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Newsline - May 15, 1995

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin was unanimously chosen to lead the center-right electoral bloc, Our Home Is Russia, at the movement's founding congress, Russian agencies reported on 12 May. First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets and Samar Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov will be Chernomyrdin's deputies, and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai and Tatarstan Prime Minister Farid Mukhamedshin will be among the bloc's 125 board members, Ekho Moskvy reported. Chernomyrdin stressed that "stability" would be the movement's "key word," Russian TV reported. Responding to charges that his new electoral ambitions do not befit a prime minister, Chernomyrdin challenged his critics to "name one democratic country where the executive branch is apolitical and non-party, and its representatives show no interest in parliamentary elections," Russian Public Television reported. Shakhrai promised that budgetary funds would not be used to finance Our Home Is Russia, which will rely on contributions from "large enterprises and firms," according to Russian Television. Business leaders, including the director of the Avtovaz corporation and the president of the Association of Russian Banks, also attended the congress, NTV reported. * Laura Belin

Many politicians have continued to denounce Chernomyrdin's bloc as the "party of power." Duma Press and Information Committee Chairman Mikhail Poltoranin predicted that the bloc would not have a "happy fate," saying it is doomed to become the president's "whipping boy," Russian Public Television reported on 13 May. Commenting on Chernomyrdin's nomenklatura connections dating back to his days running the Soviet gas industry, "Forward, Russia!" leader Boris Fedorov suggested that a more fitting name for the new bloc would be "Our Home Is Gazprom." However, St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, a consistent supporter of Yeltsin, called on "all reformist, democratic, healthy forces in society" to support Chernomyrdin's bloc, Radio Rossii reported. Sobchak said Russia needs strong parties that can draw up intelligent programs and take responsibility for implementing them. * Laura Belin

The cosmonaut German Titov, representing the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, was the front-runner in voting to fill the Duma seat in Kolomna left empty after the assassination of Liberal Democratic Party deputy Sergei Skorochkin, Ekho Moskvy reported on 15 May. Approximately 36% of the eligible voters participated, well above the 25% barrier for the elections to be valid. A survey of polling stations along Kolomna's main street found that precincts with heavy concentrations of military families were the most active. According to statistics gathered by the city's administration, the rural areas were more active than Kolomna itself. Alexei Vedenkin was in the city for the elections and lodged a protest with the police against Yelena Mavrodi for distributing anonymous flyers that criticized him. Vedenkin's flyers were available at the central train station. They praised Josef Stalin, denounced international Zionism and the U.S. as Russia's greatest external enemies, and stressed the need for Orthodox Christians and Muslims to unite against Jews to protect Russia's interests. According to local officials, the State Duma was carefully monitoring the elections because they could foreshadow how medium-sized Russian cities with ethnically mixed populations will vote in December's nationwide parliamentary elections. * Robert Orttung

Contradicting previous statements indicating his departure from the armed forces was imminent, 14th Army Commander Lt. Gen. Alexander Lebed announced that he has no plans to resign, Russian agencies reported on 12 May. According to NTV, Lebed opened his press conference by saying, "It's difficult to swim in hydrochloric acid with your legs cut off. It's no less difficult to serve in the army." However, Lebed said he felt responsible for keeping the peace in the breakaway Transdniester region of Moldova and would not leave before a political resolution of the conflict was achieved, Russian Public Television reported. In the past, Lebed has said Defense Minister Pavel Grachev's order to restructure the 14th Army left him "no choice" but to resign, and Lebed's participation in the April conference of the Congress of Russian Communities led to widespread speculation that he would soon devote his full attention to politics. * Laura Belin

President Yeltsin signed a decree on 11 May allowing, "by way of exception," the residents of Sverdlovsk Oblast to elect their governor, Segodnya reported the following day. The campaign to hold elections was spearheaded by Eduard Rossel, chairman of the Oblast Duma, and a favorite to win the governorship. The oblast is the first to win the right to hold gubernatorial elections since a presidential decree last fall banned them without Moscow's explicit approval. According to Kommersant-daily of 13 May, Rossel's backers included Constitutional Court Chairman Vladimir Tumanov, Federation Council Speaker Vladimir Shumeiko, and Yeltsin's aide for legal issues, Mikhail Krasnov. Rossel said that if elected, he would strive to coordinate the economic policies of Urals republics and regions but would not resume efforts to establish a Urals republic. Rossel was removed from the post of Sverdlovsk Oblast governor in November 1993 for attempting to set up such a republic. * Penny Morvant

