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Newsline - February 24, 1999




RUSSIA HAILS RAMBOUILLET RESULTS

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters on 24 February that even though no agreement was reached at Rambouillet, the talks yielded "positive results." He said that "in the course of two weeks it proved possible to work out a very important political document that opens the way towards settling the [Kosova] problem." Ivanov criticized NATO for its effort to try to "impose on Belgrade an additional document," which had caused "the situation over the past few days" to become "overdramatized." Adopting a similar line, First Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Avdeev said that "common sense prevailed at the talks" and that now NATO bombing of Serbia is out of the question. The previous day, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev warned that NATO strikes against Yugoslavia would lead to "another Vietnam" in the heart of Europe. JAC

U.S., RUSSIA TO LAUNCH JOINT EARLY WARNING SYSTEM CENTER?

Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov met with visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott on 23 February. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgii Mamedov told reporters that the two officials discussed the anti-ballistic missile treaty as well as the situation in Kosova and Iraq. Citing only an "information leak from Washington," "Izvestiya" reported on 24 February that Talbott and Primakov agreed to open a joint early warning system center by September. According to the newspaper, a U.S. delegation headed by Assistant Defense Secretary Ted Warner recently returned from Moscow where productive talks on the matter were held. JAC

GOVERNORS REJECT PRIMAKOV'S PROPOSAL?

Prime Minister Primakov's call for an amendment to the constitution providing for governors to be appointed rather than elected drew a cool response from Russia's regional heads (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 February 1999). According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 23 February, governors were "outraged" at Primakov's suggestion, and following his speech to the Sever-Zapad interregional association, Novgorod Oblast Governor Mikhail Prusak, Murmansk Oblast Governor Yurii Yevdokimov, and Republic of Karelia Chairman Yurii Katanandov all harshly criticized federal government policy on various issues. However, Carnegie Moscow Center analyst Nikolai Petrov told the "Moscow Times" that Primakov's proposal should prove appealing to governors because they would get to appoint mayors, who can be their biggest headaches, and avoid the risk of not being re- elected. He predicted that "the elite--federal, regional, and local--is close to reaching a deal at the expense of the electorate." JAC

RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT SEEKING DISTANCE FROM STEEL DEAL

The Russian government says that the Russian-U.S. steel agreement concluded by its trade negotiators in Rome on 23 February is not yet a done deal. First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov told reporters that the government has not yet reached a final decision on the agreement and that doing so "will be very difficult." Also on 23 February, Vladimir Ponomarev, the head of exports at Severstal, one of Russia's largest steel producers, told Bloomberg that the minimum price set by the agreement is too high and will shut his company's goods out of the U.S. market. But Magnitogorsk Director-General Viktor Rashnikov told ITAR-TASS that he approves in principle of the agreement. JAC

GERMANY RELUCTANT TO WRITE OFF DEBT

The Ministry of Finance has postponed until 1 March announcing the terms it is offering foreign holders of defaulted short-term treasury bonds. First Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said foreign investors will be allowed to buy shares on the secondary market using ruble proceeds from exchanging defaulted bonds. Meanwhile, German government officials and bankers are opposed to writing off Russia's debts inherited from the former Soviet Union, "Segodnya" reported. According to the newspaper, Germany would be satisfied with payments in oil, gas, and gold, as proposed by Commerzbank, but "sober financial logic" dictates that Germany, which holds 40 percent of the Soviet Union debt, must insist on repayment. Earlier, former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, who met with German creditors in Bonn at the Primakov government's request, had suggested that the Soviet debt be written off. JAC

COURT LIMITS RETAIL BANKS' DISCRETION WITH INTEREST RATES

The Constitutional Court on 23 February prohibited banks from changing interest rates on savings accounts without first concluding a new agreement with their depositors, ITAR-TASS reported. Association of Russian Banks Vice President Vyacheslav Zakharov said the ruling will lead banks to conclude shorter-term contracts with their customers. Banking analysts concluded that the decision will limit retail banks' flexibility and encourage banks to be very conservative at a time when they should be innovative to lure back customers, according to AFP. JAC

SAMARA FIRE LABELED ACCIDENTAL

Vladimir Solovev, the prosecutor leading the investigation into the blaze that killed 67 people at regional Interior Ministry headquarters in Samara Oblast earlier this month, told Ekho Moskvy on 23 February that arson was an unlikely cause. He said there is no evidence to conclude the fire was caused by sabotage or arson; however, the final conclusion will follow the end of the investigation in about two months. Head of the regional fire brigade General Aleksandr Zharkov also concluded that the fire must have been caused by negligence, ITAR-TASS reported. But as of 18 February, Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin remained unconvinced. He told reporters that he still has not ruled out that an "evil plot" was behind the blaze. JAC

PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY TO PRIMORSKII KRAI RELIEVED OF DUTIES

President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree on 23 February relieving General Viktor Kondratov from his duties as presidential envoy to Primorskii Krai. Yeltsin appointed Kondratov in May 1997, at which the latter was already serving as chief of the regional administration of the Federal Security Service (FSB)--a post he still holds. First deputy head of the presidential administration Oleg Sysuev told Interfax that FSB head Vladimir Putin had asked that Kondratov be relieved of his duties as presidential envoy in order allow him to concentrate on local FSB matters. JAC

