Accessibility links

Newsline - September 11, 1997


Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, who is also fuel and energy minister, has said Russia will abrogate the 9 September Russian-Chechen agreement on exporting Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via Chechnya if the Grozny cannot ensure the safety of Russian workers repairing the Baku-Grozny-Tikhoretsk pipeline, Russian media reported on 10 September. Nemtsov was commenting on reports that a lorry carrying Russian construction workers was blown up in Chechnya on 9 September, injuring two passengers. Chechen officials have denied responsibility for the explosion. Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov told Interfax on 10 September that Chechnya will suspend implementation of the transit agreement unless Moscow provides funds to pay wage arrears to teachers and doctors. He said Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin was ignoring instructions from President Boris Yeltsin to transfer the necessary funds.


Russian presidential press spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told journalists in Moscow on 10 September that Russia lacks any legal mechanisms for banning the religious courts in Chechnya, which have recently handed down several death sentences, Interfax reported. A Chechen legal official in Grozny told Interfax that the next execution to be carried out will not be public because of the negative public response. But he ruled out the possibility of the sentences being commuted.


State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev says he has received no request from the pro-government Our Home Is Russia movement to replace Lev Rokhlin as chairman of the lower house's Defense Committee. Rokhlin, who had been critical of the government's army reform plan, was expelled from the Our Home Is Russia Duma faction on 9 September. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin said at the time that Rohklin would also have to give up his chairmanship of the committee. But Seleznev told ITAR-TASS on 10 September that the move would require a special plenary session. At least 226 of the Duma's 450 deputies must approve holding such a session. Seleznev said he doubted Our Home Is Russia can count on that level of support.


Mikhail Zadornov, the chairman of the Duma's budget committee, doubts that the parliament's lower house will pass the government's 1998 draft budget when it comes up for a vote in several weeks, "Segodnya" reported on 11 September. He said his committee has given the draft careful consideration and finds it "lacking." Zadornov added that proposed spending cuts in welfare benefits and regional subsidies will face stiff opposition in the chamber. He also questioned the government's low revenue forecasts.


Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov is promising a "hot political fall" for the government, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 September. Zyuganov told a Moscow news conference that the Communists and their allies are planning a series of nationwide strikes to protest current economic policies. He said 7 million people have already signed a petition calling for President Yeltsin and the government to resign. Valentin Kuptsov, the deputy chairman of the party's Central Committee, denied reports of a split in the party. He told journalists there is "no point in looking for intrigue where it does not exist."


The Kremlin has said the upcoming meeting between President Yeltsin and Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto will be "deliberately informal" to allow a frank exchange of views. Yeltsin spokesman Yastrzembskii told reporters in Moscow on 10 September that the talks will take place in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk on 1-2 November. The two countries' decades-old dispute over ownership of the four Kurile Islands has blocked the signing of a formal peace treaty and prevented large-scale Japanese investment in Russia.


President Boris Yeltsin has submitted four Council of Europe documents to the State Duma for ratification, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 September. The documents are the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Convention on the Prevention of Torture, a framework agreement on the defense of minorities, and a European charter on local self-administration. Russia signed the documents when it became a member of the 40-country body in February 1996.


Yeltsin is dissatisfied with the work of the customs union linking Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, presidential press spokesman Yastrzhembskii told reporters in Moscow on 10 September. Yastrzhembskii did not enumerate the problems but said leaders from the four countries should meet before CIS summit in Chisinau in the fall in order to "breathe new life" into the union.


Angry workers have shut off water supplies to all government buildings in the Siberian city of Yakutsk, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 September. The workers, who are from the city's main water treatment facility, have not received their wages since December 1996. Plant director Nikolai Lepchitov said the employees are desperate and no longer believe any of the administration's promises. They intend to keep the water off until all wage arrears are paid.


Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov toured the capital's newly renovated Leningrad and Kazan railway stations, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 September. Luzhkov said eight of Moscow's nine main railway stations have now been restored to their original splendor. He unveiled a memorial plaque to architect Konstantin Ton at the Leningrad station. In addition to designing some of the Kremlin's palaces, Ton was the main architect of the Christ the Savior cathedral, whose complete reconstruction Luzhkov is also overseeing.


