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Newsline - May 19, 1995

The 19 May edition of Izvestiya claims that the appearance of Prime Minster Viktor Chernomyrdin's right-center bloc without a strong left-center counterweight has turned Chernomyrdin into a possible competitor for the presidency in 1996. The prime minister's rising prominence has alarmed the president's close advisers and may lead them to attempt to postpone the elections. Izvestiya speculates that President Boris Yeltsin's previously announced intention to protest the constitutionality of the State Duma electoral law in the Constitutional Court could force a delay in the parliamentary elections while the case is being litigated, and lead the presidential and parliamentary elections to be held simultaneously in June 1996. Such a move would eliminate Chernomyrdin as a possible competitor to Yeltsin for the presidency, because he would have to concentrate on the parliamentary campaign. The article cited a recent comment by Federation Council Speaker Vladimir Shumeiko that it would not be a disaster to hold both elections together as further evidence that this scenario will be carried out. * Robert Orttung

Yury Palchikov, the leader of the Association of Investors, Shareholders, and Borrowers, announced the creation of a new electoral bloc called People (Narod), Ekho Moskvy reported on 18 May. Palchikov said his bloc's goal would be to provide the people with rights they are guaranteed on paper but do not enjoy in practice. The Afghan War Veterans' Fund and the nationalist association Russian Union also joined the People bloc, which hopes to attract the support of citizens who have lost their savings in commercial enterprises. On the same day, the movement Duma-96 announced plans to form its own electoral alliance, Interfax reported. Duma deputy and Duma-96 chairman Anatoly Gordeev named the People's Democratic Party and the Union of Afghan War Veterans as possible partners in his his bloc, which he said would not be an "opposition alliance." * Laura Belin

Judges from the Constitutional Court and from constitutional courts in the regions of the Russian Federation held a conference in Moscow, Interfax reported on 18 May. Addressing the conference, President Yeltsin's chief of staff Sergei Filatov criticized attempts by some federation members to "deviate from the Russian Constitution and take as much power as possible from the center, giving nothing in return." He said stability could never be restored under conditions of "lopsided power." Other speakers at the conference emphasized the need for more cooperation between constitutional courts at the federal and regional level. * Laura Belin

Lt. Col. Alexander Gorbushin, a senior member of the Far Eastern tax police, has been arrested on charges of falsifying documents in the bribery scandal that cost Vladivostok's former mayor his job, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 May. Viktor Cherepkov, elected mayor of Vladivostok in June 1993, was forcibly removed from office in March 1994 after a lengthy investigation in which he was accused of bribe-taking. Cherepkov denied the charges, asserting that he was the victim of a feud between a group of Primorsky Krai industrialists backed by Governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko and the democrats headed by himself. In December 1994, the State Prosecutor's Office ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prove Cherepkov had accepted bribes. Citing sources close to the Prosecutor's Office, Segodnya reported on 17 May that other high-ranking law enforcement officers in Primore will probably be arrested for unlawfully persecuting Cherepkov. * Penny Morvant

In 1994, 302 people were killed in airplane crashes in Russia, up from 222 in 1993, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 May quoting a transport safety official. The number of train accidents also rose. Most of the accidents were caused by negligence and poor maintenance of equipment. In March 1994, 75 people were killed when an Aeroflot airbus crashed near Novokuznetsk with the pilot's 16-year-old son at the controls. Hijacking attempts have also become more frequent, with 120 cases reported last year. Meanwhile, a leading aviation official cited by Reuters said Moscow's four airports need $1.5 billion for renovation work. * Penny Morvant

Prime Minister Chernomyrdin has again called for talks "at any level" on a peaceful solution of the Chechen conflict, Interfax reported on 17 May. Chernomyrdin argued that favorable conditions exist for resuming the negotiating process, in which he said it was "logical" that the National Accord Committee headed by Umar Avturkhanov should participate. He also said the Chechen people are not responsible for "the extremist activities of a bunch of political adventurers." Ingush President Ruslan Aushev greeted Chernomyrdin's offer as "a real chance" to end the conflict. In an appeal dated 17 May and summarized by Interfax, Aslan Maskhadov, the head of the Chechen armed forces, in his capacity as a former Soviet army colonel, appealed to Russian military officers to stop combat operations in Chechnya, and expressed willingness to meet with Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev "even on Russian territory." Grachev told journalists in Beijing on 18 May that he would agree to meet with Chechen military leaders only after they comply with the federal government's demand that they cease hostilities and surrender their weapons. He said he would agree to talks with Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev, whom he termed "a state criminal," only with the consent of President Yeltsin * Liz Fuller

