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Newsline - September 3, 1997




SELEZNEV OUTLINES PRIORITIES FOR DUMA'S FALL SESSION...

State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev says that the draft 1998 budget, the tax code, and several bills on reducing social benefits will be the most important items on the agenda of the State Duma's fall session, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 2 September. The first reading of the budget will take place sometime around 10 October. The second reading of the tax code is unlikely to be held before November, since the Duma's Budget Committee is considering more than 1,000 amendments to the code. In September, deputies will consider several laws vetoed by Yeltsin during the summer, including the land code and the trophy art law. Seleznev and the leaders of all seven registered Duma factions met with President Boris Yeltsin on 2 September and invited him to open the Duma's fall session the following day, but Yeltsin declined, saying his schedule for 3 September was already full.

...SLAMS GOVERNMENT'S 1997 SPENDING AS "ILLEGAL."

Speaking to Ekho Moskvy on 2 September, Seleznev charged that the government's 1997 spending policy has been "blatantly illegal." Under the law on the budget, the government must propose a sequester, or spending cuts, if revenues fall below 90 percent of targets in any one quarter. The government submitted a draft law on cutting 1997 expenditures by some 20 percent in the spring. The Duma voted down that law in June, and a conciliatory commission of government and parliamentary representatives ceased meeting shortly thereafter without reaching agreement on the planned spending cuts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23-24 June 1997). Nonetheless, Seleznev noted, the government has continued to allocate funds in accordance with its own proposed sequester. Seleznev indicated that the Duma may call a no-confidence vote over the issue during its fall session.

YAVLINSKII CRITICIZES 1998 "BUDGET OF STAGNATION."

Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii has described the government's draft budget for 1998 as a "budget of stagnation," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 2 September. Speaking to an RFE/RL correspondent after top Duma leaders had met with Yeltsin, Yavlinskii said the budget is "realistic" in the sense that projected revenues resemble what the government is capable of collecting. However, he argued that the planned revenues and expenditures are too small to create economic growth or "provide the foundation for a new economic policy." The Yabloko faction voted against the 1997 budget in all readings in the Duma. Yabloko member Oksana Dmitrieva, who heads a Duma subcommittee on the budget, recently gave a mixed review to the government's proposed budget for 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 1997). Yavlinskii has also criticized the proposed tax code as a "repressive" document.

YELTSIN CHIDES CHERNOMYRDIN OVER REVENUES, WAGE ARREARS

In a partly-televised meeting on 2 September, Yeltsin told Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin that he is dissatisfied that "little revenue came to the federal budget in August," Russian media reported. He did not give any figures. The president also criticized delays in transfers of federal funds to the regions and wage arrears to state employees, which the government is supposed to pay by the end of the year. Yeltsin noted that teachers' strikes have kept many schools shut as the academic year begins. RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 2 September quoted the main trade union for education and scientific workers as saying that some 1130 Russian schools are shut because of strikes, including 262 in Altai Krai alone. In a recent radio address, Yeltsin blamed regional leaders for persistent wage arrears to teachers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 September 1997).

GERMAN PRESIDENT ADDRESSES DUMA

Addressing the State Duma on 3 September, Roman Herzog asked deputies to develop a "partnership" with the West and help usher in a "new era of peaceful coexistence, without walls or ideological trenches," according to ITAR-TASS and dpa. Duma speaker Seleznev, however, commented that deputies were displeased with a German decision not to grant visas to 60 Russian deputies. The previous day, Herzog had met with businessmen at the opening of a German-Russian business center and had encouraged Russian businessmen to "go the way of market integration." He had also visited the Constitutional Court and praised the court's work in finding "judicial solutions to political problems." Prior to becoming president, Herzog had been chairman of the German Constitutional Court. Meanwhile, German Economics Minister Gunther Rexrodt met with Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov to discuss bilateral relations and the training of 100 Russian managers in Germany annually.

