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Newsline - February 12, 1998


The Foreign Ministry has denied allegations in the "Washington Post" on 12 February that Russia has sold to Iraq equipment that could be used for producing biological weapons, Interfax reported. "Ministry sources" are quoted as saying that the Russian government has concluded no agreements with Iraq and that there have been no deliveries. The sources added this is "another attempt to shift the blame from the guilty to the innocent." The "Washington Post" reported that Russia signed a contract to deliver a 5,000-liter fermentation vat that is ostensibly for manufacturing animal feed but has the potential to produce biological weapons. BP


The Russian airplane carrying State Duma deputies and humanitarian aid finally landed in Baghdad on 11 February. On board were 12 tons of food and medical aid as well as seven Duma deputies, 15 journalists, and personnel to unload the cargo. Before the plane's departure from Yerevan, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, attempted to bring more than the 30 people approved by the Duma on to the airplane. Russian Ambassador to Armenia Andrei Urnov intervened, and a heated discussion broke out. Urnov denied, however, that Zhirinovsky hit him in the face, as some media reported. According to other reports, Zhirinovsky threw around drinking glasses in the airport lobby. BP


William Cohen, who arrived in Moscow on 12 February, said his visit is not aimed at persuading the Russians "to come around to the U.S. position" on the Iraqi situation. Cohen said that his focus is the reduction of nuclear arms but that "if Iraq comes up, I will certainly make our position as clear as possible." BP


The Russian gas monopoly Gazprom and the leading Italian energy producer ENI on 11 February signed a preliminary agreement on forming a "strategic alliance" to search for oil and gas, an RFE/RL correspondent in Rome reported. The agreement is estimated to be worth more than $3 billion. In addition, ENI is expected to acquire a 3 percent stake in the Russian gas monopoly. (Total foreign ownership of Gazprom shares is limited to 9 percent.) The Gazprom-ENI agreement was the largest among more than a dozen business deals signed on the last day of President Boris Yeltsin's visit to Italy. Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev recently announced plans for a three-way alliance between Gazprom, ENI, and Royal Dutch Shell, but a representative from ENI told journalists on 11 February that the deal signed in Rome was strictly a bilateral agreement. LB


Also on 11 February, final documents were signed on an $850 million joint venture between the Russian car manufacturer GAZ and the Italian firm Fiat, RFE/RL's correspondent in Rome reported. The project will involve the assembly of 150,000 Fiat cars annually at a GAZ plant in Nizhnii Novgorod and is expected to create thousands of jobs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 1997). The Fiat- GAZ deal is among several projects involving Russian and foreign automobile companies that will qualify for tax breaks under a 5 February presidential decree. That decree applies to projects involving at least $250 million in investment in the Russian automobile industry and in which the share of Russian parts increases to at least 50 percent within five years. LB


Addressing a group of Italian business leaders on 11 February, Yeltsin pledged to create "the most favorable conditions" for Italian businesses in Russia, Russian news agencies reported. The president also hailed the decision of a consortium of Italian banks to open a new $260-million line of credit to Russia. Russian officials have expressed the hope that following Yeltsin's Rome visit, annual trade turnover between Russia and Italy will increase from $6 billion to $9 billion, RFE/RL's correspondent in Rome reported. LB


First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov says it is "dangerous" when a handful of large companies make up a large share of a country's GDP. In an interview published in "Russkii telegraf" on 11 February, Nemtsov argued that the recent financial crisis in Southeast Asia occurred because those countries developed "oligarchic" economic systems, in which large financial-industrial groups had close ties to the government. He argued against concentrating resources in a few large Russian corporations, which, he said, currently account for too great a proportion of GDP. During the last six months, Nemtsov has repeatedly pledged that the government will enforce a level playing field for all companies. He has also accused former Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii of trying to use his government contacts to enrich himself and his LogoVAZ business empire. LB


In the same interview, Nemtsov claimed that Yeltsin "understands that Russia will never tolerate the arrogance of the super- wealthy." He added that the president has increasingly recognized the "danger of excessive closeness between business and the authorities" since bankers "violated" an agreement reached with the president last fall. (In September 1997, Yeltsin summoned six top bankers to the Kremlin and urged them to stop "slinging mud" at one another and at government ministers.) Nemtsov also denied that the recent redistribution of duties within the government had reduced his authority or that of First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 19 January 1998). Oneksimbank fully owns "Russkii telegraf," which has provided favorable coverage of Nemtsov and Chubais since it began publication last September. LB


