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Newsline - December 30, 1998




MASLYUKOV CALLS FOR RATIFICATION OF START-2

First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov told Interfax on 29 December that the State Duma should use the occasion of the deployment of the first 10 Topol-M strategic missiles to ratify the START-2 treaty. That deployment, he said, rectified the "criminally flippant attitude" toward defense by earlier Russian governments. If the Duma ratified the strategic arms agreement, Russia could remain a great nuclear power without being forced to compete with the U.S., Maslyukov said. But while also advocating ratification of the treaty, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev told "Segodnya" on 29 December that Russia could match the West in strategic arms if it has to, despite Russia's current economic difficulties. PG

MOSCOW HAS NO PLANS TO PUT NUCLEAR ARMS IN BELARUS

Igor Savolskii, the deputy minister for CIS affairs, denied reports that Moscow will station nuclear weapons in Belarus if the two countries unite, Interfax reported on 29 December. He said that both countries will live up to their international commitments. PG

SERGEEV PREDICTS BREAKUP OF NATO

In the same "Segodnya" interview, the defense minister said he does not think any CIS country that joined NATO would strengthen that alliance. The West should "not have gotten involved in expanding the alliance because the bigger the structure, the less efficient it is. NATO will break up in the long run," he commented. And Sergeev also said that he favors appointing a civilian to the post of defense minister but said it "will not happen before 2005, after we have done all the dirty work." PG

MORE DETAILS EMERGE ON RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION PLAN

Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said that he supports the idea of a single currency for the two states, adding that Kazakhstan and Ukraine might participate in such a currency union. But he noted that there is no reason to be concerned about who will be president of the new union. According to him, there will always be two presidents even if there is only one parliament. First Deputy Prime Minister Vadim Gustov said that the two countries will have a single budget by the year 2000 as well as two national budgets, just like in the EU, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, former Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin on 29 December warned against rushing into the union, noting that "as of now, there are more questions than answers," Russian agencies reported. Among others announcing their support for the union on 29 December were Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (see also "End Note" below). PG

EXTREMIST GROUPS PREDICTED TO BECOME MORE ACTIVE

Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin told ITAR-TASS on 29 December that he believes extremist groups will become increasingly active in 1999. He made this prediction during a report on the general increase of criminal activity in Russia over the last several years and on a recent operation designed to crack down on crime. Stepashin said that 2.5 million crimes were committed in Russia during 1998, an increase of 5 percent over 1997. But he indicated that some 8 percent more crimes have been solved, compared with one year ago. During the last eight days of the crackdown, Stepashin said that the authorities confiscated 36,000 guns and almost 1 million bullets and revoked 14,000 gun permits held by private security services. PG

STAROVOITOVA INVESTIGATION CONTINUES

Interior Ministry investigations chief Lieutenant-General Ivan Khrapov told a news conference on 29 December that his officers are investigating the assassinated Duma deputy's political activities, her parliamentary work, and her relationships with her entourage, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 December. He dismissed suggestions that she had been carrying a large sum of cash. And he noted that the investigation has allowed the authorities to find leads for numerous other murders and crimes. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Stepashin said that he expects the case to be solved and that he will convene a meeting in the second half of January 1999 to discuss progress in finding the murderers. PG

YELTSIN CALLS FOR EXPANDED WAR ON DRUGS

President Boris Yeltsin on 29 December told the government to complete the establishment of an extrabudgetary fund to combat illegal drug trafficking and to draft new legislation to improve the fight against drugs in Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin's orders came on the same day that the Interior Ministry reported that some 170,000 crimes in Russia last year were drug-related. PG

INTERIOR MINISTRY INVESTIGATING CENTRAL BANK

Interior Minister Stepashin announced on 29 December that his ministry has been investigating alleged Central Bank losses running into the thousands of millions of dollars, Russian agencies reported. Stepashin said the investigation began shortly after the Russian government devalued the ruble and defaulted on certain foreign debts. But he indicated that his investigators have discovered problems in other institutions as well. Responding to these charges on Ekho Moskvy, Sergei Dubinin, who resigned as head of the Central Bank shortly after the August crisis, said that he does not consider himself guilty "of a single breach of the law." Moreover, he indicated that he had called attention to problems with bank statistics a year ago. Meanwhile, Valentina Pivnenko, the head of the Federation Council commission investigating the financial crisis, said her group is looking into Dubinin's activities as well as others in the government. PG

DUBININ SEES SALVATION IN INFLATION

Even as he was facing investigation, Sergei Dubinin who is a senior official at Gazprom, said that the current period of high inflation could help solve the problems that led to the crisis in August, Interfax reported on 29 December. He noted that inflation devalues debt, helps the government collect taxes, puts pressure on creditors abroad to forgive part of the debt, and forces reforms in the banking structures. PG