YELTSIN WANTS ORT JOURNALISTS RELEASED BEFORE MEETING LUKASHENKA

Yeltsin announced on 2 September that before he meets with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Moscow on 6 September, "everything must be resolved" about the Russian Public Television (ORT) journalists under arrest in Belarus, Russian news agencies reported. Two ORT journalists who are Belarusian citizens remain in detention on charges of illegally crossing the Belarusian-Lithuanian border on 22 July. Several ORT journalists who are Russian citizens were later arrested on similar charges but were eventually released (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22-29 August 1997). Following a 28 August telephone conversation with Lukashenka, Yeltsin said his Belarusian counterpart had agreed to release all ORT journalists. However, Yeltsin acknowledged on 2 September that Lukashenka has not given a specific date for the journalists' release. He did not say whether he will call off his 6 September meeting with Lukashenka if the journalists remain in detention.

RUSSIAN-CHECHEN TALKS RESUME

Russian and Chechen representatives, meeting at the Black Sea resort of Dagomys on 2 September, resumed talks on drafting a bilateral treaty regulating relations between Moscow and Grozny and setting down the terms for the export of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via the Baku-Grozny-Tikhoretsk pipeline. Chechen chief negotiator Movladi Udugov told Interfax later that the Russian delegation, which is headed by Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin and also includes Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov, showed "lively interest" in preserving a single economic space comprising both Russian and Chechnya. Udugov also said that Rybkin proposed a compromise on the dead-locked question of what tariffs Chechnya would receive for the transit of Azerbaijan's oil. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov on 2 September accused Russia of "double-dealing" in offering tariffs based on domestic rather than export rates.

CHUBAIS ON SEPARATING BUDGET FUNDS FROM PRIVATE BANKS

Addressing a government commission on fiscal policy, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais vowed that the government's policy of separating budget funds from private commercial banks is irreversible, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 September. The commission passed a resolution to transfer all State Customs Committee accounts to the Central Bank by 1 December. Chubais confirmed that the Central Bank will be ready to handle those accounts, which are currently held in Oneksimbank and Mosbiznesbank. At the regional level, Chubais said, commercial banks will be permitted to handle some customs accounts. However, he said those banks will have to pay for the privilege of handling customs duties and will be selected though open competitions. Some authorized commercial banks have earned huge profits through transactions with state funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 18 August 1997).

DEFENSE MINISTER CALLS FOR SWIFT RATIFICATION OF START-2

Addressing officers of the Northern Fleet at Severovodsk on 2 September, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev affirmed that "it is extremely important to ratify START-2 and immediately proceed to preparing and signing START-3." He argued that implementation of START-2 "without violations" will not be detrimental to Russia. During the past four years, the communist faction within the State Duma has blocked ratification of START-2. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 August published an article by Duma deputy Aleksei Podberezkin, an influential foreign policy adviser to Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, repeating the arguments against ratification, including the financial costs. Podberezkin advocated a moratorium of between five and 10 years on concluding any new agreement on strategic offensive weapons.

NEW MINISTER ON RUSSIAN-CIS RELATIONS

Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov on 2 September introduced newly appointed Minister for Cooperation with CIS Countries Anatolii Adamishin to his colleagues, ITAR-TASS reported. Serov said the former ambassador to London and first deputy foreign minister was an "experienced diplomat" whose nomination will give "a fresh impetus" to the work of the ministry. Adamishin said that his main aim will be the "adequate protection of Russia's national interests," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He said the "era of romanticism" in Russia's relations with other CIS states is over and that it is time to take a more pragmatic approach, particularly in economic relations. Adamishin conceded that the vast majority of the 1,300 inter-CIS agreements have not been implemented but added that Russia is not entirely to blame for this.

