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Newsline - May 17, 1999


State Duma deputies on 15 May failed to impeach Russian President Boris Yeltsin on any of the five charges against him. According to Interfax, the charge that the president initiated the war against Chechnya fetched the most votes, 283 of the 300 needed. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said the failed impeachment effort is in no way a defeat for his party. He told Ekho Moskvy on 16 May that the vote signifies the "political funeral of [Liberal Democrat Party leader Vladimir] Zhirinovskii's party and Our Home Is Russia [NDR]," who "were Yeltsin's accomplices in bringing down the country." Those factions voted against impeachment. He also accused Yabloko members, who had "promised 42 votes," of "losing their nerve." Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii expressed regret that the impeachment effort foundered but noted that "90 percent" of his faction "solidly voted for the Chechnya charge." JAC


Regional and other political leaders in Russia appeared to greet with relief the results of the vote. Presidential envoy to Yugoslavia and NDR leader Viktor Chernomyrdin called the outcome "a triumph of common sense." Ryazan Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Lyubimov concluded that "a big political campaign is over and now it is time to get down to work," ITAR-TASS reported on 16 May. Aleksandr Popov, chairman of Rostov Oblast's legislative assembly, said he is glad the effort failed in the Duma and "saved state money, since it would have died at one of the next stages." Konstantin Titov, Samara Oblast governor and informal leader of Golos Rossii, called the vote's outcome a "serious defeat" for the Communist Party. Both Lyubimov and Titov predicted that the Duma will confirm acting Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin's candidacy. On 17 May, the value of shares on Russia's stock market rose sharply by 10 percent to 14 percent at the opening of trading, Interfax reported. JAC


On 15 May- -the same day that the impeachment vote took place--President Yeltsin underwent what the Kremlin characterized as routine and planned medical checks. Presidential spokesman Dmitrii Yakushkin later said that the president felt "fine" after the examination. The "Los Angeles Times" reported on 17 May that the Russian Constitution does not indicate who would succeed the president if he should die or become incapacitated, since the Duma has not yet confirmed a new prime minister. Head of the Constitutional Law department at Moscow's State and Law Institute Igor Stepanov told the newspaper that gaps in the constitution "not only create a legal impasse, they could also trigger a fierce struggle for power." JAC


"Segodnya" had predicted on 15 May that the impeachment vote would fail and that acting Prime Minister Stepashin might be confirmed on the very first vote. According to the daily, Spiritual Heritage leader Aleksei Podberezkin called Stepashin "the only representative of the president's circle whom the Duma can accept." Also on 15 May, "Kommersant-Daily" also had predicted confirmation for Stepashin because, the newspaper argued, if he is rejected, Yeltsin will nominate First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Aksenenko, who is reportedly business magnate Boris Berezovskii's "protege." Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told Ekho Moskvy on 15 May that he does "not rule out the Duma giving [Stepashin] the go-ahead to form a cabinet." He added that "I like the fact that there is nothing arrogant about him.... He is a good expert in his field, a good person." NDR faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov said that Stepashin has "a chance" of being confirmed in the first round, Interfax reported on 17 May. JAC


In a meeting with regional leaders on 16 May, Stepashin said that a new deputy prime minister will be appointed to oversee macroeconomic issues and that the post may be offered to a member of the Duma, ITAR-TASS reported. The agency reported that the offer was made to and accepted by Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov (Russian Regions). On the issue of other cabinet appointments, Stepashin said on 14 May that the "backbone of the government will be retained" and that "what is needed is a technocratic transitional-period government." The same day, Stepashin appointed Vladimir Engelsberg as head of the prime minister's directorate, replacing Robert Markarian, who had been appointed by former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov. JAC


On 14 May, Stepashin said that the main tasks of his government will be the adoption of legislation drafted by the Primakov government for the IMF, the drafting of the 2000 budget and its submission to the Duma before the summer recess, implementation of the current budget, and timely payment of pensions and wages as well as transfers to the regions, "Izvestiya" reported on 15 May. He also said that his cabinet will continue the course of large-scale economic reform approved by President Yeltsin, which seeks to support Russian producers, encourage investment in manufacturing and agriculture, overhaul the tax and social welfare system and fight crime and corruption, Interfax reported. On 16 May, Stepashin said that licenses will be revoked for six major Russian banks in connection with their participation in the illegal export of capital abroad. JAC


The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 14 May condemning the NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia as "madness," ITAR-TASS reported. The statement said that NATO's attack on the village of Korisa was "a new crime of the alliance" and warned of "the most grave consequences of the military actions against Yugoslavia." The statement also charged NATO with killing more than 1,200 civilians since April. Duma speaker Seleznev said in Moscow that NATO is a "terrorist organization," and he suggested that Russia appeal to "lawyers across the world to stage a public Nuremberg trial of the fascist organization named NATO," AP reported FS


Russian special envoy to Yugoslavia Chernomyrdin, speaking in Moscow on 14 May, dismissed media suggestions that Russia is too "conciliatory" in its Kosova negotiations. He said that "on the contrary, we are strengthening our position.... We are [holding talks] to persuade Western leaders...that first of all bombings must be stopped." Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said that President Yeltsin has ordered him to review Russia's military doctrine in the wake of NATO's actions. He added, however, that "Russia is making persistent, daily steps" toward finding a political solution to the Kosova crisis. FS


The head of the Russian presidential foreign policy department, Sergei Prikhodko, arrived in New Delhi on 15 May for talks with Indian leaders. He told ITAR-TASS that "there is agreement among the positions of Russia, China, and India on the Kosova conflict, which is a good basis for uniting forces on the international arena." He handed Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee a message from Yeltsin, saying that "we encounter an open challenge [by] the entire system of international relations." Meanwhile in New York, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution expressing "profound regrets over the [Chinese embassy] bombing [in Belgrade] and deep sorrow for the loss of lives, injuries and property damage." The council also adopted a resolution to support humanitarian efforts, but China and Russia abstained from the vote, demanding an end to NATO bombings. FS


Russian acting Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said at an annual summit of foreign ministers from Nordic and Baltic countries in St. Petersburg on 14-15 May that "an increase in the foreign military presence and activity on Russia's northern border is taking place," Interfax reported. He said that unspecified neighboring states have failed to "transform the region into a zone of security and cooperation" and abandoned "certain positions that in the past prevented a the region." He did not elaborate, however. Observers have suggested that his remarks are part of Moscow's continued opposition to the eastward expansion of NATO rather than a new, broader foreign policy campaign on Moscow's part. Ivanov proposed an information exchange on defense matters between the countries participating in the meeting. The foreign Ministers of Russia, Iceland, and Norway signed a treaty regulating fishing rights in the Barents Sea, whereby they will fish a combined total of no more than 4,500 tons a year and will set exact quotas in Oslo later this month, AP reported. FS


At separate meetings with his Estonian and Latvian counterparts, Ivanov discussed, among other things, signing bilateral agreements with the two Baltic States, Baltic agencies reported. While showing interest in concluding with Estonia accords on investment protection and avoiding double taxation, Ivanov told Toomas Hendrik Ilves that he will not rush to sign the Russian- Estonian border treaty as long as the State Duma is unwilling to ratify such a document. Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs told journalists that the two sides plan to prepare by this fall a package of mostly trade and economic agreements to be signed at a "top-level meeting." And Lithuanian acting Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas said that he and Ivanov reassured each other that recent changes within the Russian and Lithuanian governments will not affect the countries' "good" bilateral relations. JC


"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 14 May that Andrei Kozlov, former first deputy chairman of the Central Bank, Aleksandr Zurabov, the chairman of Menatep's board of directors, and owner of Russkii Standart vodka Rustam Tariko have launched a new commercial bank called Russkii Standart. According to the daily, the bank's founders announced that they intend to support small and medium-sized businesses. Banking experts estimate that the start-up cost of the new bank will be at least $10 million. JAC


Former First Deputy Prime Minister and head of Molodaya Rossiya Boris Nemtsov suggested on 16 May at the movement's congress in St. Petersburg that the Defense Ministry could boost sagging revenues by allowing draftees to buy their way out of serving in the military, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Nemtsov, parents of many young men already pay bribes of $5,000- $10,000 for medical diagnoses that lead to the classification of their children as unable to serve for health reasons. On 14 May, acting Defense Minister Sergeev told reporters that work with the armed forces' personnel is the cornerstone of combat readiness, since "much depends on our selection, training and education of military personnel." JAC


Voters in Prokopievsk elected Valerii Garanin, a member of the Bloc of [Kemerovo Governor] Aman Tuleev, their new mayor on 16 May, Interfax-Eurasia reported the next day. According to the agency, more than 38 percent of registered voters participated. The chairman of the city's election commission said a complaint will be lodged with the local prosecutor's office against the two other candidates in the race. He claims that both committed acts of hooliganism, while the candidates themselves have "declared war" with the election commission over the results of the ballot. Governor Tuleev's bloc scored an impressive victory during regional elections in April, before which more than 60 candidates charged that Tuleev's bloc had committed serious violations of election law (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 21 April 1999). JAC


After weeks of controversial decisions by Vladivostok's election commission and administration head, voters failed to turn up in sufficient numbers for the 16 May election to the city's legislative assembly to be valid. According to ITAR-TASS, this was the 16th failed election attempt. The last vote attracted enough voters, but the results were annulled because of alleged voter fraud. City election commission head Ilya Grinchenko told the agency that "every new flop cuts the number of voters wanting to participate." Earlier in the month, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov appealed to the head of the presidential administration, Aleksandr Voloshin, to ensure that elections to Vladivostok's legislative assembly actually take place, Interfax reported on 5 May. In a letter to Voloshin, Veshnyakov expressed his concern about that city administration's refusal to provide financing for the elections (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 12 May 1999). JAC


Aslan Maskhadov told journalists in Grozny on 15 May that the responsibility for the war in Chechnya is shared by the entire Russian leadership, including the Duma, most of whose deputies voted to support it, ITAR-TASS reported. He argued that political instability in Russia is a direct consequence of the strained relations between Moscow and Grozny and will continue until "the two countries sign an inter-governmental agreement establishing equal relations between them," according to Interfax. The previous day, acting Premier Stepashin told a visiting delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that preparations are continuing for the planned meeting between Maskhadov and President Yeltsin. He vowed to "make every effort to see that the meeting is constructive," Interfax reported. LF


Citing unofficial results, Caucasus Press reported on 17 May that retired General Vladimir Semenov polled some 75 percent of the vote in the previous day's presidential runoff. Cherkessk Mayor Stanislav Derev garnered some 20 percent. In the first round of voting on 25 April, Derev had polled 40 percent and Semenov 18 percent. Voter turnout was estimated at 63 percent. Electoral commission members suggested that the poll results could be invalid as less than 75 percent of polling stations were open. The German news agency dpa quoted acting Russian Premier Stepashin as having warned both candidates that federal troops would be deployed to quell any post- election violence. District campaign headquarters of both runoff candidates were subjected to arson attacks in recent weeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 1999). LF


Four people were killed and 15 injured in a series of bomb explosions in a military settlement on the outskirts of the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz, on 16 May, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. More than 60 people died when a bomb exploded in the town's central market some two months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 1999). LF


A New Zealand citizen employed by the International Red Cross was kidnapped in Nalchik, the capital of the Kabardino-Balkar Republic, on 15 May, AP reported. A Russian woman also seized was subsequently released. LF


A team of French, Belgian, and Turkish military officers who inspected an Armenian army detachment near Yerevan from 11-14 May detected no violations of the limits on military equipment stipulated by the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 15 May, quoting a senior Foreign Ministry official. An earlier inspection of the Russian military base in Armenia similarly found no violations of those limits (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 1999). The Armenian parliament voted in May 1997 to cede part of Armenia's CFE equipment allocation to Russia. LF


Heidar Aliev, who was discharged from the Cleveland Clinic a week ago after heart bypass surgery, flew to London on 16 May, Interfax reported. Aliyev will travel to Turkey on 18 May and return to Baku three days later. LF


The Democratic Bloc, which is composed of 17 opposition parliamentary deputies, issued a statement on 14 May condemning as "reactionary" and "anti-democratic" legislation on the status of municipalities and on municipal elections passed by the parliament in the first reading on 4 May, Turan reported. The statement says that the drafts of those bills differed from the ones that had received a positive assessment from Council of Europe experts before the vote. LF


The Georgian Prosecutor-General's office has completed and forwarded to the Supreme Court the investigation into the 9 February 1998 failed attempt to assassinate Eduard Shevardnadze, Interfax reported. Thirteen people, including Guram Absandze, who served as finance minister in 1990-1991 under President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, face charges of state treason, attempted murder, and forming an anti-government military organization. Senior investigator Gigla Agulashvili told journalists that the accused had prepared the attack in Chechnya. LF


The Abkhaz parliamentary building was damaged by a bomb explosion early on 16 May, but no one was injured, Interfax reported. Two days earlier, a political officer with the Russian peace- keeping troops deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia expressed concern at a series of violent incidents over the past week, which, he said, had augmented tensions in southern Abkhazia. He suggested that the violence is intended to sabotage the ongoing return of displaced persons to Abkhazia, according to ITAR-TASS. LF


The board of directors of the World Bank has approved a $16.5 million loan for Kazakhstan to finance the reform of the country's legal and judicial system, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported on 14 May. The bank also approved a $130,000 grant to help Kazakhstan cope with the millennium bug, according to Interfax. LF


Meeting in Bishkek on 14 May, the Security Council approved a new foreign-policy concept drafted by the Foreign Ministry on the basis of President Askar Akaev's "Silk Road Diplomacy" doctrine, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. That doctrine, published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 10 March, envisages making use of Kyrgyzstan's geographic position to forge harmonious relations with neighboring Central Asian countries, with the states of Eastern and Southeastern Asia, and with Europe. Addressing the council, Akaev called for a concerted and coordinated effort to crack down on drug- related crime, according to Interfax. LF


Officials at Bishkek airport arrested an Uzbek citizen who had agreed to transport a canister of radioactive plutonium to the United Arab Emirates, AP and dpa reported, quoting ITAR-TASS. The man claimed to have been given the material by a stranger who promised him $16,000 to smuggle it out of Kyrgyzstan. LF


In a resolution unanimously adopted on 15 May, the UN Security Council called on the Tajik authorities to speed up implementation of the 1997 peace plan by demobilizing fighters, establishing a "broad political dialogue," and creating conditions for holding a referendum and for parliamentary elections that are due before the end of the year, Reuters and AP reported. The previous day, the Tajik parliament voted unanimously to approve a proposal by President Imomali Rakhmonov to amnesty some 5,500 opposition fighters, Reuters reported. The amnesty was one of a series of demands that United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri had addressed to Rakhmonov earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 1999). LF


In talks with CIS Executive Secretary Yurii Yarov in Ashgabat on 14 May, Saparmurat Niyazov said he considers it inexpedient for his country to join the proposed CIS free trade zone, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Niyazov said Turkmenistan would incur financial losses of approximately $500 million annually by acceding to that agreement. He also noting that equal opportunities do not exist for all CIS member states, citing Russia's rejection of Turkmen proposals for the export of its gas to international markets via Russian pipelines. Niyazov added that a CIS free trade zone would become redundant if CIS states fulfilled their shared ambition of joining the World Trade Organization. LF


On a two-day visit to Dushanbe on 14-15 May, Abdulaziz Komilov held talks with President Rakhmonov on the peace process in Tajikistan and regional security issues, ITAR-TASS reported. Komilov told journalists that Tashkent is monitoring the situation in Tajikistan and "supports the policy conducted by the Tajik president to consolidate the peace process." The Uzbek delegation also met with Tajik officials to assess the implementation of previous bilateral agreements. LF


According to Central Electoral Commission estimates, turnout at the unauthorized presidential polls that finished on 16 May was 53 percent or slightly more than 4 million voters, Belapan reported. The final results are expected on 19 May. Zyanon Paznyak, one of the two presidential candidates, had withdrawn from the vote last week, claiming election fraud (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 14 May 1999). Many commentators see Paznyak's withdrawal as the beginning of a serious split within the Belarusian opposition. Viktar Hanchar, head of the Central Electoral Commission, played down the opposition's differences by saying on 15 May that "the point of the elections was to show that Lukashenka is not legitimate and start his removal. Only after that can we hold free, democratic elections," Reuters reported. JM


Several political parties on 15 May announced their candidates for the 31 October presidential elections, Interfax reported. Leonid Kuchma, the incumbent president, was nominated by the Popular Democratic Party, the Liberal Party, and the Social Democratic Party (United). Oleksandr Moroz was nominated by the Socialist Party, which he leads. His candidacy is also supported by the Social Democratic Party. Petro Symonenko, leader of the Communist Party, was fielded by his own party. Nataliya Vitrenko was also nominated by her Progressive Socialist Party. Former Premier Yevhen Marchuk was proposed by the Social Democratic Union, the Rural Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and the Christian Popular Union. Marchuk has quit the parliamentary caucus of the Social Democratic Party (United), to which he had belonged since its formation last year. Each wing of the split Rukh nominated its own hopeful: Hennadiy Udovenko and Yuriy Kostenko. JM


In Lviv on 15 May, the presidents of nine Central European countries urged the Yugoslav government to accept the G-8 plan for ending the Kosova crisis. That plan calls for the deployment of international peacekeepers, the withdrawal of Serbian forces, and substantial autonomy for Kosova. The heads of states also proposed a "high-level conference on southeastern Europe" to work out a "comprehensive strategy for the stabilization of the entire region through economic reconstruction and the promotion of democracy." The statement--signed by the presidents of Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, and Ukraine--condemned ethnic cleansing in Kosova and deplored civilian deaths because of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. Ukrainian President Kuchma was the only head of state at the Lviv summit to call on NATO to stop its air strikes. JM


At a congress in Tallinn on 15 May, Finance Minister Siim Kallas was re- elected head of the Reform Party, ETA reported. Addressing delegates, he predicted that 1999 will be a year of "saving and reorganizing" while 2000 will be marked by "stabilization." Meanwhile, the Statistics Office has released preliminary data showing that GDP grew by 4 percent last year. JC


Writing in the "International Herald Tribune" on 14 May, Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs asked Russia to "look at itself in the mirror" and Russians "to accept the facts of their own history." "An acknowledgment of Russia's role in Latvian history in this century will defuse many of the sensitive problems related to naturalization of noncitizens," Birkavs wrote, adding that such an approach would "also set a basis for Latvia and Russia to address together opportunities in business." The foreign minister pointed out that Latvia is currently establishing an "international historical commission" that will address such questions. Latvia's prosecutor-general is ready to "follow up on any substantive allegations of war crimes regardless of the nationality of the perpetrators," he added. JC


The Latvian Central Bank has approved a rehabilitation plan for the failed Rigas Komercbanka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March and 28 April 1999) . Under that plan, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the largest shareholder in the Rigas Komercbanka, will invest $9 million (part of which will be a loan), the Latvian government 1 million lats ($1.69 million), and the Bank of Latvia 15.5 million lats. JC


Christian Democracy of the Third Republic, a political party formed and headed by former Solidarity leader and Polish President Lech Walesa, has nominated its leader to run in the 2000 presidential election, Polish media reported on 16 May. Walesa has not yet taken a final decision, but he has said he believes he can defeat the incumbent, Aleksander Kwasniewski, who will almost certainly be the candidate of the Polish left wing. If Walesa decides to run, he will likely compete for votes against Marian Krzaklewski, Solidarity's current leader and head of the Solidarity Electoral Action ruling coalition. JM


Austrian politicians continued to blast the Czech government's decision to complete the Temelin nuclear power plant, saying the decision may complicate the country's accession to the EU, Czech media reported. Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima said the plant is not just an Austrian-Czech issue "but a European matter and part of the admission process to the EU," Czech media reported on 14 May, citing the Austrian daily "Neue Kronen Zeitung." German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin said the Temelin decision "was not a prudent step from the point of view of EU integration," CTK reported on 14 May. Meanwhile, the spokesman for the Czech Security Information Service, Jan Subert, said the service has no information about any threat of terrorist attacks against Temelin, CTK reported on 16 May. Subert was responding to a 15 May report in "Pravo" which cited an unnamed source from the service as saying that Austrian environmental extremists are preparing such an attack in collaboration with their Czech counterparts. Czech and Austrian environmentalists also dismissed the allegations. VG


Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman and his Slovak counterpart, Mikulas Dzurinda, have resolved one of the outstanding issues related to the division of Czechoslovakia, CTK reported on 15 May. The two leaders, meeting in the Slovak town of Smokovec, agreed that the countries' national property funds will carry out an exchange of stakes between the Slovak Vseobecna uverova banka and the Czech Komercni banka at a ratio of 1:1. VG


Rudolf Schuster won the first round of the Slovak presidential election with 47.38 percent of the vote, Slovak media reported. Former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar came in second with 37 percent. Both candidates, who will now advance to a second round of voting on 29 May, won considerably more votes than the last public opinion polls before the election had suggested. Former Czechoslovak diplomat Magda Vasaryova took just 6.6 percent of the vote, Ivan Mjartan 3.6 percent, and Slovak National Party chairman Jan Slota 2.5 percent. The turnout was just below 74 percent, TASR reported on 17 May. The OSCE observers' mission noted that voting took place in accordance with the law, but it added that TV Markiza did not give the same coverage to all candidates. At the same time, the mission added that TV Markiza's coverage did not affect the outcome of the vote. VG


After the results had been released, Schuster said he expects Meciar to engage in a "dirty campaign" in the run-up to the second round of voting, "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 17 May. He also said he was not surprised by the results, TASR reported the same day. Meciar said the elections had take place in a "relatively correct" fashion, according to "Die Presse"on 17 May, cited by TASR. Vasaryova said the first round of voting revealed the polarization of Slovak politics. She also conceded that her performances during the televised debates may have caused her to lose some votes. Mjartan said he would like to stay in politics and build a strong leftist force in Slovakia to counterbalance the country's right-wing movements. Slota said he was disappointed by the results and that he would call on his supporters to back Meciar in the second round. VG


The Slovak delegation to talks on the Nagymaros-Gabcikovo dam on 14 May in Budapest agreed to let Hungary draw up a proposal by September on how to bring about the joint operation of the Gabcikovo hydropower plant without building a second dam on the Danube, Hungarian media reported. The two parties also agreed that Budapest will outline its ideas on matters concerning the environment, flood protection, energy, and shipping. Laszlo Szekely, head of the Hungarian delegation, said Slovakia's readiness to discuss Hungary's position is "a success in itself," as Bratislava had earlier insisted on the implementation of the 1977 bilateral agreement. MSZ


British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote in the "Washington Post" of 17 May that "there have been perhaps hundreds of innocent casualties as a result of NATO action" against Yugoslav military targets. Cook and Albright stressed that they "deeply regret that.... But in a conflict as intense as this, it is impossible to eliminate such casualties." U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen said in Washington the previous day that "for the Serbs to lament publicly about the deaths of these refugees is almost tantamount to [Nazi war criminal] Adolf Eichmann complaining about Allied forces bombing the crematoriums. These are crocodile tears coming out of mass killers." PM


Cohen also said in Washington on 16 May that the 87 displaced Kosovars killed in a NATO air strike on Serbian military targets in Korisa two days previously may have been deliberately brought to that village by Serbian forces as human shields. "I think there's no level to which [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic and his troops won't sink in terms of using refugees as human shields," Cohen argued. Elsewhere, U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering said that he also had heard reports from refugees that civilians were being used as human shields, although there is no independent verification of those claims, AP reported. "It is another tragic example of absolutely outrageous behavior on the part of Milosevic, trying to use innocent [ethnic] Albanians to protect his military forces," Pickering concluded. PM


In London, British Defense Minister John Spellar said on 16 May that Serbian forces were using Korisa at the time of the air strike "as a military camp and command post with military vehicles and artillery present. We do not yet know the reason why civilians were at this location at the time of the attack. But it increasingly appears likely, however, that the civilians were used as human shields. We're aware of continued reports that according to survivors, the civilians were ordered by Serb police to return to the village from the hills where they'd been hiding for several weeks. On their return they were not permitted to live in their homes, instead they were herded into concentrated areas within the village and held there until the NATO attack took place," AP quoted him as saying. PM


In Brussels on 16 May, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said that "we know that we're up against an adversary who has no scruples when it comes to using civilians as human shields." He noted that NATO considers the possible presence of human shields in selecting its targets. Shea also stressed that "we will never, never intentionally target civilians." He concluded, however, that the attacks will continue and that the Atlantic alliance will not be deterred in carrying out its mission by the Serbian use of human shields. PM


President Bill Clinton said in Las Vegas on May 16 that U.S. intervention in Bosnia and Kosova was prompted by a desire to stop "ethnic cleansing [and] mass killing of people because of their ethnic and religious background. If we can't stop that in the underbelly of Europe on the edge of the 21st century, then we're going to have a very difficult world ahead of us because there will be a lot more of it," he continued. Clinton also stressed, however, that "we can't ask people not to fight each other if one group wants to secede and the other doesn't. He added that nor can "[we tell people] what their governmental arrangements have to be." Referring to what he called the "terrible, regrettable" conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Clinton said that it is a cross-border tribal conflict, Reuters reported. "Ten thousand people have been killed there. No one has suggested that some third party should intervene and fight both of them," the president concluded. PM


The members of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff have written to U.S. Secretary of Defense Cohen that ground troops must be committed in the conflict in Kosova to "guarantee fulfillment of the administration's political objectives," "Newsweek" reported on 17 May. The military leaders added that "a ground war would have to commence by the beginning of August, and the forces required must start assembling by the beginning of June" if the hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced persons are to be back in their homes before winter. PM


More than 800 Albanians arrived on 16 May at the Macedonian border crossing of Blace, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond said that most of the refugees are from Ferizaj. He suggested that this is only the beginning of a new wave of refugees from Kosova. Redmond told Reuters that "when the word spreads that the border is open, we are going to see more and more can easily be in the tens of thousands, it could be more than 100,000." Refugees told AP that there are constant food shortages in Kosova and that Serbian forces conduct sporadic killings. One refugee reported that Serbian forces separated the men from the women in her village and gunned down about 40 males. Refugees also said that Serbian shopkeepers refused to sell food to ethnic Albanians. FS


Serbian forces and Kosova Liberation Army fighters exchanged fire inside Albania for about five hours in the village of Zogaj, near Tropoja, on 16 May, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Tirana. Government officials in Tirana said that Serbian forces shelled the village of Dobruna in the Has Mountains and that women and children left the village, while the men there have taken up fighting positions. Nearby, Albanian border guards and Serbian forces exchanged fire in the village of Letaj. The previous day, NATO jets pounded targets in the village of Zhur, on the Kosovar side of the Kukes region. FS


Only about a dozen refugees arrived in Kukes over the weekend, apparently signaling a virtual halt to the flow of refugees, Reuters reported on 15 May. In Tirana, Information Minister Musa Ulqini said on 15 May that there are currently about 80,000 refugees still in Kukes, despite UNHCR efforts to evacuate refugees from the town. Elsewhere, AP reported that the only international agency bringing humanitarian aid to about 3,000 refugees in Bajram Curri is the Irish aid group Concern. Other agencies avoid the remote town owing to frequent armed robberies in the area. FS


Refugees arriving in Albania on 16 May said that Yugoslav army forces ordered about 150 ethnic Albanian males of military age to get off busses en route to the Albanian border crossing of Hani i Hotit, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Tirana. Refugees said that the males were taken away in the direction of Ulcinj. It is unclear what happened to them. The refugees were part of a group of some 400 people from the areas of Klina and Peja. FS


After the Yugoslav army moved to close the border with Albania, it took control of the western frontier with Bosnia, AP reported from Podgorica on 17 May. Two days' earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Dragisa Burzan said that the army is preparing a "creeping coup" aimed at ousting the democratic government of Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic through a series of incremental steps. On 14 May, Djukanovic said in Paris that he condemns Milosevic's policies. He argued that Milosevic seeks "to create internal conflict in Montenegro, but we won't fall into that trap because our priority is to maintain peace in the country." In related news, the Yugoslav navy on 16 May prevented a cargo ship from docking at Montenegro's port of Bar with a cargo of much-needed flour. PM


Bosnian federal Prime Minister Edhem Bicakcic, who is a Muslim, and Deputy Prime Minister Dragan Covic, who is an ethnic Croat, agreed on 14 May in Sarajevo on a package of concrete measures aimed at reviving the economy. The measures deal with accelerating privatization, strengthening the currency, reforming several socialist-era economic institutions, and establishing an integrated railway system. Western observers have frequently criticized what they regard as pervasive corruption and bureaucracy in Bosnia. The observers note that reform must take place quickly because Bosnia will need to attract more foreign investors in the coming months once many postwar aid programs come to an end. PM


A "RFE/RL Newsline" report on 14 May was based on a source that did not make clear that Romania has agreed to permit international FM broadcasting to Yugoslavia from its territory and that this FM net carries programs to Yugoslavia 24 hours a day from RFE/RL, VOA, Deutsche Welle, and the BBC.


At a 15- 16 May congress in Miercurea-Ciuc, the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) re-elected chairman Bela Marko for another four-year term, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Marko criticized Romania's governing coalition, in which the UDMR is a partner, for not following its program with regard to minority issues. He also acknowledged that the status of minorities in Romania, while still not "perfect," has significantly improved over the last decade. The congress, which was marked by heated debates between "radical" and "moderate" wings, modified the UDMR's statute and program to include a "strategic partnership" with Romanians from Transylvania. The congress also adopted a statement describing the NATO campaign in Yugoslavia as "inevitable and justified." ZSM


Romanian President Emil Constantinescu and Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov agreed on 14 May to build a bridge linking their countries over the Danube River at Vidin-Calafat, BTA reported. Constantinescu said the conflict in Yugoslavia changed Romania's views about building a second bridge linking his country with Bulgaria. He also said Bulgaria will have to arrange financing for the new bridge. The two presidents, who met at the Central European summit in Lviv, said they will ask their transport ministers to hold urgent meetings on the problem of Danube shipping. In other news, the foreign ministers of Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece met in Sofia on 14-15 May to discuss the conflict in Yugoslavia. The ministers said the conflict should be resolved by political means and without any border changes. They said any solution should be followed by a Balkan stability pact to help integrate the region into European structures. VG


Bulgarian Ambassador to Moldova Petar Vodenski said his country's decision to apply visa restrictions to Moldovans is not related to Chisinau's refusal to allow Bulgaria to transport spent nuclear materials through Moldova, BASA-Press reported on 14 May. Vodenski also denied that visa requirements were related to demands by the Bulgarian minority in the Taraclia district of Moldova for autonomy. He said the visa decision is part of Bulgaria's attempts to bring its laws into line with EU standards. On 12 May, Moldovan government adviser Nicolae Chirtoaca rejected that explanation, saying Bulgaria had not applied visa restrictions on Ukrainian and Russian travelers. Chirtoaca said the "true motive" for the restrictions was related to Moldova's stance on the used nuclear materials. VG


by Jan Maksymiuk

As NATO continues to bomb Yugoslavia, the chances that Belarusian democrats will be able to turn the political situation in Belarus to their advantage are becoming increasingly remote. Thanks to Belarus's official propaganda machine, NATO's air strikes in Yugoslavia have become a powerful stimulus for advancing President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's idea of "Slavic unity" and reintegration with Russia. Russia's Yegor Gaidar has complained that by dropping bombs on Yugoslavia, NATO is bombing Russian democracy. That statement is even more true with regard to Belarus and its democratic opposition.

What seemed a far-fetched idea when first voiced by ultranationalist Serbian Deputy Premier Vojislav Seselj in Belarus in May 1998 has come true one year later: the Yugoslav parliament recently applied for membership in the Belarus-Russia Union and was supported in its bid by the Russian State Duma, not to mention the Belarusian legislature, which is subservient to Lukashenka. Most would argue that joining the " Slavic union" was simply a propaganda exercise on the part of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic as he and his regime face international isolation. Doubtless such is the case. But that move has also added a dimension and given increased publicity to what initially looked like a whim primarily of Belarus's authoritarian president.

It is hardly conceivable that the idea of Slavic unity idea would ever appeal to Poland and the Czech Republic, which are now safely in NATO, or to Slovenia and Bulgaria, both yearning to be there as soon as possible. But Lukashenka's appeals are intended primarily for the ears of Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians--the "East Slavic core" of a possible union state that he so much covets. The NATO action in Yugoslavia has reanimated and strongly inflamed Soviet stereotypes about the "NATO aggressive block." Lukashenka's bid to transform what he calls today's "unipolar world" into a bipolar one--as, for example, in the Brezhnev era--is finding more and more backers in the former Soviet republics. As for Lukashenka, he continues to consistently promote himself as a "tough" leader who can make this transformation happen.

Lukashenka's propaganda campaign has three major pillars: the Belarus-Russia Union (which he hopes will expand to include other countries) should counterbalance NATO by building up its military power; both Belarus and Russia, while remaining sovereign states, should delegate extensive executive powers to the Union leadership in the sphere of military and economic policies; and the Belarus-Russian Union should help Yugoslavia militarily.

In their coverage of the Kosova conflict, Belarus's official media provide graphic examples of how "total propaganda" techniques are utilized to achieve Lukashenka's political goals. The coverage is extremely biased--there is virtually no reports on the problem of Albanian refugees and, consequently, no reference whatsoever to the reason for NATO's intervention in Yugoslavia. The most "insightful" official explanation states that Yugoslavia can be found guilty only of desiring to exist "according to its own laws." Addressing flood-stricken villagers in Brest Oblast, Lukashenka explained NATO intervention in Yugoslavia even more simplistically: Yugoslavia is being attacked because it is one of the "richest regions [where] people mine gold and other precious metals."

In this atmosphere of prejudice and manipulation, Belarus's official media present the Belarusian opposition as a West-sponsored group of nationalists backing NATO intervention in Belarus. When former Premier Mikhail Chyhir, a candidate in the opposition presidential elections, somewhat carelessly told journalists, that the situation in Belarus may worsen to the point where it will be necessary to bring in peacekeeping troops, Lukashenka's propaganda machine did not miss its chance. Chyhir's statement was interpreted as an open invitation for NATO to bomb Belarus. According to one of the five main tenets of classical propaganda, the so- called "rule of orchestration," the message was subject to endless variation, including condemnation by Lukashenka. And when Chyhir was subsequently jailed on charges of embezzlement, his image in the media had been sufficiently sullied to "officially justify" his arrest and possibly enlist public moral support for this measure.

The first piece of bad news for the Belarusian opposition is that its orientation toward Western democratic values has become very vulnerable to propaganda attacks that claim such values have to be supported by bloodshed. When U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Daniel Speckhard said during his short trip to Minsk that the Belarusian authorities should not resort to force in dealing with the opposition, the official response was damning: "If the U.S. path to democracy and integration leads through bombing and destroying a civilian population in an independent European state, we advise Mr. Speckhard that he should [promote] something else in his own homeland," Belarusian Television commented earlier this month.

The second piece of bad news is that by pressing so hard to achieve a satisfying solution to the Kosova problem, European democracies are tending to ease their pressure on the Lukashenka regime. That, at least, is how the situation is perceived by many Belarusian commentators and oppositionists, who fear that the prospect of Belarusian democracy--a minor problem in comparison with the Kosova crisis--will be sacrificed on the altar of a Kosova solution. According to Belarusian pessimists, the arrest of Chyhir and the OSCE's refusal to send observers to the opposition presidential elections in Belarus are the first signs of such a sacrifice.

Moreover, it would doubtless be an irony of history if by seeking to depose one dictator in the Balkans, Europe helped another one to consolidate his hold over Belarus.