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Newsline - January 5, 1998




YELTSIN BEGINS VACATION

President Boris Yeltsin on 4 January arrived at a state residence near the resort town of Valdai (Novgorod Oblast) for a two-week vacation, Russian news agencies reported. Spokesmen have said the president will do paperwork and hold some meetings with Kremlin officials during his vacation. Yeltsin spent two weeks in the Barvikha sanatorium in December to recover from a respiratory infection. The Kremlin has not announced when Yeltsin will return to Moscow, nor is it clear whether the president's planned visit to India will go ahead on 18-19 January. Meanwhile, unnamed sources in Moscow told Interfax on 4 January that Yeltsin's trip to Chechnya probably will not take place this month, as originally scheduled. LB

NEW RUBLES GO INTO CIRCULATION...

Three zeroes were removed from the Russian ruble on 1 January as the redenomination announced in August went into effect. Accordingly, the Central Bank set its official exchange rate for 2 January at 5.96 rubles to the U.S. dollar. The Central Bank has issued new bank notes worth 5, 10, 50, 100, and 500 rubles. New coins have been issued with face values of 1, 5, 10 and 50 kopecks, and 1, 2, and 5 rubles. Old ruble notes will still be valid currency through the end of 1998, and banks will exchange the old notes through 2002. However, in an interview published on 31 December in the official newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta," Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin predicted that most old bank notes will be taken out of circulation by the summer. LB

...WHILE CENTRAL BANK HEAD SEEKS TO ALLAY FEARS

In his 31 December interview with "Rossiiskaya gazeta," Dubinin warned against attempts to set two price scales so as to charge consumers more if they pay for goods in old ruble notes. Dubinin said such dual pricing will be considered swindling and will be punished accordingly. Dubinin also promised that there will be no "secret emission" of new bank notes, which would increase the money supply and in turn could spark higher inflation. Government officials have promised that the redenomination will not cause significant price rises. However, many Russian commentators have predicted that inflation will increase as shopkeepers round up prices (for instance, to charge 5 rather than 4.7 new rubles for a product that previously cost 4,700 rubles). LB

MINISTERS SAY WAGE ARREARS PAID

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov on 31 December announced that the federal government has kept its promise to pay all back wages to state employees by the end of 1997, Russian news agencies reported. They said the Central Bank worked until 2:00 a.m. on 31 December in order to complete the necessary transfers of funds. Chernomyrdin told journalists on 30 December that the federal government transferred a total of 14.5 trillion rubles ($2.4 billion) to Russian regions to cover the wage arrears. That figure includes 3.2 trillion rubles in aid to regions that were unable to cover their share of the wage debts on their own. LB

YELTSIN WANTS BETTER ECONOMIC RESULTS

In an interview released by Russian news agencies on 30 December, Yeltsin blamed the government for disappointing economic results in 1997 and urged the government to do more to secure economic growth in 1998. Yeltsin said, "We need breakthrough ideas and new approaches." He added that he has said "several times that the state should play a more active role in the economic sphere. Not by giving orders, but by creating favorable [economic] conditions." Addressing the Federation Council in September, Yeltsin called for a "new economic order," to involve a greater role for the state in managing the economy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 1997). The president's latest comments increased speculation that he will soon dismiss First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, who has been in charge of economic policy. Yeltsin took the Finance Ministry portfolio away from Chubais in November. LB

GOVERNMENT TO ASSESS PERFORMANCE IN FEBRUARY

Government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov announced on 31 December that the government will meet on 26 February to assess its performance during 1997, Russian news agencies reported. By mid-February, final official economic data for 1997 should be available, he said. Shabdurasulov added that no date has been scheduled for the government to report to the president on its performance, but he suggested that the report may also take place on 26 February. Yeltsin initially ordered the government to brief him on its performance on 1 December, but the briefing has been postponed twice. LB

CHUBAIS DEFENDS 1997 ECONOMIC ACHIEVEMENTS

First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais argued in a 30 December interview with Russian Television (RTR) that the government made substantial economic achievements in 1997. He said the government was able to collect most taxes owed by the country's largest tax debtors, such as the gas monopoly Gazprom, the car manufacturer Avtovaz, and the electricity giant Unified Energy Systems. Chubais also claimed that in 1997, unemployment and mortality rates declined while real wages and industrial production increased. He promised that the government will pay wages to state employees and pensions on time in 1998. Other major tasks for the year include tax reform, measures to increase pensions, and steps to solve the problem of massive non-payments, Chubais said. News coverage on fully state-owned RTR is mostly favorable to Chubais. LB