Prince Hans Adam II of Liechtenstein and Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov opened an exhibition of archives containing the private papers of Russia's last tsar and the protocol of an investigation into his assassination by the Bolsheviks in 1918, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 September. The ceremony took place at Moscow's Museum of Private Collections. The documents were spirited out of Russia in 1919 and ended up in Liechtenstein. The principality recently agreed to hand the archive over to Moscow in exchange for documents seized by Russia during World War II.


Aleksei Krasnov, the deputy chief of Russia's Space Agency (RSA) said cosmonauts Vasilii Tsibliev and Aleksandr Lazutkin will receive their full wages for the period spent in space, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 September. Viktor Blagov, another RSA official, said the two have already received 70 percent of their wages and that the delay in paying the remainder is due to an ongoing examination of problems on the space station "Mir" while Tsibliev and Lazutkin were aboard. He said such a practice is common while determining if cosmonauts did less or more than was required of them. However, Krasnov did comment that Tsibliev was unlikely to receive compensation for heart problems he experienced while in space because "Russia has not yet developed a health insurance system for cosmonauts."


Talks in Sukhumi between the Abkhaz leadership and high-level Georgian and Russian government representatives ended on 10 September, Russian agencies reported. Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov told Interfax that the two sides are demonstrating greater flexibility and have made some progress toward finalizing conditions for the repatriation of ethnic Georgians who fled during the 1992-1993 war. Georgian Ambassador to Russia Vazha Lortkipanidze said the Abkhaz leadership has agreed that Sukhumi and Tbilisi should have a common defense and foreign policy. But he added that Sukhumi still rejects the concept of a federal state and a single constitution. The Georgian and Abkhaz representatives pledged to coordinate efforts to prevent terrorist activities by guerrilla formations in the border region.


The Georgian government owes Russia 47 billion rubles ($8 million) toward the cost of guarding Georgia's frontier with Turkey, "Delovoi mir" reported on 11 September. Under the terms of an agreement signed in 1994, Moscow provides 60 percent of the funds for overseeing the border which is jointly guarded by Georgian and Russian troop. Georgia pays the remaining 40 per cent. Earlier this year, the Georgian parliament called for legislation on the future protection of Georgia's frontiers exclusively by Georgian frontier guards.


Vazgen Manukyan told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 10 September that the National Accord Bloc, formed exactly one year ago to support his bid for the Armenian presidency, no longer exists as a cohesive mechanism and its future is in doubt. Manukyan said the parties that compose the bloc still have "common interests and goals" but disagree over political strategy. Manukyan said the bloc will organize more rallies in September even though "it is impossible to change the government through mass demonstrations." He said the draft electoral law drawn up by parliamentary deputy speaker Ara Sahakyan leaves the opposition no chances to win an election. The current leaders have "made fortunes in office and do not want to lose them," he said.


President Levon Ter-Petrossyan on 10 September dropped his objection to the parliament's proposed amendment to the law on religious organizations, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That amendment raises from 50 to 200 the minimum number of members a religious organization must have in order to be registered with the authorities. It also obliges all religious organizations wishing to register to submit a complete list of their members before they can operate legally in Armenia. Gegham Garibjanyan, chairman of the parliament's committee on social affairs and one of the authors of the amendment, said Ter-Petrossyan and parliamentary speaker Babken Ararktsyan "resolved the matter during a phone conversation." He added that the amendment is not directed against "traditional religious organizations", noting that the Armenian law is more liberal than the one adopted by the Russian State Duma and vetoed by President Boris Yeltsin.


In an interview in the 10 September issue of "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Arkadii Ghukasyan, the newly-elected president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, suggested possible alternatives to de jure independence for the disputed enclave or its renewed subordination to the central Azerbaijani government in Baku. Ghukasyan advocated what he termed "limited sovereignty," meaning the coexistence of Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan as equal partners in a quasi-federal state with a single parliament. Alternatively, he suggested that Baku could be delegated responsibility for certain policy areas, including ecology, energy, communications, and possibly even the economy. Ghukasyan further insisted that the issue of repatriation of the Azerbaijani population of the enclave be linked to the return to Azerbaijan of ethnic Armenians who fled during the hostilities.


Akezhan Kazhegeldin admitted in an interview in the 10 September issue of "Komsomolskaya Pravda" that he worked for the KGB during the Soviet era. He did not specify for how long he served in the KGB but said he was involved in the shipment of tanks and military technology to other countries, mainly in the Balkans and Muslim countries of southeastern Asia. He also admitted to being in shady money speculation schemes and said that although he was a member of the Communist Party, his membership was kept secret so that if he were caught involved in such schemes, "the honor of the party would not be stained." He concluded by saying he had done nothing for which he could be sentenced.


Mullah Muhammad Omar, the leader of Afghanistan's Taliban, has demanded that Tajikistan return five jet fighters allegedly flown to Tajikistan to avoid capture by Taliban forces, AFP reported on 10 September. Omar claims the Taliban offensive against the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif prompted anti-Taliban coalition general Abdul Malik to order eight planes flown to Tajikistan so they would not be taken by the fundamentalist movement. Three of those planes, however, defected to the Taliban. Omar said the planes are being held in Tajikistan for use by forces opposed to the fundamentalists. He warned Tajikistan not to allow its territory to be used for actions against the Taliban.


Tenders for oil and gas deposits in the part of the Caspian Sea to which Turkmenistan lays claim have attracted the interest of "more than 57 major foreign companies," Interfax reported. The first tender was held in Vienna on 10 September. Representatives of companies from 47 countries participated in that round. The second tender begins in London on 11 September. Russia's LUKoil may take part in the London tender, but officials of that company have made clear LUKoil will not bid on the Serdar (Kyapaz in Azerbaijani) field, which Baku also claims as its property. Two more tenders will be held before the 28 November deadline for submitting applications.


A bomb exploded on 10 September at a district court building in the Belarusian capital, causing damage but no casualties, Belarusian state radio reported. The Interior Ministry refused to comment, while the radio station called the bombing a "major political provocation" by the opposition. Leading opposition figures, for their part, said the explosion seemed to be a government provocation. Vyacheslav Sivchik, executive secretary of opposition Belarusian Popular Front, said neither the front nor any group or individual associated was connected with the bombing. An unidentified man called an independent local newspaper and took responsibility for the blast on behalf of a group calling itself the Belarusian Liberation Army. The group said it bombed a gas pipeline earlier this year. Nothing is known about the group, however.


The Belarusian KGB on 10 September confiscated video equipment from the Minsk office of Russian Public Television (ORT). ITAR-TASS quoted officials from the Russian embassy in Minsk as saying they were told the equipment was needed for investigations into the case of jailed ORT journalist Pavel Sheremet. The officials said the Russian embassy had expressed its concern that this latest incident will further strain Russian-Belarusian relations. Belarusian authorities have arrested two ORT crews over the past two months for allegedly violating the Russian-Lithuanian border. The other ORT employees were released, but Sheremet --a Belarusian citizen--remains in jail. Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said on 10 September that Moscow will not give up its efforts to secure Sheremet's release.


Eighty-six legislators in the 450-seat parliament on 10 September called for creating a union with Russia and Belarus, Interfax reported. The deputies issued a statement stressing the need to tighten ties between "brotherly Slavic peoples." They vowed to work for closer political and economic ties. In May, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a long-awaited friendship and cooperation treaty, but Ukraine has steered clear of agreements linking Russia and Belarus in a loose union.


Wolfgang Schuessel on 10 September told journalists in Kyiv he appreciates Ukraine's role in Europe as a stabilizing factor. During his one-day visit to the Ukrainian capital, he met with Prime Minister Valery Pustovoitenko and Foreign Minister Hennady Udovenko. The two sides discussed bilateral relations and Ukraine's cooperation with the EU. Schuessel and Udovenko exchanged documents about the mutual protection of investments in both countries. The Austrian minister also met with President Leonid Kuchma.


The cabinet has adopted a draft budget for next year, which Prime Minister Mart Siimann called the "most conservative" since Estonia regained independence, ETA reported on 10 September. Revenues are put at 14.46 billion kroons (some $1 billion) and are planned to exceed expenditures by 53.8 million kroons. That sum is to be channeled into a reserve fund, which will include unused revenues from the 1997 budget and proceeds from the privatization of the Estonian Shipping Company. Siimann indicated that the fund , which is expected to exceed 500 million kroons, was necessary because the economy is showing signs of overheating. "The government must be ready to avoid a repetition of events [such as those recently] in the Czech republic," he commented. The IMF has recommended a 1.3 billion kroon stabilization fund, but Siimann said Estonia did not have the necessary means.


The parliament on 10 September declared void a provision of the law on schools requiring Russian-language high schools to adopt Estonian as the language of instruction by the year 2000, ETA reported. It voted in favor of an amendment stating that the transition to Estonian-language instruction at those institutions will start by 2008. Some deputies said they feared that prolonging state-financed Russian-language education would become an obstacle to integrating ethnic Russians into Estonian society.


The Prosecutor-General's Office has found that 18 members of the parliament have violated the anti-corruption law by holding business posts, BNS reported on 10 September. The office stressed, however, that none of those deputies has received remuneration from those posts and that none has been "in a real situation of conflict of interests." The office also sent a letter to the president, prime minister, and parliamentary speaker pointing out what it said are several inconsistencies in the anti-corruption law.


Aleksander Kwasniewski on 10 September withdrew a lawsuit against one of two newspapers that alleged he had met with a Russian spy. Kwasniewski's office said in a statement that the president has dropped his action against "Dziennik Baltycki," which has retracted its reports, but that he would proceed against the national daily "Zycie," which is standing by its story. The newspapers both alleged that in 1994 that Kwasniewski and Russian intelligence officer Vladimir Alganov were at the same resort hotel at the same time and that the two men had met. Kwasniewski's spokesman Antoni Styrczula said the allegations were part of a campaign to discredit the ruling Democratic Left Alliance in the run-up to 21 September parliamentary elections .


The government on 10 September approved a draft constitutional amendment on the security of the Czech Republic, Czech Television reported. President Vaclav Havel attended the cabinet session. The amendment outlines how state institutions should act during various crises, ranging from natural disasters to war. It provides for limiting some basic human rights during a state of emergency and for establishing a State Security Council. The adoption of the amendment was prompted by the catastrophic flooding in July, during which some officials called for a clear definition of the duties and powers of state institutions. Internal Affairs Minister Jan Ruml told journalists that another three bills related to the constitutional amendment are being drawn up.


Finnish Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen on 10 September told journalists in Bratislava that Finland can envisage Slovakia joining the EU. Halonen made the comment to reporters today after a meeting in Bratislava with her Slovak counterpart, Zdenka Kramplova. She said that in the meantime, it is necessary for Slovakia to strengthen its democratic institutions. She also commented she is optimistic the Slovak government will be able to make progress on resolving problems linked with the Hungarian minority. Halonen had separate talks with President Michal Kovac and Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar.


Slovak Deputy Premier Jozef Kalman on 10 September told journalists in Brussels that the EU should not divide states into those eligible to join and those not. He said this could divide society and provoke some people to feel that "if they don't want us, we'll stay away." Kalman is chairman of the Slovak government's commission for European integration. He is in Brussels, along with Foreign Minister Kramplova and State Secretary at the Foreign Ministry Jozef Sestak, to meet with European commissioners Leon Brittan and Hans van den Broek. He rejected the European Commission's comments on the position of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia. "They have an above-standard position for Europe," he argued.


The hard-line Bosnian Serb parliament voted in Pale on 10 September to take part in the Bosnian local elections on 13-14 September. The Pale leadership had earlier threatened to boycott the vote. The change in policy came after Deputy Prime Minister Velibor Ostojic announced that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is supervising the ballot, agreed that indicted war criminals will not be arrested if they appear in public to vote. The OSCE also promised to review the voting lists in the contested town of Brcko, where the reinstatement of 3,000 Serbian voters previously dropped from the lists because of irregularities could ensure the victory of the Serbian nationalists . The OSCE further guaranteed Pale that municipal administrations will be formed by the party that receives the most votes, not by all parties on the basis of proportional representation.


Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative for Bosnia, and his deputy Jacques Klein were in Belgrade on 10 September to discuss the Bosnian elections in Belgrade with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Some observers said the talks were inconclusive, but other observers suggested the negotiations led to the Pale parliament's decision not to boycott the vote. Meanwhile in Banja Luka, Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic urged her supporters to take part in the elections.


EU diplomats told Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic in Zagreb on 10 September that relations between Zagreb and Brussels will be adversely affected if the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) of Bosnia-Herzegovina makes good on its threat to boycott the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 1997). U.S., German, U.K., and other diplomats also brought tough messages about the boycott to Granic, who replied, however, that Croatia does not control the Bosnian HDZ. In Sarajevo, OSCE officials and Western diplomats held inconclusive talks with HDZ leaders. An OSCE representative said later that any party that boycotts the vote is harming its own interests. In Brussels, NATO warned all parties in Bosnia that calls for a boycott run counter to the Dayton agreement. In Paris, the government said it will suspend aid to communities whose leaders call for a boycott.


President Plavsic said in Banja Luka on 10 September that indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic ordered the Serbian Democratic Party to stage the recent attempted coup against her (see "RFE/RL Bosnia Report," 10 September 1997). She added that Karadzic said it does not matter if the coup led to bloodshed. Plavsic stated that the peacekeepers "prevented a blood bath" by thwarting the coup attempt, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Banja Luka. In Sarajevo, Jacques Klein said peacekeepers in Banja Luka took many weapons from the Pale delegation headed by Momcilo Krajisnik on 9 September. Klein added that the hundreds of demonstrators bussed in by the hard-liners for the coup had been paid $55 each. In Pale, Krajisnik said on 10 September that his experience in Banja Luka was an "ordeal." He claimed that he had not gone there "to trigger conflicts."


The Yugoslav Constitution Court on 10 September ruled that a Montenegrin law stipulating each party may nominate only one candidate for that republic's presidency is unconstitutional. The court's verdict overrides previous decisions by its Montenegrin counterpart and by the Montenegrin Election Commission. It allows current President Momir Bulatovic to run for reelection as the candidate of a faction of the governing Democratic Socialist Party, even though the majority of that party backs Milo Djukanovic for the presidency. Djukanovic and his allies have said a court decision allowing Bulatovic to run will lead to a constitutional crisis between Belgrade and Podgorica.


NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana and Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano signed an agreement in Brussels on 10 September whereby the Atlantic alliance will help rebuild the Albanian army. The cornerstone of the program is to put the military firmly under civilian control. Nano added that he wants to integrate his country into European structures and to bring Albania up to European standards in all spheres of public life, including military affairs. Albania joined NATO's Partnership For Peace program in 1994 and seeks to join the alliance itself. Meanwhile in Tirana, Russian special envoy Vladimir Shizov ended a three-day visit aimed at restoring relations that were neglected during the recent chaos.


Former President Sali Berisha left Tirana on 11 September to attend the funeral in Calcutta of Mother Teresa, who was an ethnic Albanian from Macedonia. Observers said his presence at the funeral, together with that of President Rexhep Meidani, underscores the political rivalry between the two men. Meanwhile, the government announced it has renamed the country's main hospital in Tirana after the famous nun. Still in Tirana, the International Committee of the Red Cross announced that its emergency relief program for Albania will soon end. In the Italian city of Turin, police deported 191 Albanians whom the police said had broken Italian law.


Nicolae Staiculescu, a state secretary at the Ministry of Industry has said 30 of the country's unprofitable coal mines will be shut down during the next two years, RFE/RL's Romanian service reported on 10 September. No indication was given as to how many miners will lose their jobs because of the closures. Staiculescu said about 42,000 miners have been laid off in the past month. Most left voluntarily to take advantage of a government compensation offer of up to 20 months' wages. Staiculescu said some 4,000 miners have retired in the past month and another 15,000 have been transferred to other mines.


A spokesman for Romania's central bank said the bank will meet conditions laid down in the IMF's Article 8 within the next few days, Bloomberg Financial News reported on 10 September. Article 8 prohibits countries from restricting international payments and transactions without first receiving the fund's approval. It also prohibits certain currency practices without IMF approval. Romania has pledged to meet the IMF conditions in order to receive the next tranche, worth some $83 million, of a $414 million stand-by loan. The IMF board of directors is expected to meet in Washington on 12 September to discuss the disbursement.


Jean-Luc Dehaene concluded a state visit to Sofia on 10 September by pledging support for Bulgaria's efforts to join the EU and NATO, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. In a speech to the parliament, Dehaene said cooperation between the two countries is "intensive" and serves as "a lever for Bulgarian integration into NATO." Dehaene on 10 September was present at the signing of a contract whereby Belgium's Union Miniere paid $80 million for a 56 percent stake of Bulgarian copper producer MDK Pirdop. As a result of the sale, Belgium has surpassed Germany as the largest direct foreign investor in Bulgaria, with its total investments exceeding $251 million.


