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Newsline - June 25, 1998


The State Duma Council on 25 June scheduled the debate over the government's "anti-crisis program" for 1 July, Russian news agencies reported. Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko is expected to attend that Duma session. According to Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov, the package will contain 13 draft laws. Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko delivered six of them to the Duma on 24 June, and the government is to send the other seven on 25 June. The anti-crisis program calls for large spending cuts and various tax proposals through which the government hopes to plug holes in the budget and reassure financial markets. Among other things, the government is seeking to charge a full 20 percent value-added tax on some goods now taxed at a reduced rate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 1997), lower the profit tax for businesses, and introduce a sales tax. LB


Grigorii Yavlinskii says his Yabloko movement will support the government's efforts to stabilize the current financial and economic situation in Russia, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 24 June. In particular, he endorsed measures to tighten control over collection of taxes and customs duties and to reduce the tax burden. But Yavlinskii also described the anti-crisis program and the possible multibillion-dollar bailout from international financial institutions as an "anaesthetic" that might relieve pain temporarily but would not cure the patient. He said the government's program will not solve any "strategic tasks," and called for a "serious economic review of the causes of the crisis." Yavlinskii did not attend the expanded cabinet session on 23 June, at which the anti-crisis program was discussed, on the grounds that parliamentarians were not given a chance to review the program before the meeting. LB


Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel on 24 June praised some aspects of the government's "anti-crisis program" but also called for printing more money to help the government settle its debts, ITAR-TASS reported. Sverdlovsk contains many defense industry enterprises that have not been paid for state orders. Altai Krai Governor Aleksandr Surikov went further, saying the government's program does not address the causes of the economic crisis. Noting that wage and pension arrears are "snowballing," Surikov called for a rapid monetary emission. Government officials have repeatedly ruled out printing more money, saying such a measure would cause inflation to sky-rocket. The State Statistics Committee announced on 19 June that wage arrears in ten major sectors rose 6.7 percent in May and now total 66.89 billion rubles ($10.8 billion). Money owed by the state accounted for 16.5 percent of the wage debts, the committee said. LB


Andrei Illarionov, the director of the Institute of Economic Analysis, on 24 June argued that "the devaluation of the ruble is becoming inevitable," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He argued that the ruble exchange rate has been kept artificially high since oil prices began a steep decline in October and November 1997. He claimed a devaluation in the near future would help the government deal with the financial and economic crisis, and said devaluation may not necessarily lead to inflation. Illarionov also described as a "myth" the view (expressed by President Boris Yeltsin and government officials) that Russia's economic problems are related to a world financial crisis. He said there is a crisis only "in countries whose governments are pursuing a weak economic policy," Interfax reported. In addition, Illarionov predicted that increasing the government's foreign borrowing will inevitably lead to a foreign debt crisis. LB


Central Bank First Deputy Chairman Sergei Aleksashenko argued on 24 June that Illarionov "is deliberately distorting facts" in his analysis of the current economic situation, Interfax reported. Aleksashenko denied that a sharp devaluation of the ruble is inevitable and challenged the view that significant currency depreciation would be good for the economy. He argued that a devaluation would raise prices on imported goods, undermine banks that have taken out foreign loans, and "disorient the population." He also said devaluation would lead to price hikes for transportation, communication and other services, making it "practically impossible to solve budget-related problems." LB


State Tax Service chief Boris Fedorov announced on 24 June that the authorities may hold public trials against some tax evaders "so that people will appreciate the serious nature of our intentions," Interfax reported. Fedorov's predecessor, Aleksandr Pochinok, alo advocated such trials, but none have yet been conducted. Fedorov called for unspecified steps to improve the public perception of measures to boost tax collection. The government has been running public service advertisements on television encouraging people to pay their taxes. One such commercial shows a tax evader racked with guilt and fear of arrest. Although he is not responsible for tax reform, Fedorov has acknowledged that significant improvements in tax collection will require fundamental changes to the tax system. LB


Deputy Prime Minister Khristenko on 24 June said the government will strictly implement a recent directive to restrict or entirely cut off access to state-owned pipelines and seaport terminals for oil exporting companies that have not cleared their tax debts by 1 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 1998). He said the government has notified 13 major oil companies that could be affected by the directive and signed agreements with each of them on repaying their tax arrears, Russian news agencies reported. Oil company executives are sharply opposed to the measure. Mikhail Khodorkovskii, the head of the Yukos oil company, one of Russia's largest, told ITAR-TASS on 24 June that cutting off access to export pipelines could cause production to grind to a halt at some firms. He argued that the policy conforms to an IMF demand. LB


Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuev on 23 June dismissed fears that an advisory council of business elites, which is expected to be formed soon, will "replace" the cabinet or impose its will on Prime Minister Kirienko, ITAR-TASS reported, citing an interview with Sysuev on NTV. At the same time, Sysuev acknowledged that the government "cannot avoid taking into account" the views of financial and industrial groups, which, he said, carry much influence in Russia. LB


A Vladivostok raion court has ordered Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko to issue a public apology to Viktor Kondratov, the head of the Federal Security Service's (FSB) branch in Primore, and other FSB officers in the region, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 June. Kondratov and his colleagues filed the lawsuit last year after Nazdratenko gave an interview to the Moscow-based magazine "Profil." The governor blamed local FSB officers for rising crime in Primore and charged that they try to "provoke the public." (When the interview was published, Kondratov was Yeltsin's representative in Primore and was authorized under a presidential decree to exercise powers that previously belonged to Nazdratenko.) The court fined "Profil" 15,000 rubles ($2,400) and the journalist who conducted the interview 1,500 rubles. Nazdratenko was not fined but was ordered to publish an apology in three local newspapers in Primore. LB


The Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Court on 23 June left in place a lower court ruling that approved the annulment of the 29 March mayoral election in Nizhnii Novgorod, "Pravda" reported on 25 May. The controversial local businessman Andrei Klimentev won the race by a narrow margin, but the city electoral commission cancelled the result after high-ranking federal officials denounced Klimentev and said there were grounds to annul the election. Many observers and Russian media concluded that political pressure, not legal considerations, inspired the annulment. Klimentev filed the court appeal but was not able to attend the oblast court hearings, because he is serving a prison term for embezzlement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 29 May 1998). LB


The Supreme Court will hear journalist Galina Tuz's appeal against a Stavropol Krai court ruling that she libeled the national-socialist group Russian National Unity (RNE) in the newspaper "Stavropolskaya Pravda," "Russkii telegraf" reported on 24 June. The RNE claimed that statements in a 1996 article that Stavropol Krai's RNE "appears in essence a fascist organization" and "pursues a fascist ideology" damaged its "business reputation," and won a lawsuit forcing the paper's editorial office to pay a fee and publish an apology. Tuz's lawyer, Andrei Rakhmilovich, claims that the defense's arguments were ignored in court, while the "Russkii telegraf" article claims that both Stavropol public opinion and the court's "personal convictions" were partial to the RNE. The legal status of Aleksandr Barkashov's RNE, an overtly national- socialist organization, has been uncertain since the Justice Ministry refused to register the movement at the federal level in August 1997 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 1998). BT


Ivan Rybkin, who as Russian Security Council Secretary, conducted prolonged negotiations with the Chechen leadership over the region's future status and economic claims on Moscow, said on 24 June that peace and stability in Chechnya are impossible without President Aslan Maskhadov, according to ITAR- TASS. Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin similarly told Interfax that he believes Moscow should support any measures Maskhadov may take to counter crime and uphold law and order in Chechnya. Both Russian officials declined to condemn the legitimacy of the state of emergency imposed by Maskhadov on 23 June, although Rybkin conceded that the Russian Federation Constitution empowers only the Rusiaan President to do so. LF


Reports in Interfax and "Segodnya" on 24 June reflect Russia's displeasure with a Chinese plan to divert water from the upper Irtysh River. China is planning to redirect water from the river in the second half on this year to provide water for oil refineries and land reclamation projects in northwest China. According to Interfax, Russia has already requested details of the project but has not received a reply. According to "Segodnya," if China goes ahead with the plan, the level of water in the river could be reduced by as much as 15 percent during drought years, making navigation impossible in the lower reaches of the river which pass through Russia. BP


The fourth and last in a series of trials against alleged Wahhabis opened in Tashkent on 24 June, Reuters and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. Uzbekistan's state prosecutor demanded the death sentence for Talib Mamajanov, who has admitted to being a member of a criminal group responsible for killing 12 people, eight of them policemen, in the Fergana Valley between 1994 and 1997. Seven other men are charged with possession of weapons and harboring criminals. Sentencing is expected by 6 July. In the three earlier trials, all defendants were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms. Alhough the state prosecutor demanded the death penalty for Mamajanov, Uzbek courts have been careful not to pass such a sentence at earlier trials in order to avoid making martyrs of the defendants. BP


The Iranian Minister of Mines and Metals, Eshaq Jahangiri, met with Kazakh Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbayev in the Kazakh capital, Astana, on 24 June, Interfax and IRNA reported. Jahangiri advocated concluding a long-term contract for Iranian purchases of Kazakh grain, noting that "there is no need to bring grain from far away when one can buy it in neighboring Kazakhstan." Balgimbayev said he wanted to renew oil exports to Iran, which were suspended in May due to the refusal of the new management of Kazakhstan's Oil and Gas Company to honor a contract signed in 1996. Balgimbayev and Jahangiri also agreed to develop companies for shipping via the Caspian Sea. BP


Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili on 24 June condemned as "gross interference in Georgia's internal affairs" a resolution passed by the Russian State Duma earlier the same day. The Duma approved a resolution calling for lifting the border and customs restrictions currently in force on the border between the Russian Federation and Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia. Menagharishvili argued that the restrictions could be lifted only as part of a broader political settlement of the Abkhaz conflict. LF


Meeting with a visiting European Parliament delegation on 24 June, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev said that he will not propose his own candidacy for the presidential elections due in October, but will run for a second term if asked by the Azerbaijani people to do so, Interfax reported. Aliyev assured the delegation that the poll will be free and fair. Aliyev has also invited opposition political parties to propose candidates to the new Central Electoral Commission (CEC), half of the 24 members of which are to be proposed by the president and the remainder by the parliament. CEC members may not be members of any political party. The Movement for Democratic Elections and Electoral Reform, which unites some 20 opposition parties, has proposed that half the members of the CEC be nominated by the Movement together with five potential opposition presidential candidates, Turan reported on 23 June. LF


Prime Minister Armen Darpinian said on 24 June that Armenia registered 6.3 percent economic growth in the first five months of 1998, according to Noyan Tapan. Darpinian added that direct foreign investment in the Armenian economy reached $100 million during that time period, and is expected to total $250 million by the end of the year, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Addressing an Armenian-Ukrainian business forum in Yerevan, Darpinian attributed the inflow of foreign capital to his government's emphasis on private enterprise and its commitment to privatizing large state enterprises. Darpinian also announced that the Armenian state airline company will soon be put on international tender. "Privatization is the only way to guarantee its efficient and competitive work," he argued. LF


The leaders of four of the five parties aligned in the Justice and Unity bloc formed in March to back Robert Kocharian's presidential bid met behind closed doors on 24 June to discuss their recent meeting with the president and develop a joint plan of action, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Aleksandr Aghamalian of the Scientific-Industrial and Civic Union said the alliance reached an overall agreement regarding the bloc's position on Nagorno-Karabakh and finalized two documents assessing the current state of affairs in Armenia and containing concrete proposals on that score. A spokesman for the Dashnak party told RFE/RL the party did not send representatives to the meeting because it was not given advance notice that it would take place. LF


Ukrainian First Deputy Premier Anatoliy Holubchenko has said Ukraine will pay its debt to Gazprom for gas supplies by the end of 1998, Ukrainian Television reported. Holubchenko's statement followed a meeting between Gazprom chief executive Rem Vyakhirev and Ukrainian Premier Valeriy Pustovoytenko in Kyiv on 24 June. The two men discussed payments for Russian gas supplied to Ukraine last year and joint use of Ukrainian underground gas storage facilities. Holubchenko added that Ukraine is interested in signing a long-term agreement on Russian gas transit through Ukrainian territory. According to him, such an agreement would guarantee that Russia will not build an alternate pipeline bypassing Ukraine. Ukraine's gas debt to Gazprom amounts to some $700 million. JM


Leftist deputies have accused their political opponents in the Ukrainian Supreme Council of attempted bribery during the voting on a parliamentary speaker, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 June. They assert that some deputies have been offered $10,000 for casting blank ballots during the vote for speaker. The parliament has set up a deputies' group to investigate the allegation. Meanwhile, after the 12th fruitless round of voting, the Supreme Council passed a resolution prohibiting the deputies from leaving the session hall until they elect a parliamentary head, Ukrainian Television reported on 24 June. JM


The Czech Foreign Ministry has voiced its indignation over the eviction of foreign diplomats from the Drazdy compound in Minsk, CTK reported on 24 June. The Belarusian ambassador to Prague has been asked to convey the ministry's stance to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The Finnish Foreign Ministry, according to ITAR-TASS, has advised its ambassador to Minsk, who permanently resides in Riga, against visiting Belarus. "If some Belarusian ambassador in Europe still does not realize that he should leave home for consultations, we will prompt him to do this," ITAR-TASS quoted a Finnish Foreign Ministry official as saying. Meanwhile, Polish Ambassador to Belarus Mariusz Malyszkiewicz, who wanted to conduct a flag-lowering ceremony on 24 June at the Drazdy compound before leaving for Poland for consultations, was not allowed into his residence by the Belarusian police, Polish media reported. JM


The Belarusian president will participate in the international economic forum at Crans-Montana in Switzerland on 26 June, ITAR-TASS reported. He is expected to deliver an address to the forum on East- West economic cooperation and security issues, as well as to hold a briefing. Originally, Lukashenka's trip was planned for three days, from 25-27 June, and was to include a visit to the UN headquarters in Geneva, a speech at a conference on disarmament, and a meeting with International Olympic Committee Chairman Juan Antonio Samaranch. A UN spokeswoman in Geneva said Lukashenka decided to shorten his visit "owing to domestic reasons." Observers suspect Lukashenka's decision is connected with the recall of Western ambassadors from Minsk in the diplomatic conflict over the Drazdy compound. JM


A special government commission set up to investigate errors which cost Poland 34 million ecus in EU aid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 May 1998) has spread the blame among many officials and experts, ""Rzeczpospolita" reported on 25 June. The commission concluded that those responsible for applying for EU funds lacked professionalism and "proper communications" in their dealings with the European Commission. It also decided that Committee for European Integration chief Ryszard Czarnecki, who has formerly claimed political responsibility for the EU aid cut, should not be disqualified from his office. JM


Poland's Constitutional Tribunal ruled on 24 June that a law allowing the dismissal of judges who between 1944 and 1989 issued verdicts dictated by the communist authorities violates the Polish Constitution, "Rzeczpospolita" reported. The law was passed in December 1997 by the rightist-dominated parliament and subsequently sent to the Constitutional Tribunal for screening by President Aleksander Kwasniewski. But the tribunal agreed with the provision of the law stipulating that judges and prosecutors who collaborated with the communist-era secret services should be stripped of some retirement bonuses. The ruling is not subject to appeal and Kwasniewski must sign that part of the law approved by the tribunal. JM


The Lithuanian government announced on 24 June that it will sell a 60 percent stake in the state-owned telecommunications company to a consortium consisting of Sweden's Telia and Finland's Sonera communications concerns, Lithuanian media reported. The two Scandinavian firms are to pay $510 million and have agreed to invest $221 million over the next two years. Vilnius announced that it will use the proceeds to compensate citizens who lost their savings during the hyperinflation of the early 1990s. PG


The Russian Foreign Ministry on 24 June denounced a decision by the Latvian parliament earlier this month to establish a holiday commemorating those who fought in the Latvian Legion during World War II, Interfax reported. The ministry statement said that this group, organized by the Germans as a branch of the Waffen- SS, had been involved in the killing of "thousands of Jews, Russians and Belarussians" and that the establishment of a holiday for it represented "a slap in the face of the world community." PG


Social Democratic Party (CSSD) chairman Milos Zeman formally started talks on 24 June on forming the next government. He met with his main opponent, Civic Democratic Party (ODS) leader Vaclav Klaus and with the leader of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, Miroslav Grebenicek. After their meeting, Klaus said again the ODS would not support a CSSD-led cabinet. The two leaders agreed, however, to draft what has been termed as "long-term communication rules between the main government and the main opposition party," CTK reported. Grebenicek said after meeting Zeman that his party might agree to "tolerate" a minority cabinet of the CSSD and the Christian Democratic Party. MS


Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia decided to back Banska Bystrica University rector Otto Tomecek as its candidate in the new round of presidential elections scheduled for next month, an RFE/RL correspondent in Bratislava reported on 24 June. Without the support of the opposition parties, Tomecek will not be able to garner the 90 votes necessary for election as president. His rival is likely to be attorney Peter Tomka, who is backed by the Party of Democratic Left. Parliamentary factions can submit presidential nominations till 29 June. In other news, Reuters reported on 24 June that the combined forces of the opposition continue to be ahead (54 percent) of the incumbent coalition forces (29 percent) in electoral preferences. MS


Prime Minister-designate Viktor Orban, chairman of the Federation of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party (FIDESZ-MPP) and Independent Smallholders' Party chairman Jozsef Torgyan signed a coalition agreement on 24 June. Orban said the pact removes the last obstacle to the formation of a new government. Torgyan described the agreement as of "historical importance," making possible a "genuine change of regime." In other news, Laszlo Urban on 23 June unexpectedly declined to accept the finance portfolio in the new government, reportedly because of opposing views that he and Orban hold on the future of Hungary's Posta Bank. Orban announced the same day that Zsigmond Jarai, president of the Stock Exchange Council, had been offered the post and had accepted the nomination. MSZ


Richard Holbrooke, who is the U.S. ambassador-designate to the UN, said in the burned-out Kosovar town of Decan on 24 June that Decan recalls "the kind of action we saw earlier in this part of the world." He compared his impressions in the town to what he saw in western Bosnia in 1992. Holbrooke added that the destruction in Decan "was not fighting. This was the Yugoslav security forces driving people out. The Serbs should get out of here, and the original [ethnic Albanian] inhabitants should come back and rebuild their houses with government help." The diplomat said that "without the real possibility of NATO intervention, the chances of ethnic cleansing by the Serbs are significantly increased." Serbian forces have vigorously attacked the Decan area in recent weeks in an apparent effort to drive the ethnic Albanian population out of a corridor along the Albanian border. PM


In Junik on 24 June, Holbrooke met with two uniformed fighters of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), one of whom carried a Kalashnikov. Holbrooke called the situation in Kosova "explosive" and added that the Kosovars "are beleaguered and they don't have supplies. The Serb security forces are all over the place." The envoy stressed that he is on a fact-finding mission and denied that his meeting with the UCK representatives constituted an official contact between Washington and the guerrillas. Some Western and regional media nonetheless speculated that the meeting suggests that the U.S. has established contact with the UCK and may be seeking to draw it into the negotiating process. During Holbrooke's stay, there was fighting along the highway between Decan and Gjakova, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Elsewhere, UCK spokesmen said in Prishtina that the guerrillas now control much of the Fushe-Kosova (Kosovo Polje) region. PM


The parliament of the Council of Europe passed a resolution on 24 June in which it blamed the Yugoslav government and President Slobodan Milosevic for the current escalation in the crisis in Kosova. The text added that no long-term solution is possible in the province without far-reaching democratic changes in Yugoslavia. Until that happens, the international community must keep all options open, including the military one. The parliament also called on Milosevic to launch a dialogue with the authorities in Montenegro. Also in Strasbourg, OSCE chairman Bronislaw Geremek called on Milosevic to set down a time- table for ending the Kosovar crisis. PM


British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in London on 24 June that NATO retains the option to intervene militarily as long as Milosevic refuses to withdraw his special security forces from Kosova. Media reports from Brussels earlier that day suggested that NATO planners were moving away from a military option lest the alliance play into the hands of the UCK (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 1998). "The New York Times" wrote that the UCK has begun targeting Serbian civilians in an ethnic cleansing campaign near Klina in recent days, which has in turn drawn Serbian paramilitaries into the region. The UCK's official position is that it fights only the Serbian authorities and ethnic Albanians whom it regards as collaborators, and that Serbian civilians have nothing to fear from it. Serbian refugees have repeatedly charged that the UCK and other armed Albanians have told them to leave "and never come back." PM


The General Staff agreed in Belgrade on 24 June not to send untrained recruits to Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The move comes in apparent response to numerous protests from parents and opposition political leaders across the country against sending conscripts to the province. Elsewhere, Serbian Renewal Movement leader Vuk Draskovic called for NATO intervention -- against Albania -- to clear out "terrorist training camps" there, "Nasa Borba" wrote. His party said in a statement the next day that the Kosovar civilian leadership backs terrorism and that its claim to be devoted to non-violence is just a ruse. The Democratic Party said in a statement that Milosevic is unable to preserve order in Kosova and protect the lives "of citizens who live there." PM


Bosnian Co-Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic said in Tokyo that his government will offer military facilities to the Atlantic alliance should it decide to intervene in Kosova, "Nasa Borba" wrote on 25 June. It is not clear if Silajdzic has the authority to make such an offer without the approval of parliament or of Bosnian Serb leaders. In Sarajevo, the international community's Carlos Westendorp warned that Milosevic "will end up like [Romanian dictator Nicolae] Ceausescu" unless he ends the imbroglio in Kosova, the Belgrade daily "Danas" wrote. Westendorp also cautioned that "if Kosova explodes, it could ignite extreme nationalism in Bosnia." Meanwhile in Banja Luka, the Bosnian Serb parliament voted on 24 June to move its seat officially from Pale to that western Bosnian city. PM


Government authorities in Zagreb made public on 24 June a plan for a refugee return that guarantees "all citizens" the right to go home. The plan foresees that some 220,000 individuals will return to their former homes inside and outside of Croatia by 2003. Some 24,000 ethnic Serbs are expected to come back to Croatia in 1998 alone. Parliament votes on the measure on 26 June. Its passage is widely seen as crucial in determining the course of Zagreb's future relations with Western countries and for its integration in Euro-Atlantic structures. PM


Perikli Teta said on 24 June in Tirana that he has prepared a list of over 20 high-ranking police officers whom he suspects of corruption. Teta added that the cases involve a variety of crimes ranging from selling passports to smuggling cigarettes. He did not elaborate on individual cases but said he would file charges in the near future. FS


"Shekulli" on 25 June quoted a recent secret government report as saying that customs evasion remains endemic. The report points out that taxed imports of six key goods have dropped by almost 50 percent in the first four months of 1998 as compared to the last four months of 1997. The report suggests that this drop indicates that the goods continued to be imported but were neither declared nor taxed. "Shekulli" estimates the loss at about $80 million. It adds that General Director of Customs Gezim Bleta told the paper that the report is accurate. FS


Gennadii Seleznev told journalists in Bucharest on 24 June that the problem of the Romanian state treasury deposited in Moscow during World War I is "hopeless." He said Romania was raising this problem within the framework of the parleys on the basic treaty between the two countries. Seleznev replaced Romanian Senate chairman Petre Roman as chairman of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization, whose 11th Parliamentary Assembly session ends on 25 June in Bucharest. His mandate is for six months. On the same day, the parliamentarians attending the session adopted a declaration expressing full support for close economic cooperation in the region, ITAR-TASS reported. The document also says a lasting peace and settlement of conflicts in the region are inseparable from strengthening economic cooperation. MS


Armenian parliament chairman Khosrov Harutiunian, who attended the PABSEC session, told Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu in Bucharest on 23 June that his country backs Romanian plans for having pipe lines transporting Caspian oil transit Romanian territory, Romanian state radio reported. Harutiunian also said Armenia's position is that all states in the region must benefit from the new transit routes and "fulfill their interests." Plesu said Romania must "urgently open" an embassy in Yerevan. Plesu also met with Moldovan parliament chairman Dumitru Diacov, with whom he discussed the "special" bilateral relations between their two states. Diacov and the chairmen of the two Romanian chambers of the parliament, Ion Diaconescu and Petre Roman, on 23 June signed an accord on cooperation between the two legislatures. MS


Igor Smirnov, leader of the separatist Transdniester region, and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma agreed in Kyiv on 24 June that Ukraine will send ten peace-keepers to the security zone in the Transdniester, ITAR-TASS reported. On the same day, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported that Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi, in a telephone conversation with Kuchma, urged Ukraine to enhance its involvement in conflict resolution attempts and send peace-keepers to the zone. In other news, BASA-press reported on 24 June that OSCE chairman Bronislaw Geremek told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg that Moldova may "count on the support of international organizations" on the withdrawal of "all foreign troops" from its territory. Geremek also said Chisinau must "prove" its determination to solve the Transdniester conflict. MS


Foreign Ministry spokesman Radko Vlaikov on 24 June said Bulgaria has requested official information from the Yugoslav authorities on conscripts from minority groups being dispatched to Kosova, BTA reported. Vlaikov said that if the information about an "imbalance" in selecting and including Bulgarian minority members in the contingents dispatched to Kosova turns out to be true, Sofia "will not pass over the matter in silence." Earlier this month, top Montenegrin officials and representatives of Vojvodina's Hungarian minority demanded that conscripts from Montenegro and Vojvodina, respectively, be stationed only outside Kosova. In other news, on 24 June visiting Uzbek President Islam Karimov and his Bulgarian counterpart Petar Stoyanov signed a treaty on friendly relations and cooperation between their countries, BTA reported. Stoyanov said Sofia will support Uzbekistan's application for membership in the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization. MS


by Floriana Fossato

Russian Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko on 24 June started consultations with parliamentary factions in a bid to ensure support for and swift approval of the government's anti-crisis program. That program was outlined at an expanded cabinet meeting the previous day.

The government also formally approved its austerity plan, including cuts in spending of 8 percent and revenue increases of about 4 percent. The plan aims to fill holes in the 1998 budget, restore calm to Russian financial markets, and convince the IMF that Russia is ready to implement the stringent fiscal-discipline measures considered a precondition for negotiations on additional financial support from the fund.

But the measures outlined in the plan cannot be implemented in their entirety without supporting legislation approved by the parliament. Only parts of the anti-crisis plan could be imposed by presidential decree. Most observers in Moscow are skeptical about whether the government will be able to persuade the State Duma to adopt 20 draft bills related to the plan before the lower house of the parliament adjourns for its summer recess on 16 July.

According to observers, the time frame set by the Kremlin could lead to a confrontation with the Duma and possibly to the dissolution of that body if lawmakers fail to give the cabinet the requested support.

President Boris Yeltsin on 23 June endorsed the government plan and told the expanded cabinet session, which included legislators as well as regional and business leaders, that "the economic crisis has become so acute that there are social and political dangers." Yeltsin called on the parliament to adopt the government's plan and vowed to take unspecified "other measures" if it did not. In 1993, Yeltsin had ordered tanks to shell the parliament building to dislodge rebellious members of the previous parliament, the Supreme Soviet.

The constitution, adopted after the shelling of the White House, gives the president powerful levers to force the Duma to comply with his plans. Yeltsin could dissolve the Duma or issue laws by decree if legislators block the government's plan. However, the constitution does not cite the refusal to pass legislation as grounds for dissolving the Duma.

But analysts say that a confrontation could easily be manufactured. Nikolai Petrov, a senior associate of the Carnegie Centre in Moscow, told RFE/RL that the time frame proposed by the government for the parliamentary passage of its plan is "not realistic." He added that Yeltsin's "thinly veiled threat to the Duma indicates that we may well be heading for a new fight."

Confrontation between the president and his foes in the opposition-dominated Duma is a habitual feature of Russia's political life. The Duma initially rejected the appointment of little-known Kirienko to the post of prime minister when Yeltsin sacked former Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin and his government three months ago. At that time, however, the economic and political situation had not reached what Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev on 23 June called the "boiling point," in a reference to the current situation.

Communist leaders in the Duma have already slammed Yeltsin's 23 June performance, while welcoming some of the points included in the government's austerity plan. Communist Party and parliamentary faction leader Gennadii Zyuganov said that Yeltsin "performed his usual repertoire. He opened the meeting, started threatening the Duma, was rude, insulted us, and left." And Anatolii Lukanov, an influential Communist member who heads the Duma's legislative committee, said "there was a time when such threats could have influenced the Duma, but not now."

Petrov of the Carnegie Centre says that "the Duma seems ready for dissolution." According to Petrov, "the situation of growing economic and political crisis now means that the Communists could benefit from the election, increasing their presence in the Duma, unlike in the spring, when economic forecasts were overall positive, and they would have been disadvantaged in an early election." Parliamentary elections are scheduled for December 1999.

Petrov said that a possible dissolution could be set up "in a simple way. The government presents the draft bills. The Duma says it does not have enough time to consider, debate, and vote on them before the recess. Then the prime minister, arguing that the Duma is not acting in the requested cooperative way, calls for a confidence vote in the government. The Duma votes no confidence and, at this point, a constitutional scenario allowing the president to dissolve [the Duma] and call early elections is set up."

For the time being, however, deputies seem to have taken time out in order to clarify their positions. The leader of the pro- government Our Home Is Russia faction, Aleksandr Shokhin, has said the Duma will not start examining the government plan before 1 July. Shokhin and his faction, closely identified with Chernomyrdin, were scheduled to meet with Kirienko on 24 June. Shokhin told the Interfax news agency that "part of the government draft bills have a good chance of being approved...but not all the measures are likely to be." The author is a Moscow-based RFE/RL correspondent.