'IZVESTIYA' SLAMS LIVSHITS

Writing in the 30 December edition of "Izvestiya," economist Andrei Illarionov argued that Chubais has managed Russian economic policy far more effectively this year than Aleksandr Livshits did as finance minister from August 1996 until March 1997. Illarionov said several important economic indicators showed improvement in 1997, thanks to Chubais. For instance, he argued that Chubais helped the government collect more taxes in cash, while under Livshits taxes were more frequently collected in the form of money surrogates. Illarionov also noted that while Livshits was finance minister, Russia's budget deficit increased and an unrealistic budget for 1997 was adopted. Livshits recently criticized alleged information leaks from the Russian government to Western financial institutions, and various Russian media have blamed Chubais for those leaks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 22 December 1997). Oneksimbank, which is close to Chubais, is a major shareholder in "Izvestiya." LB

BASAEV TO FORM NEW CHECHEN GOVERNMENT

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has dismissed the current government and asked First Deputy Premier Shamil Basaev to form a new cabinet, Interfax reported on 1 January. Basaev is to submit a list of nominees by 10 January, and Maskhadov is expected to appoint the new cabinet by 20 January. Speaking on Chechen Television on 3 January, Basaev pledged to resign as prime minister in six months if his government has not solved Chechnya's serious social problems. A former field commander, Basaev gained fame in Russia when he led the Chechen raid on Budennovsk (Stavropol Krai) in June 1995. Meanwhile, Chechen Security Service chief Apti Batalov resigned on 30 December. No successor has been named to date. PG/LB

CHECHNYA TO ISSUE NEW PASSPORTS

Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov told Interfax on 1 January that Grozny will issue new passports in the next few weeks. The documents, which have already been issued to some 200 top Chechen officials, feature Chechnya's flag and emblem. They are printed in the Chechen and English languages. Passages in Chechen are written in Latin, rather than Cyrillic, script. Although Chechen officials say the new passports will be valid for travel abroad by Chechen citizens, Russian news agencies on 2 January quoted an unnamed source in the Russian Security Council as saying the documents will not be recognized by Russia or by foreign countries. LB

KIDNAPPED CHECHEN JOURNALISTS RELEASED

Seven Chechen journalists who were taken hostage on 22 December in Dagestan were released unharmed on 31 December, Russian news agencies and Reuters reported. The journalists, all residents of Chechnya, are employed by Russian Public Television, the Russian private network NTV, the news agencies Reuters, Associated Press, and Chechen-press, and the Worldwide Television News network. They disappeared while in Dagestan to cover the recent attack on a Russian tank unit in Buinaksk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 1997). The People's Volunteer Corps of Dagestan, the little-known group that claimed responsibility for kidnapping the journalists, had called for exchanging them for several Dagestani police who are allegedly being held prisoner by Chechens. However, no Dagestani hostages appear to have been released in Chechnya. In the first half of 1997, several journalists were taken prisoner in Chechnya and released only after large ransoms were reportedly paid. LB

SOME RELIGIOUS GROUPS BANNED IN DAGESTAN

The Dagestani parliament on 30 December voted to amend the law on freedom of conscience and religious organizations to curtail the activities of some religious groups in the region, Interfax reported. Under the amendments, local administrations are empowered to ban religious groups and prevent groups that have violated public order from re-registering. The amendments come after the recent attack in Buinaksk, in which Wahhabi extremists allegedly took part Meanwhile, Magomedali Magomedov, the chairman of the Dagestani State Council, called on the Chechen leadership to begin talks with Dagestan on bilateral relations and security. He stressed that while no one wants problems with Chechnya, it must be taken into account that "gunmen come from Chechnya and hide there, too." BP

YELTSIN SIGNS LAW CHANGING INCOME TAX SCALE...

Yeltsin on 31 December signed a law establishing a new income tax scale, ITAR-TASS reported. Under the new scale, Russians with annual incomes of less than 20,000 rubles ($3,400) will pay a 12 percent income tax. Tax rates on annual incomes between 20,000 rubles and 100,000 rubles will gradually increase from 12 percent to roughly 26 percent. Russians in the top tax bracket, who have annual incomes exceeding 100,000 rubles, will pay 20,400 rubles on their first 100,000 rubles of income, plus a 35 percent tax on all income over 100,000 rubles. LB

...AND AMENDMENTS TO LAW ON GOVERNMENT

Also on 31 December, Yeltsin signed a law amending some passages of the federal constitutional law on the government, ITAR-TASS reported. The amendments, which were approved by both houses of parliament on 25 December, confirm that the president oversees the activities of agencies and ministries dealing with defense and security questions. Yeltsin agreed to sign the law on the government only after receiving assurances that the parliament will approve the amendments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 1997). LB

JAPAN, RUSSIA FINALLY CONCLUDE FISHING AGREEMENT

Following 13 rounds of talks over the past three years, Russian and Japanese officials have agreed on a six-page, 10-article document defining fishing rights around the Kuril Islands, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported on 30 December. Japanese fisherman now have quotas for the number of fish they can catch. The bulk of Japanese payments for fishing rights, which are estimated at $3 million annually, will be used to develop the four Kuril Islands. The Russian and Japanese governments are now reviewing the agreement, and the official signing ceremony is expected at the end of this month. BP

ZHIRINOVSKY CALLS FOR CLOSER TIES WITH LIBYA...

Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky on 30 December called for closer ties between Russia and Libya, Interfax reported. Having returned from Tripoli, where he met with the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Zhirinovsky said Russians can find markets, jobs, and recreation facilities in Libya. The LDPR has repeatedly proposed boosting Russian/Libyan trade. Zhirinovsky also has visited Iraq several times to meet with that country's leader, Saddam Hussein. On 25 December, an airplane carrying Zhirinovsky and other LDPR members landed in Baghdad with a shipment of medical supplies for Iraq. LB

...REFUSES TO APOLOGIZE TO JOURNALIST

Also on 30 December, Zhirinovsky said he will not apologize to NTV reporter Yelena Masyuk, whom he has accused of taking money from Chechen rebels in exchange for broadcasting favorable reports about them, Interfax reported. Rather, he said he will appeal a Moscow municipal court ruling on 29 December that Zhirinovsky slandered Masyuk. The court ordered Zhirinovsky to pay her 25 million rubles ($4,200) and publicly retract his allegation. Masyuk had asked for 100 million rubles in damages. The court rejected a lawsuit filed against Zhirinovsky by NTV. Neither Zhirinovsky, who was in Libya, nor his lawyer attended the court proceedings. The LDPR leader and his attorney also did not appear at two previous court hearings in the slander case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 1997). LB

NO SLANDER CHARGES TO BE FILED AGAINST LEBED

The Prosecutor-General's Office has refused to open a criminal case against former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed for slander, "Segodnya" reported on 27 December. Last summer, Boris Berezovskii requested that prosecutors press slander charges against Lebed after Lebed had accused Berezovskii of having profited from the war in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 1997). Berezovskii became deputy secretary of the Security Council following Lebed's dismissal in October 1996. He was involved in official negotiations with Chechen officials until his firing in November 1997. He may still file a civil suit against Lebed. LB

ST. PETERSBURG GOVERNOR SETTLES SUIT AGAINST SOBCHAK

Vladimir Yakovlev has agreed to drop his 50 million ruble ($8,400) slander lawsuit against former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 December. Yakovlev, who defeated Sobchak in a June 1996 election, filed suit in summer 1997, soon after an interview with Sobchak appeared in the weekly "Sovershenno sekretno." The newspaper quoted Sobchak as alleging that Yakovlev has ties to St. Petersburg's so- called Tambov criminal group. Yakovlev agreed to drop his lawsuit provided that "Sovershenno sekretno" print a partial retraction to make clear that Sobchak was merely referring to an accusation made by an anonymous caller during a radio show with Anatolii Ponidelko, the head of the St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast branch of the Interior Ministry. Sobchak has been in Paris since November. He is reportedly recuperating from heart trouble (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 November 1997). LB




SHEVARDNADZE SAYS GEORGIA MAY SEEK PRESSURE ON ABKHAZIA

Speaking on 1 January, President Eduard Shevardnadze said that he is in favor of settling the Abkhaz dispute through dialogue but that "the leadership of our country plans to raise the question of other variants" if no progress is made soon, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 January. The Georgian leader said the number of people in Tbilisi urging the use of pressure--including the introduction of international forces--was growing. PG

BAKU APPEALS TO AZERBAIJANIS ABROAD

On 31 December, Azerbaijan marked the Day for Solidarity with Azerbaijanis Throughout the World, ITAR-TASS reported. First organized in 1989 to protest Moscow's refusal to allow Azerbaijanis in the Soviet Union to meet with Azerbaijanis abroad, this holiday remains laden with political meaning: Far more Azerbaijanis live abroad than in Azerbaijan itself. PG

PIPELINES, POLITICS IN CASPIAN BASIN

A pipeline linking a port and a rail terminal in Dyubendy went into commission in the presence of Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 January. The facilities are a trans-shipment point for oil from the Tengiz field in Kazakhstan brought to Dyubendy by ship and then transported by train to Batumi. Meanwhile, Uzbekistan and the U.S. agreed on 31 December to increase their cooperation in the development of Uzbekistan's oil and gas industry, Interfax reported. But the previous day, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry told Interfax-Kazakhstan that Akmola has "serious concerns" about a Russian tender offer and demands that the tender be "annulled," Interfax- Kazakhstan reported. PG

UZBEKISTAN, TAJIKISTAN REACH ACCORD ON DEBT

Uzbek President Islam Karimov and his visiting Tajik counterpart, Imomali Rakhmonov, have signed agreements to settle debts between their two countries, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 January. Karimov said Tashkent will oppose any efforts by the Tajik opposition to transform that country into an Islamic state. The two presidents are to join the their counterparts from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan for a Central Asian summit in Ashgabat on 5 January. That meeting will have no specific agenda, according to Interfax. PG

BURGLARS WOUND IRANIAN DIPLOMAT IN KYRGYZSTAN

Thieves seeking to steal a satellite television dish from the Iranian consulate in Bishkek attacked the consul and his son, IRNA reported on 4 January. The two have been hospitalized in serious condition. Tehran has sent a letter to the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry calling for the prompt arrest of those responsible. PG




ADAMKUS WINS LITHUANIAN PRESIDENCY VOTE

According to unofficial returns reported by Lithuanian Radio on 5 January, Valdas Adamkus narrowly defeated Arturas Paulauskas in the runoff for the Lithuanian presidency the previous day. Some 1,914,477 votes were cast, of which 0.08 percent were declared invalid. Of the valid ballots, Adamkus received 50.29 percent, and Paulausas 49.71 percent. Because fewer than 11,000 votes separated the two candidates, a court challenge is likely. Adamkus had sharply criticized Paulauskas when the latter's campaign chief recently published an article in the Vilnius newspaper "Respublika" comparing Lithuanian Americans, of whom Adamkus is one, to Soviet occupiers. Paulauskas responded by criticizing Adamkus supporters who had pointed to his ties with the old communist nomenklatura and suggested that Paulauskas may try to return many of its members to power. PG

CZECH PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW GOVERNMENT...

Vaclav Havel on 2 January appointed a 16-member cabinet headed by former Central Bank governor Josef Tosovsky. The Civic Democratic Party (ODS) has four cabinet members, all of whom belong to the party's so-called rebel faction: Finance Minister Ivan Pilip, Labor and Social Affairs Minister Stanislav Volak, Defense Minister Michal Lobkowicz, and Regional Development Minister Jan Cerny. Other key members are Foreign Minister Jaroslav Sedivy (non-affiliated), Interior Minister Cyril Svoboda (Christian Democrats), and Justice Minister Vlasta Parkanova (Civic Democratic Alliance). There are a total of seven non- affiliated ministers. The parliament has 30 days in which to approve the new government. FS

...BUT FORMER PREMIER DEMANDS REBEL MINISTERS LEAVE HIS PARTY

Former Premier and ODS leader Vaclav Klaus on 4 January requested that the four rebel ministers either leave his party or resign their cabinet posts. Otherwise, he stressed, he will support the new government. Meanwhile, ODS Deputy Chairman Miroslav Macek has accused Havel of trying to limit the influence of political parties so that he can fill the vacuum and rule in an "elitist way." The main opposition Social Democratic Party has said that it will support the new government only if elections are scheduled for June. FS

ESTONIA REJECTS PRIMAKOV'S NEUTRALITY PROPOSAL

Sulev Kannike, the director of the Estonian Foreign Ministry's department of political analysis and planning, said on 31 December that his country rejects Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov's suggestion that neutrality would offer the Baltic States the greatest possible security, BNS reported. As if to underline that stance, the Estonian Foreign Ministry on 1 January announced plans to open a permanent mission at NATO headquarters later this month. PG

ESTONIA'S MERI AGAIN REFUSES TO SIGN AMENDED LANGUAGE LAW

President Lennart Meri has again refused to sign a bill amending the language law, ETA and BNS reported on 2 January. Meri vetoed the bill in December, but the parliament returned it to the president unaltered. Meri argues that the amended legislation violates the constitution because it delegates too much power to the executive branch to determine the degree of proficiency of non-Estonians in the state language, particularly of parliamentary deputies and local government officials. On 30 December, Meri appealed to the Supreme Court to declare the bill unconstitutional. JC

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT SEEKS TO INTEGRATE RUSSIAN SPEAKERS

Nationalities minister Andra Veidemann has adopted a new policy designed to integrate Russian-speaking residents into Estonian society, Interfax reported on 31 December. The new program is to focus on children, particularly on improving Estonian-language instruction in schools. Also on 31 December, however, BNS reported that the Estonian government granted citizenship to 8,132 people in 1997, down from 22,772 the previous year. At the same time, a study conducted by the Estonian Academy of Sciences found that Russian speakers in Estonia are "quite interested" in integrating into Estonian society. PG

NO DEFICIT EXPECTED IN LATVIA'S 1997 BUDGET

Finance Minister Roberts Zile has forecast that there will be no deficit in the 1997 state budget, BNS reported on 4 January. He told journalists in Riga that he expects a small surplus, despite increased government spending in December. As of 18 December, annual budget revenues exceeded expenditures by 24.6 million lats (some $42 million). JC

UKRAINE TO MOVE AGAINST SHADOW ECONOMY

Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoitenko on 3 January said that Kyiv plans to step up its efforts against the shadow economy, ITAR-TASS reported. Economics Minister Viktor Suslov said this part of the economy, largely unregulated and untaxed, currently accounts for some 43 percent of the country's GDP. In other economic developments, the parliament on 30 December approved the 1998 budget, and the government announced plans to establish up to 15 free economic zones modeled on those in China, the Kyiv daily "Den" reported on 2 January. PG

UKRAINIAN, POLISH PRESIDENTS VISIT JOINT BATTALION

Leonid Kuchma and his Polish counterpart, Alexander Kwasniewski, visited the Ukrainian-Polish peacekeeping battalion at its Yavorov training site on 3 January , ITAR-TASS reported. Earlier, the two men opened a new border post at Krakowiec-Korczow to handle the increasing volume of traffic between the two countries and to serve as a link between the Baltic and Black Sea regions. PG

POLISH SOLIDARITY TO SUE PREVIOUS GOVERNMENT OVER BUDGET...

Solidarity Electoral Alliance (AWS) leader Marian Krzaklewski told "Gazeta Wyborcza" on 1 January that the AWS will take former Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz and Finance Minister Marek Belka to court for not submitting the 1998 budget by the end of September 1997. Krzaklewski claims the former government missed the deadline stipulated by the constitution for submitting the draft budget to the parliament. The former Social Democrat-led government left office in October, following the victory of the AWS in the 21 September elections. The constitution allows for a delay in submitting the budget under exceptional circumstances. FS

...AFTER FAILING TO OVERTURN PRESIDENTIAL VETOES

Social Democratic representative Marek Borowski on 2 January said the AWS's decision to sue the previous government was prompted by frustration over its failure to have the parliament overrule a presidential veto on 30 December. President Aleksander Kwasniewski had vetoed bills ending sex education at schools and cutting increases in army pensions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 1997). The government wanted $14.5 million currently used for both programs to be channeled into the reconstruction efforts following the massive floods in July. The coalition was seven votes short of the three-fifths majority necessary to overrule Kwasniewski. FS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT SLAMS GOVERNMENT

Michal Kovac said in his New Year's address on 31 December that during its five years of independence, Slovakia has failed to establish democratic standards. He blamed Vladimir Meciar's government for that state of affairs, arguing that political rather than economic reasons prevented Slovakia from being included among the first candidates for NATO and EU membership. Kovac also stressed that he will not be running in the presidential elections scheduled for later this year. FS

FRANCE TO SUPPLY MISSILES TO HUNGARY

Matra BAe Dynamics, a French-British joint venture, is to deliver the first 60 of some 200 Mistral missiles to Hungary by the end of March, Hungarian Defense Ministry officials said on 3 January. The missiles will be stored in northern Hungary, while the remaining weapons will be delivered before the end of 1999. Hungary intends to integrate the missiles into its defense system in 2000, the officials said. In other news, a Hungarian army general said that NATO-led SFOR paid the Hungarian army $60 million in 1997 to use its military bases. Some 80 percent of the payments came from U.S. troops based in Taszar. MSZ




KOSOVO LIBERATION ARMY SAYS ARMED STRUGGLE HAS BEGUN

The clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) issued a statement in Pristina on 4 January saying it is the armed force of the Kosovo Albanians and has begun the fight for the unification of Kosovo with Albania. The text explained that armed and uniformed UCK representatives had made their first public appearance on 28 November, the Albanian national holiday, in order to underscore those points (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 1997). PM

SERBIAN PATRIARCH CONDEMNS KOSOVO CRACKDOWN

Patriarch Pavle of the Serbian Orthodox Church on 3 January condemned the violent breakup by Serbian police of peaceful student protests in Pristina, Djakovica, and Pec on 30 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 1997). At least 82 Kosovars were injured. In a statement released to Belgrade media, Pavle said the police not only "broke the rules [regulating peaceful protest] but besmirched the honor of the country where we live." He called for an Albanian-Serbian dialogue and for compromise. Pavle said the Albanians, for their part, should recognize that Serbia is their country and not equate Serbia with the current regime. In Pristina, Vice President Fehmi Agani of the Democratic League of Kosovo welcomed Pavle's announcement but added that key differences remain between the patriarch and the Kosovars. PM

KOSOVARS TO CONTINUE PROTESTS

Kosovar student spokesmen said in Pristina on 4 January that they will continue their protests, BETA news agency reported. Also in Pristina, opposition coalition leader Adem Demaci said on 1 January that the danger of a "worsening of the situation between the Kosovars and the Serbian authorities" is much greater now than it was six months ago. For this state of affairs, he partly blamed the current Kosovar leadership of shadow-state Ibrahim Rugova, who, Demaci charged, bases his policies on wishful thinking. The previous day, Rugova expressed his concern over the police action, which officials of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also condemned. PM

TIRANA SLAMS SERBIAN REPRESSION

The Albanian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 1 January criticizing the police crackdown in Pristina. "The violence, the ill-treatment, and the arrest of students and their teachers are counter to the desire to Europeanize the Balkans, which Belgrade supported at the Balkan summit on Crete" on 3-4 November, the statement read. The Albanian ministry called for a dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. PM

HARD-LINERS WARNED IN MONTENEGRO

Svetozar Marovic, the speaker of the Montenegrin parliament and an ally of reformist President Milo Djukanovic, said in Podgorica on 1 January that outgoing President Momir Bulatovic is preparing his followers for an armed confrontation with the reformers and with the Albanian and Muslim minorities. On 4 January, State Prosecutor Vladimir Susovic and spokesmen for the Interior Ministry warned Bulatovic's supporters that they may be prosecuted if their rallies lead to violence. PM

DJUKANOVIC SAYS BELGRADE TO BLAME FOR OWN PROBLEMS

President-elect Djukanovic told "Nasa Borba" of 1 January that Yugoslavia's isolation and poverty are largely its own fault and not the result of an international conspiracy against the Serbs. Djukanovic called Belgrade "suicidal" for having believed in the early 1990s that international sanctions would actually help Yugoslavia by forcing it to develop its own economic resources and live within its means. He said that the worst problem was that the Belgrade leadership came to believe its own propaganda and see itself as a victim of ill-willed foreigners. Meanwhile, "Nasa Borba" named Djukanovic its "man of the year" for 1997 because of his role in promoting political change in Yugoslavia. PM

