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Newsline - February 4, 1998




YELTSIN CAUTIONS CLINTON AGAINST ATTACKING IRAQ...

President Boris Yeltsin told reporters at the Kremlin on 4 February that if Bill Clinton orders an attack on Iraq, the U.S. president may start World War Three, ITAR-TASS reported. He commented that making threats of military force against Iraq was not typical of Clinton. Yeltsin added he had made it clear to his U.S. counterpart that Russia is against any attack on Iraq. The Russian president also spoke by telephone with French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, both of whose countries are members of the UN Security Council. Noting that they have endured such problems for seven years, Yeltsin asked whether they could they not wait another few months to allow more time for diplomacy. BP

...WHILE SPOKESMAN RUSHES TO CLARIFY STATEMENT

Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii was quick to clarify Yeltsin's statement that the Iraqi crisis might turn into World War Three, ITAR-TASS reported. Yastrzhembskii stressed that it would be "absurd and ridiculous" if the press, particularly in the U.S., were to interpret that statement to mean Russia would take retaliatory measures if Clinton ordered an attack on Iraq. BP

OFFICIALS SAY RUSSIA MAY USE SECURITY COUNCIL VETO

Addressing a closed emergency session of the State Duma on 3 February, Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov said Russia will use its veto in the UN Security Council to prevent the adoption of a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Primakov's statement drew applause from the chamber. Duma First Deputy Speaker Vladimir Ryzhkov of the Our Home Is Russia faction told NTV the next day that the chances are "very high" that Russia will use its veto when the Security Council discusses the situation in Iraq. Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigorii Karasin and his Chinese counterpart, Zhang Deguang, discussed Iraq during talks in Beijing on 4 February, Reuters reported. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said the two countries' positions on Iraq "are in agreement." LB

DUMA CALLS FOR REVIEWING SANCTIONS IF IRAQ IS ATTACKED

The Duma on 4 February approved a non-binding resolution asking Yeltsin to review Russia's adherence to UN sanctions if the U.S. carries out a military attack on Iraq without the consent of the UN Security Council, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Deputies approved the resolution by an overwhelming margin of 323 to 19 with one abstention. The document also calls on Russia to provide humanitarian aid to Iraq. During the debate over the resolution, First Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told Duma deputies that Russia does not have the right to unilaterally review the UN embargo on Iraq. During the 3 February Duma session, Primakov also criticized the proposed resolution, saying the government will not unilaterally withdraw from UN sanctions, ITAR-TASS reported. Primakov argued that the Duma should instead pass a statement condemning the use of force against Iraq. LB

DUMA LEADERS WARN AGAINST STRIKES

Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said on 3 February that he is "astonished at the irresponsibility of the world community" in its handling of the situation in Iraq, Russian news agencies reported. Seleznev, a prominent member of the Communist Party, warned that the crisis "could push the world to the brink of a third world war." Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told journalists that political and diplomatic means for resolving the crisis "have by no means been exhausted." Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky also denounced possible military action against Iraq during the Duma's 3 February emergency session. Speaking to journalists the same day, Aleksandr Shokhin, the leader of the pro-government Our Home Is Russia faction, said U.S. military action against Iraq would "affect Duma decisions on a number of documents, including the START-2 treaty," Interfax reported. LB

RUSSIAN PRESS FEARS "LOSS OF FACE"

"Novye Izvestiya" on 3 February and "Izvestiya" the next day claimed that Iraqi intransigence is undercutting Russian diplomatic efforts. Both newspapers noted Russia's role in averting a conflict in November, when UN inspectors were denied access to suspect facilities in Iraq. "Izvestiya" wrote that the quick Iraqi denial of a diplomatic breakthrough following a Russia Foreign Ministry announcement to that effect has "degraded the Foreign Ministry and the Russian president." The daily argued that Baghdad is using Moscow as an "instrument to create chaos in the UN Security Council." According to "Novye Izvestiya," the "attempt to save Baghdad threatens to take away the last vestiges of [Russian] self-respect." It commented that the only way Moscow can now avert an attack is to leave Russian envoy Viktor Posuvalyuk in Baghdad as a deterrent to bombing. BP