The Russian government would have prevented the transfer of gas centrifuges to Iran on its own initiative without American intervention, a senior official at the Russian Foreign Ministry told Interfax 18 May. The official dismissed charges in the media that a contract to supply the centrifuges had already been signed. Nuclear Energy Minister Viktor Mikhailov had signed a protocol in January "which said that contracts will be written for the training of nuclear physicists for Iran and for the construction of a centrifuge plant," the official said. The minister had the legal right to sign the protocol, which the official said registered Iranian interest in the centrifuges. Nevertheless, the official pointed out that Mikhailov had displayed some "initiative" in the affair since, unlike the training of nuclear specialists, a centrifuge deal would have violated a 1992 agreement on nuclear cooperation with Iran. Mikhailov was unauthorized to take that step. The official conceded that, until recently, the Foreign Ministry was unaware of the details of the Nuclear Energy Ministry's negotiations with Iran but the actual provision of the centrifuges would have required a separate agreement approved by the government. He said he hoped the decision not to provide the centrifuges would "calm the Americans." * Michael Mihalka

The Russian government, in a special commission meeting chaired by First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets, criticized the oil industry for failure to reverse output declines, which affect export earnings, the Petroleum Information Agency and Western agencies reported on 18 May. A document distributed at the meeting reported that crude oil output declined by 3% in the first four months of this year, compared with the same period in 1994 and drilling work dropped by 18%. About 27.2% of Russian oil wells remain idle due to lack of funds. Refineries are operating at less than 55% capacity and many farming regions and remote northern areas are experiencing fuel shortages. Equipment, pipelines, and other machinery are corroding and wearing out, often resulting in major accidents. The commission called on ministries and companies to take steps to remedy the problem but made no specific recommendations. * Thomas Sigel

Russian President Boris Yeltsin ordered the issuance of "gold certificates," a new type of government security to be backed by gold, the Finance Ministry told the Financial Information Agency on 18 May. Complying with the general conditions for the issuance of federal bonds, 2 trillion rubles (about $400 million) worth of certificates is slated to hit the market by the end of June. * Thomas Sigel

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov met with the Islamic Renaissance Movement leader Sayid Abdullo Nuri in Kabul on 17 and 18 May to discuss ways of ending the conflict in Tajikistan. The talks focused on the return of Tajik refugees living in Afghanistan and ending the armed conflict on the border of Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Ali Akbar Turadzhonzoda, a Tajik opposition leader, said the meetings marked "progress in inter-Tajik relations" but went on to say that "no serious achievements were reached," Interfax reported. The opposition has put forth three demands: an interim government in Dushanbe made up of neutral personalities, the use of peacekeepers from Iran, Pakistan, Russia, and Turkey to separate rival factions, and the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Gorno-Badakhshan area, AFP reported. * Bruce Pannier

In an interview with Interfax on 18 May, Turadzhonzoda said clandestine groups loyal to the opposition are currently in Tajikistan, and they are capable of applying extra pressure on the Dushanbe government "if needed." He denied charges by the Tajik Security Ministry that members of Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Movement had been detained in connection with terrorist activities in Dushanbe. Turadzhonzoda said, "Our armed forces have never carried out any terrorist acts against civilian targets nor individuals, nor do they intend to perpetrate such acts." He claimed that more and more people both inside and outside Tajikistan support the opposition. * Bruce Pannier

Talks between Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov and his Russian counterpart, Boris Yeltsin, reflected similar views on the matters discussed, Interfax reported on 18 May. Discussion focused on several issues, including Russian use of military facilities in Turkmenistan, joint operation of gas pipelines, measures to counteract Central Asia's "Islamization," securing the Tajik-Afghan border, and the status of the Caspian Sea. Yeltsin pledged to use his influence to solve border problems, thereby improving Russo-Afghan relations and helping the situation in Tajikistan. Niyazov told Interfax the Caspian is an "internal sea" which cannot be divided, a position that supports the Russian view but opposes that of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. * Lowell Bezanis

Unlike the Russian media, which has voiced mixed reactions to the Belarusian referendum on 14 May, the Belarusian media has only reported on positive reactions from Russia. On 17 and 18 May, Belarusian media reported that Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev was well disposed toward the results, that the Russian State Duma is preparing a statement upholding the referendum's results and that the St. Petersburg organization of Russian writers has written to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka congratulating him on the results. In contrast, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 16 May that President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin do not care for Lukashenka and that former acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar has warned Russian taxpayers that a union with Belarus may be costly to them. The newspaper also cast doubt on the realization of the proposed customs union between the two states. * Ustina Markus