SHOKHIN TO QUIT DUMA COUNCIL

Aleksandr Shokhin, nominated to become the leader of the Our Home Is Russia (NDR) Duma faction, will give up his position as Duma first deputy speaker, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 September. Shokhin is to be confirmed as NDR Duma leader at a 3 September meeting of the pro-government movement's Duma faction. Meanwhile, an unnamed source in the NDR denied reports that Nikolai Travkin is quitting the party's faction along with former leader Sergei Belyaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 September 1997), ITAR-TASS reported on 2 September. "Izvestiya" commented the next day that nearly three-quarters of NDR Duma deputies have influential committee posts thanks to their membership in the faction. They are unlikely to give up those positions "in the name of Belyaev and some hypothetical pro-Chubais [Duma] faction," the newspaper added.

MORE RESTRICTIONS ON JOURNALISTS IN DUMA

The Duma has introduced stricter regulations on journalists' access to deputies, ITAR-TASS and "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 2 September. Journalists are prohibited from entering the hall adjacent to the Duma's chamber. When the Duma holds plenary sessions, most interviews given to journalists by Duma deputies take place in that hall. Duma Speaker Seleznev said the new restriction was imposed because it is difficult for Duma deputies to work when journalists seeking interviews are crowding the hall next to the chamber. Seleznev recently announced that the number of journalists given permanent accreditation at the Duma will be cut sharply (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 1997). Journalists attending press conferences at the Kremlin (presidential administration) or at the White House (government headquarters) are already restricted to certain areas.

EARTHQUAKE CAUSED SEISMIC ACTIVITY NEAR NOVAYA ZEMLYA

Vladimir Strakhov, the director of the Institute of Earth Physics, says a small earthquake caused the seismic activity recorded on 16 August near the Arctic site of Novaya Zemlya, a former Soviet nuclear test site, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 September. Vitalii Adushkin, the director of the Institute of the Dynamics of Geospheres, said some 30 minor earthquakes affect the area each year. U.S., Norwegian, and Finnish officials recently asked Russia for an explanation of the 16 August seismic occurrence. Russian officials have said Moscow continues to observe the moratorium on nuclear testing that it imposed in 1992 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August and 1 September 1997). Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon on 2 September said the U.S. Defense Department still regards the seismic event recorded near Novaya Zemlya as a "mystery," dpa reported.

NOTORIOUS PYRAMID FUND DECLARED BANKRUPT

An arbitration court in Moscow has declared the MMM investment fund bankrupt, Russian news agencies reported on 2 September. The fund, set up by Sergei Mavrodi, operated as a pyramid scheme. According to Interfax, MMM attracted some 10 trillion rubles ($1.7 billion at the current exchange rate) from tens of thousands of investors before it stopped paying dividends in August 1994. Two investors brought the court case against MMM, claiming they are owed more than 5 billion rubles ($857,000). Mavrodi long escaped prosecution after being elected to the Duma in November 1994, which gave him parliamentary immunity. He was eventually expelled from the Duma in October 1995 and failed to win a seat in the December 1995 parliamentary elections. Mavrodi's current whereabouts are unknown. He is under investigation on charges of fraud and tax evasion.

"MIR" COSMONAUTS TO BE FINED?

A commission of experts investigating why a supply ship and the "Mir" space station coincided in late June has concluded that the collision was caused by "human error," the Russian press reported. Valerii Ryumin, the director of Russia's Energiya corporation and Russian coordinator of the "Mir"-NASA program, is quoted in "Kommersant-Daily" on 3 September as saying the crew was at fault and that a fine will be taken out of their wages. An official announcement on the mishap and the role played by cosmonauts Vasilii Tsibliev and Pavel Lazutkin is to be made on 4 September. Both cosmonauts say they are being used as scapegoats. Tsibliev is quoted by "Kommersant-Daily" as saying, in an apparent reference to Russian space command, that "many on Earth clearly wanted us to return as corpses."