COURT DECLARES NORILSK NICKEL SALE LEGAL

The Moscow District Federal Arbitration Court has upheld a ruling of the Moscow Arbitration Court, which determined that last year's sale of a 38 percent stake in Norilsk Nickel was legal, Interfax reported on 3 February. A company linked to Oneksimbank won the auction for the stake in August, but the circumstances surrounding the sale provoked controversy and criticism from market analysts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 August 1997). The little-known company Taiga, which contested the legality of the Norilsk sale in court, charged that laws on hard-currency transactions were broken during the sale and that potential bidders were not properly informed in advance about the terms of the auction. The company cited a report by the Audit Chamber, which has reached similar conclusions and recommended that the Norilsk sale be annulled. LB

BEREZOVSKII RESPONDS TO PRIVATIZATION CRITICS

Boris Berezovskii continues to defend the privatization policy carried out in previous years by First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, who is now one of Berezovskii's major political opponents. During the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Berezovskii again responded to criticism of Russian privatization voiced by U.S. billionaire George Soros (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 1998). Berezovskii, a major beneficiary of the controversial "loans for shares" auctions in 1995 and 1996, told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 3 February that it is "hypocritical" to say that stakes in companies were sold for below market value. At the time those auctions were held, he argued, no foreign investor was willing to risk money on Russia. In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" the same day, Berezovskii said that "privatization cannot be fair in principle. It is an achievement of Chubais that at least it was done without bloodshed." LB

DISPUTE CONTINUES OVER STATUS FOR CHECHNYA

Following Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's rejection of Moscow's latest offer of associate status for Chechnya within the Russian Federation, Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin told Interfax on 3 February that the Chechen leadership should stop daydreaming and start worrying about the fate of their people. Rybkin added that the Chechens overwhelmingly want to be part of Russia. Maskhadov said that Chechnya would never agree to that. Meanwhile, in yet another bid to gain an international status, officials in Grozny offered to mediate the Iraqi crisis. PG

REGIONS WANT SHARES IN STATE-OWNED COMPANIES

Tomsk Governor Viktor Kress says he will ask Yeltsin to allow the transfer of a 34 percent state-owned stake in the Eastern Oil Company to Tomsk Oblast, Interfax reported on 3 February. The Rosprom-Yukos already owns a controlling stake in the Eastern Oil Company, which has major facilities in Tomsk. Two attempts to sell the 34 percent state-owned stake in the company have failed. In November, only one bid was submitted for the auction, while two bids were submitted last month but were withdrawn before the closing date. "Rossiiskie vesti" reported on 3 February that Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev has called for 25 percent stakes in 17 large enterprises to be transferred to Kemerovo authorities. He says his administration would manage the shares more effectively than the federal authorities, which "are doing nothing with them." LB

TRADE UNIONS PROTEST WAGE ARREARS

The Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FNPR) organized nationwide protests on 3 February to protest persistent wage arrears. The action was timed to coincide with scheduled Duma hearings on workers' rights, although the Duma's discussions of Iraq pre-empted those hearings. Although ITAR-TASS reported that demonstrations were held in many regions, the protest attracted far less media attention than similar actions called by the FNPR in November 1996 and March 1997. FNPR leaders have expressed concern about a recent Constitutional Court decision striking down a provision in the civil code that requires enterprises to pay wages before taxes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 1998). In an appeal to Yeltsin, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, and the speakers of both houses of the parliament, the FNPR has also cast doubt on claims that the government has paid all wage arrears to state employees. LB

BORDER SERVICE CHIEF SAYS MERGER WITH FSB TO GO AHEAD

Federal Border Service Director Nikolai Bordyuzha announced on 3 February that a presidential order on subordinating the border service to the Federal Security Service (FSB) will be implemented soon, Interfax reported. He said "coordinated actions" by the two services will intensify "the battle against organized crime on the Russian state border." Bordyuzha's predecessor, Andrei Nikolaev, has charged that current law does not allow the border service to be merged with the FSB (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 1998). In an interview with the 2-8 February edition of the weekly "Novaya gazeta," Nikolaev described the plans as "apparat games" and said such a merger was not discussed during his tenure as border service chief. At the same time, he has not criticized his successor, and he told "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 3 February that he recommended Bordyuzha for the post. LB

