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Newsline - February 11, 1999




SERGEEV SETS MAY DEADLINE FOR MERGING NUCLEAR FORCE COMMANDS...

After meeting with Russian President Boris Yeltsin on 10 February, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev told reporters that plans to unite Russia's strategic nuclear forces under one command will be completed by May 1999. Sergeev's plan has met with resistance from many generals, including chief of the armed forces General Staff Anatolii Kvashnin, and even First Deputy Defense Minster Nikolai Mikhailov has criticized it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 24 November 1998). JAC

...AS YELTSIN'S REMARKS CENSORED?

Moscow's Center TV reported that President Boris Yeltsin made "quite a few curious statements" during his meeting with Sergeev, which were heard by members of the administration and "a few selected correspondents." However, according to Center TV, film footage of the meeting was silent and all voices were erased. Center TV is owned by Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's city government. JAC

ARSON SUSPECTED AT INTERIOR MINISTRY REGIONAL HEADQUARTERS

President Yeltsin on 11 February ordered Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov and Interior Minster Sergei Stepashin to investigate the fire that swept the Interior Ministry's regional headquarters in Samara Oblast the previous day. At least 48 people died, of whom only 16 have been identified. As of 2:00 p.m. Moscow time, another 36 people were still unaccounted for, RFE/RL's correspondent in Samara reported. Stepashin flew to the oblast the same day. JAC

FORMER CENTRAL BANKER DENIES CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS

In an open letter to the State Duma, the president, and the prime minister on 11 February, former Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin and former Deputy Central Bank Chairman Sergei Aleksashenko defended their past policies, which are now under scrutiny following the release of former Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov's report (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 1999). The two bankers said that it was necessary to set up a small offshore firm in the Channel Island of Jersey in order to protect Russia's reserves while the government conducted negotiations with its creditors, Reuters reported. However, they said that only $1.4 billion had ever been transferred, not $50 billion as previously reported. was transferred and Meanwhile, former Finance Minister Boris Fedorov told reporters that corrupt Central Bank and government officials profited from the offshore firm's operations. He said he had tried to raise the issue but was told to mind his own business. JAC

RUSSIA'S EARLY WARNING SYSTEM RUNNING LATE?

The "Washington Post" reported on 10 February that Russia has only three active early warning systems, which is four fewer than needed to provide round-the-clock coverage. According to the newspaper, for about three hours a day the system could not detect a U.S. missile launch. U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin told reporters that "it's fair to say that we are concerned about the potential deterioration of Russia's ballistic missile attack warning capabilities." The same day, NTV cited General Vladimir Dvorkin, director of the Defense Ministry's Fourth Central Research Institute, who "did not deny that the satellites on Russia's missile warning system are somewhat obsolete." However, the network reported "that does not mean that Russia does not have the capacity to monitor launches of ballistic missiles." In addition to its space satellites, there are also "the so-called over-the-horizon radar detection centers." JAC

MASLYUKOV SAYS NO LINKAGE BETWEEN FOREIGN POLICY, DEBT

First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov denied allegations in a CIA report that Russia has violated international agreements on non- proliferation of missile and dual-purpose technology, Russian agencies reported on 10 February. Maslyukov added that such accusations "have apparently been made for political purposes." The same day, Maslyukov also distanced himself from earlier statements by his press spokesman Anton Surikov that Russia is being pressured to agree to soften its policy vis-a-vis Kosova and Iraq in order to receive IMF support. He said, "If we agree, then [Western officials] will quickly agree to a restructuring of foreign debt." Maslyukov told Interfax that "the IMF has made no political demand during any of our talks." JAC

MOLDOVAN LEGISLATORS IN MOSCOW FOR TALKS ON GAS, TRANSDNIESTER

State Duma Chairman Seleznev met with his Moldovan counterpart, Dumitru Diacov, on 10 February, ITAR-TASS reported. Diacov, who is heading a parliamentary delegation for an official three-day visit, addressed the Duma, devoting the bulk of his speech to the Transdniestrian conflict, INFOTAG reported. Diacov called for Russian legislators' assistance in removing huge arsenals that belonged to Russia's former 14th army and in establishing a "political dialogue" on the question of the Transdniester. Diacov is also scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Primakov, Foreign Minister Ivanov, the leadership of the Federation Council, and top officials at Gazprom. A likely topic of discussion will be Moldova's large debt for gas deliveries. Last month, Gazprom cut Moldova's fuel supplies in half. JAC

ALTAI KRAI HUNGRY FOR FEDERAL FUNDS

Altai Krai State Assembly Chairman Danil Tabaev declared he will go on a hunger strike on 11 February to protest federal budget arrears to his republic. According to Tabaev, the Finance Ministry has reduced federal transfers to the krai by four times and failed to disburse 73 million rubles ($3.2 million) of 92 million rubles allotted for state workers, "Vremya MN" reported on 10 February. At the Federation Council's last session, Krai Governor Semen Zubakin said that Moscow's financial policies have had the effect of putting 90 percent of the region's population below the poverty line. JAC

NIZHNII FALLS TO LUZHKOV?