REACTIONS TO KARABAKH PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan has congratulated Arkadii Ghukasyan on his election as president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported on 2 September. Ter-Petrossyan expressed confidence that Ghukasyan will continue to defend the rights of the Karabakh population. The NKR Central Electoral Commission announced that Ghukasyan polled 89.3 percent of the vote, Artur Tovmasyan 5.35 percent, and Boris Aroushanyan 5.33 percent. Azerbaijani State Foreign Policy adviser Vafa Gulu-Zade condemned the election as "absolutely unlawful," according to Interfax. The German government likewise issued a statement on 2 September expressing "regret" at the election and concern that it could adversely affect the mediation in the conflict of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Minsk Group, of which Bonn is a member, Noyan Tapan reported.

ARMENIA PREDICTS NEW MINSK GROUP INITIATIVE

Levon Zurabian, Ter-Petrossyan's press secretary, told journalists on 2 September that the three Minsk Group co-chairmen -- France, Russia, and the U.S. -- are likely to make new proposals on resolving the Karabakh conflict that will be acceptable to all three sides, Noyan Tapan reported. The co-chairmen are scheduled to visit Baku, Stepanakert and Yerevan in mid-September, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 3 September. But Azerbaijani State Foreign Policy adviser Gulu-Zade told Turan on 2 September that he believes that "sooner or later" the Armenian side will agree to the peace plan proposed by the Minsk Group in late May. Ghukasyan has rejected that plan out of hand, while Zurabian has said that Armenia cannot accept certain unspecified provisions, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported.

GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER CHANGES TACK OVER BLACK SEA FLEET

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 2 September quoted Georgian Defense Minister Vardiko Nadibaidze as declaring 1997 the year in which the Georgian navy will be created. He said that to accomplish this goal, Georgia would step up negotiations with Russia and Ukraine to demand a share in the Black Sea Fleet. During his visit to Kyiv in late August, Nadibaidze reportedly said that Georgia is no longer insisting on a share of the fleet's assets. Russian presidential press spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii had said in June that such demands are without any foundation.




UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES FORMER PREMIER

Leonid Kuchma on 2 September criticized Pavlo Lazarenko for returning to the political center stage, Interfax reported. Lazarenko was removed as premier in July amid stalled reforms and corruption allegations, but he kept his parliamentary seat. He was recently elected to lead the Yednist (Unity) faction in the 450-seat parliament. Eleven members of the faction have since quit, and now the faction consists of only 20 lawmakers. Interfax quoted Kuchma as saying Lazarenko should analyze his year as prime minister. Lazarenko, meanwhile, has said the lawmakers who quit the faction were pressured to do so by members of the group who also held posts in the Kuchma administration or the government.

UKRAINE TO PRIVATIZE OKEAN SHIPBUILDER

The State Property Fund on 2 September announced its plans to sell off more than two-thirds of the state-owned Okean shipbuilding company. Okean is currently building vessels for Ukraine's Black Sea steam ship fleet. In a statement issued in Kyiv, the Property Fund said the privatization plan calls for two share blocs of 26 percent each to be sold in commercial tenders. Purchasers will be able to use cash, compensation certificates, or the tradable vouchers that were issued to Ukrainians who lost savings as the result of hyperinflation. Okean's managers and plant workers will have the first chance to purchase another 10 percent of the shares. The state plans to hold a 26 percent stake, and the remainder of shares will be sold on Ukraine's stock markets or in auctions involving compensation and privatization certificates.

LATVIAN ANTI-CORRUPTION UPDATE

The Prosecutor-General's Office has submitted to the parliamentary Mandate and Applications Committee its conclusions on whether 48 parliamentary deputies are abiding by the anti-corruption law, BNS reported on 2 September. The committee will present its report to the parliament within the next week. The Prosecutor-General's Office launched an investigation into the deputies at the request of the committee, which had found their names listed in the Enterprise Register in connection with various companies. Under Latvian law, parliamentary deputies and states officials are barred from holding business posts.