ONLY FIVE REGIONS HAVE PAID WAGES IN FULL

Russian regions were allotted 30.4 billion rubles ($1.3 billion) during 1998 for the payment of wages and reduction of debts from the federal budget, according to a State Duma press release, Interfax reported. During the same period, regions also received 2.5 billion rubles in loans from the center. At present only five regions do not have outstanding debts to state workers: the cities of Moscow and Saint-Petersburg, Krasnoyarsk Krai, and the Yamalo-Nenetsk and Taimirskii Autonomous Okrugs. JAC

PATRIARCH WANTS CHAPLAINS BACK IN ARMY

Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexii II suggested on 23 February that the post of regimental chaplain in the armed forces be reinstituted. The Bolsheviks abolished the post after the 1917 revolution, according to Interfax. The patriarch noted that the post should be reintroduced gradually. JAC

LUTHERANS WIN COURT BATTLE IN KHAKASSIA

The Supreme Court of the Republic of Khakassia rejected on 12 February a request by the republican prosecutor-general to strip the Evangelical Lutheran mission of its registration in the region, Radiotserkov reported. According to the report, the prosecutor-general's office intends to appeal the case further. JAC

DID OCALAN ASK YELTSIN FOR ASYLUM?

At a press conference in Moscow on 23 February, Mahir Valat, a senior official of the Kurdistan National Liberation Front (which is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party), produced documentary evidence that Ocalan had appealed to President Yeltsin in October 1998 for asylum in Russia, Interfax reported. Russian FSB director Putin denied on 19 February that Ocalan had ever made such a request (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 1999). Valat appealed to Russia as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to insist that Ocalan be tried in a third country (that is, not Turkey) and in an open trial. LF

CHECHEN PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER ABDUCTED

Aleksei Mitrofanov, who advises Aslan Maskhadov on issues related to Chechnya's Russian- speaking population, was kidnapped on his way to work in Grozny on 23 February, ITAR-TASS reported. Addressing a rally the same day to mark the 55th anniversary of the deportation of the Chechens and Ingush to Central Asia, opposition state Shura [council] head Shamil Basaev criticized Maskhadov's alleged insincerity and pro-Russian orientation, Interfax reported. Basaev said that Maskhadov issued his 3 February decrees imposing Islamic law in Chechnya only under pressure from the opposition. Maskhadov addressed a similar rally elsewhere in Grozny the same day. LF

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN MONGOLIA...

During a one-day visit to Ulan Bator on 23 February, Ivanov met with President Natsagiin Bagabandi, to whom he handed a letter from Yeltsin, ITAR-TASS reported. In that letter, the Russian president wrote that Moscow wants to continue strengthening traditional bilateral ties in the spirit of the 1993 agreement on friendly relations and cooperation. Ivanov said his conversation with Prime Minister Zhanlavyn Narantsataralt was "concrete and constructive," noting that they discussed, among others, boosting trade between Mongolia and Russian regions bordering the Asian country. A protocol on cooperation between the two countries' Foreign Ministries was signed, as was an agreement on cooperation in the use of diplomatic archives. BP

...AND TAJIKISTAN

On 24 February, Ivanov stopped off in Dushanbe where he signed an agreement with his Tajik counterpart, Talbak Nazarov, on cooperation between the two countries' Foreign Ministries, ITAR-TASS reported. The two ministers also agreed to hold talks on improving the legal basis for bilateral relations, cooperating within the framework of the CIS and in regional and international organizations, including the UN. An information exchange will take part between the two leaders ministries, and there will be joint training programs for personnel. Ivanov met with officials from the UN and the United Tajik Opposition to discuss the peace process. He also met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov to discuss the Tajik president's April visit to Moscow. BP




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT SEEKS DISTANCE FROM ELECTION LAW CONTROVERSY

Robert Kocharian was unaware when he signed the election law on 18 February that the text had been amended since the parliament had passed the bill in the final reading three days earlier, presidential spokesman Vahe Gabrielian told journalists on 23 February. Gabrielian said Kocharian had neither vetoed nor raised any objections to the law because of the relatively short period remaining in which to organize the poll, but the spokesman said that the president does not exclude subsequent amendments to it, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian intends to hold talks with leading political figures in the near future on the conduct of the elections, according to ITAR-TASS. Opposition parliamentary deputies continue to protest the changes introduced into the text by the bill's author, Viktor Dallakian, after the final reading (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 1999). LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN FLOATS REGIONAL COOPERATION INITIATIVE

Khosrov Harutiunian has written to his Azerbaijani counterpart, Murtuz Alesqerov, to solicit the latter's support for Harutiunian's proposal to convene a meeting of Transcaucasus parliamentary chairmen under the auspices of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Noyan Tapan reported on 23 February. The letter stresses the importance of peaceful dialogue in seeking a solution to the region's problems. It also proposes conducting seminars on regional cooperation under PACE auspices. A spokesman for the Azerbaijani parliament told Turan on 23 February that Alesqerov has not yet received the missive, which Armenia's ambassador in Moscow was to deliver to his Azerbaijani counterpart (Armenia and Azerbaijan have no diplomatic relations). LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT CALLS FOR 'RESOLUTE ACTION' ON KARABAKH CONFLICT

