YELTSIN SEEKS TO CALM FEARS OVER BELARUSIAN
Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov
has left for Minsk today to discuss with Belarusian President
Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Belarusian Foreign Ministry
officials the union agreement signed last week. President Boris
Yeltsin has promised Russians that integration with Belarus
will not hurt their standard of living and that he will seek to
ensure that democratic values are respected in both Russia
and Belarus. In a 5 April radio address, Yeltsin also stressed
that the union agreement is only the beginning of the
integration process. He said the Russian-Belarusian union
charter could be revised to take public opinion into account.
Yeltsin's speech follows several days of generally unfavorable
commentaries in the Russian media about the consequences
of integration with Belarus. Meanwhile, the State Duma on 4
April passed a statement demanding gradual unification with
Belarus and a resolution criticizing recent Russian media
coverage of the issue, ITAR-TASS reported.
CHERNOMYRDIN SAYS MORE CABINET CHANGES LIKELY.
Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin says cabinet changes in
the near future will not necessarily be limited to replacing
ministers who have already resigned, RFE/RL reports. Fuel
and Energy Minister Petr Rodionov quit on 4 April, citing plans
to work in the private sector. Rodionov is believed to oppose
the government's plans to restructure Russia's "natural
monopolies" in the energy sector. On 5 April, State Tax Service
chief Vitalii Artyukhov also resigned, and Deputy Prime
Minister Alfred Kokh announced that tax revenues for the first
quarter of 1997 totaled only 58% of the planned amount in the
state budget, ITAR-TASS reported.
RESHUFFLE IN PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION
Yeltsin has fired his foreign policy adviser,
Dmitrii Ryurikov. Citing Kremlin sources, ITAR-TASS reports
that the president was dissatisfied with the original document
on Russian-Belarusian integration, which was prepared under
Ryurikov's supervision. Yeltsin and Lukashenka signed a
much shorter version of that document last week. Presidential
spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii, who was Russia's
ambassador to Slovakia from 1993 until last summer, will now
coordinate foreign policy for the presidential administration.
Meanwhile, Yeltsin dismissed his economic adviser Sergei
Ignatev on 5 April. Aleksandr Livshits, who was sacked as
finance minister last month, said he will take over Ignatev's
duties, AFP reported.
DUMA OVERRIDES VETO ON TROPHY ART LAW.
Duma has overridden the presidential veto on the "trophy art"
law, which prohibits the transfer of cultural valuables seized
by the Soviet Union during World War II. Aleksandr Kotenkov,
Yeltsin's representative in the parliament, told an RFE/RL
correspondent that the law would complicate Russian relations
with several European countries, especially Germany. He
added that by declaring all cultural valuables seized during
the war to be federal property, the law violates the
constitutional protection of private property rights. If the
Federation Council also overrides the veto, Kotenkov said,
Yeltsin will appeal to the Constitutional Court to block the law.
DUMA FAILS TO ELECT HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER.
The Duma remains without a human rights commissioner
following the failure of any of the seven candidates for the post
to gain the necessary 300 votes to advance to the final round
of balloting. Communist-backed candidate Oleg Mironov came
first with 245 votes and Agrarian nominee Vladimir Isakov
followed with 211. Since the other candidates lagged far
behind, the Communists and Agrarians are likely to prevail in
the next round of voting, provided that they can agree on a
joint nominee. The Duma has had no human rights
commissioner since March 1995, when deputies sacked Sergei
Kovalev for his outspoken criticism of the war in Chechnya.
TWO MORE JOURNALISTS KIDNAPPED IN CHECHNYA.
Kidnappers have demanded ransom for two journalists from
Chelyabinsk Oblast who disappeared in Chechnya last month,
Interfax reported on 4 April. The journalists were searching for
a soldier from their native city, who remains missing in
Chechnya. It is unclear whether the journalists are being held
by the same captors who have demanded $1 million in ransom
for an Italian photographer and $2 million for the release of
four employees of Radio Rossii and ITAR-TASS.