LITHUANIA TO PRESSURE BELARUS ON READMISSION TREATY

Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas has said he will put pressure on his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, to have a readmission treaty signed as soon as possible, BNS reported on 2 September. Brazauskas said he will discuss the issue during the summit of heads of state that begins in Vilnius on 5 September. Minister of Internal Affairs Vidmantas Ziemelis informed the president that the Belarusian border authorities are prepared to sign a readmission treaty. But according to Brazauskas, Lukashenka is under pressure from Moscow not to do so. There are currently more than 900 illegal refugees in Lithuania, most of whom are citizens of Asian and African countries.

NATO TO MOVE REGIONAL HEADQUARTERS TO POLAND

NATO officials on 2 September announced that the alliance's regional headquarters responsible for northern Germany's Schleswig-Holstein state and Denmark's Jutland peninsula will be moved to Poland after Warsaw joins the Atlantic alliance. NATO press officer Thomas Schuster, speaking at the alliance's Landjut headquarters in Rendsburg, Germany, said the facilities there will be disbanded and moved to Szczecin, in northwestern Poland, in 1999. He said 84 soldiers and 11 civilians from Landjut will be affected by the transfer.

POLISH DIPLOMATIC ACTIVITIES

President Aleksander Kwasniewski arrived in Portugal on 2 September for a three-day visit to include talks on Poland's bid to join the EU. Kwasniewski, who is accompanied by Foreign Minister Dariusz Rosati, will meet with Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio and Premier Antonio Guterres. Meanwhile, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Topik on 2 September met in Copenhagen with representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe from Denmark and Switzerland. A Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman told RFE/RL that the discussions will include the situation in Bosnia, Chechnya, and what he called other trouble spots on the European continent. Poland is due to take over OSCE's chairmanship from Denmark in 1998. Switzerland chaired the OSCE last year.

CZECH GOVERNMENT TO RAISE TAXES?

Following a cabinet meeting on 2 September, Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus told journalists that a temporary special tax or "flood tax" may be introduced. The state budget is threatened with a deficit due to the widespread flooding in Moravia in July. A final decision on introducing special taxes has not yet been made. The 1998 draft budget is to be drawn up by the end of September. Klaus said that such a tax could be a partial solution "but certainly not the whole solution." Klaus ruled out a loan to finance the budget deficit. The cabinet has not voted on whether the 1998 budget should be drafted with a deficit or be balanced, "but the prevailing view was that it should be balanced," Klaus said. Damage caused by the flooding amount to some 60 billion crowns (around $1.8 billion).

ALBRIGHT CONTINUES PRIVATE CZECH VISIT

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met with her Czech cousin Dagmar Simova and her husband in Prague on 2 September, CTK reported. The news agency also reported that while strolling in the center of Prague, Albright met--reportedly by chance--her Czech counterpart, Josef Zieleniec, who was drinking Coca Cola at McDonalds in the historical neighborhood of Mala Strana. The two are to meet again at the U.N General Assembly in New York in September.

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT AGAIN FAILS TO DECIDE ON GAULIEDER

Government coalition deputies on 2 September again boycotted a parliamentary session that was to debate the case of deputy Frantisek Gaulieder, who was stripped of his mandate in December 1996 after he quit Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), RFE/RL's Bratislava correspondent reported. Parliamentary chairman Ivan Gasparovic postponed indefinitely the special parliamentary session on Gaulieder's case. He said will send a letter to the members of the parliamentary Constitutional and Legal Committee, who are to decide how to cancel the session. The Constitutional Court recently ruled that Gaulieder's expulsion from the parliament was unconstitutional. Meciar on 29 August claimed Gaulieder had asked the HZDS to pay him a massive fine for leaving the parliament. Gaulieder called the accusation "a vicious lie."

HUNGARIAN, FOREIGN OFFICIALS ON NATO REFERENDUM

Socialist Prime Minister Gyula Horn and Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs asked Socialist deputies on 2 September to persuade voters to participate in the 16 November referendum on NATO membership, Hungarian media reported. "The government has no fears of a negative result but of a potentially low turnout at the referendum," Kovacs said. Horn emphasized that there is no reasonable alternative to Euro-Atlantic integration.