The Main Military Prosecutor's Office has dropped its case against members of the Presidential Security Service who were charged with exceeding their powers in a raid on the headquarters of the Most financial group on 2 December 1994, Moskovsky komsomolets reported on 13 May. The charges were brought by the Krasnaya Presnya prosecutor immediately after the raid, in which masked members of the presidential guard clashed with Mostsecurity guards and Federal Counterintelligence Service officers. The Most Group, which is headed by Vladimir Gusinsky, has interests in various companies, including NTV. * Penny Morvant

A senior Russian Foreign Ministry official asserted on 12 May that U.S. President Bill Clinton shares NATO's "tough view" against the CFE treaty's revision and will not meet Russia's request to revise its flank restrictions, Interfax reported the same day. Nevertheless, the official said Clinton agreed that the treaty had been overtaken by events and should be addressed at the Vienna review conference in May 1996. Although Russia is dissatisfied with the CFE flank restrictions, the official stressed that "Russia can hardly be expected to withdraw from the CFE treaty." He said such views expressed by the Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev reflect only those of his ministry and not those of the government as a whole. Instead, the official said the treaty "meets Russian interests because it imposes similar restrictions on NATO." He expressed the hope that further consultations between Russia and the U.S. on the matter would take place after Clinton returns from his European trip. * Michael Mihalka

Stripped of its military elements, the Russia nuclear cooperation deal with Iran is now worth half its original $1 billion price tag, Segodnya and Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 12 May. Segodnya cited Yury Vorontsev, the Russian ambassador to Washington, as the source of the assessment. According to Nezavisimaya gazeta, the Russian leadership's statements that the Iran nuclear deal has no military component are a reflection of their basic ignorance in the matter. The paper advocates an investigation into why the public learned about the military aspect of the deal from American and not domestic sources. * Michael Mihalka

The volume of cash foreign currency brought into Russia by banks and individuals is steadily decreasing, a Central Bank of Russia official was quoted as saying in Finansovye Izvestiya on 11 May. In February, foreign cash worth about $860 million was brought into Russia, compared to the January figure of $2.6 billion. During the past year, more than $21.7 billion in cash was brought into the country. The bank official attributed the downward trend in the currency influx to the strengthening ruble. * Thomas Sigel

The Duma adopted a law requiring that both houses of parliament ratify all international agreements concerning foreign debt restructuring on state credits, Interfax reported on 11 May. Konstantin Zatulin, chairman of the Duma Committee for CIS Affairs, said foreign countries and former Soviet republics owe Russia about $80 billion. * Thomas Sigel

The Russian government approved a plan to take out a $1 billion loan which will be backed by export guarantees of 25 million tons of crude oil after five years, Russian and Western agencies reported on 12 May. Balkar Trading, a Russian-British trading company, will arrange the loan in return for government guarantees of access to export pipelines. It will purchase the oil on the Russian market and sell it on the world markets through Mobil Corporation. Mobil is expected to raise funds for the loan by selling debt securities on world markets. * Thomas Sigel

The Russian ruble rose by 18 points to 5,088 to $1 on 12 May MICEX trading, the Financial Information Agency reported. Initial supply exceeded initial demand by $63.47 million totaling $214.98 million. Brokers attributed the dollar's slide to the decline of quotations on the off exchange market, making it more profitable for banks to sell currency at MICEX. * Thomas Sigel

The Russian government will finance the 1995 budget deficit (73.1 trillion rubles) from "non-inflation" sources, Finance Minister Vladimir Panskov told the Financial Information Agency on 12 May. Panskov said government securities will remain the primary source of financing the budget deficit; however, the Finance Ministry still has to artificially restrict the placement of short-term government bonds in the financial market because it is not profitable to attract money from commercial structures for three to six months. Panskov said that when inflation falls to 2-3% in the third and fourth quarter, long-term bonds will be issued on a mass scale. * Thomas Sigel

The CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly recommended on 13 May that member countries adopt legislation protecting the rights of citizens and prisoners of war in armed conflicts, Interfax reported the next day. Azerbaijan made the proposal that would apply "if a country becomes a party to an inter-state conflict (war) or if a domestic conflict emerges on the country's territory between two or more parties, even if one of these parties does not recognize the existence of such a conflict." The proposal includes prohibitions against the deportation, hostage-taking, and violence against the lives and well-being of citizens. The rights of prisoners of war will be protected in accordance with international law. Countries involved in conflicts will be required to appoint a "state-protector" to insure the impartial application of the proposal. If such an official is not appointed within two weeks, the Red Cross International Committee will assume the function. Russian Federation Council Vladimir Shumeiko, who also chairs the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly Council, said the proposal would apply to all current conflicts in the CIS, including the one in Chechnya. * Michael Mihalka

