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Newsline - January 25, 1999




ALBRIGHT ARRIVES TO FACE TOUGH QUESTIONING

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright arrived in Moscow on 23 January for a two-day official visit. On 25 January, she met with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Moscow Mayor and head of the Otechestvo [Fatherland] party Yurii Luzhkov. Other meetings with Russian officials, such as State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev, are planned for the same day. A telephone conversation with Russian President Boris Yeltsin is also tentatively scheduled. Before their meeting, Foreign Minister Ivanov said that the ABM treaty would be a primary discussion topic. Sergei Yastrzhembskii, former presidential spokesman and current deputy prime minister of the Moscow city government, told TV-6 on 24 January that Mayor Luzhkov will pose tough questions to Secretary Albright since the U.S. "is embarking on a course of neutralizing Russia, to which Moscow should respond." JAC

LEBED TRIES TO EXERT CONTROL OVER LOCAL MEDIA...

Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed on 23 January dismissed both the director and chief editor of Krasnoyarsk State Television and Radio Company, establishing police cordons outside company headquarters to prevent those officials from entering. Inside, Lebed introduced his new appointee to head the company, Oleg Nelzin, a local legislator and member of his Honor and Motherland movement. Lebed explained his actions by saying that the regional TV head had "prepared documents for the transfer of the company to federal authorities," ITAR-TASS reported. However, Chairman of the All Russian State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) Mikhail Shvydkoi told Russian Television the next day that legally, the head of a subsidiary company is appointed by VGTRK and the regional head, adding that "the 'law and order governor' has violated the law." JAC

...AS HIS PARTY SPLITS

NTV on 23 January reported that a split has appeared in Lebed's Honor and Motherland movement, after Viktor Zubarev, former chairman of the movement's council, left Lebed's "team." Both Lebed and Zubarev chaired their own meetings of the Honor and Motherland movement on 23 January, after which Zubarev issued a statement that Lebed is no longer the movement's leader and that the local branch of the movement would now be called Strong Regions, Strong Russia. In the latest of a series of articles highly critical of Lebed, "Izvestiya" on 23 January said "Lebed has failed to become a real governor and has remained a general, using security structures as his controlling instruments." The newspaper also predicted that Lebed's "political burial is at hand," with Krasnoyarsk Aluminum chief Anatolii Bykov as his undertaker. JAC

LEBED PROTEGE LOSES ELECTION

Preliminary results show that Nikolai Ashapov, acting mayor of Achinsk in Krasnoyarsk Krai, lost the second round of mayoral elections on 24 January to local factory director and member of the communist party Mikhail Achkasov, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 January. Ashapov, who had been appointed by Krai Governor Lebed, was considered a Lebed protege (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 1999). JAC

NEW ELECTION CONTROVERSIES EMERGE IN VLADIVSTOK

Without waiting for election results to be confirmed, the newly elected members of the city assembly in Vladivostok passed a new charter on 23 January stipulating that the office of mayor is no longer an elected position. They then appointed former Mayor Viktor Cherepkov as the new city head. Earlier, assembly members had elected Cherepkov as their speaker. Chief of the presidential administration Nikolai Bordyuzha told NTV on 24 January that "it is too early to say that Cherepkov has been elected mayor" since the proper procedures have not been followed by the city's legislature. Only when city assembly election results have been confirmed can deputies approve a new city charter, he added. The local election commission reported the next day that official results will not be available until 26 January. Meanwhile, Cherepkov has flown to Moscow to attend a Supreme Court session that will examine his appeal against President Boris Yeltsin's earlier order removing him from office, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC

PRIMAKOV GOVERNMENT CALLS FOR FOOD PRICE MONITORING

Agricultural production in Russia plummeted 12.3 percent in 1998 compared with the previous year, partly due to an unusually poor wheat harvest. according to the State Statistics Committee. Agriculture Minister Viktor Semenov called for replenishment of the country's strategic grain reserve, which had totaled 20-25 million tons last year but had been "eaten up," Russian Public Television reported on 21 January. Semenov recommended that regions monitor food prices and implement a maximum ratio of prices of raw materials to those of final products. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman is scheduled to meet with Semenov and Deputy Prime Minister Gennadii Kulik on 25 January to discuss the effectiveness of U.S. food aid and a possible Russian request for maize and vegetable seeds for this year's harvest. JAC

LUZHKOV CALLS FOR CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT

Moscow Mayor and likely presidential contender Luzhkov on 23 January called for amending the Russian Constitution so that it would regulate the issue of the president's health. Presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin responded by saying that the issue of the president's health is fully reflected in the constitution and that statements like Luzhkov's "are full of political intrigue." JAC

GAZPROM CUTTING WORKFORCE...

