Accessibility links

Newsline - November 16, 1998




SCHROEDER ARRIVES IN MOSCOW

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder arrived in Moscow on 16 November for his first visit to Russia in his new capacity. Schroeder is expected to reorient Germany's Russia policy away from its reliance on the personal relationship existing between former Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President Boris Yeltsin. In addition to meeting with Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov and Yeltsin, Schroeder will also meet with Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, and Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov. JAC

DUMA TAKES MILD STANCE ON ANTI-SEMITISM

On 13 November, the Duma adopted a milder version of a resolution that had condemned anti-Semitic statements and mentioned State Duma deputy and Communist Party member Albert Makashov by name. According to the resolution, "some deputies, officials, and mass media outlets do not advance friendly and respectful relationships between persons of different nationalities with their statements," ITAR-TASS reported. The resolution passed with 302 votes in favor and 34 against. Federal Security Service (FSB) head Vladimir Putin announced the same day that Moscow city prosecutors have launched an investigation into several politicians who attended a rally at which Makashov also spoke. Those politicians are suspected of inciting ethnic hatred. Meanwhile, over the past week, the number of Russian Jews applying for permission to emigrate to Israel has jumped, according to the Israeli embassy in Moscow, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported. JAC

MENATEP, MOST, SBS-AGRO MAKE BAIL-OUT LIST

Andrei Kozlov, Central Bank first deputy chairman, told the Duma's Budget Committee on 12 November that 720 out of Russia's 1,600 commercial banks will not be saved. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 14 November, Kozlov also said 190 regional banks have minor problems and require some assistance. Kozlov did not disclose the identity of eighteen banks considered too socially important to be allowed to fail. However, Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko later told NTV that the bank would not allow the failure of "Russia's three largest banks, Menatep, Most, and SBS-Agro." Lev Makarevich, an analyst with the Association of Russian Banks told "Moscow Times" that the Central Bank itself may not yet know the identity of the 18 banks since an assessment of the banks' assets will require months. "All the banks, including the biggest ones, practiced double or even triple accounting," he said. JAC

LUZHKOV FORMS NEW POLITICAL MOVEMENT

After plans to form a center-left alliance with the Communist Party crumbled, Moscow Mayor and likely presidential contender Yurii Luzhkov told NTV on 15 November that he is forming his own political movement, which is to be called Otechestvo [Fatherland]. According to Luzhkov, the movement will form the nation's political center, blending elements from both the Left and the Right. It will advocate "free market principles as well as the preservation of the state sector in the economy." While attending a Labour Party meeting in England earlier this fall, Luzhkov declared his affinity for the policies of British Prime Minister Tony Blair(see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 1998). JAC

MOSCOW CONTINUES TO OPPOSE USE OF FORCE AGAINST IRAQ

Russia began evacuating personnel from its embassy in Baghdad on 15 November in anticipation of possible Western air strikes, AP reported. But Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the same day after talks in Kuala Lumpur with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that there are "good prospects for a political settlement of the crisis." Following his letter to U.S. President Bill Clinton on 13 November making clear that Russia opposes the use of force against Iraq, Russian President Yeltsin reaffirmed Moscow's commitment to a political solution to the Baghdad-UN standoff in a letter which Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev delivered to Syrian President Hafez Assad on 15 November. Speaking at a conference in St. Petersburg the same day, Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev expressed doubt that the U.S. could topple the Iraqi leadership. LF

RUSSIA JOINS APEC

Russia formally joined the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum on 14 November, ITAR-TASS reported. On 17 and 18 November, Prime Minister Primakov will fill in for President Yeltsin at an informal summit of APEC leaders in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who attended APEC pre- summit ministerial meetings, noted that APEC states account for about 50 percent of world trade turnover and about 18 percent of Russia's foreign trade, according to ITAR-TASS. According to Interfax, Ivanov presented a government plan for liberalizing Russian trade. JAC

CANADA TO AID SAKHA...

Canada will provide humanitarian aid to the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), the diamond-producing region in eastern Siberia, this winter, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 November. The amount of relief has not yet been determined, but the Canadian government reportedly plans to send Yakutia food, warm clothes, medicines, and possibly fuel. JAC

...AS KORYAK, CHUKOTKA DEEMED IN WORST SHAPE

The next day, Deputy Minister for Emergencies Nikolai Loktionov said that the Koryak and Chukotka Autonomous Okrugs are even less prepared for winter than Sakhalin Island or Magadan and Kamchatka Oblasts, whose low food and fuel reserves have triggered a variety of alarming news reports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 1998). JAC

PROSECUTOR INVESTIGATES PLOT TO KILL BEREZOVSKII

The office of the chief military prosecutor has reopened its investigation into a plot to murder influential businessman and CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 13 November, FSB officers provided evidence that Lieutenant-Colonel Aleksandr Litvinenko received orders to kill Berezovskii. Litvinenko, who refused to carry out those orders, is reportedly being persecuted and narrowly evaded an attempt on his own life. The previous day, "Kommersant-Daily" reported that William Webster, former director of the CIA, told a Duma delegation visiting the U.S. that Berezovskii illegally purchased $72 million worth of real estate in Antigua. Berezovskii, speaking to Interfax on 11 November, dismissed the charges as a Duma provocation, saying that "the entire island of Antigua probably costs less than $72 million." JAC

NDR FACING REGIONAL PRESSURE...

At a leadership meeting of the Our Home is Russia (NDR) party on 14 November, NDR leader and former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin found himself facing increasing criticism of his leadership. Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov joined Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov, who earlier had voiced criticism of Chernomyrdin (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 15 October 1998). Ayatskov proposed that the party elect a new chairman, saying the movement risks losing many of its members to other parties, according to Interfax. Aleksandr Shokhin, leader of NDR's Duma faction, said that real problem is not who heads the movement but that its various parts are not working well together, ITAR- TASS reported. He cited problems in relations between the movement's leadership and regional leaders. JAC

...WHILE SEEKING TO FORM ELECTORAL BLOC

Unlike Yabloko and the Communist Party, which have declared their unwillingness to form a coalition in anticipation of presidential and parliamentary elections, NDR stressed its desire to create a bloc of center-right parties. According to a resolution, the party will aim to retain--if not increase --its number of representatives in the Duma. JAC

RUSSIAN AIRLINES SLASH PRICES, REDUCE SERVICE

Aeroflot reduced its prices by 30 percent from 10 November until 31 March 1999 for business class travelers on international flights, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 November. The special rates will not be available during the period from 16 December to 1 January. Vnukovo Airlines has also cut its fares for internal flights. Earlier Transaero reduced its service to some Russian cities, cutting back its total number of flights by 30 percent. Domestic airlines are struggling since passenger travel plunged 30 percent in September and October compared with last year. JAC

NEWSPAPER BLAMES U.S. CONSUL OFFICIAL FOR ACCIDENT

"Komsomolskaya pravda" has suggested that a U.S. consulate official was at fault in a traffic accident in Vladivostok that left a 23-year-old "maimed" and in need of expensive medical treatment. Citing a local television broadcast, the newspaper reported that while the US official has admitted his guilt and volunteered to pay for the boy's treatment, no money has yet been forthcoming. The daily also noted that the boy is receiving round-the- clock care "not from a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, but from his mother." It concluded that "we do not dispute [the U.S. diplomat's] right to refuse 'to breathe into a tube' [take a breath analyzer test after the accident] but we do dispute his moral right to cripple a man and then carry on blithely with the rest of his life." JAC

CHECHEN PRESIDENT GREETS VLASOV'S RELEASE

Aslan Maskhadov expressed his pleasure on 13 November at the release of Russian presidential envoy Valentin Vlasov, who had been abducted on 1 May on the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia, Interfax reported. Maskhadov also praised Vlasov's strength of character and said that he hopes Vlasov will resume his mission in Chechnya soon. Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Turpal Atgeriev told Interfax that Vlasov was not held on Chechen territory and that the Chechen leadership was not informed of the operation to secure his release. Details of that operation have not been publicized. Chechen Deputy Security Minister Nasrudi Bazhiev rejected Russian Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin's claim that no ransom was paid. He accused Stepashin of encouraging criminal groups that engage in kidnappings. LF

WAS MOSCOW INVOLVED IN OCALAN'S ARREST?

Russian government and Foreign Ministry spokesmen refused on 14 November to comment on the implications of Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan's arrest on arrival in Rome on a Russian Airlines flight from Moscow on the night of 12-13 November, according to Interfax. Russian officials had repeatedly said they could not confirm media reports that Ocalan was in Russia. But "Segodnya" on 14 November quoted Can Altan, an adviser at the Turkish Embassy in Moscow, as implying that Russian intelligence may have tipped off the Italian authorities and thus facilitated Ocalan's arrest. LF




MODEST TURNOUT AT GEORGIAN LOCAL ELECTIONS

Initial returns indicate that turnout at the 15 November Georgian municipal elections was low, though above the required 33.3 percent minimum nationwide, according to Caucasus Press. The ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia reportedly received a majority in Tbilisi and in the predominantly Armenian-populated region of Samtskhe- Djavakheti. Voting was marred by minor procedural violations in a number of places, including Krtsanisi, where President Eduard Shevardnadze was allowed to cast his vote without producing his passport. LF

GEORGIAN FINANCE MINISTER RESIGNS

As widely anticipated, Shevardnadze on 14 November accepted the resignation of 28-year-old Mikhail Chkuaseli, who had served as finance minister since May 1997. Chkuaseli told journalists that he had intended to resign two months ago but had changed his mind after the parliament approved changes in the tax code and the government implemented IMF recommendations to mobilize tax revenues. But those measures have not had the desired effect: Chkuaseli complained on 11 November that budget revenues do not exceed 100,000 lari ($75,000) per day, while state expenditures are 2 million lari per day. Addressing the state financial stabilization commission the same day, Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze said the budget shortfall for the first 10 months of 1998 was 160 million lari. LF

NO COMPROMISE ON ARMENIAN ELECTION LAW

Representatives of the Yerkrapah parliamentary group, the largest in the legislature, held three-day talks last week with opposition representatives but failed to reach agreement on a new election law, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 13 November. Yerkrapah wants most seats in the new parliament to be allocated under a majoritarian system, while an alternative draft law supported by 11 other political parties represented in the parliament prefers the proportional system. Eduard Yegorian, leader of the Hairenik group and author of the alternative draft law, termed the talks "a farce" and accused Yerkrapah of unwillingness to compromise on any major issue. LF

ARMENIA POSTPONES PLANNED POPULATION CENSUS

Minister of Statistics Stepan Mnatsakanian told ITAR-TASS on 14 November that the nationwide census planned for next year has been postponed until 2001 because the draft budget for 1999 does not provide the necessary funds. As of 1 November, Armenia's population was officially estimated at 3,780,000. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION LEADER CHARGED WITH INSULTING PRESIDENT

The Ministry of Justice announced on 13 November that former President Abulfaz Elchibey, chairman of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, has been charged with defaming the honor and dignity of his successor as president, Heidar Aliev, Reuters and Interfax reported. That crime is punishable by up to six years' imprisonment. Elchibey had affirmed in articles published in two independent newspapers last week that Aliyev was instrumental in the creation of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). On 14 November, the recently formed Movement for Democracy that unites 23 opposition parties called off a demonstration planned for the following day after the Baku city authorities refused permission to hold it, Interfax reported. On 13 November, the Azerbaijani parliament had passed legislation limiting the right to hold public demonstrations. LF

ANOTHER KAZAKH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE BARRED FROM RUNNING

Central Electoral Commission chairwoman Zagipa Baliyeva told Interfax on 13 November that Asylbek Amantai, who heads the Oton public movement, cannot register as a candidate for the 10 January presidential elections. She explained that in February, Amantai was sentenced by a local court on charges of violating regulations for convening meetings and demonstrations. Former Premier Akezhan Kazhegeldin has also been refused registration as a presidential candidate on the same grounds. LF

TURKISH PRESIDENT IN KYRGYZSTAN

Arriving in Bishkek on 13 November, Suleyman Demirel discussed bilateral relations with Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev. The following day, he opened the Kyrgyz-Turkish university in Bishkek, in which Turkey has invested $13 million, and visited several Kyrgyz-Turkish joint ventures. Discussing economic cooperation, Demirel warned that Turkey will extend further loans to Kyrgyzstan only after irregularities in the use of a $75 million loan in 1993 have been clarified, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The total volume of Turkish-Kyrgyz trade is $60 million, and Turkey has invested $18 million in Kyrgyzstan's Manas free economic zone. Demirel had left Turkmenistan for Kyrgyzstan on 13 November without either signing an anticipated joint communique or holding a press conference with his Turkmen counterpart, Saparmurat Niyazov, Interfax reported. LF

UZBEKISTAN AGAIN DENIES ABETTING TAJIK REBELS

The Uzbek Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 13 November rejecting as "completely groundless" accusations made the previous day by Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov that the Uzbek leadership provided support to the leaders of the failed revolt in Tajikistan two weeks ago, Reuters reported. Addressing the Tajik parliament the same day, Rakhmonov softened his rhetoric, urging deputies not to fuel enmity between the Tajik and Uzbek peoples, according to ITAR-TASS. Also on 13 November, Tajik National Reconciliation Commission chairman Said Abdullo Nuri, who also heads the United Tajik Opposition, appealed to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan officially to condemn the revolt in order to deter UN members from further interfering in Tajikistan's internal affairs. In Bishkek on 14 November, CIS Executive Secretary Boris Berezovskii warned that the deterioration in Tajik-Uzbek relations poses a threat to the entire CIS. LF




UKRAINE HOPES TO PAY GAS DEBT TO RUSSIA BY 1 JANUARY

Ihor Bakay, head of the Naftohaz Ukrayiny company, has said Ukraine will repay its debt for Russian gas supplies by 1 January, Interfax reported on 13 November. Ukraine agreed with Russia last month to pay by barter the gas debt accumulated in the fourth quarter of 1997 and during this year Ukrainian First Deputy Premier Anatoliy Holubchenko said Ukraine will deliver $500 million worth of food and $500 million worth of industrial products in payment for Russian gas. Under a gas deal reached last week, Ukraine will receive 40 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia in 1999 as payment for transit of Russian gas through its territory to Western Europe. Ukraine's annual gas consumption totals 80 billion cubic meters, of which only 18 billion cubic meters is produced domestically. JM

UKRAINE OPENS GAS PIPE TO EASE ENERGY DEPENDENCE ON RUSSIA

Ukraine has opened a 103 kilometer gas pipeline that will carry domestically produced gas from Donetsk to Mariupol. "Russia has in the past had the ability to exert pressure on Ukraine, but it does not now," Reuters quoted President Leonid Kuchma as saying at the official opening of the pipeline on 13 November. Ukrainian Television commented that the pipeline will help ensure that industrial giants in Zaporizhzha and Donetsk Oblasts receive regular supplies. JM

KUCHMA DISSATISFIED WITH POWER SYSTEM, PARLIAMENT

President Kuchma says that "the power structure determined in the constitution by the former Supreme Council does not include mechanisms that could induce the parliament to form a majority and operate as a responsible, efficient legislature," "Holos Ukrayiny" reported on 14 November. In his opinion, Ukraine's inefficient parliament should either dissolve itself or transfer its legislative powers to the president or the cabinet. Kuchma said some 750 draft bills are currently awaiting consideration by the Supreme Council. He added that the parliament has viewed only one out of the 48 decrees he has issued this year to deal with urgent economic matters. Kuchma said that even if he were to dissolve the parliament, there may be no change since it is necessary to amend the constitution "to lay down the levers of coexistence and the principles of balance between the parliament and the government." JM

LUKASHENKA DISCUSSES BELARUS-RUSSIA UNION WITH SELEZNEV

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka held talks with Russian State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev in Minsk on 13 November, "Novye izvestiya" reported. Seleznev told journalists after the meeting, which took place behind closed doors, that they discussed decisions related to the Belarusian-Russian Union that were taken by the Union Parliamentary Assembly in Yaroslavl earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 November 1998). According to Seleznev, Lukashenka called the parliamentary assembly the union's only functioning body. Interfax reported on 13 November that Seleznev said the Union of Belarus and Russia may be transformed into a confederation without the need to hold a referendum on the issue. "We only need to make corresponding amendments to the union charter and elect a single parliament," the agency quoted him as telling workers at the Minsk Automotive Plant. JM

ESTONIA'S JUNIOR COALITION PARTNER TO GO IT ALONE?

The board of the Country People's Party (EME) has recommended to a party congress in Paide that the EME run on its own list in the March parliamentary elections, ETA reported on 15 November. The EME congress, for its part, reserved the right to decide on whether to join an electoral alliance after the parliament votes this week on whether to ban such alliances. Prime Minister Mart Siimaan, who canceled a trip to Latvia in order to attend the EME congress, urged the party to continue to take part in the ruling coalition led by his Coalition Party, warning that otherwise a right-wing electoral alliance of the Fatherland Union, the Moderates, and the People's Party will likely win the most votes at the March poll. JC

TALLINN RESPONDS TO FARMERS' DEMANDS

Agriculture Minister Andrus Varik, meeting with farmers' representatives on 13 November, handed over written answers to demands made earlier this year by the farming community, ETA reported. Varik said there would be no sense in declaring 1998 a catastrophe year in Estonia because there is no law regulating relief measures in such a case. But he stressed that the government is trying to find ways to compensate farmers for the poor harvest, noting that it has already approved allocating some 227 million kroons (some $17.5 million) that it hopes to find when this year's budget is revised. JC

LATVIAN PRESIDENT WANTS MAJORITY GOVERNMENT

Guntis Ulmanis, commenting on differences between the People's Party and Latvia's Way over forming a new ruling coalition, said that "Latvia needs a majority government to ensure the stability of the state and the government," BNS reported on 13 November. The two parties finished first and second, respectively, in last month's general elections, but no agreement has yet been reached on the People's Party joining a three-party minority coalition led by Latvia's Way. Meanwhile, Prime Minister-designate Vilis Kristopans of Latvia's Way has said he plans to announce his government lineup on 19 November. JC

AUSTRIAN CHANCELLOR IN WARSAW

Viktor Klima said during his 13 November visit to Warsaw that EU enlargement must take place in such a way that EU nations do not suffer any losses, PAP reported. He added that the "transition periods" helping EU candidates adjust to the union's requirements are intended as protection against losses. Polish Premier Jerzy Buzek said Austria and Poland have a "nearly identical" vision of Europe's development. He added that Poland's relations with Austria are very good. JM

POLES NO LONGER REQUIRED TO HAVE TWO WEDDINGS

A law recognizing the validity of a Church marriage took effect on 15 November, PAP reported. The law, passed earlier this year in accordance with the 1993 Concordat Treaty between Poland and the Vatican, states that marriages performed by clergymen have the same binding legal status as civil ceremonies at state registry offices. The law applies to all recognized denominations in Poland. Under communism, only civil marriages were recognized as legal. JM

OPPOSITION LEADS IN CZECH SENATE CONTEST

None of the 27 Senate seats contested in the 13-14 November ballot for the upper house has been decided in the first round, which required a majority vote. A second round, in which the top two candidates will face each other, is to be held on 20-21 November. Candidates of the main opposition formation, the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), will take part in 22 runoffs. The governing Social Democratic Party (CSSD) will have 15 candidates in the second round and the four-party coalition led by the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union will have 14 candidates. Communist candidates will take part in the run- offs in three districts. Turnout for the Senate contest was 42.3 percent and for the local elections (whose results are to be released on 17 November) 46 percent. MS

CARDINAL ACCUSED OF INTERFERING IN POLITICS

The CSSD on 15 November accused Roman Catholic Cardinal Miloslav Vlk of interfering in politics, saying he is sabotaging relations with the state, AP reported. The CSSD statement follows an exchange between Vlk and Prime Minister Milos Zeman last week in which the cardinal said the government is unwilling to agree on members for a committee set up to deal with the issue of Church property confiscated by the Communists. Vlk added that the CSSD does not enjoy the Church's confidence. Zeman is now demanding an apology. MS

HUNGARY, SLOVAKIA AGREE ON IMPLEMENTING BASIC TREATY

Gabor Bagi, deputy state secretary at the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, said on 13 November that agreement has been reached in Budapest on implementing the Hungarian-Slovak basic treaty, Hungarian media reported. Bagi and Anton Pinter, director-general of the Slovak Foreign Ministry, agreed to set up 11 committees designed to coordinate the treaty's implementation. In a major departure from past Slovak positions, Pinter agreed that representatives of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia and the Slovak minority in Hungary will participate in monitoring the process. The agreement is to be signed in Bratislava by the two countries' foreign ministers on 18 November. MS

HUNGARIAN DEMOCRATIC FORUM LEADER UNDER CRITICISM

Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) chairman Sandor Lezsak, as well as the party's steering board and former parliamentary group, has been blamed in a party resolution for the MDF's poor performance in the elections earlier this year. The resolution is to be submitted for approval at the party's National Convention scheduled for 21 November. Media reports suggest that Lezsak will be challenged at the convention by Justice Minister Ibolya David for the party's chairmanship. MS




MACEDONIAN COALITION HEADED FOR PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITY

The center-right coalition of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) and the Democratic Alternative (DA) is ahead in the race for five out of seven legislative seats. Voting for those seats was repeated on 15 November because of irregularities in the previous round, Radio Skopje reported (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 1998). If the final total is in keeping with the preliminary results, the VMRO-DA coalition will have 63 out of 120 seats and will not need additional coalition partners in order to form a majority. Observers note, however, that the two parties are likely to continue talks with the Democratic Party of the Albanians in order to form a broader-based government. U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Chris Hill recently urged DA leader Vasil Tupurkovski to include at least one mainly Albanian party in the coalition, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 14 November. PM

BELGRADE WARNS MACEDONIA OVER NATO BASE

Yugoslav Deputy Foreign Minister Zoran Novakovic delivered an "energetic protest" on 15 November to the Macedonian charge d'affaires. He warned Skopje not to provide a base for NATO's proposed rapid reaction force, which will rescue endangered international monitors in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1998). Novakovic said that "any military action [from Macedonian soil] against Yugoslavia would be contrary to the long- term interests of the two countries.... It would not be understandable [to Belgrade] that a friendly country allows abuse of its territory for military actions against another friendly, neighboring country." The VMRO-DA coalition was not sympathetic to the NATO request during the election campaign but has subsequently warmed to the proposal. Observers suggested that offending Belgrade may be the price Skopje will have to pay if it wants further integration into Euro-Atlantic structures, which all political parties regard as crucial. PM

SOLANA TELLS SERBS NOT TO HARM MONITORS

NATO Secretary General Javier Solana said in Rome on 16 November that "NATO will not tolerate that the verifiers [in Kosova] be attacked or endangered.... A few days ago [NATO] decided on the operational plan for the [rapid reaction] extraction force and we are going to do our best...to guarantee [their] security." The previous day near Duha, southwest of Prishtina, a Yugoslav army vehicle fired a burst from a machine gun over a car in which three U.S. diplomatic observers were riding. An OSCE spokesman in Prishtina said that "random firing is not in the spirit of the cease-fire agreement." The Yugoslav army then argued in a statement that "the members of the U.S. mission in the...car interpreted the exhaust pipe [backfiring] as shooting," Reuters reported. PM

UCK CALLS FOR DONATIONS

The Kosova Liberation Army published a statement in the Prishtina daily "Koha Ditore" on 15 November in which it told Kosovars that they "are obliged to help the UCK fund inside the country [as well as abroad], because by helping the war, they help freedom, independence, and democracy in Kosova." PM

SERBIAN PRESIDENT URGES KOSOVARS TO JOIN TALKS

Milan Milutinovic on 15 November called on Kosovars to join Serbian officials in talks on 18 November in the presence of U.S., Austrian, Russian, and Chinese diplomats. Kosovar spokesman Fehmi Agani has rejected that offer. In the past, Kosovar leaders have rejected Serbian offers of talks as propaganda. The Kosovar leadership argues that talks can take place only after all Belgrade's forces have left the province and only with a Yugoslav--not a Serbian--delegation that includes Montenegrins. The U.S. and Austrian diplomats whom the Serbs asked to attend have said they will be elsewhere on that date. PM

SESELJ WANTS DODIK TO BECOME 'GOVERNOR OF ALABAMA'

NATO peacekeepers told Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj on 14 November that he is persona non grata in Bosnia and must leave Banja Luka, where he was attending an inaugural party for his political ally, Nikola Poplasen, as president of the Republika Srpska. General Jacques Klein, who is a deputy to the international community's Carlos Westendorp, gave the order for Seselj's expulsion. Seselj left peacefully, but said in Belgrade on 15 November that he will order "10,000 baseball bats" to enable Serbs to resist NATO. He added that moderate Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik "works for the Americans [who should help him] to become governor of Alabama," Radio B-92 reported. Poplasen on 15 November nominated nationalist candidate Dragan Kalinic to replace Dodik. Observers said that Kalinic is unlikely to be able to form a parliamentary majority. PM

HAGUE COURT SENTENCES THREE FOR CRIMES AGAINST SERBS

On 16 November, the Hague-based war crime tribunal sentenced two Muslims and their Croatian commander to a total of 42 years in prison for crimes against Serbs at the Celibici concentration camp in 1992. The court acquitted a third Muslim. The 20 month-long trial was the longest the tribunal has held and the first at which the defendants were convicted of atrocities against Serbs. PM

ALBANIAN GOVERNMENT TAKES ACTION AGAINST CUSTOMS EVASION

Deputy Prime Minister Ilir Meta ordered national customs police on 15 November not to let any trucks into the country unless the drivers first pay customs duties, dpa reported. Meta told the cabinet that "truck drivers are seeking to corrupt Albanian customs officials and bring goods into Albania without paying customs duties." According to Albanian Television, more than 50 trucks are lined up at three border checkpoints with Greece and Macedonia and some have been there for more than 10 days. Some two weeks ago, the authorities sacked corrupt customs officials, whom the truckers were accustomed to bribing. Finance Minister Anastas Angjeli said the line of trucks is particularly long at the Macedonian border crossing point of Qafe e Thanes. Angjeli added that the government recently deployed "special police groups...at all customs posts" to combat corruption, including at ports and Tirana airport. FS

ISLAMIST MURDER SUSPECT SENTENCED IN ALBANIA

A Tirana court on 14 November sentenced Claude Cheik Ben Abdel Kader to 20 years in prison for the murder of his Albanian translator under circumstances that have not been fully clarified. According to dpa, Kader told the court that he considers himself a victim of Christian persecution and that he will take revenge as soon as he leaves prison. Kader previously told the court that he is an associate of Osama Bin Laden, a Saudi millionaire believed to be the mastermind behind the August U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 1998). He also said that his mission in Albania was to organize fighters for the UCK. Kader, however, failed to accomplish that aim, AP reported. FS

ALBANIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT JUDGE LINKS BOMB TO REFERENDUM

Constitutional Court Chief Judge Fehmi Abdiu told "Gazeta Shqiptare" on 13 November that a bomb attack on his home two days earlier was part of a plot to obstruct the 22 November referendum on the draft constitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 1998). Police spokesmen said they have arrested eight suspects but did not disclose their identities. In other news, Prime Minister Pandeli Majko, visiting Athens the same day, urged Greeks not to view his countrymen as a nation of criminals. He told a news conference that "Albanians in Greece want to do honest work." There has been a growing tendency among Greeks in recent years to link Albanian migrant workers with crime. FS

DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION OF ROMANIA TO SPLIT?

Valeriu Stoica, deputy chairman of the National Liberal Party (PNL), said in Targu Mures on 15 November that the "balance of forces within the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) has changed" and that while the PNL has "taken over the helm," its National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) partner is divided by conflict. Stoica said the PNTCD will be forced to sign a new CDR protocol reflecting this change. Local branches of the two parties "should be allowed to decide themselves" whether to run on separate or joint lists in the local elections scheduled for 2000, Stoica said. On 13 November, the PNL National Council approved a 20-point program for "cleansing and re- launching" the economy, saying it must be implemented before the end of 1998. MS

LUCINSCHI SAYS HE MIGHT HAVE TO DECLARE EMERGENCY STATE...

President Petru Lucinschi told journalists on 13 November that the country's economic crisis might force him to declare a state of emergency. He refused to reply to a question about whether he has such a prerogative under the constitution. He added that he dismissed Transportation and Communication Minister Tudor Leanca at the request of Premier Ion Ciubuc and that the significance of that decision has been "inflated." The dismissal of the government when the country is facing a crisis would be "untimely," he commented, according to RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau. MS

...HOPES TRANSDNIESTER SETTLEMENT IMMINENT

Lucinschi said he hopes agreement on a special status for the separatists and the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Transdniester will be reached at the summit in Kyiv on 27-29 November. He said one of the main unresolved problems is that of the military equipment that Russia left in the region, adding that "in the past three years, [Moscow] has withdrawn 3,900 soldiers but only two tanks." The same day, Lucinschi received a telegram from Gazprom director Rem Vyakhirev saying that in view of Moldova's repeated failure to abide by agreements for settling its debt, Gazprom will reduce and eventually cut off supplies to Moldova. He added that his company is pulling out of a deal to take over a controlling stake in the MoldovaGas joint venture in exchange for part settlement of the debt by government bonds. MS

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT PARTLY OVERRULES PRESIDENTIAL VETO

Lawmakers on 13 November overruled President Petar Stoyanov's veto on one of the articles in the new media law and banned broadcasts of television advertisements during prime time, Reuters reported. This was the only article overruled by the legislators, who accepted several other objections made by Stoyanov and allowed, among other things, state television and radio broadcasts in the languages of Bulgaria's ethnic minorities, including Turkish. MS

BOMB EXPLODES OUTSIDE DEPUTY'S HOME

A bomb exploded on 15 November outside the home of Georgi Shishkov, a parliamentary deputy representing the Union of Democratic Forces, BTA reported. A few months ago Shishkov accused former high-ranking Socialist Party officials of involvement in smuggling . He was at home when the blast occurred but was not injured. MS




REPLACING SKRUNDA


by Paul Goble

In yet another indication that Moscow can still find funds for activities it deems essential, the Russian military will soon open a radar base in Belarus to replace the Skrunda site in Latvia, which was shut down in the summer.

According to a recent report in the Moscow newspaper "Nezavisimaya gazeta," construction of the new base, to be located near the Belarusian city of Baranovichi, was delayed for five years because of "insufficient funding." As a result of those delays, much of the equipment for it is no longer in working order after being stored for so long.

But, the newspaper reports, Moscow recently found the funds and ordered construction carried out at "forced march tempi." The early warning radar system will soon be in service to protect Russia's Northwest.

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" suggests that this project reflects the growing military cooperation between Moscow and Minsk. Indeed, it published this story under precisely that rubric. But in fact, the opening of what the newspaper called an "alternative" to Skrunda points to three much larger issues.

First, Moscow's construction of a new site in Belarus undermines Russia's long-standing claims, supported by many in the West, that the Skrunda site was integral to East-West arms accords and that Moscow had no choice but to continue to operate the Skrunda site in Latvia long after Soviet power fell there.

Indeed, it was largely on the basis of these Russian claims that the Latvian government was pressured into allowing the Russian military to continue to operate the Skrunda site until this summer, four years after the last Russian soldier left, and to have another 18 months to dismantle it.

Second, Moscow's ability to find the funds needed for this plant at a time when the Russian government faces so many financial problems seems certain to raise a number of questions in Western countries to which Moscow has applied for assistance. Indeed, the Baranovichi installation is not the only one of its kind: the Russian military is putting on line a variety of new weapons systems even as some of its units are forced to open soup kitchens for soldiers and officers.

Some governments are likely to ask just how cash- pressed the Russian government is if it can construct such expensive bases. They may also inquire where the Russian authorities got the cash for such installations. Did the Russian government divert some Western assistance intended for shoring up the Russian economy into strengthening the Russian army?

Johannes Linn, World Bank vice president for Europe and Central Asia, recently told RFE/RL that the bank does not have control over the exact use of its so-called structural adjustment loans, granted in exchange for policy changes that the bank believes will be beneficial to the debtor country as whole. At the same time, Linn said that while the bank does not control every dollar the Russian government spends and in particular, does not control the military budget, it has recently agreed to review with Moscow the government's public expenditures program in order to identify high- and low-priority expenses.

But while closer control over budget allocations may appease concerns in some quarters, there is likely to be considerable resistance in the West to any plans for providing monetary assistance to the Russian government following the announcement about Baranovichi. At the very least, Russian military construction of the kind taking place in Belarus almost certainly will cause Western governments to conclude they should supply only non-cash aid to Moscow because such assistance, be it food or medical supplies, is far less easy to divert to other purposes.

Third, Moscow's decision to build this site in Belarus points to one of the ways the Russian authorities are coping with their loss of control over the Baltic States. Their willingness to live up to their commitment to shut down the Skrunda site in Latvia demonstrates that most in Moscow are coming to accept that Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are no longer part of what some in Russia call its natural "sphere of influence," which they view as also embracing the former Soviet republics.

This does not mean that Moscow will avoid using a variety of non-military means to put pressure on the governments of these countries. Rather, it suggests that the Russian authorities recognize that any direct use of military power in that region would almost certainly be counterproductive.

Moreover, Moscow's acceptance of this new reality in the Baltic States makes its interest in Belarus and other former Soviet republics along its western borders all the greater. That, in turn. suggests that Moscow is likely to press for additional forms of military cooperation with these countries, either bilaterally or under the cover of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

To the extent that happens, replacing Skrunda with Baranovichi appears likely to reverberate through the new security architecture of this still unsettled region.


XS
SM
MD
LG