CHECHEN PILGRIMS HALTED ON HAJJ.
carrying Chechen pilgrims en route to Saudi Arabia were
allowed yesterday to continue their journey. On 4 April,
Russian border guards had detained the pilgrims at the
internal border between Dagestan and Chechnya. Many of the
148 Chechens were allegedly in possession of passports that
had been reported stolen, although the Russian Ministry of
Internal Affairs had handed over to the Chechen leadership
some 3,000 passports specifically for pilgrims wishing to make
the hajj. Itar-Tass today quotes Russian Security Council
Secretary Ivan Rybkin as saying that the Kremlin has allowed
seven charter flights to Saudi Arabia for those wishing to visit
the holy cities of Mecca and Medina as a "goodwill gesture."
Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov announced that he will
also undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina this year,
where he intends to seek aid from Arab leaders for
reconstruction in Chechnya.
RYBKIN, MASKHADOV ON CHECHEN-RUSSIAN TALKS.
Addressing the State Duma on 4 April, Russian Security
Council Secretary Rybkin said the Chechen leadership's
negotiating position is based on the premise that Chechnya is
an independent state, Russian agencies reported. He added
that Chechnya therefore rejects any reference to shared
political, legal, economic, and currency structures. Rybkin also
criticized Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Petr Rodionov for
failing to negotiate an agreement with Khozh-Akhmed
Yarikhanov, chairman of Chechnya's Southern Oil Company,
on the transit of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via Chechnya.
Meanwhile, Maskhadov told Russian Public TV that
Chechnya's military formations will not be disarmed until a
formal peace treaty is signed with Russia.
KULIKOV WANTS INTERPOL FOR CIS.
Anatolii Kulikov wants to set up an international police
organization in the CIS in order to fight organized crime. He
said such an organization would be based on the model of
Interpol. Kulikov recently discussed the creation of a CIS
Interpol bureau with top officials at Interpol's headquarters in
Lyon, France, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 April.
NEMTSOV OUTLINES PLANNED REFORMS OF NATURAL
First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov
says restructuring several natural monopolies--the gas giant
Gazprom, the utility Unified Energy System (EES), and the
Railways Ministry--will help solve Russia's non-payments
crisis. In an interview with ITAR-TASS on 4 April, Nemtsov
said the government will not split up the monopolies but will
carry out an audit to root out corruption and make the
monopolies pay their debts both to the federal budget and the
Pension Fund. Nemtsov also advocated reducing tariffs for
electricity and rail transport, which, he said, were higher than
corresponding tariffs in the West. The same day, the Duma
passed a resolution opposing plans to restructure Gazprom,
the EES, and the Railways Ministry.
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT POSTPONES VISIT TO TURKEY.
Heidar Aliyev has postponed a three-day state visit to Turkey,
scheduled to begin today, in order not to be in Ankara
tomorrow when the funeral of Alparslan Turkes takes place,
AFP reported. Turkes, who died on 5 April, was the leader of
the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party, also known as the
Grey Wolves. Iskender Hamidov, leader of the Azerbaijani Grey
Wolves, was arrested in March 1995 on suspicion of
involvement in an alleged coup attempt against Aliev. The
Azerbaijani president later claimed that Turkish security
service officers were also implicated in the incident.
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT DENIES MEETING WITH ARFD
A spokesman for Levon Ter-Petrossyan has
clarified a 4 April report by the official news agency
Armenpress suggesting that the president met with members
of the suspended Dashnak party (see RFE/RL Newsline, 4
April 1997). The spokesman told journalists that Ter-
Petrossyan initiated talks between the ARFD and members of
the Armenian leadership, including parliamentary speaker
Babken Ararktsyan. But he stressed that the president did not
participate in the discussions, RFE/RL reported. Also on 4
April, some 10,000 people attended an opposition
demonstration in Yerevan to demand new presidential
elections, Russian agencies reported.
RUSSIA, CENTRAL ASIAN STATES VOW JOINT ACTION IN
CASE OF TALIBAN ADVANCE.