After recording heavy losses in 1998, Gazprom has launched a series of lay-offs intended to remove up to 35,000 workers from its payroll, the "Moscow Times" reported on 23 January. Over the next two years, Gazprom plans to reduce its workforce from 350,000 to 250,000 by spinning off non- production companies. Tens of thousands of these jobs will be eliminated outright, according to the daily, while others may still exist at those spun-off subsidiaries that manage to survive on their own. Gazprom also plans to accept fewer payments in barter and demand more in cash. According to preliminary results, Gazprom posted a loss of 45 billion rubles ($2 billion) in 1998, AFP reported on 19 January. JAC

...PULLS AWAY FROM POLITICS?

Gazprom is also abolishing its department for media and public affairs, "Novie izvestiya" reported on 22 January. That move follows a meeting earlier this month between Gazprom Chairman Rem Vyakhirev and Prime Minister Primakov, who wanted the company to stop engaging in political activities. According to the newspaper, in exchange for giving up "its lobbying activities," Primakov granted Gazprom an exemption from export duties on hydrocarbons. The daily also argued that the abolition of the media and public affairs department pulls "the information and financial carpet out from under [former Prime Minister] Viktor Chernomyrdin and his [presidential] election campaign." Sergei Zverev, former president of Most Group, supervised the department as deputy chairman of Gazprom's board of directors and "came to Gazprom mainly for the purpose of organizing Chernomyrdin's election campaign." JAC

'MIR' NO LONGER HEADED FOR RETIREMENT

Prime Minister Primakov signed a resolution on 22 January extending the operational life of the space station "Mir" until 2002. "Mir" will be financed by non-government sources beginning in the second half of 1999, according to the resolution. The Russian Space Agency and Academy of Sciences will determine within three months the space station's new sources of financing. Earlier, it was reported that Energiya had found an unknown private investor willing to finance the station for another three years. The station's new life "will probably be met without enthusiasm by NASA," according to "Izvestiya," because the U.S. agency "would like, on the one hand, to channel all of Russia's resources into the international space station, dominated by the U.S., and, on the other hand, to push rivals in space exploration to the back of the stage." JAC




NEW GOVERNMENT APPROVED IN KAZAKHSTAN

President Nursultan Nazarbayev on 22 January endorsed all 14 cabinet nominations by Prime Minister Nurlan Balghymbayev. Most of the 14 were members of the previous cabinet, which resigned following Nazarbayev's inauguration on 20 January. The most significant change, however, is the appointment of former First Deputy Premier Uraz Djandosov as finance minister. Reuters quoted financial analysts in Astana as characterizing Djandosov as "honest, committed, bold" and a convinced reformist. Speaking after the new government was sworn in, Nazarbayev pledged to continue with privatization and economic reform, Interfax reported. LF

TAJIK GOVERNMENT NEUTRALIZES WARLORDS

Government forces killed Saidmukhtor Yorov and three of his bodyguards in a shoot-out on the outskirts of Dushanbe on 24 January, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. A second warlord, Ravshan Gafurov, and five of his supporters were arrested. The Tajik government said the men were not aligned with the United Tajik Opposition and that they had engaged in kidnapping civilians for ransom. On 22 January, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that Tajik prosecutors have concluded the preliminary investigation into the November 1998 insurrection in Leninabad Oblast. The trial of 162 insurgents on charges of treason will begin shortly. LF

IMF DELEGATION IN KYRGYZSTAN

Tanas Katsambas, head of an IMF delegation to Kyrgyzstan, told journalists in Bishkek on 23 January that the country's government has taken the "necessary measures" in order to minimize the impact of last autumn's Russian financial crisis, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Earlier, Katsambas met with President Askar Akayev, Finance Minister Marat Sultanov, and National Bank acting Chairman Ulan Sarbanov. LF

POLICE GENERAL APPOINTED HEAD OF KYRGYZSTAN'S STATE OIL COMPANY

President Akayev has named General Bakirdin Subanbekov, former head of the Chu Oblast police, as director-general of the Kyrgyzgazmunaizat state joint-stock company, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 24 January. Subanbekov replaces Shalkar Jaisanbaev, for whom an arrest warrant has been issued on charges of large-scale embezzlement and suspected involvement in murder (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 1999). LF

U.S. OIL COMPANY EMPLOYEE MURDERED IN TURKMENISTAN

Turkmen police are investigating the death by strangulation of a 45-year- old U.S. oil company employee in the Caspian city of Turkmenbashi, AP reported on 22 January, citing Interfax. The man's body was discovered on 11 January in his apartment, which had been burgled. LF