YUGOSLAV ARMS CACHES FOUND IN SLAVONIA

UN police, acting on an anonymous tip-off, found 100 crates of arms belonging to the former Yugoslav army hidden in a canal near Vukovar on 1 January. The containers included rocket-launchers, heavy machine-guns, and various kinds of ammunition. In other news, Croatian Deputy Interior Minister Josko Moric said in Zagreb on 30 December that three Croatian reserve policemen in eastern Slavonia have been fired following a brawl with Serbian civilians near Osijek the previous week. He also pledged to press charges against the three. PM

BOSNIAN SERB HARD-LINERS REJECT PLAVSIC'S PREMIER

Aleksa Buha of the Serbian Democratic Party and Nikola Poplasen of the Serbian Radical Party said in Bijeljina on 3 January that they will not enter a government of national unity as proposed by Mladen Ivanic, the prime- minister designate of Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic. Buha and Poplasen added that they advised Ivanic to ask Plavsic to nominate someone else as premier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 1997). PM

WESTENDORP SETS DEADLINE ON LICENSE PLATES

Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, said in Sarajevo on 30 December that he will use his new executive powers to decree a unified license plate design for all Bosnia if the Serbs, Croats, and Muslims do not agree on one by the end of January. An international conference in Bonn on 9-10 January gave Westendorp the authority to make decisions that the leaderships of the three ethnic groups have been unwilling or unable to take. Many observers feel there can be no freedom of movement in Bosnia as long as each ethnic group has its own license plates, which makes it easy for hard-liners to spot and intimidate people of other ethnic groups. PM

ALBANIAN PREMIER PLEDGES NEW CONSTITUTION IN 1998

Fatos Nano said in his New Year's address that he is determined to give the country a new constitution in 1998. The previous government failed to adopt a new constitution by referendum in December 1994. Nano pointed out that instabililty in the country has been "provoked by the void left by having no constitution." He said that the basic law would be put to a referendum once it had been approved by the parliament. FS

ALBANIAN INTERIOR MINISTER WANTS DEATH PENALTY

Neritan Ceka said on 30 December that he favors the reintroduction of death penalty. Albania has not formally abolished capital punishment but has been banned from carrying out the death sentence since its admission to the Council of Europe in August 1995. The council has stipulated that the parliament must abolish the death penalty within a "reasonable" time frame. Ceka also noted that only 10 percent of the 1 million arms looted in 1997 have been returned to the authorities. FS

GREECE TO HELP REORGANIZE ALBANIA'S NAVY

Greek Defense Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos has pledged to help reorganize the Albanian Navy and upgrade the ports of Saranda and Durres. During a two-day visit to Tirana on 29- 30 December, he proposed creating a common security institution for the Balkans. Athens has said it will assist Tirana with funds to build apartments for army officers and help revive Albania's military industry. Greece has already helped rebuild the military hospital in Tirana and is planing to improve the capital's military airport. FS

ROYAL SUCCESSION PROVOKES CONTROVERSY IN ROMANIA

President Emil Constantinescu said in a 3 January televised address that changing the form of government from a republic to a monarchy would be an "illegal and immoral act." His statement came in response to former King Michael's announcement on 30 December that he intends to designate his eldest daughter, Princess Margaret, as his successor and that he and his family will spend as much time as possible in Romania. The previous day, Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea had said that if the former monarch wants to return to the country, he must respect the existing constitution, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The Party of Social Democracy in Romania has threatened to initiate proceedings to suspend Constantinescu for allegedly encouraging the restoration of the monarchy. MS

EXTREMIST ROMANIAN LEADER ATTACKS CONSTANTINESCU

Corneliu Vadim Tudor, the leader of the extremist Greater Romania Party, has said that President Constantinescu is "guilty of high treason," Radio Bucharest reported on 4 January. He argued that Constantinescu is guilty of bringing about the loss of Romanian territories" by signing the basic treaty with Ukraine. He also held the president responsible for the coming to power of the "separatists' organization" representing ethnic Hungarians in Romania and accused him of "undermining the national economy." On 23 December, Prosecutor-General Sorin Moisescu asked the parliament to lift Tudor's immunity for insulting the president. The request followed Tudor's 19 December statement claiming that Constantinescu is a "secret agent" whose policies seek to reward "those who brought him to power." MS