The recent founding meeting of the Nizhnii Novgorod branch of Yurii Luzhkov's Otechestvo [Fatherland] movement is seen by many in the oblast as a major victory for the Moscow mayor, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 10 February. While a municipal deputy was elected head of the branch, its unofficial leader is considered to be Governor Ivan Sklyarov, who unexpectedly presided over the meeting. Given Sklyarov's de facto leadership and the likely "not insufficient" financial support from the large number of company and bank directors present at the meeting, many locals believe that "Luzhkov already has Nizhnii in his pocket," the newspaper commented. JC

VLADIVOSTOK RESIDENTS RAISE FUNDS FOR FORMER MAYOR

Residents of Vladivostok have gathered more than 17,000 rubles ($736) for a legal defense fund for former Mayor Viktor Cherepkov, "Parlamentskaya gazeta" reported on 11 February. The monies will defray not only Cherepokov's legal fees for lawsuits protesting his removal from office but also his travel costs to and from Moscow and possibly The Hague, where he is contemplating filing an appeal with the International Court. JAC

RUSSIA MAY CHARGE FEE FOR THOSE WANTING TO LEAVE

The Duma on 10 February passed in the third reading a law requiring individuals crossing Russia's national borders to pay a fee of 80 percent of the minimum wage or 68.4 rubles ($3), ITAR-TASS reported. The minimum wage is now 85.5 rubles but may be raised to 110 rubles. According to AFP, the fee must be paid to a bank and therefore cannot be dealt with on departure since few banks operate at airports or other border checkpoints. To go into effect, the law must also pass the Federation Council and be signed by President Yeltsin. JAC

FAR EAST SOLDIERS ON NATURAL FOODS REGIMEN

Inspectors from the Federal Border Guards Service have discovered that soldiers in its regional directorate in Russia's Far East have been reduced to collecting ferns and wild berries and growing what vegetables they can to survive, "Vladivostok" reported on 13 January. Major- General Mikhail Aganesyan, chief of staff of the directorate, explained that his troops received only 30 percent of the money they were allotted in 1998. But he added that they still managed to do their job properly and "not a single trespasser slipped past their patrols." JAC

CHECHEN PRESIDENT DEFIES RIVALS

Presidential spokesman Mairbek Vachagaev told journalists on 10 February that Aslan Maskhadov will not recognize the legality of the state council that opposition field commanders intend to create, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that Maskhadov will not dissolve the parliament, either. Maskhadov stripped that body of its legislative powers last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1999). The Chechen president assured supporters that the various Chechen factions will not use violence against one another. Also on 10 February, the field commanders convened the first meeting of the organizing congress they established to elect the proposed state council and new Shariah court. Two prominent field commanders, former acting Premier Shamil Basaev and Culture Minister Akhmed Zakaev, have advocated trying to find common ground with Maskhadov, according to "Vremya MN" on 10 February. LF




MURDERED OFFICIAL'S BODYGUARDS ARRESTED IN ARMENIA

A spokesman for the Armenian Prosecutor-General's office told RFE/RL on 10 February that two bodyguards who accompanied General Artsrun Markarian on the day of his death have been arrested. Markarian's body was found near Yerevan on 9 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 1999). The bullets that killed Markarian were fired from his own Smith-Wesson pistol, which was found near the body. Armenian President Robert Kocharian told leading politicians on 10 February that "there is a real hope" that the murder will be solved swiftly, as the circumstances are "apparently simpler" than those surrounding the murders of two other senior officials in recent months. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT CALLS FOR HALT TO PREDECESSOR'S TRIAL

In a statement issued by the presidential press service on 10 February, Heidar Aliyev recommended that the criminal proceedings against Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairman and former president Abulfaz Elchibey be halted, Turan and Interfax reported. Elchibey was charged with insulting the honor and dignity of the president after he alleged in November 1998 that Aliyev played a role in the creation of the Kurdistan Workers' Party. Elchibey intended to produce documents in court substantiating that accusation. His trial originally opened on 25 January but has been adjourned several times since then (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January and 9 February 1999). LF

AZERBAIJAN OIL EXPORT VIA CHECHNYA RESUMED

The Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC) resumed the export of offshore oil via the Baku-Grozny-Novorossiisk pipeline on 10 February, Turan reported. Export had been halted following a fire in the Chechen sector of the pipeline on 4 February, which led the halt of oil production at the Chirag field on 9 February. Chechen presidential spokesman Mairbek Vachagaev denied claims that the pipeline was sabotaged, according to ITAR-TASS. The Azerbaijan state oil company SOCAR has written repeatedly to the Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft, which operates the Russian sector of the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline, to protest frequent malfunctions. AIOC President David Woodward said in Baku on 1 February that his consortium may ask Transneft to reduce the tariffs for use of that pipeline from $15.67 per metric ton (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 1999). LF

GEORGIA, RUSSIA SEEK RAPPROCHEMENT

Meeting on 9 February with Russian Transport Minister Sergei Frank, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze urged Moscow to participate in the EC's TRACECA project to construct a road, rail, and ferry network linking Central Asia and Europe via the Caucasus. The following day, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Leonid Drachevskii held talks with senior Georgian officials, including Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili. Drachevskii later told journalists that the aim of his visit was "to discuss Georgian-Russian relations and find a solution to existing problems," according to Caucasus Press. He also discussed possible solutions to the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts. On 9-10 February, Russian First Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Mikhailov inspected Russian military and naval bases in Georgia in order to prepare a list of Russian facilities that are to be handed over to the Georgian government, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

MORE KAZAKHSTANI PARTIES COMPLAIN ABOUT DELAYS IN REGISTERING

Amirzhan Kosanov, a leader of the Kazakh Republican People's Party, complained on 10 February that the Justice Ministry is delaying registration of the party to prevent it from participating in parliamentary elections later this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 1999), RFE/RL correspondents in Almaty reported. The same day, Seydakhmet Kuttykadam held a press conference to complain about the delay in registering his movement, Orleu, which he similarly attributed to an attempt to prevent the movement from taking part in the ballot. Meanwhile, President Nursultan Nazarbayev has returned to Kazakhstan from Moscow, and it has been announced he may attend the founding congress of the re-organized pro-Nazarbayev party OTAN, which has merged with other parties supporting the president. BP

MURDERER OF TAJIK OPPOSITION LEADER KILLED TRYING TO ESCAPE

Ravshan Gafurov, who was captured by Tajik police in late January and then confessed to killing Otakhon Latifi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 27 January 1999) was shot and killed by police on 10 February while trying to escape, ITAR-TASS reported. Gafurov attempted to flee while he was being taken from his cell to the outskirts of the capital, where investigators hoped to find more evidence on the Latifi case. After firing warning shots, the police shot down Gafurov. BP

OUTLAWED GROUP GOES ON TRIAL IN DUSHANBE

The trial of 14 members of the Sadirov brothers' band charged with murder and kidnapping began on 11 February, ITAR-TASS reported. The group was responsible for kidnapping UN employees, Russian journalists, and Tajik government officials between December 1996 and November 1997. Bahrom Sadirov turned himself in after receiving wounds in a fight with Tajik troops in spring 1997. His brother, Rezvon, was killed by Tajik troops in November 1997. BP

TAJIK COMMISSION PROPOSES BICAMERAL PARLIAMENT

The National Reconciliation Commission has approved a recommendation for creating a bicameral parliament, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 February. It is the first recommendation the commission has made since it began work in September 1997. The commission is charged with proposing changes to the country's constitution in order to create conditions for elections to the parliament and the presidency. Also, the commission reached consensus on the formation of the Central Election Commission, which will have 15 members, four of whom will be from the United Tajik Opposition. BP

AFGHAN NEGOTIATIONS TO BE HELD IN TURKMEN CAPITAL

Representatives from the Afghanistan's Taliban movement and opposing forces under the command of General Ahmed Shah Masoud have agreed to hold talks in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, ITAR- TASS and AP reported on 10 February. The announcement came after representatives of the warring factions and the UN met in Ashgabat. Both sides stressed that Turkmenistan, which is officially recognized by the UN as a neutral country, is the only acceptable venue for their meeting. No date has been set for the beginning of formal negotiations, but the informal talks in Ashgabat are expected to continue on 11 February. There has been no mention to date of any party from outside Afghanistan taking part in those negotiations. BP

CHAIRWOMAN OF KYRGYZ SOCIAL FUND RESIGNS

Roza Uchkempirova, the chairwoman of Kyrgyzstan's Social Fund, handed in her resignation to President Askar Akayev on 10 February, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Uchkempirova's dismissal follows remarks by Prime Minister Jumabek Ibraimov on 8 February suggesting that Uchkempirova had been involved in financial mismanagement. Two days earlier, Prosecutor-General Asanbek SharshenAliyev had told a government meeting on 6 February that his office has evidence that Uchkempirova spent 1.5 million som ($50,000) on cans of food that were past their expiry date. Those cans were intended for pensioners. According to Sharshenaliev, the fund has a record of buying cheap products for pensioners and altering the books to inflate purchase prices. BP

KARIMOV COMMENTS ON CIS...

In his meeting with Russian Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev on 11 February in Tashkent, Uzbek President Islam Karimov said "Russia does not have a clear policy for countries in the Central Asian region," ITAR-TASS reported. Karimov said that if "the states in the region are divided, then we will lose everything," a possible allusion to a dispute between his country and Tajikistan. Tashkent has publicly blamed Russian interference for that dispute. Karimov favored increased economic cooperation within the CIS, but with regard to Uzbekistan's decision to withdraw from the CIS Collective Security Treaty, he said "the Russians themselves have caught on to the fact that the agreement provided nothing." By way of example, he said that "when the Taliban captured the northern part of Afghanistan and were pointed toward us, no one from the CIS helped us. [Belarusian President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka repudiated the agreement...and said he wouldn't send even one of his soldiers." At the same time, Karimov said the treaty could and should be revised. BP

...AND ON UZBEKISTAN

Karimov also noted that "Uzbekistan will never be a Shariah Islamic state." He pointed to "the great amount of attention given to developing the education and preparation of cadres in the republic" so that one day power will be transferred to "conscientious youth who have not fallen under foreign influence." While not explicitly calling for better relations with Russia, Karimov said, "Don't believe [those' who say Uzbekistan is drifting away from Russia--this is pure fiction." BP




UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SACKS ENERGY MINISTER

Leonid Kuchma signed a decree on 10 February firing Energy Minister Oleksiy Sheberstov for "serious faults in his work," ITAR-TASS reported. Kuchma announced at a national meeting of farmers the previous day that he intended to replace Sheberstov because of continued power cuts to rural areas in Ukraine. A successor was not named. Kuchma also formally invited Pope John Paul II to visit Ukraine this year. PB

LEBED SAYS MOSCOW-KYIV TREATY NEEDS CHANGES

Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed said on 10 February that he objects to the clause in the Russian-Ukrainian treaty that refers to the Black Sea port Sevastopol as a Ukrainian city, ITAR-TASS reported. Lebed said Sevastopol "must belong to Russia." The port is home to Russia's Black Sea fleet. It belonged to Russia but was ceded to Ukraine in 1954 by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Lebed said there are some other provisions in the treaty that he opposes, adding that it would be a mistake to ratify the document as it currently stands (see also "End Note" below). PB

POLISH DEFENSE MINISTER IN KYIV

Janusz Onyszkiewicz said on 10 February that Ukraine will remain a strategic partner for Poland after it joins NATO, Reuters reported. Onyszkiewicz, on a two-day official visit, said the "line" that will be formed after NATO expansion will "not be a definitive barrier." President Kuchma thanked Onyszkiewicz for his country's support for Kyiv's integration into European structures. Onyszkiewicz also discussed the formation of a joint battalion with his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksandr Kuzmuk. Kuzmuk announced that several thousand soldiers from 25 countries will participate in NATO peace-keeping exercises, called Peace Shield 99, in the western city of Lviv in August. PB

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SAYS 1999 A YEAR OF 'STABILITY'

Alyaksandr Lukashenka said that current economic woes in the country are temporary and that 1999 will be a year of "economic and financial stability," Belapan reported on 10 February. Lukashenka, speaking at a conference in Minsk on socio-economic development, said the government can "provide the nation with everything." But he asked why "GDP is growing but people are getting poorer. Why can neither the government nor anybody else answer this question for me?" Lukashenka also announced that a commission will be set up to monitor the Central Bank and the banking system. PB

EESTI TELEKOM TENDER OVERSUBSCRIBED BY 15 TIMES

The Transport and Communications Ministry on 10 February announced that the 36 million shares on offer in the Eesti Telekom tender, which closed the previous day, were oversubscribed by more than 15 times, ETA reported. The total value of the tender is put at 3.1 billion kroons (some $238 million), while the market value of Eesti Telekom after restructuring is estimated at 11.8 billion kroons, the ministry said. According to the news agency, the tender is the largest ever organized by a company in the Baltic States. JC

LUKOIL PRESIDENT IN VENTSPILS

Vagit Alekperov visited the Latvian port of Ventspils on 10 February to discuss his company's possible participation in the construction of a new transit pipeline through Latvia, "Diena" reported. The LUKoil president told journalists that such participation would require "serious Russian-Latvian intergovernmental discussions" and possibly a "political agreement" between the two countries. The Russian company reportedly is seeking lower tariffs for the transit of oil through Latvia. Alekperov, who also met with Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans and Transport Minister Anatolijs Gorbunovs in Riga, is currently touring all three Baltic States to consider possible investments in oil transit projects. JC

LATVIA BECOMES WTO MEMBER

Latvia on 10 February officially became a full member of the World Trade Organization, following the completion of the application process, BNS and "Diena" reported. JC

LANDBERGIS REMINDS GERMANY ABOUT NAZI OCCUPATION

Lithuanian parliamentary chairman Vytautas Landsbergis said in a 10 February statement that he hopes Germany will not forget the role it played in the Baltic States' losing their independence during World War II, BNS reported. Landsbergis's statement was issued in response to a recent statement by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder that he does not expect a decision on future members to be taken at NATO's April summit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 1999). Landsbergis argued that Germany should help the Baltic States to repulse attempts at restricting the Baltic States' "restored independence at a time when Russian diplomacy interprets the Stalin-Hitler crime as a legal 'red line,' [which] still oppresses the formerly occupied states." JC

LIETUVOS ENERGIJA TO BE SUED

The Lithuanian State Control Department's Office of Investigations has launched criminal proceedings against the energy utility Lietuvos Energija over " financial violations" related to the sale of electricity to Belarus. Under a three-way contract concluded in January 1998, Lietuvos Energija supplied electricity worth $89 million to Belarus but received only some $2 million from the mediator, Baltic Shem, which was responsible for securing payments. Although Baltic Shem failed to meet its responsibilities, Lietuvos Energija wrote off some $12.5 million in mediation expenses but could produce no documents justifying those costs. JC

MAZEIKIAI NAFTA TO SEEK ALTERNATIVE SUPPLIERS?

Gediminas Kiesus, director-general of Lithuania's Mazeikiai Nafta refinery, says his company should seek alternative supplies of crude oil in order to avoid stoppages and losses, ELTA reported on 11 February, citing "Lietuvos Aidas." Kiesus said the refinery should buy two-thirds of its crude oil requirements from Russia and one-third from Western suppliers to avoid losses in the future. Earlier this month, the refinery was forced to close down for some 10 days when Russian crude supplies were halted. JC

POLISH GOVERNMENT'S POPULARITY SINKS

A poll shows that a majority of people disapprove of the performance of Premier Jerzy Buzek's government, AFP reported. Some 58 percent of respondents said the government is "working badly," while only 29 percent supported the government's performance. In November, some 43 percent of Poles had endorsed the government. Since then, cabinet ministers have come under fire for progressive reforms of the health, education, and pension systems, as well as attempts to reform the agricultural sector in accordance with EU standards. Buzek said the low approval rating was a result of the government's poor efforts in informing the public of its work. He said it is important to "take courageous actions with an eye to the future," Polish Radio reported. There are persistent reports in the media that Buzek will reshuffle or restructure the government. PB

EASTERN EUROPEAN FINANCE MINISTERS TELL EU TO REFORM ITSELF

Meeting in Warsaw, finance ministers from five Central and Eastern European countries aspiring to join the EU urged the union to accelerate internal reforms so that it can add new members, AP reported. After talks with his counterparts from Hungary, the Czech Republic, Estonia, and Slovenia, Polish Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz said "we call on the EU to open up faster and to reform itself faster...to speed up its ability to accept new members." Balcerowicz also called for the EU to stop selling subsidized goods to the region, saying that such imports created "complications." The ministers agreed to meet next in Budapest in August. PB

ETHNIC HUNGARIANS ACCUSE SLOVAK COALITION OF BREAKING AGREEMENT

Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) chairman Bela Bugar on 10 February told journalists that the SMK "does not trust" Agriculture Minister Pavol Koncos, a member of the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL), CTK reported. Bugar said Koncos has ignored a "verbal agreement" to appoint an SMK member head of the Slovak Land Fund. The fund manages state-owned land mainly in southern Slovakia, where a large number of ethnic Hungarians live. The opposition suspects the SMK of intending to use the fund to restitute land confiscated under the Benes decrees. SDL deputy chairman Lubomir Adrassy said he knows of no such agreement, but other coalition members confirmed that during talks on forming a new coalition, the SMK agreed to withdraw its demand for the post of agriculture minister in exchange for the leadership of the fund. MS

ORBAN SPEAKS OUT ON HUNGARIAN-ROMANIAN DEVELOPMENTS

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told journalists on 10 February, that NATO and the EU will consult with Hungary before they decide on Romanian membership because "Budapest knows Romania best." He added that "the parliament of each [NATO-member] state will have to approve further NATO enlargement and that includes the Hungarian parliament as well." While acknowledging that last week's failed elections to the National Romanian Minority Self- Government had been problematic and had to be canceled (Orban ordered a probe into the elections), he rejected criticism of minorities' representation in Hungary, saying it is the only European system that recognizes "collective rights". During his recent visit to Hungary, Romanian Prime Minister Radu Vasile denied allegations that Bucharest wants to link the issue of the National Romanian Minority Self-Government to that of setting up a Hungarian-German university in Romania. MSZ/MS

HUNGARIAN-SLOVAK COMMITTEE MAKES FIRST RECOMMENDATIONS

The recently established Hungarian-Slovak Minority Affairs Committee (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 1999) has proposed that during the term of the current parliament, Hungary find a legal solution to the parliamentary representation of ethnic minorities, Hungarian media reported on 11 February. The committee also suggested the establishment of Hungarian-language faculties in Slovak universities and Slovak-language faculties in Hungarian universities. MSZ




POLITICAL JOUSTING CONTINUES OVER RAMBOUILLET

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic demanded in a statement released in Belgrade on 10 February that the Kosovar delegation to the talks on a political settlement in Kosova renounce independence. He called such a renunciation "the only way to secure a successful solution" to the crisis. The next day, Serbian President Milan Milutinovic arrived in Rambouillet for what Serbian media called a brief visit. Observers have noted that the Serbian delegation to the talks includes none of Belgrade's leading decision-makers and is not as high-ranking as the Kosovar one. French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine and his British counterpart, Robin Cook, are also slated to attend the talks on 11 February. It will be their third appearance together at Rambouillet in an effort to put pressure on the Serbian and Kosovar delegations to reach an agreement. AP reported that the two sides have yet to approve "a single line of peace text." PM

NO ROOM IN THE CHATEAU FOR ARTEMIJE

Serbian Orthodox Bishop Artemije of Raska and Prizren met reporters in the snow outside the Rambouillet castle on 10 February after conference officials told him that there was no room inside the chateau for him to meet with journalists. The spiritual leader of Kosova's Serbs argued that the Belgrade delegation to the talks represents neither him nor his followers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1999). "They represent only two parties: Milosevic's Socialists and his wife's neo-communists. If we had confidence in them, we would not be here. The only possible solutionis for Serbia to become democratic. And that cannot happen while Milosevic is in charge. We want a solution that will prevent a Serbian exodus from the province," Reuters quoted him as saying. Momcilo Trajkovic, the political leader of the Kosovar Serbs, accompanied the bishop. PM

MONTENEGRO BACKS ADRIATIC ROAD PROJECT

President Milo Djukanovic told Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos in Podgorica on 10 February that his government supports the construction of the proposed Adriatic highway, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The road would link Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, and Italy and greatly facilitate travel and shipments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1998). PM

DJOKIC IN PRIME MINISTER'S RACE AFTER ALL?

Republika Srpska parliamentary speaker Petar Djokic said in Banja Luka on 10 February that he wants his party to decide whether he should accept President Nikola Poplasen's nomination for prime minister, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The international community's Carlos Westendorp had said earlier that Djokic told him that he is not interested in the nomination. Also on 10 February, the Republika Srpska government began charging customs fees on imports from Serbia and Montenegro. PM

BOSNIA GETS NEW NATIONAL ANTHEM

The joint parliament in Sarajevo on 10 February overwhelmingly approved the composition "Intermezzo" as the republic's national anthem. At least for the time being, the anthem will have no text. "Oslobodjenje" reported that the composition is "based on the modern European classical tradition" and purposely does not include themes from either Croatian, Serbian, or Muslim folk music. PM

ANOTHER CROATIAN MEDIA CHIEF QUITS

Mirko Galic resigned his post on the management board of Croatian Television on 10 February. He charged that unspecified political interference prevented him from carrying out reforms or performing his duties in a professional or independent manner, "Jutarnji list" reported. The head of the state-run news agency recently quit his post because of interference by the governing Croatian Democratic Community. PM

ISRAEL TO MODERNIZE CROATIA'S MIGS

The Croatian Defense Ministry has concluded an agreement with an Israeli firm to modernize 24 aging MiG 21s in order to bring them up to NATO standards. The work will take place at Velika Gorica and cost approximately $3 million per aircraft, "Vecernji list" reported on 11 February. The agreement comes after years of speculation in the media that Croatia seeks Israeli technology to upgrade the MiGs because NATO countries have reportedly refused to sell Zagreb state-of-the-art aircraft. Since obtaining independence in 1991, Croatia has sought to bring its military up to NATO standards. In top commands, Western-trained officers have gradually replaced veterans of the former Yugoslav army, whose training focused on conducting a defensive guerrilla war. PM

BULGARIA, MACEDONIA ACHIEVE BREAKTHROUGH IN LANGUAGE DISPUTE...

Prime Minister Ivan Kostov told the parliament on 10 February that the governments of Macedonia and Bulgaria have reached an agreement "to sign a joint declaration...in the official languages of the two countries" pledging that they have no territorial claims on each other, BTA reported. Kostov said the joint declaration will end "the artificial problem between our states and open the way for signing some 20 bilateral agreements." The declaration is to be signed on 22 February, during Macedonian Premier Ljubco Georgievski's planned visit to Sofia. Bulgaria was the first state to recognize Macedonia in 1992 but has refused to recognize a separate Macedonian nation or language, insisting that Macedonian is a Bulgarian dialect. The dispute hindered the signing of bilateral agreements. MS

...WHILE BULGARIAN OPPOSITION CRITICIZES AGREEMENT WITH MACEDONIA

Socialist Party leader Georgi Parvanov argued that the agreement is a "grave political compromise" because it recognizes the Macedonian language. He added that the accord raises two questions, namely whether Macedonia will renounce claims that a Macedonian minority lives in Bulgaria and whether Skopje is "withdrawing claims on Bulgarian history." Euro-Left deputy Elena Poptodorova said the agreement must be debated by the parliament's Foreign Relations Committee. If it is approved, the government must begin to "show care for that group of Macedonian citizens who identifies itself as Bulgarian," she added. Prosecutor-General Ivan Tatarchev said the recognition of the Macedonian language is "a mistake, putting it mildly." Also on 10 February, Deputy Premier Alexander Bozhkov announced that during Georgievski's visit an agreement abolishing all trade restrictions between the two countries will be signed, BTA reported. MS

ALBANIAN INVESTIGATORS BUG BERISHA'S PHONE

Democratic Party Deputy Chairman Genc Pollo told Klan TV on 10 February that the Prosecutor-General's office is tapping the telephone of former President Sali Berisha. Pollo said this proved that "a return to the communist past is the ultimate goal of the [governing Socialists]." On public television, Prosecutor-General Arben Rakipi confirmed the tapping, saying that a Tirana court had approved the measure after Berisha declined to appear before investigators examining the 1998 coup attempt. Rakipi told "Shekulli" that move is legal and that he is "very satisfied" with the results. He did not elaborate. Berisha is charged with organizing an attempted coup on 14 September. The parliament lifted his immunity in fall 1998. FS

SOUTHERN ALBANIAN BUS DRIVERS WANT TO LIMIT COMPETITION

Bus drivers and trade union activists blocked the main highway to Greece on 9-10 February for several hours each day until police forced them to move. The protest affected the travel plans of some 1,000 passengers. The drivers and union activists demand that the government issue licenses for companies operating on the Gjirokastra-Athens route and that police prevent unlicensed busses and mini-busses from operating. The government did not respond to the demands. Observers note that the protesters are trying to limit competition along a busy and lucrative route. The government is unlikely to agree to their demands, which would violate Albania's free-market principles. FS

MOLDOVAN POLITICIANS CRITICIZE PRESIDENT, PREMIER-DESIGNATE...

Iurie Rosca, leader of the Christian Democratic Popular Front, and Valeriu Matei, chairman of the Party of Democratic Forces have criticized President Petru Lucinschi and premier-designate Serafim Urecheanu for their plan to broaden the powers of the cabinet and to curtail those of the parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 10 February 1999). Both parties are members of the ruling Alliance for Democracy and Reforms. Speaking on national television, they said the plan is anti-constitutional, while Matei added that granting the cabinet the right to issue emergency legislation for a two-year period is "a move away from the republican to an [absolute] monarchy system." They also rejected the intention to set up a cabinet of experts, saying "alleged expertise" is what brought about Moldova's current economic crisis, Infotag reported. MS

...BUT SNEGUR SAYS PROGRESS MADE IN TALKS WITH URECHEANU

Former President Mircea Snegur, chairman of the Revival and Conciliation Party, which is a member of the ruling Alliance for Democracy and Reforms (APDR), said after meeting with Urecheanu on 10 February that their talks were "a step forward" compared with the 8 February meeting between APDR leaders and the premier-designate, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Urecheanu said that during the talks he went some way toward meeting the APDR's demands and that it is now the "turn of the parliamentary majority to reciprocate." He also said that no member of the opposition Party of Moldovan Communists has so far been asked to join the new cabinet. MS




SPARRING OVER SEVASTOPOL


by Julie A. Corwin and Jan Maksymiuk

Next week, Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, will again take up the issue of the Russian- Ukrainian treaty of friendship. The debate promises to be sharp, as the treaty has become increasingly controversial since its passage in the State Duma on 25 December 1998 and in Ukraine's Supreme Council on 14 January 1998. The treaty, which guarantees the inviolability of the current border between Russia and Ukraine, was first signed by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kuchma, on 31 May 1997.

The Federation Council seems likely to approve the treaty, fearing its rejection could drive Ukraine into NATO's embrace. But the issues of Crimea's status and Slavic integration are likely to remain hot topics in Russian politics, gaining in intensity as presidential elections near. After all, likely presidential contender Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and his adviser, Konstantin Zatulin, director of Russia's Institute for CIS Countries, have been the most outspoken recently in condemning the treaty. Similarly, the presidential contenders from among the Communists, party leader Gennadii Zyuganov and Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev, have been equally impassioned in the treaty's defense.

In his speech to the Federal Council on 27 January, Luzhkov reportedly managed to persuade some senators in the Council to change their plans and vote to postpone consideration of the treaty. In his remarks, Luzhkov stressed that ratification of the treaty would in effect separate Crimea and Sevastopol from Russia forever, thus undermining the goal of brotherly relations between Russia and Ukraine. He also charged Ukraine with discriminating against ethnic Russians.

Prior to that speech, Luzhkov's adviser, Zatulin launched his own attack on the treaty in a lengthy article published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta." Anticipating Luzhkov's remarks, Zatulin argued that Crimea and Sevastopol belong "indisputably" to Russia and that an official endorsement of the Russian-Ukrainian treaty would legally seal their secession from Russia. According to Zatulin, CPSU General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev moved to transfer Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 in order to "enlist support of comrades from the Ukrainian Communist Party" in his struggle "to expose the cult of personality [of Joseph Stalin]" in the then CPSU Politburo. The formal decision to transfer Crimea from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian SSR--following a joint motion by the Supreme Soviet Presidiums of the RSFSR and the Ukrainian SSR--was made by the USSR Supreme Soviet on 26 February 1954. That decision, according to Zatulin, contravened the USSR and RSFSR Constitutions, both of which pledged to guarantee the territorial integrity of the RSFSR.

Regardless of its legal validity, Zatulin continues, the 1954 decision to incorporate Crimean Oblast into Ukraine did in no way embrace Sevastopol, which had been declared an independent administrative and economic center--subordinated directly to the RSFSR authorities in Moscow--by a USSR Supreme Soviet decree in 1948. Thus, Zatulin concludes, Ukraine has no legal rights whatsoever to the "city of Russia's military glory," as Russian media often refer to Sevastopol--the main base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

Zatulin also addressed the issue of what he called the "ethnic genocide" of the 10 million Russians in Ukraine. These Russians, according to Zatulin, are currently subjected to a policy of forced Ukrainization and denied the right to develop their own independent ethnic identity. Zatulin concludes that the adoption of the Russian-Ukrainian treaty will result in Russia's "strategic defeat."

Among those in favor of ratifying the treaty, rhetoric is equally inflamed. Duma Chairman Seleznev suggested that those who oppose the treaty "want to tear Ukraine away" from Russia and foil plans to form a Slavic Union of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. In what may be wishful thinking on his part, Seleznev concludes that Luzhkov is "committing political suicide" by opposing the treaty. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov is more nonchalant, blaming Luzhkov's opposition to the treaty on Zatulin, who, according to Zyuganov, spawns "scandals and discord wherever he appears." Zyuganov argues that the treaty is key to the revival of a Slavic union composed of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.

While the bulk of the Russian electorate purportedly regrets the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it is unclear what financial or political costs--if any--they are willing to bear for some kind of smaller reconstituted Union or bigger and better Russia. Nevertheless, that sentiment can and will be exploited by both the Russian nationalists and Pan-Slavists, as Luzhkov, Zyuganov, and Seleznev have already so ably demonstrated.


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