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Newsline - April 10, 1998


The State Duma on 10 April rejected Sergei Kirienko's candidacy for prime minister, by a vote of 186 to 143, Reuters reported. Although he fell short of the 226 votes needed for confirmation, Kirienko received more support than speeches by Duma leaders earlier in the day had suggested. Following those speeches, it appeared that only the Our Home Is Russia faction and some Russian Regions deputies would vote to confirm Kirienko. Vladimir Zhirinovsky surprised observers by announcing that his Liberal Democratic Party of Russia faction would not support Kirienko, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov confirmed his faction's opposition to Kirienko and demanded that President Boris Yeltsin hold consultations with Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev and Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev. The leaders of the Popular Power, Agrarian, and Yabloko factions also vowed not to support the acting premier. LB


In a nationwide radio address broadcast on 10 April, hours before the Duma session, Yeltsin said he has "no other candidate" for prime minister than Kirienko. Opposition politicians have expressed the hope that Yeltsin will eventually propose a compromise candidate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 1998). The president described Kirienko as a "professional manager" who avoids "self-promotion and cheap populism." Although he acknowledged that Duma deputies "have the right to consider, discuss, and consult," he argued that Russia has been "living without a government for too long" and that the economy "will not tolerate" more delays. Later the same day, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said Yeltsin will nominate Kirienko again immediately if deputies refuse to confirm him in the first vote. Under the constitution, the president is to dissolve the Duma if his prime ministerial nominee is rejected three times. LB


In a speech to the Duma on 10 April, Kirienko acknowledged that Russia faces an "economic crisis," and he outlined policies to correct the situation, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Kirienko made familiar calls for increasing revenues and optimizing government expenditures, and promised to defend the ruble and make growth in industrial production a top priority of his cabinet. During his speech and while answering questions from Duma deputies, Kirienko employed rhetoric aimed at appealing to opposition Duma deputies. For instance, he said he is against privatizing "strategically important" enterprises, and he promised to maintain state control over natural monopolies in the energy sector. He declined either to name any appointments to the next cabinet or to say whether former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais will be appointed chief executive of the electricity monopoly Unified Energy System. LB


Kirienko told Duma deputies he will choose cabinet ministers based on "professionalism" rather than their political convictions or membership in a particular political party, Reuters reported on 10 April. The Communist Party has long demanded the formation of a government that would have the support of a majority in the parliament. In closing remarks made immediately before deputies were to vote on his candidacy, Kirienko declared there will be no political horsetrading or "blackmail" over the formation of the next government, ITAR-TASS reported. Some commentators have predicted that Yeltsin will be able to win support for Kirienko's candidacy by offering cabinet posts to representatives of some Duma factions. LB


Acting Prime Minister Kirienko met with Mikhail Shmakov, the leader of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FNPR), and other trade union representatives on 9 April, as thousands of protesters picketed the government headquarters. He promised that the government and trade unions will coordinate their efforts to solve the wage arrears problem, Russian news agencies reported. Kirienko, who met with Yeltsin the same day to discuss the wage delays, told journalists that a presidential decree and several government directives aimed at clearing the debts have been prepared. But he added that those measures cannot be signed and implemented until a new government is formed. Kirienko did not hold talks with political leaders who addressed the rally outside government headquarters. Speaking to the protesters, Communist Party leader Zyuganov advocated Yeltsin's resignation and the formation of a "government of people's trust," ITAR-TASS reported. LB


According to Interior Ministry estimates, some 776,600 Russians participated in 1,155 marches and rallies in 966 cities and towns on 9 April, ITAR-TASS reported. The FNPR estimated that 4.5 million people participated in the protests. Their figure includes employees of all enterprises that stopped working for at least a few hours during the day. But in many cities, including Moscow, supporters of communist and other opposition political groups appeared to be more active at the rallies than demonstrators representing the FNPR, which advanced strictly economic demands, RFE/RL correspondents reported. In a telephone interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev argued that the trade unions have lost most of their credibility and influence among dissatisfied workers. LB


Yeltsin turned up at a party in Moscow to celebrate former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's 60th birthday on 9 April, ITAR-TASS reported. The president awarded Chernomyrdin the order for services to the fatherland (second class) and raised a toast "to a friend, a comrade- in-arms, a defender of the fatherland." Yeltsin also expressed the hope that the man he fired in late March "will continue to use his authority for the good of Russia." According to Reuters and AFP, many prominent public figures visited Chernomyrdin's home to congratulate him on his birthday, including Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, acting Prime Minister Kirienko, and influential businessman Boris Berezovskii. LB


Yeltsin and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, meeting in the Kremlin on 9 April, agreed that a "bilateral agreement on the status of the Caspian should be signed by 28 April," Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Both leaders stressed that the sea bed of the Caspian is the most important issue, and according to Nazarbayev, the sea's surface is "demilitarized" and for common use. Nazarbayev expressed the view that the main topic of the 29 April CIS summit should be a single CIS market, as it is the "only truly reliable foundation for further development of the CIS." He also said he approves of Yeltsin's choice of Sergei Kirienko for premier. And he sympathized with Yeltsin over the need to reshuffle the cabinet, noting he had to take the same action some six months ago when ailing former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin was replaced. It was announced that Yeltsin will visit Kazakhstan in July to sign "a brand new treaty" between the two countries. BP


"Russkii Telegraf" reported on 9 April that the cost of maintaining Russian border guards in other CIS states is becoming prohibitively high and that a partial withdrawal of those troops may be required. The newspaper says there are some 100,000 Russian border guards currently serving outside Russia who perform "drastically different" duties, making it hard to identify where cuts can be made. The bulk of the border guards are stationed in the Transcaucasus and Central Asia: 22,000- 23,000 in Tajikistan, 23,000-25,000 in Kazakhstan, 2,000- 2,500 in Kyrgyzstan, and 15,000-15,500 in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. The figure reported by the daily for Tajikistan is significantly higher than the 14,500 troops Russian border guard commanders claim are stationed there. BP


Human rights defender Valerii Abramkin, the director of a center seeking reforms in Russia's criminal justice system, told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 8 April that police frequently use torture to extract testimony from witnesses as well as confessions from suspected criminals. He cited the case of a woman in Moscow who was held in custody for 10 days in May 1996. She was repeatedly beaten and raped as police sought to force her to give false testimony. In another case, which has been referred to the UN Committee on Human Rights, Moscow police in September 1994 broke into an apartment and brought in two sisters for questioning without letting them change out of their nightgowns. The women were beaten during interrogation and released the following evening. After one of them sought legal action against the police, she was again detained and beaten in August 1996. LB


Yurii Sinelshchikov, the first deputy prosecutor for the city of Moscow, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that police have more frequently resorted to beating suspects and witnesses in recent years. Yakov Pistor, head of the department on supervising police agencies in the Prosecutor-General's Office, announced that 854 officers were prosecuted in 1997 for abuse of office, but he said three times as many deserved to face such charges, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 8 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 1998, which reported on one innocent suspect who was beaten to death in Mordovia). In addition, the head of a psychiatric association told RFE/RL that police who are upset by their colleagues' brutality are sometimes diagnosed as mentally impaired. Victims of police brutality will soon be able to appeal to the European Court in Strasbourg. Late last month, Yeltsin signed laws ratifying the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Convention banning torture. LB


"Trud" on 9 April suggested that Mormon missionaries in Russia are involved in espionage. The newspaper noted that two young Mormons from the U.S. were recently apprehended at a military facility in Samara Oblast. It expressed skepticism about their explanation (they said they were planning to discuss religion with an acquaintance) and alleged that Orthodox missionaries would immediately be deported if they wandered onto a military base in the U.S. "Trud" also said Mormon missionaries have sought to photograph genealogical records in Samara. "Such methods have long been practiced by all the world's special services," the newspaper said. "Trud" did not mention the recent abduction of two Mormon missionaries in the Volga region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 1998). But it quoted a priest from the Russian Orthodox Church as saying Mormons are "hostile to Christianity." The gas monopoly Gazprom finances "Trud." LB


Yekaterina Lakhova, the head of a presidential commission on women, family, and demographics, argued the merits of family planning during a call-in program organized by "Komsomolskaya pravda." In comments published in that newspaper on 8 April, Lakhova criticized the Duma for excluding the family planning program from the 1998 budget. She denied that the program "promotes abortion" and noted that her own mother died of complications from an illegal abortion when Lakhova was less than two years old. Lakhova argued that family planning efforts are needed to reduce the abortion rate. She noted that there are 192 abortions for every 100 births in Russia and 60.5 abortions for every 1,000 women of childbearing age (the latter figure is 15 times the rate in some western European countries). Lakhova also said family planning can help curb the spread of AIDS and treat infertility. LB


The Krasnodar Krai prosecutor's office announced on 9 April that it has found no grounds to open a criminal case against Governor Nikolai Kondratenko, ITAR- TASS reported. Last month, opponents of Kondratenko demanded that he be charged with inciting ethnic hatred against Jews, based on a speech he gave to a youth forum in Krasnodar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 1998). In a message to prosecutors, Kondratenko said he is against the policy of Zionism but denied that he is anti-Semitic. "Pravda-5" published the text of Kondratenko's controversial speech on 10 April. Among other things, he charged that Zionists have imposed "brutal" policies against ethnic Russians since August 1991. Kondratenko also praised Stalin for fighting against Zionism and claimed that during the Soviet period, Zionists sought to appoint only Jews and other ethnic minorities to influential positions. LB


Robert Kocharyan met on 9 April with Levon Ter- Petrossyan, who attended his inauguration ceremony, Armenian agencies reported. Ter-Petrossyan refused to answer journalists' questions, but Vano Siradeghyan, chairman of the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 9 April that he does not exclude Ter-Petrossyan's return to mainstream Armenian politics. ("Hayk" reported on 3 April that Ter-Petrossyan is currently occupied in compiling his personal archive, reading, and playing chess against a computer.) Siradeghyan pledged that the HHSh will support Kocharyan and the new Armenian government as long as it implements a liberal economic policy. The HHSh constituted Ter- Petrossyan's power base. LF


A delegation from the unrecognized Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh also attended Kocharyan's inauguration on 9 April, as did Russian acting Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Rybkin. Karabakh President Arkadii Ghukasyan told journalists that Karabakh will continuing pursuing an independent policy and has the potential to achieve its political and economic goals. He expressed confidence that Armenia will continue to protect Karabakh's interests at international forums, Noyan Tapan reported. Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan said he hopes that Armenia's policy vis-a-vis Karabakh will become "more precise" following Kocharyan's election as Armenian president. He also said he hopes Kocharyan will insist on direct negotiations between Karabakh and Baku. Babayan denied reports that he will become the next Armenian defense minister, "Nayots Ashkhar" reported on 10 April. LF


Meeting on 8 April, the Georgian government rejected a law on the status of public officials drafted by the parliamentary committee for procedural issues, Caucasus Press reported. The government objected to the draft's identical approach toward all three branches of power and its failure to differentiate between relations between the president and the executive on the one hand, and between the chairman of the supreme court and his subordinates on the other. The draft also reportedly fails to subordinate a number of leading officials--including the head of the state chancellery, the secretary of the National Security Council, the Constitutional Court chairman, the mayor of Tbilisi and the National Bank chairman--to any of the three branches of power. The parliament passed a law on public service last October. LF


U.S. Senator John Warner and Admiral Joseph Lopez, the commander of NATO forces in Southern Europe, held talks in Baku on 8 April with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, Interfax and Turan reported. Warner noted Azerbaijan's geo-strategic importance as a transit country of oil and gas, while Lopez positively assessed bilateral military cooperation within the framework of NATO's Partnership for Peace program. He added that he hopes cooperation will be expanded. LF


Indian Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas Vajapadi Ramamurti said on 9 April that India is considering participating in various CIS oil projects, ITAR-TASS reported. (Some 60 percent of oil consumed in India is imported.) Ramamurti said India is particularly interested in Azerbaijan and wants to acquire a 10 percent equity share in the consortium created last September by Italy's AGIP and the Azerbaijani state oil company SOCAR to exploit the Kyurdashi oil field, which has estimated reserves of 100 million tons. Also on 9 April, an assistant to SOCAR's president said Azerbaijan will not cut its oil output from present levels, despite the fall in world prices. LF


Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has stressed there are no plans to hold elections in Belarus this year, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Lukashenka was speaking at a meeting on 9 April with Hans Georg Wieck, the chief of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's mission in Minsk. His comment follows opposition leader Henadz Karpenka's statement that Lukashenka will call early elections in 1998 under pressure from European organizations and Moscow. Lukashenka told reporters that one of the conditions for meeting with Wieck was the understanding that the president's version of the constitution is "untouchable." That constitution calls for the next presidential elections in 2001 and parliamentary elections the following year. JM


The parliament on 9 April ratified a treaty on defense cooperation with Russia and an agreement on joint regional security measures, Interfax reported. The documents had been signed in Minsk on 19 December 1997. The treaty envisions working out joint defense policies and unifying legislation in the military sphere. The agreement details the composition of a joint regional group of troops and sets procedures for commanding the group in military actions. JM


A Minsk judge threw out the case against Belarusian Popular Front acting chairman Lyavon Barshcheuski owing to lack of evidence, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Barshcheuski was arrested on 2 April for allegedly participating in an unsanctioned opposition rally. But he later produced witnesses who confirmed he had attended a cultural reading at the time of the rally. The judge concluded that the two police officers who testified they had seen the opposition leader at the rally were either mistaken or lying. JM


At a government session on 9 April, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma upbraided his ministers for the beleaguered economy and hinted at cabinet changes, Reuters reported. "The only thing that's stable about this economy is its instability," he said, adding that the 1999 deficit should be cut to 1.0-1.5 percent of GDP from the 2.5 percent foreseen for 1998. Kuchma also instructed the government to revise the 1998 budget in order to trim spending. Kuchma's comments follow the election of a largely left-wing parliament last month and the recent decisions of the IMF and the World Bank to delay approval of two credits worth $600 million. JM


The Finance Ministry's press secretary said on 10 April that budget spending will be cut by 30 percent beginning this month, ITAR-TASS reported. The spokesperson said social affairs will continue to take priority in budget spending. In the first quarter of this year, Ukraine's budget deficit was twice as large as originally planned, President Leonid Kuchma told a cabinet session the previous day. He blamed Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov for exceeding the original target. JM


The government has increased import duties on more than 600 commodities in a bid to improve the foreign trade balance, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 April. The increases, which range from 15-30 percent, apply to television and radio sets, tape and video recorders, and cameras, among others. JM


Vaclav Havel said after a meeting with Czech parliamentary leaders on 9 April that he has been assured the legislature will ratify joining NATO. Opinion polls published the previous day show that only 54 percent of Czechs back joining NATO, but all parties, except for the Communists and the Republicans, are expected to vote for accession to the union when it is voted on in the parliament next week. PB


Vladimir Meciar said on 9 April that despite widespread criticism of Slovakia, his country is not the "enfant terrible" of Europe, Reuters reported. Meciar, who was in Riga for a two-day visit, said Slovakia "does not lag" behind neighboring countries invited for EU and NATO accession talks. Slovakia was not invited for talks on EU accession for political reasons. Meciar also met with President Guntis Ulmanis and Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs. He said Bratislava will look for ways to "assist Latvia" and ease the tension with Russia. PB


British Home Secretary Jack Straw warned on 9 April that Czech and Slovak Roma should not try to gain asylum in Britain, Reuters reported. Straw, who said he had received reports of a new exodus of Roma to Britain, said London is taking a "firm line." Straw said more than 600 asylum applicants have been deported to Slovakia and the Czech Republic in the last six months. PB.


A circular issued by Catholic bishops in Hungary urges voters not to waste a vote on parties that "do not stand a chance," "Nepszabadsag" reported on 9 April. The statement asked the electorate to vote for those candidates who "represent the right set of values." The statement will be read out in all Catholic churches on 19 April, ahead of the May elections. PB


More than 30,000 ethnic Albanians demonstrated in the Kosovar capital on 9 April to protest Serbian repression and police violence and to demand peace and independence. Riot police were present in force and blocked the path of the protesters, preventing them from crossing downtown. The demonstration took place without incident. The organizing committee has appealed to Kosovars to observe a half- hour silence on main streets throughout the province at noon each day beginning 10 April. Serbian state-run television called the protesters "clowns" and "parrots" who are "blindly loyal to their foreign sponsors." And in Belgrade, a spokesman for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia said the Kosovars "are bent on secession." On 10 April, some 20,000 Kosovars again staged a peaceful march through Prishtina. PM


A spokesman for the Albanian Defense Ministry said in Tirana on 9 April that an expansion of the conflict in Kosova will not only affect the Albanian army but will involve "the entire Albanian nation." He stressed that the situation on the Albanian-Yugoslav border is tense and that "it could easily explode at any moment," BETA news agency reported. In recent weeks, Albanian officials have emphasized the need for a peaceful solution in Kosova and have generally avoided blunt talk about a possible war. PM


Federal Deputy Prime Minister Danko Djunic said in Belgrade on 9 April that he has resigned his post to protest what he called the bureaucratic "blockade" against efforts aimed at economic reform. Djunic's brief in the cabinet was to prepare far- reaching economic change. He was the only top-ranking federal official from Serbia who publicly praised the victory of reformer Milo Djukanovic in the Montenegrin presidential elections in 1997, RFE/RL reported. Also in Belgrade, a spokesman for Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia said Djukanovic's recently announced program for change will be "his political demise" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 1998). PM


The Paris daily "Le Monde" wrote on 9 April that U.S. lawyers for the former Bosnian Serb leader and indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic are negotiating with representatives of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. The lawyers want to make a deal on the conditions under which Karadzic might appear before the court to face two charges of genocide. In Washington, a State Department spokesman declined to comment on the report on negotiations but denied a further suggestion by "Le Monde" that Karadzic may be hiding in Belarus. The spokesman did not elaborate on Karadzic's whereabouts but stressed that the former leader is "increasingly isolated" and that "it is time for him to turn himself in" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 1998). "The Boston Globe" on 10 April quoted Karadzic's lawyer as saying he cannot confirm the story about the negotiations and calling the entire matter "very sensitive." PM


Momcilo Krajisnik, the Bosnian Serb member of the joint presidency, told Pale's news agency SRNA on 9 April that NATO's recent arrest and deportation to The Hague of two indicted Bosnian Serb war criminals constitutes "a blow to peace" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 1998). Krajisnik warned that NATO's seizure of individual Serbs might lead to "uncontrolled resistance by [all] Serbs." PM


Representatives of Croatian Railroads and of seven labor unions signed an agreement on labor-management relations in Zagreb on 9 April, RFE/RL reported. The agreement marks the culmination of two years of negotiations. Talks are continuing about an agreement on wages and working conditions. Railroad workers recently staged a warning strike to protest low pay. Also in Zagreb, representatives of four labor unions agreed to establish the Croatian Bloc of Democratic Unions, which will represent two-thirds of the entire work force. Elsewhere, more than 500 teachers demonstrated for higher pay. There has been considerable labor unrest since January, when the government introduced a value-added tax. PM


The parliament voted on 9 April to repeal a 1992 law banning Communist parties. The proposal, which was introduced by Maksim Hasani, a Communist who was elected to the legislature as an independent, provides for "the free activity of all political forces that respect the laws of the democratic state [but not] those that have programs and activities that are anti-national, anti-Albanian, anti- democratic, and totalitarian." It is unclear who will determine whether a party's program or activities meet those criteria. FS


Six members of the governing board of state-run radio and television resigned on 9 April, "Koha Jone" reported. They include former radio and television chief Bardhyl Pollo and his deputy, Antoneta Malaj. All six were appointed by the previous, Democratic- dominated parliament. In their letter of resignation, the six charged that the current Socialist-appointed board functions like an "inquisition [controlled by] red votes" and that state television and radio do not broadcast the views of the opposition. Parliamentary speaker Skender Gjinushi called the letter a case of "simple fraud," pointing out that the terms of the six were about to run out in any case. FS


The upper house of the parliament approved a bill on 9 April that would allow people to check if journalists or public officials worked for the Communist-era secret police, the Securitate. The bill must still be passed by the Chamber of Deputies. The successor to the Securitate, the Romanian Intelligence Service, has said that virtually all files on informers were destroyed immediately after the 1989 overthrow of the Communist government. Also on 9 April, Ioan Ghise, the mayor of Brasov, acknowledged he had worked as an informer for the Securitate. He told the daily "Libertatea" that he was doing his "patriotic duty as a citizen." PB


Emil Constantinescu said on 9 April that the parliament should consider legislation pardoning some officers involved in the suppression of the anti-Communist revolt in 1989, Rompres reported. In a statement, Constantinescu said such a law could help reveal the truth about the events in which more than 1,000 demonstrators were killed around the country. He said some witnesses are leery of testifying for fear of prosecution. And he noted that even in the case of an amnesty, he is sure that "military honor will force the officers to ask for a full investigation." The president's statement comes two days after the defense minister said he is considering a pardon of some officers involved in suppressing the revolt. PB


Jaroslav Sedivy said in Sofia on 9 April that he fully supports Bulgaria's accession to the EU and NATO and will help it achieve those goals, Reuters reported. Sedivy said Prague could help Sofia avoid "repeating our mistakes" on the road to integration. Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov said he is surprised that the Czech Republic is considering requiring visas for Bulgarians once it joins the EU. Sedivy pointed out that this is not a Czech issue, but an EU one. Sedivy and his counterpart, Nadezhda Mihailova, agreed on several joint measures aimed at cracking down on organized crime and drug trafficking and on preventing double taxation. PB


by Paul Goble

The Russian government's campaign of vilification and threats against Latvia has three political goals.

First, it is intended to punish Riga for what Moscow finds objectionable in that country's approach to its ethnic Russian minority. Second, it is designed to help acting Russian Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko gain support from nationalists and Communists in the Russian State Duma, whose votes he needs to win confirmation by the Russian parliament.

And third, it is part of a broader Russian effort to weaken the governments and economies of former Soviet republics, isolate those countries from the West, and prompt Western governments to reconsider plans to include them in Western institutions anytime soon.

Latvia is obviously the primary target of that campaign. Since 1991, Russian political figures in Moscow have repeatedly claimed that Latvia is violating the human rights of ethnic Russians living there because it did not give them automatic citizenship when that country recovered its independence.

Instead, and relying on a fundamental principle of international law, Latvia refused to give citizenship to those individuals and their descendants who were moved into Latvia while it was occupied by the Soviet Union. Many of those people are ethnic Russians, and consequently, Russian politicians often have portrayed Latvia's position on this issue as a form of "Russophobia." And those Moscow leaders have demanded that Latvia modify its laws, even though international human rights bodies have confirmed that Latvia is within its rights on this question.

Consequently, when something happens in Latvia that angers many Russians or when attacking Latvia appears to promise Moscow broader political rewards, some Russian politicians are prepared to play this card regardless of the actual situation of ethnic Russians in that country.

Since the beginning of this year, a series of events in Latvia--from Riga's handling of a demonstration by ethnic Russian pensioners last month to a bomb explosion outside the Russian embassy early this week --have infuriated Russians and led to the current campaign, despite the fact that it remains unclear just who was behind either event.

Moscow's vilification of Latvia and its threats to use its economic power against that Baltic country have already had significant consequences. Latvia has been weakened politically, the government coalition destroyed, and public opinion polarized.

Moreover, Latvia has already been weakened economically, even though Russia has not yet imposed any sanctions. Since the start of this latest campaign, the Riga stock market has fallen by nearly a third, as investors flee to safer havens, despite the economic fundamentals in Latvia that should make that country attractive to them.

This latest campaign has also isolated Latvia geopolitically, with ever more Western commentators and governments apparently prepared to accept Russian charges at face value and to see them as a reason for not moving more quickly to include Latvia in Western institutions. Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said on 9 April that Moscow's statements and actions have no implications beyond Latvia, but both the timing and the nature of this campaign suggest Moscow has two other reasons, one immediate and domestic and the other longer term and geopolitical.

The immediate, domestic reason is the effort by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and reformers such as First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov to win support in the Duma for Kirienko. They clearly believe that by targeting Latvia, they can distract Russian public attention from economic difficulties at home and win communist and nationalist support in the Duma for Kirienko by portraying themselves as sympathetic to a key part of the Russian nationalist agenda--defending ethnic Russians abroad.

But the longer-term, geopolitical reason is likely to prove more important. By targeting Latvia now, Moscow sends a powerful message to all its neighbors that it considers them part of its sphere of influence and has found a tactic--economic pressure--that the West is unlikely to oppose, especially Moscow justifies its use on "human rights" grounds.

And it has sent an equally powerful message to the West that Moscow will take measures against these countries if Europe and the U.S. try to include them in Western institutions in the near future.

To the extent that Western countries accept those messages, the countries around Russia's periphery will find themselves in ever greater difficulties--both political and economic. And any such difficulties will ultimately make life more problematic for Russia and the West.