A Taliban spokesman has
categorically denied that the movement intends to advance
into CIS territory, AFP reported. Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan,
Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Russia vowed to take 'close joint
action' if the Taliban movement were to do so. The foreign
ministers of the four Central Asian countries met with First
Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov in Dushanbe on 5
April. Talks focused on Afghanistan and the success there of
the Taliban movement, which is approaching the southern
borders of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Earlier, Tajik President
Imomali Rakhmonov met with the ministers and called for an
international forum on the problems in Afghanistan for all
parties involved. Meanwhile, armed forces in Kyrgyzstan and
Russian border guards held joint exercises near the Kyrgyz-
Tajik border on 4-5 April. Kyrgyz acting Security Minister Pavel
Verchagin said the maneuvers were in response to possible
tension in the southern region.
BELARUS TO RETAIN SEPARATE STATEHOOD.
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told a press conference
yesterday that Belarus's new alliance with Russia does not
mean a loss of statehood for either country. According to
Lukashenka, unification will "take place in line with the EU
model, where each of the members retains its sovereignty."
Lukashenka was speaking after meeting in Minsk with Juan
Antonio Samaranch, the president of the International
Olympic Committee. Interfax quotes Lukashenka as saying
that Belarusian athletes will continue to compete at the
Olympic Games and other international competitions under
the Belarusian state flag.
BELARUS UNDER FIRE FROM INTERNATIONAL
The EU has called the human rights
situation in Belarus "inadmissible." In a memorandum sent to
Belarusian Foreign Minister Ivan Antonovich on 4 April, the
organization criticized Belarus for its failure to uphold press
freedom and the right of citizens to demonstrate freely. Also on
4 April, the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in
Europe sent a letter to President Lukashenka condemning
what it says are blatant violations of human rights in Belarus,
RFE/RL's Washington correspondent reported. Meanwhile,
Christopher Willoughby, the World Bank's representative in
Minsk, has criticized Belarus for having one of the least
liberalized economies in the region.
UKRAINE LIFTS RESTRICTIONS ON RUSSIAN MILITARY
Ukraine has agreed to lift restrictions on Russian
military planes flying over its territory. The Russian Defense
Ministry announced on 5 April that the decision followed a
telephone conversation between Russian military chief of staff
Gen. Viktor Samsonov and his Ukrainian counterpart,
Alexander Zatynaiko. Ukraine temporarily restricted Russian
military planes from its skies after what it described as a
series of unannounced Russian flights into air space over the
Black Sea under Ukraine's jurisdiction. Russia's air force
denied the accusations. Russia says its aircraft were flying
over "neutral waters." Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Leonid
Kuchma told a press conference in Kyiv on 5 April that actions
taken by "individual officials," as in the case of the Russian
planes, should not be allowed to damage relations between
Ukraine and Russia.
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ON SLOW PACE OF REFORMS..
Kuchma says the country's reform process has stagnated and
that both the government and the parliament are to blame.
Speaking to journalists in Kyiv on 5 April, Kuchma argued that
the government's and parliament's actions are an inadequate
response to the "level of tension in society." He also noted that
the parliament's productivity is low and that approval of
important economic laws and land reform is being blocked.
Kuchma confirmed a government reshuffle will be announced
next week. He said there will also be a reduction in the
number of state agencies and civil servants.
...AND ON SPEEDING UP TREATY WITH ROMANIA.
says he wants to meet with his Romanian counterpart, Emil
Constantinescu, in order to expedite the conclusion of the
basic treaty between the two countries, RFE/RL's Romanian
Service reported on 6 April, citing the independent Mediafax
agency. The last round of treaty talks took place in Bucharest
at the end of March. Since then, the talks appear to have
INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON RUSSIANS IN BALTICS.