The Belarusian Central Election Commission on 14 May reported that 41.1% of eligible voters cast ballots in the republic's first parliament elections since independence, Interfax and Reuters reported the same day. Voters were also asked to take part in a referendum on four issues: economic integration with Russia, Russian as a second state language, the return of the Soviet-era state emblem and flag, and presidential authority to dissolve the parliament. A turnout of 50% plus one vote is required for the poll to be valid, and results are expected over the next several days. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, after casting his vote in Minsk, said he was confident the population would back his initiative to have two state languages, Russian and Belarusian, and move toward new "Slavic unity" with Russia and even neighboring Ukraine. He said that while presidential power to dissolve the legislature would be non-binding, public support would allow him to make political decisions of that nature. * Chrystyna Lapychak

U.S. President Bill Clinton ended his two-day state visit to Ukraine on 12 May with a rousing speech to some 15,000 Ukrainians in front of Shevchenko State University in Kiev, international agencies reported on 13 May. Clinton pledged American solidarity with Ukrainians during the painful transition to democracy and a free market. He confirmed his promise to extend $250 million to Ukraine to finance critical imports in 1995 and pledged an additional $27 million, under the Nunn-Lugar amendment, for Ukrainian nuclear disarmament and defense conversion. Clinton also said he would provide more than $1 million to support Ukraine's participation in military exercises within the Partnership for Peace program in 1995. Agreement was reached that a Ukrainian cosmonaut will take part in a space mission aboard the U.S. space shuttle in October 1997. In addition, the U.S. agreed to help upgrade fire and safety conditions at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant until its planned closure by 2000. * Chrystyna Lapychak

Leonid Kuchma on 13 May again threatened to call a non-binding nationwide referendum on confidence in the parliament and president if the country's legislature rejects his proposed constitutional bill on separation of powers, Interfax-Ukraine reported the same day. The draft law, which is to be voted on later this week, would enable him to implement much-needed economic reforms. Kuchma added that the formation of a new government, following the parliament's no confidence vote in the cabinet last month, depends on the resolution of the power bill issue. He said he feared a long debate over his proposed candidates would hinder the implementation of economic reforms. * Chrystyna Lapychak

Moisejs Gurevics, a co-founder and board member of Latvia's largest commercial bank, Baltija Bank, was shot five times in his car on 11 May, Reuters reported the next day. Gurevics was also the president of Interpegro, a company operating a chain of food stores in Riga. Baltija Bank president Talis Freimanis said that "unknown structures" had been trying for two years to disrupt the stability of the bank and that the murder was but another attempt to achieve this goal, BNS reported on 13 May. * Saulius Girnius

Polish and Lithuanian Defense Ministers Zbigniew Okonski and Linas Linkevicius signed in Warsaw on 12 May protocols on military cooperation under NATO's Partnership for Peace program and on the creation of a joint airspace control system, BNS reported. The first protocol provides for exchanging experiences in training UN peacekeepers and establishing a peacekeeping training center in the Lithuanian town of Rukla. The second protocol calls for consultations on technical matters and how to bring the future system in line with NATO standards. * Saulius Girnius

The Polish Social-Democratic Party (SDRP) on 13 May chose Aleksander Kwasniewski, president of the SDRP Supreme Council, as its candidate in the upcoming presidential elections. Kwasniewski, who is currently leading opinion polls with nearly 20% of the vote, was also chosen as the candidate of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). His nomination ends speculation about a possible left-of-center joint candidate in the first round of the elections. Support for such a candidate was recently voiced by SLD leader and Sejm deputy speaker Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz. He argued in Gazeta Wyborcza on 12 April that Jacek Kuron, nominated by the Freedom Union, and Tadeusz Zielinski, candidate for the Labor Union, would win the support of a broad electorate as left-of-center candidates. * Jakub Karpinski

Vaclav Klaus on 12 May turned down an Austrian offer of 500 million schillings ($50 million) for the Czech Republic to stop construction of the controversial nuclear power plant at Temelin, in southern Bohemia, Czech media reported. The offer was made by Chancellor Franz Vranitzky during an official visit to Prague. "The full completion of the construction is a matter of overriding importance for us," Klaus told a news conference. He said the plant will have a top-grade safety system, and he agreed to improve the accident warning system at Temelin. Despite the long-running dispute over the nuclear facility, Vranitzky said bilateral relations are good. Austria supports the early entry of the Czech Republic into the European Union. * Steve Kettle