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma scored a major political victory on 18 May when the Ukrainian parliament voted by 219 to 104 to approve a compromise version of his bill on the separation of powers, Interfax-Ukraine and Ukrainian TV reported the same day. The new law gives the president the exclusive right to form a government; previously, he was required to obtain the parliament's approval for his choice of key ministers. The motion was passed after presidential spokesman Fedir Burchak proposed a compromise version excluding articles that would have empowered Kuchma to dissolve the assembly and allowed the legislature to impeach the president. According to the final draft, Kuchma's right to call a referendum is limited to issues related to the adoption of a new post-Soviet constitution. Communists and socialists voted against the bill, warning that it would lead to authoritarian rule. In addition, they argued that the vote was illegal because it drew only a simple majority. * Chrystyna Lapychak

Nearly 30,000 Crimean Tatars marked 51 years since Stalin ordered mass deportations of their people with a rally in Simferopol demanding greater political and economic rights, Interfax-Ukraine and AFP reported on 18 May. Protesters called for official recognition of the Mejlis, the Crimean Tatars' self-styled assembly, as their chief representative body. They also demanded more money for the resettlement of Tatars in Crimea and for urgent steps to restore their language, culture, and religion. Mejlis speaker Mustafa Dzhemilev condemned Crimean separatist forces and warned "We will not let the separatists trigger another Chechnya here." The crowd observed a period of silence for Moslem Chechen victims of Russia's military crackdown. On 18 May 1944, Soviet forces deported 200,000 Crimean Tatars to central Asia and Siberia. Many have since returned, and Tatars now make up about 10% of the region's population. * Chrystyna Lapychak

Ukrainian Radio reported on 18 May that Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn arrived in Kiev on an official visit, the premier's first to Ukraine since that country gained independence. It was also reported that Ukrainian parliament speaker Oleksandr Moroz met with Moldovan ambassador to Ukraine Ion Russu. Moroz said that "procedural obstacles" should not prevent the ratification of the Ukrainian-Moldovan treaty. Russu noted that there were no obstacles on the Moldovan side to the document's ratification. * Ustina Markus

The Belarusian Ministry of Education has sent a letter to regional authorities asking that they guarantee parents' rights to choose which language their children be taught in during the first years of schooling, Belarusian radio reported on 18 May. This decision appears aimed at forestalling protests by parents following the 14 May referendum, in which 83% of those who voted came out in favor of giving Russian the status of official language, alongside Belarusian. Since 1992 there has been a move to teach primary school students in Belarusian. * Ustina Markus

Belarusian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valeri Tsepkalo told Interfax on 18 May that the United States will allocate an additional $6 million to dismantle the launching pads for Russian SS-25 missiles deployed on Belarusian territory. These missiles were stored in garages with sliding roofs that permitted them to be fired from the storage sites. The START-I treaty requires that the concrete foundations of such garages be destroyed either by explosion or evacuation. Two of the 81 sites have already been destroyed by explosion, but Tsepkalo termed this method "unacceptable." He explained that it caused "great ecological damage to the local environment. A lot of trees get destroyed by pieces of concrete flying in all directions." * Doug Clarke

The World Bank on 17 May announced that it will join the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank, the Nordic Environmental Finance Corporation, and Nordic Investment Bank in financing seven projects, costing $240 million, to clean up the Baltic Sea, Reuters reported the next day. Lithuania and Latvia will undertake two projects each and Estonia, Russia, and Poland one each. The projects are part of a broader, long-term initiative that will focus on 132 trouble spots and cost an estimated $1 billion. * Saulius Girnius

Tiit Reiman, head of the Foreign Trade Department at the Estonian Economics Ministry, announced that Estonia and Ukraine on 18 May initialed a bilateral agreement on free trade and an accord on maritime affairs, BNS reported. The free trade agreement covers all products, including agricultural ones. The Ukrainian government delegation is also scheduled to sign a protocol outlining future activities, such as speeding up the conclusion of a bilateral accord on avoiding double taxation. * Saulius Girnius

Lech Walesa and Jozef Oleksy on 18 May discussed Russian protests against plans to open the "Free Caucasus" radio station in Poland. They also discussed the 4 June commemoration of the Soviets' 1940 massacre of Polish officers at Katyn. In other news, Gazeta Wyborcza on 19 May published an appeal by 130 intellectuals supporting former Minister of Labor Jacek Kuron's presidential candidacy. Two days earlier, Adam Strzembosz, head of the Polish Supreme Court and another presidential candidate, met on 17 May with leaders of five parties that do not support his candidacy. He declared that he would withdraw from the race if a right-of-center candidate emerged who had better chances of winning than either himself or Walesa. * Jakub Karpinski