AGRARIANS MAY SUPPORT CHANGES TO ELECTORAL LAW

Agrarian Party leader Mikhail Lapshin says his party may support Yeltsin's proposal to eliminate proportional representation if such a change would create 110-120 largely rural single-member districts, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 February. In the 1995 elections to the State Duma, the Agrarian Party fell short of the 5 percent barrier for parties and consequently received none of the 225 Duma seats allocated by proportional representation. Although the Agrarians won 20 of the 225 seats elected in single-member districts, more than any group except the Communists, they still depend on deputies "donated" from the Communist Party in order to maintain the 35 members needed for official registration as a Duma faction. Lapshin has asked the Central Electoral Commission to calculate how many districts would be in rural areas if Yeltsin's proposal became law. LB

PROSECUTOR WANTS MORE CASES AGAINST REGIONAL LEGISLATORS

Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov has instructed regional prosecutors to press criminal charges against deputies in regional legislatures when such charges are justified, "Izvestiya" reported on 29 January. Vladimir Kirakozov, an adviser to Skuratov, told the daily that nearly every regional legislature in Russia has at least one local criminal. Some regions have attempted to grant their legislators immunity, but the Constitutional Court struck down such a law in Kaliningrad Oblast in 1995 and a similar provision in the Tambov Oblast charter last December. The court said only a federal law can determine whether regional legislators should be granted immunity. Both the constitution and federal law already provide protection from criminal prosecution for deputies in the State Duma and Federation Council. LB




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT RESIGNS...

Speaking on national television on 3 February, Levon Ter-Petrossyan said he was resigning in response to demands by "state bodies well known to you." He argued that the move is aimed at preventing "instability" in the country and signals "the defeat of the party of "honorable peace in Armenia." He called on the nation to display "restraint" and ensure early free presidential elections. Ter-Petrossyan said, however, that differences over Nagorno-Karabakh are just a pretext that hard-line forces are using to make him resign. Drawing parallels with Israel's defeated Labor government, Ter-Petrossyan said the victory of the hard- liners is a "temporary" one and that sooner or later his ideas will prevail. PG

...LOSES POLITICAL BASE

Ter-Petrossyan's resignation followed mounting attacks on him for his Karabakh policy and the defection of 40 of the 96 deputies from the Hanrapetutyun bloc, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Most of those defecting went over to parties and groups backing Prime Minister Robert Kocharian, who has opposed Ter-Petrossyan over making concessions to achieve peace in Karabakh. In addition to the parliamentary defections, Armenian government officials sought to resign. On 3 February, Ter-Petrossyan had turned down resignation requests by the entire management of the Armenian Central Bank. PG

SHEVARDNADZE TAKES TOUGH LINE ON ABKHAZIA

In a speech to the parliament on 3 February, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said that force might have to be used in the Abkhazia dispute if diplomatic efforts fail to make progress, ITAR-TASS reported. He also called on Moscow to compensate Georgia for military equipment that the Russian government has withdrawn from Georgian territory. Such compensation, he said, would more than cover Georgia's current debts to Russia. The Georgian leader went on to say he is setting up an independent commission to fight corruption and black market activities. He added that the black and gray markets now account for almost half of the country's economic activity. PG

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT ESCAPES BOMBING

Azerbaijani officials defused a bomb placed in a building where Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev was scheduled to speak on 3 February, Interfax reported. Two suspects have been arrested. The same day, Aliyev told a visiting Turkish diplomat that Ankara should do more to pressure Western oil companies into supporting the Baku-Ceyhan route for Caspian basin oil. PG