OFFICIAL CHARGES BROUGHT AGAINST ROMANIAN FORMER DEFENSE MINISTER

The Prosecutor-General's Office on 30 December officially charged General Victor Stanculescu with having ordered troops to fire on demonstrators in Timisoara in December 1989 , RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. No date has been set for the trial. Stanculescu was defense minister in 1990-1991. In related news, Prosecutor-General Sorin Moisescu said on 19 December that his office has not yet opened a "criminal investigation" into the role that former President Ion Iliescu played in the December 1989 events. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES 1998 BUDGET

The Moldovan parliament on 29 December approved next year's budget, which, in line with IMF and World Bank recommendations, provides for a deficit of 3.5 percent of GDP. The parliament also approved freezing the debts of state companies accumulated until 1 January 1997, provided that those companies pay their debts to the state budget accumulated since that date. MS




ONE COUNTRY, TWO FOREIGN POLICIES


by Paul Goble

Conflicting statements by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his foreign minister, Yevgenii Primakov, on the state of relations between Moscow and the West raise some questions about Russian foreign policy intentions in 1998.

In his New Year's messages to foreign leaders, Yeltsin said Russia's inclusion in the G-7 group of major economic powers--which now becomes in effect the G-8--and progress on disarmament issues by the U.S. and Russia were evidence of "effective Russian-American cooperation."

But in his year-end assessment at a 30 December press conference, Primakov adopted a very different tone by suggesting that Moscow's effort to form a strategic partnership with the West has failed. He commented that the idea of such cooperation has "lost its luster with time" and that "such ties have started turning into those between patron and client." Russia could never find such a relationship acceptable, he stressed.

Primakov went on to say that Russia not only remained opposed to any eastward expansion of NATO but was actively considering the extension of Russian security guarantees to those countries in Central and Eastern Europe not offered membership in the Western alliance.

Despite coexisting in the same government, the two men have often been at odds in the past on a wide variety of foreign policy issues. But seldom has the distance between the two been so great on an issue of such fundamental importance. This raises three interrelated questions.

First, does the latest difference between Yeltsin and Primakov presage a break between the two? Second, is it simply a tactic designed to compensate for Russia's current weakness? And third, what does it portend for Russian foreign policy, especially if Yeltsin is incapacitated for lengthy periods this year?

In virtually any other country, such a deep division between the president and his top foreign policy aide would presage the rapid departure of the latter from office. No president with executive responsibility for foreign affairs could be expected to tolerate what must appear to other leaders as open insubordination.

One explanation for Primakov's continued survival is that he represents a part of the Russian political spectrum that Yeltsin cannot or will not challenge even if he personally disagrees with it. Yeltsin appointed Primakov to placate the nationalists within the State Duma and more broadly among the Russian population; he may not be able to fire him even if he wants to.

A second interpretation is that Primakov may be in political trouble and that he is speaking out now precisely to drum up support for himself among his traditional allies. If that is the case, Russia may have a new foreign minister sooner rather than later.

Another interpretation, increasingly heard both in Moscow and the West, is that this public disagreement is simply a clever tactic, with Yeltsin agreeing to play the part of the sympathetic good cop while Primakov acts out the bad cop. Each would stand to gain as a result. Yeltsin could approach the West as a friend with a warning--in the form of the voice of Primakov--that another, less sympathetic Russia is possible if the West does not give him what he wants.

If this interpretation is correct, the two men have more in common than a superficial reading of their speeches might suggest. Moreover, no one should expect a fundamental change in the direction of Russian foreign policy anytime soon.

But even if the two men are playing such roles--which is far from certain--they do have very different ideas, at least as far as can be judged on the basis of their public remarks. That in turn raises the issue of just where Primakov might take Russian foreign policy if Yeltsin were incapacitated for an extended period, as was often the case last year.

If Yeltsin were to disappear from the political arena, a new Russian government might decide either to replace Primakov or to back him fully. But if Yeltsin is not in full control of the situation, Primakov may be able to act ever more independently. That could have the effect of making Primakov's New Year message a self-fulfilling prophecy, thereby undercutting Yeltsin's more hopeful one.


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