Accessibility links

Newsline - February 13, 1997

Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 12 February accused NATO of an "anti-Moscow" secret agenda, arguing that "the West as a whole, and the leadership of NATO in particular, is opposed to any form of political or military integration" between the former republics of the Soviet Union, Reuters reported. Yastrzhembskii said that there are "no grounds" for saying that Russia and NATO have drawn closer on certain issues. NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana is currently on a tour of Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. In Yerevan, Solana expressed surprise at Yastrzhembskii's comments, RFE/RL reported. -- Robert Orttung

President Boris Yeltsin needs at least 10 to 14 more days to recover from pneumonia, surgeon Renat Akchurin told ITAR-TASS on 12 February. Akchurin said that while the pneumonia has not affected Yeltsin's heart, the president is somewhat weakened, needs to gain weight, and his recuperation should not be rushed. In the meantime, the Railway Ministry was instructed to prepare a special carriage fitted with medical equipment for Yeltsin's trip to a meeting with Bill Clinton in Helsinki in March, Argumenty i fakty reported on 11 February. --
Nikolai Iakoubovski

The Federation Council passed on 12 February the 1997 budget by 120 votes to 25 with nine abstentions, ITAR-TASS reported. After the Council meeting, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin noted that the budget will enable the government to control the macroeconomic situation in the country. Responding to critics of the budget's revenue target, Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits noted that the government intends to intensify the fight against tax dodgers and cut the number of available tax benefits. The budget now goes to President Boris Yeltsin for signing. -- Natalia Gurushina

The State Duma has asked the Constitutional Court to examine the legality of the law on the formation of the Federation Council, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 February. The law stipulates that the heads of the executive and legislative branches in each of Russia's 89 regions automatically become members of the upper house of parliament. Duma deputy Yelena Mizulina (Yabloko) argued that the current law violates the principle of separation of powers by having governors take part in passing legislation, and also allows the regional elite to "interfere" in passing federal laws. Asked why the Duma was only now disputing a law passed in December 1995, Mizulina said that the Duma had wanted to make sure gubernatorial elections would be held by the end of 1996, as stipulated by the law on the Council's formation. -- Laura Belin

Also on 12 February, the Duma passed a resolution asking the Interior Ministry to determine whether state officials are citizens of another country and to announce the results of the investigation by 1 April, Russian Public TV (ORT) and ITAR-TASS reported. The resolution was inspired by media reports last November that Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii held dual citizenship with Israel (he eventually dropped his Israeli citizenship). The Duma also ordered the Audit Chamber to investigate the finances of state-run Russian TV (RTR). The audit will examine the network's agreements with commercial organizations and how RTR uses federal funds and advertising profits. The Duma also passed in the second reading a law prohibiting public actions and the distribution of written materials promoting "the propaganda of fascism." -- Laura Belin

The Duma on 12 February passed in the third and final reading a draft law on narcotic and psychotropic substances, ITAR-TASS reported. The bill, which is aimed at combating drug trafficking, provides for a state monopoly on the cultivation, production, development, processing, and transportation of drugs in Russia. All drug operations will be monitored by a government commission on drug abuse and a permanent drug monitoring committee within the Health Ministry. -- Penny Morvant

The parliament's upper house rejected on 12 February a bill raising the minimum pension by 10% to 76,530 rubles a month, ITAR-TASS reported. The deputies voted down the bill by 55 to 47 with 11 abstentions, although the Federation Council's social policy committee had recommended that it be adopted. The draft was earlier vetoed by President Yeltsin on the grounds that the country could not afford it (see OMRI Daily Digest, 23 January 1997). It will now be reviewed by committees in both houses of the Federal Assembly. Also on 12 February, the Federation Council at last approved the constitutional law on the Russian Federation Human Rights Commissioner. The bill has been more than three years in the making (see OMRI Daily Digest, 31 December 1996).-- Penny Morvant

Officials in Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's office persuaded a Moscow bank to freeze the credit of the popular weekly magazine Ogonek after it reported on Chernomyrdin's lavish bear-hunting expedition in Yaroslavl last month, the Christian Science Monitor reported on 11 February. In preparation for the prime minister's visit, public funds were used to build a new road in the forest near the lair of a mother bear and two cubs. Ogonek Editor Lev Gushin immediately called the matter to the attention of Deputy Security Council Secretary Boris Berezovskii, whose Logovaz empire is the major financial backer of Ogonek. He cleared up the problem by phoning the bank. The newspaper Novaya gazeta broke the bear hunt story the same week, but it has a relatively small circulation concentrated in Moscow, whereas Ogonek is sold nationwide. -- Laura Belin

Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii filed a libel lawsuit in the High Court in London against the U.S. magazine Forbes, ITAR-TASS and Russian Public TV (ORT) reported on 12 February. At issue is a recent Forbes article--published anonymously--entitled "Godfather of the Kremlin?" (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 December 1996). It suggested that Berezovskii built his Logovaz empire through criminal means and was a "leading suspect" in the March 1995 assassination of journalist Vladislav Listev. Nikolai Glushkov, deputy director of Aeroflot and a co-founder of Logovaz, is a co-plaintiff in the case. It is easier to win a libel suit in Great Britain than in the U.S. -- Laura Belin

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits said that the 1996 budget called for spending more than 21 trillion rubles on the military and that his ministry paid out more than 28 trillion. He claimed that he hoped to provide an additional 3.2 trillion as well. His remarks came in response to Defense Minister Igor Rodionov's 6 February charge that military underfinancing is causing Russia to lose control of its nuclear missiles (see OMRI Daily Digest 7 February 1997). Livshits argued that the difficulties of collecting taxes has limited the amount of money that can be disbursed. -- Robert Orttung

During Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's recent visit to Washington, the U.S. issued a diplomatic warning to Russia because it had allegedly. transferred SS-4 missile technology to Iran that could threaten U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf, the Los Angeles Times and news agencies reported on 12 February. The transfer involved detailed instructions on how to build a delivery system for the weapon. The SS-4 has a range of 1,250 miles, three times more than the missiles Iran currently possesses. -- Robert Orttung

More than $51 billion in foreign currency were sold in Russia in 1996, a sum roughly equal to 1996 federal budget revenue, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 February citing sources in the Central Bank. Sales reached a peak in December, topping $6 billion. At the end of last year, the Duma approved a draft law introducing a 0.5% tax on the purchase of foreign currency, but the bill was rejected by the Federation Council and is now being reviewed by a conciliation commission. -- Penny Morvant

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said that the government plans to introduce a new approach to tax collection and the reduction of non-payments in the economy, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 February. It involves (1) using the Treasury to implement the federal budget and (2) the transfer of budgetary accounts (and the accounts of non-budgetary funds) to branches of the Central Bank (TsB) or Sberbank (Savings Bank). Companies will have to make their tax payments to those accounts. According to the TsB, the total volume of non-payments in Russia has reached 893 trillion rubles ($160 billion), Delovoi mir reported on 12 February. -- Natalia Gurushina

The debt owed by the CIS and Baltic states for Russian supplies of fuel and energy now amounts to 7.67 trillion rubles ($1.36 billion at the current exchange rate), down from some 16 trillion rubles at the beginning of 1996, Segodnya reported on 12 February. Ukraine remains Russia's largest debtor, owing 2.6 trillion rubles. Meanwhile, Russia's giant natural gas company Gazprom warned its clients in Belarus that it will cut gas deliveries by 30% unless Belarus adheres to the debt repayment schedule agreed to at the end of 1996. Belarus owes Gazprom some $280 million. -- Natalia Gurushina

Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan told visiting NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana on 12 February that maintaining "normal relationships" with neighboring countries is the most reliable guarantee of Armenia's national security, ITAR-TASS reported. Both Ter-Petrossyan and Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisyan assured Solana that cooperation with NATO under the Partnership for Peace Program is important for Armenia. Acknowledging "some progress" in his country's relations with NATO, Sarkisyan said that Armenia will get more actively involved in the program in 1997, adding that the Armenian armed forces may take part in military exercises. Sarkisyan added that Armenia is pursuing a "balanced policy" between the CIS collective security treaty and the Partnership for Peace program. Earlier, during his visit to Georgia, Solana argued that a European security system would be incomplete without the Transcaucasian states. -- Emil Danielyan

Russian border guards patrolling Georgia's territorial waters on 11 February spotted and ousted 16 Turkish vessels engaged in illegal fishing, Russian media reported. A spokesman for the Russian Federal Border Service claimed that the Turkish boats ignored orders to stop and one of them rammed a Russian boat as the latter tried to approach it. In response, the border guards "had to open fire" on the Turkish vessels. No casualties were reported. Meanwhile, Turkey has informed the Russian border officials that all of the poachers have been arrested. -- Emil Danielyan

Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov appointed Akmurad Mulkamanov to the post of first deputy defense minister and chief of the Armed Forces General Staff on 12 February, RFE/RL reported the same day. Mulkamanov, who earlier headed an unnamed body that coordinated the country's national security agencies, replaced Annamurad Soltanov in both positions. The same day, Niyazov issued a decree effectively abolishing what was described as the government Press Committee and created a state-run publishing house called Turkmenpishit that will be subordinated to the cabinet. No explanation for the changes was given. -- Lowell Bezanis

Also on 12 February, Niyazov arrived in Tehran for two days of official talks focusing on regional problems, specifically Afghanistan and Tajikistan, as well as enhancing cooperation in several areas, notably in the transport, oil, and gas sectors as well as in trade, RFE/RL reported the same day. Over the past six years, Niyazov has visited Tehran some 16 times; 116 bilateral agreements have been reached since 1992 and bilateral trade stands at an estimated $100 million, according to AFP. Turkmen sources note that Iran has invested $250 million in Turkmenistan. -- Lowell Bezanis

The scheduled exchange of hostages held by the Bahrom and Rezvon Sadirov for members of the brothers' gang was delayed for technical reasons on 12 February, according to international media. The 40 members of the Sadirov gang were picked up in Afghanistan and flown by helicopter to the Kulyab area of southern Tajikistan, but the helicopters which were to take them to the exchange site were unable to leave. The Sadirovs have extended the deadline after which they had threatened to start executing their 14 hostages, who include UN workers, Russian journalists, and the Tajik security minister. As a sign of their good faith, they plan to release the five Russian journalists they hold and one of the UN observers. They also say that if there are more delays, they will ask that an additional 95 members of their gang be brought from Afghanistan. -- Bruce Pannier

The hostage crisis in Tajikistan has prompted Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri to draft a joint statement condemning terrorism in Tajikistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 February. The current crisis was threatening to derail the peace process in Tajikistan. The commander of the Russian border guards in Tajikistan, Lt.-Gen. Pavel Tarasenko, absolutely ruled out creating a corridor to allow more of the Sadirov gang into Tajikistan--the key demand of the hostage takers. They were brought by helicopter instead. Russian Minister for the CIS Aman Tuleev, who is in Tajikistan on a previously scheduled visit, commented: "A civilized exchange is beginning. The bandits come here (to Tajikistan)--some hostages are released. The bandits are brought to the mountains--more hostages are released." -- Bruce Pannier

Legislators voted 253 to 19 to grant former acting Prime Minister Yufim Zvyahilsky immunity from arrest if he returns to Ukraine within two months, Reuters and Russian Public TV reported on 12 February. Zvyahilsky took refuge in Israel in 1994 after being accused of embezzling $25 million in public funds. Israel turned down Ukraine's request for his extradition two years ago. Zvyahilsky has repeatedly claimed that his political enemies made the embezzlement charges. The Ukrainian parliament voted in favor of granting him immunity so that he can return to cooperate with the Prosecutor-General's Office in its investigation of the case. -- Ustina Markus

Eduard Shevardnadze arrived in Kyiv on 13 February for a two-day official visit, ITAR-TASS reported. He was accompanied by his ministers for trade and transport and the commander of the Georgian border guards. Talks will focus on bilateral cooperation, and some 15 documents are expected to be signed. The same day, Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Borys Hudyma said Ukraine was prepared to send observers to Georgian-Abkhaz conflict zones. He added that Ukrainian officials would discuss with Shevardnadze the possibility of having peace-keepers there. The conflict zones are currently patrolled by Russian peacekeepers, whose mandate expires at the end of March. Both sides involved in the conflict would have to give their consent to Ukraine's send its peacekeepers to those zones. So far, the Abkhaz side has refused to do so. -- Ustina Markus

Aleksandr Stupnikov, NTV correspondent in Belarus, was summoned to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry on 12 February to receive an official warning about NTV's "non-objective" coverage of events in Belarus. He was informed that the Belarusian Foreign Ministry wrote last week to its Russian counterpart complaining about NTV's Belarusian coverage and warning that if such reporting continued, Belarus would have to consider suspending NTV's activities in Belarus. The previous day, the office of the Party of Communists of Belarus (PCB) was sealed off because it allegedly was in breach of fire safety regulations, Belapan reported. PCB leader Syarhei Kalyakin denounced the move as a political act instigated by the president's administration. Kalyakin had sided with deputies opposed to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's new constitution during the November 1996 referendum. Also on 11 February, Anatol Lyabedzka, a deputy of the dissolved 1996 parliament, was beaten at the entrance to his apartment block by unknown assailants. Lyabedzka claimed the attack was intended to intimidate him because of his political activities. -- Ustina Markus

Foreign Ministry officials from all three Baltic States have rejected a warning by the Russian president's office that membership in NATO would create a "serious barrier" and have "a most negative impact" on long-term cooperation, BNS reported on 12 February. Vygaudas Usackas, head of the Political Department at the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, said a stable NATO region would contribute to the further development of Lithuanian-Russian relations. Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs said Latvia's wish to consolidate its security through NATO membership would not be a threat to Russia. Juri Arusoo, spokesman for the Estonian Foreign Ministry, reinforced that viewpoint. -- Saulius Girnius

Prime Minister-designate Andris Skele on 12 February made public the cabinet list he plans to present to the Saeima today, BNS reported. The most significant change in the cabinet lineup is the replacement of Maris Grinblats of the For the Fatherland and Freedom caucus as education and science minister by Juris Celmins of the Democratic Party Saimnieks (DPS). The finance portfolio, also assigned to the DPS, has not yet been filled. Skele rejected the DPS nomination that its chairman, Ziedonis Cevers, be appointed to that post. Meanwhile, other parties belonging to the ruling coalition have expressed support for the DPS continued participation in the government. -- Saulius Girnius

The Supreme Executive Committee of the co-ruling Polish Peasant Party (PSL) has nominated Jaroslaw Kalinowski to replace Roman Jagielinski as deputy prime minister and agriculture minister, international media reported on 13 February. The PSL blamed Jagielinski for the food trade deficit and the low prices of grain and livestock. Jagielinski, for his part, has said he is not going to resign, pointing out that only the PSL Supreme Council can withdraw party support for him. Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz is to take the final decision whether to replace him. He has already said he will n not decide until Jozef Zych, Sejm speaker and PSL Supreme Council head, returns from the U.S. The PSL is anxious about its dwindling support among farmers in the wake of parliamentary elections due this fall. Last November, Jagielinski, a large landowner, unsuccessfully challenged Waldemar Pawlak for the party leadership. Kalinowski, endorsed by the Smallholders, is a Pawlak supporter. -- Beata Pasek

Parliamentary speaker and Social Democratic Party Chairman Milos Zeman on 12 February urged the parliament to approve the Czech-German declaration only if an accompanying resolution is passed "clarifying" the Czech position, Czech media reported. In the declaration, Bonn expresses regret over the 1938-45 Nazi occupation of the Czech Lands and Prague voices sorrow for the post-war expulsion of 2.5 million Sudeten Germans. Both sides say they will not burden bilateral relations with legal and political claims arising from the past. Zeman and some Social Democrats point out that the declaration does not mention the Potsdam agreements that sanctioned the expulsions. Zeman said comments made by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl after he signed the document and by Finance Minister Theo Waigel more recently show that Bonn considers "property problems" to remain unresolved. The Czech coalition government has rejected an accompanying resolution. -- Jiri Pehe

German Bundestag Chairwoman Rita Suessmuth, concluding a two-day visit to Slovakia on 12 February, said Germany "does not want an isolated Slovakia," Reuters reported. Suessmuth is the most senior German official to visit Slovakia since that it gained independence. She expressed Germany's wish that Slovakia join Western organizations at the same time as the Czech Republic but stressed that Slovakia's "deficit in democracy" must first be overcome. Western diplomats praised the parliament's refusal the previous day to approve the "protection of the republic" penal code amendment. However, they added that other steps are needed to demonstrate Slovakia's sincerity in meeting Western democratic standards. Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar claimed in a TV discussion the same day that the disputed amendment is not "undemocratic" and will be approved later this year, CTK reported. Also on 12 February, the parliament approved a law on the protection of non-smokers and Meciar's party submitted a proposal calling for a referendum on NATO membership. -- Sharon Fisher

Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) Chairman Jozef Migas on 12 February announced he has received an offer for bilateral talks from the ruling Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), Narodna obroda reported. No details were given on the timing and agenda of the discussions. Migas said the SDL wants to discuss unemployment, low wages, control over privatization, and reform of the banking sector. "We will not accede to purposeful political games and will not rescue the HZDS or the government coalition," Migas stressed. Other opposition parties have not received such an offer. In an interview with Pravda, Migas rejected accusations by the daily Sme that he has met several times with Slovak Information Service deputy director Jaroslav Svechota. In other news, both opposition and ruling coalition politicians have more or less rejected Slovak National Party Chairman Jan Slota's call for early parliamentary elections, TASR reported on 12 February. -- Anna Siskova

The Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), the junior coalition party, has said it is in favor of reducing the number of deputies from 386 to 250-300, Nepszava reported on 13 February. SZDSZ leader Peter Hack said the party will also propose that the traditional 11-week election campaign be reduced to eight weeks and that the campaign funds available to each party be reduced. The Free Democrats would like private contributions to election campaigns not to exceed 50,000 forints, while the ceiling for legal entities would be set at 500,000 forints. In 1994, some entrepreneurs practically "bought" their parliamentary mandates by contributing several million forints to election campaigns. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

A policeman, identified as Shezai Zani, was killed by automatic gunfire on 12 February near his home in Vlora, Reuters reported. Police said Zani was guarding "places of special importance" and had not taken part in this week's clashes between police and rioters. It remains unclear if he was killed in revenge for the death of three anti-government protesters last weekend. Earlier the same day, some 5,000 people staged peaceful protests and set up barricades in all the main streets. Police have kept away from the city, and the local police station has reportedly been abandoned. More than 20 speedboats confiscated on charges of smuggling last year were reclaimed by their owners, with no resistance from the police. Meanwhile, international criticism of the government's handling of the crisis has intensified. The OSCE has said it is "deeply worried" about the on-going violence. -- Fabian Schmidt

Democratic Party leader and Foreign Minister Tritan Shehu, following a day-long meeting with senior party officials, again blamed the current violence on "leftist extremists," Reuters reported. He also ruled out the possibility of any cabinet changes. Some news agencies, however, quoted party sources as saying the possible resignation of the government was high on the agenda of the meeting. Meanwhile, riot police in Tirana prevented the opposition from holding a protest rally and also broke up small gatherings of people. The Socialist Party said police have arrested a member of its presidency and many of its supporters. The Forum for Democracy pledged more protests and demanded the resignation of the government. It also called on all members of the armed forces, policemen, soldiers, and officers, "to join with the people." -- Fabian Schmidt

An estimated 20,000 students turned out on the Serbian capital's streets on 12 February to press their demands for political reform. A group of teachers who have not received wages in months formed a ring around the legislature, international media reported. Nasa Borba on 13 February carries a statement by Ivan Kovacevic of the Serbian Renewal Movement pointing out that the 11 February passage of special legislation recognizing opposition wins in the November elections is only a first step toward securing electoral victories. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic ought not to be trusted to allow the opposition to take office until at least local councils are convened and municipal governments formed, Kovacevic commented. -- Stan Markotich

Only days after the passage of the legislation recognizing opposition elections wins, the ruling Socialists appear to be waging a new media campaign against the Zajedno coalition. An editorial in the 12 February issue of Politika Ekspres, which was also read out during state television newscasts the same evening, suggested that Zajedno leaders were "conniving" and deliberately reneging on promises. "From the moment...that a favorable solution for Zajedno was absolutely certain, it became clear that the promise made by [Zajedno leader] Vuk Draskovic...that mass demonstrations would stop as soon as parliament recognized the election results would come to nothing," the editorial claimed. Meanwhile, parliamentary speaker Dragan Tomic told state radio that the protests were "horrible...[and] a threat to citizens who don't think the same way" as the protesters. -- Stan Markotich

SFOR stepped up its patrols in the divided Herzegovinian city on 12 February in an effort to put a stop to a fresh outbreak of violence that threatens the future of the Croatian-Muslim federation, international news agencies reported. They dismantled illegal checkpoints and confiscated weapons. Overnight, there were nonetheless three explosions--one in Muslim-dominated east Mostar and two in the Croat-controlled western half of the town. International mediator Michael Steiner and the UN police (IPTF) met late into the night with Croatian leader Kresimir Zubak and with Muslim leaders Alija Izetbegovic and Haris Silajdzic. They agreed on a 12-point program that gives the IPTF increased powers to control the town and detain those responsible for the shooting earlier this week in which Croats killed one Muslim and wounded 22 (see OMRI Daily Digest, 11 February 1997). Telephone contacts between the two parts of the town will be restored and SFOR's presence strengthened. The curfew will stay in effect and persons evicted from their flats will be allowed to go home. -- Patrick Moore

Peacekeepers have ordered Muslim and Serbian soldiers near the strategic northern Bosnian town to return to their barracks as the 14 February deadline approaches for the U.S. arbitrator's decision on Brcko's fate. SFOR troops on 12 February confiscated and intend to destroy a Serbian T-55 tank that was spotted outside its authorized storage place, Oslobodjenje wrote. Brcko was the one territorial issue that it proved impossible to resolve in the Dayton peace accord. The Serbs need it to connect the eastern and western halves of their territory, while the Muslims and Croats demand that the "ethnic cleansing" there be reversed. Both sides have threatened war if the other is assigned the town. The most likely outcome is probably a complicated scheme of shared authority and international supervision, which, as demonstrated by Mostar, is unlikely to work. -- Patrick Moore

President Franjo Tudjman on 12 February announced that the vote for the upper house of the parliament and local government offices has been postponed until 13 April, Hina reported (see OMRI Daily Digest, 12 February 1997). Voting had been slated for 16 March, but the UN administrator for Serb-held eastern Slavonia, Jacques Klein, said conditions there would not be ready for the March deadline. He urged the Croats to speed up the distribution of citizenship papers, and the Serbs to respect the April election date, Novi List wrote. The Croatian government wants eastern Slavonia to vote at the same time as the rest of the country to underscore that it is again part of Croatia. -- Patrick Moore

The Romanian government on 12 February announced it will take immediate measures to restore citizenship to exiled King Michael, Romanian media reported. The move is in response to a letter, signed by 21 leading intellectuals, appealing to Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea to redress the injustice done to Michael in 1948 by the Communists. Seventy-five-year-old Michael, who was dethroned and forced into exile in late December 1947, now lives in Versoix, Switzerland. He welcomed Ciorbea's decision as "an act of justice" and also responded positively to an invitation from the mayor of Iasi to visit the city in the near future. According to Adevarul, Michael wants to re-settle in Romania. -- Zsolt Mato

Russian Defense Council Secretary Yurii Baturin on 12 February said Russian troops in eastern Moldova will be considerably reduced in number by the fall, BASA-press reported. Baturin promised that Russia will act in the spirit of the October 1994 Russian-Moldovan agreement on the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Dniester region. That accord has never gone into effect owing to the Russian State Duma's refusal to ratify it. Baturin also said he believed that "historical ties between Moldova and Russia are strong enough to prevent the former from moving closer to NATO." His comments came one day after he had rejected NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana's appeal for the complete withdrawal of the 6,500-strong Russian contingent in Moldova. -- Dan Ionescu

Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov on 12 February swore in a caretaker cabinet headed by Sofia Mayor Stefan Sofiyanski, international media reported. There are no Socialist ministers in the reduced, interim government. Sofiyanski is an economist who was elected mayor of Sofia in October 1995. Stoyanov urged him to make one of his government's top priorities fighting crime and "purging the administration of corrupt officials." The parliamentary parties have agreed to dissolve the legislature today, and the new government has been granted the authority to tackle the country's ongoing economic crisis. Also, the date for new parliamentary elections has been set for 19 April, Demokratsiya reported on 13 February. -- Stan Markotich

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave