorazde, in eastern Bosnia. "We have asked the UN to try to find a replacement . . . when [the British peacekeepers'] tour ends in September," Reuters quoted a representative of the British Ministry of Defense as saying. The latest British announcement comes in the wake of a similar Dutch request to have soldiers relieved from duty in Srebrenica. * Stan Markotich

Moscow has reacted negatively to the international war crimes tribunal decision to name Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military counterpart, General Ratko Mladic, as possible war criminals. One senior Russian diplomat has stressed that bringing charges against them may escalate tensions throughout the country. "Such a step would be damaging to peace efforts in the Balkans . . . . [The Bosnian Serb leaders] are seen as freedom fighters by one side and as criminals by the other," he told Interfax on 25 April. * Stan Markotich

Karadzic, together with speaker of the Bosnian Serb legislature Momcilo Krajisnik, received Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle in the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Pale on 25 April, Nasa Borba reported. Pavle used the occasion to sharply criticize Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic for allegedly abandoning the Bosnian Serbs and imposing a blockade against them. He also gave his indirect support to Bosnian Serb military efforts, observing "It is better to die than to betray our soul." The patriarch commented that "our forefathers fought . . . in defense of their freedom, land, and faith." * Stan Markotich

Federal rump Yugoslav Premier Radoje Kontic is the latest major Belgrade political figure to attack recent moves by the international community to tighten requirements for lifting or suspending sanctions against rump Yugoslavia. He is quoted by Nasa Borba on 26 April as saying Belgrade "has earned a complete lifting of the sanctions." Meanwhile, Politika reported the same day that Russia continues its lobbying to have sanctions removed against its Balkan allies. According to the daily, Aleksandr Zotov, representative to the international Contact Group, has said that "until the sanctions are lifted, Belgrade is not prepared to extend diplomatic recognition to Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina." * Stan Markotich

Tadeusz Mazowiecki, special rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Commission, has submitted his 15th report since 1992 on human rights violations in former Yugoslavia, according to international agencies. The report focuses on the Banja Luka and Prijedor region, where non-Serbs have reportedly been "subjected to unrelenting terrorization and discrimination," including plundering, beating, and compulsory service on labor brigades, which often use them as human shields on the front lines. Mazowiecki notes that "the de facto Bosnian Serb authorities are very close to attaining their apparent aim of achieving `ethnic purity' in territory under their control." The former Polish premier has been denied access to territory held by Bosnian Serbs forces, but his report was based on interviews with recent Muslim and Croatian refugees. * Fabian Schmidt

Serbian directors of several elementary schools in Pec, Prizren, and Pristina prevented Albanian staff and pupils from entering the buildings on 24 April, the Kosovo Information Center reported the next day. The schools are for Albanians and Serbs and offer instruction in both languages. But this week has been declared a public holiday by the Serbian authorities to celebrate the anniversary of the foundation of the rump Yugoslavia on 27 April 1992. Private schools run by all-Albanian staff are the only ones in Kosovo to continue classes. Serbian police reportedly also threatened Albanians who allowed secondary school pupils to receive instruction in their house. * Fabian Schmidt

A statement by Miguel Angel Martinez, president of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, has caused widespread controversy in Romania. A Radio Bucharest correspondent quoted Martinez as saying in Strasbourg on 24 April that the council's Recommendation 1201 on ethnic minority rights should remain valid. Radio Bucharest described the statement as "surprising" and said it contrasted with Martinez's earlier statements that the recommendation lost its importance following the adoption of the framework convention on ethnic minorities. Chamber of Deputies Chairman and former Foreign Minister Adrian Nastase, in a lengthy press release, suggested that Martinez was pressured into revising his views. Romania opposes the inclusion of a reference to Recommendation 1201 in its long-delayed basic treaty with Hungary. Meanwhile, Romanian and Hungarian experts resumed negotiations on the treaty on 25 April. * Dan Ionescu

Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev on 19 April issued instructions on reforming the 14th Russian army, based in Tiraspol, according to ITAR-TASS on 25 April. The decree provides for army headquarters to be scaled down to an office in charge of a single division by 1 July. The same source quotes Lt. Gen. Aleksandr Lebed, commander of the 14th army, as describing the decision "to chop off [his army's] head" as "criminal." Lebed added that he doubted he would be offered another position in the army and that he was not prepared to accept any other office. Reuters said the 45-year-old general planned to run in the 1996 presidential elections. Many Russians see Lebed as a firm ruler capable of restoring order in post-communist Russia. * Dan Ionescu

The Union of Democratic Forces, in a memorandum to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, has warned of attempts by the government to recommunize the country, Demokratsiya reported on 25 April. The UDF claims the Socialist government's activities have halted economic and political reform and are a step back toward a totalitarian regime. It also notes that the opposition is being denied access to the media, "which are controlled by the government." * Stefan Krause

Zhan Videnov, during his visit to Brussels, said on 25 April that he hopes his country will be granted membership in the European Union within the next five years, Reuters reported the same day. He commented that Bulgaria "must prepare very thoroughly" for membership and that talks can begin only after the EU has reviewed the Maastricht treaty in 1996. At a press conference after his meeting with European Commission President Jacques Santer, Videnov said he realized that hopes for a quick admission into the EU are "wishful thinking." Videnov also met with NATO Secretary-General Willy Claes, who praised Bulgaria's participation in the Partnership for Peace program as "very useful," Demokratsiya reported on 26 April. He added, however, that NATO membership for Bulgaria and other East European countries "is not on the daily agenda." * Stefan Krause

Albanian Defense Minister Safet Zhulali met with a high-ranking U.S. naval official on 25 April, Rilindja reported the next day. The two men discussed developing cooperation between the two navies, especially in the field of hydrography. The U.S. navy offered the Albanians modern equipment and handed over coastal maps of American origin. * Fabian Schmidt

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Carla Atkinson and Jan Cleave