STATE BUDGET DEFICIT DOWN

The federal budget deficit for January-October 1998 was down 11.4 billion redenominated rubles from the same period a year earlier, the State Statistics Committee told Interfax on 29 December. In 1997, the deficit for that period had been 77.5 billion rubles; in 1998, it was 66.1 billion. The committee said that the deficit had been fully financed by foreign loans totaling 78.2 billion rubles. PG

PROSECUTORS TO EXAMINE MAKASHOV SPEECHES

Having concluded that October speeches by Duma deputy General Albert Makashov did not fall under the article of the criminal code dealing with public appeals to overthrow the constitutional system, the Federal Security Service on 29 December announced that it has sent the results of its investigation to the Prosecutor-General's Office, which will now consider whether Makashov can be punished for inciting ethnic animosity on account of his anti-Semitic remarks, Russian agencies reported. But even if the prosecutor finds there is enough evidence to charge Makashov with that crime, the Duma would have to lift Makashov's parliamentary immunity if he is to face trial. PG

CHEMICAL WEAPONS CHIEF RESIGNS

President Yeltsin has issued a decree accepting the resignation of Pavel Syutkin, the chief of a presidential committee responsible for dealing with Russian chemical and biological weapons, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 December. The decree gave no reason for Syutkin's resignation, nor did it name a successor. But the same day, Yeltsin directed the Foreign Ministry to sign the 1997 Vienna convention on the safe treatment of radioactive waste, Interfax reported. PG

RUSSIA DELIVERS SECOND KILO-CLASS SUBMARINE TO CHINA

Russia has shifted the second diesel electric Kilo-class submarine to China, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 December. That brings to a total of 18 the number of submarines Moscow has sold in recent years: nine to India, three to Iran, two to Algeria, one to Poland, one to Romania, and two to China. And in a bid to win more sales as well as enhance its own defense standing, the MIG production company released its updated MIT-29SMT fighter, a plane with a greater range, a larger bomb load, and an expanded avionics package. Its producers, moreover, say it can carry all types of precision weapons, including those used by NATO. PG

OIL EXPORTS RISE, EARNINGS FALL AS PRICES DECLINE

Russia's oil exports were up 6.3 percent in 1998 compared with last year, but revenues from those exports were significantly less than in 1997, Interfax reported on 29 December. A Fuel Ministry official told Reuters the same day that Moscow does not believe it is the victim of any conspiracy to lower prices. But an article in "Izvestiya" noted that continuing low prices for petroleum would make most Russian and northern European fields unprofitable. PG

LUZHKOV OFFERS TO FINANCE TV CENTER

In order to maintain TV Center, which "tells about what is happening in the city," Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said he will help fund the financially strapped channel out of the Moscow city budget, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 December. He made that offer during a report on the expansion of the city budget to support greater social services in the capital. PG

ANNUAL FOREIGN INVESTMENT DECLINES TO $2 BILLION

The Economics Ministry told ITAR-TASS on 29 December that direct foreign investment declined from $3.9 billion in 1997 to an estimated $2 billion in 1998. Ministry official Vladimir Yefimov said he expects investment to rise again to 2.5 billion in 1999, but he noted that investors "prefer countries that are open, stable, and provide a promising return on their capital." PG

FSB SAYS FOREIGN SPIES FOCUSING ON KRASNOYARSK

Foreign intelligence services dispatched dozens of spies to Krasnoyarsk Krai in 1998 both to "compromise" Russia's nuclear system and to study the region's governor, Aleksandr Lebed, the head of the regional Federal Security Service office, told Russian agencies on 29 December. Major-General Leonid Kuznetsov said the agents had focused on atomic sites in Zheleznogorsk and Zelenogorsk. And he said that he expects the number of foreign agents visiting the region will increase. PG

HOLY SYNOD ASKS CLERGY NOT TO TAKE PART IN POLITICS

Earlier this week, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church said that its clergy should not participate in politics and should not use the pulpit to advance a political agenda, Interfax reported on 29 December. In other decisions, the Synod created a new diocese covering the territories of Dagestan, Chechnya, and Azerbaijan, called for developing ties with Old Believers, and decided that together with representatives of the Constantinople Patriarchate, it would meet with the Estonian prime minister to discuss property issues. PG

CHECHEN PARLIAMENT DEFIES SUPREME SHARIAH COURT

Chechen lawmakers voted on 29 December after a three-day debate to annul a 24 December decision by the Supreme Shariah Court to suspend the parliament, dismiss speaker Ruslan Alikhadjiev, and transfer the parliament's powers to a council of former field commanders, Russian agencies reported. The parliament termed the court's ruling unconstitutional. But Chechen chief mufti Akhmad hadji Kadyrov told Interfax that the field commanders' council will be only a consultative body and will not be empowered to adopt legislation. He said the court's proposal to suspend parliament's powers for three months until the field commanders' council has been created is intended as a compromise in the face of the ultimatum issued by Vice President Vakha Arsanov to abolish the parliament and replace it with the field commanders' council. LF

MASKHADOV WANTS TO RESUME TALKS WITH MOSCOW

Speaking on Chechen Television on 29 December, President Aslan Maskhadov said he has called on the Russian leadership to resume talks on a treaty whereby Moscow would recognize Chechnya's independence, Russian agencies reported. Moscow and Grozny both proposed drafts of a treaty regulating bilateral relations during Maskhadov's meeting in Moscow with President Yeltsin in May 1997. Maskhadov argued that only Russia's acknowledgment of Chechnya's independence can stem the crime wave in the North Caucasus and bring peace and stability to that region. LF




FORMER ARMENIAN INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS 1996, 1998 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS WERE RIGGED

In a lengthy appearance on national television, the chairman of the former ruling Armenian Pan- National Movement, Vano Siradeghian, has described how Armenia's top leadership took the decision on the night of the September 1996 presidential election to tamper with votes in order to secure the re-election of incumbent Levon Ter-Petrossian and prevent a runoff with challenger Vazgen Manukian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 29 December. Siradeghian said that Ter-Petrossian succumbed to a three-month depression after the poll. He added that the March 1998 election of Robert Kocharian as Ter-Petrossian's successor was also stage-managed, but with the prior tacit approval of the international community (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 44, 30 December 1998). LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES 1999 BUDGET

Law-makers voted on 29 December to adopt the government's proposed budget for 1999, which has the approval of the IMF and World Bank, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The budget calls for 248.3 billion drams ($477.5 million) in government spending, 191.7 billion drams in revenues, and a planned budget deficit of 5.3 percent of GDP. More than 95 percent of that deficit will be covered by foreign loans. Economic growth of 4-6 percent and single-digit inflation are predicted. Defense will continue to receive the lion's share of public funds (40 billion drams), followed by social spending (29.8 billion drams), education (25.9 billion), and health care (20.5 billion.) Finance and Economy Minister Eduard Sandoyan told reporters that the government will continue with its "tight fiscal and monetary policies," which he said are the only way to ensure steady growth. LF

IRANIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR IMPROVED TIES WITH AZERBAIJAN

Meeting on 28 December with Azerbaijani parliamentary chairman Murtuz Alesqerov, Mohammad Khatami advocated stronger ties between the two countries, adding that the future of the Caspian region should be determined by the countries of that region without interference from outside powers, AFP and ITAR-TASS reported. Khatami specifically condemned what he termed "Israel's expansionist policies" in the region. He also called for a new legal agreement to ensure the equitable division of the Caspian Sea's resources. LF

AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT APPROVES NAKHICHEVAN CONSTITUTION

By a vote of 96 to six, deputies endorsed the constitution of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic on 29 December, Turan and ITAR- TASS reported. Some deputies protested that the definition of that exclave as an autonomous state within the Azerbaijani Republic could create an undesirable precedent. The Azerbaijani Constitution defines Azerbaijan as a unitary republic. LF

AZERBAIJANI SCIENTISTS PROTEST DISMISSAL OF COLLEAGUE

Some 50 members of the Academy of Sciences have written to the academy's president, Faramaz Maksudov, to protest the dismissal of ,Democratic Party Supreme Council Chairman Nuraddin Mamedli from his post at the Institute of Physiology, Turan reported on 29 December. The signatories characterized Mamedli's dismissal as "aimed against science and leading scientific personnel." The reason cited for Mamedli's dismissal was violation of labor discipline, but Mamedli believes that the real reason was his chairmanship of the committee to defend the rights of exiled former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev. LF

GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY DENIES REPAIRING ARMENIAN TANKS

Deputy Defense Minister Giorgii Katamadze told Caucasus Press on 30 December that Armenian tanks have not been transported to Tbilisi for repair there. Katamadze was responding to a statement the previous day by Azerbaijan's ambassador to Georgia, Gajan Gajiev, who said he intends to question Georgian officials about Georgian media reports that Armenian L-55 tanks are being repaired at a Tbilisi defense plant. LF

NAZARBAYEV'S OPPONENTS WORRIED ABOUT VOTE RIGGING...

Gani Kasymov, a candidate in the 10 January presidential elections in Kazakhstan, said on 29 December that local governors should be sent on vacation before the elections to prevent them from tampering with ballots, Interfax reported. Kasymov noted that since the governors are appointed by the president, it would be in their interests if incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev were re-elected. Kasymov added that in the future, the governors should be elected. Communist Party candidate Serikbolsyn Abdildin released a statement on 28 December calling for all candidates in the elections to have their own representatives at tallying centers. Abdildin argued that "official election results show that the outcome depends on those tallying the votes rather than on the voters." BP

...AND ABOUT 'ORGANIZATIONAL DIFFICULTIES'

Presidential candidate Engels Gabbasov has said he "would feel more confident" about his chances if there were more than three months to prepare for the elections, Interfax reported on 29 December. Gabbasov said he is experiencing "organizational difficulties" with his campaign but added that no one is interfering with it. Gabbasov said he favors closing the Baikonur cosmodrome, rented by Russia for its space launches, because of environmental concerns. He argued that if the cosmodrome is not closed the rent should be raised to $1.5 billion annually (from the current $115 million). Regarding his own electoral chances, Gabbasov said "I am a writer and a researcher. I can tell the weather and the future, this is not something everyone can do." The lack of time to conduct an election campaign was among the issues President Nazarbayev discussed with OSCE representative in Kazakhstan Judy Thompson on 28 December. BP

CABINET RESHUFFLE IN KYRGYZSTAN

Prime Minister Jumabek Ibraimov held a news conference in Bishkek on 30 December to announce the new members of his cabinet, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Marat Sultanov, former chairman of the National Bank, is finance minister; Esengul Omuraliev, former ambassador to Belarus and CIS executive bodies, has been appointed minister of industry and foreign trade; Emil Uzakbaev, former Naryn Region governor, takes over the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources, Mira Jangaracheva, former department head in the presidential administration, is minister of Labor and Social Affairs; Tynybek Alykulov, former chairman of the parliament's committee on industry, will head the Ministry of Ecology; Sultan Mederov has been promoted from deputy chairman of the State Property Fund to chairman, replacing Jumabek Ibraimov; and Ratbek Eshmambetov is the head of the government's administration. The other 12 members of the government have retained their posts. BP

FIGHTING BREAKS OUT IN TAJIK CAPITAL

Fighting between two armed groups broke out in Dushanbe on 30 December, ITAR-TASS reported. The skirmish took place outside the building in which the Tajik National Reconciliation Commission meets. Both groups are part of the United Tajik Opposition (UTO). Said Abdullo Nuri, the UTO leader, had called UTO field commanders to the capital for a meeting. The fighting broke out when one group was exiting the building. Nuri was able to persuade both sides to cease fighting, but at least five people are reported dead. The same two groups were involved in a battle in an eastern suburb of Dushanbe on 24 December. On both occasions, Tajik police set up road blocks and called in reinforcements but did not interfere in the fighting. BP




UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES 1999 BUDGET DEFICIT, REVENUES

By a vote of 272 to 114, the Supreme Council on 29 December approved the 1999 budget revenues of 34 billion hryvni ($9.9 billion) and a government-proposed deficit of 1 percent of GDP (1.24 billion hryvni), AP and Ukrainian News reported. On 30 December, the parliament will debate how to divide projected revenues between the central and local governments and discuss spending and revenue targets. Ukraine needs a well-balanced low-deficit budget in order to obtain further tranches of a suspended $2.2 billion loan from the IMF. Many analysts predict that without foreign aid, Ukraine will not be able to repay its 1999 debt obligations. JM

UKRAINE'S 1998 PRIVATIZATION REVENUES FAR BELOW TARGET

Ukraine raised less than 50 percent of its planned privatization revenues in 1998, AP reported on 29 December. Vadym Vasylev, head of the State Privatization fund, reported that as of 29 December, the state budget received 422 million hryvni ($123 million) of the 1 billion hryvni projected for the entire year. Vasylev said privatization was hindered by Russia's financial crisis, which he argued scared foreign investors away from Ukraine. The government has set its privatization revenue target for 1999 at 800 million hryvni. JM

UKRAINE'S POPULATION CONTINUES TO DECREASE

The State Statistics Committee reported on 29 December that Ukraine's population declined by an estimated 205,000 people in 1998 and now stands at 50.09 million. It was the fifth consecutive year in which a population decline has been registered. In 1993, the total population stood at slightly more than 52 million. JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION WARNS YELTSIN AGAINST 'OCCUPATION' OF BELARUS...

Syamyon Sharetski, speaker of the Supreme Soviet dissolved by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in 1996, has sent a letter, together with former parliamentary speakers Stanislau Shushkevich and Mechyslau Hryb, to Russian President Boris Yeltsin protesting the planned merger of Belarus and Russia, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 29 December. They say changing Belarus's status contravenes the legitimate 1994 Belarusian Constitution and may be regarded as the "occupation of Belarus by Russia," similar to that of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia by the Soviet Union in 1940. They warn Yeltsin that the Belarusian-Russian accords on setting up a union state will accelerate "centrifugal processes" in Russia, releasing a "chain reaction in Russian regions toward changing their status" (see also "End Note" below). JM

...ACCUSES CABINET OF POPULATION'S 'PAUPERIZATION'

Experts of the National Executive Committee, the Belarusian opposition shadow cabinet, say the government's main achievement in 1998 was the pauperization of the Belarusian population, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 29 December. Stanislau Bahdankevich, former head of the Belarusian National Bank, said Lukashenka's policy of administrative economic management with no market reform resulted in hyperinflation (140-150 percent) and a plunge in real wages and pensions (more than 200 percent). He added that the year's "sad results" also include severe food shortages and the return of food rationing. According to Bahdankevich, optimistic official data on Belarus's economic performance are falsified or obtained by using "special calculation methods" that yield figures required by the authorities. JM

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES 1999 BUDGET

By a vote of 61 to 20 with seven abstentions, the parliament on 29 December passed the 1999 budget in its third and final reading, ETA and BNS reported. The volume of the budget, 18.452 billion kroons ($1.4 billion), is slightly greater than that rejected earlier by the opposition. The higher figure results from the inclusion of 642 million kroons in revenues from the upcoming privatization of Eesti Telecom. Projected economic growth for 1999 has been cut from 6 percent to 4 percent as a result of the Russian crisis. Consumer prices are expected to grow by 7.2 percent. JC

GOVERNMENT APPROVES PRIVATIZATION PLANS FOR ENERGY SECTOR

The Estonian government has approved restructuring and privatization plans for the state-owned monoply Eesti Energia, ETA reported on 29 December. Raivo Vare, minister for transport and communications, will begin privatization talks with the U.S. power utility NRG Energy in February. Under the privatization plan, Eesti Energia's two largest power stations will be privatized, with the state retaining a 51 percent stake. As the power stations generate electricity from oil shale, the government has proposed that Eesti Energia and the state-owned oil shale company, Eesti Polevkivi, be merged and then privatized. JC

OSCE CRITICIZES LANGUAGE REQUIREMENTS FOR ESTONIAN DEPUTIES

OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel has sent a letter to Estonian President Lennart Meri criticizing recent amendments that impose language requirements for parliamentary deputies, ETA reported on 29 December. An adviser to Stoel told ETA that the letter draws attention to the "shortcomings" of those amendments, but he did not elaborate. The amendments state that members of the parliament and local governments must have sufficient knowledge of Estonian to take part in the work of those bodies and to understand the contents of legislative acts. They are due to go into force in May 1999 and therefore will not apply in the March parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 1998). JC

LATVIAN PREMIER PLEDGES TO FIGHT CORRUPTION

Vilis Kristopans told Latvian state radio on 29 December that he is committed to dealing with the problem of corruption, which, he said, no one was willing to "touch with a pole" previously, BNS reported. He said he believes that a new anti-corruption law is needed, adding that within a year, the Justice Ministry will draw up a draft law aimed at preventing situations "vulnerable to corruption" rather than simply prohibiting various activities. "I am very worried about this day-to-day corruption that spoils peoples' lives on all levels," Kristopans said. The World Bank recently issued a report showing that corruption continues to be widespread in Latvia (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 1998). JC

LITHUANIAN RULING COALITION BACKS ECONOMY MINISTER

The parliament on 29 December voted by 76 with one abstention to dismiss an interpellation against Economy Minister Vincas Babilius, which the parliamentary group of the Social Democrats had submitted earlier this month, BNS reported. The ruling coalition and its allies unanimously threw their support behind Babilius, while the Social Democrats and the Democratic Labor Party refused to take part in the vote. The latter had accused Babilius of incompetence in heading the Economy Ministry and in dealing with the energy sector and privatization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 21 December 1998). JC

KWASNIEWSKI SIGNS PENSION LAW, MINERS MAY PROTEST

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 29 December signed the pension law, paving the way toward the phased implementation of a new pension system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 1998), Polish media reported. Premier Jerzy Buzek commented that the pension reform is the most urgent of all the major reforms started by his government. Meanwhile, Jan Kisielinski, head of the leftist Polish Miners' Union, called Kwasniewski's decision a "misunderstanding," adding that miners have collected 100,000 signatures against the signing of the bill. He warned that the decision may provoke a "wave of protests" in Poland's mining sector. Solidarity's mining section head Henryk Nakonieczny said his trade union is to decide on "further steps" on 30 December, after examining last week's accord with the government on maintaining early retirement benefits for miners (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 1998). JM

CZECH LEADERS LOOK TO 1999

Prime Minister Milos Zeman on 29 December told the daily "Zemske noviny" that his minority government will survive "at least its regular four-year term." Zeman said that each minister in his cabinet is an expert in his field, but he will "not hesitate" to fire any minister who proves unable to cope with his tasks after 12 months in office. He said the agreement between his Social Democratic Party (CSSD) and the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) is "a rational way of solving the situation that emerged after the elections." ODS chairman Vaclav Klaus told "Zemske noviny" that he does not "expect any earthquake" in 1999. He said he expects the CSSD to become "more rational" and "pragmatic" and realize that its electoral promises are "not feasible." Klaus's deputy, Ivan Langer, told CTK he is uncertain that the agreement with the CSSD "will survive the year 2000." MS

HUNGARIAN RAIL EMPLOYEES TO STRIKE IN EARLY JANUARY

Rail employees are planning a one-week strike in early January to press demands for higher wages. Train drivers will strike from 4 to 6 January, followed by a four-day strike by other railway employees that will end on 10 January. MS




SOLANA SAYS NATO READY TO INTERVENE IN KOSOVA

Javier Solana, who is the secretary-general of the Atlantic alliance, said in a statement in Brussels on 29 December that "NATO is ready to intervene if the situation requires." He noted that the alliance's threat of air strikes against Serbia remains in effect. Solana also called on both sides to respect the cease- fire. Meanwhile in Prishtina, the moderate Democratic League of Kosova urged NATO to take "resolute action to stop the Serbian machinery of terror." PM

FIVE KOSOVARS DEAD IN CONTINUING VIOLENCE

OSCE monitors in Prishtina reported on 29 December that tensions remain high throughout the province, Reuters noted. Serbian and Kosovar sources reported sporadic incidents of shooting in the Peja, Mitrovica, and Prizren areas, noting that a total of five ethnic Albanians were killed. In Belgrade, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said: "We estimate that up to 5,500 people from villages [in the Podujeva area] left their homes last week" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 1998). PM

UCK TO 'TAKE WAR TO THE SERBS'

Adem Demaci, who is the political spokesman of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), said in Prishtina on 29 December that the guerrillas will respect the cease-fire but will respond to any attack by Serbian security forces. The following day, the London-based "Daily Telegraph" quoted unnamed UCK members in Llap as saying that they will soon be ready to "take the war to the Serbs." The guerrillas did not elaborate. They noted that they have recently acquired large quantities of weapons that are more sophisticated than what they previously had. "It's no longer a question of whether we can knock out a tank, it's a question of how many. The Serbs still have a big advantage in long-range artillery, but at close quarters we can match them," one fighter said. The daily noted that the guerrillas knocked out one tank and one armored personnel carrier in the fighting over the weekend of 26-27 December. PM

BELGRADE WANTS UN TO DECLARE UCK 'TERRORIST'

Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic wrote a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 29 December asking the world organization to declare the UCK a "terrorist organization" and freeze the guerrillas' assets abroad. He charged that the UCK has carried out 1,854 "terrorist attacks" in 1998, including 470 since Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic signed an agreement with U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke in October. Jovanovic wrote that the UCK continues to commit "insolent terrorist attacks" and takes advantage of the "reduced presence of the security forces and their restraint." The minister called for condemnation of Albania as the UCK's alleged main base of operations and charged that the guerrillas also train in Bosnia. PM

SERBIAN LEADER REJECTS MONITORS' ADVICE

Zoran Andjelkovic, who is Belgrade's chief civilian official in Kosova, told the town council in Podujeva on 29 December that the OSCE monitors' "only job is to verify the facts on the ground and inform their superiors of their findings, and the facts clearly show that the criminal gangs [of the UCK] are terrorizing the civilian population." He stressed that the monitors' duties do not include "telling us what to do and how to deal with the terrorists." Andjelkovic assured the province's Serbian minority that "the state will not allow the terroriststo ethnically cleanse' these lands[and] will do all in its power to protect the people in this part of Serbia," AP quoted him as saying. PM

VIOLENCE EXPECTED IN MONTENEGRO?

Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic said in Podgorica on 29 December that any large-scale public gathering "would be dangerous under the present circumstances," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In recent days, spokesmen for the opposition Socialist People's Party of Momir Bulatovic have called for party supporters to go onto the streets for "New Year's Eve celebrations" in keeping with the Julian calendar, namely on 13 January. Bulatovic, who is Yugoslav prime minister and a close ally of Milosevic, used street violence one year ago in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent President Milo Djukanovic from taking office. Several prominent Yugoslav political experts recently told RFE/RL that Milosevic may soon use renewed street violence as an excuse for declaring a state of emergency in Montenegro and toppling the Djukanovic government (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 December 1998). PM

MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT PARDONS ALBANIANS

Lawmakers approved an amnesty in Skopje on 29 December to pardon four ethnic Albanians serving prison terms for "inciting national hatred." They include Gostivar Mayor Rufi Osmani and his Tetovo counterpart, Alajdin Demiri, who defied a court ruling on the display of national symbols by flying Albanian flags from their respective town halls in July 1997, VOA's Albanian Service reported. Three people were killed during riots that followed a police attempt to take down the flags (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 1997). Eighty-five of the 120 legislators supported the amnesty, while 18 voted against. The opposition Social Democrats called the measure "unconstitutional." Observers suggested that the law is a secret part of a coalition deal between the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization and the Democratic Party of the Albanians, which are the two largest parties in the coalition government. FS

PROTESTS FOLLOW SLAYING OF SARAJEVO TAXI DRIVER

The international community's Carlos Westendorp called on the Bosnian Serb police in a statement on 29 December to investigate the recent murder of a Muslim taxi driver on the Sarajevo-Pale road. Sarajevo police told Reuters that they believe the death is linked to a criminal gang dealing in stolen and smuggled cars. On 28-29 December, hundreds of taxi drivers blocked roads in central Sarajevo to demand more effective police protection, including the establishment of police checkpoints on roads leading in and out of the capital. PM

TUDJMAN TELLS ARMY TO BE 'READY' FOR BORDER INCIDENTS

Croatian President Franjo Tudjman told military officers in Zagreb on 29 December that the "borders with most neighboring countries are not yet finalized. Frontier incidents could lead to all sorts of situations, and you should keep this fact in mind." He did not elaborate but said that the army should be ready to "secure the state's policy" if need be. SFOR peacekeepers recently "asked" Croatian security forces to leave the border town of Martin Brod, which belongs to Bosnia but which Croatia has occupied since 1995 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 232 December 1998). The Croats left without incident. PM

ALBANIAN GOVERNMENT PRESENTS BUDGET...

Finance Minister Anastas Angjeli presented the budget for 1999 to the parliament on 29 December, "Albanian Daily News" reported. The budget deficit is projected at 5.2 percent of GDP, or $385 million, with expenditures at $1.178 billion and revenues at $793 million. Albania's current deficit is $472 million. GDP growth in 1999 is expected to reach 8 percent and inflation 7 percent. The government anticipates revenues will increase by 19.4 percent and expenditures by 15 percent, compared with this year. The budget provides for a 10 percent increase in the pensions and wages of government officials , as well as a 17.5 percent increase in student scholarships. The government also plans to increase investments in public works by 31.9 percent. Angjeli pledged to increase tax revenues by 24 percent through a tougher approach to tax collecting. He also promised to give local government bodies more financial autonomy. FS

...AND WANTS STRONGER PREMIER

The previous day, the government presented to the parliament a draft bill designed to increase the powers of the prime minister based on the Italian model, "Albanian Daily News" reported. According to the draft, the prime minister will have the right to issue decrees in emergency situations when the parliament is not in session. So far, only the president had this right. The legislature can approve or reject the decrees within 35 days. The draft is in keeping with the country's new constitution, which reduces the presidency to a largely ceremonial role. FS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES BUDGET FOR 1999...

The cabinet on 29 December approved the 1999 budget, which provides for a deficit of 6.22 billion lei ($573 million) or 2 percent of GDP (compared with 3.6 percent in 1998). Finance Minister Decebal Traian Remes said the deficit is to be covered by borrowing and by cutting expenditures, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He said Romania intends to take loans from the IMF, the World Bank, and the EU, adding that he hopes the parliament will approve the budget before the visit of an IMF delegation in late January. Remes said 75 percent of foreign debt servicing in 1999 is scheduled for February, May, and June. The cabinet also decided to cut import duties from 6 percent to 4 percent in 1999. MS

...POSTPONES IMPLEMENTATION OF AGREEMENT WITH BELL HELICOPTER TEXTRON

The cabinet also announced it will postpone by six months the implementation of the agreement signed with Bell Helicopter Textron last May. Under that agreement the U.S. company was to acquire a 70 percent stake in the IAR-Gimbav aircraft manufacturer of Brasov and the Defense Ministry will guarantee the acquisition of 96 Cobra helicopters to be produced under license in Romania. MS

ROMANIAN MINERS PREVENTED FROM TRAVELING TO BUCHAREST

The Ministry of Transportation on 29 December said it will not agree to the Jiu Valley miners' demand that two rail carriages be made available to transport miners to Bucharest, where they plan to demonstrate on 5 January against closing pits. By way of explaining that decision, government spokesman Razvan Popescu cited "precedents." Bucharest Mayor Viorel Lis has prohibited the protest, saying it recalls the miners' descents on Bucharest in 1990 and 1991, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. In reaction, Costel Postolache, executive chairman of the Jiu Valley's miners' union, said the protest is "likely to be called off." MS

LUCINSCHI ON MOLDOVA'S ETHNIC MAKEUP

The majority of the population in Moldova is made up of "Romanian ethnics with Moldovan citizenship," President Petru Lucinschi said in an interview with Romanian state radio on 29 December. They constitute some 65 percent of the country's population. Among the other ethnic minorities, Lucinschi mentioned Ukrainians, Russians, Gagauz and Bulgarians. He said that ethnic minorities have "justified demands" about the preservation of their heritage and that the majority must display "understanding" and "flexibility" and not forget the times when the Russian language was enforced on them. Lucinschi said imposing the official language on minorities by "administrative methods" would be "counterproductive" and result in tensions. MS

MOLDOVA'S SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC PARTIES MERGE

The United Social Democratic Party (PSDU) and the Social Democratic Party (PSD) merged again on 26 December, Flux and Infotag reported on 29 December. In 1997, a group of PSD members had split away to form the PSDU. The decision to merge the two parties was taken at a joint meeting of the PSDU's congress and the PSD's National Coordination Council. Gheorghe Sima was elected chairman of the party and Anatol Taranu chairman of the party's National Council. He told Flux that the PSD is a member of the extra-parliamentary Alliance of Centrist Forces and will participate in the spring 1999 local elections as a member of that alliance. Taranu said reunification became possible after the recent removal of Oazu Natoi as chairman of the PSD and his replacement by Sima. MS

BULGARIAN OFFICIAL DENIES TURKISH MONUMENT DESECRATED

A spokeswoman for the Kurdzhali regional police department has denied that a monument in Momchilgrad, southern Bulgaria, commemorating the victims of the enforced ethnic assimilation campaign of the 1980s has been vandalized, BTA reported on 29 December. Momchilgrad Mayor Sebahatin Ali was quoted as having no knowledge of the monument's desecration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 1998). MS




GAMBLING WITH BELARUS'S SOVEREIGNTY


by Jan Maksymiuk

By signing a declaration on the creation of a "union state" and two related agreements on 25 December, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, have presented political analysts with yet another puzzle in terms of Russian-Belarusian relations. The two leaders have offered similar puzzles on two previous occasions: in April 1996, when they signed the treaty on the creation of the Community of Russia and Belarus; and one year later, in April 1997, when they transformed that entity into the Union of Russia and Belarus.

The Russian-Belarusian accords of 1996 and 1997 had one feature in common: they were worked out in secrecy and signed with great aplomb as "historic" documents. Both have subsequently caused a large amount of confusion and misunderstanding, not least among their signatories, and have produced no tangible results, with the exception of the creation of a couple of supranational bodies that have no real powers.

Judging from its content and the way it was adopted, the 1998 Russian-Belarusian declaration seems bound for the same destiny as its predecessors. At any rate, it is as vague and contradictory as the integration agreements of 1996 and 1997, calling for a single state with common leadership but stressing that Russia and Belarus are simultaneously to maintain "national sovereignty." It also calls for unified governing bodies but lists no guidelines for their formation. Nor does it explain how a single monetary system and unified customs policies can be adopted in the foreseeable future, let alone by mid-1999.

There is one factor, however, that may eventually make integration easier than it appears at present, namely the unpredictable Lukashenka, who seems to be in a tight corner as his presidency nears the completion of its fifth year in July 1999. Belarusian independent media have long argued that the true driving force behind Lukashenka's integration efforts is his ambition to succeed Yeltsin at the Kremlin. Presidential elections in Russia are due in 2000, so Lukashenka is in a hurry to join the race. But there are also two domestic reasons for his third attempt at "storming the Kremlin."

First, his policy of "market socialism" in Belarus has practically come to a halt, and the nation is facing an economic disaster. Pursuing integration with Russia is Lukashenka's desperate bid to stave off total economic collapse and to improve the state of affairs at home at the expense of Russian economy.

Second, his political position in Belarus is not as secure as his authoritarian rule may suggest. Under the 1994 constitution (abolished in the November 1996 referendum, which has not been recognized by any European country with the exception of Russia), Lukashenka's presidential term ends in July 1999. If he continues to hold that office for two more years--as stipulated by the new constitution, adopted in the same referendum--he will cease to be recognized as a legitimate leader by European countries (as is already the case with the legislature hand-picked by Lukashenka). As a political usurper, Lukashenka may find it extremely difficult even to deal with Russia. If, on the other hand, he were to allow presidential elections in Belarus in 1999, he would automatically admit that the 1996 referendum was a fraud.

The creation of a new state entity with Russia would result in a new legal situation in which Lukashenka might avoid political responsibility for his past actions. And if Lukashenka succeeded in Russia's presidential race (an outcome that many consider unlikely), no one would dare impose a visa ban on him or call him a "hooligan of Europe," as one European newspaper did when reporting on the diplomatic housing scandal in Minsk.

Regardless of whatever might motivate Russia toward a merger with Belarus, it is doubtless the latter country that will have to give up some sovereign rights or even surrender them altogether in the planned union state. Even Russia's staunchest proponents of integration with Belarus do not dare suggest that Belarus, with its 10 million citizens, should be given the same say in the union as Russia, whose population is 15 times larger. For the time being, Lukashenka speaks about "marrying" two incompatibles: Belarus's full merger with Russia and Belarus's sovereignty. Clearly, he wants to leave Belarus as a retreat for himself in the event his "storming the Kremlin" fails.

Yury Drakakhrust, a Belarusian political analyst and commentator, told RFE/RL that Lukashenka is conducting a "cynical game" in which Belarus's sovereignty is hostage to his political ambitions. "If Lukashenka fools his Russian partners, there is a risk that he will get to the Kremlin and subsequently incorporate Belarus into Russia. If Lukashenka is fooled, Belarus may become a part of Russia even before [Russia's presidential] elections," Drakakhrust commented.

If this latter scenario proves to be the case, the Belarusian opposition will be put to the test in the coming months as it seeks to avert what many regard as a peaceful annexation of one country by another.


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