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Newsline - September 6, 1999




SKURATOV LINKS YELTSIN TO BRIBERY SCANDAL

Yurii Skuratov, who was suspended as prosecutor-general in May but who continues in office because of parliamentary moves, told AP on 3 September that charges against President Boris Yeltsin and his family have an evidentiary basis. He said that he cannot understand "the president burying his head in the sand. Attempts to hush things up, to prevent the investigation from getting to the end will only fuel all kinds of allegations, gossip and inventions." Meanwhile, Swiss businessman Beghjet Paccioli told "Segodnya" that prosecutors have specifically sought evidence against Yeltsin and his family, a charge that investigator Georgii Chuglazov confirmed, Interfax reported. PG

BORODIN SAYS YELTSIN FULLY AWARE OF SCANDAL

Kremlin manager Pavel Borodin told Ekho Moskvy on 4 September that Yeltsin has been kept fully briefed about the money-laundering scandal. Borodin added that it is his own view that the entire set of charges is simply a political game. Yeltsin, he continued, believes that the scandal is intended to deliver "a blow against him personally" and has urged his entourage to exercise "patience." Borodin described the charges as "gibberish" and a reflection of the absence of a political culture that places limits on how to conduct political contests. PG

PUTIN SAYS SCANDAL MUST NOT DAMAGE U.S.-RUSSIA TIES

Speaking on Russian Public Television (ORT) on 5 September, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that the money-laundering scandal must not be allowed to damage relations between Moscow and Washington, AP reported. "Every Russian businessman should not be considered...a Mafioso or connected with the mafia," he said. And he added that "it is not likely" that either Yeltsin or his family is guilty of receiving kickbacks from Mabatex, as some media accounts have charged. PG

FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS RUSSIA HAS NO NEED TO DEFEND ITSELF

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 3 September that his country "does not intend to defend itself in the wake of media publications in some countries," Interfax reported. "We have no reason to explain ourselves. As for Russia's good name," Ivanov said, "it has one." PG

YAVLINSKII BACKS CUTTING OIL EXPORT DUTIES AS RESPONSE TO SCANDAL CHARGES

Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii said that Moscow should respond to what he called the "baseless and indiscriminate scare campaign" against Russia by slashing or even abolishing oil export duties, Interfax reported on 3 September. He said the Russian government should now "offer real support to leading Russian companies" in the wake of the money-laundering charges. In other comments, Yavlinskii said that the situation now is similar to the one a few years ago: then the entire world press was "euphoric about the imaginary successes of Russian reform." Now, this media "is equally unanimous in its hysterical proclamation that all of Russia is a kleptocracy." Both perceptions are equidistant from reality, Yavlinskii argued. PG

YELTSIN APPOINTS TV BOSS TO HIS STAFF

President Yeltsin on 3 September named ORT Director-General Igor Shabdurasulov as first deputy head of the presidential administration. Shabdurasulov held that post until he became head of the television network in October 1998. He will be replaced at ORT by Konstantin Ernst. PG

PUTIN PLEDGES RESPECT FOR FREEDOM OF SPEECH

Speaking on the 95th anniversary of the formation of the ITAR-TASS news agency, Prime Minister Putin said the Russian government "will back freedom of speech in every way" and will "not allow undercover levers such as tax limitations, fire safety regulations, or sanitary rules to be used to restrict that freedom," ITAR-TASS reported. The prime minister added that the government "will also try to do all in its power to ensure the rights of citizens to receive objective and reliable information." Meanwhile, the St. Petersburg television and radio company was allowed to resume broadcasting after it said it will obey existing regulations on the coverage of political actions, Interfax reported on 3 September. PG

LIVSHITS SAYS IMF LOVED RUSSIA TOO MUCH, FORGAVE TOO LITTLE

In an article in Turin's "La Stampa" on 3 September, Aleksandr Livshits said the IMF's biggest mistake in dealing with Russia was that "it loved us too much and forgave us too little." In other comments, the Russian envoy to the G-8 acknowledged that no one knows the real amount of capital flight from Russia. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said on 3 September that the next tranche of the IMF loan to Moscow may be delayed because the fund's board may not meet until October, AP reported. PG

MOSCOW WON'T TAKE SPECIAL STEPS TO DEFEND RUBLE

Finance Minister Kasyanov said on 3 September that Moscow will not take any extra steps to defend the ruble, Interfax reported. He pointed to the rising Russian trade surplus as one of the reasons he is confident that the ruble will remain within its specified range. While Russian exports fell by 5 percent in the first eight months of 1999, imports declined by 45 percent, leaving Moscow with a large trade surplus that is expected to support current exchange rates. PG

TAX COLLECTIONS SURGE TO RECORD LEVELS

Aleksandr Skvortsev, an adviser to the Tax Ministry, said on 3 September that last month taxes worth 30.834 billion rubles ($1.25 billion) were collected, "the highest figure in the history of Russia's tax agencies," Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Tax Minister Aleksandr Pochinok said the authorities should be able to collect some 370 billion rubles during the next budget year. Also on 3 September, the Federal Tax Police announced that they are now investigating 14 oil companies for possible tax delinquencies. PG

SOME 1,000 RUSSIAN BANKS SAID TO BE PROFITABLE NOW

Vladimir Smenkovskii, the director of research at the Russian Central Bank, told the Moscow Invest 1999 Forum on 3 September that up to 1,000 Russian banks are now turning a profit, Interfax reported. But on 4 September, Central Bank Deputy Chairman Georgii Lutonvskii said that the first stage of restructuring SBS-AGRO Bank will cost approximately 6 billion rubles ($240 million). PG

COMMUNISTS, AGRARIANS, PATRIOTS ANNOUNCE FORMATION OF 'FOR VICTORY' BLOC

The KPRF, some Agrarians, and the Patriots have formally announced the setting up of the For Victory electoral alliance, Russian agencies reported on 4 September. At its extraordinary congress the same day, the KPRF announced its program. According to party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, the program seeks to eliminate "the consequences of the severe genocide" perpetrated against the Russian people, improve law enforcement, protect all social groups, and cooperate with foreign governments in order to improve the life of average Russians, Interfax reported. PG

RUSSIA HELPS SERBIA, HURTS BOSNIA

Although Serbian officials said Moscow continues to be in "scrupulous compliance" with the UN-imposed arms embargo, Moscow has moved to help Belgrade by making preparations to reschedule its debts for natural gas, Interfax reported. At the same time, however, Gazexport, the export arm of Gazprom, has cut off supplies to Bosnia's Muslim-Croatian federation because the latter has failed to pay its gas bills in full this year. PG

IVANOV DOUBLY UNHAPPY WITH KOSOVA EXPERIMENT

Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov said in Tbilisi on 3 September that he is not only unhappy about the policy NATO adopted in Kosova but is categorically opposed to any "transfer of the Kosovo experiment" to other conflict situations, Interfax reported. Ivanov said those who think that the Kosova experiment was successful are "totally wrong" because in fact it had made the situation there worse. He added that any repetition of such actions would be extremely dangerous. PG

RUSSIAN FORCES IN FAR EAST DOWN BY 200,000 SINCE 1992

Defense Minister Igor Sergeev told Interfax on 3 September that Moscow has reduced its forces in the Far East by 200,000. He said that more than 200 formations have been disbanded, 600 missiles scrapped, and 50 ships mothballed. Such actions represent a renunciation of any moves "that could provoke our neighbors to counteractions," Sergeev concluded. PG

IRAN SEEKS RENEWED MILITARY TIES WITH MOSCOW

Mehdi Safrari, Iran's ambassador in Moscow, told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 4 September that Iran would like to see a renewal of military and technical cooperation with Russia "regardless of what anyone else thinks," Interfax reported. Without naming the U.S., Safrari said countries that "used to have no presence in Central Asia and in the Caucasus" have declared these regions "zones of national interest" and are seeking to "destroy" cooperation between Iran and Russia. PG

FSB SAYS 'EXTREMIST GROUPS' EXIST IN RUSSIA

The Federal Security Service said on 3 September that extremist groups exist "and not only in Moscow," ITAR-TASS reported. FSB spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich said that because such groups "can turn into criminal gangs at any moment, we are constantly watching their activities." Among the groups that fall into this category are the Revolutionary Military Council of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and the Satanists. The latter had threatened to explode bombs in the Russian capital on the 852nd anniversary of Moscow on 4 September. PG

NOVGOROD GOVERNOR EASILY WINS RE-ELECTION...

Mikhail Prusak scored a resounding victory in the 5 September gubernatorial ballot in Novgorod Oblast. According to preliminary results cited by ITAR-TASS the following day, the reform-minded incumbent governor polled 91 percent of the vote. Together, the other three candidates mustered only 3 percent. Turnout was 50 percent. JC

...AS DOES HIS OMSK COUNTERPART

Also on 5 September, incumbent Governor Leonid Polezhaev easily beat out his main challenger for that post, Aleksandr Kravets, the regional Communist head and the chief ideologist of the Russian Communist Party. ITAR-TASS cited preliminary results as showing 57 percent of the electorate backing Polezhaev and 26 percent Kravets. Turnout is estimated to have exceeded 50 percent. In both Novgorod and Omsk, at least 25 percent of the electorate must vote for the ballot to be valid, and a candidate requires only a simple majority to win. JC

NEW INCURSION FROM CHECHNYA INTO DAGHESTAN

The estimated 2,000 militants who congregated on the border between Chechnya and Daghestan late last week crossed into Daghestan early on 5 September, engaging Daghestani and Russian Interior Ministry troops in the Kazbek and Novolaksk Raions. The invading force, which sources in Makhachkala told ITAR- TASS is predominantly composed of Chechens, seized the villages of Gamiyakh, Duchi, Akhar, and Shushiya and triggered a wave of fugitives from Novolaksk to Khasavyurt, Interfax reported. Fighting also continued on 5 September near the villages of Chabanmakhi and Karamakhi. The previous evening, a bomb exploded in the town of Buinaksk, killing some 36 people and injuring 110. On 4 September, the Russian Defense Ministry again assumed control of military operations in Daghestan once week after it had handed over that control to the Interior Ministry. LF

CHECHEN PRESIDENT APPEALS FOR INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION

In a 4 September statement, Aslan Maskhadov called on international organizations and world leaders "to take a resolute step in support of the Chechen people and recognize the Chechen Republic," Interfax reported. Maskhadov added that international recognition of Chechnya is an essential precondition for establishing positive relations between Moscow and Grozny and stabilizing the overall situation in the Caucasus. He accused Russia of bringing pressure to bear on Chechnya through economic sanctions and supporting the activities of criminal gangs operating on Chechen territory. LF

PUTIN SAYS MOSCOW WILL RE-ESTABLISH AUTHORITY IN DAGHESTAN

In an interview with ORT on 5 September, Prime Minister Putin said Moscow will re-establish its authority in highland Daghestan, where, he acknowledged, "no Russian authority has existed for almost two years." He added that such "a challenge to Russia cannot be tolerated any longer." The same day, Colonel General Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov arrived in Daghestan to take control of Russian forces, which continued to face fierce opposition. Earlier, Putin participated in a high-level conference in Moscow to consider how to respond to the deteriorating situation in the North Caucasus. PG

KARACHAEVO-CHERKESS RIVALS MEET IN MOSCOW...

Vladimir Semenov, whose victory in the 16 May runoff presidential poll was formally recognized as valid by the republic's Supreme Court late last month, and his defeated rival, Cherkessk Mayor Stanislav Derev, met twice in Moscow on 4 September with Prime Minister Putin and presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin, Interfax reported. During those talks, Derev reportedly rejected a compromise solution whereby Semenov would assume his duties as acting head of the republic and Derev would become acting prime minister pending a decision by the Russian Supreme Court on the validity of the runoff poll. That court had referred the dispute back to the Karachaevo-Cherkess republican court in late July. LF

...FOLLOWING MORE VIOLENCE IN CHERKESSK

Twenty-six people were injured, some seriously, when supporters of Semenov and Derev clashed on 3-4 September in Cherkessk, the capital of the republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Derev's supporters launched a protest demonstration on 27 August after the republic's Supreme Court formally recognized the outcome of the 16 May runoff election. Police patrols in Cherkessk were increased after the 3 September fighting, and a 100-strong OMON unit was dispatched from St. Petersburg to Cherkessk. Also on 3 September, the International Cherkess Association, which has been accused of spearheading the campaign for a separate Cherkess Autonomous Oblast, issued a statement calling on all religious, public, and political organizations in the North Caucasus to condemn Wahhabism, according to Caucasus Press. LF




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRMAN

Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian met in Yerevan on 3 September with Carey Cavanaugh, the newly appointed U.S. co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Cavanaugh told journalists after those talks that he believes the talks between Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Heidar Aliev, that took place in July and August in Geneva "have shown a commitment by both sides" to finding a solution to the deadlocked Karabakh conflict. LF

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS ARMENIA...

Igor Ivanov arrived in Yerevan on 3 September to meet with Kocharian, Oskanian, and Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian. Ivanov later positively assessed all aspects of Russian-Armenian relations but added that "more could be done" to expand those ties, especially in the trade and economic sphere. Ivanov also welcomed the recent direct talks between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan as "the best way" to begin looking for a solution to the Karabakh conflict. At the same time, he stressed that the Minsk Group should find a way to include representatives of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in the peace process, according to Interfax. He argued that a final settlement to the conflict must include guarantees of the enclave's security and unimpeded overland communications with Armenia but must not impinge on Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. Ivanov handed Kocharian an invitation from Russian President Boris Yeltsin to visit Russia, which Kocharian accepted, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

...AND GEORGIA

The next day, Ivanov held talks in Tbilisi with his Georgian counterpart, Irakli Menagharishvili, parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania, and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. All three Georgian officials agreed with Ivanov's assessment that the present state of bilateral relations is unsatisfactory. Revaz Adamia, chairman of the parliamentary Committee on Defense and Security, told Interfax on 5 September that while Ivanov's visit was "very important," it failed to resolve serious differences between Moscow and Tbilisi. Zhvania told Ivanov that Georgia wants the Russian military presence in Georgia reduced in line with the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, while Ivanov advocated raising the level of bilateral military cooperation to that between Russia and Armenia, according to Caucasus Press. Ivanov assured Shevardnadze of Russia's willingness to play a more active role in resolving the Abkhaz conflict. But Ivanov later told journalists that Moscow considers unacceptable any "peace enforcement" operation in Abkhazia comparable to that in Kosova, Interfax reported. Shevardnadze has repeatedly called for such intervention. LF

PUBLICATION OF ARMENIAN NEWSPAPER SUSPENDED...

Nikol Pashinian, editor of the newspaper "Oragir" and its successor, "Haykakan zhamanak," told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau that Armenia's main publishing house had informed him that the 4 September issue of "Haykakan zhamanak" would not be printed because of a paper shortage. On 31 August, a Yerevan district court sentenced Pashinian to one year in jail on charges of obstructing the police, refusing to print a refutation of materials published in "Oragir," and slander (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 2 September 1999). LF

...AS JOURNALISTS, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS PROTEST SENTENCE ON EDITOR

Some 50 journalists and human rights activists staged a silent protest close to the presidential palace in Yerevan on 3 September against the jail sentence handed down to Pashinian, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The protesters termed the sentencing a threat to freedom of speech in Armenia. Meeting with the protesters, President Kocharian declined to condemn the verdict or to interfere in the workings of the judiciary. Kocharian suggested that Pashinian should apologize to the persons, including National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who had brought lawsuits against him. Pashinian later said he sees no reason why he should do so. LF

DEFEATED AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES CALL FOR REPEAT ELECTIONS

Etibar Mamedov, Nizami Suleymanov, and Ashraf Mehtiev issued a joint statement in Baku on 4 September calling on the UN and all international organizations to withdraw their recognition of the validity of the October 1998 Azerbaijani presidential election results, Turan reported. The three opposition party leaders called for repeat elections to be held under UN supervision and argued that criminal proceedings should be brought against Central Electoral Commission chairman Djafar Veliev. They claim that Veliev himself admitted that the poll outcome was falsified. The Central Electoral Commission has denied that charge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 1999). LF

BAKU MAYOR BANS PLANNED DEMONSTRATIONS BY AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION

Rafael Allakhverdiev has issued a decree prohibiting mass political demonstrations in the Azerbaijani capital between 10-20 September, Turan reported on 3 September. The decree invoked the law on freedom of meetings, which allows for such a ban during international events in the capital. Baku is to host a celebration to mark the signing in September 1994 of the first major oil contract with Western companies. The 23 political parties aligned in the Movement for Democracy had planned to begin mass actions in Baku on 10 September to protest what they term President Aliev's "defeatist" Karabakh policy. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT EXHORTS FOREIGN INVESTORS

Speaking at a celebration in Atyrau on 3 September to mark the centenary of Kazakhstan's oil industry, President Nursultan Nazarbaev called upon international investors to respect their commitments to specific projects, Interfax reported. Nazarbaev also invited international investment in pipeline projects to export Kazakhstan's oil, terming the Caspian Pipeline Consortium "Kazakhstan's first hope." CPC Director Viktor Fedotov said that the pipeline, which runs from Tengiz to Novorossiisk, will be completed, as planned, by 30 June 2001. Nazarbaev also said that Moscow and Astana are close to agreement on increasing the annual throughput capacity of the Atyrau-Samara pipeline from 10 million to 15 million tons. He added that Russia and Kazakhstan are also discussing a project to export Kazakh oil via Baltic ports. LF

KYRGYZ FORCES EXPEL SOME UZBEK GUERRILLAS...

General Bolot Djanuzakov, who heads the Defense and Security department within the Kyrgyz Presidential Administration, told journalists in Bishkek on 4 September that earlier that day, Kyrgyz government troops succeeded in dislodging a group of ethnic Uzbek guerrillas from the Chon-Alai Raion of Osh Oblast, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. The militants crossed into the Djirgatal district of neighboring Tajikistan, taking five Kyrgyz policemen whom they had seized two weeks earlier, Djanuzakov added. He said the militants have also surrendered control of two villages in Batken Raion, leaving only one village there held by 400 guerrillas. That group is still holding hostage four Japanese geologists and a Kyrgyz Interior Ministry general. LF

...WHO INFORM KYRGYZ LEADERSHIP OF THEIR DEMANDS

The rebels faxed their demands to the Kyrgyz leadership on 3 September, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported the next day, citing the presidential press service. In that message, which was written in Russian, Zubair ibn Abdurrakim, chairman of the political council of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, announced the beginning of a "Holy War" against Uzbekistan with the aim of forcing the release of 50,000 Muslims held in Uzbek prisons and the reopening of thousands of mosques and religious training institutions. The statement calls on Bishkek to allow the guerrillas to proceed unimpeded to Uzbekistan and not to abet the Uzbek authorities or hand over to "[Uzbek President Islam] Karimov's executioners" Uzbeks who fled to Kyrgyzstan to escape persecution. The statement threatened to launch a holy war against the Kyrgyz leadership should it fail to comply with those demands. LF

TURKMENISTAN, IRAN MOVE AHEAD ON BORDER DAM PROJECT

During talks in Ashgabat last week, Turkmen government and Iranian energy officials approved a feasibility study and reached agreement on financing construction of a reservoir and dam on the Tedzhen River, which marks the border between the two countries, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 September. The two countries will contribute equally to the estimated $167 million project, which they first agreed on in May 1996. The reservoir will have a capacity of 1.2 billion cubic meters, making it possible to irrigate some 20,000 hectares of land on each side of the border, according to Interfax. LF

UZBEK PRESIDENT OPENS ISLAMIC UNIVERSITY IN TASHKENT

Islam Karimov attended the opening ceremony on 3 September of the Tashkent Islamic University, which was established under a presidential decree, Interfax reported. Karimov said that the university will teach the history and philosophy of Islam, Islamic law, economy, and natural sciences, noting that instruction will be based "on original sources handed down from [our] ancestors." Karimov added that inadequate knowledge of Islam "results in delusions among young people and tragic consequences." LF




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION PICKETS RUSSIAN EMBASSY OVER INTEGRATION

Some 20 members of the Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) picketed the Russian Embassy in Minsk for four days last week, protesting official Minsk's integration policy. "The Belarusians have made their choice and do not want to return to the Eurasian empire anymore. There is no place in Russia for Belarusian culture and spirituality in general," the protesters said in a petition to the Russian government. In another petition, the BNF urged the U.S. government not to allow the "incorporation" of Belarus into Russia. "A loss of our independence would lead to disastrous consequences in the center of Europe," the document warned. JM

WORLD BANK APPROVES $100 MILLION LOAN TO UKRAINE

The World Bank has approved a $100 million loan to Ukraine, which is to be released this week as part of a $300 million aid package, Ukrainian Television reported on 4 September. Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko said the cabinet will use the loan to pay off some wage and pension arrears. The World Bank's decision is a good news for Ukraine ahead of the 7 September IMF meeting to decide on a $180 million tranche of a $2.6 billion loan program to Ukraine. JM

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER IN KYIV

Eduard Kukan was in Kyiv last week to meet with his Ukrainian counterpart, Borys Tarasyuk, and President Leonid Kuchma, Ukrainian and Slovak media reported. Both sides agreed to hold an "honest competition" for the one temporary position on the UN Security Council in 2000-2001. Kukan said both sides are also interested in ending the "trade and economic stagnation" between their countries. The two leaders agreed to set up a working group to examine the Slovak plan to introduce visa requirements for Ukrainians visiting Slovakia. Bratislava has taken no decision on this issue, but Kukan commented that Slovakia's visa policy must be harmonized with EU norms. JM

UKRAINIAN INDEPENDENT TELEVISION SUED FOR TAX EVASION

The State Tax Administration has sued the independent television station STB for evading taxes, overestimating its expenses, and concealing incomes, AP and the "Eastern Economic Daily" reported. According to the tax administration, STB paid 19,000 hryvni ($4,200) in taxes on advertisement income in June, instead of some 1 million hryvni. STB denies these accusations, saying tax inspectors have incorrectly calculated its income. It claims that both the tax inspections and the freezing of its bank account (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August 1999)are intended to put pressure on the station ahead of the presidential election. JM

KUCHMA'S MAJOR RIVAL TO RECEIVE MEDICAL TREATMENT IN GERMANY

Former speaker Oleksandr Moroz, a major candidate in the 31 October presidential elections, has left for Germany to undergo medical treatment, Moroz's election staff reported on 3 September. Ukrainian media reported that Moroz is suffering from kidney problems. JM

GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS BALTIC COUNTERPARTS

Joschka Fischer met with his Baltic counterparts--Toomas Hendrik Ilves (Estonia), Indulis Berzins (Latvia), and Algirdas Saudargas (Lithuania)--on 3 September in Tallinn. Their talks focused on EU enlargement, and Fischer reaffirmed Germany's support to the EU bids of all three countries, ETA reported. With regard to Latvia and Lithuania being included in the fast-track group for EU membership, Fischer said he "hopes the EU's December summit in Helsinki will bring the awaited result." In addition, Fischer stressed Germany's support for NATO's open-door policy. Bilateral meetings were also held between Fischer and the three Baltic ministers. MH

SURPRISING SECOND QUARTER RESULT FOR ESTONIA

Estonia's GDP in the second quarter of 1999 fell by 2.4 percent, according to preliminary data from the Statistical Department. That figure came as a surprise since most analysts had predicted a drop of 3-4 percent. After the release of this latest data, analysts quickly explained that Estonia has turned around its economy following the Russian economic collapse. "It seems that the bottom has been reached and the figures will start improving," Jelena Normak, an analyst with Uhispank, was quoted by ETA as saying. First quarter GDP dropped by 5.6 percent. MH

PRIVATIZATION OF LATVIAN SHIPPING COMPANY STALLS AGAIN

Economics Minister Vladimirs Makarovs has blasted the draft privatisation conditions for the Latvian Shipping Company. Accusing the Latvian Privatisation Agency of producing a document full of errors, Makarovs said "the question is [whether] this is negligence or purposeful action so the regulations don't work," BNS reported. Immediately the Privatisation Agency delayed the review of the sell-off. Agency head Janis Naglis noted that this postponement will jeopardize the completion of the shipping company's privatization this year. MH

GERMANY CHANCELLOR BACKS POLAND'S 'AMBITIOUS' EU ENTRY BID

Gerhard Schroeder said in Warsaw on 3 September that Poland's goal to join the EU in 2003 is "ambitious" but that Germany will do everything possible to make this date a reality. Schroeder, meeting with Premier Jerzy Buzek and President Aleksander Kwasniewski, voiced his "sorrow and shame" over Nazi Germany's attack on Poland 60 years ago. JM

POLISH FARMERS MARK HARVEST FESTIVAL, ANNOUNCE PROTEST

Some 100,000 farmers attended this year's harvest festival at the Jasna Gora shrine in Czestochowa on 5 September. Premier Jerzy Buzek told the farmers that the government's "pact for the countryside" currently being drawn up "augurs a good future for agriculture." Meanwhile, radical farmers' leader Andrzej Lepper said the previous day that he expects 100,000 people to take part in a demonstration scheduled in Warsaw for 24 September. "This is not a question of changing the government or reconstructing it, this is a question of changing [the country's] social and economic policy," he noted. JM

CZECH OPPOSITION LEADER ADVISES PREMIER TO SEEK 'TREATMENT'

Responding to Prime Minister Milos Zeman's 3 September statement, Freedom Union Deputy Chairman Karel Kuehnl said that if the premier fails to apologize to his party, the public will conclude that the premier "normally lies, is afraid to face the consequences of his own words, and therefore shows a great deal of political cowardice." In such a case, Kuehnl said, one way out for Zeman would be to resign in order to "undergo certain treatment." Zeman said in his 3 September statement that he suspects the Freedom Union to be behind the so-called Bamberg affair (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 September 1999). Zeman told journalists that his suspicions are based on the fact that at the time the affair was publicized, Freedom Union leader Jan Ruml was interior minister, CTK reported. MS

SLOVAKIA, ROMANIA RULE OUT TERRITORIAL AUTONOMY FOR ETHNIC MINORITIES

Romanian Premier Radu Vasile said on 3 September during a three-day visit to Slovakia said there are "many similarities" between the two countries' policies toward national minorities. He noted that both Romania and Slovakia recently approved laws making possible the use of minority languages in contacts with the authorities. And he said that "Romania, just like Slovakia, does not accept the possibility of allowing territorial autonomy" for ethnic minorities, Radio Twist reported. Also on 3 September, Vasile and his Slovak counterpart, Mikulas Dzurinda, signed an agreement on cooperation in tourism. The Romanian premier said he is dissatisfied with the level of bilateral trade and, in particular, with Romania's deficit in trade with Slovakia. He suggested that the deficit could be balanced by deliveries of Romanian-made ARO cars, Radio Bucharest and SITA reported. MS

OSCE COMMISSIONER LAUDS SLOVAK MINORITY LANGUAGE LAW

At the end of his two-day visit to Slovakia, OSCE Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel told journalists that the new Slovak law on the use of minority languages in contacts with the authorities is "a considerable step forward" and is likely to improve relations between ethnic minorities and the Slovak majority, SITA reported. Van der Stoel heard complaints about the law's shortcomings from Hungarian Coalition Party leader Bela Bugar, while Movement for a Democratic Slovakia Chairman Vladimir Meciar criticized the legislation, saying the law gives minorities wider rights than elsewhere and encourages Hungarian "irredentism." Van der Stoel also discussed the situation of the Roma minority with Prime Minister Dzurinda and Pal Csaky, deputy premier in charge of minority affairs. MS




VIOLENCE CONTINUES THROUGHOUT KOSOVA

Unidentified attackers fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a truck on a road near Mitrovica on 5 September, killing the ethnic Albanian driver and injuring a woman, AP reported. The previous day, attackers fired a similar grenade at a city bus near Gjilan, injuring two ethnic Albanians. Unidentified people killed three Serbs in the village of Musutisht, near Prishtina. In Peja, unidentified attackers fired anti-tank rockets at the building of the Serbian Orthodox Patriarchate but missed their target. In Dobrotin, south of Prishtina, other unidentified persons fired seven mortar rounds into an unspecified neighborhood. On 3 September, a young ethnic Serb was killed in an explosion in Prishtina, while five ethnic Albanians, including three children, were injured in the apparent attack. The Serb who died was known locally for his good relations with ethnic Albanians, Reuters reported. FS

KOUCHNER CALLS ON KOSOVA CITIZENS TO 'BREAK THE LAW OF SILENCE'

UN Special Representative Bernard Kouchner said in Prishtina on 4 September that "we will not accept the return of blind violence against innocent people." He called on all citizens to "break the law of silence" by coming forward with information leading to the arrest of criminals. General Agim Ceku, who heads the Kosova Liberation Army's (UCK) General Staff, also condemned the attack in Prishtina, Reuters reported. FS

KOSOVA SERB LEADER WANTS KOUCHNER TO GO

Momcilo Trajkovic told the Belgrade daily "Blic" of 5 September that Kouchner should leave Kosova. Trajkovic, who along with Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Artemije is one of the top leaders of Kosova's Serbian minority, said Kouchner's unspecified "conduct and decisions excluded the Serbian side from any form of cooperation and joint work," AP reported. Trajkovic did not say whether he will withdraw from Kouchner's civilian advisory council. PM

COMMANDER SAYS UCK MUST ADJUST TO PEACETIME

General Ceku told 3,000 mourners in Negrovc on 5 September that "we have finished our first mission, the liberation of Kosova. Our second mission is for life in freedom and for the independence of Kosova, but now we must bring ourselves into line with new [peacetime] conditions," AP reported. He was speaking at a graveside reburial ceremony for 34 civilians and 17 UCK fighters killed during the recent conflict. In Washington, Senator Joseph Biden said that KFOR and the UCK are close to a "face-saving" agreement that will transform the guerrillas into a civilian service organization, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 1999). PM

KFOR FINDS LARGE ARMS CACHE NEAR ALBANIAN BORDER

KFOR soldiers found an arms cache containing 250 Kalashnikov rifles, 50 heavy machine guns, as well as other arms and ammunition near Rogova on 3 September, AP reported. The village is located about 10 kilometers from the Albanian border. A KFOR spokesman did not disclose details about the origin of the weapons. FS

VOJVODINA LEADER CHALLENGES DRASKOVIC TO DEBATE

Nenad Canak, who heads the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina (LSV), said in Novi Sad that he wants to debate with Serbian Renewal Movement leader Vuk Draskovic on television, "Danas" reported on 6 September. Canak said that Draskovic has frequently made unsubstantiated charges against an alliance of opposition parties to which the LSV belongs. Canak called for the debate to take place on Studio B Television, "which is the only open and independent" television station. That station belongs to Draskovic. PM

DRASKOVIC DENIES MEETING WITH RULING PARTIES

Draskovic said in Kragujevac that he has not met recently with any representatives of the ruling parties, "Danas" reported on 6 September. He said that unspecified charges that he has met with officials close to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic are aimed at discrediting the opposition. Such charges, he added, only serve the interests of the regime. Observers note that many opposition supporters suspect that Draskovic has struck a secret agreement with Milosevic to support early elections. Most opposition parties oppose elections as long as Milosevic remains in power. PM

SERBIAN 'CITIZENS' PARLIAMENTS' LINK UP

Representatives of at least nine self-declared opposition "popular assemblies" from different parts of Serbia held the first meeting of the Citizens' Parliament of Serbia in Cacak on 4 September, the Frankfurt-based Serbian daily "Vesti" reported. The new body will work to promote human rights and aid victims of repression. Spokesman Nebojsa Popov said that the new organization "is not a forum that passes resolutions and laws, nor is it a substitute for political parities, NGOs, local governments, or coordinating bodies. [Instead,] the Citizens' Parliament is the embryo of the most important democratic institution, namely the public." PM

EU BACKING FOR OPPOSITION'S IDEALS, NOT POLITICIANS

EU foreign ministers agreed in Saariselka, Finland, on 4 September to support "the democratic values [that the Serbian opposition] represents," Finland's Tarja Halonen said. She stressed, however, that the EU does not support individual opposition politicians. She added that "elections in the present unsatisfactory conditions will not necessarily change anything" in Serbia. The ministers agreed on a document that encourages "constructive dialogue between Serbia and Montenegro" and does not endorse Montenegrin independence. Prior to the meeting, the EU lifted the embargo on oil deliveries and commercial flights to Montenegro and Kosova. All sanctions on Serbia remain in place. Germany's Joschka Fischer said in Saariselka: "As long as murderers are in power in Belgrade, how can there be a dialogue? The longer Milosevic remains in power, the more damage he will leave behind," AP reported. PM

MONTENEGRO WELCOMES LIFTING OF SANCTIONS

Economics Minister Vojin Djukanovic told "Vesti" of 6 September that the lifting of sanctions will mean "fewer problems" for Montenegro. He called the EU's decision a vindication for Montenegro's policies. Djukanovic added that the decision is also a rebuke to Milosevic and his allies in Montenegro. PM

HIGH-RANKING RUSSIAN DELEGATION VISITS BELGRADE

A Russian government delegation, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Avdeev and senior diplomat Boris Mayorskii, arrived in Belgrade on 5 September, AP reported. Avdeev and Mayorskii have scheduled talks with government officials and opposition leaders. Unidentified diplomatic sources told Interfax that the two will meet with Milosevic and unspecified "warlords." They also plan to hold talks with Draskovic and have a telephone conversation with Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic. Avdeev and Mayorskii do not plan to visit Kosova. FS

KLEIN: UN LOST NO MONEY IN BOSNIAN CORRUPTION

Jacques Klein, who is the UN's chief representative in Bosnia, said in Sarajevo on 5 September that the world organization did not lose any money in a recent Bosnian banking scandal (see "RFE/RL Bosnian Report," 24 August 1999). He stressed that the UN's bank is in New York and that UN agencies working in Bosnia closely monitor their finances, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Elsewhere, World Bank President James Wolfensohn sent a letter to the Bosnian government saying that the bank's programs will continue to stress the return of refugees to their former homes. PM

SLOVENIAN TRUCKERS BLOCK ROADS

Some 450 truck drivers blocked roads linking Ljubljana with Koper, Nova Gorica, and Maribor on 6 September. They demand back wages and improved working conditions. The drivers also want the government to take measures to end what they call corruption in issuing permits to take goods abroad, AP reported. PM

FORMER ROMANIAN PREMIER TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT

Victor Ciorbea, chairman of the Christian Democratic National Alliance (ANCD), announced on 4 September that he will run for president in 2000, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He said the decision was taken earlier by his party's National Executive Bureau and will be submitted to the ANCD congress in November. MS

CONTROVERSIAL ROMANIAN POLITICIAN LEAVES PARTY CHAIRMANSHIP

Viorel Catarama on 4 September announced he is "withdrawing" from the position of National Romanian Party (PNR) chairman. Catarama said his decision was prompted by the desire to avoid "tarnishing" the party's image in the wake of the developments surrounding the Elvila International company, which he heads. Elvila International failed to pay back loans granted by the recently liquidated Bancorex. Former Romanian Intelligence service chief Virgil Magureanu has been appointed acting PNR chairman. Magureanu said he will not run for the chairmanship at the extraordinary PNR congress that will be called to elect a new party leader. Meanwhile, PNR leader Ion Menciu was detained a few days earlier under suspicion of participating in an arms-smuggling ring led by Shimon Naor, an Israeli businessman of Romanian origin. MS

MOLDOVAN PARTY PROPOSES 'COMPROMISE' ON PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM

The formerly pro-presidential For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc (PMDP) has proposed a "compromise" between introducing a presidential system, as intended by President Petru Lucinschi, and a parliamentary system, as advocated by Lucinschi's opponents. Under the PMDP's proposal, which was made public on 3 September, the president would be granted the power to appoint the ministers of foreign affairs, interior, and defense. The procedure for dissolving the parliament would be simplified and new elections called within 40 days, instead of three months, as is currently stipulated. At the same time, the proposal includes some measures aimed at strengthening the role of the legislature and the government vis-a-vis the president, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS

SUSPECT IN BULGARIAN PREMIER'S MURDER EXTRADITED

Bulgarian businessman Angel Vasilev, who is suspected of having ordered the murder of former Prime Minister Andrei Lukanov in October 1996, was extradited from the Czech Republic on 3 September, BTA and CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 1999). AFP cited the Bulgarian daily "Standart" as reporting that Vasiliev is suspected of having hired Lukanov's assassins for $100,000. Vasiliev's construction company was part of the Orion group, which Bulgarian prosecutors suspect of having misappropriated funds from several banks. In 1996, Lukanov, who had been premier for six months in 1990, denounced his own Socialist Party in the parliament for giving Orion preferential treatment in contracts. At that time, Orion was close to then Premier Zhan Videnov. Vasiliev left Bulgaria in 1998, after his company ran up a $5.6 million debt to a bank that later went bankrupt. MS

BULGARIAN PROSECUTOR DENIES OPPOSITION DEPUTY BEATEN IN DETENTION

Hristo Angelov has denied that Euro-Left deputy Tsvetelin Kanchev was beaten up by police in his Sofia prison cell. Angelov told Bulgarian Radio on 3 September that Kanchev mutilated himself while in custody and was taken to a military hospital, where doctors established that he did not require treatment. Kanchev's parliamentary immunity was lifted in late July on suspicion of extortion, robbery, and battery (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 1999). Euro-Left deputy Georgi Dilkov-Lorda earlier told BTA that Kanchev had been badly beaten and that medical experts suspect brain concussion and groin injury. MS




RUSSIA'S GOVERNORS PROVING TO BE UNPREDICTABLE POLITICAL FORCE


by Sophie Lambroschini

The 29 August gubernatorial ballot in Sverdlovsk highlights the growing influence of regions in Russian politics and shows how unpredictable those politics can be.

It was no surprise that Eduard Rossel, one of Russia's best-known governors since he promoted an independent Urals republic in 1993, won the first round and stands a good chance of winning the run-off later this month.

What was surprising, though, was the relatively poor showing of Yekaterinburg Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii. Despite support from the powerful Our Fatherland-Russia alliance, Chernetskii came in only third.

Nikolai Petrov, an analyst with the Moscow-based Carnegie Fund, says support from Moscow-based parties is not enough to guarantee victory in regional elections. He told RFE/RL that "more and more, the regions are evolving according to a separate logic, where ideology doesn't play much of a role." He says increasingly voters are looking to regional leaders as "do-ers," as opposed to Moscow politicians, who just talk.

Regional expert Jean-Robert Raviot of the French Foundation for Political Sciences says voters take into account what works around them--schools, transport, and other infrastructure--when they make a decision. These things, he says, are more dependent on local authorities. He says that voters also notice when pensions are not paid on time, for which the federation has to assume responsibility. As December's parliamentary elections approach, politicians at all levels, including the Kremlin, are looking at how best to organize themselves. However, it is uncertain whether they are taking into consideration the unpredictability of regional voting.

Political alliances have recently been formed. Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev's All Russia includes Saint Petersburg Mayor Vladimir Yakovlev, Ingush President Ruslan Aushev, as well as leaders from Bashkortostan and Primore.

All Russia recently hooked up with Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's Fatherland, when it became clear that former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov would support the union. The alliance is widely predicted to do well in the parliamentary election.

A rival group has not fared as well. Samara Governor Konstantin Titov's Voice of Russia, reportedly encouraged by the Kremlin, has fallen to pieces.

According to Russian media reports, former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin's last tour in the Volga region a few days before his sacking and new Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's trip to Siberia shortly after taking office were last-ditch efforts by the Kremlin to convince governors to support Kremlin-backed candidates.

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reports that governors are looking beyond the era of President Boris Yeltsin. They want a presidential candidate who can guarantee their powers and independence. But since none of the main candidates (all of whom are from Moscow) supports regional independence, the governors decided to choose candidates of their own. However, they seemed to have failed in that effort.

Russia's regional leaders first asserted themselves last April when the Federation Council (which groups governors and heads of regional legislative assemblies) twice refused to dismiss Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov, as ordered by the Kremlin.

After the vote, Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed famously announced that the independent stance had led to the "collapse" of presidential power.

Such a slap in the Kremlin's face would have been unthinkable a year earlier. The upper house, comprised of many Yeltsin appointees, was conceived as a counter-weight to the unruly opposition Duma.

Raviot says the growing independence of the Federation Council is explained by the fact that governors are no longer appointed but have been elected. He notes it has taken the governors some time to define their powers and policies--many of which conflict with those of the center.

Also, last year's economic crisis may have propelled the governors toward more autonomous positions. Caught in financial and political turmoil, the center de facto transferred many federal powers to the governors. Several regions, such as Krasnoyarsk and Krasnodar, experimented with highly interventionist methods to stabilize their economies.

Analysts note that the main lesson that Moscow political parties and the Kremlin should remember when lobbying regional leaders is their overwhelmingly pragmatic approach.

Oksana Orecheva at the East-West Institute's Moscow branch says that governors will make political decisions while disregarding ideology. The main tactic of governors, she argues, is to gain influence for their regions in the State Duma. Oeretcheva notes that in Sverdlovsk, the governor ran as an independent and the Yekaterinburg mayor as a Luzhkov ally (similar configurations are evident in other regions). That way in December, the region is bound not to lose, she argues.


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