First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais has sent a letter to Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev requesting that the 1998 budget be amended to include an additional 500 million rubles ($83 million) in spending for safety measures in the coal industry, Russian news agencies reported on 11 February. The Duma rejected such an amendment while debating the budget in the third reading, according to "Segodnya" on 10 February. Chubais wants the Duma to cut other unspecified spending programs in order to provide extra funds for the coal industry while not increasing total planned 1998 expenditures. According to data compiled by the Miners of Russia association, 277 coal miners died in 1997, up from 174 the previous year. Since the beginning of 1998, accidents have claimed the lives of more than 40 miners. LB


Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov on 11 February said he thinks Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has "no prospect" of winning the next presidential election, Interfax reported. Zyuganov argued that the government will not change its policies before the next election and that the premier will not be helped by an endorsement from German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, whom Zyuganov characterized as Chernomyrdin's "midwife." Zyuganov was the leading challenger to Yeltsin in the 1996 presidential election and is considered the Communist Party's likely nominee in the next election as well. Some politicians, including Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, and media sympathetic to First Deputy Prime Minister Chubais have long alleged that Zyuganov and Chernomyrdin have a secret alliance. LB


The Moscow Arbitration Court on 11 February upheld a lawsuit brought by the private network NTV against the State Anti- Monopoly Committee, ITAR-TASS reported. Last December, the committee instructed the Communications Ministry to charge NTV commercial rates for using state-owned transmission facilities. Those rates would have more than doubled transmissions costs for the company, which since January 1996 had been charged government rates for transmission services. NTV's court case was likely bolstered by a recent presidential decree adding the network to the list of "all-Russian television and radio broadcasting organizations" and ordering the government to treat all such organizations equally (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 1998). NTV is 70 percent owned by Vladimir Gusinkii's Media-Most company and 30 percent owned by Gazprom. LB


Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov has denied that he and Yeltsin hold different views on military reform, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 12 February. Kulikov accused journalists of misinterpreting statements he made at a recent meeting of the Academy of Military Sciences (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 1998). Kulikov said that "as a military man, I fully share the ideas of the commander-in-chief on reforming the Russian army." He added that "certain forces" try to "distort" politicians' statements in order to discredit them in the eyes of society and their colleagues in the government. LB


The headquarters of the Airborne Troops on 11 February confirmed that retired Colonel Pavel Popovskikh has been detained on suspicion that he participated in the October 1994 murder of journalist Dmitrii Kholodov, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, the opposition newspaper "Pravda-5" argued on 11 February that Popovskikh, who formerly headed the intelligence department of the Airborne Troops, had nothing to do with Kholodov's murder. The newspaper charged that Popovskikh was arrested in order to deflect attention from those responsible for the crime. LB


Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed on 11 February notified the Krasnoyarsk Krai Electoral Commission that he plans to run for governor of the region in April, ITAR-TASS reported. Of the 16 candidates who have announced their intention to run, Lebed is considered the only serious challenger to the incumbent, Valerii Zubov. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 12 February, the Sayanogorsk aluminum factory in the neighboring Republic of Khakassia has founded a television station to broadcast to Krasnoyarsk during the gubernatorial campaign. Lebed's younger brother, Aleksei, is the top official in Khakassia. The Communist electorate in Krasnoyarsk is likely to be divided between two candidates: Duma deputy Valerii Sergienko, and Duma deputy Petr Romanov, former director of a chemical factory in the krai. The Moscow leadership of the Communist Party is backing Romanov. LB


Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 11 February, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov proposed the adoption of a law on the temporary status of Chechnya. That legislation, he said, would regulate the administrative borders between Chechnya and the rest of the Russian Federation and the interaction between federal and republican authorities, ITAR-TASS reported. Abdulatipov argued that such a law would expedite the financing of Chechnya's economic reconstruction, noting that no funds have been allocated for Chechnya from the1998 state budget. In Grozny, Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov again rejected Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin's offer of maximum autonomy for Chechnya as an associate member of the Russian Federation. "A chain remains a chain, however long," Udugov commented. LF


Addressing the State Council on 11 February, Mintimer Shaimiev announced the sacking of State Radio and Television Chairman Nail Khusutdinov, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported . Shaimiev said he was outraged that state television coverage of his address to the State Council the previous day had omitted remarks criticizing the government in general and the industry department and economics ministry in particular. LF


Georgian Defense Minister Vardiko Nadibaidze told journalists in Tbilisi on 11 February that Russian military officials have agreed to allow Georgian border guards to monitor all flights to and from Russia's military base at Vaziani, near Tbilisi. Some Georgian parliamentary deputies believe President Eduard Shevardnadze's attackers used that facility as a base. Russia has also tightened security measures at its frontier posts with Georgia. The U.S. has offered to send a team of experts to help in the investigation of the failed 9 February attack on Shevardnadze's motorcade. Two days later, on 11 February, Georgian police found the car and weapons used in the assault. The same day, Georgian Prosecutor-General Djamlet Babilashvili said he will again demand that Moscow extradite former Georgian Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, who is suspected of master-minding the failed attempt on Shevardnadze's life in August 1995. LF


Turkish Minister of State Ahat Andican has expressed concern that instability in the Transcaucasus following the assassination attempt against President Shevardnadze may adversely impact on plans to build a Baku-Ceyhan pipeline for the export of Azerbaijani, Kazakh, and Turkmen Caspian oil, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 12 February. "Russkii telegraf" had reported the previous day that the Azerbaijani International Operating Committee may fail to meet its fall 1998 deadline for deciding whether to proceed with that project. Andican also said that the 3 February resignation of Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan will lead to a deterioration in Turkish-Armenian relations. He charged that "radicals headed by Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan do not want the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict solved. These are not favorable developments for Turkey and Azerbaijan." LF


Sergei Badalian, who polled 6.34 percent of the vote in the 1996 Armenian presidential elections, has unveiled his program for the 16 March poll, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 11 February. Badalian affirmed that, if elected, his first move will be to commit Armenia to membership of the Russia-Belarus union., which, he said, would help resolve the Karabakh conflict. Badalian also pledged to restore local soviets, halt privatization, and amend the constitution to curtail the power of the president and increase that of the parliament. Meeting on 11 February with members of the Fatherland parliamentary faction, Prime Minister and acting President Kocharyan called for the adoption of a new election law and of a statute differentiating between the status of a politician and that of a state official, Noyan Tapan reported. LF


A private serving with an Armenian military unit at Armavir, 30 kilometers west of Yerevan, shot dead five sleeping servicemen and an officer in the early morning of 11 February, Noyan Tapan reported. The private then fled the barracks. His body was found in Yerevan the next day, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian told journalists that the killer had evaded military service for two years before he was drafted in late 1996. LF


Mass media representatives protested to President Heidar Aliyev on 11 February over the assault the previous day on a journalist from the private ANS TV company, Turan reported. The local administrator of Binagadi district had beaten up journalist Eldaniz Aliev, who was investigating complaints by displaced persons living temporarily in the district. LF


At their 11 February meeting, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri agreed on the ministries that are to be handed over to UTO representatives, RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe reported. The peace agreement signed last year provided for 30 percent of all posts to be allocated to the UTO. Representatives of the UTO will become ministers of economics (Davlat Usmon), labor and employment (Khudaberdy Kholiknazarov), water resources and land improvement (Davlatbek Makhsudov), and the head of the customs committee (Rahim Karimov). BP


The French company Schlumberger has signed a long-term contract with Turkmenistan's national oil company, Turkmenneft, Interfax and AFP reported on 11 February. Schlumberger will service wells and provide equipment for three fields in western Turkmenistan. No details have been released on the total value of the contract. BP


The delay in the construction of two new nuclear reactors may force Ukraine to keep Chornobyl open after 2000, an RFE/RL correspondent in Kyiv reported on 11 February. Environment Minister Yury Kostenko said that if the reactors at the Rivne and Khmelnytsky nuclear power plants are not completed on time, Chornobyl will have to remain open. Kyiv is negotiating with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to secure a loan that would allow it to complete the new reactors, but probably not before 2001. President Leonid Kuchma has pledged to close Chornobyl by 2000. The one functional reactor at Chornobyl is currently undergoing repairs and is scheduled to go on line again by March. PB


Nationalists shouted slogans and threw potatoes at Communist chief Petro Symonenko as he campaigned in the western city of Lviv on 11 February. Police encircled the building where Symonenko was meeting with journalists. The Communist Party has the largest faction in the parliament, with about one-sixth of the 450 seats. But its support is concentrated mainly in eastern Ukraine. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for 31 March. PB


The editor in chief of the weekly "Imya" has been fined 200,000 rubles ($7) for slapping a senior investigator, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 11 February. Irina Khalip filed charges against the police after she was allegedly beaten at a demonstration in August. When senior investigator Valentin Maharil told her that the police were justified in their actions, she slapped him. Maharil then filed charges against her. Khalip said she will continue "to struggle for justice" until the police officers who beat her are punished. PB


Hanspank and Hoiupank, Estonia's largest and third-largest commercial banks, have broken off talks on their planned merger, ETA and BNS reported on 11 February. The two sides are reported to have felt that more time is needed to solve questions related to the merger. They stressed, however, that they have not abandoned their merger plans, which were announced last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 1998). An independent committee, headed by a former employee of both Hanspank and Hoiupank and composed of shareholders and management representatives from the two banks, will examine ways of carrying out the merger. JC


Guntis Ulmanis on 11 February rejected amendments to the labor code allowing the dismissal of employees whose knowledge of the Latvian language is deemed insufficient (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 1998), BNS and Reuters reported. The president's office issued a statement saying Ulmanis has asked the parliament to reconsider the legislation because it is unclear what levels of Latvian language proficiency are required by certain jobs. He also called on lawmakers to draw up a language law that would protect the Latvian language and help "form a harmonious civil society." Earlier this week, several Russian-language dailies published an open letter to Ulmanis urging him to veto the controversial labor code amendments. And on 11 February, Russian State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev told journalists in Moscow he hoped that Ulmanis would reject the amendments, which he called an "ugly step that constitutes discrimination against [Latvia's] Russian- speaking population." JC


The Interior Ministry on 11 February said it will introduce a simpler visa system on its eastern border. Russia and Belarus have voiced their displeasure with the tougher visa regulations, instituted last month, and Polish traders have complained of fewer goods and customers at outdoor markets. The new regulations required visitors to Poland to have an official invitation or hotel reservation and to purchase a visa costing the equivalent of some $20. Under the revised rules, multiple-entry visas will be offered at approximately half that price. The EU has been pressuring Poland to tighten security on its eastern border. PB


The Solidarity trade union has issued an appeal to the government to move quicker on the reforms promised when the center-right coalition was elected last year, Reuters reported on 11 February. Solidarity spokesman Jozef Pulkowski said a six-point letter was sent to Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek asking him to "urgently" hold meetings to discuss implementing the coalition agreement. Solidarity is seeking passage of pro-family legislation, a new large- scale privatization program, and a reform of the pension and health-care systems. Leszek Miller, head of the Democratic Left Alliance, criticized the government as well, saying the first 100 days of the coalition have seen only "loud words and feeble deeds." PB


Opening the debate in the Chamber of Deputies on a bill to ratify Czech membership in NATO, Prime Minister Josef Tosovsky and Defense Minister Michal Lobkowicz both stressed the historic significance of joining the alliance, CTK and AFP reported. Milos Zeman, the leader of the main opposition Social Democratic Party, said he "unequivocally" supports NATO membership but argued that the next parliament, to be elected later this year, must pass a bill providing for a referendum on entry to the alliance. Zeman said he is sure that such a referendum would show large support for adherence, as was the case in Hungary. He added that " I do not think the Czech nation is less intelligent than the Hungarian nation." The debate is expected to last several weeks. MS


Czech Justice Minister Vlasta Parkanova on 11 February signed documents providing for the extradition to Germany of Michal Kovac Jr., CTK and AFP reported. Kovac Jr. was extradited the following day. An international warrant has been issued for the arrest of Kovac Jr., who is suspected of involvement in the fictitious sale of textiles worth $2.3 million to a Slovak company in 1991. He was charged in Germany on the basis of evidence given by a Slovak residing in Germany, who was convicted in 1992 for his involvement in the affair. MS


Independent Smallholders and Christian Democratic candidates will support one another in the second round of the May general elections, party chairmen Jozsef Torgyan and Gyorgy Giczy agreed on 11 February. Contrary to earlier plans, the two parties will not field joint candidates, but the weaker of the two parties' candidates will withdraw in favor of the other in the second ballot. The two chairmen also agreed to form a government together if they are successful in the elections. In other news, Hungary's media magnate Janos Fenyo was shot dead in his car on a busy street in Budapest on 11 February. MSZ


Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic told an international arbitration hearing in Vienna on 11 February that if the strategically important town of Brcko "is not given to the [Bosnian] Serb Republic, any other solution will mean the division of the republic and a violation of the Dayton agreement." Plavsic warned against allowing the re-unification of Bosnia, saying it is in the interest neither of the Bosnian Serbs nor of peace, SRNA reported. "We can communicate on the basis of our being separated, but if everyone returns to his home and if the inter-entity boundary lines disappear, one might ask why so many victims and why recreate a situation that will lead us to war in a year or two". The 1995 Dayton peace treaty left the territorial status of Brcko to be decided through international arbitration. After a one-year break, hearings resumed last week. U.S. arbiter Roberts Owen, who is presiding over the hearings, is expected to deliver a final ruling on Brcko by 15 March. JN


Alija Izetbegovic, Haris Silajdzic, Ibrahim Spahic, and Rasim Kadic, chairmen of the political parties belonging to the Coalition for a Single and Democratic Bosnia-Herzegovina, met in Sarajevo on 11 February to discuss Brcko. They warned that if the arbiter ignores the principles of the Dayton agreement and allocates Brcko to the Republika Srpska, the Muslim deputies in the Bosnian Serb parliament, who mainly represent Muslim refugees, will withdraw their support for Milorad Dodik's government, Sarajevo TV reported. JN


Bosnia's Joint Permanent Military Committee on 11 February announced that an amnesty for those in possession of land mines and combat equipment will begin on 19 February, Sarajevo radio reported. The committee meeting, the third ever, was attended by all members of the Bosnian Presidency, the defense ministers from both entities, and the commanders in chief of the armies of the federation and the Republika Srpska. Representatives of the Office of the High Representative, NATO's Stabilization Force (SFOR), and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were present as observers. Participants also agreed on the basic principles for establishing locations and personnel at joint military missions abroad and agreed to announce in March the holders of those posts. JN


At a news conference in Novi Sad on 11 February, the leaders of the regional political coalition Vojvodina, Nenad Canak and Miodrag Isakov, accused military authorities in Belgrade of illegally mobilizing reservists in the province of Vojvodina with the assistance of local police. Canak told reporters he has "irrefutable evidence" that the mobilization is under way and that members of "special" units, tank units, and military police are being called up, "Nasa Borba" reported on 12 February. He said that for troops to be mobilized, the country would have to face a military threat, which, he said, is not the case. Canak said the number of Vojvodina's reservists who were killed during the siege of Vukovar or in the fighting in Bosnia is still not known. He does not want a repetition of such bloodshed in Kosovo, he stressed. JN


Bosnian Foreign Minister Jadranko Prlic received an official note from the federal Yugoslav government rejecting the establishment of diplomatic relations between Belgrade and Sarajevo until further notice, Sarajevo's "Vecernje Novine" reported on 11 February. The newspaper quotes the note as saying Belgrade does not intend to open diplomatic relations with Sarajevo until charges of genocide brought by Bosnia-Herzegovina against Yugoslavia before the Hague Tribunal are dropped. JN


The leaderships of the two major ethnic Albanian political parties in Kosovo, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) and the Parliamentary Party of Kosovo (PPK), met in Pristina on 10 February, "Koha Ditore" reported. The participants discussed ways of coordinating activities in the face of increasing repression by Belgrade against the Kosovars. JN


Bozidar Vukcevic has ordered an investigation of former President Momir Bulatovic and three of his close associates for committing "a criminal act by attacking the constitutional structure" of the state. The Prosecutor-General's Office said on 11 February that the investigation focuses on last month's riots, in which some 50 people, mostly police, were injured. Also under investigation are Bulatovic's allies Bozidar Bojovic, Slobodan Vujosevic and Zoran Zizic, all members of parliament. The prosecutor wants the Montenegrin and Yugoslav assemblies to revoke the parliamentary immunity of those deputies. JN


Some 51 percent of respondents are against establishing U.S. military bases in Croatia, according to a poll published in "Vecernji list" on 10 February. Some 31 percent are in favor of the proposed military facilities, while 17 percent are undecided. A plurality of respondents nonetheless said that they have a basically positive view of Americans and feel that the bases would have a positive effect on Croatian political life. After his recent visit to the U.S., Defense Minister Gojko Susak said that U.S. General Wesley Clark, the supreme allied commander in Europe, asked permission to station U.S. servicemen in Croatia in order to back up their colleagues in Bosnia. Susak mentioned Zadar and Slavonski Brod as possible sites for bases. The Croatian government wants to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program and eventually the alliance itself. PM


During a visit to the southern city of Gjirokaster on 10 February, Sabit Brokaj said the presence of a Greek military unit in Tirana is lawful and based on agreements between Athens and Tirana, ANA reported on 11 February. Brokaj made the remark in response to opposition party criticism of the Greek military presence in Albania. Accompanied by the Greek consul and the U.S. military attache, he attended the inauguration of reconstructed installations of the Liaberia army division in Gjirokaster, destroyed during the unrest one year ago. JN


A Foreign Ministry spokesman on 11 February said he could "neither confirm nor deny" that the U.S. has asked Romania to participate in preparations for a possible military intervention in Iraq. Mihnea Motoc said Romania and the U.S. are "closely consulting" within their "strategic partnership." He said he could only repeat a statement made last week by the ministry saying that Romania shares the "preoccupation of the international community concerning the danger of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction" and that the "only means leading to lifting the sanctions imposed on Iraq is the full and unconditional implementation by the Iraqi government of the UN Security Council resolutions," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS


Corneliu Vadim Tudor, leader of Greater Romania Party (PRM), and Cluj mayor Gheorghe Funar, who heads a dissenting wing of the Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR), on 11 February signed a protocol that they called the "first step on the road to setting up the Great Alliance for the Resurrection of the Fatherland." The protocol, which is open to the signatures of other formations, envisages joint actions toward bringing about the dismissal of Victor Ciorbea's government, setting up a "government of national unity," outlawing the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania, and "stopping the pillaging of national assets and the national economy," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS


The IMF will not disburse the next tranche of a $185 million standby loan to Moldova, approved in 1996, until after the 22 March parliamentary elections. The fund's chief representative in Moldova, Mark Horton, told Infotag on 11 February that the IMF wants to hold discussions with the next Moldovan government before deciding whether to release the next tranche. An IMF mission has been meeting with Moldovan officials for the last two weeks and will present its findings on Moldova's economic development to a fund board meeting on 18 March. Only three tranches of the loan, totaling some $52 million, have been disbursed so far; the latest was released last July. The IMF postponed several tranches owing to the country's unsatisfactory economic performance. MS


Fourteen political parties and blocs have registered for the 22 March elections, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 11 February, the last day for registering. Twenty-four independent candidates have also registered. The parliament is to decide whether to amend the electoral law to lower the threshold for independents to gain representation from 4 percent to 1 percent. MS


Petar Stoyanov told journalists in Washington on 11 February that he hopes Iraq will comply with UN resolutions and that force will not have to be applied. At the same time, he said, he understands the increasing feeling that the Iraqis will have to be forced into compliance. Stoyanov said Bulgaria has economic reasons to want the UN sanctions against Iraq lifted. Baghdad owes Sofia $2 billion and Bulgaria "badly needs" that money for its reforms, he commented. He said that the combined amount owed by Baghdad and the former Yugoslavia as a result of the UN-imposed sanctions is "more than equal" to Bulgaria's entire foreign debt, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. MS


Following the 9 February decision to ban a satirical television show, the government is being accused of censorship, AFP reported. One day earlier, the show had poked fun at the election of Stoyanov's brother to the board of the national television, while Prime Minister Ivan Kostov was compared to a petty crook and Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova was portrayed as a stripper. Dimitar Koroudjiev, a member of the National Broadcasting Council, explained in an interview with "Trud" that there is a "limit beyond which democracy must defend itself." He said the program had provoked "chaos and hatred" and sought to incite the population against a "government that is fighting to get out of a crisis." MS


by Floriana Fossato

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov was sworn in one year ago, on 12 February 1997. His victory raised hopes that relations between Moscow and the separatist North Caucasus republic would significantly improve following some 20 months of bloody military conflict. However, one year later, Chechen and Moscow officials are growing increasingly impatient with the lack of progress in their talks.

Earlier this week, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ruslan Abdulatipov said Moscow and Grozny are now beginning "real work" to overcome the tragedy of the war, but he added that there are powerful forces in both Moscow and Grozny opposed to any peace agreement.

Abdulatipov said the first meeting of the Russian Security Council inter-ministerial commission on Chechnya would focus on guaranteeing security along the Chechen- Russian border. Chechen border guards officials have said the republic is reinforcing its borders with neighboring Russian regions, particularly Dagestan. Chechen officials were not expected to take part in that meeting.

Abdulatipov also said Moscow and Grozny should work out together a "double compromise" on the status of Chechnya, but he did not elaborate.

A cease-fire agreement in 1996 and a peace treaty signed last year left the republic's status undecided. Since the withdrawal of Russian troops in late 1996, Chechnya has considered itself independent, but Moscow insists that the republic is--and will remain--part of the Russian Federation.

Maskhadov last week recalled all Chechen ministers and agency heads from Moscow and banned all flights from Grozny to the Russian capital. He accused the Kremlin of failing to meet its commitments under the peace accord that he and President Boris Yeltsin signed last May, which included agreements on customs and on direct international flights from Grozny.

Maskhadov also said his government might be "obliged to review whether to go on safeguarding" the 150 kilometers of pipeline delivering oil from the Caspian Sea to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiisk "if Russia does not honor its commitments under the 1996 Khasavyurt accord and other agreements." More than 400 armed Chechens have guarded the pipeline since November, when oil started flowing.

Chechen Information Minister Akhmed Zakayev has complained that the only agreement implemented by Moscow last year was on oil transit across Chechnya. He added that the agreement was implemented only because it was "advantageous for Russia."

The oil-transit agreement expired at the end of last year and, according to Russian reports, a new one has still to be worked out. The daily "Russkii Telegraf" on 10 February quoted unnamed Russian oil officials as saying negotiations between Moscow and Grozny at the beginning of the year yielded no results and a date for new negotiations has yet to be set.

The problem lies in determining the oil-transit fee. So- called early oil, or limited production capacity, from the Caspian started flowing on 12 November. Under the interim transit deal, a tariff of 43 cents a ton was established. Chechnya had demanded more than $2 a ton. Moscow insisted that 43 cents per ton is the normal transit fee for oil sent by pipeline across Russia. It thereby ignored Chechnya's request to be treated as an independent partner in the deal, instead of one of the 89 "subjects" of the Russian Federation. "Russkii Telegraf" quoted the new head of Chechnya's oil sector, Shirvani Basaev, as saying Chechnya expects oil to start flowing again at a tariff of more than $4 a ton.

Economic and political issues are closely linked in the strained relationship between Moscow and Grozny. Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov has said Chechnya's leadership "will be forced to take decisive steps if there is no breakthrough in the negotiating process in the near future." He has also insisted that a Moscow-Grozny treaty making clear Chechnya's status must be concluded this year. According to Udugov, if Moscow and Grozny do not sign such a treaty in 1998, "we will not be allowed to do so in 1999," when parliamentary elections are scheduled in Russia. Russian presidential elections are due to take place in the year 2000.

The failed assassination attempt against Georgia's President Eduard Shevardnadze on 9 February seems likely further to strain Moscow-Grozny relations.

Udugov reacted angrily at initial reports that one of the attackers was an ethnic Chechen from Dagestan. He blamed the attack on Russian secret services, which, he claimed, wanted to isolate Chechnya and damage its relations with Georgia. Udugov said he does not rule out that the assassination attempt was linked to plans to transit Caspian oil through Georgian territory, a route established as an alternative to the Chechen one. According to Udugov, forces behind the attack "are trying to prove to the world that the Caucasus is an unstable region and that the security of pipelines cannot be assured."

Like Shevardnadze and other Georgian officials, Udugov noted that "it is unlikely a terrorist taking part in such an operation would carry identification papers with him." Udugov said it seemed more likely that the slain attacker was killed by his comrades and the passport planted on his body.

No Russian reaction has followed Udugov's comments. The press secretary of Russia's Security Council, Igor Ignatev, declined comment in a telephone interview with RFE/RL. But he did say that harsh rhetoric does not help to create an atmosphere conducive for negotiations. The author is a Moscow-based RFE/RL correspondent.