U.S. TROOPS IN BOSNIA RECEIVE NON-LETHAL GRENADES

A Defense Department spokesman said in Washington on 2 September that U.S. SFOR troops in northern Bosnia have been issued 40mm "sponge" grenades, which are designed to knock people down but not kill them. The move came in response to recent well-organized and violent attacks on peacekeepers by Serbian civilians. The spokesman also confirmed that U.S. troops returned a transmitter near Bijeljina to Radovan Karadzic's supporters after Karadzic's spokesmen promised not to broadcast inflammatory material (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 1997). A State Department official said, however, that one cannot necessarily trust promises made by the Bosnian Serb hard-liners. Meanwhile in Pale, SFOR troops inspected Serbian special police barracks for illegal weapons.

OSCE TO GO AHEAD WITH BOSNIAN LOCAL ELECTIONS

Officials of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe said in Copenhagen on 2 September that the Bosnian local vote will go ahead as planned on 13 and 14 September, despite attempts by Bosnian Serb hard-liners to delay the elections. In Sarajevo, Haris Silajdzic, the Muslim co-prime minister of the joint government, criticized the failure of the Serbs to attend the latest session of the joint cabinet. He said that the Serbs have repeatedly obstructed the work of joint institutions, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Sarajevo. Silajdzic added that the international community has been too tolerant of the Serbs' behavior.

MILOSEVIC LIEUTENANT LAMBASTS PLAVSIC

Zoran Lilic, a former Yugoslav president and one of current Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's closest aides, said in Belgrade on 2 September that Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic was "at the very least not serious and even irresponsible." Lilic, who is Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia's candidate in the upcoming Serbian presidential elections, also blasted NATO for backing Plavsic. In making such remarks about Plavsic, Lilic has come closer than anyone else around Milosevic to openly taking sides in the Bosnian Serb power struggle. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has urged Milosevic to "get off the fence" and support Plavsic. But mafia-like structures in Serbia close to Milosevic are closely linked to similar Bosnian Serb structures run by Plavsic's opponents.

FEUD INTENSIFIES IN MONTENEGRIN RULING PARTY

Some 17 out of 45 parliamentary deputies in Podgorica belonging to the governing Democratic Socialist Party (DPS) have formed their own parliamentary club independent of the other DPS legislators, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Montenegrin capital on 2 September. The 17 are loyal to pro-Milosevic President Momir Bulatovic, while most of the DPS backs reform-minded Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic. The DPS has yet to split officially, but the emergence of a separate parliamentary club of Bulatovic loyalists suggests that a formal division of the DPS might not be far off. In the parliament, Bulatovic said the government is in crisis and that new legislative elections should be held as soon as possible. Djukanovic replied that there is no crisis in Montenegro and that the republic's current political problems were caused in Belgrade, not in Podgorica.

CROATIAN POLICE ARREST THREE MORE SUSPECTED WAR CRIMINALS

Police officials said in Zagreb on 2 September that they have arrested Munib Suljic, Igor Mikula, and Nebojsa Hodak for war crimes. Police had earlier arrested Miro Bajramovic, who told "Feral Tribune" that he and the other three had killed dozens of innocent Serbian civilians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 1997). Bajramovic told the Split-based weekly that he decided to reveal his story because he did not enrich himself during the war and hence has nothing to lose. The Zagreb daily "Vjesnik," which is close to the government, suggested on 3 September that Bajramovic may be lying. Meanwhile in eastern Slavonia, trains ran between Osijek and the Hungarian city of Pecs via Beli Manastir for the first time since 1991.

SLOVENIAN UPDATE

The Slovenian government announced in Ljubljana on 2 September that Slovenian and Italian citizens will be able to cross their common border with only identity cards as of 8 September. It is the latest sign of a warming in relations between the two neighbors, who have often been at odds over territorial questions and issues regarding ethnic minority rights. In Maribor, Slovenian police said that they have recovered $1 million in jewels stolen in Austria in late August.

ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES LAW ON STATE RADIO, TV

The Socialist-led governing coalition on 2 September passed a law defining the status of state radio and television (RTSH), "Dita Informacion" reported. The law stipulates that "RTSH will broadcast short news items about the president, the government, the governing coalition, and the opposition and will give alternative opinions when covering any given issue." The Democratic Party strongly criticized the law as too vague and demanded that the opposition be allotted a specific percentage of total news air time. Democratic spokesman Genc Pollo said the air time given to each of the political parties should be divided according to the percentage of the vote they received in last elections. Such a policy was adopted during the election campaign but left no time for journalists to broadcast their own analysis. Former parliamentary speaker Pjeter Arbnori, meanwhile, began the 14th day of his hunger strike in support of the Democrats' demand.

CONTROVERSY CONTINUES OVER ALBANIAN JUDICIAL REFORM

Chief judges from courts at all levels told Justice Minister Thimio Kondi on 2 September that the government's recent proposals to change the composition of the High Judicial Council are unacceptable to the judiciary (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 1997), "Dita Informacion" reported. Supreme Court Chief Judge Avni Shehu said the proposals are not in keeping with those made by the Council of Europe. A U.S. legal expert told RFE/RL that Kondi's proposals would allow the legislative and executive branches to appoint most of the High Judicial Council's members, which could endanger the independence of the judiciary. The council appoints most of Albania's judges.

ROMANIA TO RECEIVE $83 MILLION IMF TRANCHE?

The IMF representative in Bucharest said he expects the fund's board of directors to approve disbursement of an $83 million tranche of a $414 million stand-by loan later this month, RFE/RL's Washington bureau reported on 2 September. Bloomberg Business News quoted him as saying that Bucharest had followed through on its reform promises. An IMF team was in Bucharest in August to review the government's reform program. Romania has promised to cut its budget deficit, reduce inflation, and liberalize prices for food staples and energy. It also agreed to close many of its money-losing state firms, which are draining the state budget.

STANDOFF BETWEEN CHISINAU, TIRASPOL

Igor Smirnov, the president of the self-proclaimed Transdniestr Republic, marked the seventh anniversary of Tiraspol's declaration of independence from Moldova by vowing to stand firm on independent statehood, Infotag reported on 2 September. Smirnov said Tiraspol intends to seek membership in the CIS and strengthen its ties with CIS countries. Also on 2 September, Moldovan President Petru Luchinschi said he hopes Chisinau's dispute with Tiraspol can be resolved by the end of this year with the mediation of Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE. But Luchinschi said negotiations are advancing slowly because of Tiraspol's insistence on preserving its own statehood. Talks are under way on bringing Ukrainian peacekeepers to the breakaway region. Some 5,000 Russian troops are currently stationed there.

BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER RESPONDS TO ATHENS STATEMENT

Nadezhda Mihailova told RFE/RL on 2 September that a statement attributed to Greek President Kostas Stephanopoulos by a Skopje newspaper will not influence relations between Sofia and the Republic of Macedonia. "Nova Makedonia" on 2 September quoted Stephanopoulos as telling its Athens correspondent that "those who inhabit the so-called state of Skopje are not Macedonians..., they are Bulgarians." In an interview with RFE/RL's Sofia bureau, Mihailova said the Bulgarian government continues to have common objectives with both Athens and Skopje. She said those goals are consistent with EU and NATO policies designed to bring peace and economic stability to the Balkans.

TRANSPORT LINKS BETWEEN EUROPE, CENTRAL ASIA

Officials from nine countries have moved forward with plans to implement the TRASECA scheme for a transport corridor, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported on 2 September. Following two days of talks at Bulgaria's Black Sea port of Burgas, the officials signed a document outlining their common interests and details of the project. Among the signatories were the transportation ministers of the Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey and Georgia, as well as delegates from Albania, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Georgia and Bulgaria have appealed for international investors to help fund the project, which already receives financial support from the U.S. and the EU. The plans call for expanded ferry services between Italy and Albania, a new ferry line between Burgas and Georgia's Black Sea port of Poti, and new highway links across the countries.