Ivan Kocarnik on 18 May said he would like to end wage regulation immediately, Hospodarske noviny reported the following day. Kocarnik told a forum of managers that wages are expected to increase by between 16.5% and 18% this year. "Of course, we will abolish wage regulation at some point. I'm for doing it as quickly as possible," he said. Under current regulations, some wage rises are linked to inflation and do not take into account the performance of the company concerned. Labor and Social Affairs Minister Jindrich Vodicka recently said that wages will most likely not be deregulated this year. He and trade unions argue that the regulations limit the inflationary pressures that would result from a free wage market. Despite being a major bone of contention, the issue of wage regulation was not discussed at a meeting of ministers, employers, and unions on 18 May. * Steve Kettle

Juraj Schenk said at a press conference on 18 May that the bilateral state treaty signed by the Slovak and Hungarian prime ministers in March will not be submitted to the parliament in the near future, Narodna obroda reported. He noted that the framework agreement on the protection of national minorities will be discussed at the next parliament session, to be held in June. Only after that agreement has been approved will the interstate treaty be presented to the parliament, Schenk said. The framework agreement is the main document on which the treaty is based and calls for individual rights for minorities. Schenk suggested that if that agreement is passed, the controversial Council of Europe Recommendation 1201, which was included in the Slovak-Hungarian treaty, can be interpreted as also guaranteeing individual rather than collective rights. * Sharon Fisher

Michal Kovac on 18 May wrote an open letter to Slovak TV Director Jozef Darmo in connection with his appearance on STV the previous day. Kovac recorded a statement for STV in response to calls by Premier Vladimir Meciar for a referendum to remove him. He said he was told by STV staff that the statement would be broadcast during STV's main newscast or shortly afterward. Instead, it appeared much later than expected, with no prior announcement. "I do not feel offended as an individual, but I can hardly consider the STV's attitude as anything other than intentional manipulation, particularly in relation to the public," Kovac said. The president also suggested that the electronic media in Slovakia are not "sufficiently plural or free," Pravda reported. * Sharon Fisher

Politika on 19 May reports that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic has signaled to U.S. envoy Robert Frasure that the rump Yugoslavia may be prepared to extend recognition to Bosnia-Herzegovian. According to the daily, the two have met to discuss the details of such a move. Nasa Borba quoted Lord Owen as saying in an interview with the BBC the previous day that recognition on Milosevic's part would constitute "a momentous step" in halting hostilities in the war-torn country. Meanwhile, ultranationalists within Serbia are said to be furious by the reports. Nasa Borba on 19 May noted that the Serbian Radical Party, led by ultranationalist and accused war criminal Vojislav Seselj, is planning to hold protest meetings on 17 June to show that the Serbian people [will not] tolerate sell-outs." Vladimir Lazarevic, a member of the New Democracy party, which is supportive of Milosevic's Socialists in the Serbian legislature, is quoted by Nasa Borba as saying that recognition of Bosnia-Herzegovina would be "acceptable." * Stan Markotich

International media say that fighting in Sarajevo was lighter on 18 May than on the previous two days. Only sporadic shelling was reported, following intense clashes during the previous 48 hours. Meanwhile, Hasan Muratovic, a Bosnian government minister without portfolio, said at a conference in Morocco on 18 May that the arms embargo against his country should be lifted as a means of bringing the Serbian side to the negotiating table. "We need a big success on the battlefield to bring the Serbs to discussions," he said. Nasa Borba on 19 May reported that General Rasim Delic, commander of the Bosnian Muslim army, has said his troops are ready to liberate Bosnia. Finally, Reuters on 18 May, citing UN sources, reported that some 155,000 residents of Bosnia's western Bihac pocket face real prospects of starvation unless "its rebel Serb and Muslim besiegers stop blocking relief convoys to the enclave soon." * Stan Markotich

The Serbian administration of Kosovo is preparing to settle thousands of Serbian refugees from other former Yugoslav republics, Kosova Daily Report said on 17 May. About 10,000 Serbian refugees from western Slavonia are expected to arrive in Kosovo soon. They will initially be housed in hotels, hostels, and tourists resorts until permanent accommodation is found. Humanitarian organizations, including the UN High Commission for Refugees, will reportedly cater for their food needs. * Fabian Schmidt

A delegation from the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly arrived in Macedonia for a two-day visit on 18 May, Flaka reported the following day. The delegation met with parliament chairman Stojan Andov to discuss economic developments in Macedonia. Meetings are also scheduled with President Kiro Gligorov, Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski, representatives of various political parties, members of the Ethnic Relations Council, non-governmental organizations, and religious communities. The delegation also plans to meet with the rector of Skopje University to discuss higher education in Albanian. Meanwhile, the university's Faculty of Drama has decided to launch acting courses in Albanian and Turkish beginning this fall. * Fabian Schmidt