ARREST OF FORMER ARMENIAN INTERIOR MINISTER SOUGHT

Armenian parliamentary speaker Khosrov Harutiunian told RFE/RL on 25 January that state prosecutors will ask the parliament to lift the immunity of former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian in order to facilitate his immediate arrest. He did not specify, however, what charges would be brought against Siradeghian. A close associate of former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, Siradeghian is currently chairman of the board of the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement. Last year, Siradeghian was twice interrogated by law-enforcement agencies in connection with a group of men arrested on murder charges in January 1998. LF

ARMENIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REVIEWS TELECOM MONOPOLY

The Armenian Constitutional Court on 23 January began examining an appeal by 72 parliament deputies that the 1998 telecommunications law is unconstitutional, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That law granted the ArmenTel company exclusive rights to operate the country's telecommunications network. The Greek telecommunications giant OTE paid $142 million in late 1997 to acquire an 80 percent stake in ArmenTel and 15-year exclusive rights. ArmenTel's recent decision to increase the monthly telephone fixed fee by 50 percent sparked mass protests and prompted some smaller pro-government parties to appeal to the population not to pay their telephone bills. A presidential spokesman told journalists on 22 January that Robert Kocharian has not yet agreed to a demand by opposition parliamentary deputies to convene an emergency debate on ArmenTel's privatization. LF

ARMENIAN PRIVATE TV, RADIO STATIONS PROTEST FEES RISE

Owners of more than one dozen private television channels and radio stations have strongly protested the government's recent decision to increase the monthly fee for use of air frequencies from $40 to $1,000, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 22 January. One radio station owner conceded that those rates are not high by international standards but said they are "inappropriate" under Armenian economic conditions. LF

IRAN, RUSSIA UNHAPPY OVER POSSIBLE U.S. MILITARY PRESENCE IN TRANSCAUCASUS

Speaking in Tehran on 23 January, the chief of Iran's armed forces joint staff, Major-General Hassan Firuzabadi, warned that the opening of a U.S. military base in neighboring Azerbaijan would have undesirable consequences, ITAR-TASS and Xinhua reported. Azerbaijan's ambassador to Iran, Abbasali Hassanov, has denied Turkish media reports that the U.S. and Azerbaijani leaderships are currently discussing such a base. On 22 January, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning claims by Azerbaijani politicians that Russia plays a destabilizing role in the Transcaucasus, and that a U.S. military base in Azerbaijan is necessary to counter the Russian presence in the region, Russian agencies reported. The statement said such claims are aimed at undermining Russian-Azerbaijani relations. LF

GEORGIA, AZERBAIJAN, UKRAINE TO CREATE JOINT PEACEKEEPING FORCE

Meeting in Baku on 21-22 January, the defense ministers of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine discussed the creation of a joint peacekeeping force that, according to an Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman, could be deployed to guard the proposed oil export pipeline from Azerbaijan through Georgia, Reuters reported. Georgian Defense Minister Davit Tevzadze had proposed such a force last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 1998). The three ministers also signed a joint communique on coordinating their relations with NATO and the UN and on holding joint maneuvers. The defense minister of Moldova, the fourth country in the GUAM alignment, had been scheduled to attend the meeting. No explanation was offered for his failure to do so. LF

RETURN OF GEORGIANS TO ABKHAZIA DISCUSSED

UN special envoy Liviu Bota and senior Western diplomats met with Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba in Sukhumi on 23 January to discuss the latter's unilateral proposal to allow ethnic Georgia displaced persons to return to Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion beginning 1 March. The French and Russian representatives at the talks expressed satisfactions with that offer but questioned how it could be implemented without Georgian approval and support, ITAR- TASS and Caucasus Press reported. On 22 January, a delegation representing the Georgian displaced persons flew to the U.S. to participate in a 31 January session of the UN Security Council that is to discuss the Abkhaz conflict. The delegation will seek to persuade the Security Council to adopt a resolution condemning the alleged policy of genocide conducted by the Abkhaz against the Georgians during the 1992-1993 war. It will also demand the replacement of the CIS peacekeeping force in Abkhazia by a multilateral UN force. LF

ADJAR LEADER SETS CONDITIONS FOR PARTICIPATION IN GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT

Deputies elected from constituencies in the Adjar Autonomous Republic will resume their participation in the work of the Georgian parliament only after that body finally enacts legislation on creating free economic zones in Georgia and elects a representative of the Adjar leadership as a deputy speaker, according to Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze. The Adjar deputies suspended their participation in the work of the Georgian legislature last summer. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 January quoted Abashidze as accusing Georgian border guards of engaging in espionage activities in Adjaria with the aim of destabilizing the political situation there. LF




UKRAINE TO DEFAULT ON FOREIGN DEBT?

Ukraine may default on its foreign debt payments in 1999 unless foreign donors resume their aid to the country, AP quoted the Foreign Ministry as saying in a statement on 22 January. According to that statement, Ukraine must pay $1.17 billion to foreign creditors in 1999, but the government is asking for new loans because it will not be able to raise the money on its own. In addition, the National Bank, which has $1 billion in reserves, owes the IMF $700 million in loan payments. Ukrainian Television reported the next day that last year Ukraine's foreign debt increased by $2 billion to $11.5 billion, which is equal to 40 percent of the country's GDP or 70 percent of its annual exports. According to the Finance Ministry, Ukraine needs $2.2 billion in foreign loans this year. JM

LAZARENKO NOMINATED PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE

A congress of the opposition Hromada party on 22 January nominated former Ukrainian Premier Pavlo Lazarenko as its candidate for the October presidential elections. Lazarenko is currently under investigation by Swiss police on money laundering charges. He was arrested in Switzerland in December and released on a $3 million bail. The Prosecutor-General's Office has asked the parliament to lift Lazarenko's deputy immunity so that he can be arrested and tried on charges of embezzling government funds and siphoning some $4 million abroad. Lazarenko told the Hromada congress that the corruption charges against him are aimed at removing him as President Leonid Kuchma's potential rival in the presidential race. JM

UKRAINIAN MINER IMMOLATES HIMSELF OVER UNPAID WAGES

Anatoliy Konarev, a 37-year-old miner from Luhansk, set himself alight on 22 January after the director of the local mine had refused to discuss with him his wage arrears. Konarev died in the hospital several hours later. The mine owed him 600 hryvni ($175). JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION PROTESTS 'RUSSIAN OCCUPATION'

Some 4,000 people participated in a march organized by the Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) in Minsk on 22 January to protest the Belarusian-Russian union, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. "We are launching the second stage of actions of the Belarusian people in defense of our state. For the time being, we do not need to resort to arms to advance toward civilized Europe," BNF acting chairman Lyavon Barshcheuski told the crowd. "We are not fighting against the Russian worker nor against the Russian peasant, but against the Russian-Asiatic mafia that needs a transport corridor through Belarus," AP quoted Aleh Trusau, another opposition leader, as saying. The protesters adopted a one-phrase resolution reading "No to Russian Occupation!" Some 70 protests against the union took place around the country the next day, Belapan reported. JM

BELARUSIAN WORKERS FORM NATIONAL STRIKE COMMITTEE

Workers from a dozen regions have set up a national strike committee headed by independent trade union activist Syarhey Antonchyk, Belapan reported on 23 January. The committee demands that the authorities guarantee free access to state-controlled media, a minimum monthly wage of $100, and a minimum monthly pension of $50. If those demands are not met, the committee threatens to launch a nationwide strike. It also plans to hold a trade union rally in Minsk on 27 January and supports the opposition initiative to hold presidential elections on 16 May, pledging to help organize them. According to Antonchyk, the workers' movement is the only force capable of radically changing the situation in Belarus. JM

LUKASHENKA AMESTIES SOME 34,000 PRISONERS

The Belarusian president has signed a bill setting free or slashing the prison terms of some 34,000 prisoners, AP reported on 22 January, citing official sources. The bill grants amnesty to World War II veterans, minors, pregnant women, pensioners, single parents with children under the age of 18, victims of the Chornobyl nuclear accident, and people suffering from tuberculosis or cancer. The amnesty is expected to ease overcrowding in Belarusian prisons, where 60,000 people are held in facilities designed for 39,000. JM

ESTONIAN COURT CONVICTS EX-SECURITY OFFICER OVER 1949 DEPORTATIONS

Johannes Klaassepp, a former Soviet security official, has been found guilty of ordering the deportations of more than 20 people in 1949. A local court handed down an eight- year suspended sentence to the 77-year-old, who had pleaded innocent. In passing that sentence, the court took into account the fact that Klaassepp had been acting in his official capacity when he ordered the deportations and had complied with the authorities during their investigation into his crimes. Klaassepp is the first person to be convicted in Estonia for involvement in deportations during the Stalinist era. Meanwhile, the Estonian Commission for the Investigation of Crimes against Humanity, which was set up by President Lennart Meri last fall, convenes for the first time on 26 January. JC

EESTI TELEKOM TENDER OPENS

From 25 January to 9 February, investors can make bids for shares in the telecommunications company Eesti Telecom, ETA and BNS reported. Analysts predict the sale could result in revenues totaling nearly 3 billion kroons (some $230 million). Of that sum, nearly half a billion kroons are intended to plug a hole in the 1999 budget while the remainder will be channeled to the stabilization fund. JC

LATVIAN COALITION PARTY NOT TO OBJECT TO SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC MINISTER

At a 23 January meeting, the council of the Fatherland and Freedom party announced that the party does not object to the Social Democrat Peteris Salkazanovs assuming the agriculture portfolio, BNS reported. Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans had nominated Salkazanovs to that post last month, but the Fatherland and Freedom party had postponed making a final decision until the 23 January meeting. (Under the coalition agreement, all three signatories to the coalition agreement must agree to inviting a member of another party to join the government.) Party chairman Maris Grinblats said the decision not to object to Salkazanovs's appointment will "strengthen" the government, which, in turn, would pave the way for adopting a "tolerable budget." At the same time, the Fatherland and Freedom party will support increasing the defense budget to 1 percent of GDP, something to which the Social Democrats and other leftist forces are opposed. JC

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT, PREMIER AGREE ON OMBUDSMAN VOTE

Meeting at the presidential residence in Vilnius on 22 January, President Valdas Adamkus and Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius agreed that "full voting procedures should be [undertaken] by the parliament" over the candidacy of lawyer Kestutis Lapinskas as ombudsman, BNS reported. Earlier this month, Conservative deputies in the parliament narrowly succeeded in blocking approval of Lapinskas to that post, arguing that the nominee should be not only a legal expert but also a specialist in auditing and state assets management. Adamkus has issued a decree re-nominating Lapinskas to that post, but last week, the Conservatives announced that his nomination is unacceptable and urged the president to revoke his decree. Adamkus has refused to comply with that demand. JC

LITHUANIA'S CONSERVATIVES, CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS RENEW COALITION AGREEMENT

Leaders of the ruling Conservative and Christian Democratic Parties have renewed their coalition agreement until 2000, when general elections are due, BNS reported on 22 January. The agreement stipulates that the coalition functions on the basis of the principle of "proportional participation in state institutions in accordance with representation at the parliament." According to that principle, the Christian Democrats are entitled to head three ministries. Currently, the party has only the foreign affairs and defense portfolios. JC

POLISH FARMERS EXPAND ROAD BLOCKADE CAMPAIGN

Following the blockade of the Swiecko border checkpoint on 22-23 January, Polish farmers have expanded their road blockade campaign to press the government to protect them against food imports, Reuters reported on 25 January. Andrzej Lepper, leader of the radical Self-Defense farmers' trade union, which is organizing the campaign, said on 23 January that protesters in 300 localities in Poland are prepared to launch nationwide road blockades, despite the government's threats to use force against them. JM

POLISH PARLIAMENT URGES RESTORATION OF DEMOCRACY IN BELARUS...

The Polish parliament on 22 January voted by 354 to seven with 49 abstentions to adopt a "message to the Belarusian nation" affirming "moral support" for the opposition Supreme Soviet deputies and sympathizing with those in Belarus who are repressed because they "seek freedom" and express their beliefs. It also stresses that Poland is interested in continued good-neighborly relations with Belarus as well as in the existence of an independent Belarus. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry responded that the message constitutes interference in Belarus's domestic affairs, questions the "equal nature" of mutual relations, and might lead to the "complication" of those ties. JM

...REJECTS NO CONFIDENCE MOTION IN HEALTH MINISTER

The same day, the parliament voted by 233 to 184 with nine abstentions to defeat the ex-communist opposition's no confidence motion in Health Ministry Wojciech Maksymowicz. The vote is seen as a major step toward overcoming the crisis within the ruling coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 1999). JM

CZECH PREMIER RATES HIS GOVERNMENT A SUCCESS

Milos Zeman said on 23 January that his cabinet has had many more successes than failures, CTK reported. Zeman, reviewing the work of his government after six months in office, said the cabinet has successfully accomplished 10 things, including the passage of the 1999 budget, an increase in public sector wages, the launching of bank privatization, the resolution of a row with the EU over pork imports, and investment in industrial zones. Zeman said the cabinet failed only in communicating with the media and in "presenting itself sufficiently." Opposition groups have criticized the government for, among other things, its apparent mistrust of private ownership and the increased role of the state in society. PB

CZECHS SEEK ITALIAN HELP IN ANTI-CORRUPTION PROGRAM

Premier Milos Zeman said on 24 January that Italy will send experts to Prague to help kickstart its "clean hands" anti-corruption campaign, CTK reported. Zeman said the experts will accompany Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema on his visit to Prague next month. He added that anti-corruption officials from the U.S. will also help. Zeman said the first results of the campaign will be made available in March, noting that some 350 cases of white- collar crime are being investigated. In other news, Labor and Social Affairs Minister Vladimir Spidla said that unemployment could reach 11 percent at the end of 1999, up from 7.5 percent at the end of December. PB

KUKAN PLEASED WITH U.S. TRIP, HOPES FOR INTEGRATION WITH WEST

Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said in Bratislava on 25 January that he is encouraged by his recent visit to the U.S., TASR reported. Kukan said the U.S. government "knows what is happening in Slovakia and values developments positively." U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said after meeting with Kukan in Washington on 22 January that Slovakia is on the right track but must "stay on target" with its reform program and continue to improve relations with its neighbors if it wants to join NATO and the EU. Albright said that though a good candidate for NATO membership, Slovakia should "not expect an invitation anytime soon." Representatives of the European and Slovak parliaments ended a three-day meeting in Bratislava by calling on EU leaders to quickly reevaluate Slovakia's bid to join the union. In a report to be sent to the European Council, delegates to the meeting suggest that a decision on whether to add Slovakia to the "fast track" should be made by December. PB

U.K. INVESTING IN SLOVAKIA

The U.K. was the largest investor in Slovakia in 1998, the Slovak Statistical Bureau reported on 23 January. Its investments, totaling 2.9 billion crowns ($78.6 million), account for 28.7 percent of total foreign investment in 1998. As the second biggest investor in 1998, the U.S. invested some 2.7 billion crowns. The Netherlands followed in third place. PB

CANADA REJECTS ROMANI ASYLUM REQUESTS

A Toronto immigration committee has rejected the asylum requests of two Romani families from Hungary, MTI reported on 22 January. A lawyer for the committee said the families arrived in January and May 1998 and that an investigation into their cases determined that they face neither persecution nor denial of their rights in Hungary. The committee met with a Hungarian delegation that included Florian Farkas, chairman of the National Romani Self-Government Council, before making its decision. Farkas said that Roma in Hungary just face discrimination, but not persecution. He said it is important Budapest to help Roma who are denied asylum to return to Hungary. Hundreds of Roma are still in Canada awaiting a decision on their requests. Dozens have been granted asylum. PB




DIPLOMATIC 'OFFENSIVE' UNDER WAY FOR KOSOVA

Western diplomats have launched a "tough new take-it-or-leave-it" initiative, which they hope will secure Russian backing and force the Serbs and Kosovars to comply, Reuters reported from Brussels on 24 January. The plan is to offer the Serbs the choice of granting autonomy to Kosova or facing NATO air strikes, while Kosovars will have to choose between accepting something less than independence or risk losing Western support. Diplomats from the international Contact Group agreed in London late last week to press the Serbs and Kosovars to take part in a peace conference in the near future (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 1999). EU foreign ministers will discuss the new diplomatic efforts at their meeting in Brussels on 25 January. Kosova is also on the agenda in talks between U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and her Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, in Moscow. The Contact Group is slated to meet again on 30 January to finalize the plan. PM

NATO CONTINUES TO STAND BY...

NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said in Rome on 24 January that the alliance remains prepared to take military action "in order to support a political solution" in Kosova. He added that "at this very moment...there is the determination of the international community to have a political agreement work. For that, NATO will be prepared to do its job. I hope very much that there will be a new impulse, a new dynamic, that we are ready to support." PM

...WITH GROUND TROOPS?

Veton Surroi, who is Kosova's leading journalist, wrote in "Koha Ditore" of 24 January that "military action [by NATO] can lead to a solution" in the troubled province. He added that ground troops will be necessary "to ensure that violence [by Serbian forces against civilians] is not repeated." An unnamed senior U.S. government official told the "Washington Post" of 23 January that "a serious discussion [on ending the crisis in Kosova] must explore all options, including American participation on the ground. It's just a fact of life that our allies are reluctant to support air power against the Serbs in the absence of a clear strategy for what happens next on the ground." Secretary of Defense William Cohen is strongly opposed to sending U.S. ground troops into Kosova. PM

GERMANY PREPARED TO SEND GROUND TROOPS

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, and Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping agreed in Bonn on 22 January that Germany is prepared to send ground troops to Kosova to help ensure the safety of OSCE monitors, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. Germany has already made aircraft available for possible NATO air strikes against Serbia. A German government spokesman said that Belgrade must understand that "this is not a game" and that the Atlantic alliance is serious about ending the violence in Kosova. Scharping noted that "we will not just sit by idly while people are being butchered. This is not like in Bosnia, where we sat back and watched while the most grisly kind of massacres took place." PM

HOLBROOKE DEMANDS 'FULL COMPLIANCE' BY SERBIA

U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke, who negotiated an agreement on Kosova with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in October, said on 22 January in Washington that the agreement has "eroded" because it "didn't have teeth." He warned Belgrade that its recent decision to suspend its expulsion order against William Walker, who is the chief OSCE monitor in Kosova, is not sufficient to avoid NATO air strikes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 1999). Holbrooke stressed that Milosevic must show "full compliance" with the October agreement. PM

HOSTAGES FREED IN KOSOVA

Serbian forces freed nine Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) fighters in Likoc on 23 January as part of a secret agreement with OSCE diplomats under which the UCK freed eight Yugoslav soldiers 10 days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 1999). Some of the freed guerrillas told AP that their captors had beaten them and that they want to return to the front lines. Also on 23 January, the UCK freed five elderly Serbian civilians, whom guerrillas captured near Vushtrri the previous day. The Serbs said they had been well treated, but one noted that their captors took "some money, a video recorder, and some of [her] son's clothes..., adding that the guerrillas warned them not to mention this," Reuters reported. Spokesmen for the UCK said that the guerrillas had "arrested" the five because they were armed. In Prishtina, Walker said that "it was a very unwise and uncivilized thing for the [UCK] to do to kidnap civilians and I want to condemn it." PM

WALKER SAYS RECAK WAS 'MASSACRE'

Walker wrote in "Newsweek" that he stands by his view that Serbian forces "massacred" 45 Kosovar civilians in Recak on 15 January, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 24 January. He added that "neither I nor any of those who accompanied me saw any signs of a two-sided battle." Serbian spokesmen say that the Kosovars, who included women, children, and pensioners, were UCK fighters who died in battle. Belgrade recently ordered Walker's expulsion after he charged that Serbian forces massacred innocent civilians. On 22 January, AP in Vienna obtained a confidential OSCE report in which monitors concluded that armed Serbs killed the Kosovars and "mutilated some of them." Also in the Austrian capital, "Die Presse" quoted Sadako Ogata, who is the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, as saying that at least three Kosovar children recently froze to death when several hundred Kosovars fled their homes following the Recak killings. PM

GLIGOROV VETOES AMNESTY LAW

Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov on 22 January refused to sign a draft amnesty law that would end the jail terms of some 800 people, mostly ethnic Albanians, who were convicted for violating the 1997 law on the public display of national symbols (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 1999). Among the 800 are the mayors of Gostivar and Tetovo. The bill will be returned to the parliament, where the pro-government majority is expected to override Gligorov's veto without difficulty. It is the first time that Gligorov has refused to sign a law passed by the parliament. Observers suggested that his refusal was intended as a snub to the government of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski. Georgievski sought the amnesty in order to guarantee the support of his ethnic Albanian coalition partners and to reduce inter-ethnic tensions. PM

MACEDONIA, ALBANIA AGREE ON KOSOVA

Georgievski and his Albanian counterpart, Pandeli Majko, said in Tirana on 22 January that they support increased international political pressure directed at ending the crisis in Kosova. Majko added that "if the Serbs continue their massacres in Kosova, there could be large waves of refugees heading for both Albania and Macedonia." He and Georgievski agreed that current relations between Skopje and Tirana are "an example of how new relationships can be built in the new Balkans." PM

ARMED CIVILIANS PROTEST BANDITS IN ALBANIA

More than 400 armed civilians blocked the main road linking Gjirokaster to Greece to protest the inability of the police to control bandits operating from the nearby mountain village of Lazarat. The inhabitants of Lazarat, which was a leper colony in Ottoman times, have a tradition of behaving as a law unto themselves. Meanwhile in Vlora, gangsters kidnapped the police chief on 23 January and held him until police returned six impounded speedboats belonging to the smugglers. The incident "shocked Italy," Reuters reported the next day. Defense Minister Carlo Scognamiglio said that Rome is prepared to double the strength of its 630 military, police, and customs officials in Albania. PM

STRIKE, VIOLENCE ENDS AFTER ROMANIAN PREMIER MEETS MINERS

Some 10,000 coal miners interrupted their march to Bucharest and returned to the Jiu Valley after a deal was reached by Premier Radu Vasile and miners' leaders on 22 January, RFE/RL's Romanian Service reported. Vasile announced the end of the strike after four hours of talks with Miron Cozma at an Orthodox monastery near Ramnicu Valcea, 170 kilometers west of Bucharest. Vasile said "neither the miners nor the government won. Only the country won, because there will be peace." Some 170 people, mostly policemen, were injured in several clashes as the miners overran barricades and police cordons set up to prevent them reaching Bucharest. Vasile agreed to increase miners' wages by 35 percent and to allow two mines slated for closure to remain open. Vasile added, however, that the wage hike is dependent on miners' eliminating losses at heavily subsidized mines over the next five years. Further rounds of talks between the government and mining officials are to take place in the coming weeks. Most of the 20,000 miners in the region already make nearly twice the national average salary. PB

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT WANTS AGREEMENT MADE PUBLIC

Both chambers of the parliament, meeting in an extraordinary session on 22 January, approved a declaration affirming their support for the actions of Vasile in his defense of "state institutions, the constitution, and all democratic values," Rompres reported. The resolution condemned the violent actions of the miners and called on state officials to ensure that the crisis not be repeated. It also urged the government to present by 15 March an economic and social program intended to stop the economic decline in the country. In addition, lawmakers want the government to detail how it plans to pay for the concessions made to the miners. The leader of the ethnic Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania, Bela Marko, criticized the agreement between Vasile and the miners and called for the protesters to be detained and prosecuted. Marko, whose party is a member of the ruling coalition, said the government will lose credibility if it does not prosecute those involved in violence. PB

BULGARIA NOT TO SHUT DOWN REACTORS EARLY

Bulgarian Deputy Premier Evgenyi Bakardzhiev said on 22 January that his government will not shut down four controversial nuclear reactors at the Kozloduy nuclear power plant earlier than scheduled, AP reported. Bakardzhiev said the two oldest reactors will stop operating in 2005, as planned, and the other two will shut down in 2010. Bakardzhiev said Sofia has invested some $140 million to improve safety at the plant, which some Western organizations say is unsafe. The facility provides about 40 percent of Bulgaria's electricity needs. PB

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR UNITY

Petar Stoyanov said on 22 January that increased internal discord could weaken Bulgaria's credibility, AP reported. Stoyanov, in his annual address to the nation, urged the government and the opposition to cooperate over reform. He said this is the only way Bulgaria can make a "dignified accession to the EU and NATO." Stoyanov also noted that the country cannot secure the West's trust "unless government and opposition guarantee that whoever comes to power will stick to all basic rules of a market economy." PB




MESSAGES SENT, MESSAGES RECEIVED


by Paul Goble

The statements of Russian politicians notwithstanding, the Russian military has sent a message that suggests many in Moscow are coming to terms with the idea that the three Baltic States will eventually become members of NATO.

But just as in 1990, when Moscow's military commanders indicated that they did not expect Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to be part of the USSR by the year 2000, the Russian generals are giving out signals that some in both the region and the West appear likely to misinterpret.

On 29 December, Lieutenant-General Pavel Labutin, the chief of the Leningrad Military District, told ITAR-TASS that he has re-established a Russian army group "in the Baltic direction" as a result of "NATO expansion to the East and the prospect of admitting the Baltics into this bloc."

Labutin's remarks suggest that he and his officers have been planning the reorganization of their forces not so much to prevent the expansion of NATO but rather on the assumption that the Western alliance will sometime in the near future include the three Baltic countries. In taking that position, General Labutin appears to be out in front of, if not out of step with, the Russian political elite. But precisely because his remarks suggest such is the case, Labutin's actions have been interpreted in a very different way not only by some in the region but also by a few analysts in NATO capitals.

Not surprisingly, some Baltic officials see the restoration of this army group in the same way as they viewed last summer's Russian military exercise "Operation Return" near their borders: as a direct threat to themselves and as an effort to intimidate the West.

Some observers in NATO capitals have drawn a similar conclusion. They have argued that this Leningrad Military District reorganization is a direct challenge to NATO and that the Western alliance must take notice of it. Moreover, they have argued that this latest shift may represent a potential violation of the Conventional Forces in Europe agreement.

Such Baltic and Western comments may lead some in NATO capitals to draw exactly the opposite conclusion from the one that Labutin's words and actions suggest. And they may thus lead some in those cities to argue for putting off the inclusion of the Baltic States into the Western alliance.

If that happens, there will be a repetition of events that took place nine years ago. One day after the Lithuanian government declared the restoration of its independence, a Washington newspaper published a map showing how Soviet generals perceived the security architecture of Europe in the year 2000. That map, the product of extensive interviews with these generals by a U.S. Defense Department analyst, showed that the generals did not believe that Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania would be part of the Soviet Union by that time.

But to a remarkable degree, the publication of that map had a very different impact on U.S. thinking about the Baltic pursuit of independence than the most obvious reading of it would appear to have suggested. Instead of leading more people in the West to conclude that Russian acceptance of eventual Baltic independence could allow the West to increase its support for the Balts, the appearance of this map led some writers to conclude that the West should be even more circumspect lest it exacerbate divisions in Moscow.

As subsequent events proved, the Soviet military's assessment of the facts on the ground was far closer to reality than the one given out by the Soviet political establishment. And had that been more widely understood at the time, all the parties might have avoided some of the difficulties they subsequently faced.

Labutin's action, one he almost certainly did not undertake on his own, appears to be yet another such message about the Russian military's understanding of the situation. And just as in 1990, how it is received is likely to have a major influence on the fate of the Baltic countries over the next several years.


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