Russia, Armenia Committed to Strong Military Ties


by Harry Tamrazian

On 29 August, Russia and Armenia signed a landmark treaty "on friendship, cooperation, and mutual assistance," which Russian President Boris Yeltsin said "marks a qualitatively new stage of Russian-Armenian relations" on the level of "strategic partnership." The treaty is unique among agreements signed by the Russian Federation and other former Soviet republics because it is the first time Moscow has committed itself in an accord to defend an ally militarily in the event that the ally is attacked by a foreign country.

Under such a treaty signed by the former Soviet Union and one of its allies, an attack on one of the signatories would have been considered an attack on the other. The 29 August treaty uses the Soviet term "mutual assistance," which can be understood to mean "mutual defense." The Soviet Union concluded such treaties with its East European allies as well as with some countries in the Middle East, including Syria.

The new treaty supersedes an agreement signed in December 1991, only days after the demise of the Soviet Union. Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan said on 30 August that he "thanks God" that the 1991 treaty was never ratified, since he considers it "inadequate" under current conditions. The August 1997 treaty still has to be ratified by both countries' parliaments, but no obstacles to its ratification are anticipated. Armenia and Russia had already signed a series of bilateral agreements last year boosting military cooperation.

The August 1997 treaty states that each party will immediately contact the other in the event of the threat of military invasion. If either country is attacked by a third party, the other will make available its military facilities and equipment for joint use. The treaty also states that military-technical policy will be coordinated, defense industries developed in tandem, military hardware standardized, and military projects jointly financed.

Another important provision of the treaty covers Russian- Armenian cooperation in foreign policy. The Armenian and Russian presidents both pledged not to participate in any action or initiative, or join any defense treaty or alliance, that violates the sovereignty or territorial integrity of the other country. The treaty specifies that Russia and Armenia will continue to cooperate closely in foreign policy aimed at strengthening peace and stability in the Transcaucasus as well as throughout the world.

With regard to the economy, Russia and Armenia agreed to create favorable conditions for the convertibility of their national currencies, take action to maintain the stability of those currencies, and coordinate in setting hard-currency exchange rates. Both countries agreed to expand cooperation in trade, transportation, communications, energy, science, and other areas.

On 28 August, one day before the treaty was signed, Ter-Petrossyan met with Russian State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev and Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev, both of whom are strong advocates of widening the Russian-Belarusian union. The Russian Duma had unanimously approved a resolution in May urging Armenia to join the Russian-Belarusian Union. Since then, the National Initiative for Union with Russia, an Armenian group supported by Russian politicians, has collected signatures seeking a referendum on the issue. Armenian Communists also are also collecting signatures; and according to pro-Russian Armenian groups, 800,000 signatures have been collected so far.

The campaign, however, has been discredited somewhat by aggressive competition between the National Initiative and the Communist Party and by disclosures that the National Initiative pays its activists the equivalent of 10 U.S. cents for each signature they collect (although it is unclear who is providing the funding). Moreover, the Armenian Constitution prohibits holding a referendum on any issue that infringes on the country's sovereignty.

Speaking to journalists on 30 August, Ter-Petrossyan said he had not seen the signatures in support of Armenia's accession to the Russia-Belarus Union. He also said that the issue of Armenia's joining the Russian-Belarusian union was not included in the agenda of his visit to Moscow. If implemented, the new treaty will lead to a closer degree of integration between the two countries than is possible in the case of the Russian-Belarusian union, he argued. Similarly, Stroev told reporters that he believes a Russian-Armenian union already exists..

The new Russian-Armenian treaty contains few of the routine phrases characteristic of this kind of document. It uses precise wording that is binding on the two countries militarily and politically. And it is this wording that makes clear Moscow's intention to maintain its influence -- undiminished -- in the Transcaucasus.

The author is the deputy head of RFE/RL's Armenian service.


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