The Sofia daily "Trud" reported on 9 September that six years before his death, dissident writer Georgi Markov had been sentenced in absentia by authorities in his native Bulgaria. The newspaper said he was given a six-and-a-half year sentence at a closed-door trial in Sofia in 1972 on charges of "working for foreign organizations to undermine his own country. " Markov worked as a broadcaster at RFE/RL, the BBC, and Deutsche Welle. He died on 11 September 1978, four days after he was stabbed in the thigh with a poison-tipped umbrella while waiting for a bus in London. His assailant has not been found.


Federico Mayor said on 10 September that the development of independent and pluralistic media in Eastern Europe is hampered by an "excessive concentration of ownership" and intimidation by organized criminal groups. Mayor made the comments at a seminar in Sofia attended by some 300 journalists from 40 countries. Mayor said the application of laws protecting press freedom in East Europe "is often very limited." The four-day seminar is sponsored by UNESCO.


by Paul Goble

U.S. military involvement in a peacekeeping exercise in Central Asia in mid-September is the latest indication of a shift in the balance of power in a region long dominated by Moscow. Each of the five countries in the region, both the three that are participating with the U.S. and the two that are not, enjoy unprecedented freedom of action as a result. But because a single exercise will, in itself, not be enough to institutionalize that change, the maneuvers will almost certainly carefully watched by Russia, which retains important assets both within and around the region.

Brigadier General Martin Berndt, the U.S. Atlantic Command's director for joint exercises and training, recently announced that U.S. military forces will participate in a joint military exercise known as Centrasbat 97 from 15 to 21 September. He said some 500 paratroopers from the army's 82nd Airborne Division, along with 40 Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Uzbeks, will fly non-stop from the U.S. to Kazakhstan and then parachute into the exercise area. Joining them in that jump will be 40 soldiers from Turkey, 40 from Russia, and Marine Corps General John J. Sheehan, who is the commander of the U.S. Atlantic Command. Following their arrival, troops from Latvia and Georgia will join the peacekeeping and humanitarian aid training sessions to take place in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Berndt stressed that the 13,000 kilometer airlift of paratroopers is a remarkable "first" by virtue of its distance: "a strategic airlift of airborne troops that has not been seen before." He said the exercises were intended to promote regional military cooperation, to reinforce the sovereignty of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan whose soldiers make up the Central Asian battalion under the Partnership for Peace program, and to help those countries upgrade their ability to participate in international peacekeeping activities.

He hastened to add that the U.S. is not trying to send any message to the nations not involved (including the two Central Asian non-participants, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan) or to anyone else. Regardless of Washington's intentions, however, U.S. military involvement in the high-profile exercise will send some very powerful messages not only to Turkmenistan and Tajikistan but also to the three countries of the region whose soldiers are taking part and to Russia .

To the Turkmens and Tajiks, this high-visibility operation will serve notice that the U.S. intends to be a serious player in the Central Asian region and that they thus have a strong incentive to modify their policies in ways that will allow them to cooperate both with their neighbors, who did not invite them to participate in the exercise, and with the U.S. To the three Central Asian states that are participating, the exercise provides the clearest indication yet that the U.S. is prepared to work with them on much the same basis that it is cooperating with the Baltic States and Ukraine. It will provide yet another impulse toward greater cooperation throughout region as a whole. And it will signal that the U.S. is not prepared to accept Russian pretensions to a continuing sphere of influence in that region, which will allow those countries to adopt increasingly independent foreign policies and sometimes even directly challenge Moscow's positions.

But if the exercise sends such messages to the Central Asian countries, it also sends them to Russia. At least some in Moscow may react to what they are likely to see as a direct and intentional U.S. challenge to what many Russians believe is properly their sphere of influence. If the Russian government follows their lead--and recent statements by President Boris Yeltsin about U.S. involvement in the Caucasus suggest that it might--Moscow may decide to react in some way. And if it does, it has some significant assets that it can bring into play.

Russia has a variety of means of exacerbating the situation in Tajikistan, including the threat of pulling out Russian peacekeeping forces, which could weaken the Dushanbe regime and lead to instability in Uzbekistan. It could also put in place new obstacles to the export of oil and gas from the countries of Central Asia. In such cases, the U.S. and the West more generally may be forced to provide even more political assistance to its Central Asian partners lest its paratroop drop into Kazakhstan on 15 September prove a jump too far.