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Newsline - March 25, 1999




RUSSIA ENDS NATO COOPERATION...

Russian officials launched a round of condemnations, retaliatory actions, and threats, following a last-minute televised appeal by President Boris Yeltsin and telephone calls with French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, and U.S. President Bill Clinton. Among Moscow's first actions after the launching of NATO air strikes was to pull out of the alliance's Partnership for Peace and military cooperation programs on 24 March. President Yeltsin also recalled Russia's chief military envoy to NATO, Lieutenant-General Viktor Zavarzin, and ordered the closure of Russia's offices at NATO headquarters. In addition, Russia decided to return its 100 members of the Kosova Verification Team currently in Macedonia to Russia. JAC

...HINTS AT OTHER ACTIONS...

In an official statement, Yeltsin said that "in the event that the military conflict worsens, Russia retains the right to take adequate measures, including military ones, to defend itself and the overall security of Europe." Russian Public Television reported on 24 March that according to Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, Russian is considering deploying tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. The next day, however, Sergeev told reporters that Russia is planning no military response to the NATO aggression. JAC

...DEMANDS AIR STRIKES END

Both Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Russia's representative to the UN, Sergei Lavrov, denounced "NATO aggression" and called for an immediate end to the air strikes. The Foreign Ministry called the bombings "a crude violation of the UN Charter" and "an act of open aggression against a sovereign member state of the UN," while President Yeltsin called the actions "a gross error by the Americans, American diplomacy, and Clinton" that "they will eventually have to account for." Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin adopted a more conciliatory tone, saying that "Russia should assume that it will live and work in Europe" and not let itself be dragged into an outright confrontation with the West. "Izvestiya" also counseled Russians "to grit our teeth and set about finally dragging Russia out of the [financial] hole it is in." It continued "a break with America and NATO would be much more costly for us than it would be for the West." JAC

RUSSIA WARNS OF DETERIORATION IN RELATIONS WITH U.S...

Deputy head of the presidential staff Sergei Prikhodko warned on 25 March that NATO air strikes will affect U.S.-Russian relations "in a most serious way." The previous day, retired Major-General Vladimir Slipchenko, a "military expert," told "Novye Izvestiya" that the primary motivation for bombing Belgrade is Washington's desire to test its high-precision weapons systems. According to Slipchenko, "the Americans are lying when they say they always use the same Tomahawk missiles. In fact, each new strike against Iraq or some other country is a test of the latest modification." JAC

...AS URANIUM AGREEMENT SIGNED

Meanwhile, Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov signed a lucrative agreement with U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson on shipments of Russian highly enriched uranium to the U.S. for use in nuclear power stations there, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. In addition, a memorandum of cooperation between the Russian Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Department of Energy was signed in Washington on 24 March. JAC

CAMDESSUS TO HEAD TO MOSCOW

IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus is expected in Moscow on 27 March to continue negotiations with Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov, which were aborted when the latter canceled his trip to the U.S. in mid-air. While most of the Russian press praised Primakov for his decision to return to Moscow, "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 March was harshly critical, accusing Primakov of "ignoring the interests of his motherland and people for the sake of internationalism." However, Sergei Karaganov, head of the Council for Defense and Foreign Policy, argued that Russia's apparent outrage over Kosova will encourage the U.S. "to sweeten the pill for Russia" and encourage the fund to conclude an agreement, Interfax reported on 24 March. JAC

ELECTION COMMITTEE GETS NEW HEAD

The Central Election Committee elected a new chairman, Aleksandr Veshnyakov, on 24 March. Veshnyakov is a former secretary of the body, whose candidacy was put forward by the Agrarian Party. Valentin Vlasov, former presidential envoy to Chechnya and the candidate favored by the Kremlin, withdrew his candidacy at the last minute and was instead elected deputy chairman. Political analysts are interpreting Veshnyakov's ascendancy as a blow for the Kremlin but a positive development for fair elections, since Veshnyakov is considered apolitical and devoted to fulfilling the letter of law, the "Moscow Times" reported. JAC

SWISS PROSECUTOR-GENERAL HAS NO DIRT ON YELTSIN, FAMILY

Carla del Ponte, who arrived in Moscow on 24 March for talks with Prosecutor General Yurii Skuratov, issued a statement that day saying that she has brought no evidence with her to compromise anyone. However, an Interior Ministry source told Interfax that Del Ponte gave Skuratov evidence on "dubious financial operations of Russian citizens." Interior Minister Stepashin stated that Del Ponte brought no materials "regarding the members of President Yeltsin's family or the president himself." Duma Security Committee Chairman and member of the Communist faction Viktor Ilyukhin told reporters the previous day that $2.3 billion of a $4.8 billion IMF credit had been illegally transferred to an Australian bank and that from there $235 million was deposited with an Australian company, in which Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko has a 25 percent stake. Former Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin told "Segodnya" the next day that Ilyukhin's charges revealed only his "incompetence" in financial matters. JAC

KIRIENKO TO RETURN TO KREMLIN?

Former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko confirmed on 24 March that members of the presidential administration have approached him about his becoming secretary of the Security Council, a post left empty by the dismissal of head of the presidential administration Nikolai Bordyuzha on 19 March, Interfax reported. "Kommersant-Daily" reported the same day, citing a Yeltsin administration source, that presidential representative to the CIS Ivan Rybkin and former ambassador to France Yurii Ryzhov are also under consideration. "Moskovskii komsomolets" suggested the previous day that Rybkin's assumption of the post would lend further credence to the theory that Boris Berezovskii has revived his influence in the Kremlin. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" predicted that another man in uniform is likely to take over the position, such as General Anatolii Kvashnin, chief of staff of the armed forces. JAC

PASKO TEAM APPEALS TO YELTSIN, OBUCHI

Lawyers for Grigorii Pasko sent an appeal signed by leading Russian writers and human rights activists to President Yeltsin and Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi asking that Pasko be released from jail while the court considers his case, "Vremya MN" reported on 24 March. Two days earlier, Pasko's attorney Aleksandr Tkachenko had presented a similar appeal, which the court refused to consider. Another member of his legal team, Oleg Kotlyarov, told the daily that the judicial panel seems prejudiced against Pasko, since more than 10 witness have been called and none have testified to his guilt. Pasko is accused of espionage for providing classified materials to Japanese television about the Pacific Fleet's hazardous handling of nuclear waste. JAC

STATE OF THE FEDERATION SPEECH SLATED FOR END OF MARCH

President Yeltsin's annual "state of the nation" address will be delivered in the Kremlin's Marble Hall on 30 March, ITAR- TASS reported. The Duma, which is currently in recess, may hold an emergency session on 29 March to discuss a response to NATO air strikes, Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told reporters on 24 March. JAC

TATARSTAN, ALGERIA TO COOPERATE IN OIL, SHIPBUILDING

Visiting Kazan on 23-24 March, Algerian Ambassador to Moscow Ammar Makhlufi met with Tatarstan's Minister of Trade and Economic Cooperation, Khafiz Salikhov, and with President Mintimer Shaimiev to discuss cooperation prospects and investment in Tatarstan's economy, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. The Algerian delegation expressed interest in Tatarstan's petrochemical companies, specifically in the possibility of Tatar companies participating in oil extraction in Algeria. Makhlufi also told Shaimiev his country is interested in partnership ventures with Tatarstan's aircraft industry and in purchasing warships and civilian vessels built in Tatarstan. LF

OFFICIALS DENY BIN LADEN IS IN CHECHNYA

Chechen presidential press spokesman Mairbek Vachagaev told ITAR-TASS on 24 March there is no truth to rumors that Saudi millionaire terrorist Osama bin Laden is currently the guest of Jordanian-born Chechen field commander Khottab, who is believed to have connections to Islamic fundamentalists. Former Chechen Foreign Minister and prominent oppositionist Movladi Udugov likewise dismissed reports of bin Laden's presence in Chechnya as disinformation spread by foreign intelligence services. LF




YELTSIN SEEKS TO REASSURE AZERBAIJANI COUNTERPART

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Leonid Drachevskii met with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev in Baku on 23 March, Interfax reported. Drachevskii delivered to Aliyev a letter from President Yeltsin reassuring him that Russia's military cooperation with Armenia is not directed against Azerbaijan. In a 20 March letter to Yeltsin, Aliyev had claimed that deliveries of Russian fighter aircraft and S-300 air defense missiles to the Russian military base in Armenia violate the agreement on friendship and cooperation between Russia and Azerbaijan and upset the military balance in the region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 1999). Drachevskii also told Aliyev that Russia no longer insists on the "common state" principle as a basis for resolving the Karabakh conflict, according to Interfax. The OSCE Minsk Group, of which Russia is one of the three co-chairs, proposed that model last year, but Azerbaijan rejected it. LF

U.S. MILITARY OFFICIAL DISCUSSES COOPERATION WITH GEORGIA, AZERBAIJAN

Major-General Charles Wax, who is director of Plans and Policy for U.S. European Command Headquarters, held talks in Tbilisi on 22-23 March with senior Georgian parliamentary and Defense Ministry officials, Interfax reported. Parliamentary Defense and Security Committee chairman Revaz Adamia told journalists that the talks focused on broader Georgian participation in NATO's Partnership for Peace program. Wax then traveled to Baku, where he met on 24 March with Defense Minister Safar Abiev and President Heidar Aliev, Turan reported. Wax said his visit to Azerbaijan is of a fact-finding nature and that U.S. military cooperation with Azerbaijan should be balanced by similar cooperation with other countries in the region. Aliyev termed such cooperation essential to stability throughout the Caucasus. Prior to Wax's arrival in Baku, Interfax quoted unnamed Azerbaijani diplomatic sources as saying that the U.S. delegation would inspect the former Soviet strategic bomber base located at Nasosnaya, near Baku. Unconfirmed reports suggest Azerbaijan has offered NATO the use of that base. LF

GEORGIA ISSUES DECREE ON PIPELINE SECURITY

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has issued a decree instructing an interdepartmental commission of the National Security Council to take the appropriate measures to ensure round-the- clock security of the Baku-Supsa oil pipeline, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 25 March. Meeting last week in Tbilisi, the Georgian and Azerbaijani defense ministers, Davit Tevzadze and Safar Abiev, signed a protocol on conducting joint exercises in Ukraine in April. Taking part in those exercises will be Georgian, Azerbaijani, and Ukrainian battalions deployed to guard that pipeline, Caucasus Press reported. LF

FORMER KAZAKH POLITICAL PRISONER CRITICIZES HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES

Workers' Movement of Kazakhstan leader Madel Ismailov told journalists in Almaty on 24 March that government officials' claims that conditions in the country's prisons have improved since the adoption of a new criminal code are untrue, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported the following day. Ismailov, who was released last month after serving a one- year prison sentence for insulting Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev, has vowed to organize a new movement to protect prisoners' rights. LF

KAZAKHSTAN CLAIMS OWNERSHIP OF IMPOUNDED MIGS

Senior officials in Kazakhstan on 24 March said that the six MiG-21 fighter aircraft impounded by Azerbaijani authorities at Baku's Bina airport belong to Kazakhstan and were bound for Slovakia, not Yugoslavia or North Korea, Reuters and Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 1999). A Kazakhstan Foreign Ministry statement said that the obsolete planes had been sold in 1998 to the Czech arms firm Agroplast on condition they be transported to the Czech Republic. But the Slovak Foreign Ministry told CTK on 24 March that the planes were to be transported directly to Agroplast's headquarters in Liberec, not via Slovakia. And a spokeswoman for Agroplast told CTK on 24 March that the company is not engaged in any business activities in the former Soviet Union. The Russian Embassy in Baku reported that the Azerbaijani authorities have arrested a Czech national who was on board the Russian aircraft that was transporting the MiGs. LF

TYPHOID OUTBREAK IN TAJIKISTAN?

Some 90 people in Tajikistan's Garm Oblast, half of them children under 15, have contracted an infection that International Red Cross officials believe may be typhoid, ITAR-TASS and AP-Blitz reported on 24-25 March. LF

UKRAINE EXTRADITES BOMBING SUSPECTS TO UZBEKISTAN

The Ukrainian government has extradited to Uzbekistan four Uzbeks apprehended in Kyiv earlier this month on suspicion of involvement in the 16 February bomb attacks in Tashkent, Interfax and AP reported on 24 March, quoting an Ukrainian Interior Ministry official (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18-19 March 1999). Human Rights Watch had earlier appealed to Kyiv not to undertake such action. LF




LUKASHENKA DENOUNCES NATO STRIKES AGAINST YUGOSLAVIA

"We believe that inflicting strikes on the territory of a sovereign state [constitutes] aggression," Belarusian Television quoted President Alyaksandr Lukashenka as saying on 24 March. Lukashenka said he supports the stance of Russian Premier Yevgenii Primakov on the Kosova crisis. The same day, Lukashenka sent a letter to Russian President Boris Yeltsin requesting him to include the NATO decision to use force in Yugoslavia on the agenda of the 2 April CIS summit in Moscow. "We should know who is who in the CIS," he said, adding that Russia "should become a consolidating factor" in working out a common CIS position on the Kosova crisis. Meanwhile, commenting on Russia's reported intent to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus in response to NATO's action against Yugoslavia, Belarusian Security Council Deputy Chairman Viktar Navelski said that "such an option has not been ruled out." JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT URGES GOVERNMENT TO RECONSIDER NUCLEAR STATUS...

The Supreme Council on 24 March passed a resolution asking the government to prepare legislation on renouncing Ukraine's non-nuclear status. The resolution was passed after "virtually all factions" condemned the NATO decision to use force in Yugoslavia, AP reported. Ukrainian presidential spokesman Oleksandr Martynenko commented that "the president is the only person" to regulate foreign policy and security issues. He added that the government can implement parliamentary decisions on these issues only after they "are agreed on with the president." In his opinion, the decision to revise Ukraine's nuclear status "was induced by emotions and not by considerations." JM

...RATIFIES BLACK SEA FLEET AGREEMENTS WITH RUSSIA

The parliament also voted by 250 to 63 with five abstentions to ratify the three agreements on the Black Sea Fleet, which were signed by Leonid Kuchma and Boris Yeltsin in May 1997. While approving the Russia-Ukraine 1997 friendship treaty last month, Russia's Federation Council conditioned its implementation on the ratification of the Black Sea Fleet agreements by Ukraine. Under those accords, Russia will keep 460 naval vessels belonging to the fleet, while Ukraine will have 162 ships as well as $526 million compensation from Russia. The Russian part of the fleet will be based in Sevastopol until 2017. JM

RIGA, VILNIUS SUPPORT NATO AIR STRIKES...

The Latvian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 24 March saying that it "understands NATO's decision to begin military strikes against Yugoslavia as there are no other ways" to solve the Kosova crisis. But, the statement added, Latvia still hopes that the parties to the conflict will return to the negotiating table. The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry said Vilnius regards NATO's decision to initiate air strikes against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as a "means of preventing the spread of military conflict, which would effectively cause a humanitarian catastrophe in the Balkans." JC

...WHILE TALLINN YET TO MAKE OFFICIAL STATEMENT

Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the designated foreign minister in the new Estonian government, told BNS the same day that "such NATO action to prevent crimes against humanity has long been expected." He added that he was "surprised" by the behavior of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who, he said, did not wish to solve the Kosova crisis "in any way." To date, Tallinn has made no official statement in response to the air strikes. Meanwhile, Mart Laar's government was sworn into office on 25 March, after Estonian President Lennart Meri approved the cabinet lineup the previous night following his return from France to receive the European of the Year award. JC

LATVIAN SECURITY COUNCIL BACKS KAMALDINS

The National Security Council on 24 March voted to nominate Lainis Kamaldins for another term in office as director of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, LETA reported. Last week, Kamaldins caused a controversy over his comment to the press that Latvia's Jewish community may have been involved in the 1998 bombing of the Riga synagogue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 March 1999). President Guntis Ulmanis told reporters that he had voted for the nomination of Kamaldins. He added that this will give the parliament the opportunity to evaluate the office's activities and to hear Kamaldins's report, according to "Diena." The same day, Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov approved the appointment of Nationality Affairs Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov as co-chairman of the Latvian-Russian intergovernmental commission. JC

CABINET SAYS ADAMKUS'S PROPOSAL ON COMPETITION COUNCIL 'UNPRECEDENTED'

Following the vote in favor of an amended version of the competition law, the Lithuanian government issued a statement saying that President Valdas Adamkus's proposal to strip the cabinet of its authority over the Competition Council was "unprecedented" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 1999), ELTA reported. According to "Lietuvos Rytas," the president's office regarded that statement as indicating Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius's intention to step down, and thus Adamkus wanted to hear the premier's position during their meeting on 24 March. "Respublika" reported that Adamkus demanded that Vagnorius withdraw the statement, pointing out that he would no longer be able to work with the premier. But ELTA quoted government Chancellor Kestutis Cilinskas as saying the statement would not be withdrawn and cited unidentified sources as saying the president made no such demand during his meeting with Vagnorius. JC

POLAND BACKS NATO ACTION IN YUGOSLAVIA

Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek on 24 March commented that "diplomatic means have been exhausted" and that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic bears responsibility for the Kosova crisis. Marek Siwiec, head of the presidential National Security Bureau, told Polish Radio the same day that "Poland backs the NATO decision, and this fact is a joint decision by the supreme state authorities." Speaking on Polish Television, Siwiec said the government sees the current crisis as a test of Poland's credibility as a NATO member. JM

CZECH LEADERS CALL ON MILOSEVIC TO RENEW TALKS

Speaking after a meeting of the National Security Council on 24 March, President Vaclav Havel, Premier Milos Zeman, and Chamber of Deputies Chairman Vaclav Klaus called on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to renew talks with the Kosova Albanians, CTK reported. Zeman said the NATO military action against the Serbs is "a means toward renewing negotiations," while Havel said the air strikes are the only way Europe and the U.S. can express their commitments to human rights." MS

CZECH PARLIAMENT APPROVES DISPATCH OF HOSPITAL TO BALKANS

Endorsing the 10 March decision of the Senate, the Chamber of Deputies on 24 March approved sending a military field hospital to Macedonia to support a NATO peace-keeping operation in neighboring Kosova, CTK reported. Premier Milos Zeman told the house that it is the government's duty "to follow up long-lasting friendly traditions and provide medical aid to both sides involved in the conflict." This is why the hospital will not be stationed in Kosova, but inortheast of Skopje, he said. The chamber, however, did not approve the transit across Czech territory of NATO troops that might be involved in action against Yugoslavia. MS

SLOVAKIA OPENS AIR SPACE TO NATO FORCES

The government on 24 March granted a NATO request to allow the alliance's planes to use Slovak air space and to land for refueling, Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan told the parliament. Premier Mikulas Dzurinda told journalists that NATO's decision to strike is "the smallest of two evils" in a situation where "the civilized world could not watch for ever the massacres of innocent people in Kosova." During a stormy debate in the parliament, the opposition Movement For a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) called the NATO decision "modern barbarism," and in a declaration issued on 25 March, the HZDS expressed "solidarity" with the Yugoslav population. It also argued that the government's decision was "unconstitutional," having been taken without the consent of the parliament." MS

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT ALLOWS NATO TO USE AIRFIELDS

The parliament on 24 March voted 225 to 12 with eight abstentions to allow NATO to use military airfields for strikes against Yugoslavia, AP and Reuters reported. The decision was supported by all parliamentary groups except the xenophobic Justice and Life Party. It amends an October 1998 decision that allows only the use of Hungary's air space for this purpose. MS




NATO LAUNCHES AIR STRIKES

Aircraft belonging to eight member countries of the Atlantic alliance and cruise missiles struck military targets in more than a dozen cities and towns in Serbia, Kosova, and Montenegro. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in London the next day that there were no NATO casualties and that no aircraft were lost. Serbian state-run television showed footage of a building in Novi Sad in flames and what the broadcast claimed were civilian casualties. General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who commands the Third Army in the region that includes Kosova, told state-run television that the attackers hit more than 40 different targets but inflicted only "minimal" damage. NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said in Brussels that the attacks will most likely continue for at least several days. This is the first time in its history that NATO has used force against a sovereign state. PM

COOK OUTLINES NATO'S GOALS

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told the BBC on 25 March that the Atlantic alliance's "objective is to curb the capacity of [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic's army to repress the [Kosovar] Albanians. When that stops, the military action will stop. It can stop today if Milosevic returns to the negotiating table and recognizes [that] the peace plan we've put together offers not only a fair deal to [the Kosovar] Albanians but also a fair deal to Belgrade." The previous day in Washington, President Bill Clinton said that "the dangers of acting are far outweighed by the dangers of not acting," by which he meant that failure to act against Milosevic could lead to a wider war. Before the bombing began, Milosevic appeared on state-run television to appeal to all citizens to do everything possible to resist the attacks. PM

ANNAN HAS MIXED REACTION

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a statement in New York on 24 March that it is "tragic that diplomacy has failed, but there are times when the use of force may be legitimate in the pursuit of peace." He added, however, that the Security Council "should be involved in any decision to use force." PM

DJUKANOVIC SAYS MILOSEVIC MUST CHANGE POLICIES

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said on state-run television on 24 March that Milosevic's policies led to the NATO air strikes. The Montenegrin president stressed that the bombings "are the tragic consequences of an irrational policy of confrontation with the entire world. This policy has led us into a dangerous adventure, the price of which is peace and the lives of Montenegrin citizens. Force will not bring peace. Our future is not in confrontation with the entire world and therefore I demand from Milosevic to halt the policy that has led to collective suffering of innocents and endangered the survival of the country," Djukanovic concluded. PM

JOURNALISTS HARASSED IN SERBIA

The Yugoslav authorities declared a "state of emergency" throughout the country on 24 March. Meanwhile, police detained an unspecified number of foreign journalists in Belgrade and Prishtina and prevented them from sending footage abroad. A BBC reporter said the next morning that police "kicked in the doors" of an unspecified number of journalists' rooms in Prishtina's main hotel. PM

RFE/RL INCREASES BROADCASTS TO CRISIS REGION

RFE/RL'S South Slavic Service increased its daily programming in Serbian by three-and-a-half hours on 24 March. It also doubled the length of its broadcasts to Kosova to make a total of one hour per day. Six local affiliates carry programming in both languages in Montenegro. PM

NATO TANKS PATROL MACEDONIA'S BORDER

An unspecified number of tanks and armored personnel carriers belonging to the Atlantic alliance patrolled Macedonia's frontier with Serbia soon after the air strikes began, Reuters reported on 24 March. A NATO spokesman said in Skopje that "there have been no threats or moves by the Serb military [in the border area]. We are taking all precautionary measures and it would be a great mistake by the Serbs to threaten this country." Some 10,000 NATO soldiers are stationed in Macedonia. PM

SERBS SHELL ALBANIAN VILLAGES

Kudusi Lama, who commands the Second Infantry Division in Kukes, told Reuters on 25 March that Serbian forces shelled two villages on Albanian territory and wounded the commander of the border post near Dobruna. Lama added that Serbian soldiers fired on Albanian troops, who did not return fire. But he stressed that Albanian soldiers will shoot if Serbian forces enter Albanian territory. PM

ALBANIA WELCOMES NATO STRIKES

Albanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko told a press conference in Tirana on 24 March that "the Albanian government welcomes this NATO initiative, taken after all political means for solving the crisis in Kosova and ending Serbian repression were exhausted." Majko expressed his thanks to "the governments of all friendly countries, especially the U.S. government and President Clinton, who did not hesitate to intervene in the conflict," dpa reported. He repeated his long-standing offer to put all port and airport facilities at NATO's disposal for operations in Kosova. Majko added that "the Albanian government at this moment feels itself very close to the fighters of the Kosova Liberation Army [UCK], who are defending the nation against the Serbian war machine." Majko also said that U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright assured him of U.S. protection against possible Serbian attacks during a telephone call after the air raids began. FS

TIRANA TO CLEAN OUT ENVER'S BUNKERS

Tirana Mayor Albert Brojka on 24 March called on citizens to clean out the ubiquitous concrete bomb shelters built during the Stalinist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha. He said 1,000 out of 1,330 shelters in the capital have been readied for use, Reuters reported. Information Minister Musa Ulqini said that Albanian troops on the border with Kosova are on a "second-level alert," which means that army personnel are confined to base. Foreign Minister Paskal Milo left for a meeting of the NATO Council in Brussels to "discuss immediate and direct threats" to the security of Albania. FS

UCK WELCOMES STRIKES, PLEDGES TO CONTINUE FIGHTING...

UCK spokesman Jakup Krasniqi told Albanian Television on 24 March that "the international community has finally decided to punish the criminal who has long turned Yugoslavia into a slaughter-house," by which he meant Milosevic. Krasniqi added that "we feel more at ease now, but we still shall continue our fight." He stressed that "as long as the Yugoslav army and the Serbian military and paramilitary units continue their attacks on Albanian villages and towns, the objective of the UCK will be the liberation of Kosova from these gangs," dpa reported. UCK leader Hashim Thaci said that the "independence of Kosova will not come as soon as we hoped, it will come [instead] as the result of a process. It all depends on our organization and on our fighting in Kosova in the future," AP quoted him as saying. FS

...CALLS FOR ELECTIONS

Thaci also called on ethnic Albanian political parties to nominate candidates for a new Kosova government to replace President Ibrahim Rugova's shadow state. Thaci stressed that "in these difficult circumstances, Kosova needs a government. I ask all the political parties to send their proposals on candidates for the new government by 31 March to the UCK general staff headquarters," AP reported. FS

SFOR STEPS UP SECURITY IN BOSNIA

NATO officials said in a statement in Sarajevo on 24 March that SFOR has closed all airports in Bosnia and banned all flights over Bosnian territory. SFOR also tightened security at its bases after receiving a series of unspecified threats from "persons who stand to gain by destabilizing the peace process," a spokesman told AP. SFOR commander General Montgomery Meigs said that "anyone who tries to impede freedom of movement, either SFOR's or that of the civilian populace, will be dealt with firmly." In Banja Luka, Republika Srpska Defense Minister Manojlo Milovanovic said that NATO seeks to "install bases in [Kosova] as part of its expansion to the east." PM

SLOVENIA'S KUCAN PRAISES AIR STRIKES

President Milan Kucan said in Ljubljana on 24 March that the Atlantic alliance is welcome to use Slovenian air space to launch air strikes against Serbia. He added that Solana assured him in a letter that NATO will protect Slovenia's security if is threatened. Kucan said that the attacks "had to happen," and he recalled "memories of Vukovar, Dubrovnik, Sarajevo, Srebrenica" and other places in Croatia and Bosnia that Serbian forces attacked during the 1991-1995 wars. Slovenia belongs to NATO's Partnership for Peace program. PM

SLOVENIA GETS NEW INTERIOR MINISTER

The parliament on 24 March approved the appointment of writer Borut Suklje to head the Interior Ministry. He is a former minister of culture and belongs to Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek's Liberal Democratic Party. Lawmakers removed Mirko Bandelj as interior minister in February because he had interfered with the parliament's right to supervise the work of the secret police, AP reported from Ljubljana. PM

SOLANA REASSURES YUGOSLAVIA'S NEIGHBORS

A senior NATO official on 24 March said that Secretary-General Solana has written letters to the premiers of Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania, and Slovenia (all members of the Partnership for Peace program) saying that NATO will ensure their safety. BTA quoted Solana as writing to Premier Ivan Kostov that "Bulgaria's security is of a direct and concrete concern to NATO." In his letter to Romanian Premier Radu Vasile, Solana said that NATO would regard as "inadmissible" any Yugoslav threat on Romanian "territorial integrity, independence, and security," adding that NATO views the security of "all its partners" as directly "linked to that of its members," Romanian Radio reported. MS

CONSTANTINESCU DENIES KOSOVA MILITARY INVOLVEMENT INTENTION

Speaking on television before the NATO strikes were announced, President Emil Constantinescu on 24 March dismissed "[opposition] suggestions" that Romania intends to send combat troops to Kosova or that it has made such an offer to NATO. He said Bucharest intends to send "humanitarian aid" or peace keepers to the region but will do so only if the conflicting sides reach an agreement and in line with the resolutions approved by the parliament, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He also said Romania's support for NATO is the country's "only security option." Opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania chairman, former President Ion Iliescu said after the strikes began that "foreign military intervention can only complicate things, as the Vietnam experience teaches us." MS

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR WARNS ROMANIA

Russian ambassador Valerii Kenyaykin told journalists in Sibiu on 24 March said that if NATO attacks Yugoslavia, the conflict will "imminently extend" and will "also involve Romania," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He also warned that NATO intervention would create "a dangerous precedent" because "satisfying the demands of separatists in one country" would mean other separatists would make similar demands. "In the Balkans, there is no state that does not face this problem," he remarked. MS

ROMANIAN WORKERS PROTEST LOW LIVING STANDARDS

Tens of thousands protested in Bucharest and other major cities to protest declining living standards, RFE/RL's correspondents in Romania reported. The demonstrations were organized by the four major labor confederations, which are threatening to hold a warning strike on 19 April and a general strike on 26 April. MS

KOSTOV SAYS KOSOVA CRISIS POSES ECONOMIC, NOT SECURITY THREAT

Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, in an interview with state radio on 24 March, said there is no security threat for Bulgaria from the Kosova crisis because Bulgaria "is not perceived by neighboring Yugoslavia as an enemy." He added that Sofia has "played a positive role throughout, seeking a solution within Yugoslavia's existing borders." But he noted that NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia will pose an "economic threat," both because Bulgaria's transport links with Europe pass through Yugoslavia and because further destabilization in the Balkans will hamper foreign investments, Reuters reported. President Petar Stoyanov, in a radio address before a meeting of the Consultative Council on National Security assured "Bulgarian mothers" that they have "no reason for alarm," as "Bulgarian soldiers will not be sent to participate in military operations." MS




THE ROOTS OF RUSSIAN-IRANIAN RAPPROCHEMENT


By Paul Goble

Russia increasingly views Iran as a potentially important ally in three key areas. But in every one of them, Moscow's cooperation with Tehran puts the Russian government at odds not only with the U.S. and Turkey but also with the post-Soviet states of Central Asia and the Caucasus.

To the extent that Moscow seeks to extract additional financial resources from the West or to maintain ties with the southern members of the CIS it must sometimes play down or otherwise restrict its cooperation with Iran in certain areas, including in that country's growing nuclear power industry.

But such actions in no way change Moscow's calculations about the continuing utility of Iran in achieving Russia's foreign-policy goals. Consequently, any concessions to the West that Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov may announce on nuclear issues are likely to be balanced by Russian efforts to firm up its links with Iran in other areas.

That is the message of an article about Russian-Iranian relations that appears in the current issue of the prestigious Russian foreign-policy journal, "International Affairs." Written by Viktor Vishnyakov, chairman of the Russian State Duma's Subcommittee for Issues of International Law, the article suggests that Russia views Iran "as a potential ally in many of the most important areas" of Moscow's foreign policy.

First of all, Vishnyakov says, Moscow sees Iran as playing a key role in Central Asia and the Caucasus. It does not challenge Russia's role there, nor does it oppose any expansion of Turkish influence in the region. Moreover, it generally shares Moscow's views on the status of the Caspian Sea and hence on possible pipeline routes to transport oil and gas from these regions to the West.

Consequently, Iran helps Moscow to shore up its influence in Central Asia and the Caucasus by helping both to prevent the countries in those regions from gaining the wealth and independence that exports would give them and to block the introduction of Western influence into a region that Moscow continues to view as its proper sphere of influence.

Second, the Duma leader argues, Moscow views Iran as another aggrieved outsider state that will join with Russia in opposing U.S. power. Drawing on the ideas of 19th-century Russian Foreign Minister Aleksandr Gorchakov, which Primakov has said should guide Russia's current approach, Vishnyakov says that such an alliance will allow Russia to revive its power on the international stage.

While Vishnyakov himself does not make much of this particular argument, he does not have to. Three other articles in the same issue of "International Affairs" are entirely devoted to Gorchakov--including one by Russia's current foreign minister, Igor Ivanov--and at least three more make reference to the 19th century prince who is rapidly becoming the Russian foreign-policy theorist for the 21st century.

Third (and this is the point to which Vishnyakov devotes most of his attention), Russia values Iran both for "cooperation in developing modern technologies"--a euphemism for nuclear power--and as a purchaser of Russian military equipment. Iran's purchases of such military products, he says, "make it possible to enhance Russia's role in solving regional problems."

Indeed, Vishnyakov opens his article with the claim that Russia's expanding ties with Iran are responsible for Tehran's willingness to explore closer ties with Baghdad's Saddam Hussein. He argues that those ties will contribute to regional stability but are likely to be seen by many countries, including the U.S., as pointing in a very different direction.

Vishnyakov also suggests that Iranian purchases of Russian military equipment and expertise in nuclear power can help Russia reconstruct itself, providing Moscow with both the cash and cooperation it needs to overcome its current economic difficulties.

And lest any third country think it can block the expansion of Russian-Iranian ties by extracting one or another concession, Vishnyakov warns, as the Duma did last year, that Moscow will view such "attempts to meddle in mutually advantageous cooperation between Russia and Iran in economic, science, and technology and other areas" as both "unlawful" and "unacceptable."


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