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Newsline - August 18, 1997


Aslan Maskhadov was in Moscow on 18 August for "frank talks" with Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Chechen leaders had repeatedly said they hoped Yeltsin would agree to sign an interstate treaty recognizing Chechnya's independence, but Yeltsin told journalists after his meeting with Maskhadov that "we will solve the problems as we did with [Tatar President Mintimer] Shaimiev," which implies he will not grant Chechnya greater autonomy than Tatarstan or other federation subjects, according to Reuters. On 17 August, Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin and Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov signed a protocol on appointing representatives of families of those killed, abducted, or missing in Chechnya to a joint commission to search for those persons. Also on 17 August, Rybkin told Interfax that the Russian government has allocated 847 billion rubles ($148 million) to Chechnya since the beginning of this year.


Two employees of the Russian TV production company VID have returned to Moscow following their release in Chechnya on 17 August, Russian media reported. The two men were abducted in Grozny in mid-June. On 15 August, the Chechen authorities announced they had identified the kidnappers and had ordered them to release the hostages within 48 hours. First Deputy Prime Minister Udugov subsequently told Interfax that no ransom was paid. Three Russian journalists from NTV who were abducted in Chechenya in mid-May remain in captivity. The total number of persons currently held hostage in Chechnya exceeds 1,000, Russian Security Council Secretary Rybkin told ITAR-TASS on 16 August. They include five French, two British, and two German nationals.


Yeltsin on 15 August approved the parameters of the draft 1998 budget but called for planned spending on the space program, basic scientific research, education, and credits for CIS countries to be increased, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said the cabinet will consider Yeltsin's suggestions when it reviews the draft budget on 21 August. The government is required by law to submit the draft to the State Duma by 26 August. Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Aleksandr Livshits told journalists that the draft budget will facilitate economic growth, but only if the parliament approves a new tax code by the end of the year. Various government officials have characterized the 1998 spending plans as "tough, but realistic." The government has cut 1997 budget spending by about 20.5 percent, citing severe revenue shortfalls (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May and 24 June 1997).


The government has approved a program that calls for the budget deficit to be cut to 3.5 percent of GDP by 2000, Interfax reported on 15 August. In line with Yeltsin's 1998 budget message (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 1997), the program calls for a balanced budget in 1999, excluding interest payments on Russia's internal and external debt, and a 0.5 percent budget surplus in 2000, also excluding debt servicing costs. The 1998 budget deficit is projected at 4.8 percent of GDP including debt servicing costs and 0.5 percent of GDP excluding those costs. The deficit reduction program also projects that a new tax code and improved tax collection will raise budget revenues to 13 percent of GDP in 2000 from 12.7 percent in 1998, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 August.


Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov says the planned 1998 budget expenditures on defense of 3-3.5 percent of GDP are far too low, Interfax reported on 15 August. Zyuganov argued that defense spending should amount to 5-7 percent of GDP. (Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Livshits claimed the same day that the draft 1998 budget will increase spending on defense and military reform by 38 percent compared with 1997 levels.) Zyuganov repeated his strong opposition to planned military reforms, which, he said, threaten to destroy Russia's defense capabilities. He also predicted that 90 percent of officers will support Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin's moves to support the military and defense industry and will back protests to be organized this fall by the Communist-led opposition movement Popular-Patriotic Union of Russia.


Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 15 August, Army Gen. Petr Deneikin said the downsizing of the air and air defense forces from 340,000 to 180,000 troops will mostly involve the demobilization of desk rather than combat personnel. He warned that failure to compensate demobilized officers could lead to social unrest, Russian media reported. Deneikin argued that the merger of the two branches will improve operational capability. He complained of a "catastrophic" shortage of aviation fuel for training flights but expressed confidence that the situation will improve within a couple of years. Deneikin praised the capacity of the Russian aviation industry to produce sophisticated air craft for the 21st century as fast as "making pancakes." He also denied Chechen allegations that Russian fighter air craft buzzed the central market and airport in Grozny on 13 August.


Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Livshits says a presidential decree is being drafted on procedures for auctioning large state-owned stakes in enterprises, Russian news agencies reported on 15 August. Livshits indicated that the decree will prohibit firms affiliated with the organizers of such auctions from bidding for shares. (The 5 August auction for a 38 percent stake in Norilsk Nickel was organized by MFK--Moscow Partners and won by Svift; both companies are linked to Oneksimbank.) Special presidential decrees on auction terms will be issued in connection with each future sale of a stake in a major enterprise. At the same time, Livshits argued that issuing convertible bonds backed by state-owned shares would probably earn as much revenue as direct sales of state-owned stakes without causing the scandals commonly associated with direct sales.


Rumors in Moscow that the State Property Committee will be given the status of ministry were fueled on 15 August when Prime Minister Chernomyrdin introduced the committee's new chairman Maksim Boiko to the committee's staff as "privatization minister," ITAR-TASS reported. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" published on 16 August, Boiko neither confirmed nor denied rumors that the committee will be transformed into a ministry.


Mikhail Manevich, deputy governor of St. Petersburg and head of the city's Property Committee, was shot on his way to work on 18 August and died shortly thereafter in a hospital, RFE/RL's correspondent in St. Petersburg reported. Manevich's car was fired on eight times from a window of a nearby building. Anatolii Ponidelko, head of the Interior Ministry's branch in St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast, has said the murder was the work of a professional killer, but he has not yet speculated on a motive. Manevich, who had headed the property committee since 1994, refused several offers to take up high posts in Moscow from Anatolii Chubais, among others. Local observers have speculated that Manevich's murder may be linked to an upcoming review of the privatization of St. Petersburg hotels or may have been ordered by organized criminal groups that feared Manevich would reveal their ties to city officials.


Central Bank First Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Khandruev says the bank is ready to handle accounts containing customs duties currently held in commercial banks, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 16 August. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais recently ordered that those accounts be transferred to the Central Bank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7-8 August 1997). The paper noted that some commercial banks -- above all, Oneksimbank but also Most Bank, Alfa Bank, and Rossiiskii Kredit-- stand to lose substantial earnings. Both "Kommersant-Daily" and the latest edition of the weekly "Itogi" argue that losing the customs accounts is the price the government will make Oneksimbank pay for winning two major privatization auctions recently. "Kommersant-Daily" is believed to receive some financing from SBS-Agro Bank. "Itogi" is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most group.


First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov has denied rumors of a government split, saying the cabinet is a "coalition of center-right forces" whose members are "united by the same goal." In an interview conducted recently in Sochi and broadcast by RFE/RL's Russian Service on 17 August, Nemtsov said that Prime Minister Chernomyrdin represents the Our Home Is Russia movement, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais represents Yegor Gaidar's party Russia's Democratic Choice, and Nemtsov is closer to Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko, although he is not formally a Yabloko member. Nemtsov noted that no policy can be implemented "if it is not approved by the prime minister -- that's for sure." Many Russian commentators have speculated that on various policy questions, "young reformers" in the government, led by Chubais and Nemtsov, are at odds with "moderate conservatives" led by Chernomyrdin.


The next meeting of CIS heads of state will take place on 20 November in Chisinau, Interfax reported on 15 August. At the last CIS summit in late March, participants agreed tentatively to convene again in June but no definite date was set (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 1997). In late July, the press service of the CIS Executive Secretariat told Interfax that the next CIS summit would take place in the Moldovan capital in late September or early October. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 16 August quoted Yeltsin's press secretary Sergei Yastrzhembskii as saying that one of the topics of discussion at the November summit will be space research in the CIS states.


The planned docking of a cargo ship with the "Mir" space station was canceled on 17 August owing to a computer error, Russian media reported. Russian Mission Control flight director Vasilii Solovev said that "necessary baseline data" for the docking procedure were "loaded incorrectly." Warning systems aboard "Mir" detected the problem and alerted ground control, which has rescheduled the docking for 18 August. The cargo ship, which contains only garbage, is needed to help balance "Mir" during repairs to modules that gather solar power. The repairs are scheduled to begin on 20 August. Meanwhile, Vasilii Tsibliev who returned on 14 August from the space station, blamed the problems "Mir" had suffered over the past few months on inadequate financing. He commented that "factories do not operate and parts have not been delivered."


Under the command of Col. Mahmud Khudaberdiyev, the Tajik Army's First Brigade left its barracks south of Kurgan-Teppe late on 15 August and repositioned near the towns of Kabodien and Shaartuz. Khudaberdiyev, who is ignoring a 13 August presidential order that he be stripped of his duties as commander, held negotiations with government representatives in the afternoon of 15 August, but that meeting was cut short when it was learned that government troops had been reinforced and were approaching the Kurgan-Teppe area. "Volunteers" from the Dangara and Kulyab areas are aiding government forces near Kurgan-Teppe. They appear, however, to have been largely responsible for looting in the area and are being disarmed by government forces.


ITAR-TASS reported on 18 August that government forces are attacking positions of the mutinous First Brigade. Fighting is reported at a bridge near the village of Garavuti, but no reporters have been allowed into the area. According to some reports, Khudaberdiyev's remaining forces have been joined by those of former Customs Committee Chairman Yakub Salimov, which were forced out of Dushanbe on 9 August by Interior Ministry troops. Salimov was dismissed by President Imomali Rakhmonov on 15 August. The fighting is moving toward the Uzbek border, and the Uzbek government has announced it has taken extra security measures in the border region.


Representatives of the Kazakh government met with a Kyrgyz delegation led by Prime Minister Apas Jumagulov in Bishkek on 15 August, according to RFE/RL corespondents. The meeting focused on the mutual use of natural resources and payment for such use. Kyrgyzstan claims Kazakhstan owes $23 million for supplies of Kyrgyz electricity, while Almaty says it does not owe anything. The two sides agreed to complete construction of the Kambar-Ata hydroelectric plant on the Naryn River but failed to agree on Kazakh payment for water from Kyrgyz reservoirs. There was also no Kazakh response to a Kyrgyz complaint that Kyrgyz cargo trucks are charged as much as $900 to transit Kazakhstan. Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 August that Kyrgyzstan reduced water supplies to southern Kazakhstan the previous day.


Azerbaijan's Central Electoral Commission issued a statement on 16 August condemning the presidential elections to be held on 1 September in the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic as "illegal and legally void," ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. The statement argued that legal elections in Nagorno-Karabakh can be held only after the return to their homes of the estimated 50,000 Azerbaijanis who fled during hostilities. It also called on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to prevent the elections from taking place. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin on 15 August said his ministry opposes the planned vote because Nagorno-Karabakh has not been recognized as an independent state. Both Azerbaijan and Russia condemned the November 1996 elections in Nagorno-Karabakh on similar grounds.


Tamaz Nadareishvili, the chairman of the Abkhaz parliament in exile, condemned the 15 August declaration by the Georgian and Abkhaz leaders as a "betrayal of Georgia's interests," Interfax reported. The declaration is a commitment to refrain from the use or threat of violence; as such, it duplicates a declaration signed by Georgian and Abkhaz representatives in late July (see RFE/RL "Newsline," 28 July 1997). Shevardnadze claimed that progress toward reconciliation "is obvious," but Ardzinba warned that the Abkhaz side will make no further concessions. Ardzinba told journalists in Sukhumi on 16 August that the Georgian leadership had made him an "interesting proposal connected with the transportation of oil." A Georgian government delegation headed by Minister of State Niko Lekishvili is scheduled to discuss economic issues with the Abkhaz leadership in Sukhumi on 20 August (see also "End Note" below).


Unnamed representatives from Russia's North Caucasian republics and from Georgia and Azerbaijan attended the founding congress in Grozny on 17 August of the Caucasus Confederation, Russian media reported. One of the movement's leaders is Chechen former acting president Zelimkhan Yandarbiev. The movement's aims are to unite all political forces of the Caucasus and Transcaucasus in the liberation struggle against Russian colonialism and to create a confederation of independent Caucasus states, according to ITAR-TASS.


The international tender for the 51 percent government-owned stake in the telecommunications company Armentel closed on 15 August, two weeks earlier than originally planned, Interfax reported, quoting an Armenian trade and industry ministry official. A government spokesman told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 15 August that the privatization of Armentel will be completed "within one month." The names of the companies that submitted bids have not been disclosed. A journalist for the Turkish daily "Cumhuriyet" recently claimed that the Armenian authorities had rejected a bid for Armentel made by the Turkish Telecom company. The remaining 49 percent stake in Armentel is owned by the U.S. Trans World Telecom corporation.


"RFE/RL Newsline" incorrectly reported on 12 August 1997 that Turkey is a member of only one of the five international consortiums extracting Azerbaijan's Caspian oil. In fact, the Turkish state oil company has a 6.75 percent stake in the consortium developing the Azeri, Chirag, and Gyuneshli fields and a 9 percent stake in the consortium set up in June 1996 to exploit the Shah Deniz field.


Belarusian border guards on 15 August detained another crew from Russian Public Television (ORT) at the Belarusian-Lithuanian border, Interfax reported. The crew, composed of one Belarusian and three Russian citizens, were accused of violating the country's border regulations while filming in the border region; they were freed the same day after paying a fine. However, the next day they were detained once again when they were about to leave Belarus. ORT journalist Vladimir Fashenko told a press conference that the journalists are being held in Lida. In July, Belarusian border guards arrested Pavel Sheremet, a Belarusian journalist with ORT, and his crew on charges of illegally trespassing. Sheremet and his colleague Dimitry Zavadsky remain in prison.


Leonid Kuchma on 15 August proposed that next year's parliamentary elections be held under the current majority system, Ukrainian Radio reported. Kuchma was speaking from the Black Sea resort of Yalta. He said there is not enough time to devise an alternative voting system to the current one. Before March's elections, Ukraine's election law must be updated following the passage last year of the constitution. Opposition parties have called for a mixed system whereby voters would cast one ballot for an individual and one for a political party, which would distribute its allotted seats to candidates on a list drawn up before the vote. Anti-reform parties would benefit from party-list voting.


The Estonian Embassy in Moscow on 15 August sent a note to the Russian Foreign Ministry about the 26 Estonian trucks that have been impounded in Moscow for more than two weeks, BNS and ETA reported. The embassy asked the ministry to explain why the trucks and their drivers have not been released and to assist in resolving the issue. The trucks were carrying 600 tons of frozen chicken sent from the U.S. as humanitarian aid to the Russian army and navy. The Moscow customs authorities seized the cargo and took the trucks under armed guard to a cold storage plant. According to an embassy spokeswoman quoted by ETA the customs authorities said the trucks were impounded because the recipient of the cargo had not provided the necessary documentation.


Indulis Berzins, the head of the parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters on 15 August that he believes he has not violated the anti-corruption law, BNS reported. The Prosecutor-General's Office had announced the previous day that he broke the law by not declaring shares in the Klubs company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 1997). Berzins noted that the company had not been operating since 1994 and that his contribution to the company had been "intellectual" rather than financial. In other news, an official from the Education Ministry told President Guntis Ulmanis that school students are still using text books that are up to 10 years old owing to a lack of better teaching materials, BNS reported on 16 August.


Polish border guards sent back to Lithuania on 14 August more than 20 illegal immigrants from Vietnam, China, and Afghanistan, BNS reported. Several day earlier, more than 60 Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan citizens were handed over to Lithuanian officials after they were caught trying to cross the Lithuanian-Polish border. The illegal immigrants will be detained at the Pabrade Refugee Detention Center, in eastern Lithuania, which has been the scene of unrest in recent months. The center was built to accommodate 400 people (600 in emergency situations) but already houses more than 800. The center's deputy director told BNS on 15 August that another 116 illegal immigrants must be accommodated at the center within days.


Cardinal Jozef Glemp on 15 August accused the government of "stubborn" efforts to keep religious instruction out of schools and public life, Polish Radio reported. In a sermon delivered to some 200,000 pilgrims at Jasna Gora, the cardinal said that non-believers in the state leadership show extraordinary "stubbornness" in fighting for education without God. He said the government's actions remind the Church of the "years of communist errors and distortions." For the past four years, the leftist-dominated parliament has blocked passage of a state treaty or "concordat" with the Vatican providing for teaching religion to pre-school children and for grading religion on school report cards. In June, the lower house of the parliament tried to reduce the Church's influence in schools and public life by passing bills aimed at restricting religious instruction and regulating Church burials and marriages. The Senate has rejected those bills.


In a pre-election poll published by the Warsaw daily "Rzeczpospolita" on 18 August, Solidarity Electoral Action received the support of 28 percent of the respondents and the Democratic Left Alliance 25 percent, RFE/RL's Warsaw correspondent reported. The Freedom Union gained 12 percent support, the National Retirees Party 9 percent, the Peasant Party 8% percent, the Labor Union 7% percent, and the Movement for Rebuilding of Poland, led by former Premier Jan Olszewski, 6 percent.


A six-member Romani family on 16 August returned from Canada where it was seeking refugee status, CTK reported. The Canadian authorities had turned away the family the previous day. Meanwhile, Nova TV director Vladimir Zelezny told his station's viewers on 16 August that Nova TV did not act improperly by broadcasting a report on the life of Czech Roma in Canada, which depicted in rosy colors the life of a Romani family that had emigrated from the Czech Republic to Canada. The program inspired thousands of Roma to seek emigration to Canada. The Czech Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting will discuss at its first September meeting whether the report contradicted the law. Czech Ambassador to Canada Stanislav Chylek was quoted in an interview in the daily "Zemske noviny" on 16 August as saying the Czech Republic and Canada are seeking to avoid reimposing visa requirements, which, he said, could follow if large numbers of Roma emigrate.


In Gyoer on 15 August, Prime Minister Gyula Horn handed his Slovak counterpart, Vladimir Meciar, a nine-point memorandum dealing with minority issues and said that unless those issues are resolved by the end of the year, Slovakia will bear the responsibility "for the fiasco." The memorandum proposes that the two countries' foreign ministers sign a protocol on the implementation of the 1995 basic treaty and set up a joint committee that includes representatives of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia to oversee the treaty's implementation, Hungarian media report. Meciar said that minority problems in his country were "more propaganda than substance." He added that the Slovak government cannot work with minority groups that do not cooperate with it. Horn and Meciar agreed to hold a meeting on the Gabcikovo dam project after the Hague International Court of Justice rules on the issue.


Meanwhile, Marian Andel, honorary chairman of the Slovak National Party (SNS), told Slovak Radio on 16 August that the demands raised by Hungarian Premier Horn in the nine-point memorandum are "outrageous." He said he expected Horn to "finally apologize" to Meciar for the abolition of the minority education in Hungary at the beginning of the 1960s, "when the very strong assimilation of Slovaks began." He noted that while there were 370,000 Slovaks in Hungary in 1947, only some 9,000 people declared themselves Slovaks in the last census in Hungary. "This shows who is solving minority questions and how," Andel remarked.


Jan Cuper, the legal adviser to Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), told Radio Twist on 15 August that some Constitutional Court rulings are "ridiculous" and that the Slovak judiciary is under the influence of the opposition Christian Democrats. He was speaking following a ruling by the Constitutional Court asking the parliament to reinstate former HZDS deputy Frantisek Gaulieder, who was stripped of his mandate by the coalition-dominated legislature. Cuper said the court has been politicized and has "entered politics although it does not bear any political responsibility."


The Defense and Interior Ministries on 17 August ordered citizens to hand in heavy weapons by the end of the month and small arms by the end of September. Failure to do so could bring a prison sentence of up to five years. In addition, members of the defeated Democratic Party have until 19 August to give up their weapons or face a fine. If they are caught owning guns after 25 August, they will be prosecuted. Estimates put the number of illegal weapons stolen during the anarchy earlier this year at 1 million. Some barracks and police stations distributed about 4,000 guns, mainly Kalashnikovs, to Democratic Party supporters in Tirana and in the north. The new government's top priority is to end lawlessness.


Interior Ministry spokesmen said on 16 August that some 20 members of Zani Caushi's gang have been arrested in Vlora so far, including two of Caushi's brothers. The Interior Ministry believes that the gang leader is still in Vlora, but local police say he has fled to Italy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 1997). Also in the south, special police units have arrived in Saranda and Delvina. In the suburb of Tirana-Kombinat, one policeman was injured when police thwarted a robbery in progress. Also on 16 August, Tirana dailies loyal to former President Sali Berisha and his Democratic Party ran a blank front page to protest that they have been unable to distribute newspapers in the south since March. The Democrats charge that the Socialists worked together with criminals to prevent the Democrats from campaigning in the south.


Interior Minister Neritan Ceka said on 16 August that Montenegro allows convoys of trucks loaded with scrap metal to cross in from Albania while at the same time it shoots individual Albanians who try to enter Yugoslavia in search of work. Ceka added that organized gangs have been blowing up sections of railroad track in the north, collecting the pieces, and carting them off to Montenegro for sale. For months, gangs have been looting factories and other installations for metal to sell to Montenegro.


British, French, and U.S. commandos are in Bosnia, where they will soon arrest Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and send him to The Hague, "The Sunday Times" reported on 17 August. The newspaper added that a NATO exercise near Karadzic's stronghold at Pale on 13 August was a "dress rehearsal" for the arrest of the indicted war criminal. Western media, quoting unnamed military sources, have been reporting for some days that a move to catch Karadzic is imminent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 1997). NATO launched its new policy of actively pursuing war criminals in Prijedor on 10 July.


British NATO troops occupied a police station in Banja Luka on 17 August and prevented a possible clash between Bosnian Serb police loyal to President Biljana Plavsic and those supporting her Pale-based opponents. Pro-Plavsic police under Maj. Dragan Lukac, her security chief, had occupied a building from where, they said, other policemen were bugging her phones and those of her supporters. NATO denied permission for pro-Pale police to intervene. An SFOR spokesman said the peacekeepers will not tolerate violence. SFOR accused Plavsic's loyalists of violating NATO's new guidelines for police in Bosnia and questioned the police who seized the station. The bulk of the Bosnian Serb police are paid by Karadzic.


President Plavsic said in Banja Luka on 18 August that she will ignore the Republika Srpska Constitutional Court's 15 August ruling that condemned her dissolution of the parliament and her call for new elections. Before the decision was announced, Plavsic had said repeatedly that the court was under political pressure to rule against her. Judge Jovo Rosic, one member of the court known to support Plavsic, was badly beaten on 14 August. He spent the weekend in a Banja Luka hospital guarded by pro-Plavsic soldiers. In Washington, a State Department spokesman on 15 August reiterated U.S. support for Plavsic and criticized the court's decision as politically motivated. In Bijeljina on 16 August, Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serbian member of the Bosnian joint presidency, praised the court's decision.


UN spokesmen in Sarajevo said on 17 August that some 100 Muslims have peacefully returned to their old homes in Croat-held Krusica, near Jajce. In the Olovo area, Bosnian Serb police arrested five Muslims who were part of a larger group who had returned to visit their former homes. Explosions near Muslim-controlled Bugojno on 16 August destroyed two Croat-owned homes and damaged a third. In Stolac, local Croats stoned busses carrying Muslims back to their pre-war homes. Under the Dayton agreement, all persons have the right to freedom of movement throughout Bosnia and the right to go back to their homes.


Vasile Sova, the acting head of the Moldovan delegation to ongoing negotiations with the breakaway Transdniester region, told Infotag on 15 August that "some progress" was made in negotiations with Tiraspol the previous day. Sova said agreement was reached on most of the 12 points of the draft agreement submitted by the three mediators (Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe). But he added that Tiraspol still objects to describing the Transdniester as an integral part of Moldova and to the proposal on how to divide powers between Chisinau and Tiraspol during a transition period until a final settlement of the conflict.


Responding to accusations by Gen. Valerii Yevnevich, the commander of the Russian troops in the Transdniester (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 1997), the leadership of the breakaway region accused Yevnevich of deliberately raising tensions in the region on the eve of talks about the future of the Russian army's assets. Tiraspol's official news agency Olivia-Press reported on 15 August that ammunition allegedly belonging to the separatist region has already been destroyed on the orders of Yevnevich, who "is hiding something" and is "making the Moldovan leadership very pleased." The agency reiterated that the Transdniester's "population and public organizations are increasingly concerned" about the alleged increasingly close relationship between Yevnevich and Moldovan Defense Minister Valeriu Pasat and about cooperation between the Moldovan and Russian armies "without the participation of Transdniester's leaders and people."


In an interview with the daily "Flux" published on 15 August, Tudor Botnaru said the Transdniestrian conflict is a "long-term problem" that is likely to take years to solve and that a solution is unlikely to be found unless Russia changes its attitude. "The key is neither in Chisinau nor in Tiraspol, but in Moscow," he said. Botnaru said the greatest danger for Moldova's future is the further deterioration of its economy, Infotag reported. With regard to relations with Romania, he said unification between the two countries would be good for both but could not be based on the 1918 or 1941 unification models. "It should be a step-by-step process, starting with the present generation" and possibly concluding with "our children or grand-children."


The government on 15 August said it will privatize one of Bulgaria's two national television channels, BTA reported. It added that the privatization of the Efir Two channel would mean reduced spending on national television. If sold, the channel would become the first nationwide private television channel. Private channels launched after the fall of the communist regime can be received only locally.


Addressing a public gathering on 17 August, Bulgarian former communist leader Todor Zhivkov criticized the reformist government for not doing enough to curb inflation and unemployment since taking office in May. Zhivkov, who is under house arrest, is being investigated for allegedly channeling millions of dollars to communist parties and movements abroad and for incitement to ethnic hatred. He was given a two-day reprieve to attend the gathering in Yundola, a mountain resort some 125 kilometers southeast of Sofia, BTA reported. The Supreme Court overturned a seven-year sentence handed down in 1992 for misappropriating state funds and embezzlement.


by Liz Fuller

On 14 August 1992, Georgian troops under the command of then Defense Minister Tengiz Kitovani marched into the Abkhaz capital, Sukhumi, and opened fire on the parliament building. That action triggered a 13-month war between the central Georgian government and the secessionist Abkhaz leadership, which culminated in Tbilisi's loss of jurisdiction over Abkhazia and the exodus of some 250,000 ethnic Georgians who lived there. Five years later, on 15 August 1997, Eduard Shevardnadze and Vladislav Ardzinba, the Georgian and Abkhaz presidents, signed an agreement in Tbilisi abjuring the use or threat of violence and pledging to seek a solution to the conflict exclusively by peaceful means. The two leaders failed, however, to make progress toward resolving such controversial issues as Abkhazia's future political status vis-a-vis the central government in Tbilisi and the repatriation of the ethnic Georgians forced to flee during the fighting.

Nor did Shevardnadze and Ardzinba set a date for the signing in Moscow of a more comprehensive peace agreement drafted by Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Although the complete text of Yeltsin's proposals has not been made public, Shevardnadze has said it provides for "broad autonomy" for Abkhazia within a unified Georgian state and is therefore acceptable to the Georgian leadership, which has consistently rejected the Abkhaz demand for equal status with the rest of Georgia within a confederation.

Ardzinba, however, has said that the sole acceptable basis for further talks with Tbilisi is a protocol drafted by the Russian Foreign Ministry. That document has been the subject of sporadic negotiations over several years. The most recent round of talks in Moscow in June was suspended after Georgia demanded substantive amendments to a version that the Abkhaz delegation had endorsed. Under the terms of that document, Georgia and Abkhazia affirm their "consent to live within the confines of a shared state within the boundaries of the Georgian SSR as of 21 December 1991. Each of the two sides preserves its constitution, and relations between them will be regulated by a special treaty, which both sides agree to invest with the force of a constitutional law."

In addition, the Russian Foreign Ministry draft contains several points that address specific Abkhaz concerns. It stipulates, for example, that the repatriation of Georgian displaced persons to Abkhazia is to be implemented in accordance with a UN-mediated agreement of April 1994, which empowers the Abkhaz authorities to screen applications from would-be repatriates in order to preclude the return of war crime suspects. Abkhazia pledges to guarantee the safety of the repatriates, and provision is made for the creation of militias to perform that function.

Georgia, for its part, undertakes to prevent the intrusion onto Abkhaz territory of "terrorist and saboteur groups, armed formations, and individuals". (Two such Georgian groups are known to exist. The so-called White Legion, composed of ethnic Georgian former members of the Abkhaz Interior Ministry, is suspected of perpetrating terrorist attacks against the CIS peacekeeping force currently deployed along the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. Informal paramilitary formations subordinate to the so-called Abkhaz parliament in exile -- the ethnic Georgian deputies to the Abkhaz parliament -- constitute the second group. Both advocate a new Georgian offensive to restore Tbilisi's hegemony over Abkhazia by force.)

Paradoxically, although the Shevardnadze-Ardzinba declaration was intended as a step toward rapprochement, it may serve to exacerbate tensions. Spokesmen for the Georgian fugitives from Abkhazia have denounced the document as a "betrayal of Georgia's interests." The proponents of a "military solution" to the conflict may decide to launch a new offensive immediately in order to forestall any further concessions by Shevardnadze. Alternatively, the Georgian fugitives may align with disaffected elements in Moscow, including former Georgian intelligence chief Igor Giorgadze, who are rumored to be planning to eliminate Shevardnadze. (Any Georgian faction that undertakes to precipitate new hostilities in Abkhazia will likely be able to count on backing from those Moscow circles that have a vested interest in destabilizing Georgia to prevent the export of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via the western pipeline to Supsa on Georgia's Black Sea coast.)

Yeltsin, too, will be less than satisfied with the outcome of the Shevardnadze-Arzdinba meeting, given that he is engaged in an undeclared competition with the Western countries aligned in the "Friends of Georgia" group to coerce the Georgian and Abkhaz leaders to sign a peace agreement and take the credit for doing so. (The "Friends of Georgia," together with representatives of the UN and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, undertook a fruitless attempt to mediate between Tbilisi and Sukhumi in late July.)

In addition to upstaging the West, there are three reasons why Yeltsin wants a peace agreement signed quickly. First, it would substantiate Russian claims to a monopoly on mediating CIS conflicts. Second, it would enable the CIS peacekeeping force currently deployed along the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia to be withdrawn and would dispense with the need for its replacement by a UN or NATO equivalent. And third, it would serve to counter the growing perception that Russia's political influence in the Transcaucasus is rapidly declining.