Members of the Baltics' Russian Assembly--composed of
Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian deputies from ethnic
Russian parties--met in Tallinn this weekend to discuss the
situation of ethnic Russians living in the Baltic States,
RFE/RL's Estonian Service and BNS reported. In a
communique released yesterday, the participants expressed
concern about the limited possibilities for Russian-language
education in Estonia and Latvia and about internal difficulties
within the Estonian and Latvian Orthodox Churches. The
conference also supported Belarusian President Lukashenka's
attempts to "unite the Slavic people." The Baltics' Russian
Assembly was set up in 1995. Deputies from the Russian and
Belarusian legislatures also participated in this weekend's
ESTONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN LITHUANIA.
Hendrik Ilves met with Lithuanian leaders in Vilnius on 4 April
and discussed bilateral relations, NATO and EU enlargement,
and relations with neighboring countries. BNS reported. He is
the first Estonian foreign minister to make an official visit to
Lithuania since World War 11. At a press conference, Ilves and
his Lithuanian counterpart, Algirdas Saudargas, agreed that a
planned U.S.-Baltic security charter has to be concluded with
each Baltic state separately. They confirmed the charter is not
linked with the forthcoming NATO summit in Madrid.
COMMUNIST-ERA POLICEMEN SENTENCED IN POLAND.
Warsaw court has sentenced two former policemen for their
involvement in the events that led to the death of Grzegorz
Przemyk in May 1983, RFE/RL's Warsaw correspondent
reported. A third policemen was acquitted. The 19-year-old
Przemyk was beaten to death by policemen, and his funeral
was one of the most poignant events to follow the imposition of
martial law in December 1981. Arkadiusz Denkiewicz was
sentenced to four years in prison (commuted to two years
under the 1989 amnesty) for inciting other policemen to beat
Przemyk. Kazimierz Otlowski received a suspended 18-month
sentence for concealing evidence and obstructing an
investigation into Przemyk's death in 1989-1990.
POLAND TO ESTABLISH CEMETERIES FOR VICTIMS OF
STALIN PURGES IN RUSSIA, UKRAINE.
head of the Polish Council for the Protection of Memorial Sites,
says Warsaw will establish three cemeteries in Russia and
Ukraine over the next two years for Polish victims of Soviet
dictator Josef Stalin's purges. Przewoznik was quoted by
Reuters on 5 April as saying Poland will start in September to
set up cemeteries in Katyn and Miednoye, in Russia, and in
Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine. Poland began to exhume remains
of purge victims at those sites three years ago. Russian
authorities granted permission for the cemeteries late last
CZECH FOREIGN POLICY INITIATIVES.
Minister Teodoros Pangalos will hold talks in Prague today
with Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus and Foreign Minister
Josef Zieleniec. In a statement issued yesterday, the Czech
Foreign Ministry said the aim of Pangalos's visit is to intensify
dialogue between both countries before integration into EU
structures. Meanwhile, Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus
discussed economic ties with Chinese Deputy Prime Minister
Wu Bangguo in Prague on 4 April. A statement released by
Klaus' office after the meeting said there is a need for further
talks between Beijing and Prague on human rights. Czech
human rights groups protested Wu's visit.
SLOVAK GOVERNING PARTY WANTS APOLOGY FROM
The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia
(HZDS) on 4 April demanded that Vaclav Havel apologize for
remarks he made in an interview with a French newspaper last
week. The Czech president was quoted by Le Figaro as saying
HZDS chairman and Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar
suffer from paranoia. Havel's comment was in response to
Meciar's suggestion that an international conspiracy is trying
to prevent Slovakia from becoming a NATO member.
SLOVAK DEPUTY MINISTER DEFENDS JOINT VENTURE
Jan Ducky says the plans to set up a joint-
venture between the Slovak Gas Industry company (SPP) and
the Russian company Gazprom have been misunderstood.
Ducky spoke on 4 April at his first press conference since he
was appointed director of the SPP. Slovak opposition media
and politicians have criticized the planned venture, arguing it
will be disadvantageous for Slovakia and will make the country
more dependent on Russia. The project is to be discussed in
detail during Ducky's visit to Russia next week.
HUNGARIANS FARMERS' LEADER THREATENS TO
Gyula Kosa, leader of the farmers'
union Metesz, told a rally at Tomorkeny on 5 April that if
necessary, "farmers will demonstrate in front of the
parliament, break doors down with axes, and clear out the riff-
raff,' MTI reported. Agricultural workers have recently staged
demonstrations against a law increasing their income and
social security taxes. Meanwhile in Budapest, several
thousand people demonstrated on 4 April in support of Agnes
Maczo Nagy of the Independent Smallholders' Party, who has
been criticized for making anti-Semitic remarks in the
parliament. The demonstration was organized by
NEW HUNGARIAN INTELLIGENCE CHIEF.
Gyula Horn has appointed Jozsef Szasz as director-general of
the Intelligence Office, the Hungarian media reported on 4
April. Laszlo Komjathy is Szasz's deputy. Both men have
worked for more than 20 years in the intelligence services.
ALBANIAN PREMIER LAUNCHES PROBE OF ARMED
On 5 April, some 50 armed men set off two
grenades and fired shots into the air to block the road between
Tirana and Shkoder, forcing Bashkim Fino to turn back. Fino
had been on his way to talk to local officials in the northern
region, which has not sided with the armed rebellion in the
south. Fino set up an investigation the next day, RFE/RL
reported. Shkoder police promised action against those
responsible for the "ugly act."
ANNAN CALLS FOR QUICK DEPLOYMENT OF TROOPS TO
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today that
the eight-nation intervention force should go to Albania as
soon as possible, adding that speed "is of the essence." The
first of up to 6,000 troops are slated to start arriving on 14
April. In the Vatican yesterday, Pope John Paul II urged
politicians to have the "necessary courage to intervene" to end
LOOTERS TOOK CHEMICAL, RADIOACTIVE SUBSTANCES
An army officer appealed to looters on television
yesterday to hand back the lethal chemical and radioactive
materials they took from four military bases in recent weeks.
The small radioactive objects contain strontium or cobalt and
come from radar installations. In other news, six young people
were hurt in Vlora after playing with grenades and other
ANOTHER MONASTERY SHELLED IN BOSNIA.
grenades struck a Roman Catholic monastery at Kraljeva
Sutjeska, central Bosnia, on 5 April. It was the latest in a
series of attacks on Catholic and Muslim religious buildings
and reflects the tensions between the two nominal allies. The
two sides, nonetheless, resumed joint police patrols in Mostar
the previous day after a break of almost two months. Also on 4
April, a spokesman for the international community said that
the Bosnian Serbs will not be allowed to demand transit visas
from people traveling to see the pope in the Bosnian capital
next weekend, RFE/RL reported.
U.S. BACKS DEMOCRATIZATION IN SERBIA.
leaders of the Zajedno coalition met with Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright on 4 April. Her spokesman said that
Washington especially wants to promote media freedom and
roundtable talks in the runup to the next elections, RFE/RL
reported. He also accused the Serbian authorities of brutality
and intransigence in Kosovo.
The Serbs in eastern Slavonia held a
referendum yesterday to demand that they constitute a single
administrative unit with a Serbian majority when the area re-
joins Croatia in July. Croatia plans to re-establish two
counties in which the prewar majorities were Croatian. Both
Zagreb and the local UN authorities have said the referendum
is invalid. The UN says, however, that voters now have until
Tuesday to register for Croatian local and regional elections on
13 April, RFE/RL reported. In other news, the government on
4 April announced a project to build 2,000 flats quickly for
Croatian refugees going home to Vukovar.
GARMENT WORKERS STRIKE IN ZAGREB.
More than 2,000
garment workers protested on 4 April against worsening
working and living conditions. Talks between the government
and unions start today, and the government says it hopes to
reach a deal by the end of the month, RFE/RL reported. The
government calls Croatia a prosperous country, but most
ordinary people have difficulty making ends meet.
SLOVENIA PRESSES FOR NATO MEMBERSHIP.
Milan Kucan met recently with outgoing NATO commander
Gen. George Joulwan and Turkish President Suleyman
Demirel. Slovenia wants to be in the first group of East
European countries to join the Atlantic alliance in order to
further distance itself from the other former Yugoslav
republics. The Slovenian defense minister hosted his Italian
and Hungarian counterparts on Friday to discuss future joint
exercises. But a recent poll shows that only 42% of the
Slovenian population backs NATO membership, while 73% do
not want Slovenian troops going to crisis areas under any
circumstances, RFE/RL said.
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT DENIES GOVERNMENT WANTS TO
Emil Constantinescu has denied that the
ruling coalition intends to politicize the banking system and
other state-owned companies, RFE/RL reported.
Constantinescu was responding yesterday to opposition
protests following announcements by leading coalition
members that the government intends to replace the managers
of state-owned banks in order to 'speed up the reform process.'
Constantinescu said the government will discuss a draft law
on the privatization of banks this week. He also said there
were attempts to mislead the public over the IMF's position on
Romania. An IMF delegation led by Poul Thomsen, the
organization's chief negotiator for Romania, arrives in
Bucharest today for what is reported to be an unexpected visit
reflecting IMF dissatisfaction with the Romanian economy.
TRANSYLVANIAN UNIVERSITY TO BE RESTRUCTURED.
The Romanian-Hungarian-German committee of the Babes-
Bolyay University in Cluj has recommended setting up
departments offering instruction in each of the three
languages, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The decision
is to be implemented after necessary amendments to the
education law have been made. Bishop Laszlo Tokes, honorary
chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania
(UDMR), has criticized both UDMR chairman Bela Marko and
Premier Victor Ciorbea for breaking their promise to set up a
separate Hungarian university. Marko said the problem has to
be solved within the larger context of amending the education
law and the law on local administration.
MOLDOVA, ROMANIA TO RESUME PARLEYS ON BASIC
Moldovan Foreign Minister Mihai Popov and his
Romanian counterpart, Adrian Severin, have agreed to resume
talks on the bilateral basic treaty, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau
reported. Popov and Severin met in the Romanian capital on 5
April. Talks on the treaty ground to a halt in fall 1996. The
Moldovan daily Flux reports that Moldova wants to speed up
the conclusion of the treaty before the NATO summit in Madrid
in July, BASA-press reported on 5 April. Flux also says that
Chisinau is trying to exploit the upcoming summit. It
maintains that Moldovan leaders want to persuade Bucharest
to recognize existing borders because one of the conditions for
NATO admission, which Romania is eagerly pursuing, is the
resolution of all border disputes.
BULGARIAN ELECTION POLL.
A recent Gallup opinion poll
shows the United Democratic Forces (ODS) and its allies
leading the Socialists by more than 30 percentage points,
RFE/RL reported. The poll, published on 4 April, gives the
ODS 62% support and the Socialists 16-17%. The Union for
National Salvation--composed of the ethnic Turkish Movement
for Rights and Freedom, former President Zheylu Zhelev's
Liberal Alternative, and an agrarian party--and the Euro-
Leftists each received 4.5% backing. General elections are
scheduled for 19 April.
BULGARIA TO BUY RUSSIAN PLANES?
Bulgaria is ready to
buy 14 Russian MiG 29s, provided that it receives a $450
million credit from Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported.
Nezavisimaya gazeta on 4 April quoted Boris Kuzyk, Russian
presidential adviser on arms sales abroad, as saying Bulgaria
already has some 20 MiG 29s of an earlier type and needs to
upgrade the Plodviv factory to maintain the aircraft. He said
the factory would also be able to repair MiG fighters belonging
to Asian and African nations, which 'would allow Bulgaria to
earn millions of dollars every year.'
CHECHEN PRESIDENT UNDER PRESSURE
by Liz Fuller
Seven months after signing a cease-fire agreement with
then Russian Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed, and
three months after the last Russian troops withdrew from
Chechnya, Aslan Maskhadov is struggling to accomplish
several urgent tasks. The former Chechen chief of staff, who
was elected president in January, wants to neutralize
renegade armed units, create a united and effective cabinet,
and hammer out two agreements formalizing Chechnya's
political and economic relations with Moscow.
In the past, Maskhadov has conceded the existence of
bands of Chechen fighters who refuse to acknowledge his
authority. (One such group is generally held responsible for
the December 1996 slaying of six unarmed Red Cross workers in
the Chechen village of Noviye Atagi.) In what may have been
an attempt to remove this potential threat, Maskhadov issued
a decree last month disbanding all informal military
formations, largely composed of men in their twenties who
have no hope under present economic conditions of finding
alternative legal employment in Chechnya. Those men are to
form the nucleus of a 2,000-strong professional army of which
Maskhadov--as president and premier--will be commander-in-
Last week, Maskhadov offered key posts in his new
government to two of the most influential field commanders.
Shamil Basaev is now the most senior of three first deputy
premiers, and Ruslan Gilaev is deputy prime minister
responsible for construction.
Basaev--who gained instant notoriety for his leading
role in the June 1995 Budennovsk hostage-taking, during which
more than 100 Russian civilians were killed--was one of 15
candidates who ran against Maskhadov in the January
presidential elections. After coming second with 22.7% of the
vote, he said he would not serve in Maskhadov's leadership.
His new responsibilities as first deputy premier include the
industrial sector, which in Chechnya is synonymous with oil.
In other words, Basaev has been given the opportunity to make
considerable amounts of money illegally, provided that he can
reach a modus vivendi with former acting First Deputy Premier
Khozh-Ahmed Yarikhanov, who now heads Chechnya's Southern Oil
Company. And assuming that the Russian government agrees to
provide at least some of the funds for reconstructing
Chechnya's devastated infrastructure, Gilayev has a similar
opportunity for self-enrichment.
Since he is now responsible for the oil industry, Basaev
could argue it is necessary to recruit some of his former
comrades-in-arms as a new security force to crack down on the
underground oil industry. Such a force could also be used to
safeguard the export of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil through the
northern pipeline from Baku via Grozny and Tikhoretsk to
Novorossiisk. Basaev recently claimed he could offer such
guarantees. (In this context, the question arises of whether
Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovsky's visit
to Grozny on 29 March was in some way linked to Basaev's
appointment. No details of that visit have been divulged.)
Predictably, Russian officials have been harshly
critical of Basaev's nomination as first deputy premier.
Viktor Ilyukhin, chairman of the State Duma's Security
Committee, termed it "a slap in the face for Moscow" and said
it demonstrates that Maskhadov, far from being in control of
the situation, has to "agree to compromise with the most
odious players." The Russian Prosecutor's Office is still
investigating the Budennovsk hostage-taking. Basaev, along
with maverick field commander Salman Raduev, is not covered
by the Duma's March 1997 amnesty for those who took part in
the Chechen war.
Nor is the composition of the new Chechen government the
only reason for tension between Moscow and Grozny. All
efforts to secure the release of four journalists abducted
in Chechnya in early March have failed, although Maskhadov
has admitted he knows the identity of the kidnappers. More
serious, Maskhadov said on 1 April that the ongoing talks
with Moscow on several draft agreements regulating future
relations between Grozny and Moscow are deadlocked because
the Russian side is attempting to link economic and political
issues. The Chechen president told Russian Public Television
on 5 April that the planned disarmament of informal Chechen
military units has been suspended until a formal "peace
treaty" is signed. Moscow reportedly argues that use of
the term "peace treaty" would be implicit recognition that
Chechnya is an independent state.
At this critical juncture, one of the key contributors
to the peace process has decided to bow out. Tim Guldimann,
the Swiss diplomat who was instrumental in bringing Maskhadov
and Lebed to the negotiating table last year, has resigned
as head of the OSCE mission in Grozny. Maskhadov seems to
have lost an ally at a time when he can least afford to do