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Newsline - October 1, 1997


President Boris Yeltsin on 30 September said he has signed a new law on the financial foundations of local government in order to provide "some legal guarantees of the financial independence" of municipalities, Russian news agencies reported. Yeltsin and First Deputy Finance Minister Anatolii Chubais discussed the implications of the legislation at a Kremlin meeting of the presidential Council on Local Government. The new law is expected to decrease the financial leverage that regional governors and republican presidents currently wield over local authorities. In particular, municipalities will be allowed to keep a larger share of federal and regional taxes, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 September and 1 October. The Federation Council, which is comprised of regional leaders, rejected the law on local government in July. The State Duma overrode the upper house's decision on 10 September, and Yeltsin signed the law two weeks later.


Addressing the Council on Local Government, Yeltsin advocated changes to the electoral law to prevent "criminal elements" from coming to power, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 September. Central Electoral Commission Chairman Aleksandr Ivanchenko told the council that loopholes in the current law allow candidates with criminal records to be elected. He proposed that law enforcement agencies be required to publish information on candidates' past criminal records during election campaigns. Yeltsin and Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev have recently blasted law enforcement agencies for not informing the public about the criminal record of Gennadii Konyakhin before his election as mayor of Leninsk-Kuznetskii, Kemerovo Oblast, earlier this year.


Almost the entire staff of the Russian representation in Chechnya was evacuated on 30 September at the insistence of Vice President Vakha Arsanov. Arsanov had demanded an apology from Moscow for refusing to open an air corridor across Russian territory to enable him to fly from Grozny to Baku on 28 September. A bilateral Russian-Chechen agreement signed in August permits international flights from Grozny, but a spokesman for the Russian Security Council told Interfax that the company that Arsanov intended to use was not licensed for international flights. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov on 1 October ruled that the Russian mission be allowed to return to Grozny and resume work, First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov told ITAR-TASS. Udugov said Maskhadov's ruling "shows his personal trust in Boris Yeltsin."


Salman Raduev, commander of the so-called General Dudaev army, was seriously injured in an assassination attempt on 30 September, Russian agencies reported. One of his bodyguards was killed and a second injured when the car in which the three men were traveling blew up in Grozny. Speaking from his hospital bed on 1 October, Raduev accused Russian intelligence of masterminding the attack, according to ITAR-TASS. Raduev gained notoriety for his leadership of the Pervomayskoye hostage-taking in January 1996. He was injured and reported dead in a shoot-out two months later but resurfaced in July 1996, after plastic surgery. There have been at least two previous attempts on his life this year. The Chechen leadership has distanced itself from Raduev's threats to stage terrorist bombings in Russian cities and has cast doubt on his sanity.


Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov believes that the State Duma may be dissolved this fall and says certain "obedient" mass media are preparing the ground for such a move, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 30 September. The president has the right to dissolve the Duma if the lower house three times refuses to confirm the president's nominee for prime minister or twice votes no confidence in the government. Asked whether his party will press for a no-confidence vote, Zyuganov said the Communist Duma faction is considering that option and will decide its strategy on 7 October. Government officials are scheduled to address the Duma the next day to report on the implementation of the 1997 budget. Recent opinion polls have indicated that opposition groups are likely to fare better than pro-government movements if early parliamentary elections are called.


Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 30 September charged that a report recently released in the U.S. exaggerates the threat posed by organized crime in Russia, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. The report, issued by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies on 29 September, warned that if it is "left unchecked, Russia is on the verge of becoming a crime-dominated oligarchy, controlled by shady businessmen, corrupt officials, and outright criminals." Yastrzhembskii acknowledged that organized crime poses a threat. He recalled Yeltsin's recent pledge to crack down on "criminals in power." But Yastrzhembskii also argued that allegations that the Russian economy is inextricably linked with organized crime are frequently used in order to cast doubt on Russia's status as a market economy.


A spokesman for Gazprom told ITAR-TASS on 30 September that his company "fully backs" the right of France's Total to participate in the international consortium that signed an agreement on 28 September with the National Iranian Oil Company to develop Iran's South Pars Caspian gas deposit. Other participants in the consortium, in which Total has a 40 percent stake, are Gazprom and Malaysia's Petronas (30 percent each). Washington claims that the deal falls under U.S. legislation providing for the imposition of sanctions on companies that invest more than $20 million in Iranian energy projects. French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, however, argues that U.S. legislation does not apply in France.


Yeltsin issued a decree on 30 September transforming the State Property Committee into the State Property Ministry. The committee's chairman, Maksim Boiko, was simultaneously appointed state property minister and will retain the title of deputy prime minister. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 1 October, a 1993 presidential decree granted the State Property Committee the status of a ministry but that decree was rescinded in July 1997. Boiko told Interfax on 30 September that he will reorganize the ministry over the next two to three months. Its main task will be to become "a conscientious manager of state property," he added.


Former State Property Committee Chairman Alfred Kokh has denied any wrongdoing in connection with a $100,000 royalty payment he received earlier this year for a book on privatization that has not yet been published. In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 1 October, Kokh said that he had not known that a key executive at the Swiss firm Servina was connected with Oneksimbank when that executive offered to publish his book (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 1997). He said the book will be published later this year, after he has written a final chapter on the most recent privatization sales. As for his alleged close personal ties with Oneksimbank President Vladimir Potanin, Kokh admitted taking his family on a vacation recently with Potanin and his family but argued there is "nothing shameful" in that.


At a 30 September auction in Moscow, the popular daily "Moskovskii komsomolets" purchased for $35,400 a Mercedes once used by former Defense Minister Pavel Grachev. In line with a March presidential decree, the government is selling foreign cars formerly used by top officials. The newspaper repeatedly criticized Grachev before his June 1996 dismissal, accusing him of corruption and derisively referring to him as "Pasha Mercedes." Vadim Poegli, the journalist who bid for the car on behalf of "Moskovskii komsomolets," faced criminal charges in 1995 for an article he wrote entitled "Pasha Mercedes: A thief should be in prison, not the defense minister." Also on 30 September, military sources said General Anatolii Krivolapov has been appointed Russia's military envoy to NATO headquarters in Belgium, AFP reported. Grachev was rumored to be under consideration for that job.


State Tax Service chief Aleksandr Pochinok on 29 September met with several stars of Russian show-business, including the pop singer Alla Pugacheva, in a bid to persuade them to pay their taxes, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 September. A tax police official recently criticized some celebrities for not filing tax returns or underreporting their incomes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 1997). He asked the celebrities to set a good example for other citizens. Pugacheva and the singer Aleksandr Malinin argued that some stars should be given a two-year tax exemption in order to save money for their retirement. Pugacheva told ITAR-TASS on 30 September that the tax authorities should remember that popular artists have high expenses. Artists should be told how their tax payments will be spent, she noted, adding that "no one would object" if they were used to pay pensions of retired artists.


Confusion reigns in Vladivostok over who is the city's legitimate mayor, RFE/RL's correspondent in Vladivostok reported on 30 September. Shortly after declaring that the Primorskii Krai Duma's attempt to suspend him was illegal, Mayor Viktor Cherepkov went on sick leave and appointed Nikolai Markovtsev acting mayor. However, Yurii Kopylov, who was appointed acting mayor by the krai legislature, has set up an alternative city administration and is implementing his own policies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September 1997). Although the krai prosecutor and Yeltsin's representative in Primore have both denounced the attempt to remove Cherepkov from office as illegal, the current confusion is likely to continue until a court resolves the dispute. Meanwhile, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 1 October that Kopylov now claims that all six banks holding the Vladivostok administration's accounts have agreed to honor only financial instructions signed by Kopylov.


A report by a Russian commission has concluded that "methodological, technical, and human error were to blame" for the 26 June collision of Russia's "Mir" space station with a U.S. cargo ship, Russian media reported. The commission's findings help exonerate Russian cosmonauts Vasilii Tsibliev and Aleksandr Lazutkin, who have been blamed for the crash by the head of the company that built the station. "Kommersant daily" on 1 October noted that Tsibliev, who manually guided the cargo ship toward "Mir" when the impact occurred, had not been informed that the cargo ship was overloaded. The daily also argued that Russian mission control is unlikely to admit technical problems caused the collision since that would "discredit" it in NASA's eyes.


Opposition National Democratic Union leader Vazgen Manukyan on 30 September harshly criticized statements by President Levon Ter-Petrossyan at a 26 September press conference, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Manukyan rejected Ter-Petrossyan's endorsement of a phased resolution of the Karabakh conflict as "capitulation" and "treason," saying the president's arguments "substantially undermine Armenia's negotiating position." Using uncharacteristically harsh language, Manukyan said Ter-Petrossyan "should be barred from leading a country" and warned that "aggressive haste" in seeking to resolve the Karabakh conflict could prove counter-productive. The phased solution to the conflict proposed by the co-chairmen of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group envisages postponing a decision on Karabakh's future status until after the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied territories and the repatriation of displaced persons.


Interfax on 29 September quoted an unnamed source within the Azerbaijani presidential administration as interpreting Ter-Petrossyan's statements as a "constructive change in Yerevan's position". He added, however, that they could prove a tactical ploy whereby Armenia's seeks to off load responsibility for the outcome of the negotiating progress onto the Karabakh Armenians. Stepanakert rejects a "phased" solution of the conflict and wants all contentious issues, including Karabakh's future political statement, resolved within one framework document. Azerbaijani presidential foreign policy adviser Vafa Gulu-Zade told Interfax on 30 September that he is "personally satisfied" with Ter-Petrossyan's statements. In particular, he pointed to Ter-Petrossyan's rejection of suggestions by Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan that a new war may prove the only way to resolve the conflict.


Igor Akhba, Abkhazia's permanent representative in Moscow, told Interfax on 30 September that Sukhumi will demand $60 billion compensation from the Georgian government for damage to property during the 1992-1993 war. Akhba also affirmed that Abkhazia will never accept "even the broadest autonomous status" within Georgia. Several days earlier, Anri Djergenia, personal envoy of Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba, had similarly said that Abkhazia proposes signing a protocol drafted by the Russian Foreign Ministry in early 1996 as a basis for negotiations. That document provides for Georgia and Abkhazia creating a common state of two legally equal constituent republics. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze on 29 September said this hardening of the Abkhaz position could jeopardize the negotiating process.


A commander of the Russian border guards in Dagestan has claimed that a group of armed militants affiliated with the Lezgin organization Sadval is preparing "armed provocations" on the Russian-Azerbaijani frontier, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported on 30 September. Spokesmen for Sadval, which advocates the creation of an independent Lezgin state, have denied the allegations. The wife of one of Sadval's leaders, General Mukhuddin Kakhrimanov, was murdered in Makhachkala in mid-September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 1997). A prominent Lezgin businessman who reportedly provided funding for Sadval's activities was shot dead in southern Dagestan on 24 September, Turan reported.


Four Baku police officers on 22 September beat two correspondents for the newspaper "Mozalan," one of whom is still hospitalized, Turan reported on 30 September. The journalists were investigating irregularities in registering residents of a hostel run by Baku transport authorities.


Repairs to the Chechen sector of the Baku-Grozny-Tikhoretsk-Novorossiisk oil export pipeline will be completed on 16 November, Radio Rossii reported on 30 September, quoting a spokesman for Chechnya's Yunko oil company. The repairs began on 25 September. Five brigades of Russian workmen are undertaking the repairs, while 400 members of the Chechen national guard are ensuring their security. Terry Adams--the president of the Azerbaijan International Operating Committee, which is exploiting three Caspian oil fields--said at a news conference in Tbilisi on 29 September that the first 40,000 metric tons of oil from the Chirag field will be loaded into the pipeline beginning on 1 October. Adams said that repairs to the Baku-Supsa pipeline are proceeding on schedule and should be completed during the fourth quarter of 1998. He added that the planned $350 million budget for those repairs is unlikely to be exceeded.


Dagestani oil industry officials wholeheartedly support the Russian initiative to build an oil export pipeline through Dagestan bypassing Chechnya, Interfax reported on 30 September. Dagneft Director-General Gadzhi Makhachev estimated that a 500 kilometer pipeline through Dagestan could generate $30 million a year in transit fees. "Kommersant-Daily" on 30 September suggested, however, that at the recent consultations between US Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, a secret agreement was reached on oil exports. Under that deal, Kazakhstan's oil would be exported via Russia to Novorossiisk, while Azerbaijan's oil would flow west to Georgia. Such a scheme would obviate the need for a pipeline bypassing Chechnya.


Some 1,000 people, mostly workers at the Achisay Polymetal factory, began a march from the southern city of Kentau to Shymkent on 1 October to protest declining living standards, RFE/RL correspondents reported. From Shymkent, the protesters will take trains to Almaty to deliver a petition to President Nursultan Nazarbayev. They are demanding unpaid wages amounting to 100 million tenge ($1.3 million). They also complain that 80 million tenge allocated by the government for their wages has been used for other purposes by the factory's management. In Almaty some 200 pensioners gathered in front of the Mayor's Office on 30 September demanding that their pensions be increased and that the government pay more attention to their situation .


Imomali Rakhmonov, addressing the UN General Assembly on 30 September, thanked the countries and organizations that aided his country in restoring peace, RFE/RL correspondents in New York reported. Rakhmonov paid special tribute to the role of Russia, Iran, and the UN. He said he hopes for continued help from those who have already contributed to peace in Tajikistan, especially the UN. At the same time, Rakhmonov warned that events in neighboring Afghanistan threaten the Tajik peace process, and he encouraged efforts to mediate peace there as well.


The National Statistical Agency has released figures showing that prices of basic consumer goods have risen more in Tajikistan than in any other CIS state so far this year, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 September. Consumer prices have increased by 222 percent since the beginning of 1997, with an 123.5 percent increase in August alone. Whiles crops of potatoes, vegetables, fruits, and grain harvest have increased compared with 1996, the cost of vegetables has risen by 3.1 percent and potatoes by 61.9 percent. As of 1 September, the basket of basic food stuffs cost 14,230 Tajik rubles ($17-18). ITAR-TASS, however, notes that only the highest paid officials make so much money. Public education and health workers can "buy eight or nine loaves of bread and nothing else" with their wages, according to the agency.


The Russian government "often" uses debts for gas supplies to try to blackmail Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, his official newspaper "Sovetskaya Belorossiya" said on 30 September. The same day, Lukashenka told Belarusian Radio that "Belarus owes Russia only $200 million for gas while Russia owes Belarus $1 billion" for guarding its borders and collecting customs duties. He did say, however, that his government will give official accreditation to Russian Public Television (ORT) journalists in Minsk, ITAR-TASS reported. However, his aides were quoted as saying that the charges brought against ORT journalist Pavel Sheremet, who is still being detained in Hrodno, were fully justified. Also on 30 September, Russian and Belarusian officials met in Moscow in an effort to promote integration of the two countries.


Several dozen demonstrators on 30 September staged protests to call for the release of ORT journalist Pavel Sheremet and two youths detained on charges of hoisting the banned Belarusian national flag on the Stolbtsy town hall, RFE/RL's Belarusian service reported. The protests took place outside President Lukashenka's residence in Minsk and outside the prison in Zhodina, 40 km east of the capital, where the two youths are being interrogated The Belarusian Social Democratic Party, which organized the rally in Zhodina, said it plans further protests over the next few days.


Leonid Kuchma on 30 September issued a decree appointing Dmytro Tabachnyk as an adviser, Ukrainian media reported. Less than a year ago, Kuchma fired Tabachnyk, who was a campaign leader but has been accused of corruption. Tabachnyk's return suggests Kuchma is preparing for a re-election campaign in 1999. In other news, an opinion poll published in the 30 September issue of "Vseukrainskiye vedomosti" suggests that almost one-third of Ukrainians are ready to sell their votes to the highest bidder. Those sampled said they would charge candidates or parties between $11 and $400 for their votes.


A Polish-Ukrainian experiment at joint customs and border control posts has led to long lines on either side of the border, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 September. The same day, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry announced it will begin demarcating the Ukrainian-Belarusian border in accordance with the provisions of a bilateral border accord. According to the Russian news agency, the border will be marked by poles rather than by barbed wire.


A government commission investigating the 11 September military training accident that claimed 14 lives has concluded that the tragedy was caused by a combination of circumstances, according to RFE/RL's Estonian service. The panel blamed the unit's leaders for pressing ahead with the maneuvers, despite bad weather. Major-General Johannes Kert, the commander of the defense forces, was also blamed for failing to draw up regulations for the Baltic Peacekeeping Battalion. The unit's chain of command is "impossible to unravel," the report concluded. President Lennart Meri has turned down Kert's offer to resign, while Premier Mart Siimann has so far not submitted Defense Minister Andrus Oovel's resignation to the president.


The Latvian Foreign Ministry has drawn up a letter to the Simon Wiesenthal Center saying that Riga does not intend to demand the extradition from Australia of 83-year-old war crime suspect Konrads Kaleis, AFP reported on 30 September. The letter stressed, however, that Latvia will cooperate with organizations investigating Kaleis's case. Earlier this year, the center urged Latvia to demand that Kaleis be handed over so that he can brought to trial. It suspects him of having played a role in the massacre of 20,000 Latvian Jews during the Nazi occupation.


Experts have warned that the floating workshops that sank into the Klaipeda harbor in 1993 may cause an ecological disaster, BNS reported on 30 September. A report submitted to the Lithuanian Shipping Company (LISCO) said that lubricants, fuels, and paints that were on board the workshops could spill into the harbor at any time. A LISCO official told the news agency that a tender will be announced in October to lift the workshops from the harbor bed. In other news, President Algirdas Brazauskas will pay an official visit to Moscow on 23-25 October to meet with his Russian counterpart, Boris Yeltsin, and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. The two sides are expected to sign an accord delimiting the Russian-Lithuanian border.


Leszek Balcerowicz, the leader of the Freedom Union party, is now the favorite to become Poland's next prime minister, Polish media suggested on 30 September. Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) chairman Marian Krzaklewski has declined that post. Meanwhile, the outgoing government told reporters that it will leave its successor a draft 1988 budget. But in an indication that the cohabitation between President Aleksander Kwasniewski and the new liberal government may prove uncomfortable, Kwasniewski has confirmed the appointment of a number of senior military officials, ignoring the AWS's request that their appointment be postponed until the new government has been installed.


The Czech Finance Ministry has increased its estimate of this year's budget deficit by another 1 billion crowns ($30.4 million) to 14.9 billion crowns ($452 million), "Pravo" reported on 1 October. Finance Minister Ivan Pilip said the deficit could rise still further to 20 billion crowns.


The parliament on 30 September turned down an opposition proposal to reinstate Frantisek Gaulieder, a former deputy of Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), RFE/RL's Slovak service reported. The government majority deputies stripped Gaulieder of his parliamentary mandate in December after he resigned from the HZDS over a policy disagreement. The HZDS maintains that Gaulieder signed a letter resigning his seat. Gaulieder maintains that the letter was forged. In August, Slovakia's Constitutional Court ruled that the parliamentary vote violated Gaulieder's constitutional rights. It ordered the parliament to reconsider its decision.


The Slovak Democratic Coalition's five leaders has sent a letter to Premier Meciar urging him to invite foreign observers to ensure that the 1998 parliamentary elections will be held in accordance with democratic rules. They said free and fair elections are threatened by the parliamentary vote refusing to reinstate Gaulieder and by the 29 September prosecutor-general's decision not to prosecute Interior Minister Gustav Krajci for interfering in the referendum last May on NATO membership and direct presidential elections.


The Steering Committee of the Independent Smallholders' Party on 30 September has dismissed Agnes Nagy Maczo as deputy leader of the party, Hungarian media reported. Maczo was harshly criticized by party chairman Joszef Torgyan for having recently proposed that the Smallholders set up an alliance with the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party and other rightist formations. Torgyan said he told Maczo she can retain her post as deputy parliamentary chairperson only if she "behaves herself" in the future. In other news, the Central Statistical Office reported on 30 September that GDP has increased by 3.2 percent in the first six months of 1997, compared with the same period last year.


NATO-led SFOR troops have taken control of Bosnian Serb transmitters on Mount Trebevic near Sarajevo, Leota near Nevesinje in the south and Duga Njiva and Udrigova in the north, AFP reported on 1 October. Russian troops participated in the SFOR operation following a request from NATO's Supreme Commander in Europe General Wesley Clark. Bosnian Serb radio and television normally received in Sarajevo have been muffled. A spokesman said SFOR received a request on 30 September from international mediator Carlos Westendorp for military action to be taken against Bosnian Serb radio and television. Independent Belgrade-based Radio B-92 reported from Pale that at least 40 SFOR armored vehicles took control of the transmission station on Mount Trebevic, near Sarajevo. Westendorp has repeatedly threatened to shut down Bosnian Serb stations if hard-liners in Pale do not stop broadcasting propaganda against Western organizations in Bosnia-Herzegovina.


The UN said on 30 September it is dissatisfied with the investigation into the 18 September car bomb explosion in Croat-controlled West Mostar, which injured some 30 people. UN spokeswoman Kelly Moore said local Croatian police have gone back on a previous agreement to share information on the case.


Riot police attacked thousands of demonstrators in central Belgrade on 30 September during an evening march protesting the ouster of Mayor Zoran Djindjic and the editors of an independent television channel. Hundreds of riot police waded into the crowd of some 20,000 Djindjic supporters. Police beat and detained several protesters. Djindjic was voted out of office by the city council after his former ally in the opposition Zajedno coalition, Vuk Draskovic, blamed Djindic's election boycott for his third place in the presidential elections. Djindjic's opponents also sacked the board of the pro-democracy Studio-B radio and television. Djindjic called his dismissal illegal, but he said he will not contest the decision.


Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on 30 September invited all three members of the Bosnian collective presidency to visit Yugoslavia. RFE-RL's South Slavic service reported that the Serbian member, Momcilo Krajisnic, handed over the invitation to his Muslim and Croatian counterparts. The meeting would be the first between the collective heads of Bosnia and the Yugoslav leadership.


Several hundred riot police, supported by armored vehicles and water cannon, dispersed some 3,000 students in Pristina on 1 October. The students were calling for the restoration of Albanian-language education in schools and universities. They also demand the return of university buildings and other premises occupied by the Serbian regime since 1991. Police ordered the students to disperse and patrolled the streets and access roads to Pristina. Protests are also planned on 1 October in Mitrovica, Gnjilane, Urosevac, Djakovica, Pec, and Prizren. Student leaders have rejected pleas from Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova and foreign diplomats to postpone the protest until after run-off Serbian elections. Late on 30 September, some 7,000 students staged a silent protest in Pristina.


UN Human Rights Commission special envoy Elisabeth Rehn said on 30 September Macedonia has improved human rights. Rehn announced she was recommending that Macedonia be removed from her mandate because of its efforts. But she warned that she remains concerned about abuses by police, including unlawful arrests and detentions. She also expressed concern over the plight of the ethnic Albanian minority.


UN transitional administrator William Walker and Croatian Justice Minister Miroslav Separovic signed a declaration in Vukovar on 30 September on conditions for reintegrating Croatia's judiciary into eastern Slavonia, Hina reported. Walker told reporters he expects the Croatian judiciary, under UN supervision, will start work in Croatia's last Serb-held enclave as soon as possible.


A six-week amnesty for people in possession of weapons stolen during the recent civil rebellion expired at midnight on 30 September. But Interior Minister Neritan Ceka said hours earlier that only 45,000 weapons had been handed in or seized. He estimated some 600,000 military weapons remain in the hands of the population. Ceka warned on nationwide television that anybody who continues to hold weapons will be punished under the penal code, which provides for between five and 10 years imprisonment for that crime. He said police will start checking buildings and will make no compromises with those still in possession of weapons.


Finance Minister Mircea Ciumara and leaders of the trade unions agreed on 30 September to "temporarily suspend" and re-examine a government scheme for closing down mines and paying compensation to those who accept early retirement, Radio Bucharest reported. The decision comes in response to the mass migration to rural areas of miners opting for compensation and to the danger that the country's energy needs will not be met. Talks will continue on 1 October and will be attended by Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea. In other news, President Emil Constantinescu met with Premier Jean-Claude Junker in Luxembourg on 30 September to discuss Bucharest's efforts to join the EU, an RFE/RL correspondent reported.


The Chamber of Deputies on 30 September rejected a new version of the law on political parties, which included an amendment aimed at promoting women's representation in the legislature, Radio Bucharest reported. The amendment had stipulated that subsidies for each party will be increased proportional to the number of women members of the parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 1997).


At the meeting of the Joint Control Commission on 30 September, representatives of Chisinau and Tiraspol disagreed over the future of the security zone, BASA-press and Infotag reported. Tiraspol objects to the Moldovan proposal that Transdniester armed formations, border guards, and custom check points be moved further back into the zone. All sides agreed previously that the size of the zone must be reduced. The Moldovan delegation also insisted on the urgency of implementing the protocol rencently signed by Chisinau, Moscow, and Tiraspol. It also stressed the need to examine the implementation of the July 1992 Moldovan-Russian agreement on settling the conflict in the region.