SPECIAL UNIT FORMED TO GUARD UN WORKERS IN TAJIKISTAN

President Imomali Rakhmonov signed a decree on 3 February creating a special unit to guard UN employees working in Tajikistan, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported. The 120-man unit is comprised of 60 soldiers from the Tajik Defense Ministry and another 60 from the United Tajik Opposition. Last year, bandits frequently kidnapped UN employees and held them for ransom. In the fall, a French woman was killed during a rescue operation. BP

TURKMEN PRESIDENT ADDRESSES PARLIAMENT

Saparmurat Niyazov has told the parliament that the country's agricultural sector needs improving, RFE/RL correspondents in Ashgabat and Interfax reported on 3 February. Last year, only half of the target for grain was met, while cotton production was just 41 percent of the expected total. Niyazov criticized law- enforcement agencies and the military, which, he said, are frequently not "a model of decency." He also announced an amnesty will take place on 19 February, which is both Turkmen Flag Day and Niyazov's birthday, for 7,000 people guilty of minor offenses. RFE/RL correspondents, meanwhile, report that there are plans to send between 4,000 and 5,000 prisoners to a new facility near Karabogaz Lake, close to the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea. That region is an ecological disaster area. BP

GAZPROM PULLS OUT OF TURKMEN-PAKISTANI PIPELINE PROJECT

Interfax reported on 3 February that Russia's Gazprom has sold its stake in the project for a pipeline running from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan. The U.S. company Unocal has bought 7 percent of Gazprom's 10 percent share, while four companies from Japan, Korea, and Pakistan have acquired the remaining 3 percent. BP

RUSSIA COMPLAINS ABOUT UZBEK TV BROADCAST

A recent Uzbek Television broadcast about the meeting of the heads of state from the four-country Customs Union "did not go unnoticed" by Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 February. The agency said that "as a result of political games, several CIS states could easily become dependent on their elder brother" (a reference to Russia). Russia. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov said Moscow regrets that "the television company of a country friendly to us" would air such a report. BP




UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT CALLS FOR BAN ON DAILY TO BE LIFTED

The parliament on 3 February passed a resolution urging the government to allow the daily "Pravda Ukrainy" to resume publishing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 1998), AFP reported. Former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, the leader of the Hromada party (which is strongly supported by "Pravda Ukrainy"), accused the government of exceeding its authority in banning the newspaper and of "rude reprisals" against opposition media. The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists also decried the ban and sent a letter to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 3 February asking him to reverse the decision. PB

GERMAN PRESIDENT PRAISES UKRAINE'S FOREIGN-POLICY ACHIEVEMENTS

Roman Herzog said after talks with Kuchma in Kyiv that Germany fully supports the country's moves toward closer relations with Western European structures, dpa reported on 4 February. Herzog praised Kyiv's charter with NATO, its bilateral treaties with Romania and Russia, and its participation in peacekeeping in the former Yugoslavia. But the German president criticized the slow pace of reforming the economy, which, he said, had resulted in weak foreign investment. Herzog is also to meet with Prime Minister Valery Pustovoitenko and parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz during his three-day visit. PB

SACKED YALTA CITY HEAD DEFIES KUCHMA

Aleksandr Kalyus, who was fired as head of the Yalta city council, and 10 local deputies are refusing to leave the city hall, RFE/RL's Ukrainian service reported on 3 February. Kalyus was sacked for alleged mismanagement in a decree issued by President Kuchma on 29 January. Kuchma said Kalyus was incapable of "reviving economic and political activity in the city and of strengthening the fight against crime." Kalyus was to be replaced by a government official until elections on 31 March. Several hundred Kalyus supporters have gathered at the city hall to protest his ouster as unconstitutional. According to media reports, police had surrounded the building and removed a bomb from the roof. Kalyus said those reports were an attempt to get him and his supporters to evacuate the building. PB

BELARUS SEEKS TO EXPAND TIES WITH IRAN

A Belarusian delegation is in Tehran for the second meeting of the Iranian-Belarusian Commission on Economic Cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 February. The meeting is focusing on broadening bilateral commercial, economic, and scientific ties. The commission met for the first time in Minsk in 1995. "Iran News" reported that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is scheduled to visit Tehran on 6 March. PB

ITALY'S PRODI TO DISCUSS ESTONIAN-RUSSIAN TIES WITH YELTSIN

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has said he plans to discuss the prospects for normalizing Russian-Estonian relations at talks with Russian President Boris Yeltsin in Italy this spring, ETA and Interfax reported. Prodi told Estonian Premier Mart Siimann in Tallinn on 3 February that he would communicate to Yeltsin Estonia's position on improving relations with Russia. Siimann, for his part, admitted there are problems in integrating the country's ethnic minorities but added that "these are Estonia's domestic problems, which the government is dealing with," according to Interfax. JC

LATVIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES AMNESTY BILL

The cabinet on 3 February approved a draft law allowing those sentenced to death to appeal to the president for clemency within 10 days of receiving official notice of the verdict, BNS reported. If the prisoner refuses to lodge such an appeal, the prison administration must draw up a document detailing that refusal. Both an appeal for clemency and a refusal document will delay execution until the president makes a decision, according to that bill. The parliament must now approve the draft. President Guntis Ulmanis has announced a moratorium on the death penalty and said he will not reject any pleas for clemency from death-row inmates. Public opposition to abolishing capital punishment is strong in Latvia. JC

IMF WANTS LITHUANIA TO REDUCE BUDGET DEFICIT

IMF officials told Lithuanian President-elect Valdas Adamkus in Vilnius on 3 February that one of the fund's major goals is to eliminate Lithuania's budget deficit by 1999, BNS reported. Julian Berengaut, director of the IMF's Baltic Division within the Second European Department and Adalbert Knobl, the fund's envoy to Lithuania, expressed concern over the situation of Lithuania's state-owned banks but noted that progress has been made toward strengthening the economy. They also stressed that the arrival of foreign banks in Lithuania would be a positive development. Also on 3 February in the capital, several thousand demonstrators protested increases in local telephone rates and municipal services. JC

POLISH PRIME MINISTER MEETS WITH GERMAN CHANCELLOR

Jerzy Buzek said after talks with Helmut Kohl in Bonn that restructuring within the EU should not delay enlargement, dpa reported on 3 February. Buzek said the chancellor is a "great friend of Poland and a great supporter of our entry into NATO and the EU." Accession talks on joining the EU begin on 31 March. Buzek said he expected "difficult negotiations." He is also scheduled to meet with Bundestag President Rita Suessmuth and Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel. PB

NATO SUPREME COMMANDER MEETS CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER

General Wesley Clark, the supreme commander of NATO forces in Europe, said after his meeting with Czech Defense Minister Michal Lobkowicz on 3 February that he has reason to be optimistic about the integration of the Czech Republic into the alliance, CTK reported. Clark said Czech defense spending is "realistic" and that the Czech soldiers serving in the SFOR mission in Bosnia are "doing a first class job." In related news, President Vaclav Havel on 3 February told Lobkowicz that the parliament's speedy ratification of Czech membership in NATO would be "a good signal" for other countries. He told Lobkowicz, who is also a supporter of speedy ratification, that he would personally participate in a pro-NATO campaign. Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek told journalists that Havel sees "no reason why accession to NATO would require a referendum." MS

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS NATO, EU OFFICIALS

Jaroslav Sedivy on 3 February told NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana in Brussels that he sees no reason why the change of the government in his country would slow down preparations for NATO accession. He said Defense Minister Lobkowicz is even more committed to NATO membership than was his predecessor, CTK reported. Sedivy told journalists after meetings with European Commissioner for Foreign Relations Hans van der Broek and members of the Parliamentary Assembly's Foreign Relations Commission that he has "dissipated apprehensions" that recent Czech political development could slow down Prague's preparations for EU accession negotiations. Meanwhile, commission member Otto von Habsburg said the Czech Republic's admission to the EU is "unacceptable" unless it abolishes the post-World War Two decrees on the expulsion of the German minority. Sedivy replied the decrees are "historical documents" that cannot be "simply removed from history." MS

NO AGREEMENT ON SLOVAK-HUNGARIAN DAM DISPUTE

The two delegations discussing ways of resolving the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros hydropower dam dispute failed on 2 February in Bratislava to reach agreement on issues such as the joint operation of Slovakia's Cunovo dam and Hungary's Dunakiliti complex. Hungarian delegation head Janos Nemcsok said after the meeting that "never has there been such a big difference" between the two sides. A joint statement issued after the talks said progress was made only on environmental and legal issues. The next round of talks will be held in Budapest on 9 February. MSZ




IS YUGOSLAVIA CALLING UP RESERVISTS FOR KOSOVO?

Miodrag Isakov, the president of the opposition Reform Democratic Party of Vojvodina (RDSV), said in Novi Sad on 3 February that the Yugoslav army has recently begun to call up reservists, which, he commented, recalls the mobilization that preceded the 1991 war in Croatia. Isakov added that the young men are being sent to Kosovo but that many of them have gone into hiding or fled the country rather than enlist, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Nenad Canak, the president of the opposition League of Vojvodina Social Democrats, said his party is investigating the RDSV report and is considering organizing public protests and setting up a counseling center for deserters if the charges prove true. Canak added that "we will not die in Kosovo as we died at Vukovar." The fighting in the eastern city was one of the bloodiest campaigns of the 1991 Croatian war. PM

ALBANIAN PRESIDENT WARNS UN OF "SUPER BOSNIA"

Following a meeting with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York on 3 February, Rexhep Meidani said he asked his host "to increase international pressure on the Serbian side to resolve this conflict as soon as possible." Meidani added that the world "must not permit a tremendous explosion in the [Balkan] region, an explosion that will involve not only Albania but all the countries there--Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey." He added that if diplomacy fails, a "second 'super Bosnia' will happen there." PM

IZETBEGOVIC BALKS AT REFUGEE RETURNS

Participants at the international Sarajevo conference on refugee returns adopted a declaration on 3 February saying that at least 20,000 non-Muslims must be allowed to return to the now mainly Muslim city by the end of the year. The declaration also sets a two-week deadline for the Muslim authorities to restore property rights to non-Muslim former residents of Sarajevo. Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, rejected Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic's attempt to attach conditions to the declaration. Izetbegovic argued that if the Muslims must accept returnees, the Serbs must allow refugees to return to Banja Luka and the Croats must permit Serbs to come back to Knin. U.S. envoy Robert Gelbard threatened to cut off financial aid to Sarajevo if property rights are not clarified within two weeks. PM

WESTENDORP ANNOUNCES NEW BOSNIAN FLAG

The international community's Westendorp on 4 February imposed a joint flag on Bosnia following the failure of the joint legislature the previous day to agree on one of three designs. Each design is blue, yellow, and white and contains no national symbols. Local and foreign critics charged that the designs looked more like television test patterns than flags. The new flag will make its international debut at the Nagano Winter Olympics on 7 February. Meanwhile, a spokesman for Westendorp said on 4 February that Bosnian Serb officials agreed to accept 1 million pieces of mail addressed to people in the Republika Srpska. The letters and parcels have been piling up in Sarajevo post offices for the past 22 months. Bosnian Serb hard-liners had refused to accept the mail. PM

U.S. SEEKING "PARAMILITARY" FORCE FOR BOSNIA

The U.S. has proposed to its NATO allies that the peace-keeping force that will replace SFOR in July include a 1,600-strong "paramilitary" force, "Jane's Defense Weekly" reported on 3 February. The contingent will be better armed that the UN-sponsored police force and will specialize in tasks such as crowd control. An unnamed U.S. military official told the magazine that NATO is discussing the proposal. PM

EXPLOSION KILLS ONE IN MOSTAR

A UN spokesman said in Mostar on 4 February that a car bomb killed one Muslim and wounded another the previous evening. The previous day, a UN police spokesman announced that the Croatian police chief in nearby Stolac was replaced following a wave of anti-Muslim violence there. And Mostar's local Croatian television resumed news broadcasts after a two-month hiatus. Officials of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe last fall accused the station's editors of spreading anti-Muslim sentiments. PM

MONTENEGRIN CATHOLICS IN DUBROVNIK

For the first time in seven years, a group of 60 Roman Catholic pilgrims from Kotor visited Dubrovnik on 3 February for a local religious festival, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the port city. PM

OPPOSITION TAKES POWER IN RIJEKA

A representative of the Croatian government formally transferred power in Primorsko-goranska County on 2 February to Milivoje Brozina, the new county chief, who belongs to the opposition Primorsko-goranska League. The transfer marks an end to a two-and-a-half-year fight by the governing Croatian Democratic Community not to accept its loss in the last regional election, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Istria's main city. PM

DOWNSIZING IN CROATIA

Interior Minister Ivan Penic said on 2 February that he intends to reduce the number of employees at his ministry over the next few years from 35,000 to 27,000. He said that, compared with some other European countries, Croatia's police force is far too large relative to the size of the population, "Vjesnik" reported. And in Rijeka, harbor officials announced on 2 February that they have ordered 660 workers to be laid off, saying they are no longer needed because of automation. Some of the workers will go on extended vacation, but others will lose their jobs, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Rijeka. PM

ALBANIAN COURT BACKS LOCAL AUTONOMY

The Constitutional Court on 3 February ruled that prefects have no right to interfere in the appointment of civil servants in cities, towns, or villages, "Koha Jone" reported. The court thereby agreed with Tirana Mayor Albert Brojka, who had challenged an order by former Prime Minister Aleksander Meksi giving prefects the right to appoint local officials. The court ruled that Meksi's order violated the law on local government. FS

ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES 1998 BUDGET

The legislature on 3 February approved the 1998 budget, which aims to reduce the deficit from $337 million or 11.5 percent of GDP in 1997 to $274 million or 8 percent of GDP this year, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported. The budget also seeks to keep inflation at 10 percent and to reduce the share of the national debt from 63 percent to 59 percent of annual GDP. The government said it expects revenues of $586 million or 21.8 percent of GDP (compared with revenues totaling $290 million last year). Some $234 million or 40 percent of those revenues are expected to derive from value- added tax ($110 million in 1997). The expected increase is based on the October 1997 hike in VAT from 12 percent to 20 percent and on the recent streamlining of the customs service. FS

ROMANIAN COALITION LEADERS DRAFT AGREEMENT

Radio Bucharest reported on 4 February that the coalition leaders have reached an agreement on a new protocol but that the "last details" are to be worked out before the end of the day. The protocol provides for establishing a Coalition Political Council, composed of the leaders of the parties participating in the coalition, that will make decisions on government policies. It also provides for a Council of Parliamentary Coordination that will coordinate the activities of coalition parties in the parliament. The protocol does not stipulate, however, that coalition deputies and senators must refrain from either initiating or supporting a motion of no confidence in the government. The Democrats had been opposed to such a provision, but observers say that without it, a new crisis can emerge at any time. MS

RUSSIAN COMPANY TAKES OVER ROMANIAN REFINERY

LUKoil on 3 February bought a 51 percent stake in the state-owned Petrotel refinery, paying some $300 million, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. The Russian oil giant will take over all Petrotel's debts and invest $360 million. It will not lay off personnel. Romania is hoping that the association with LUKoil will result in deliveries of Caspian crude for refining in Romania. Also on 3 February, the presidential office announced that President Emil Constantinescu has received a letter from Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin saying the two countries can greatly expand economic ties and inviting his Romanian counterpart, Victor Ciorbea, to visit Moscow in the spring to discuss the issue. MS

JOINT CONTROL COMMISSION RESUMES ACTIVITIES IN TRANSDNIESTER

The Joint Control Commission, which is overseeing the truce in the security zone of the Transdniester region, has resumed its activities, Infotag and BASA-press reported on 3 February. The commission did not meet during the last two months because the separatists objected to Moldova's appointing police Colonel Vitalie Bruma to the commission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 1998). But the Moldovan side has agreed to suspend Bruma's appointment for the time being and to postpone further talks with commission members over the issue. In other news, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 3 February that the Tiraspol authorities have called on Moldovan citizens in the separatist region to vote in the March elections for Socialist Unity-Edinstvo, which is the only competing party that agrees with the separatists' claim to sovereignty. MS




A FORMULA FOR CHECHEN INDEPENDENCE


by Paul Goble

Advisers close to Russian President Boris Yeltsin are now prepared to recognize the virtual independence of Chechnya. But their willingness to do so is generating a backlash among other Russian officials who advocate the use of force to suppress the Chechens.

Last week, Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin said that Moscow has offered Chechnya sovereignty and independence "based on interdependence with Russia." He described such a status as associate membership in the Russian Federation. He also said it would mean that no Russian troops would be stationed on Chechen territory.

At the same time, Rybkin repeated past Russian statements that Moscow would never agree to the complete independence of Chechnya. And he noted that there are many ways that would enable Moscow to "maintain a small thread" linking the Russian Federation and Chechnya.

But those qualifications were undercut by Rybkin's own suggestion that Chechnya would enjoy a status much like that of Bavaria within Germany. Despite the autonomy that region has in the Federal Republic, Bonn has never committed itself to avoid stationing German troops there- -something Rybkin said Moscow was prepared to do in the case of Chechnya.

The significance of Rybkin's remarks were underscored by Yeltsin's decision last week to form a new interagency task force within the Russian Security Council and to appoint as its head Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ruslan Abdulatipov, who has long advocated that Moscow be more forthcoming in its relations with Chechnya.

Not surprisingly, many both in Chechnya and Russia see all this for what it is: a search for some kind of figleaf that will allow Chechnya to be independent while allowing Moscow to claim that it really is not. The Chechen leadership is thus likely to continue to take a hard line on independence, viewing this latest Russian concession as but one more step toward full recognition of their status.

Indeed, Rybkin himself clearly anticipated such a response and sought to warn Grozny that his proposal was the best they could hope for. He cited unofficial polls showing that most Chechens want to maintain close ties with Russia. And he said he was "alarmed" by what he called a decline in the authority of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov.

But a potentially more serious reaction to this shift in the position of those around Yeltsin came from Russian Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov. In an interview last week, Kulikov said that Chechnya should be declared a "rebel territory in which Russian laws are not observed" and that Moscow should be prepared to renew its military campaign against Grozny.

Such sabre-rattling appeals to many in the Russian parliament and some in the Russian population. But there are both domestic and international reasons suggesting Moscow would be very reluctant to restart the conflict.

Not only is the Russian population unwilling to support any new campaign, but Russian human rights groups have already denounced Kulikov's ideas. And however reluctant foreign governments may be to press Moscow to recognize Chechen independence, they would certainly be opposed to any resumption of the fighting.

Reflecting those considerations, Rybkin himself dismissed Kulikov's proposals as unworkable. He said he was opposed to any use of Russian military force against Chechnya: "Evil leads only to evil, especially when a whole community or a whole nation is punished," he said.

Even more contemptuously, the Russian national security adviser said "many are writing reports like novels without travelling to Chechnya, without having visited it a single time for the past 18 months." That comment was a direct reference to Kulikov. And Rybkin concluded that "these lies should not reach the president's office."

As the Rybkin-Kulikov exchange shows, Moscow remains divided on how to deal with Chechnya. But the Rybkin's words and Abdulatipov's appointment suggest that those closest to Yeltsin are now committed to finding a formula for Chechen independence that gives Moscow a plausible basis to claim it has not in fact granted that status.

It remains unclear whether that commitment will be sufficient to guide Russian policy and whether any such formula will satisfy the Chechen government now or in the future. But the latest statements in the Russian capital suggest that Grozny is closer to achieving its goals than at any time in the past.


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