In a letter addressed to the French, Russian, and U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group, Heidar Aliyev urged those officials to "act resolutely" to find a solution to the Karabakh conflict, Interfax reported on 23 February. Aliyev said that his country's position is "constructive," but he repeated that Azerbaijan "flatly rejects" the most recent peace plan proposed by the Minsk Group. He said that plan, which advocates a "common state" comprising Azerbaijan and the unrecognized Nagorno- Karabakh Republic, "pushes the peace process back and reduces the chance of a settlement." But the Russian co-chairman, Yurii Yukalov, has denied that the Minsk Group will deviate from its most recent peace proposal, Turan reported on 23 February, citing Snark. LF

PREPARATIONS UNDER WAY FOR OSCE CHAIRMAN'S KARABAKH MEDIATION TRIP

Meanwhile, a Norwegian Foreign Ministry delegation held talks with senior officials in Stepanakert and Yerevan on 21-22 February in preparation for the planned visit to the Transcaucasus in April of Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek, who is currently the OSCE chairman-in-office, Noyan Tapan and Turan reported. Karabakh President Arkadii Ghukasian told the delegation that he hopes Vollebaek's visit will give new impetus to the peace process. Ghukasian stressed the Karabakh Armenians' desire for a "strong peace" based on mutual concessions and dialogue. The Norwegian delegation will arrive in Baku on 24 February. LF

AZERBAIJANI BY-ELECTION TURNOUT FALSIFIED?

A spokesman for Azerbaijan's Central Electoral Commission told Turan on 22 February that by-elections held the previous day in two districts of Baku were valid, with more than 60 percent of registered voters participating. The spokesman said the CEC has received no complaints about violations of voting procedure. But on 23 February, Nureddin Mamedli, chairman of the committee for the defense of the rights of former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev, said that in the Khatai district, which Guliev represented in the parliament until being stripped of his mandate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 1997), only between 2,000 and 3,000 of the 47,000 eligible voters actually went to the polls. Candidates from the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan party have been declared elected in both districts. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT CLARIFIES POSITION ON CIS SECURITY TREATY

Eduard Shevardnadze's press service issued a statement on 23 February denying that Shevardnadze stated unequivocally that Georgia will not renew its membership in the CIS Security Treaty after that treaty expires in April, ITAR-TASS reported. The statement quoted Shevardnadze as having said the previous day that the treaty has not benefited Georgia and that he intends to coordinate with Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov his position on whether to recommit Georgia to membership. Karimov has said his country will not renew its membership in the treaty. Shevardnadze said on 8 February that Georgia would renew its membership in the treaty "if our interests are taken into consideration" with regard to the Abkhaz conflict and the continued presence of Russian military bases in Georgia. LF

FORMER GEORGIAN SECURITY CHIEF'S WHEREABOUTS STILL UNCLEAR

The Georgian embassy in Egypt and the Russian embassy in Damascus have both said they can neither confirm nor deny British press reports that Igor Giorgadze has been granted asylum in Syria, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 February. The Georgian authorities say former Security Minister Giorgadze helped to organize the failed August 1995 car bomb attack on Shevardnadze at Moscow's instigation. The Georgian press last month quoted a French publication as claiming that Syrian President Hafez Assad granted Giorgadze asylum in October 1998 at the request of the Russian Federal Security Service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 1999). LF

KURDISH PROTESTS CONTINUE IN SEVERAL CIS STATES

Ethnic Kurds in several CIS states continue to protest the arrest of Kurdistan Workers' Party leader Abdullah Ocalan and to demand his release. Some 30 Kurds, including an 11-year-old girl, are continuing a hunger strike outside the UN building in Yerevan, which they began on 19 February, Noyan Tapan reported on 23 February. In Tbilisi, several hundred Kurds staged a protest march, bringing traffic in the city center to a standstill, and then demonstrated outside the Turkish embassy to demand a fair trial for Ocalan, AP and "Rezonansi" reported. In Kazakhstan, some 200 ethnic Kurds began a hunger strike in the city of Taraz on 23 February, Interfax reported. LF/BP

TAJIK PRESIDENT WARNS OF NEW THREAT FROM AFGHANISTAN

Imomali Rakhmonov, speaking on 23 February at a ceremony marking Defenders of Fatherland Day, warned that he had information about a threat from terrorists training in Afghanistan, RFE/RL correspondents in Dushanbe reported. Rakhmonov said there are some 400 people undergoing sabotage training in various areas of Afghanistan, with the goal of "creating chaos" in parts of Tajikistan. He did not elaborate. BP

UN CALLS FOR SPEEDIER PROGRESS IN TAJIKISTAN

The UN Security Council, in a statement issued on 23 February, called on the Tajik government and United Tajik Opposition (UTO) to intensify their efforts at implementing all the terms of the June 1997 Tajik National Peace Accord, signed in June 1997. The council noted that progress toward holding a constitutional referendum and presidential and parliamentary elections has been slow during the last three months. (All three votes are planned for this year.) The council also expressed concern about security in some parts of the country, reminding Tajik officials that international aid is dependent on a stable environment. And it repeated calls for a full investigation into the murders of four UN employees last July in central Tajikistan, requesting that the UTO "contribute more effectively to the investigation." BP

IRAN, RUSSIA NEED TO PLAY 'KEY ROLE' IN TAJIKISTAN

UN special envoy to Tajikistan Jan Kubis told journalists in Tehran on 23 February that Iran and Russia have been active participants in establishing peace in Tajikistan. He called on both countries now to play a "key role" in speeding up the peace process there. And he thanked Iranian officials for their help in seeking a "full and final normalization of the situation in Tajikistan," ITAR- TASS reported. BP

KARIMOV REVEALS MORE DETAILS OF LAST WEEK'S BOMBINGS

Uzbek President Islam Karimov, addressing diplomats and journalists in Tashkent on 23 February, revealed more details of the 16 February terrorist bombings. One of the primary suspects, Ulughbek Babajanov, had visited government headquarters six times before the bombings, he said. Babajanov, who is still at large, obtained permission to enter the building from a deputy prime minister who Karimov did not name. That official was guilty of negligence and poor judgment rather than complicity in the attack, the president argued. Karimov also said that not only Wahhabis but members of Hezbollah were involved in planning the attack. According to AP, Karimov said the attacks were planned in a foreign country, but he did not name which one. BP

LOCAL UZBEK OFFICIALS ASKED TO HELP IN INVESTIGATION

ITAR-TASS reported on 22 February that passport control in Uzbekistan has been tightened and the government has asked local officials and committees to help in the investigation of last week's bombings. The news outlet quotes a "high official in the country's passport agency" as saying these local officials and committees are, in effect, carrying out a census in order to identify suspicious individuals. Crime has reportedly decreased dramatically in Uzbekistan since the attacks, and while no curfew has been imposed, the streets of Tashkent are reportedly almost deserted after 9:00 p.m. local time. BP

KYRGYZ AGRICULTURAL MINISTRY REVIEWS LAST YEAR'S RESULTS

The Agricultural Ministry on 23 February announced that last year's agricultural output totaled 19.6 billion som ($654 million), RFE/RL correspondents reported. Prime Minister Jumabek Ibraimov noted that most of the money from foreign loans for agriculture has been embezzled, and he advised more stringent control over such funds. He added that agriculture is the only sphere of the Kyrgyz economy that can ensure "real growth" of GDP in 1999-2000, Interfax reported. BP




MOODY'S LOWERS UKRAINE'S DOMESTIC LIABILITIES RATING

The international rating agency Moody's has lowered the rating of the Ukrainian government's domestic currency bonds from B3 to Ca, Interfax and AP reported on 22 February. According to Moody's, the Ca rating reflects "obligations which are speculative in a high degree...and are often in default." Moody's added that the terms offered by the Ukrainian government last fall for the "voluntary" exchange of maturing T-bills were a "technical default." Moody's also warned that the hryvnya is under threat of rapid devaluation this year. Meanwhile, experts predict that given the current lack of foreign exchange liquidity, Ukraine faces a default on its foreign debt. JM

KUCHMA INSTRUCTS GOVERNMENT TO RETURN CHURCH PROPERTY

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has given the cabinet one year to return former Church property to religious organizations in Ukraine, Interfax reported on 23 February. Kuchma urged the State Property Fund to prohibit the privatization of Church property and oblige local authorities to provide land on which new Churches as well as Muslim and Jewish cemeteries can be built. He also ordered the State Customs Committee to simplify procedures for delivering humanitarian aid to religious organizations. JM

UKRAINIAN JEWS SPLIT TO FORM NEW CONFEDERATION

Three influential Jewish organizations in Ukraine's 500,000-strong Jewish community have announced their intent to quit the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress and set up a Jewish Confederation of Ukraine, AP reported on 23 February. The breakaway groups accuse the congress of "inactivity" and pledge to unite Ukraine's more than 300 Jewish organizations and groups within the new confederation. Ukrainian Television reported on 23 February that representatives of all Jewish organizations in Ukraine are to meet in April and "determine their participation in the newly-created confederation." JM

BELARUSIAN JUDGE REQUESTS POLITICAL ASYLUM IN GERMANY

Yury Sushkou, a judge from the city of Babruysk, has requested political asylum in Germany, RFE/RL's Belarusian service reported on 23 February, citing the Spring-96 human rights group in Minsk. Sushkou is currently in a German camp for political refugees. At a news conference in Minsk on 18 February, Sushkou said, "My experience as a judge has convinced me that achieving justice based on law is impossible under the Belarusian judicial system. Judges are forced to ignore the law and make decisions that support the totalitarian regime." He added that judges in Belarus are compelled to justify lengthy investigations and detentions by finding the defendants guilty, regardless of the evidence. He added that he knows from experience that prosecutors often elicit confessions from defendants by means of torture. JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST GRANTED LAST-MINUTE AMNESTY

Alyaksey Shydlouski, a student sentenced to 18 months in jail for painting anti-presidential graffiti on city buildings in Stoubtsy, has been released from a Minsk prison two days before his sentence was due to expire, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 23 February. Shydlouski told RFE/RL that authorities waited until the last moment to amnesty him for two reasons: to avoid a planned demonstration by Shydlouski's supporters on the scheduled day of his release and to strip him of the right to amnesty in the event of his future arrest. In Belarus, an individual can be amnestied only once every 10 years. JM

ESTONIAN LAWMAKERS ADOPT RAILWAY LAW

The parliament on 23 February finally adopted the law on the railways, thereby removing the final obstacle to the privatization of this sector, ETA reported. The law regulates general safety measures for railway transport and provides for issuing licenses to railway infrastructure companies. Railway privatization deadlines have been pushed back by 18 months owing to the delay in passing the new law. Meanwhile, opposition parties successfully used delaying tactics in the parliament to prevent discussion of the controversial bill on import tariffs during the current legislature's term. JC

ESTONIAN INDUSTRIAL SALES NOSEDIVE

The sales of industrial goods plummeted last month, falling 15 percent compared with January 1998 and 20 percent vis--vis December 1998, ETA reported on 23 February. Analysts cited tougher competition and the continuing pressure on global markets as well as the Russian financial crisis, which caused a large number of bankruptcies in the industrial sector. Sales of foodstuffs and soft drinks were down 41 percent compared with January 1998, while electricity and heating output were down 6 percent and 9 percent, respectively. JC

ESTONIAN INTERIOR MINISTER MEETS WITH MOSCOW PATRIARCH

Olari Taal told Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II in Moscow on 22 February that the Russian Orthodox Church subordinated to the Moscow Patriarchate will be registered in Estonia "as soon as possible," ETA reported. Taal commented that while the state has done "everything" to legalize the Church, members of the Church have been "passive" about registering it in accordance with Estonian law. Aleksii, who was born in Estonia on 23 February 1929, said he is "certain" he will pay a visit to that country this year. JC

LATVIAN CABINET NOT TO ATTEND 16 MARCH CEREMONIES

The government has decided not to take part in any ceremonies commemorating 16 March, which has been designated Latvian Soldiers Day, LETA reported on 23 February. An official government statement urges residents, the mass media, and political and non-governmental organizations to display tolerance toward and understanding for events organized by war veterans. It calls upon residents to avoid becoming victims of any provocation aimed at destabilizing the country. And it also condemns any extreme radical manifestations such as "Nazism, Stalinism, or anti-Semitism." Last year, a march by veterans of the Latvian Waffen SS Legion provoked a heated debate in Latvia and strong criticism from Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 1998). JC

EU SETS NO DEADLINE FOR CLOSING IGNALINA

At a meeting of the EU- Lithuanian Association Council in Luxembourg on 22 February, the EU urged Vilnius to undertake "realistic commitments" on closing down the Ignalina nuclear power plant but stopped short of setting a deadline for the plant's closure, LETA and BNS reported. A Lithuanian diplomat in Brussels told BNS that there were no threats of not inviting Lithuania to EU accession talks at the end of 1999 if the country fails to set a date for shutting down Ignalina. "The dialogue with the EU does not even give a hint of an ultimatum," he commented. A draft national strategy outlines two scenarios for Ignalina: phasing out the plant by 2005, which would be earlier than originally projected, or continuing operations until 2015 (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 1999). JC

POLISH HEALTH WORKERS SUSPEND GENERAL STRIKE

Poland's health sector has suspended a nationwide 10-day strike launched last week to demand higher wages and increased funds for the health care system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 22 February 1999). Krzysztof Bukiel, head of a doctors' trade union, said the continued negotiations with the government provide hope for a compromise on demands that the health service be given more money, AP reported. However, a Health Ministry spokesman told Reuters that the government will not accept the protesters' demand to increase the mandatory health-care contribution to 11 percent of an individual's income from the current 7.5 percent. JM

SUPPORT FOR POLAND'S SOLIDARITY BLOC PLUNGES

A poll conducted by the Center for the Study of Public Opinion (CBOS) in early February shows that support for the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), the larger of the two ruling coalition parties, has decreased from 28 percent in January to 22 percent. The liberal Freedom Union, the AWS's coalition partner, improved its rating from 11 percent to 15 percent, while support for the opposition post-communist Democratic Left Alliance rose from 27 percent to 29 percent. The CBOS commented that the plunge in the AWS's popularity can be attributed to the recent protests by farmers and health-service workers. The agricultural and health ministers are affiliated to the AWS. JM

CZECH PREMIER, CARDINAL VLK REACH AGREEMENT

Two commissions, the existing government one and a new one composed of experts and reflecting the composition of the parliament, will examine Church-state relations under a compromise agreement reached by Premier Milos Zeman and Cardinal Miroslav Vlk on 23 February. Vlk told journalists that the Catholic Church (which has opposed the presence of a Communist Party member on the existing government commission) will not oppose a Communist presence on the expert commission but will not "officially participate" in its debates, CTK reported. MS

SKINHEAD LEADERS DETAINED IN CZECH REPUBLIC

Police in Plzen on 20 February detained 12 skinheads before a planned meeting in a nearby village, CTK reported. The police have requested that three of those detained remain in custody during an investigation into their activities. The 12 are charged with violating legislation guaranteeing civic rights and freedoms, which can carry prison sentences of up to eight years. Premier Zeman on 23 February met with the officers involved in the raid and promised them promotions. The same day, "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported that police have detained in Holoubkov, western Bohemia, six members of a previously unknown paramilitary group called Sturmpionier- Battalion 43. The group, which vows to honor the legacy of the Nazi Wehrmacht, was armed with World War II rifles and a machine gun. MS

SLOVAK POLICE RAID LEXA SECRETARY'S HOME

Police on 23 February searched the home of the secretary of former Slovak Counter- Intelligence chief Ivan Lexa, CTK reported. A spokesman said the police were acting on information based on an "anonymous letter" and were searching for the weapon used in the murder of former Economy Minister Jan Ducky on 11 January. Lexa requested that the prosecutor-general investigate the "politicized police" action, saying his secretary was questioned for seven hours and later had to consult a doctor. MS

HUNGARY'S TOP BANKING SUPERVISORS RESIGN

Imre Tarafas, president of the State Banking and Capital Markets Supervision (APTF), and his deputy, Rezso Nyers, resigned on 23 February, saying their "rapidly deteriorating relationship" with the government was jeopardizing the country's financial sector. Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Finance Minister Zsigmond Jarai last week demanded Tarafas's resignation for failing to take action to prevent the bankruptcy of Realbank and the Globex brokerage and for the difficulties encountered by Postabank. Following the resignations, the government withdrew its accusations, saying that the APTF did everything possible to maintain the financial sector's stability. As the APTF leadership was appointed by the previous government, the conflict is viewed by media as political in nature. MSZ




KOSOVA TALKS ADJOURNED

The Kosova peace conference in Rambouillet, France, ended on 23 February without an agreement, AP reported. The U.S., French, and British co-hosts of the 17-day talks decided to suspend the talks until 15 March to give the Albanians two weeks for "consultations" with their constituencies. Both Albanians and Serbs have committed themselves to participating in the follow-up conference. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said "we do not have the signatures" either on political part of the peace accord or the military annex that the six-country Contact Group argues is necessary to enforce it. He added that "we will use the next three weeks to convince the Serbs andAlbanians that the agreement is a good bargain for both sides." The Albanian delegation continues to insist on a referendum on independence after three years, while the Serbs still reject a NATO peacekeeping force. FS

CONTACT GROUP PRAISES 'CONSENSUS'...

Notwithstanding the lack of an agreement, the Contact Group issued a statement after the conference saying that "the important efforts of the parties and the unstinting commitment of our negotiatorshave led to a consensus on substantial autonomy for Kosova, including on mechanisms for free and fair elections to democratic institutions for the governance of Kosova, for the protection of human rights and the rights of members of national communities, and for the establishment of a fair judicial system." The statement stressed that the envisaged autonomy will respect "the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." It added that "a political framework is now in placeand the groundwork has thereby been laid for finalizing the implementation Chapters of the Agreement, including the modalities of the invited international civilian and military presence" in Kosova. FS

...WARNS PARTIES TO RESPECT CEASE-FIRE

The Contact Group's statement went on to say that "the parties must abstain from any action which would undermine the achievements of Rambouillet" and "honor fully and immediately the cease-fire" in Kosova as well as "abstain from all provocative actions." U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stressed that NATO's threat of air strikes remains in place in the event that Serbs resume attacks in Kosova. She said that "the marriage of force and policy still exists," adding that NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana "holds the ring." She stressed, however, that it is up to the Albanians to "create this black and white situation" by fully accepting an accord themselves, Reuters reported. FS

UN, EU, U.S. URGE 'CONSTRUCTIVE SPIRIT'

The UN Security Council and Secretary-General Kofi Annan have urged Serbs and Albanians to "work constructively" to implement agreements when talks resume on 15 March. Annan expressed the hope that the conference "will result in a comprehensive interim agreement" and "provide genuine autonomy for the long-suffering people of Kosova." U.S. President Bill Clinton called the talks " a significant step forward in the search for a fair and lasting peace" and urged both sides to sign the Contact Group's draft agreement next month. He noted that NATO remains poised to use military force if necessary. The German Foreign Ministry, in the name of the EU presidency, issued a statement saying that the EU is determined to play a "substantial role" in reconstructing the Serbian province and in helping to implement any peace deal. FS

SERBIAN PRESIDENT SAYS TALKS WERE UNSUCCESSFUL

Milan Milutinovic said in Rambouillet after the talks that "the [Contact Group's] conclusions are a camouflage for the lack of success at this conference," adding that "there has been no Rambouillet accord." He blamed organizers for allowing only "minimal contact" between the Serbs and the Kosova Albanians during the talks, adding that there was prejudice against the Serbs throughout, AP reported. Milutinovic demanded "a new method of working to allow us to reach a quicker and better solution," including more face-to-face talks. He again ruled out the possibility of any NATO troops on Serbian soil or a combination of NATO and Russian troops. Meanwhile in Belgrade, Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic accused international mediators of playing "games behind the scenes" and altering the draft peace plan at the last minute to include a formula for an eventual referendum on independence. FS

UCK PLEDGES TO CONTINUE 'LIBERATION WAR'...

A spokesman for the Kosova Liberation Army's (UCK) political representative Adem Demaci said in Prishtina on 23 February that talks cannot bring peace and the guerrillas will wage their "liberation war" to the end. Meanwhile, the head of the Albanian delegation in Rambouillet, UCK representative Hashim Thaci, told Albanian Television that the Kosovars "should not expect much" from the next round of negotiations. He urged them to unite behind the UCK. FS

...WHILE FIGHTING CONTINUES

RFE/RL's South Slavic Service, citing the Serbian Media Center, reported on 23 February that five Serbian policemen were wounded in the village of Bukoshi, near Vushtrri, during a shootout with the UCK. An AP photographer was also injured in the fighting. The shadow-state Kosova Information Center, meanwhile, reported that Serbian troops continue bombarding several villages in the area with tanks and heavy artillery. Elsewhere, UNHCR spokesman Chris Janowski put the total number of people who fled their homes within the last three days alone at around 10,000. FS

YUGOSLAV ARMY MINES BRIDGE

Unnamed diplomats and international peace monitors told Reuters that Yugoslav army engineers have placed explosives on a key bridge at the main highway connecting Prishtina with the Macedonian border. A diplomat said that "the Yugoslav army is serious and professional. They wouldn't be a match for NATO if it came to it but they would use every means to frustrate an attack, including blowing up the bridges and tunnels that NATO ground forces would want to use." FS

ALBANIA WANTS NATO TO ENSURE PEACE

The Albanian government issued a statement on 23 February in Tirana saying that "the talks [are] onlythe first stage in reaching an agreement and that the draft political accord agreed on in Rambouillet will be "implemented only by the military and political enforcing instruments of NATO and the OSCE." Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo told Albanian Television that the agreement might not have been the best possible for the ethnic Albanians but that it is the best base from which to proceed. Milo predicted that the Kosovars' attitude will not alter in the two weeks before the next conference, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, Albania's Defense Ministry has put troops on high alert in its northern regions, after Serbian troops and equipment began to be reinforced along the border, an army spokesman told Reuters on 23 February. FS

CHINA OPPOSES EXTENSION OF MACEDONIAN UN MANDATE

A spokesman for China's UN mission in New York told Reuters on 23 February that China opposes extending the mandate of UN peacekeepers in Macedonia. He did not say, however, whether China will use its veto in the Security Council. The council is scheduled to vote this week on whether to renew the mandate, which expires on 27 February. China severed diplomatic relations with Macedonia on 9 February because of its new ties to Taiwan. Meanwhile, unnamed diplomats say the U.S. is considering a new status for the peacekeepers, either as part of NATO or as a separate border force paid for by Washington and other contributors. FS

BOSNIAN PRESIDENCY SEEKS CUTS IN MILITARY SPENDING

Bosnia's collective presidency on 23 February launched an initiative aimed at reducing military spending, Mirza Hajric, an adviser to Bosnian Muslim Presidency member Alija Izetbegovic, told Reuters. Hajric said he believes the idea could "easily fly" in the federation and that he hopes the Republika Srpska will also accept it. Hajric said the idea is to reduce such spending by one-third to free up money for reconstruction of the country. He stressed, however, that "we would have to get an agreement with Yugoslavia and Croatia." FS

NATO BOOSTS PRESENCE IN HARDLINE BOSNIAN-SERB TOWN

SFOR spokesman Glenn Chamberlain told Reuters on 23 February that SFOR has "sharply increased" its presence in Foca. That town is believed to harbor several Serbian indicted war criminals. Chamberlain said SFOR will set up random checkpoints, noting that "this is recognition of a pattern of illegal activity in that town over a considerable period of time." However, he gave no other details about the nature of the operation. FS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT TO ASK PARLIAMENT FOR ENDORSEMENT

Prime Minister Radu Vasile on 23 February said on Romanian Television that his government will "assume responsibility" in the parliament for its economic program. According to this process, the legislature is considered to have approved the program unless a no confidence motion is submitted. Vasile said the program will include a new privatization law envisaging the sale in installments of state-owned companies to Romanian investors, a law on property restitution, and legislation defining public administration accountability. In other news, the miners in the Jiu Valley and the valley's state-owned mining company have reached agreement on a new collective contract for 1999 that provides for an average wage hike of 17 percent. MS

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION PARTY THREATENS PARLIAMENTARY BOYCOTT

Ovidiu Musatescu, executive secretary of the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), said on 23 February that the PDSR will discuss the possibility of boycotting parliamentary debates till the next elections to protest the ruling National Peasant Party Christian Democratic's (PNTCD) campaign against PDSR leader Ion Iliescu. PNTCD chairman Ion Diaconescu and his deputy, Remus Opris, told journalists on 22 February that the former president cannot run for what they said would be a third presidential term, adding that "it will soon transpire who is truly responsible" for the miners' rampages in Bucharest in 1990-1991. Musatescu said the PDSR will "use all possible forms of protest" to defend its chairman. MS

SMIRNOV CALLS FOR STRENGTHENING MILITARY

Transdniester separatist leader Igor Smirnov, marking the Defense of the Fatherland Day on 23 February, said Transdniester must build up its military potential, adding that it "needs a strong and well-trained army to defend its sovereignty and independence at any moment," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The same day, a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Chisinau said a Tiraspol delegation's recent participation in debates in the Russian State Duma on the Transdniester was "a gesture incompatible with the traditional Russia-Moldovan dialogue." Oleg Serebrian said the Duma is "free to discuss any problem related to Russia's national interests but must [neither] affect the national interests of other sovereign nations" nor allow "any infringement of other countries' territorial integrity," Infotag reported. MS

BULGARIA, ROMANIA DISAGREE OVER DANUBE TUNNEL

A Romanian project to build a tunnel under the Danube River between Giurgiu and Russe has met with sharp criticism in Bulgaria, dpa reports, citing the daily "Trud." Giurgiu and Russe are already linked by a bridge. The daily says the Romanian plan is aimed at preventing the construction of a second bridge over the river. The two governments have long disagreed over the construction of a second bridge: Bulgaria insists that it span the river between Vidin and Calafat, while Bucharest wants the bridge to be built further east. Bulgarian experts say Romanian opposition to the Vidin- Calafat project stems from non-economic, political motives and that Bucharest wants to prevent an economic boom in Transylvania, where Romania's ethnic Hungarian minority is concentrated. MS




LOOKING BACK TO THE FUTURE


By Paul Goble

A 19th-century Russian foreign minister has again been held up as a model for Moscow's foreign policy because of his ability to use "the force of the word" to prevent other powers from exploiting Russia's time of relative weakness.

Writing in the latest issue of the Russian Foreign Ministry's journal "International Affairs," Viktor Lopatnikov follows on from the celebration begun by Yevgenii Primakov last year of Aleksandr Gorchakov, Russia's foreign minister for nearly a generation after the country's defeat in the Crimean War.

Lopatnikov, who represents the Foreign Ministry in Saint Petersburg, argues that Gorchakov's approach to dealing with the outside world remains "amazingly topical today." And he suggests that Russian officials study three aspects of Gorchakov's approach in order to learn how to act in the future.

First, Lopatnikov says, Gorchakov's immense dignity in the face of the indignities Russia suffered following its defeat in Crimea not only helped restore Russian national pride but had the effect of demonstrating to foreigners that Russia is, in the poet Fyodor Tyutchev's words, "a country that cannot be measured by an ordinary yardstick."

To the extent that foreign powers recognize that fact, Lopatnikov argues, they did not in the 19th century and will not be interested in the future in exploiting Russia when it is "concentrating" on its domestic affairs.

These powers, he continues, will thus find themselves once again caught between their own recognition that Russia is a country unlike any other and their acceptance of Russian demands that Russia be treated as an equal. Being thus trapped, they will be forced to give more deference to Russia than its position might otherwise justify.

Second, Lopatnikov argues, Gorchakov understood that Russia simultaneously must be extremely selective in deciding where it will actually get involved. It must also insist on its right to deploy its diplomatic and political muscle wherever it deems necessary.

On the one hand, as Gorchakov showed, that stance will keep other powers off balance and thus allow Russia to use diplomacy rather than force to prevent any combination from arising against its interests. And on the other, it will allow Russia to focus on the recovery of its domestic economy, the ultimate source of its power.

As Primakov argued last spring on the 200th anniversary of Gorchakov's birth, this domestic focus both provides an anchor for stabilizing Russia's foreign policy and guarantees that Russian advances internationally can always be justified in terms that other powers are likely to find acceptable rather than aggressive.

And third, Lopatnikov suggests, Gorchakov recognized that the chief focus of Russian foreign policy must be along its own borders. The 20th-century diplomat notes the praise his 19th- century predecessor received for doing just that.

In 1864, Aleksandr II formally congratulated Gorchakov for his use of "the force of the word" to disarm the enemies of Russia, an action the tsar said guaranteed that Gorchakov's name would be entered in "the future chronicle of the Fatherland."

Lopatnikov does not provide the text of Gorchakov's message that won Aleksandr's approval. But most of his readers are likely to recall with precision just what policy the 19th-century foreign minister was advancing.

On 21 November 1864, Gorchakov issued a dispatch justifying the Russian imperial advance into Central Asia. He argued in terms that many of his European counterparts would have found difficult to answer: "The position of Russia in Central Asia is that of all civilized states which come into contact with half- savage, nomadic populations who possess no fixed social organization."

In such cases, Gorchakov said, "the more civilized state is forced, in the interests of security and commerce, to exercise a certain ascendancy over those whose turbulent and unsettled character makes them most undesirable neighbors."

Presumably, Lopatnikov would not endorse these specific terms for the present and future. But his and Primakov's enthusiasm for Gorchakov who uttered them may confuse some Russian diplomats and create problems for others.


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