Presidential spokesman Traian Chebeleu on 18 May said Ion Iliescu will not explain to the parliament his position on allegations that he had KGB links (see OMRI Daily Digest, 18 May 1995). Chebeleu said that while several parliamentarians have suggested that Iliescu appear before the parliament, the constitution does not state that the president is politically accountable to the legislature. Radio Bucharest announced that five opposition parties represented in parliament have agreed to issue a joint declaration demanding a response to the allegations, which they called "very serious" and possibly "detrimental to the country and the institution of the Presidency." * Michael Shafir

One week before the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) is scheduled to hold its congress, Iliescu has made an obvious attempt to exacerbate differences between the UDMR's "radical" and "moderate" factions. At a press conference carried by Radio Bucharest on 18 May, presidential spokesman Chebeleu said Iliescu "appreciated" the "constructive attitude" of Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn toward the negotiations on the Hungarian-Romanian basic treaty. Consequently, he continued, the president was all the more concerned about the "extreme-nationalist positions" adopted by some UDMR leaders. Iliescu called on the "responsible leaders" of the UDMR not to follow the "extremist path, which never brought anything positive anywhere." As a possible solution to differences with Budapest over the treaty's provisions, Iliescu suggested that the document embrace the priniciples of Council of Europe Recommendation 1201 but not mention it by name. * Michael Shafir

Jan Sitek, visiting Romania from 17-18 May, met with Prime Minister Nicolae Vacaroiu, with whom he discussed integration into Euro-Atlantic structures and cooperation within the Partnership for Peace program, Radio Bucharest reported. The two leaders also discussed Slovakia and Romania's relations with Hungary and the problem of the Hungarian national minorities in their countries. Both sides agreed that minorities should be granted individual, rather than collective rights. Sitek also met with his Romanian counterpart, Gheorghe Tinca, who said agreement was reached on "a number of concrete measures" for joint military maneuvers within the Partnership for Peace program and cooperation in the field of military technology. Finally, Sitek held talks with Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu, who said the two countries had many common interests--above all, that of integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. * Michael Shafir

Interfax on 17 May quoted Lt. Gen. Alexander Lebed as suggesting that the 14th army perform "peacekeeping functions" in the breakaway Transdniester region. Deputy Chairman of the Moldovan parliament Nicolae Andronic responded by saying the proposal aimed at "keeping Russian troops in east Moldovan districts by any means," BASA-press reported on 18 May. He noted that the Russian Defense Ministry was not authorized to make such a decision, since it would contravene the agreement between Presidents Mircea Snegur and Boris Yeltsin of July 1992. Also on 17 May, Interfax reported that Moldova and Russia will discuss the withdrawal of the 14th Army at a meeting scheduled for late July. * Michael Shafir

Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister and Trade Minister Kiril Tsochev on 17 May announced that two agreements between Russia and Bulgaria will not be signed during Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's visit to Sofia on 18-19 May, Reuters reported the same day. He said that the two countries are ready to sign an agreement on nuclear fuel but that there are objections from Ukraine and Moldova, which are concerned about the safety of nuclear fuel transports via their territory. The second agreement is on preferentially priced natural gas deliveries from Russia to Bulgaria. The present agreement expires in 1997, and experts from both countries have been unable so far to reach agreement on new prices. * Stefan Krause

A G-24 meeting on infrastructure investment in Albania was held on 17 May in Brussels, the European Commission reported the following day. The Albanian delegation was led by Minister for Construction and Tourism Dashnor Shehi. The meeting was also attended by officials from Austria, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Switzerland, Turkey, the United States, and representatives of the IMF, the World Bank, and the EBRD. Discussions focused on implementing the public investment program adopted by Albania in 1994 and on the external assistance required for its implementation. The participants reviewed projects submitted by the Albanian government for possible external financing. These projects were in the transport, energy, telecommunications, and water supply sectors. * Fabian Schmidt

NATO Secretary-General Willy Claes, announced that a diplomatic effort will be undertaken to resolve differences between Greece and Turkey before a meeting of defense ministers in June, international news agencies reported on 18 May. Speaking in Ankara following talks with Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller, Claes said a NATO delegation would shuttle between Ankara and Athens to find a solution to disputes over budget matters and the stationing of a rapid deployment force in the region. The row has resulted in Turkey's blocking of NATO's military budget and the forestalling of a 1992 decision to establish two new military bases in the region. * Lowell Bezanis

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave