Accessibility links

Newsline - March 10, 1998




CHERNOMYRDIN SAYS NO MISSILE TECHNOLOGY TO IRAN...

Speaking to reporters in Moscow on 9 March, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said in reference to nuclear weapons technology that "we have not and will not transfer anything to Iran or other countries," ITAR-TASS reported. The same day, Chernomyrdin arrived in Washington. to attend the 10th session of the bilateral Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation. The Russian premier reassured U.S. officials that "we do not overstep any limit where missile technology and nuclear matters are concerned." He added that "Russia borders Iran, so we are aware of all responsibility...in fields like nuclear weapons, missile technology, and missile carriers." In fact, Russia does not border Iran, although the CIS states of Armenia and Azerbaijan do. BP

...HOPES FOR U.S.-RUSSIA SUMMIT THIS YEAR

On arriving in the U.S. capital, Chernomyrdin expressed the hope that the planned summit between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his U.S. counterpart Bill Clinton will take place this year, ITAR-TASS reported. Both Russian and U.S. officials have called for holding the summit only after Russia has ratified the START-2 arms control treaty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 15 January 1998). Chernomyrdin said the government is seeking the State Duma's approval of that treaty. Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin of Yabloko, a supporter of START-2, said after a recent visit to Washington that he sees no reason for "haste" in ratifying the treaty, Russian news agencies reported on 3 March. Lukin noted that both sides are one year ahead of schedule in implementing the START-1 treaty. LB

YELTSIN SAYS HIS HEALTH IS FINE

Yeltsin announced on 10 March that doctors gave him a clean bill of health following routine medical tests five days earlier, Russian news agencies reported. He urged journalists to "close the subject" of his health, adding that he "would have said honestly if something had been left undone" during his November 1996 heart surgery. Journalists have long reported skeptically on official pronouncements concerning Yeltsin's health, which in past years often concealed serious health problems. Some Russian commentators expressed doubt that Yeltsin had suffered from nothing more than a respiratory infection when he spent two weeks in the Barvikha clinic last December--especially after the president canceled a planned trip to India in January. Erroneous statements made by Yeltsin during visits to Italy last month and to Sweden in December also fueled speculation about the president's health. LB

MIKHAILOV RETURNS TO ATOMIC ENERGY MINISTRY

Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin has appointed Viktor Mikhailov first deputy atomic energy minister and chairman of that ministry's scientific council, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 March. Mikhailov was dismissed as atomic energy minister earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 March 1998). Introducing Mikhailov's successor, Yevgenii Adamov, to the ministry's staff on 4 March, Chernomyrdin spoke warmly of Mikhailov's tenure and said "his experience must be preserved." LF

INSPECTION UNDER WAY OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS STOCKPILES

Inspectors from the International Organization for the Prohibition on Chemical Weapons began on 5 March inspecting Soviet-era chemical weapons stockpiles outside the city of Dzerzhinsk, Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast. The weekly "Novaya gazeta" reported in its 2-8 March edition that there are eight sites in Russia where chemical weapons were produced and an estimated 40,000 tons of chemical weapons (compared with 30,000 tons in the U.S.), which are to be destroyed over the next 10 years The weekly writes that destruction of the weapons may prove as dangerous as their use for military purposes. It also points out that "acceptable limits" of toxins from various gases are still being debated. Russia ratified the convention prohibiting chemical weapons late last year and handed over initial reports on stockpiles in January. BP

DUMA SUPPORTS EXTRA PENSION BENEFITS FOR RURAL DOCTORS...

The Duma on 6 March overrode a presidential veto on an amendment to the law on state pensions granting extra pension benefits to doctors who work in rural areas, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Duma First Deputy Speaker Vladimir Ryzhkov of the Our Home Is Russia faction told RFE/RL that the amendment "deceives doctors" by promising them support that cannot be sustained by the Pension Fund. He noted that the Federation Council is far from certain to muster the two-thirds majority needed to override Yeltsin's veto. The Duma has recently criticized the way the government is calculating pensions, but government officials say pension benefits must correspond to the resources available to the Pension Fund (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 27 January 1998). LB

...AND PAY HIKE FOR SOLDIERS

Also on 6 March, the Duma overrode a presidential veto of the law on the status of those in military service, which would raise soldiers' wages and tie such hikes to increases in the minimum wage, ITAR-TASS reported. Aleksandr Kotenkov, Yeltsin's representative in the Duma, said the 1998 budget cannot cover the expenditures foreseen by the law. Government officials including Prime Minister Chernomyrdin have promised to increase soldiers' pay this year, but Kotenkov said those increases would be more modest than the law envisages. Meanwhile, the Duma on 6 March also approved a law on military duty and military service but refused to include an amendment proposed by Yabloko deputy Yelena Mizulina, which would have barred conscripts from being forced to serve in "hot spots." LB

DUMA WANTS LAWS PUBLISHED IN PARLIAMENTARY NEWSPAPER

The Duma on 6 March passed in the first reading amendments to a law on the procedure for publishing federal laws, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. The amendments would transfer the right to publish laws from the official government newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta" to a parliamentary newspaper. The Russian parliament has not had its own newspaper since October 1993, but Yeltsin agreed last October to allow the parliament to found a publication. The 1998 budget calls for 31.4 million rubles ($5.2 million) in funding for "Parlamentskaya gazeta," which is scheduled to begin publishing in September. "Kommersant-Daily" noted that since laws cannot go into effect until after they have been published, Yeltsin benefits from the current arrangement, in which the loyal "Rossiiskaya gazeta" does not publish laws even when Yeltsin has not signed them within the time limit stipulated by the constitution. LB

REALLOCATION OF TOP DUMA POSTS STALLED

Negotiations on reallocating the top Duma committee posts are at an impasse, "Kommersant- Daily" reported on 6 March. Talks on revising the 1996 agreement between the seven Duma factions were set to resume after the Duma approved the 1998 budget (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 1998). The main stumbling block is the Budget Committee, which Russian Regions faction member Aleksandr Zhukov has chaired since Mikhail Zadornov, formerly of Yabloko, became finance minister last November. Yabloko is unwilling to "give up" the chairmanship of that committee without gaining another prominent post. Zhukov has reportedly refused invitations to join either the Yabloko or the Our Home Is Russia factions in order to break the impasse. The government strongly objected to a proposal to divide the Budget Committee into two separate bodies, one chaired by Zhukov and the other by a Yabloko member. LB

LOOPHOLES IN REQUIREMENTS ON INCOME DECLARATIONS

In accordance with revisions to a May 1996 presidential decree, judges and military personnel will not have to submit income and property declarations, "Russkii telegraf" reported on 6 March. All government and presidential administration officials must submit two documents by 1 April: one disclosing 1997 income and all property holdings, the other giving full information about bank accounts and holdings of stocks or other securities. Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov has said the requirements will aid the battle against corruption, but "Russkii telegraf" questioned the legal basis for not requiring army officials to reveal their income and property holdings. The newspaper also noted that as before, officials will only be requested--not required--to declare their relatives' income and property, creating an easy method for hiding assets. Some top officials submitted suspiciously modest declarations last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 1997). LB

GAZPROM-MEDIA PURSUES BROAD POLITICAL AIMS

Sergei Karaganov, board member of the gas monopoly Gazprom's subsidiary Gazprom-Media, says Gazprom will not restrict its political efforts to influencing the next presidential election. In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 5 March, Karaganov said Gazprom-Media was founded in order to "build up [the gas monopoly's] political muscles in accordance with Gazprom's economic might" and to give Gazprom "proper means for influencing politics, regardless of any presidential elections." Gazprom, which has close ties to Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, owns a 30 percent stake in the private network NTV and shares in many regional television stations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 1998). The company is also a major financial backer of the newspapers "Trud" and "Rabochaya tribuna." Karaganov is better known as a foreign-policy specialist who is a prominent member of the non-governmental Council for Foreign and Defense Policy. LB

JUSTICE MINISTRY REGISTERS NEW VETERANS' MOVEMENT

The Justice Ministry has registered Duma deputy Boris Gromov's Brotherhood of Fighters movement, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 March. Gromov, who commanded the last Soviet troops to withdraw from Afghanistan in 1989, founded the movement in order to lobby for changes in government policy toward veterans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 1998). He has said Brotherhood of Fighters will fund the work of a laboratory in Rostov-na-Donu that is trying to identify the bodies of Russian soldiers killed in Chechnya, and will seek the return of soldiers reportedly still held on Chechen territory, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 5 March. The Justice Ministry has to date refused to register the Movement to Support the Army, founded last year by Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin, who is seeking the removal of Yeltsin and the government. LB

WIVES PROTEST WAGES PAID IN VODKA

A group of women whose husbands work for the Preobrazhensk Trawler Fleet in Primorskii Krai have demanded that the company stop paying employees' wages in vodka, Interfax reported on 8 March. In an open letter, the women accused the firm of "deliberately addicting" their husbands to alcohol, while the fishermen's families do not have enough money to buy food. They say company policies have caused an increase in alcohol-related accidental deaths. In recent years, many Russian firms have resorted to paying wages in consumer goods for lack of cash. LB

CHECHEN PRESIDENT IN BAKU, LONDON

Aslan Maskhadov made a stopover in Baku on 9 March on his way to the U.K. In welcoming him, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev praised Chechnya for its role in exporting Caspian basin oil and pledged to increase assistance to Grozny. But the same day, Chechen officials said they may block a pipeline there if Russia continues to violate the peace accords, ITAR-TASS reported. That threat followed an exchange of fire on 9 March in which nine Chechens were killed. Following his arrival in London, Maskhadov attended a dinner hosted by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. PG

NON-TATARS DISCRIMINATED AGAINST IN KAZAN?

The Kazan City Council has ruled that Tatar employees in the culture, education, and transportation sectors are to receive a 15 percent salary increase over those received by non-Tatars on the basis of their knowledge of the republic's two state languages (Tatar and Russian), "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 March. Ethnic Russians are under-represented in the republican government, given their proportion of the population of Tatarstan. LF

INGUSHETIAN POLICE CHIEF ARRESTED IN MOSCOW

Acting Ingushetian Interior Minister Daud Korigov was arrested in Moscow on 3 March on charges of abusing his authority and thwarting the work of the republic's prosecutor-general, Russian media reported. Ingush President Ruslan Aushev said in a televised address on 7 March that he does not believe reports that Korigov is implicated in abductions, according to ITAR- TASS. Aushev said he has asked Korigov to establish contact with Chechen field commanders in an attempt to secure the release of hostages held in Chechnya. The previous day, Aushev described the arrest as a "purely political affair" aimed against himself. LF

RIGA TO OFFICIALLY RESPOND TO MOSCOW OVER PENSIONERS' RALLY

Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrejs Pildegovics said on 9 March that Riga will send a diplomatic note to Moscow over the response by Russian officials to the 3 March pensioners' rally in the Latvian capital, BNS and AFP reported. "Latvia finds unacceptable the tone and manner of Russian statements...about the illegal picket," Pildegovics said. He added that because Russia has "politicized the incident" and "deceived the public," the Latvian Foreign Ministry must comment on those statements. Also on 9 March, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas said his ministry is closely watching the deterioration of Latvian- Russian relations and will make its position known at a later date. And in Tallinn, the United Opposition-- the strongest opposition force in the Estonian parliament--issued a statement criticizing Russia's reaction to the rally and saying that "restoring and maintaining order on its own territory is an internal matter of any country" (see also "End Note"). JC

RUSSIA OUTRAGED OVER TOMB DESECRATION IN LATVIA

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 9 March issued a statement denouncing the desecration the previous day of a tomb of Soviet soldiers in Liepaya, Latvia, Russian news agencies reported. The statement demanded that the perpetrators be punished and charged that the Latvian authorities failed to provide adequate protection for the memorial. It claimed that vandalism is a logical extension of "nationalism, Russophobia, and trampling on human rights" in Latvia. And it accused the Latvian authorities of encouraging "militant nationalism," singling out the breakup of the 3 March pensioners' rally in Riga. LB




ARMENIAN POLICE ARREST FOUR AFTER RALLY MELEE

Police arrested four people on 9 March in connection with their alleged role in the beating of several participants at an election rally staged by presidential candidate Vazgen Manukian the previous day, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe who are currently in Armenia to observe the presidential race there called on Yerevan to vigorously pursue the investigation of those involved. PG

TBILISI CONDEMNS ABKHAZ ELECTION PLANS

In statements issued on 7 and 9 March, respectively, the Georgian parliament and Foreign Ministry have condemned the Abkhaz local elections scheduled for later this week, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. Georgian lawmakers said the election plans demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the CIS peacekeeping force currently deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. The Foreign Ministry said the planned poll is illegal and a "provocation," given that ethnic Georgians who fled during the 1992-1993 war are unable to participate. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT UNDECIDED ABOUT ATTENDING CIS SUMMIT

In his weekly radio address on 9 March, Shevardnadze said he has not yet made a final decision on whether to attend the CIS summit meeting in Moscow on 19-20 March. Noting that the trail of those who attempted to assassinate him last month disappeared in the Russian capital, Shevardnadze suggested he might be subject to another attack if he were to attend. The Georgian president also commented that an upcoming visit by Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev might help resolve the question of Russian military bases in Georgia and thus ease tensions. PG

TAJIK OPPOSITION LEADER TAKES UP GOVERNMENT POST

Khoja Akbar Turajonzoda, the deputy leader of the United Tajik Opposition, has officially taken up his post as first deputy prime minister, RFE/RL correspondents reported on 10 March. Turajonzoda will be responsible for economic and trade relations with other CIS countries. BP




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH SYRIA'S ASSAD

Alyaksandr Lukashenka held talks on 9 March with Syrian President Hafez Assad in Damascus, ITAR-TASS reported. The two leaders discussed, among other things, the development of bilateral relations and the Middle East peace crisis. Accompanying Lukashenka on his three-day visit are the Belarusian parliamentary speaker and the foreign affairs, defense, foreign trade, and industry and agriculture ministers. PB

U.S. RESOLUTION CONDEMNS RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN BELARUS

A 9 March U.S. House of Representatives resolution charges President Lukashenka with establishing authoritarian rule and violating international human rights agreements, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. The resolution calls for Minsk to restore civil rights in Belarus and fully cooperate with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. It also calls on President Bill Clinton to review Belarus's trade status with the U.S. The resolution does not carry the force of law but will be reviewed by the congressional International Relations Committee. PB

EU APPROVES FUNDS FOR CIVIL SOCIETY IN BELARUS

The EU has announced it will donate more than $5 million for a program to develop civil society in Belarus, an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels reported on 6 March. The money will be given to non-governmental organizations, media outlets, and educational institutes. The program is designed to enhance the public's knowledge of democratic issues. It also provides for journalists' training and the setting up of the first Master of Business program in the country. The EU froze talks on a partnership and trade accord with Minsk last year in protest against the government's violation of democratic norms. PB

UKRAINE TO JOIN WORLD SPACE TECHNOLOGY GROUP

Aleksandr Negoda, the head of the Ukrainian Space Agency, said on 9 March that Ukraine will join the Missile Technology Control Regime, dpa reported. He said that move will establish Ukraine as a world leader in producing and exporting space technology. The group coordinates exports among member countries with the goal of preventing the proliferation of missiles capable of carrying warheads. Ukraine inherited one of the largest rocket manufacturing programs in the world when the Soviet Union collapsed. PB

ESTONIAN OPPOSITION PUTS OFF NO CONFIDENCE VOTE

The United Opposition on 9 March decided not to demand that five cabinet ministers resign, ETA reported. The Moderates--one of the four parliamentary factions belonging to the United Opposition--had demanded those resignations last month over what they call the ministers' inefficiency. Toivo Jurgenson, the chairman of the Fatherland Union (another member of the opposition grouping), said the United Opposition will wait for the response of Prime Minister Mart Siimann before it decides whether to call for a vote of no confidence in the ministers. The Moderates have demanded the resignation of Social Affairs Minister Tiiu Aro, Defense Minister Andrus Oovel, Economics Minister Jaak Leimann, Finance Minister Mart Opmann, and Justice Minister Paul Varul. JC

HAVEL, KWASNIEWSKI CALL FOR END TO 'NATIONALIST MADNESS' IN KOSOVO

Czech President Vaclav Havel and his Polish counterpart, Aleksander Kwasniewski, appealed for dialogue to avert further violence in the Kosovo conflict, Reuters reported on 9 March. Kwasniewski and Havel, who is in Poland on a three-day visit, condemned the recent violence and said in a statement that now was the time to prevent the "next escalation of nationalist madness and crime." The two presidents are also discussing their countries' efforts to join NATO and the EU. PB

HAVEL REJECTS NATO REFERENDUM...

Before departing for Warsaw on 9 March, President Havel told journalists that the position of the Social Democrats, who want a referendum to be held on joining NATO, is "entirely unjustified" and "hazardous," CTK reported. Havel said that the "security of our country, the security of future generations cannot become the subject of party political games." Also on 9 March, Defense Minister Michal Lobkowicz said he believes the parliament will ratify the Czech Republic's adherence to NATO before early elections, expected to take place in June. MS

...LOOKS TO POST-ELECTION FUTURE

Havel also said there is "nothing in the constitution" saying that the next premier must be the head of the party that gains the most support in the elections. He said the premier must be a person "on whom the coalition will agree and who can hope to form a government having a majority in the parliament," CTK reported. MS

UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN PRAGUE

Hennady Udovenko and his Czech counterpart, Jaroslav Sedivy, met on 9 March in Prague and discussed economic cooperation between their countries. Udovenko told journalists later that the two states can "fruitfully cooperate in areas such as nuclear power engineering, machine-building, transportation, and space technologies."' He said he is satisfied with the "large trade turnover" of the two countries but worried about the possibility of a Czech decision to re- introduce visa requirements for non-EU citizens. Sedivy said a decision on Ukrainian citizens is "still pending," CTK and ITAR-TASS reported. MS

SLOVAKIA NOT TO REACT TO HAVEL STATEMENT

Josef Kroslak, spokesman for Slovak Premier Vladimir Meciar, said on 9 March that he does not expect the cabinet to officially react to Czech President Vaclav Havel's statement earlier that day expressing concern about the latest steps taken by the Slovak government. Havel had also commented that Slovakia has a "democratic potential" and that he hopes that potential "would prevail." Kroslak told CTK he would have been "immensely surprised" if Havel had said something different. MS

SLOVAK OPPOSITION WIDENS POPULARITY GAP

Total support for the anti-Meciar opposition has grown from 54 percent in October 1997 to 61 percent now, Reuters reported on 7 March, citing a poll by the independent MVK institute. The survey was conducted before the deepening of the country's political crisis, triggered by the decision of the government to annul the plebiscite called by former President Michal Kovac. MS

UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTER IN HUNGARY

Oleksander Kuzmuk told his Hungarian counterpart, Gyorgy Keleti, on 9 March in Budapest that he hopes Ukrainian-Hungarian military cooperation will lead to the setting up of a joint peace-keeping force modeled on the Polish- Ukrainian unit. He also told Keleti that one of the "basic principles" of Ukrainian foreign policy is to join European institutions. In response to a journalist's question, Kuzmuk said Ukraine was the first country in the world to voluntarily renounce nuclear weapons and is therefore entitled to demand that no nuclear weapons be stationed on its neighbors' territory, Hungarian media reported. MS




KOSOVARS WANT AUTOPSIES

Police in Srbica turned over the bodies of 62 Albanians to Kosovar representatives on 9 March. Spokesmen for the families of most of the dead, however, said they will not bury the bodies until international experts perform autopsies. The spokesmen accused the Serbian authorities of demanding immediate burials in order to prevent investigations into an "atrocity." The corpses include the remains of 14 women and 12 children. Some of the bodies were burned beyond recognition or showed signs of mutilation. Kosovar shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova has proclaimed 10 and 11 March days of mourning for those killed by police. Serbian police officials said they will bury the dead in a mass grave on 10 March if their families do not claim the bodies by that afternoon. PM

PRISTINA POLICE TOLD NOT TO BEAT PROTESTERS

A Serbian policeman said in Pristina on 9 March that "we got orders from Belgrade not to beat" the 50,000 or so ethnic Albanians who staged a brief demonstration against "police terror" in the Kosovar capital. The protest was the largest in Pristina in 10 years, RFE/RL reported. Albanian spokesmen said, however, that police broke up demonstrations in Istok, Klina, and Pec. PM

CONTACT GROUP AGREES ON KOSOVO MEASURES

The foreign ministers of the U.S., U.K., Germany, France and Italy, and the deputy foreign minister of Russia agreed in London on 9 March to place an embargo on sales to Yugoslavia of arms and other equipment that could be used to aid repression there. All countries except Russia pledged to deny visas to Serbian officials responsible for the police violence in Kosovo and to impose a moratorium on credit for government-financed exports to Yugoslavia. All participants except Russia also said they will freeze Yugoslav assets abroad unless Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic launches a dialogue with the Kosovars within 10 days, halts action against civilians, withdraws special police units, and allows international representatives into Kosovo. PM

GELBARD EMPTY-HANDED IN BELGRADE

U.S. special envoy Robert Gelbard informed Milosevic on 9 March about the London talks but did not inform reporters of the Yugoslav president's reaction. Gelbard went on to Pristina to meet with ethnic Albanian leaders. In Washington, a White House spokesman said the measures will have a "persuasive effect" on Milosevic. In London, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said that the situation in Kosovo "cannot be tolerated." In Paris, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman called the measures "dynamic" and added that "it was the French approach that prevailed." Meanwhile, several European dailies on 10 March noted that the London package does not include any reference to massive economic sanctions or air strikes, which had prompted Milosevic to end the Bosnian war. PM

BOSNIAN SERB MERCENARIES IN KOSOVO?

At least five busses filled with Serbian "volunteers" have left Doboj in recent days for Kosovo, "Oslobodjenje" reported on 9 March. The men are demobilized Bosnian Serb soldiers who have neither jobs nor prospects of employment in Bosnia. Their pay as mercenaries in Kosovo is $500 a month. The unemployment rate in the Republika Srpska stands at 70 percent. PM

MACEDONIA TO TAKE ACTION AGAINST ALBANIANS

The government will press charges against Republican Party leader Nevzet Halili, Halit Hajdari of the Party of Democratic Prosperity, and Reshat Nagavci of the Albanian Democratic Party, state-run television reported on 9 March. The three are accused of disturbing public order in conjunction with pro-Kosovo rallies held in Tetovo and Skopje the previous week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 1998). Other charges include singing the Albanian national anthem and displaying the Albanian flag in violation of a 1997 law on the display of national symbols. PM

YELTSIN SAYS NO RUSSIAN TROOPS FOR KOSOVO

President Boris Yeltsin said in Moscow on 10 March that "Russia cannot get drawn into a new [military] campaign, this time in Kosovo. There are already enough places where our forces are deployed." He stressed that Russia instead "should be cutting back" on its military commitments abroad. Some NATO foreign ministers recently discussed an expanded role for international peacekeepers in the southern Balkans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 1998). PM

RUSSIA WARNS ALBANIA OVER BORDER DEPLOYMENTS

Russian Ambassador Igor Saprikin presented a note to Foreign Minister Paskal Milo on 9 March expressing Russian concern over unspecified reports on the alleged passage of arms and "terrorist groups" from Albania to Kosovo. The note added that "the deployment of Albanian army formations on the border...could only aggravate the situation." Albania recently strengthened army units in the Kukes area and began preparations to deal with a possible influx of refugees there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 1998). Yugoslav Information Minister Radmila Milentijevic said in Belgrade on 9 March that she has reports that Kosovar "terrorists" are undergoing training in Albania. PM

GUNMEN SHUT DOWN ALBANIAN TRANSMITTER

Unidentified gunmen shot at a television transmitter in an isolated mountainous border region near Kukes on 9 March, cutting off power supplies to the facility, "Shekulli" reported. The transmitter's signal reaches southern Kosovo and three northern districts of Albania. Elsewhere, Albanian border guards in the region opposite the Yugoslav town of Djakovica said unidentified men crossed into Albania from Yugoslavia on 6 March and filmed the border area for some two hours. The guards added that they did not challenge the intruders in an effort to avoid an armed clash. And in Tirana, the leadership of the opposition Democratic Party voted to end the party's boycott of the parliament to show national solidarity in the face of the Kosovo crisis. FS

WAS BOMB TARGETED AT PYRAMID INVESTIGATORS?

A powerful bomb badly damaged the VEVE business center in central Tirana on 7 March and shattered the windows of the nearby National Museum. The VEVE building is owned by ethnic Albanian Croatian businessman Vebi Velia and houses many well-known companies, including Deloitte & Touche, which is investigating the collapsed pyramid schemes. FS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT MEETS DEMOCRATIC PARTY LEADERS

Emil Constantinescu on 9 March told leaders of the Democratic Party that their recent statement on the urgent need to relaunch economic reforms and restructure the economy was "fully acceptable." Democratic leader Petre Roman said the declaration also included the demand that reforms be launched by "another cabinet." Representatives of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania said after meeting with Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea that the party is "unlikely" to support the cabinet's draft budget, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. In other news, three extra- parliamentary parties on 9 March announced that they will merge to form the Romanian National Party, which is to be "centrist neo-liberal." The three formations are the Democratic Agrarian, New Romania, and Christian Liberal Parties. MS

ROMANIAN FORMER SPY CHIEF ON YUGOSLAV EMBARGO

Virgil Magureanu, the former director of the Romanian Intelligence Service, has denied media reports that he said at a 7 March press conference that Nicolae Vacaroiu government's had approved fuel deliveries to Serbia in violation of UN sanctions. But an RFE/RL correspondent who attended the press conference in Oradea has provided RFE/RL's Romanian Service with tapes proving the accuracy of the media reports. Magureanu said that the decision to send 8,000 tons of gasoline and almost 40,000 tons of diesel fuel to Serbia was approved by the Supreme Defense Council, at the time headed by former President Ion Iliescu. He claimed that "international authorities, including the UN," had agreed to the deliveries. MS

LUCINSCHI CLARIFIES STANCE ON RATIFYING TREATY WITH RUSSIA...

The presidential office on 9 March said Petru Lucinschi has never asked Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov to delay State Duma debates on the ratification of the basic treaty signed in 1990, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The office said Primakov had suggested in a message to Lucinschi that before the Duma debates ratification of that treaty, the Moldovan parliament adopt a resolution saying the implementation of the provisions of the basic treaty will take into account the May 1997 memorandum signed with the Transdniester separatists. The office said Lucinschi had replied that the Moldovan parliament's prerogatives have been curtailed by the recent Constitutional Court decision on the upcoming elections. He added that Moldova insists the Duma "unconditionally ratify the treaty." MS

...WANTS TO EXPEDITE REFORM IN VILLAGES

In his weekly address to the nation on 9 March, Lucinschi said it is "high time to end the useless debates about land privatization" and accelerate reforms in the villages, regardless of "strong resistance" encountered in some localities. He repeated that 1998 must be the "year of the peasantry," in which every Moldovan entitled to land ownership must be given the land title. It would be "up to the peasants themselves" to decide "what type of land management suits them best." But the model he recommended was "that of the West", where peasants work their land in "well-equipped peasant associations" rather than work "tiny plots of one to three hectares by themselves." Lucinschi said some 700,000 land titles have already been distributed. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN SOFIA

Andrei Plesu on 9 March said Romania is joining the Bulgarian initiative to issue a joint Balkan declaration on the situation in Kosovo, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. The initiative calls for settling the conflict by peaceful means within Yugoslavia's existing borders, Premier Ivan Kostov said after talks with Plesu that the initiative is also supported by Turkey, Greece, and Macedonia. Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova told journalists that the declaration "does not replace efforts of the international community but it supports such efforts." The two foreign ministers agreed that their countries are "in no way competitors" for NATO membership and that bilateral trade must be increased. MS




PLAYING THE ETHNIC CARD


by Paul Goble

Riga's handling of a demonstration last week and Moscow's response to it are an object lesson in how sensitive certain ethnic issues remain in the region and how quickly they can be exploited for broader political ends.

Last Tuesday, police used batons to disperse a protest march by some 1,000 elderly residents of the Latvian capital against increases utility rate hikes. The Latvian authorities said the protesters lacked a permit and were blocking traffic, and the police insisted that they had not used excessive force.

But because most of the demonstrators were ethnic Russians, their protest and even more the Latvian handling of it immediately set off a political firestorm in Russia. At least some in Moscow now appear to be using the incident to isolate Riga and to pressure Latvia on a broader front.

The day of the demonstration, Russia's ORT television carried footage of the clash between demonstrators and the Latvian police but gave little space to statements by Latvian authorities that the police had acted within the law. That report generated a crescendo of statements and actions by Russian officials. On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov denounced Latvia's handling of the protest as a "flagrant violation of human rights."

On Thursday, Russian President Boris Yeltsin's spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii described the Latvian action as a "blatant violation of elementary human rights," saying there "can be no talk" now about setting a date for a meeting between Yeltsin and Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis.

Also on Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov called for international pressure on Latvia to change its approach to ethnic Russians more generally. And some 60 people gathered in front of the Latvian embassy in Moscow to protest Riga's policy.

On Friday, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said he was "indignant" at Latvia's behavior, for which, he said, there could be "no justification." The Russian Duma called on Yeltsin to take firm steps, including economic sanctions and political reprisals, to force Riga to change its policies.

And finally on Saturday, Yastrzhembskii told Ekho Moskvy that Yeltsin's advisers now favor imposing economic sanctions on Latvia, thus setting the stage for a further escalation of the crisis.

Throughout the week, Latvian officials repeatedly denied that the police had acted illegally and suggested that the Russian authorities were responding on the basis of insufficient information.

To give but one example, Latvian Prime Minister Guntars Krasts on Saturday repeated that the police had acted "very correctly" and that they had not violated anyone's human rights.

Regardless of what happens next in this crisis, the events of the past week yield three conclusions.

First, relations between Russia and the Baltic States remain far more finely balanced than many on either side had believed. A single incident can suffice to shift that balance.

Prior to the events of last Tuesday, relations between Russia and Latvia in fact had been on the upswing. As recently as 19 February, a Latvian government spokesman said Yeltsin had sent Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis a letter that was characterized as "hopeful and positive" about relations between the two countries.

Second, many in the Russian government believe that they can play the ethnic card against Latvia and its neighbor Estonia because neither country gave automatic citizenship to all residents at the time that they recovered independence. Instead, both countries required a naturalization process for all those who moved onto their territories while they were under Soviet occupation. Although consistent with international law, as any number of authorities have concluded, their decision to do so has offended many in Russia and has on occasion left them vulnerable to criticism from abroad.

Indeed, since 1992, Moscow has routinely sought to enlist Western support against these two states on this issue and, failing that, to isolate Latvia and Estonia from their Western partners by appealing to human rights concerns among Western populations.

And third, and perhaps most disturbing, at least some in the Russian government appear to be willing to exploit such situations to generate support for themselves. Given recent polls suggesting that many Russians dislike, or are indifferent to, the current Russian government, some officials there may have concluded that the exacerbation of relations between Moscow and its neighbors could serve their personal interests.

To the extent that some in the Russian capital have indeed reached that conclusion, protests from Moscow over the status and treatment of ethnic Russians outside the Russian Federation may soon be directed at other countries as well.


XS
SM
MD
LG