Leaders of the Christian Democratic Party (KDS) on 13 May called on party member Pavel Tollner to resign his post as a deputy chairman of the parliament, Czech media reported. The KDS leadership was responding to the 4 May decision by Tollner and four other KDS deputies to leave the party's caucus and form their own group in protest over plans for the KDS to merge with Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party. The KDS leaders said that if Tollner does not resign voluntarily, they will discuss his removal with other parties in the governing coalition. * Steve Kettle

Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar told Slovak Radio on 14 May that he could "neither confirm nor refute" reports that former Deputy Minister for Internal Affairs Jaroslav Svechota has been appointed head of the Slovak Counterintelligence Service. Meciar was speaking after a meeting with Ivan Lexa, head of the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS), which includes counterintelligence. He noted that he had discussed with Lexa developments within the SIS, in particular the need to "part with those who gathered information about members of my government, deputies of the parliament representing the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, and institutions and organizations that cooperated with me." * Jiri Pehe

Some 10,000 Hungarians on 14 May demonstrated in front of the parliament building against planned cuts in child care benefits, Magyar Nemzet reported on 15 May. They also demanded the resignation of Finance Minister Lajos Bokros. Under an austerity package drawn up by Bokros, from July 1 the government is to pay allowances only to the poorest families. At present, all families are eligible for the benefits. The demonstration was organized by the National Association of Large Families. Several leading officials who served at the Welfare Ministry under the previous, conservative government, including former Welfare Minister Laszlo Surjan, participated in the demonstration. * Edith Oltay

The narrow corridor linking Serbia with its conquests in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia continued to be the main theater of fighting in Bosnia over the past few days. The Serbs stepped up pressure on the Croatian-held enclave of Orasje on the Bosnian side of the Sava River. Hina on 15 May reported that tanks and artillery were involved in the attack and that fighting in one village in particular was hand-to-hand. Nasa Borba noted the same day that the Croats responded by shelling Serbian-occupied Brcko. The UN said the Bosnian fronts were otherwise relatively quiet. * Patrick Moore

Rajko Lezajic, president of the Krajina Serb legislature, said that Belgrade's policies are aimed at promoting peace in the region, Nasa Borba reported on 15 May. The 13 May Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung discussed at length the "division of roles" among the various Serbian factions and spokesmen: Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and his supporters in Krajina were said to be currently taking the part of peacemakers, while Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and other Krajina officials follow a more bellicose line. Meanwhile, the BBC on 15 May said Croatian forces that had infiltrated into UN-controlled buffer zones in the Krajina's Sector South have generally withdrawn but that some units in the Gospic area are staying put. * Patrick Moore

Novi list on 13 May and Nasa Borba two days later reported on remarks by Washington's influential Ambassador to Zagreb, Peter Galbraith. He warned against violations of the current mandate for UN peacekeepers and called Croatia's reoccupation of western Slavonia earlier this month a dangerous precedent. Galbraith pointed out that neither the Krajina Serb leadership nor the Bosnian Serbs "lifted a finger" to help the Serbs of western Slavonia. He also commented that Croatia received "not a green light but a red light" from the U.S. regarding the move. The Voice of Russia in Serbian, however, hinted on 14 May that Washington may have been behind the armed action, quoting British newspapers to the effect that the only man in Croatia more powerful than Galbraith is President Franjo Tudjman. The broadcast also carried stories that may reinforce Serbian fears that the Croatian government is fascistoid and bent on destroying Serbian national identity. * Patrick Moore

Serbian civilians continue to leave western Slavonia for Bosnian Serb-held territory under UN supervision. The monitors said it was probably the most orderly transfer of refugees in the Yugoslav conflict to date. International media also reported that Croatian officials have tried to convince Serbs that it is safe to remain. Many elderly people have no intention of leaving. Nasa Borba on 13 May said that a UN commission has begun work on investigating reports of massacres of Serbian civilians and that some Croatian military authorities were cooperating. Previous reports by Serbs of wholesale atrocities in western Slavonia have largely proven unsubstantiated. But this has not been the case with accounts of Bosnian Serb attacks on Croats and Roman Catholic centers in the Banja Luka area. In one such incident, a church was destroyed with monks still inside. Novi list on 13 May carried the text of the local bishop's formal protest letter to Karadzic. * Patrick Moore

Nasa Borba on 15 May reported that its chief editor, Gordana Logar, has been elected president of the Independent Association of Journalists of Serbia. Logar defeated Radio B 92 candidate Dusan Masic at a convention of association members, netting 71 votes to Masic's 44. In other news, the UN Security Council on 11 May approved a resolution allowing rump Yugoslav ships to pass through Romainian locks along the River Danube while the locks on the rump Yugoslav side undergo repairs. The vessels had previously been barred from doing so by the international sanctions imposed against Belgrade. The resolution is slated to remain in effect for 60 days, but that period may be extended upon recommendation of sanctions inspectors. * Stan Markotich