Addressing the UN General Assembly on 30 September, Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova called for continued NATO expansion to ensure that no former communist countries are left in a "gray zone" and that equal security is achieved for all European nations. She said her government's desire to join NATO and the EU has the overwhelming support of the Bulgarian people. Mihailova also urged the UN to grant exemptions to those states hardest hit by the embargo against Serbia and Montenegro. She said that, together with the losses caused by the sanctions against Libya and Iraq, "the total amounts of direct and indirect costs for Bulgaria" as the result of the embargo is "comparable to the country's foreign debt," Reuters reported.


by Floriana Fossato

Top Russian defense officials have been vigorously denying recent claims by former government officials that Moscow possesses miniature nuclear bombs but has lost track of some of them. Military observers say some statements--particularly those by General Igor Volynkin, the head of the Defense Ministry's 12th department, which oversees nuclear security--are "surprising on account of their openness."

In an interview with a U.S. television network aired on 8 September, former Security Council Secretary General Aleksandr Lebed alleged that the former Soviet Union had produced 132 such bombs in the 1970s but had since lost track of 84 of them. He said the portable devices were designed for sabotage behind enemy lines. On 21 September, Aleksei Yablokov, President Boris Yeltsin's former environmental security adviser, said he knew people who had been involved in the making of the bombs, which, he stressed, were intended for "terrorist purposes." However, Yablokov said he could not confirm that the bombs are indeed missing.

Official denials followed immediately. Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said he has "no fears" and insisted Russia's nuclear arsenal is under firm control. Volynkin, for his part, told reporters that such portable devices "have never been produced in the past and are not produced now." Conceding that building nuclear suitcases is "possible in theory," he said the Defense Ministry came to the conclusion that they were "too costly" to produce and "ineffective." He said the device could last only a few months, after which it would have to be replaced at an exorbitant cost. He remarked that "not even the U.S. would attempt to do that."

According to Russian military commentator Aleksandr Golts, such a statement is surprising because it breaks the Russian military habit of avoiding comment on issues of this kind.

Volynkin went on to rule out the possibility that structures such as the Soviet-era KGB could have produced such devices. He said that since it was established 50 years ago, his department at the Defense Ministry has had "sole responsibility over nuclear stocks." He noted, however, that the Defense Ministry works closely with the Ministry of Atomic Energy to keep detailed records of the whereabouts of all nuclear stocks. He added that all weapons belonging to Russia's nuclear arsenal have been withdrawn from military units and are now located in his department's storage facilities under tight supervision.

According to the general, Yablokov may have confused nuclear suitcases with nuclear mines, whose existence he admitted. At the same time, Volynkin ruled out the possibility of nuclear mines disappearing. Golts told RFE/RL that "nuclear mines were part of the nuclear arsenal that the former Soviet Union kept in former East Germany." He added that they "are extremely big, won't fit into any suitcase or backpack, and are transported only by specially designed trucks."

General Vyacheslav Romanov, the head of the National Center for the Reduction of Nuclear Threat, told the daily "Komsomolskaya pravda" that "to say that a single person could deliver a nuclear device--whose minimum weight usually is 200 kilograms--to the site of an explosion without being noticed and then set it off on his own is absurd." He added that "no device could be used by a single person--such is the technology."

In the light of such statements, Lebed's claims may seem surprising because the general, a professional soldier, should be aware of many key details concerning the production of portable nuclear devices. But according to Golts and other Russian military observers, a possible explanation could be Lebed's political ambitions and his "necessity to remain in the spotlight." Golts says that Lebed's popularity has been threatened recently by the growing popularity of another soldier-turned-politician: Lev Rokhlin.

Lebed came third in last year's presidential election and went on to serve briefly as Security Council secretary. Since being fired by Yeltsin last fall, he has been seeking to create his own political party and has made no secret of his plans to run for president in the year 2000. But recent developments suggest that Lebed's plans may be thwarted by Rokhlin.

On 26 September, the communist- and nationalist-dominated State Duma refused to remove Rokhlin as chairman of the Duma Defense Committee. Rokhlin was ousted from the pro-government party and parliamentary faction Our Home Is Russia in early September, after he launched a strong attack on the Kremlin's military reform program and called for Yeltsin's removal from office.

Following Lebed's example, Rokhlin then set up his own political movement. That formation already seems to be gaining popularity among the military as well as many opposition forces, including communist and nationalist groups. In addition, many people in Russia consider him a hero of the war in Chechnya.

Golts points out that "Rokhlin, not Lebed, has grown during the past few months to become the main military leader" opposed to Yeltsin and the government. He added that it is somehow "natural" that, as a consequence, Lebed is making every effort to maintain his popularity, "including sensational statements that undoubtedly attract attention in Russia and abroad."

The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Moscow.