Accessibility links

Newsline - January 29, 1999


The State Duma on 29 January began debating the 1999 budget in its third reading. Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev predicted that the budget will pass easily, while Aleksandr Pochinok, head of the government's finance department, told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that "practically all controversial issues have been resolved" and that even the "governors are now practically unanimous in their support for the budget." Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov said that his committee has approved "many" of a "a huge number of amendments" that were submitted. Among those amendments were a 3 billion ruble ($132 million) allocation for compensation for individuals who transferred their savings accounts from failing banks to Sberbank, 3 billion rubles for Russia's northern regions, 1.5 billion rubles for regional programs, 1 billion rubles for Siberian and Far Eastern regions and 1.6 billion rubles for "regional subsidies," according to Interfax. JAC


"Relations between Moscow and Washington are at their lowest point since 1991," "Trud" concluded on 29 January, arguing that U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's recent visit to Moscow did not launch negotiations for START-III as had been expected. The previous day, "Noviye izvestiya" adopted a similar tone, arguing that "no progress has been reached on any of the 'global' issues discussed in Moscow." According to the newspaper, "an exaggerated amount of attention to the external aspects of Albright visit" was paid, partly in order to disguise that an agreement to disagree had been reached even before Albright arrived in Moscow. "Vremya MN" said on 27 January that Albright's visit produced no results but "demonstrated how US officials were now conducting relations with Russia: listen, nod their heads in agreement, and then do exactly what they wish." JAC


The education workers union estimated that 300,000 teachers from some 8,500 educational institutions either were on strike or suspended classes on 27 January, according to Interfax on 29 January. Meanwhile, the federal government's figures were much lower, suggesting that only 20,000 teachers were involved in the action, "Izvestiya" reported on 28 January. However, the daily noted, that teachers in even the best-paid regions, such as Leningrad and Samara Oblasts, decided to support their striking colleagues. According to the newspaper, Education Minister Vladimir Filippov believes that one solution for the chronic inability of some regional governments to transfer federal monies intended to pay teachers' wages would be the establishment of local commissions to look into how federal budget funds have been spent. Included in these commissions would be teachers, and local journalists would be asked to conduct their own investigations. JAC


A new election alliance of regional leaders was established in Moscow on 27 January, in order to compete in upcoming parliamentary elections, Interfax reported. Twenty-one regional officials have signed up, including Kaliningrad and Rostov Oblast Governors Leonid Gorbenko and Vladimir Chub, Khakassian Republic head Alexei Lebed, Saratov and Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast assembly heads Aleksandr Kharitonov and Anatolii Kozeradskii, and Sergei Sobyanin, head of the Khanti- Mansiiysk Autonomous Okrug. One of the bloc's founders, Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov, may in fact be the group's leader, according to an anonymous source cited by Interfax. JAC


Titov, who is also a deputy chairman of the Our Home Is Russia (NDR) party, has not decided whether to maintain membership in both organizations. NDR faction leader and Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov greeted the news with alarm, saying that the NDR's political council should be convened "no later than in February to find out why Titov and many others are dissatisfied." Ryzhkov told Interfax on 28 January that Titov's establishment of a new bloc "is one more piece of proof that the Our Home is Russia movement is in trouble." Titov suggested that the NDR might want to join his bloc. JAC


Russians' average income since last August has decreased from $160 to $50 per month, " while the cost of imported goods has risen 3.5 times compared with July 1998, "Vechernaya Moskva" reported on 28 January. Meanwhile, the number of Russian citizens whose incomes are below the national minimum wage is growing by at least 10 million to 15 million people a month, according to the newspaper. Specialists at the Carnegie Moscow Center suggest that a new type of poor has emerged in Russia, "Noviye izvestiya" reported on 19 January. These people are well-educated, young to middle-aged, and have lost their status and high incomes but not their ideal of a prosperous life. They no longer have the resources to continue the lifestyle approved by the mainstream of society, such as being able to buy new clothes or fruit for their children or pay for a funeral, without massive borrowing. JAC


Yurii Maksimenko, the former chief of intelligence for Russia's Pacific Fleet, unexpectedly decided to testify in favor of military journalist Grigorii Pasko during his trial for espionage in Vladivostok, AFP reported on 26 January. Maksimenko, who was allowed to attend the trial as a representative of the Fleet Veterans Council, said earlier that the state's case was flawed by too many assumptions and too little proof, the "Moscow Times" reported on 22 January. On 28 January, the Federal Security Service's (FSB) public relations department issued a statement accusing the media of providing misleading and lopsided coverage of Pasko's trial, according to ITAR-TASS. According to the FSB, Pasko is charged with specific criminal offenses for which "his environmentalist activities and work as a journalist are irrelevant." On 29 January, Pasko's trial was adjourned until 8 February after one of his lawyers was banned from representing him in court. JAC


Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed and All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) head Mikhail Shvydkoi signed an agreement on the formation of a new state media holding company and the terms on which its Krasnoyarsk subsidiary would join that company, "Izvestiya" reported on 29 January. In addition, Lebed rescinded his directive appointing one of his local supporters as head of the Krasnoyarsk media company, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the previous day. Both newspapers interpreted Lebed's agreement as evidence that the governor is backing down in his confrontation with local media. Lebed, on the other hand, told reporters on 27 January that the conflict was the result of "misunderstanding" and that he will get together with VGTRK to "settle the issue like statesman." JAC


Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II on 28 January cautioned visiting Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek about erecting barriers between Poland and Russia. He said, "We lived in a Europe divided into two blocs. One such bloc has survived, but many people still perceive it as aggressive and regard its gradual approach to Russian borders with fear," according to Interfax. The patriarch added that "the constant threat of air strikes on Yugoslavia only increases the internal perception of NATO as an aggressor." JAC


The Tulskaya Oblast Property Fund has sold 40 hectares of land to a joint- stock company 90 percent owned by Procter & Gamble, "Izvestiya" reported on 27 January. The joint-stock company paid 16 million rubles (some $696,000) for the land, on which the production and housing facilities of the company are located. According to the daily, over the past few years U.S. companies have invested tens of millions of dollars in the oblast's economy. A significant part of that sum has gone toward developing health-care and other social programs. JC


Temperatures in Khanti-Mansiisk Autonomous Okrug hit the lowest recorded this century on 27 January, sliding to minus 55.6 degrees Celsius, AFP reported. In Komi Republic, temperatures dipped to minus 53 degrees Celsius, and in Arkhangelsk Oblast temperatures below minus 40 degrees Celsius paralyzed drawbridges over the North Dvina River, Reuters reported. JAC


Addressing a congress last month of the Rus organization, which represents the ethnic Russian population of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, President Aleksandr Dsasokhov vowed to stem the outmigration of ethnic Russians from the republic. Some 44,700 Russians have left North Ossetia in recent years, almost 25 percent of the region's 1989 ethnic Russian population. Many of those who left found themselves unemployed as a result of the collapse of Russia's military-industrial complex, which was the largest employer in the region. But Dzasokhov noted that Russians are also proportionally under-represented in the police force and on local councils. LF


The Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) issued a statement on 28 January urging President Robert Kocharian to dissolve the parliament following the rejection of Prosecutor- General Aghvan Hovsepian's request to strip former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian of his parliamentary immunity. The statement said the 1995 parliamentary elections, in which the HHD was banned from participating, were rigged and the parliament is continuing the previous regime's policy, which it characterized as "directed against the vital interests of the Armenian people." Also on 28 January, Albert Bazeyan, leader of the largest Yerkrapah parliamentary group, denied rumors of a split within that group over whether Siradeghian should be brought to trial, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Meanwhile, several leading politicians have expressed doubts that former President Levon Ter-Petrossian's 26 January statement condemning the attempt to indict Siradeghian heralds Ter-Petrossian's imminent return to mainstream politics. Ter-Petrossian has lived in seclusion since his forced resignation one year ago. LF


In an interview published in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 28 January, Heidar Aliyev avoided a direct answer to the question whether Azerbaijan might host either a Turkish or a NATO military base on its territory. ITAR-TASS quoted "a well-informed NATO source in Moscow" as similarly avoiding a direct answer to that question. That source went on to quote Turkish President Suleyman Demirel as dismissing reports of such a base in Azerbaijan as "pure speculation." Also on 28 January, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman interviewed by ITAR-TASS pointed to the contradiction between Aliev's statements and those of his adviser Vafa Guluzade, who has repeatedly argued openly in favor of such bases in Azerbaijan. LF


In a 28 January resolution, the UN Security Council called for "an early and comprehensive political settlement [to the Abkhaz conflict], which includes a settlement on the political status of Abkhazia within the state of Georgia," Reuters reported. The resolution also urged immediate measures to expedite the return to Abkhazia of ethnic Georgian displaced persons forced to flee during the conflict, and it condemned the failure to halt guerrilla activities in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion. The Council extended for another six months the mandate of the UN Observer Force in western Georgia. LF


Addressing the council, Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili said the UN should be more active in promoting not only a settlement of the conflict but also the repatriation of Georgian displaced persons, according to AP. He argued that the 140-strong observer force is "too small" to control the area in question. Menagharishvili also called for the creation of a local administration in Gali under UN control to create secure conditions for the displaced persons' return. The Abkhaz have rejected that option. Speaking on Georgian Television on 27 January, Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze similarly called for "more resolute" UN moves to resolve the conflict, AP and ITAR-TASS reported. LF


Speaking at a press conference in Almaty on 29 January, Zharmakhan Tuyaqbayev expressed concern over the increase in the number of deserters last year and over unspecified instances of abuse of power by senior officers, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. Senior Defense Ministry officials denied Russian media reports that four SU-27 fighter aircraft given to Kazakhstan by Russia earlier this week were intended as part payment of the rent for the Baikonur Space Complex (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 1999). They said the aircraft were in payment of Soviet military equipment withdrawn from Kazakhstan in 1993. LF


Askar Akayev met with his Austrian counterpart, Thomas Klestil, in Vienna on 27 January to discuss strengthening bilateral relations and developing new forms of cooperation, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported the following day. Akayev also met separately with Austrian businessmen to solicit investments, particularly in Kyrgyzstan's mining, light, and textile industries as well as in agriculture, according to ITAR- TASS. Akayev underscored that Austria's experience in developing its business sector, in particular by supporting small and medium-sized businesses, is of special relevance for his country. A memorandum on cooperation between the Interior Ministries of Austria and Kyrgyzstan was signed during his visit. LF


The Legislative Assembly on 28 January approved amendments to the pension law, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The changes provide for raising the retirement age for both men and women by four months annually over the next nine years, from 60 to 63 for men and from 55 to 58 for women by 2007. Last month, the Constitutional Court rejected as unconstitutional amendments passed by the Legislative Assembly in June 1998 that would have raised the pension age by six months each year. The government then formed a conciliation commission to work together with the parliament on drafting alternative amendments. The parliament remained opposed to the prospect of amending the law, but the government insisted that raising the retirement age is one of the conditions for a $36 million World Bank loan. LF


Also on 28 January, the Legislative Assembly approved the 1999 draft state budget with only one vote against, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The dissenter, Alevtina Pronenko, told RFE/RL that there is next to nothing allocated in that draft for social needs. She said the government plans to allot $50 million for pensioners in 1999 but that sum is not enough even to pay back pensions for 1998. Pronenko added that the $40.5 million to be given to Kyrgyzstan by international finance organizations in 1999 will all be used to repay the country's foreign debt. Pension Fund chairwoman Roza Uchkempirova had warned on 20 January that if the retirement age is not raised, the number of pensioners will increase this year from 32,000 to 41,000, and the fund's deficit would reach 310 million som (about $10 million). LF


Khudja Karimov escaped unharmed when 10 masked assailants opened fire on his home in Gazimalik early on 28 January, but his brother was killed in the attack, AP and ITAR-TASS reported. A former member of the Tajikistan National Front, which opposed the Islamic opposition, Khudja Karimov was elected to the parliament in 1994 and wounded in an assassination attempt the following year. He was later sentenced to a one-year prison term for embezzlement. On 28 January, city administration official Dustamamad Mukhamadiev was gunned down outside his home in Leninabad. LF


The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has said it will suspend Ukraine's membership unless it "takes steps toward meeting its commitments," Reuters and Ukrainian Television reported on 28 January. Two days earlier, the assembly had threatened to suspend Ukraine unless it fully meets its commitments before the June 1999 PACE session. It has criticized Ukraine primarily for failing to abolish the death penalty. Under a presidential moratorium, there have been no executions in Ukraine since March 1997, although courts continue to pass death sentences. The assembly is demanding that Ukrainian lawmakers adopt the moratorium as law. But lawmakers are resisting such a move, arguing that up to 80 percent of the population are opposed to banning the death penalty. JM


The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry on 28 January issued a statement saying that Kyiv is "disappointed" by the decision of Russia's Federation Council to postpone the ratification of the Ukrainian- Russian Treaty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 1999). The ministry argued that the treaty is an "indicator" of good- neighborly and equal relations. It added that it hopes the Federation Council will ratify the treaty "in the near future." JM


Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has appointed Andriy Honcharuk as minister for foreign economic relations and Raisa Bohatyryova as health minister. Until now, both served as deputy ministers. The appointments follow a cabinet shakeup earlier this month in which Kuchma fired First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoliy Holubchenko, three ministers, and four deputy ministers. Holubchenko on 28 January was appointed first deputy chairman of the State Property Fund, a government agency dealing with privatization of state assets. JM


Ukrainian parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko met with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Minsk on 28 January and addressed the Chamber of Representatives, the lower legislative house. "Belarus serves as an example of how to preserve the best of what [previously existed]...and exerted positive influence on [Belarus's] development," Interfax quoted Tkachenko as saying. Tkachenko told journalists later that Ukraine may soon join the Belarusian-Russian union. He added that in the meantime the three Slavic states must build common economic and customs systems. JM


The Chamber of Representatives on 28 January adopted Belarus's 1999 draft budget in the first reading, Belapan reported. The budget deficit is planned at 1.8 percent of GDP. The government will use primarily domestic sources to finance the deficit, in particular National Bank loans and revenues from treasury bills. Budget revenues total 416 trillion Belarusian rubles ($3.1 billion, according to the official exchange rate). GDP is predicted to grow by 3-5 percent. Finance Minister Mikalay Korbut told the legislature that annual inflation is expected to reach 190-205 percent, while the average U.S. dollar exchange rate is forecast at 230,000 Belarusian rubles. JM


Lawmakers on 28 January voted by 24 to 14 in favor of removing from the agenda a bill urging that privatization plans for Eesti Telekom be revised, ETA reported. The draft law would have classified Eesti Telekom as a strategic company, meaning that the state would have retained a 51 percent share. Under the current plans, the state will have a 27.3 percent stake and the Finnish and Swedish concerns Sonera and Telia 49 percent, while the remaining 23.7 percent of shares are currently on offer to private investors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 27 January 1999). JC


Mart Siimann on 28 January confirmed that Interior Minister Olari Taal handed in his resignation 10 days earlier, ETA reported. Both have declined to comment on the reasons for the resignation, but according to press reports, the two men are engaged in a dispute over the appointment of a new chancellor to the Interior Ministry. JC


Lawmakers have voted by 56 to 37 with no abstentions to pass this year's draft budget in the first reading, LETA reported on 28 January. The Social Democrats, who earlier had opposed the bill's provision for defense expenditures equaling 0.9 percent of GDP, all voted in favor, with the exception of one member of the party's caucus, "Diena" reported the next day. The "no" votes were cast by the rightist People's Party of former Premier Andris Skele and the leftist bloc For Human Rights in a United Latvia. Under Latvian law, the budget is subject to two readings only. The parliament also approved Raimonds Graube as commander of the national armed forces. He replaces Juris Eihmanis, who was fired last fall over a housing scandal. JC


Gediminas Vagnorius has declared war on organized criminal groups in the wake of the murder earlier this week of the chief prosecutor in the northern town of Panevezys (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 1999), ELTA and BNS reported on 29 January. Vagnorius told journalists that beginning this year, special task forces will be set up within organized crime investigation departments. He noted that the government will boost efforts to pass laws making it easier to arrest and convict organized crime bosses. And he promised that government spending on law enforcement will be increased. JC


Receiving Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe General Wesley Clark praised a law recently passed by the Lithuanian parliament providing for defense expenditures to total 1.95-2 percent of GDP by 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 15 January 1999). ELTA reported that Clark was "optimistic" about Lithuania's chances of gaining entry to NATO, while pointing to the need to raise professional standards among Lithuanian officers and step up cooperation with NATO units. JC


Agricultural Minister Jacek Janiszewski on 28 January announced that the cabinet next week will introduce intervention prices for Polish pork at 2.8 zlotys ($0.78) per kilogram, up from 1.8 zlotys, Polish media reported. In a related move, Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz asked the parliament's upper house to amend the 1999 budget to allocate 275 million zlotys to the State Agency for Agricultural Market to subsidize those purchases. Yielding still further to the demands of the farmers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 1999), the government held talks with radical farmers' leader Andrzej Lepper. Lepper told journalists later that the government is not prepared to meet his demands, and he threatened to continue blocking roads until the government complies. In addition to higher prices for agricultural produce, Lepper demands that the authorities renounce their intention to punish farmers for erecting road blockades. JM


The Czech Catholic Church on 28 January said it will not participate in a government commission on Church-state relations because of Communist Party participation in that body, CTK reported. Daniel Herman, the spokesman for the Catholic Church's Czech Bishops' Conference, said it decided unanimously not to take part because of the "participation of Communists." Communist deputy Dalibor Matulka was named to the commission by the Social Democratic government earlier that day. Herman said it is "impossible" to hold talks with a party "which is a criminal organization in its essence and which bears full responsibility for one of the most brutal forms of persecution of Churches and religious organizations in Europe in the 20th century." He said the Catholics will discuss the composition of the commission with the government in the next few days. PB


Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said at a meeting in London with his British counterpart, Robin Cook, that the Czech Republic will fulfill EU entry criteria by 2003, CTK reported on 28 January. Kavan said he and Cook also discussed the Kosova crisis and the Charter of Basic Rights in Europe. The previous day, in an interview with the "Prager Zeitung," Kavan said that Czech-German relations are "very good" and "better than ever before." He said the election in both countries of Social Democratic governments "has sharply improved the atmosphere." PB


The government has approved a plan designed to stabilize the economy and enhance foreign investment, AP reported on 28 January. The plan, which must be approved by the parliament, includes changes in commercial, civil, and criminal codes aimed at making the economic climate more transparent and efficient. It also stipulates that foreign investors be treated the same way as Slovak citizens in the privatization process. Finally, the plan requires the Finance, Economy, Agriculture, Transport, and Telecommunications Ministries to carry out audits on state-owned monopolies by June. PB


The Slovak government has approved a draft bill that regulates the procedures of direct presidential elections, CTK reported on 27 January. The legislation, which also requires passage in the parliament, sets limits on the length of election campaigns and regulates candidates' airtime on television. On 14 January, the parliament passed a bill amending the constitution to allow for the direct election of the president. Slovakia has been without a president since last March. Former President Michal Kovac, Kosice Mayor Rudolf Schuster, and Slovak Democratic Coalition deputy Juraj Svec are the only confirmed candidates so far. PB


Budapest says it is upset by a complaint filed by the Czech Republic to the World Trade Organization (WTO) over a quota on Czech steel imports, the "Financial Times" reported on 28 January. Budapest said it imposed the quota after the Czechs restricted Hungarian wheat imports. The two governments have 60 days in which to resolve the dispute before it would go to a WTO disputes panel. PB


NATO Secretary- General Javier Solana said in Brussels on 28 January that "the appropriate authorities in Belgrade and representatives of the [Kosovar] leadership must agree to the proposals to be issued by the [international] Contact Group for completing an interim political settlement within the time frame to be established." He added that the foreign ministers of the six Contact Group countries--the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, Italy and Russia-- will issue a "political ultimatum" to the Serbs and Kosovars at a meeting in London on 29 January. One day later, NATO ambassadors in Brussels will discuss what the alliance will do next. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told Deutsche Welle that the Serbs and Kosovars must comply with the ultimatum "within one week." If the Serbs do not comply, NATO is expected to launch air strikes. If the Kosovars do not agree, the alliance is expected to intercept their arms supplies that arrive via Albania. PM


British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told the BBC on 29 January that "the objective of today's meeting [of the Contact Group] is to summon both sides together and to do it on a tight deadline, saying 'We want you to meet next week, we want you to conclude [an interim political settlement] very shortly after that.'" Observers noted that the U.S. has agreed to the Contact Group's taking the lead in pursuing a settlement that gives a greater role to France, Russia and other European powers resentful of the preeminence of U.S. diplomacy in the former Yugoslavia. PM


The Contact Group is expected to call for "proximity peace talks" in Paris or Geneva on the model of the Dayton talks, which ended the war in Bosnia in 1995. Under that model, international diplomats would shuttle between Serbian and Kosovar delegations seated in different rooms. The two delegations would not meet together formally until an agreement was ready. The Contact Group is likely to call for broad autonomy for Kosova within the frontiers of Serbia and Yugoslavia. Belgrade, however, would retain little authority in the province other than for defense and customs. The ethnic composition of the local police forces would reflect the ethnic makeup of the local population. The settlement would last for three years, after which a permanent solution would be sought. PM


British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac said in London on 28 January that they are "ready to envisage, along with their core NATO partners, any military action, including sending ground troops necessary to accompany the implementation of a negotiated settlement" in Kosova. Germany and, to a lesser extent, Italy have previously said they will provide ground troops if asked. In Washington, President Bill Clinton's national security spokesman noted on 28 January that the U.S. "would not deploy ground troops in a hostile environmentbut in the event of a settlement, we will consider U.S. participation in full consultation with Congress and our allies." Euronews Television reported on 29 January that NATO may send the troops already in Macedonia into Kosova in the event that a settlement emerges. The broadcast added that Serbian officials have warned of "dangerous consequences" should foreign ground troops enter the province. PM


Serbian Deputy Prime Ministers Vojislav Seselj, Ratko Markovic and Milovan Bojic said in Belgrade on 28 January that the Serbian government is willing to hold direct talks with Kosovar representatives but will not attend an international conference on Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In Ljubljana, Adem Demaci, who is the political representative of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), said the UCK is opposed to talks as long as Serbian forces continue to attack Kosovars. PM


The Yugoslav federal government, which is headed by Montenegrin opposition leader Momir Bulatovic, said in a statement on 28 January that the Montenegrin government's recent agreement with Croatia on opening border crossings is "unconstitutional, illegal, and harmful to the interests ofYugoslavia," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 1999). In a veiled warning to Croatia, the statement added that the agreement "is against international law and the principles of cooperation between internationally recognized and sovereign states." PM


The Council of Europe's Monitoring Committee passed a resolution in Strasbourg on 28 January saying that the Croatian government "has not accepted a single one" of the Council's recommendations in favor of restricting the voting rights of Croats living abroad. Croatian law allows ethnic Croats living or born in Bosnia-Herzegovina to receive Croatian passports and to vote. Domestic and foreign critics say that such legislation undermines the sovereignty of Bosnia-Herzegovina. They also note that it ensures a large bloc of nationalist votes from Herzegovina for President Franjo Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ). PM


Officials of the pro-HDZ "Tisak" company, which has a monopoly on the distribution of newspapers, said in Zagreb that they have begun to pay their debts to individual newspapers from past sales. Editors of several independent publications had charged that "Tisak" was deliberately withholding payments to them in order to bankrupt the independent periodicals. PM


A spokeswoman for the UN police force in Herzegovina said in Mostar on 28 January that UN has put the entire ethnic Croatian police force of Stolac "on probation" for three months. Members of the 50-strong force failed on numerous occasions to come to the aid of returning Muslim refugees when Croatian nationalists attacked the Muslims. The police also failed to catch or punish the attackers. Stolac was predominantly Muslim before the Croatian-Muslim war of 1993- 1994. PM


Legislators voted on 28 January to set up an ombudsman's office to investigate frequent complaints from the public against the government and administration. The ombudsman is also expected to help protect citizens' rights. Elsewhere, Justice Minister Thimio Kondi signed the European convention on corruption, ATSH reported. FS


The municipal authorities on 28 January ordered all owners of numerous illegal buildings in Tirana's central Youth Park to remove them within six month or face expulsion, "Albanian Daily News" reported. The large park, which since communism has become a symbol of Tirana's uncontrolled urban development, is now filled with cafes and restaurants. The ultimatum is part of a broader move by the city to stop unlicensed construction activity. Police began removing illegal buildings on central Skanderbeg Square in early January. FS


The right-wing Greater Romania Party announced on 28 January that it has expelled miners' leader Miron Cozma for bringing the party "into disrepute," AFP reported. Cozma had declared at the beginning of the strike that he would temporarily withdraw from the party so that the protest would not be seen as political. Cozma and the miners received moral public support from Greater Romania Party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor, who was suspended from the Senate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 1999). Meanwhile, Nicolae Staiculescu, the state secretary of the Industry Ministry, said the same day that the miners will not receive a pay raise as part of their settlement with the government. PB


Radu Vasile said on 28 January that he notices a new German attitude toward Romania, Rompres reported. Vasile, speaking after a meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, said Germany, in its capacity as rotating chair of the EU, could "greatly contribute to the EU's support of Romania." He said Romania "counted on support" from Bonn and added that democracy in Romania was "fragile." PB


The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on 28 January that the controversial Kozloduy nuclear energy plant has made "considerable progress in the areas of safety," AP reported. IAEA deputy chief Zygmund Domaratzki said the main challenge is to maintain that level of safety. The Bulgarian government has refused requests from the West to close any of the four older reactors at the plant before their 30-year lifespans are over. The plant is Soviet-designed but has been upgraded by such Western companies as Siemens and Westinghouse. PB


by Lily Hyde

Despite an ongoing investigation into former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, who is suspected of corruption, the political party he created has nominated him to run for president in the October elections. Lazarenko was an ally of President Leonid Kuchma until the latter fired him in July 1997. Since then, he has grown increasingly critical of Kuchma, who is expected to run for re-election in the fall.

At last week's congress, Lazarenko won the backing of his Hromoda party by a vote of 258 to one. The party also gave Lazarenko permission to negotiate a coalition deal with other opposition parties ahead of the election.

Meanwhile, the corruption case against Lazarenko continues. It garnered international headlines early last month when Lazarenko was detained by Swiss police as he attempted to cross the border from France using a Panama passport issued to a "Mr. Lopez."

In early December, he was charged with laundering $20 million but was released two weeks later when an unknown benefactor put up $3 million in bail. If convicted of money laundering under Swiss law, he faces up to five years in prison.

Swiss authorities confirmed earlier this month that they would also continue helping Ukraine with its inquiries about Lazarenko's Swiss bank accounts. Lazarenko is accused by the Ukrainian authorities of taking millions of dollars out of Ukraine and channeling them to his private Swiss accounts via Russia's United Energy Systems (EES). That company was granted exclusive contracts to distribute natural gas to one-third of Ukraine during Lazarenko's term in office, from June 1996 to July 1997. In 1996, EES made a profit totaling $1 billion but paid less than $6,000 in taxes.

Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Mykhailo Potebenko has repeatedly said his office has enough evidence to charge the former prime minister, but he has declined to release details while Lazarenko is protected by parliamentary immunity. The parliament is due to consider lifting his immunity next month. That debate is expected to be heated.

Lazarenko has denied any wrongdoing and claims the allegations against him--both in Switzerland and at home--are part of a plot to discredit him and his party ahead of the election. Meanwhile, the investigators continue to spread their net still further. Police in The Netherlands confirmed earlier this month that at Ukraine's request, they have made inquiries into a Dutch company involved in a cattle-for-metal deal. Under that deal, put together by Lazarenko's close ally and fellow Hromada party member Mykola Agofonov in 1995, large amounts of money allegedly ended up in Lazarenko's accounts.

There is widespread speculation that some of Lazarenko's political opponents continue to profit from the very gas monopolies that Lazarenko allegedly exploited. There has also been speculation that if Lazarenko is formally indicted, he may seek to bring down with him many of his former allies still in government.

Many political analysts consider the investigation into Lazarenko not as a concerted effort to expose corruption but rather as a power struggle within the so-called Dnipropetrovsk "clan," which still dominates the government. President Kuchma, former boss of the Dnipropetrovsk rocket plant Yuzhmash, has surrounded himself with colleagues from the eastern Ukrainian city.

In 1996, Kuchma asked Lazarenko to leave his post of governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region to become deputy prime minister. Lazarenko remained in government until Kuchma fired him. He then established his Hromada party and built it up into a significant political force with more than 40 seats in the parliament. Its political platform barely differs from that of the People's Democratic Party, the group most closely allied with Kuchma.

At his Kyiv press conference last month, Lazarenko insisted that he has not broken any Swiss laws. But he acknowledged he was a participant in a "dirty war" in which each side had overstepped a predetermined line.

According to Vyacheslav Pikhovshek, an analyst at Kyiv's Independent Center for Political Research, "this means that there was a deal" between Lazarenko and those still in power. He says the parties to the deal "agreed that they would not break specific rules--and these rules have nothing in common with the law."

So far, however, nothing has been proven in a court of law. It is therefore difficult for an observer to draw conclusions about the Lazarenko affair. But two things are clear. The investigation is adding to the perception abroad that corruption plays a large role in business dealings in Ukraine, a perception widely seen as a key factor in frightening off foreign investors. Second, it is adding to the cynicism with which many ordinary Ukrainians view their country's political leaders. The author is a Kyiv-based contributor to RFE/RL.