Romanian self-styled Gypsy "Emperor" Iulian Radulescu told Reuters on 12 May that he is on a hunger strike to protest the government's decision to change the official designation for Gypsies from "Romani" to "Tigan" (see OMRI Daily Digest, 3 May 1995). Radulescu said the decision was an "outrageous racial discrimination," since "Tigan" is commonly used pejoratively. Gypsy politician Petre Burtea said "Tigan" was a "derogatory word from old Sanskrit for beggar and thief." Radulescu warned of unrest if the government did not reconsider its decision. "There are enough of us to turn into a problem if the government won't change its decision and denigrates us," he said. * Michael Shafir

The National Liberal Party (PNL) and the groups that split away in March from the Liberal Party '93 and the Party of Civic Alliance (PAC) merged on 13 May, Radio Bucharest reported. The PNL, which failed to gain parliament representation in the 1992 elections, will now have 12 parliamentarians elected as representatives of the PAC and the Liberal Party '93. But according to house regulations, parliamentarians who leave the factions on whose lists they were elected are to be regarded as independents. They can neither represent other formations nor be recognized as constituting political groups. * Michael Shafir

Lt. Gen. Alexander Lebed on 12 May confirmed a statement carried by ITAR-TASS the previous day saying he will not resign as commander of the 14th Army. At a news conference in Tiraspol, Lebed said he will remain in his post and will not engage in politics, international agencies reported. He reiterated his criticism of the Defense Ministry's program to reform the 14th Army command, saying this would "decapitate a well-tuned mechanism" and pose the danger of a renewed outbreak of conflict in the region. Lebed also said it would be "foolish" to remove the 14th Army from the breakaway region before a solution is found that is acceptable to all sides. In a related development, Moldovan parliament chairman Petru Lucinschi on 11 May said that Lebed was currently "the most suitable person" to command the 14th Army, Infotag reported. A source "close to Moldova's president" told the same news agency that Snegur has sent a letter to the Russian leadership requesting that Lebed be kept in his post "until armaments are withdrawn from the region." * Michael Shafir

Mircea Snegur is the most trusted politician in the country, according to an opinion poll conducted by the independent Opinia institute and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. Snegur was supported by 42.3% of the respondents. Parliament chairman Petru Lucinschi gained 31.1% and Prime Minister Andrei Sangheli 8%. However, only 40.3% of the 1,700 respondents answered the question on which politician they trusted most. A majority of interviewees (59.7%) did not trust any politician. The most popular institutions were religious organizations (63.1%), the media (57.8%), and the presidency (40.7%). The results of the poll were carried on 11 May by Infotag and BASA-press. * Michael Shafir

Zhelyu Zhelev, at a press conference on 12 May, said the "real threat [for Bulgaria] is . . . the restoration of communism," Pari reported the following day. But he refused to blame the Socialist-led government directly, saying it is responsible to the parliament and that he will address the National Assembly if it wishes him to do so. Zhelev stressed that he is determined to exercise his constitutional rights, which include appointing ambassadors and vetoing laws. In response to government accusations that he ignores the people's will by vetoing laws, Zhelev noted that the total votes for him in the presidential elections exceeded the number who voted for the Socialist parliament majority and government by 600,000. * Stefan Krause

Ivan Kostov, leader of the Union of Democratic Forces, and the co-chairmen of the People's Union, Stefan Savov and Anastasiya Dimitrova-Mozer, announced on 12 May that they will cooperate in the forthcoming local elections, Demokratsiya reported the following day. They agreed to nominate joint candidates, grant local organizations a large degree of autonomy, and require candidates to adhere to the local election platform. Extra-parliament opposition groups will also be invited to cooperate, but according to Dimitrova-Mozer, it is unclear which these will be. Talks are scheduled with the Movement for Rights and Freedom, which is supported mainly by ethnic Turks. * Stefan Krause

Five ethnic Greek Albanians who are members of the minority organization Omonia and have been sentenced to suspended prison terms for separatism and espionage are under pressure from the ethnic Greek Albanian Party for the Defense of Human Rights (PBDNJ) to leave public life. The PBDNJ was founded after a court ruled that Omonia could not run as an ethnically defined party in the 1992 elections. PBDNJ leader Vasil Melo was quoted by Gazeta Shqiptare on 14 May as saying that "it would be better for [Omonia], if the five disappear from political life." * Fabian Schmidt

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave