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Newsline - August 24, 1998




CHERNOMYRDIN RETURNS TO HEAD GOVERNMENT

Russian President Boris Yeltsin on 24 August formally named former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to head a new government. The previous day, Yeltsin answered the State Duma's recent call for his own resignation by dismissing Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko and his cabinet and appointing Chernomyrdin acting premier. Before he was dismissed by Yeltsin last March, Chernomyrdin held the post of premier for more than five years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 1998). According to the Russian Constitution, the Duma has one week either to approve Chernomyrdin by a simple majority or to reject him. JAC

SOME OLD, SOME NEW FACES IN CABINET

Interfax reported on 23 August that Chernomyrdin had already been holding consultations on forming a new government. Echo Moskvy said Chernomyrdin insists on complete control over the appointment of ministers and on Yeltsin's pledge that he will not interfere with the government's daily operations. Interfax reported the next day that Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov was likely to retain his post and that Russia's foreign policies will continue more or less unchanged. Ekho Moskvy reported on 24 August that Federal Tax Service head Boris Fedorov, who last week was appointed deputy prime minister with responsibility for macroeconomic issues, is likely to retain that post and oversee contacts with international financial institutions. It also said that CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii is likely to join the government as deputy prime minister. JAC

CHERNOMYRDIN CONSULTS WITH DUMA, REGIONAL LEADERS

ITAR-TASS reported that Chernomyrdin will meet with Gennadii Zyuganov, the leader of the Communist faction in the Duma, on 24 August. Chernomyrdin also plans to confer with Grigorii Yavlinskii, who leads the Yabloko faction, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia faction. "I want to hear proposals of leaders of the Duma factions, including on personnel questions," he said. The same day, ITAR-TASS reported that Chernomyrdin met with Krasnoyarsk governor Aleksandr Lebed, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, and Gennadii Igumnov, governor of Perm, to discuss economic policy. JAC

CHERNOMYRDIN STARTED LOBBYING EARLY

According to "Segodnya," Chernomyrdin held meetings in the Duma on 20 August with Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov and the leader of the deputies' group of People's Power, Nikolai Ryzhkov. The newspaper reports that Ryzhkov and Zyuganov completely agreed with Chernomyrdin on his assessment of the country's economic situation. On 21 August, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that Chernomyrdin had been discussing with various leaders the possibility of creating a government of the parliamentary majority. The newspaper added that Chernomyrdin's five- month sabbatical from the government has strengthened his determination not only to return to a leadership role but also to choose personnel and set economic policy. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" receives financial backing from Boris Berezovskii's LogoVAZ group, while "Segodnya" is controlled by banker Vladimir Gusinskii's Media Most group. JAC

DUMA REACTION TO CHERNOMYRDIN MIXED

Despite his reported agreement with Chernomyrdin on his assessment of the nation's economy, Ryzhkov greeted news of Chernomyrdin's appointment with scorn. Interfax reported on 23 August that he said Yeltsin's decision is "absolutely devoid of any logic," adding that "when Yeltsin fired Chernomyrdin five months ago, there must have been a reason." Zyuganov avoided direct comment on Chernomyrdin but declared Yeltsin's decision "arbitrary," since he did not first consult with members of the Parliament. Meanwhile, Aleksandr Shokhin, head of the Our Home is Russia [NDR] Duma faction, said on 23 August in a interview with Ekho Moskvy that NDR leader Chernomyrdin's appointment is likely to be approved by the Duma. The next day, Oleg Morozov, leader of the Russian Regions faction, told Ekho Moskvy that the Duma's majority is ready to cooperate unconditionally with Chernomyrdin. JAC

DEBT PLAN TO GO FORWARD?

Reuters reported on 23 August that despite Kirienko's dismissal, the government is likely to announce the terms of a $40 billion debt restructuring plan on 24 August. The "Financial Times" reported on 21 August that the Russian government has revealed that it hopes to reduce its debt payments by between 200 billion rubles ($28.5 billion) and 250 billion rubles by the end of 1999. In an interview with "Itogi" on 24 August, Kirienko defended his government's decision to restructure Russian debt. "It is clear that with more than $100 billion dollars in foreign debt and more than 400 billion rubles in internal debt, we could not survive without borrowing again to pay off our old debts," he said. "We were paying each week 6-7 billion rubles in GKOs (treasury bills) or 35 billion [rubles] a month. But our entire budget receipts in May were only 20-21 billion [rubles]." JAC

U.S.-RUSSIA SUMMIT TO PROCEED AS PLANNED

Both Russian and U.S. spokesmen reassured reporters that the 1-3 September summit between Yeltsin and U.S. President Bill Clinton will proceed as planned. On 23 August, Vice President Albert Gore spoke by telephone with both the departing Kirienko and his replacement, Chernomyrdin. JAC

DUMA CONDEMNS YELTSIN...

Meeting on 21 August, the Duma approved a non-binding resolution asking Yeltsin to step down. Interfax reported that support for the resolution came primarily from the Agrarian faction, the Communist Party, Yabloko, and the People's Power faction. Head of the Our Home is Russia faction, Aleksandr Shokhin, told ITAR-TASS on 21 August that his faction opposes Yeltsin's resignation but favored Kirienko's replacement. JAC

...AND U.S. ACTION

The Duma also issued a statement charging the U.S. of weakening the UN and unleashing a regional arms race with its air strikes on selected targets in Afghanistan and Sudan, according to Interfax. In a statement supported by 264 deputies and opposed by only one, the Duma noted that the U.S.'s action made a thorough review of the START-2 agreement all the more pressing. JAC

DUMA PROPOSES ALTERNATIVE ECONOMIC COURSE

With regard to economic policy issues, the Duma on 21 August proposed suspending privatization efforts, obliging exporters with tax debts to sell their foreign exchange revenues to the government at a fixed rate, nationalizing banks, and introducing outside management of those institutions as well as tighter credit controls, Interfax reported. On 24 August, ITAR-TASS reported that the Duma Council will meet to set the legislature's agenda for the 25 and 26 August, when the lower house is scheduled to discuss a variety of economic stabilization bills. JAC

AIRLINE TRAVEL WITHIN RUSSIA MORE EXPENSIVE

On 22 August, "Kommersant-Daily" reported that the Russian airlines Aeroflot and TransAero are raising prices on domestic flights. The price for a round-trip flight between Moscow and St. Petersburg increased 11 percent to 760 rubles ($109), while a trip from Moscow to Vladivostok now costs 15 percent more, at 2,170 rubles. Spokesmen for the airlines justified the increases because of the appreciation of the dollar against the ruble and the resulting higher cost for fuel. "Kommersant-Daily" noted that Russian airport taxes, which usually make up 40 percent of the price of the ticket and are payable in rubles, have remained steady. JAC

YELTSIN CONDEMNS MUFTI'S MURDER

In a telegram addressed to Dagestan State Council chairman Magomedali Magomadov, Yeltsin on 22 August condemned as a "monstrous crime" the death in a car bomb explosion the previous day of Mufti Said-Mukhamed Abubakarov, ITAR- TASS reported. Yeltsin said the killing was an attempt to sow hatred among believers, push Dagestan toward civil war, and thus destabilize the situation throughout the North Caucasus. The chairman of the Council of Muftis of Russia, Ravil Gainutdin, termed Abubakarov's murder "a tragedy for Russia," noting that the dead mufti had always advocated tolerance and warned against dividing Muslims into Wahhabis and non-Wahhabis, "Russkii telegraf" reported on 22 August. Magomadov, for his part, called on Dagestan's police force to increase security measures, noting that "the authorities are losing the respect of the population daily." Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin has taken personal charge of the murder investigation. LF

CHECHNYA TO RECOGNIZE TALIBAN

Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov told Interfax on 21 August that Chechnya plans to establish diplomatic relations with the Taliban. Udugov added that the Chechen leadership has proposed doing so to the UN and 20 states, of which Afghanistan was the first to respond in the affirmative. The next day, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" quoted an unnamed Russian Foreign Ministry representative as explaining that since part of a state does not have the right to establish diplomatic relations with another state, Chechen-Afghan relations will be "illegal." LF




U.S. DENIES PLANS TO PRESSURE ARMENIA OVER KARABAKH

Outgoing U.S. Ambassador Peter Tomsen has denied that the U.S. administration asked the Armenian leadership to "clarify" its positions on the Karabakh conflict and on participation in regional transportation projects, Noyan Tapan reported on 21 August. The previous day, the daily newspaper "Aravot" cited an unnamed source in the Armenian embassy in Washington as claiming that the U.S. threatened to take "a tougher line" in the absence of such clarification by the Armenian government, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF

GEORGIA'S ARMENIAN MINORITY WANTS AUTONOMY

Yervan Sherinian, one of the leaders of the "Djavakhk" movement representing the overwhelmingly ethnic Armenian population of four raions in southern Georgia, said the movement's main objective is to compel the Georgian authorities to create an Armenian autonomous region within Georgia on the territory of Akhalkalaki Raion, Caucasus Press reported on 22 August. Sherinian said that the local Armenian population has the right to autonomous status, and he explicitly denied any intention of lobbying for unification with Armenia. Sherinian said he could not understand why the Georgian authorities do not allow the teaching of Armenian history in the region's schools, or why Georgia, unlike France, declines to recognize the 1915 killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide. He added that the Armenian population of Akhalkalaki opposes the planned construction of a railroad from Kars in eastern Anatolia via Akhalkalaki to Tbilisi. LF

TWO AZERBAIJANI-RUSSIAN COOPERATION AGREEMENTS SIGNED

St. Petersburg Mayor Vladimir Yakovlev met with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev in Baku on 22 August to discuss the possible transportation of Azerbaijani oil by water to St. Petersburg, ITAR-TASS reported. Yakovlev also invited Azerbaijani orders for St. Petersburg ship-building sector and met with his Baku counterpart, Rafael Allakhverdiev, with whom he signed two cooperation agreements. One week earlier, on 15 August, Aliyev held similar talks with Saratov Oblast governor Dmitrii Ayatskov on expanding cooperation in trade and the petro-chemical sector, Turan reported. Ayatskov also signed a cooperation agreement between Saratov and the Azerbaijani government, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

CENTRAL ASIAN MINISTERS CONFER ON AFGHANISTAN

The foreign and defense ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan met in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, on 22-23 August to discuss regional security. The ministers adopted a "confidential joint statement," but no details have been disclosed, ITAR- TASS reported. Interfax on 24 August quotes Tajik Ambassador to Uzbekistan Tajiddin Mardonov as saying the ministers discussed "possible scenarios of the events [in Afghanistan] and measures" that the four states could take. He said combating the spread of Islamic extremism was also discussed, as there are "forces that are paving their way to power under the cover of Islamic slogans." Mardonov added there are no plans to call for talks with Afghanistan's Taliban movement or to attempt to mediate a peace in Afghanistan. "The Taliban leaders have stated on many occasions that they do not recognize anyone and that there is nothing to be discussed," he explained. BP

PAKISTANI 'ISLAMISTS' TO BE DEPORTED FROM TAJIKISTAN

Tajik authorities have ordered four citizens of Pakistan who had distributed Islamic literature to leave the country by 25 August, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 August. Three of the men were apprehended in a Dushanbe mosque as they tried to hand out Islamic propaganda, which has been described by some sources as "pro-Taliban" and by others as "pro-Wahhabi" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 1998). Following the apprehension of the three, Tajik law enforcement authorities took another Pakistani citizen into custody. None of the men had visas or any other form of identification. BP

U.S. COMPANY WINS COURT BATTLE IN KAZAKHSTAN

Kazakhstan's Supreme Court overturned a ruling against the U.S. company CCL Oil and restored all its shares in the Pavlodar oil refinery, Interfax reported on 21 August. The company lost its 87.9 percent share in the refinery in May when a Kazakh court ruled it had failed to fulfill its part of the contract. The shares were awarded to Kazakhoil, the national oil company. A representative of CCL Oil said the court decision is a victory for Kazakhstan as it sends "a strong message to the foreign and domestic business community that there are laws in the Republic of Kazakhstan and there are organizations that intend to respect these laws." BP




YUSHCHENKO SAYS NO FURTHER DEVALUATION OF HRYVNYA

Ukrainian National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko has said last week's devaluation of the hryvnya to 2.243 to $1 was a "sufficient reaction to the decline of the Russian ruble," Ukrainian News reported on 22 August. He pledged to keep the official exchange rate of the hryvnya below the previously announced upper limit of 2.250 to $1. He also stressed that Ukraine's banks are solvent, despite the fact that most banks curtailed financial operations last week. Meanwhile, Ukrainian Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko called for urgent talks with CIS government heads to work out a "common position" on the financial crisis in Russia, Interfax reported on 21 August. JM

KUCHMA SPEAKS WITH U.S. SENATOR LUGAR ON DISARMAMENT...

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma met with U.S. Senator Richard Lugar in Kyiv on 23 August to discuss U.S. assistance to Ukraine's nuclear disarmament program. Kuchma noted that U.S. funds to assist Ukraine in destroying missile silos are being transferred "on time," but he complained that the money allocated for recultivating the land around the former silos is not, AP reported. Lugar, who along with Senator Sam Nunn, initiated a U.S. aid program to former Soviet republics to eliminate their nuclear arsenals, pledged continued economic aid to Ukraine and praised Kyiv for its support of the recent U.S. attacks in Sudan and Afghanistan. JM

...WITH IMF HEAD CAMDESSUS ON $2.2 BILLION LOAN

IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus told Kuchma in a telephone conversation on 22 August that he expects the IMF to soon approve a $2.2 billion loan to Ukraine, AP reported. Camdessus assured the Ukrainian president that the fund supports Ukraine's economic reforms. The IMF loan is widely expected to stabilize Ukraine's financial market in the wake of Russia's financial crisis. JM

BELARUS SAYS U.S. ANTI-TERRORIST STRIKES MAY ESCALATE VIOLENCE

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has said that U.S. strikes against terrorist bases in Afghanistan and Sudan "may escalate violence, bring new victims, and spiral new terrorist actions," ITAR-TASS reported on 22 August. The statement stresses that Belarus has condemned the recent terrorist bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. At the same time, the statement reads, Belarus "deems it inadmissible to unilaterally use military force in combating terrorism without appropriate authorization by the United Nations." JM

LUKASHENKA TO SKIP UN SESSION, NON-ALIGNED MOVEMENT FORUM

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has announced that he is too busy to attend the 53rd session of the UN General Assembly in New York, which will open on 9 September, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 August. He also said he will not participate in a conference of the Non-Aligned Movement Countries scheduled for Durban from 29 August-3 September. Previously, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry announced that Lukashenka will deliver a "fundamental report" at the UN session (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 1998). JM

LATVIAN WAR CRIMES SUSPECT INDICTED

Prosecutors on 21 August indicted 75-year-old Vasily Kononov for killing one man and issuing orders to kill eight other persons suspected of cooperating with the Nazi occupying forces during World War II. Kononov was the leader of a Red Army partisan unit in 1944 when he allegedly committed the crimes. He was arrested earlier this month and faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted. JC

RIGA EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER RUSSIA'S FAILURE TO INFORM ABOUT MANEUVERS...

Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs told BNS on 22 August that Russia's failure to inform Estonia and Latvia of a paratroops training exercise in Pskov Oblast, which borders on the two Baltic States, is "not in keeping with the spirit of mutual trust proposed by Russia." He added that "Russian President Boris Yeltsin some time ago made a proposal that Russia would inform the Baltic states of major military maneuvers staged near their borders." At the same time, Birkavs said he understands the necessity of such exercises in principle. "Latvians are a peaceful nation. We're just keeping an eye on developments," he commented. JC

...AS DOES VILNIUS

The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry on 21 August protested the fact that it had not received advance warning of Russian Baltic Fleet maneuvers in which new anti-aircraft missiles were used, BNS reported. The Foreign Ministry said it was "regrettable" that the Russian navy had not informed the Lithuanian authorities about a practice launch the previous day of its S-300 PS missiles. Russian military experts believe the new weapon closely resembles the U.S. Patriot missile but is less expensive to manufacture. The Russian Baltic Fleet is based in the exclave Kaliningrad. JC

POLAND, CZECH REPUBLIC BACK U.S. ATTACKS ON TERRORIST BASES

During their meeting in Warsaw on 21 August, Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek and his Czech counterpart, Jan Kavan, expressed "understanding" for U.S. attacks on terrorist bases in Afghanistan and Sudan, PAP reported on 21 August. Geremek said the attacks are an "expression of the will not to leave terrorism unpunished." Kavan added that the U.S. reaction is "understandable" in view of the recent terrorists attacks in Kenya and Tanzania. The ministers, who met on the 30th anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, discussed the issues of joining NATO, seeking EU membership, regional cooperation, and bilateral relations. JM

POLAND 'ASTONISHED' AT KOHL'S REMARKS ON RETURN OF EXPELLEES

Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Pawel Dobrowoski has said his ministry is astonished at German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's remarks on German expellees, Polish Radio reported on 21 August. In a statement following talks with Expellees' Union leader Erika Steinbach on 21 August, Kohl said that as part of joining the EU, Poland and the Czech Republic will have to follow the letter and spirit of EU treaties and allow the return of ethnic Germans expelled after World War II, dpa reported. "Poland supports the principles the chancellor spoke about--that is, freedom to move within the united Europe and the right to settle--but it cannot accept a proposal of return," Polish Radio quoted Dobrowolski as saying. According to dpa, German opinion polls show that only a "tiny minority" of the 12 million expellees would consider returning to their former homes. JM

CZECHS MARK 1968 INVASION ANNIVERSARY...

Prime Minister Milos Zeman on 21 August condemned the leaders of the 1968 reform movement, who, he said, embarked on "the slippery path of collaboration and betrayal" following the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. Zeman and Dagmar Havlova, who represented her ailing husband, laid wreathes in memory of those who died while trying to defend the building of the Czechoslovak Radio. In other news, the doctors treating President Vaclav Havel said he is to remain in hospital for at least one more week, CTK reported on 21 August. MS

...AS DO SLOVAKS

A commemorative ceremony was held in Bratislava on 21 August at the grave of Alexander Dubcek, the leader of the Czechoslovak Communist Party at the time of the 1968 Soviet-led invasion, CTK reported. The ceremony was attended by Dubcek's son Pavol, opposition politicians, Russian diplomats, and the deputy speaker of the Czech parliament, Petra Buzkova. Buzkova described Dubcek as a "symbol of the struggle for human rights and democracy." Slovak government officials boycotted the gathering. MS

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTRY 'CONCERNED' ABOUT DAM DISPUTE

Foreign Ministry spokesman Milan Tokar on 20 August said Bratislava is interested in improving its relations with Hungary but that such improvement depends on respect for "obligations stemming from The Hague International Court of Justice ruling" on the dam dispute between the two countries." Tokar said that the Slovak government had a "fruitful dialogue" with the previous Hungarian government and that experts representing the two sides reached "agreement" on the implementation of the court's ruling. Tokar expressed concern that "recent statements" by Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi offer "a different interpretation of the ruling." He added that "it looks as if somebody wants to fabricate problems and complicate matters, and this is not the Slovak side." MS

HUNGARY'S ARMED FORCES SUSPEND FIGHTER JET PURCHASE

Prime Minister Viktor Orban told journalists on 22 August that the current economic situation will not allow Hungary to purchase new combat jets. Chief of Staff General Ferenc Vegh said Hungary is postponing the announcement of a tender for the purchase of new military aircraft until 2003, when the army intends to buy 30 new fighters for some $1 billion. Meanwhile, meeting with leaders of ethnic Hungarian organizations beyond Hungary's borders on 20 August, Zsolt Nemeth, state secretary at the Foreign Ministry, announced that a summit of the leaders and representatives of those organizations will take place later this year. Orban said at that meeting that he "cannot comprehend" the termination of Hungarian-language broadcasts on Slovak Television. MSZ




ALBANIAN POLICE ARREST FORMER GOVERNMENT MINISTERS...

Albanian police arrested six officials appointed by former President Sali Berisha on 23 August: Defense Minister Safet Zhulali, Interior Minister Halit Shamata, the head of the anti-corruption agency Blerim Cela, the deputy head of the secret service Bujar Rama, Vlora police chief Sokol Mulosmanaj, and army General Kreshnik Lusha. Prosecutor-General Arben Rakipi's office issued a statement charging the six with crimes against humanity in conjunction with their alleged roles in suppressing unrest in spring 1997. The statement added that the Prosecutor-General's office accuses them of ordering the use of chemical weapons, airplanes, and helicopters against civilians. If found guilty, the six could face life sentences in prison. All are members of the opposition Democratic Party. Berisha said on 23 August that the arrests are politically motivated and aimed at intimidating the opposition. FS

...AND ISLAMISTS

In Tirana on 21 August, police arrested 10 foreigners, at least some of whom are Arabs, in a round- up of suspected Islamist terrorists. Police seized communications equipment, bullet-proof vests, weapons, and forged documents. Albanian authorities also launched an investigation of the Arab-Albanian Islamic Bank in Tirana last week as part of a broader investigation of suspected Islamist terrorist activities, dpa reported on 22 August. The measures followed the arrests of suspected Egyptian terrorists the previous month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 1998). Meanwhile, U.S. embassy guards on 23 August shot and killed an Albanian policeman after the man tried to climb over the wall surrounding the ambassador's residence. An Interior Ministry spokesman told Reuters that the policeman had fired shots at the guards when they tried to stop him. FS

MACEDONIAN, ALBANIAN PREMIERS WORK FOR STABILITY

Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski and his Albanian counterpart, Fatos Nano, agreed in Skopje on 23 August to work to maintain peace within each country as well as between them. About 23 percent of Macedonia's population consists of ethnic Albanians, many of whom consider themselves oppressed. Crvenkovski and Nano also discussed the situation in Kosova with U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Christopher Hill. Crvenkovski told AP that the crisis in Kosova has caused widespread concern and that Macedonia and Albania have "most reasons [of any countries] to worry." Nano said: "We are here to defend the stability of...Macedonia and...Albania, and...we have support from Europe and the U.S.." The previous day, at the close of NATO maneuvers in Tirana, Nano said that Belgrade is conducting a "scorched-earth" policy in Kosova. He added that Albania wants NATO to intervene there to stop the "Serbian war machine." FS

SCHUESSEL SAYS PROSPECTS FOR INTERVENTION DIM

Austrian Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel, who is the current EU chairman, said in Vienna on 23 August that the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) "has not been smashed. They simply ran away [in the face of the Serbian offensive] and will return." Schuessel added that international "military intervention at the moment is not very probable." Austria is neither a member of NATO nor a candidate to join. PM

KOHL WEIGHS POSSIBLE INTERVENTION

In Bonn, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said on 23 August that "winter [in the Balkans] can start as early as mid-October, while maybe more than 100,000 people are still seeking refuge in the forests and mountains and a humanitarian catastrophe looms. We must therefore act as quickly as possible--first and foremost the UN Security Council" must take action. Kohl spoke by telephone with Russian President Boris Yeltsin on 22 August but failed to persuade the Russian leader to end his opposition to intervention. In view of Russia's attitude, Kohl said the question of NATO intervention without UN approval is "open to review...if it means saving hundreds of thousands of lives," Reuters reported. PM

SERBS LAUNCH DRIVE ACROSS SOUTHWEST KOSOVA

Serbian forces on 23 August began a massive artillery attack on several towns and villages controlled by the UCK on the road to Prizren, southwest of Prishtina. The paramilitary police directed their main assaults against the regions of Suhareka and Shtime, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. Artillery fire could be heard in Prishtina, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Meanwhile near Rahovec, a Serbian journalist and his driver "disappeared" on 21 August, the Belgrade daily "Danas" wrote three days later. And in Prishtina, the Kosova Information Center, which is close to shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova's moderate Democratic League of Kosova, reported on 23 August that UCK members "captured" two high-ranking League officials in the Malisheva region. PM

'REPUBLIKA SRPSKA MODEL' FOR KOSOVA?

Zarko Rakcevic, who is president of the Social Democratic Party of Montenegro, said in Podgorica that the Kosovars should receive the same degree of autonomy within Yugoslavia as the Republika Srpska enjoys within Bosnia-Herzegovina. He stressed that, for Social Democrats, no one people is "worth more than the others, and all peoples must enjoy equality before the law," "Danas" wrote on 24 August. Rakcevic added that his party opposes "ethno-centric projects," including Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's call for "all Serbs in one state" as well as Albanian nationalist demands for a greater Albania. The Social Democratic leader said that Milosevic is responsible for preventing a negotiated solution because his policies have led to political polarization in Kosova. PM

PLAVSIC SAYS BELGRADE PROTECTS CRIMINALS

Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic said in an interview that the Yugoslav authorities refuse to hand over any suspected criminals living in Serbia or Montenegro to officials of the Republika Srpska, "Oslobodjenje" wrote on 24 August. She added that the recent murder of a Bosnian Serb police official loyal to her was an attempt by hard- liners to obstruct her crackdown on crime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 August 1998). PM

MUSLIMS RETURN HOME TO HERZEGOVINA

Some 500 Muslims returned to their pre-war homes in Capljina on 22 August as part of a pilot project sponsored by the international community to enable Muslims, Serbs, and Croats alike to retake possession of their homes in the ethnically tense region. No incidents were reported. In previous attempts by Muslims to go back to their homes in the area, some Croats attacked returning Muslims and damaged the Muslims' property. PM

ANOTHER ROMANIAN JOURNALIST IMPRISONED

A journalist from the northwestern town of Baia Mare has begun serving a 10-month jail sentence for libel, AP reported, citing Mediafax. Cornel Sabou was convicted in April, fined 500,000 lei ($57), and ordered to pay 300 million lei in damages for a series of articles accusing a local judge of forgery and of using her position to peddle influence at local level. Sabou did not attend the trial because he was convinced that the case would be dismissed. The lawyer representing Sabou said on 22 April that he intends to take his case to the European Commission for Human Rights. Earlier this month, a similar case was reported from the northeastern town of Iasi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 1998). MS

ROMANIAN ROMA PROTEST THREATS BY TUDOR

An umbrella organization representing Romania's Romani communities have protested statements made on 16 August by Senator Corneliu Vadim Tudor, leader of the extremist Greater Romania Party, Mediafax reported on 22 August. The Convention of Cooperation of Romani Associations said that if the authorities do not condemn Tudor's declarations, the Roma will "undertake self- defense actions." It also said Tudor's declarations are an "incitement to racial and ethnic hatred." Tudor had threatened to "deport and isolate" those members of the Roma community who "refuse integration..., do not want to work, and live from stealing." MS

MOLDOVAN PREMIER TELLS CITIZENS TO 'AVOID POLITICS'

Ion Ciubuc, speaking on a live radio program on 22 August, called on Moldovans not to "join any political movement" but to "concentrate instead on your regular work" and "let the government solve the most pressing questions" facing the country, BASA-press reported. Ciubuc said the government plans to pay off 1 billion lei (about $ 21 million) in pension arrears, of which 32 million lei will be paid in cash and the rest in foodstuff and goods. Contradicting earlier statements by Moldovan officials, Ciubuc said the ruble devaluation in Russia has so far resulted in a loss of 100 million lei for Moldova. The official rate of the Moldovan leu has dropped from 4.75 to $1 on 1 August to 4.77 on 22 August. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT STILL INTENDS TO VISIT MOSCOW

Presidential spokeswoman Neri Terezieva on 23 August told ITAR-TASS that President Peter Stoyanov is not planning to postpone his visit to Russia scheduled for 27-29 August, despite the dismissal of the Russian cabinet. Stoyanov on 19 August told Reuters that he hopes the visit will "at last put uneasy relations...on a new footing." Stoyanov said that he does not see Russia "as only a huge market for Bulgarian goods" but as a country with which Sofia "can develop ties in every walk of life." While Bulgaria's "irreversible choice" is to adhere to NATO and the EU, this "should not stand in the way of improved relations" with Moscow, he said. MS




WHY CHERNOMYRDIN?


by Laura Belin

Boris Yeltsin's decision to put Viktor Chernomyrdin back in charge of the cabinet, five months to the day after sacking him, was both a typical and an atypical step for the Russian president. Political rather than policy considerations no doubt prompted the move, but the reasoning behind the appointment remains unclear.

The ouster of Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko is in part a response to the dire situation on Russian financial markets, which continued their slide after the government and Central Bank gave up protecting the ruble from devaluation. Shifting the blame to cabinet appointees when times get tough is a classic Yeltsin tactic. The government closely coordinated its economic policies with the presidential administration in the four months since Yeltsin bullied a reluctant State Duma into confirming Kirienko. Still, the president continued to distance himself from some economic realities. During a visit to Novgorod on 14 August, Yeltsin chided the government for being "a little slow in supporting [domestic] manufacturers." Although Yeltsin expressed support for Kirienko that day, the president's spokesman said Yeltsin sharply criticized the Finance and Economics Ministries, as well as the State Customs Committee.

As former premier, Kirienko can now become a convenient scapegoat. In recent months, Chernomyrdin has criticized several government actions but never turned his fire on Yeltsin. Speaking to Interfax on 23 August, Aleksandr Shokhin, who heads the Duma faction of Chernomyrdin's Our Home Is Russia movement, argued that Yeltsin has of late not been "fully informed" by Kirienko, Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin, or Anatolii Chubais, the president's envoy to international financial organizations.

Bringing an old hand back into the government is another routine feature of Yeltsin's cabinet reshuffles. This is the president who blamed Chubais for wage and pension arrears when he fired him as first deputy prime minister in January 1996. Just six months later, Yeltsin put Chubais in charge of the Kremlin administration. Eight months after that, he again named Chubais first deputy prime minister and tasked him with solving the wage and pension arrears problem. Similarly, Yeltsin appointed Sergei Stepashin justice minister in July 1997. Two years earlier, he had sacked Stepashin as director of the country's main security service after the botched handling of a hostage crisis in Budennovsk. Searching for a candidate to replace Anatolii Kulikov as interior minister in March of this year, Yeltsin again tapped Stepashin.

Nevertheless, the reappointment of Chernomyrdin is at odds with Yeltsin's past practice in one important respect. The president normally avoids giving the impression that he is acting under external pressure. He has left remarkably unpopular officials in power for long periods, and he insisted on naming Kirienko as prime minister, despite vocal opposition from many Duma deputies and media outlets. Throughout Kirienko's tenure in office, the 51 percent state-owned network Russian Public Television and the private network NTV continued to contrast the young premier unfavorably with his predecessor. The daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta," which (like Russian Public Television) is linked financially to CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii, has published several calls for bringing Chernomyrdin back into the government. The most recent of those calls was on 21 August.

Why did Yeltsin offer the top government post to Chernomyrdin once again, despite having repeatedly expressed the need for new leadership earlier this year? Several more weeks of uncertainty and haggling with parliament over Chernomyrdin's confirmation are unlikely to encourage potential investors to take a chance on Russia. Nor is giving Chernomyrdin his old job back likely to boost Yeltsin's opinion poll ratings.

NTV speculated on 23 August that Yeltsin has decided once and for all not to seek re-election in 2000. That is, he appointed Chernomyrdin acting prime minister because he no longer feels threatened by the latter's presidential ambitions. Yeltsin lent credence to this explanation in a nationwide television address on 24 August, when he said his "main consideration" in appointing Chernomyrdin was "providing for the continuity of power in 2000." He added that Russia needs the experience of political "heavyweights" at present.

While it is possible that Yeltsin has annointed Chernomyrdin his heir, a more likely explanation is that the president moved to appease the industrial and business interests that never warmed to Kirienko. Several banks and corporations aligned with Chernomyrdin finance influential Russian media. Berezovskii has often spoken of the need to ensure "continuity of power." NTV is partly owned by Gazprom, the gas monopoly Chernomyrdin headed from 1989 until late 1992. Yeltsin may be trying to deter corporate-owned media from portraying him and the government as weak and ineffective.

Alternatively, Yeltsin could be offering Chernomyrdin and his backers a poisoned chalice. The Duma is not guaranteed to confirm the old/new prime minister, according to Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky. In fact, the Duma Council on 24 August instructed the speaker of the lower house, Gennadii Seleznev, to ask Yeltsin to withdraw Chernomyrdin's nomination.

But even if Chernomyrdin sails through a confirmation vote, his government will find no easy answers to the federal budget shortfall and other economic problems. The Economics Ministry recently predicted that Russia's gross domestic product will fall by 2.5 percent in 1998. Failure to turn the economy around would harm Chernomyrdin's presidential prospects and the stature of those who lobbied for his return to the cabinet. The author is a specialist on Russian politics and media.


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