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Newsline - December 9, 1999




U.S., RUSSIA LAUNCH SPY WARS PART 2

One day after it was announced that U.S. diplomat Cheri Leberknight will depart Moscow on 10 December, news agencies reported that a Russian citizen working at the Russian embassy in Washington was detained on suspicion of spying. According to ITAR-TASS on 9 December, Stanislav Gusev is accused of gathering intelligence by means of a listening device planted in the State Department and has been declared persona non grata. Leberknight, who was detained 30 November, was later declared persona non grata and asked to leave Russia forever. According to "The New York Times," a listening device was found in a conference room in the State Department, while AP described its alleged location as "sensitive." A Foreign Intelligence Service spokesman, Boris Labusov, called reports of the device "implausible" and said the arrest is probably a retaliation for Leberknight's expulsion, Interfax reported. According to that agency, Gusev is not a diplomat, contrary to earlier reports, and holds a "blue" service passport. JAC

YELTSIN WOBBLES...

During his remarks at the 8 December ceremony in the Kremlin's Gregorevskii Hall at which the Russia-Belarus union treaty was signed (see below), President Boris Yeltsin finished a sentence and fumbled with the two cards containing his speech for some 15 seconds. He stumbled twice before Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka could grab him by the elbow, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. He then asked, "What, is this the end?" ("Konets, chto li?"). After an aide whispered in his ear, he repeated the last sentence of his speech, which was followed by loud applause. JAC

...ARRIVES IN BEIJING 'PALE AND PUFFY'...

In what is seen as a move aimed at bolstering support for Moscow's Chechen campaign amid growing condemnation in the West, the Russian president arrived in Beijing on 9 December for a 26- hour visit. Yeltsin, whom Reuters described as looking "pale and puffy" on arrival, met first with Chinese leader Jiang Zemin. Following that meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told journalists in Beijing that Jiang "expressed full understanding and approval of the Russian leadership's actions to put a stop to the activities of terrorist organizations in the North Caucasus and in Chechnya." Yeltsin and Jiang also presided over a ceremony in which agreements were signed demarcating the two countries' common borders. JC

...BUT FIT ENOUGH TO TAKE A SWIPE AT CLINTON

Shortly before his meeting with Li Peng, the chairman of the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People's Congress, Yeltsin responded to Bill Clinton's 8 December comments condemning Moscow's campaign in Chechnya by remarking to reporters that the U.S. president "appears to have forgotten for a few seconds what Russia is. Russia has a full arsenal of nuclear weapons, but Clinton decided to flex his muscles," Interfax reported on 9 December. He added that Clinton cannot dictate to people how to live: "A multipolar world is the basis of everything. It will be as we agreed with Jiang Zemin. We will dictate how to live, not he," the news agency quoted Yeltsin as saying. JC

RUSSIAN OFFICIALS ECHO YELTSIN'S SENTIMENTS

Former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov said on 8 December that through his criticism of Russia's action in Chechnya, President Clinton "is trying to take revenge for [Kosova] events." Primakov, who is leader of the Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) alliance, added that "an attempt to put pressure on Russia is evident" and "everything possible must be done to clarify Russia's position in the West and avoid its isolation." Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov called the statements by Clinton and other Western leaders "immoral": "Reasonable and civilized people cannot make such statements," he said. "Segodnya," which appears to support the OVR alliance in the upcoming State Duma elections, put the latest U.S.-Russian conflict in an election context, arguing that "Russia and the U.S. are ready to break off relations for the sake of the two presidential successors: [Prime Minister] Vladimir Putin and [U.S. Vice President] Al Gore." "To save Gore's presidential chances, Clinton decided to 'get concerned' about Chechen civilians," the newspaper noted. JAC

U.S. FOOD AID TO RUSSIA PUT ON HOLD...

First Deputy Agriculture Minister Anatolii Mikhailov announced on 8 December that the U.S. has suspended consideration of a new food assistance package for 2000, Interfax reported. According to Mikhailov, a U.S. embassy official said the U.S. cannot provide the aid that Russia has requested for budget- related reasons. However, he said that he believes the real reason is U.S. opposition to Russia's military campaign in Chechnya. An unidentified U.S. embassy source told Reuters that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is simply not in a position to make commitments for fiscal year 2000 until January or February next year. JAC

...AS CLINTON SAYS US HAS LIMITED OPTIONS OVER CHECHNYA

U.S. President Clinton told reporters the same day that while he remains concerned for the civilians in Chechnya, he is not sure what else the U.S. can do, RFE/RL's Washington bureau reported. He added that "a sanctions regime has to be imposed by the United Nations, and Russia has a veto there. But I am not sure that would be in our interests or in the interests of the ultimate resolution of the crisis." On the issue of the U.S. backing for withholding IMF funds for Russia, Clinton said the question is no longer timely but "could be a bridge we will have to cross in the future." JAC

FEDERAL FORCES TAKE URUS MARTAN

Russian troops backed by the volunteer force recruited by former Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov took control of the deserted and largely destroyed town of Urus Martan, southwest of Grozny, on 8 December. A Russian spokesman said that 80 Chechen defenders were killed in the course of the operation, but only one Russian serviceman lost his life. Meanwhile, Russian air and artillery bombardment of Grozny continued. Colonel- General Vladimir Shamanov, commander of the western sector in Chechnya, said civilians are not being prevented from leaving the capital. But he added that Russian troops have orders to open fire on cars that try to break through Russian lines on the assumption that the passengers are Chechen militants, according to AP. Meeting on 7 December, the Chechen cabinet decided to appeal to international organizations to send observers to Grozny to monitor Russia's compliance with its commitment to allow civilians to leave the city before the 11 December deadline. LF

ITALY WARNS RUSSIA OVER CHECHNYA

Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini said in Rome on 8 December after talks with NATO Secretary-General George Robertson that Moscow risks financial and economic assistance from the EU and the IMF being curtailed if it makes good on its threat to launch intensive bombing of Grozny after 11 December, Reuters reported. Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov telephoned his Finnish counterpart, Tarja Halonen, the same day to assure her that the ultimatum to leave Grozny by 11 December was directed at the city's Chechen defenders and that the civilian population will not be targeted. LF

DUMA TO DECIDE NEXT WEEK ON START-2 VOTE?

The State Duma will decide on 13 December whether to include the issue of ratifying the START-2 treaty on its agenda, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev told reporters following a meeting of the Duma's Council, AP and Russian agencies reported. While the government is a strong advocate of ratifying the treaty, which was signed by the U.S. and Russia in 1993, the parliament remains divided over the issue. Vladimir Lukin (Yabloko), head of the Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, said his faction will vote in favor of ratification, while Communist leader Zyuganov commented that his party still opposes the treaty as being against national interests. Reuters quoted Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii as saying that estimates show 200 deputies in the 450-strong Duma are ready to vote for and 200 against ratifying START-2. JC

MOSCOW WAITING FOR U.S. RESPONSE TO JOINT ABM COMMISSION

Commander of Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces Vladimir Yakovlev told journalists in Moscow on 8 December that Russia has not yet received a response to its proposal to set up a joint commission with the U.S. to examine the threat posed by so-called rogue states such as Iran and North Korea. Yakovlev first made that proposal on Russian Public Television last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 1999). He indicated on 8 December that there have been no official talks on the issue but that a Russian delegation visiting the U.S. in November suggested such an option. Also on 8 December, Yakovlev announced that a second batch of Topol-M missiles will go into service at the end of this week. Those missiles will be stationed alongside the first batch of 10 Topol-Ms, which went into service last December at Tatishchevo in Saratov Oblast, according to ITAR-TASS on 8 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 1999). JC

YELTSIN, LUKASHENKA AGREE ANOTHER TREATY NEEDED...

After signing Russia-Belarus union treaty on 8 December, Russian and Belarus Presidents Yeltsin and Lukashenka agreed that another treaty establishing a common state for the two countries will be signed in the near future, Interfax reported. Lukashenka told reporters that "this is not the last treaty we will sign with Boris Nikolaevich [Yeltsin]. We will prepare and sign the treaty that our peoples are expecting from us...a treaty of one government," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Noting that the treaty "is a framework document" that is "not binding in any way," "Segodnya" on 9 December suggested that two countries' constitutions will have to be rewritten in order for it to be implemented. JAC

...AND CHOOSE YELTSIN TO HEAD NEW BODY

In addition to signing the treaty, the two leaders agreed that a joint military formation, which will include the Moscow Military District and the Belarusian Armed Forces, will be set up and that in January 2000, the Supreme Council will convene for its first meeting in Moscow, at which Yeltsin will be confirmed as the council's chairman. Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev noted that the treaty will face no difficulties with ratification in the upper legislative house, which is due to consider it on 22 December, according to NTV. Stroev also noted "there will be other integration treaties as well." The State Duma is to consider the treaty on 13 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1999). JAC

SOME RUSSIAN REGIONAL LEADERS PAN RUSSIAN- BELARUSIAN UNION...

The treaty attracted a number of critical remarks from regional leaders, such as Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev, Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, Ingushetia's Ruslan Aushev, all of whom said on 8 December they will claim for their republics the same status as Belarus if the union between Russia and Belarus really comes into existence. Shaimiev, however, said he does not believe there is much chance of that happening since the Belarusian opposition and people will never give up their sovereignty, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Rakhimov called the treaty a "non-serious" agreement. Shaimiev, Rakhimov, and Aushev are all founding members of the All Russia group, which joined with Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's Fatherland movement. Luzhkov, on the other hand, hailed the treaty as "a very useful and important document." JAC

...AS POSSIBLE FUTURE DUMA FACTION PROTESTS NEW TREATY

Several dozen activists from the Union of Rightist Forces organized a demonstration outside Belarus's embassy in Moscow on 8 December to protest the treaty. A few analysts are predicting that the union might surpass the 5 percent barrier in the State Duma elections. The activists opposed the proposed union with Belarus on a number of grounds, including that Belarus is insufficiently democratic. When asked to comment on the disappearance of two of his former comrades, Lukashenka noted that former Deputy Prime Minister Viktar Hanchar and former Interior Minister Yuriy Zakharanka are outside the country because "in Belarus, we can find a needle in a haystack." When asked whether the Belarusian Popular Front is receiving as much as $5 million in Western financial assistance a year, Lukashenka said that "an incomparably larger sum is spent" on that group. JAC

OVR, COMMUNISTS ACKNOWLEDGE ALLIANCE TALKS...

Commenting on reports that his group plans to form an alliance with the Communist Party in the new Duma, OVR leader Primakov said on 8 December that his alliance "is open for cooperation with all healthy forces." He continued that "a lot of people [in the Communist Party] think the way we do" and they might become "partners of OVR in adopting certain decisions and law in the State Duma." The next day, Fatherland leader Luzhkov told reporters that he and Communist Party leader Zyuganov have agreed to "coordinate positions" in the new Duma, ITAR-TASS reported. Zyuganov also discussed the possible alliance with Tatarstan's President Shaimiev during a recent trip to Kazan, according to "Vremya MN" on 8 December. Communists in St. Petersburg agreed recently to back Vladimir Yakovlev, who is listed third on OVR's party list, in his attempt to regain the governor's seat there (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 8 December 1999). JAC

...AS NDR PLEDGES SUPPORT FOR PUTIN, UNITY

Our Home Is Russia (NDR) also announced its future plans on 8 December, declaring that its members will support Prime Minister Putin in the presidential elections. NDR leader Viktor Chernomyrdin said his party will also cooperate closely with the pro-Kremlin bloc, Unity, according to Interfax. NDR faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov had announced earlier that NDR will not make an official decision on backing Putin until next year. According to most polls, NDR has little chance of surpassing the 5 percent barrier to enter the State Duma. However a district-by-district analysis carried out by the East-West Institute suggests the party could pick up at least 13 seats in single-mandate districts (see http://www.iews.org). JAC

REGISTERED ONE DAY, BANNED THE NEXT

The Presidium of the Russian Supreme Court on 8 December overruled the Supreme Court's decision to recognize the registration of the Russian Conservative Party of Entrepreneurs (RKPP) for the State Duma elections, Interfax reported. The appeals panel ruled that the original decision by the Central Election Commission to ban the party because of one of its top three candidates was disqualified remains valid. In response to the Presidium's decision, the commission the same day decided to annul its previous decisions reinstating the RKPP and Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR). The latter had been banned because of problems with its top three candidates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1999). Commission member Yevgenii Kalyushin told "The Moscow Times" on 9 December that the appeals panel's ruling is a victory for the commission because it removed the legal grounds for the LDPR to contest the Duma elections. JAC

RUSSIAN PIPELINE OPERATOR TO OPEN OFFICE IN IRAQ

Semen Vainshtok, the president of the Russian state-owned pipeline operator Transneft, told journalists in Moscow on 9 December that his company will open an office in Baghdad next year. He said the representation may be opened as early as in the first quarter of 2000. Vainshtok also noted that Transneft has submitted proposals for projects in Iraq to the UN Sanctions Committee, adding that cooperation between Baghdad and Transneft is still in the "negotiating stage." JC




ARMENIAN PREMIER WINDS UP RUSSIAN VISIT

Aram Sargsian returned to Yerevan on 8 December after a two-day working visit, his first foreign trip since his appointment as premier last month. Sargsian met with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and Defense Minister Igor Sergeev. Their talks focused on settling mutual debts, defense industry cooperation, and the energy sector including operation of the Medzamor nuclear power station. Both before and after the visit Sargsian affirmed Armenia's unswerving commitment to strategic cooperation with Russia. He also expressed the hope that Putin will become the next Russian president, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN TEHRAN

Vartan Oskanian held talks in Tehran on 8 December with his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharrazi, and with Majlis speaker Ali-Akbar Nateq-Nouri, IRNA reported. Oskanian briefed Kharrazi on the ongoing search for a political solution to the Karabakh conflict, including the direct talks in recent months between Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Heidar Aliev. Kharrazi argued that the shared interests of the South Caucasus states are an adequate basis for the creation of a united security strategy. Both Kharrazi and Nateq-Nouri noted Iran's readiness to expand economic cooperation with Armenia. Kharrazi noted in this context joint ventures to build highways and tunnels and the project to build a pipeline to supply Armenia with natural gas from Iran. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S PARLIAMENT ADOPTS NEW MEDIA LAW

Lawmakers adopted a new media law in the third and final reading on 7 December, Turan reported. The law prohibits censorship but contains other provisions that Azerbaijani journalists fear may be applied to restrict the free flow of information. Specifically, it requires all media outlets to re- register with the Ministry of Justice, empowers the government selectively to grant accreditation to cover official events; and provides for legal proceedings to be taken against media outlets that "insult the honor and dignity of the state and Azerbaijani people" or publish materials "contrary to the national interest." LF

IMF WARNS GEORGIA

John Odling-Smee, who heads the Southern Division of the IMF's Second European Department, told journalists in Tbilisi on 8 December that it is "senseless" to raise the possibility of a new loan to Georgia as long as the country fails to comply with the fund's demands that it improve tax collection and crack down on corruption, Caucasus Press reported. Characterizing the economic situation in Georgia as "extremely difficult," Odling-Smee said that in order to qualify for a new tranche, Georgia needs "a targeted economic policy" that, among other things, will provide for implementation of the budget. The budget deficit for 1999 is estimated at 200-220 million lari ($100-110 million), Caucasus Press reported on 30 November quoting the chairman of the parliamentary budget office, Roman Gotsiridze. LF

GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY CHALLENGES MILITARY PROCURATOR

The Georgian Defense Ministry has issued a statement accusing Military Prosecutor Badri Bitsadze of making "populist statements" that violate the presumption of innocence, Caucasus Press reported on 8 December. In an interview with the newspaper "Alia," Bitsadze had described the unsanctioned diversion of funds by the ministry to the Society for the Support of the Georgian Army as "an administrative crime" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 1999). LF

GEORGIA DEPORTS PUTATIVE MERCENARIES

Georgia has deported 12 men apprehended trying to cross its border into Chechnya on 6 December, Caucasus Press reported on 8 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 1999). The men, who were unarmed, said they had planned to join the Chechen resistance against Russia. Also on 8 December, Georgian Border Guard Commander Valerii Chkheidze said Tbilisi does not plan to lift the restrictions it imposed on the entry into Georgia of fleeing Chechen civilians. LF

OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER IN KAZAKHSTAN SUSPENDS PUBLICATION

The editors of "XXI vek" announced that they have to suspend publication as no publishing house in Almaty will print the newspaper, RFE/RL's correspondent in the former capital reported on 9 December. Several dozen prominent intellectuals and politicians appealed last week to President Nursultan Nazarbaev to intervene to enable the newspaper to be printed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 1999). Nazarbaev has not yet responded to that appeal. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION POLITICIAN PREDICTS PARLIAMENTARY POLL WILL NOT BE FAIR

Speaking at a press briefing at RFE/RL's Washington office on 8 December, former Bishkek Mayor Feliks Kulov said his Ar-Namys party has been barred from contesting the Kyrgyz parliamentary elections next February as it was formally registered less than one year before the poll date, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Kulov said he will attempt to register as an independent candidate, but is doubtful whether he will succeed in doing so. He said that Ar-Namys is the third- largest political party in Kyrgyzstan, with 11,000 members. He characterized the political system as "soft totalitarianism." Fifteen parties have been registered to contest the parliamentary election, while another four have been denied registration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 1999). LF

KYRGYZ CABINET MULLS SOCIAL SPENDING SHORTFALL

Ministers told an 8 December cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Amangeldi MurAliyev that the government currently owes some 112 million soms (about $2.5 million) in pension arrears, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. The government also owes 54 million soms to the health care sector and a similar sum for education. The cabinet is to bring bankruptcy proceedings against enterprises that fail to make payments to the social fund. LF

REGIONAL MOVEMENT QUITS UNITED TAJIK OPPOSITION

The Lali Badakhshon movement that represents the population of Tajikistan's Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast has left the umbrella United Tajik Opposition (UTO) because of disagreements over the policies of the UTO leadership, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 9 December, quoting Lali Badakhshon's chairman, Atobek Amirbekov. Lali Badakhshon will independently contest the parliamentary elections that are to be held next February, Amirbekov said. LF




BELARUS-RUSSIA TREATY SPARKS MINOR PROTESTS IN MINSK...

Two small demonstrations took place in Minsk on 8 December to protest the signing of the treaty on the Belarus-Russia union state, Belapan reported. Some 40 people carrying placards with anti-merger slogans tried to block Minsk's main avenue early that day, while some 250 people marched down the main avenue in the evening and burned the Russian flag. Both rallies were dispersed by riot police, which reportedly arrested Belarusian Popular Front deputy chairman Vyachaslau Siuchyk and some 15 protesters. JM

...AND VERBAL CONDEMNATION FROM OPPOSITION

Syamyon Sharetski, exiled speaker of the opposition Supreme Soviet, said in Vilnius on 8 December that the Belarus-Russia union state treaty will meet the fate of the Molotov- Ribbentrop pact after democracy is restored in Belarus. Zyanon Paznyak, exiled leader of the Belarusian Popular Front, said the treaty is "an act of aggression and the political occupation" of Belarus by Russia. Former Supreme Soviet Chairman Stanislau Shushkevich commented that by signing the treaty, Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka made "a payoff to Russia to keep him in power, as it was Russia which helped him usurp the power." The Belarusian opposition deems the treaty illegal as it was signed by a president whose term expired earlier this year. JM

NEIGHBORS HAVE MIXED REACTIONS TO BELARUS-RUSSIA TREATY...

Ukrainian parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko said on 8 December that Ukraine's accession to the Belarus-Russia union is a "matter of time," adding that Ukraine may join the treaty "in three years at most." President Leonid Kuchma commented in Washington the same day that Ukraine has already made its choice and "will proceed on the path of independence." The Polish Foreign Ministry said Poland does not consider the Belarus-Russia union a threat and will not treat the union as a "new subject of international law." Lithuanian parliamentary speaker Vytautas Landsbergis said the Belarus-Russia treaty is a "challenge [that] sharpens the international situation," according to ELTA. JM

...WHILE U.S. DOUBTFUL ABOUT BELARUS'S VOLUNTARY MERGER WITH RUSSIA

U.S. State Department spokesman James Foley said on 8 December that the U.S. does not oppose integration among European countries "as long as it is mutually beneficial...and voluntary." Foley noted, however, that "there is no democratic process in Belarus, therefore it's impossible to conclude that the decisions on the union treaty with Russia reflect the will of the Belarusian people or that they are voluntary in nature." Foley added that he is unsure whether the treaty signed by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Lukashenka on 8 December will meet "Mr. Lukashenka's fondest aims and desires." JM

UKRAINE'S KUCHMA PROMISES REFORM, CRACKDOWN ON CORRUPTION

Meeting with U.S. President Bill Clinton and U.S. Vice President Al Gore in Washington on 8 December, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma pledged to implement a "strict program of economic and democratic reforms" and launch a "true war against corruption" in Ukraine, AP reported. "I believe there is no more important issue for the future of Ukraine," the agency quoted Gore as saying. Kuchma's major concern in Washington is also to persuade IMF head Michel Camdessus to resume the fund's suspended loan program for Ukraine. JM

MANY RUSSIANS IN LATVIA WISH TO EMIGRATE

The Riga office of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on 8 December that some 10 percent or 60,000-70,000, of ethnic Russians living in Latvia would like to emigrate to Russia, LETA reported. Ilmars Mezs, the director of the Riga office, testified before a parliamentary committee that their emigration is being hindered by the lack of funds to find comparable housing in Russia. MH

LITHUANIAN SOCIAL BUDGET APPROVED

The Lithuanian parliament on 8 December approved the 2000 social budget, ELTA reported. The budget, which foresees expenditures of 4.569 billion litas ($1.14 billion), is the first surplus social budget since the restoration of independence. The surplus is a modest 28 million litas. Starting next year, contributions to the social budget will also increase to 34 percent of an employee's wage, with the employee paying 31 percent and employer 3 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 1999). Social Security and Labor Minister Irena Degutiene said that next year the average pension should rise to 319 litas. MH

POLISH PREMIER VOWS TO FIGHT ANTI-SEMITISM

Speaking to Holocaust survivors in an Israeli kibbutz on 8 December, Jerzy Buzek pledged to fight anti-Semitism in Poland, dpa reported. "On the eve of the 21st century, nationalism, racism, and anti-Semitism are resurfacing in Europe. I must say with regret that Poland is not free from them either," Buzek noted. JM

POLISH RADICAL FARMERS' LEADER TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT

Self-Defense union leader Andrzej Lepper said on 8 December that he will run for the presidency next year, PAP reported. Lepper is currently setting up a new party, the Self-Defense Peasant-National Bloc (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 7 December 1999), to create a "third" political force, alongside the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action and the opposition Democratic Left Alliance. The new bloc's constituent congress is to take place on 17 January in Warsaw. JM

CZECH CABINET UNDERGOES CHANGES

Health Minister Ivan David on 9 December submitted his resignation to President Vaclav Havel, CTK reported. David, who has been criticized by various health organizations for mismanaging his ministry, will be temporarily replaced by Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla. On 8 December, Prime Minister Milos Zeman announced that Foreign Minister Jan Kavan will assume the duties of former Deputy Prime Minister responsible for EU integration Egon Lansky, who resigned last week. VG

HAVEL CRITICIZES MOSCOW'S 'HORRIFYING' STATEMENT ON CHECHNYA

Czech President Vaclav Havel on 8 December said Russia's statement that all Chechens who remain in Grozny will be considered terrorists is "absolutely unacceptable and horrifying," Czech media reported. He called on "all international organizations" to find a negotiated solution to the conflict and "openly call things by their proper names and state their opinions" on the conflict. He said it is hard to believe that "more than 100,000 deaths in Chechnya over the past few years were all those of terrorists." VG

CZECH PARLIAMENT REJECTS SECOND BUDGET DRAFT

The Chamber of Deputies on 8 December rejected the government's second draft budget for 2000 by a vote of 100 to 97, Czech media reported. Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democrats, the Christian Democrats, and the Freedom Union voted against the draft, saying they want a new government. However, Klaus has refused to scrap his party's "opposition agreement" with the governing Social Democrats until all sides have agreed on a new government. The Christian Democrats and Freedom Union, however, insist that the "opposition agreement" must be scrapped as a pre-condition to talks on a new government. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Milos Zeman said his minority government will not resign as a result of the vote. Under Czech law, the government can use the rejected draft as a provisional budget until it passes a new budget. VG

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT BEGINS BUDGET DEBATE

Some 1,500 trade union members gathered outside the Slovak parliament on 8 December as deputies began a debate on the government's draft budget for next year, TASR reported. The unions are demanding lower taxes and a 10 percent wage increase for their members. Inside the parliament, Finance Minister Brigita Schmognerova presented the draft budget, which foresees a deficit of about 18 billion crowns ($439 million). The budget projects the Slovak economy to grow by 2.5 percent next year, inflation to reach 10-11 percent, and the unemployment rate to total 17 percent. In other news, visiting Polish Deputy Prime Minister Leszek Balcerowicz on 8 December expressed support for Slovakia's efforts to join the EU and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, TASR reported. He said Poland views Slovakia as a "vital partner." VG

SLOVAK MINORITY GROUPS FROM HUNGARY VISIT SCHUSTER

The chairman of the National Slovak Self- government in Hungary, Jan Fuzik, met with Slovak President Rudolf Schuster on 8 December to discuss the situation of the Slovak minority in Hungary, TASR reported. Fuzik said the Slovak minority is losing its "identity, culture, and mother tongue," adding that "it is necessary to stop this." Fuzik said his organization needs Slovakia's help to obtain textbooks and teaching aids for Slovak students in Hungary. He said Schuster supported his idea of setting up an office in Slovakia for "foreign Slovaks." VG




STANDOFF ENDS AT MONTENEGRIN AIRPORT

Montenegrin Transport Minister Jusuf Kalamperovic said in Podgorica on 9 December that the capital's airport reopened at 8:00 a.m. local time after an overnight standoff between Yugoslav army troops and Montenegrin police. He added that all problems have been ironed out, Montenegrin Television reported. Immediately after the airport reopened, a Montenegrin Airlines flight took off for Budapest. At 6:00 p.m. local time the previous evening, federal troops occupied the airport and blocked the runway with trucks, citing unspecified "security reasons." They surrounded a hangar that Montenegrin police are building for their helicopters, saying the police have no right to construct such a facility without army permission. Montenegrin police remained in the main building of the airport. The Montenegrin authorities sought to play down the incident, which they described as a "misunderstanding." PM

'WHO WILL CONTROL THE SKIES OVER MONTENEGRO?'

This is how Montenegrin Television on 9 December described the real issue behind the incident at the airport. On that date, a recent decision by the Montenegrin government was slated to come into effect, whereby Montenegrin authorities would take control of the civilian airports at Podgorica and Tivat. To date, the civilian areas of the airports have been under the control of Yugoslav state airlines, JAT, while the military areas have been run by the Yugoslav army. Montenegrin Deputy Information Minister Abaz Dzafic told AP on 8 December that Montenegro wants "to control its own airports, like every other country in the world." Reuters described the incident as "the gravest sign yet of tensions between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and the government of Montenegro" under President Milo Djukanovic. PM

NATO WARNS MILOSEVIC OVER MONTENEGRO

NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson said in Rome on 9 December that "President Milosevic should be well warned that he should not start the 21st century fomenting more trouble in the Balkans. We watch with concern and with great attention what is happening in Montenegro and to President Djukanovic in that part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, who has a democratic mandate from his people," Reuters reported. Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema added: "We are not advocating independence for Montenegro or the disintegration of Yugoslavia, but we warn Milosevic that there should be no military action for control of the region," AP reported. PM

MONTENEGRO OPENS INVESTIGATION OF WAR CRIMES SUSPECT

State prosecutor Bozidar Vukcevic said in Podgorica on 8 December that the authorities have begun investigating whether Montenegro's Veselin Vlahovic committed war crimes while serving with Bosnian Serb forces during the 1992-1995 Bosnian conflict. The Bosnian authorities recently sent documents to Podgorica to show that Vlahovic--also known as "Batko"--raped, robbed, and killed an unspecified number of people during the Bosnian war. Vukcevic said that, if indicted, Vlahovic could stand trial in Montenegro or be extradited to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. His name does not appear among those of people publicly indicted by the tribunal. Vlahovic is currently serving a prison sentence in Montenegro on an unrelated charge. The Montenegrin authorities have repeatedly pledged to cooperate with The Hague but have not yet extradited anyone who has been indicted. PM

MONTENEGRIN OPPOSITION CALLS FOR GOVERNMENT TO QUIT

Predrag Bulatovic, who is deputy leader of the pro- Milosevic Socialist People's Party (SNP), said that Djukanovic and his government should resign following the indictment of Foreign Minister Branko Perovic by an Italian court on smuggling charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1999). Bulatovic added that Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic, who was Montenegrin president at the time of Perovic's alleged crimes, bears no responsibility in the case. The court in Naples indicted 26 people in addition to Perovic. The SNP frequently calls for new elections in Montenegro. The Djukanovic government, for its part, recognizes neither Momir Bulatovic as federal prime minister nor the authority of his Belgrade-based government. PM

CHINESE AID FOR SERBIA

Speaking in Peking on 9 December, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue confirmed media reports from Belgrade that China will supply reconstruction aid to Serbia. She added, however, that she cannot yet confirm media reports that the value of the gift will be $300 million, Reuters reported. In Belgrade, opposition economist Mladjan Dinkic said the Chinese aid could help the government manipulate the economy to its own political advantage, Montenegrin Television reported. He stressed, however, that the government is printing money so fast that the dinar will continue to decline in value against the German mark. PM

SERBIAN COURT FINES INDEPENDENT MEDIA

A Belgrade court on 8 December fined the dailies "Danas" and "Blic" and the television station Studio B some $35,000 for reporting statements by opposition politicians critical of the nationalist Serbian Radical Party. The Radicals called the statements slanderous. Serbia's draconian 1998 media law holds media responsible for the content of stories they report, even if they are reporting statements by public figures. Elsewhere, a Belgrade court ruled that Bozidar Spasic, whom police recently arrested for "spreading false information," must stay in custody for at least another 30 days. Spasic is a former member of the security services, who charged that those services have sought to kill Serbian opposition figures abroad both now and in the past. PM

MACEDONIAN SOCIAL DEMOCRATS ADMIT DEFEAT

Opposition Social Democratic presidential candidate Tito Petkovski said in Skopje on 8 December that he concedes the recent election to Boris Trajkovski, who is close to the governing coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 1999). Petkovski nonetheless added that "the conditions of chaos and terror in western Macedonia, where violence took over instead of democracy, have compelled me to make this decision," AP reported. Western Macedonia is inhabited primarily by ethnic Albanians, who voted overwhelmingly for Trajkovski. PM

CROATIAN MINISTER: SOMEONE WILL PAY FOR BUGGING

Interior Minister Ivan Penic said that whoever is responsible for bugging the office of parliamentary speaker Vlatko Pavletic "will have to go to jail," "Slobodna Dalmacija" reported on 9 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1999). Pavletic is also carrying out the duties of ailing President Franjo Tudjman. Observers suggest that the bugging, which has deeply angered Pavletic, is connected with a power struggle within the governing Croatian Democratic Community over the succession to Tudjman. Also on 9 December, "Vecernji list" reported that Tudjman's heart has failed and that doctors are keeping him alive only with great difficulty. PM

BOSNIAN SERB POLICE FOR UN PEACEKEEPING ABROAD

The UN's Jacques Klein and Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik agreed in Banja Luka on 8 December that 11 Bosnian Serb police will soon take part in UN peacekeeping operations in East Timor and Sierra Leone. Klein told reporters that the men will represent Bosnia-Herzegovina, not one of its two entities. Observers have long suggested that the UN might seek to use some of the large number of unemployed Bosnian young men with military training for peacekeeping in other parts of the world. PM

ROMANIAN RAILWAY STRIKE CONTINUES

Romania's railway strike on 8 December entered its third consecutive day as union representatives failed to come to an agreement with railway management, Rompres reported. Prime Minister Radu Vasile told union leaders on 8 December that he will intervene to resolve the dispute. At the same time, he noted that railway workers are required by law to ensure that one- third of normal railway service is maintained during the strike. The Transport Ministry warned that disciplinary measures will be taken against individual workers who violate the law during the strike. VG

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SEARCHES FOR NEW PREMIER

Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi on 8 December said almost all the country's parliamentary parties have agreed to set up a "government of technocrats," BASA-Press reported. Lucinschi, who was speaking after meeting the leaders of the parliamentary parties, said he will soon call on a new prime minister-designate to form a government. In other news, the Molodaya Gvardia, a political group in the breakaway Transdniester region, announced that it strongly opposes an agreement signed by Russia at the recent OSCE summit to withdraw its troops from the region by 2002, AP reported. "The OSCE and the U.S. want to disarm us and then exterminate us," said a statement by the group published in "Moldavskie vedomosti." VG

LUCINSCHI CALLS FOR URGENT RESOLUTION TO GAZPROM DEBT

Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi on 8 December called for urgent measures to reduce the country's debts to the Russian supplier Gazprom, Infotag reported. Lucinschi was responding to a threat from Gazprom to reduce gas supplies if Moldova does not deal with its debt problem. Moldova owes Gazprom some $183.6 million. The acting Moldovan government announced after meeting with Lucinschi that gas deliveries to debtor consumers in the country will be cut to a minimum. VG

COUNCIL OF EUROPE ISSUES CRITICAL REPORT ON BULGARIA

Two rapporteurs for the Council of Europe on 8 December praised Bulgaria's progress in some areas but expressed concern over the amount of corruption in the country. British parliamentary member David Atkinson and Danish legislator Henning Gjellerod praised Bulgaria's introduction of alternative military service, its abolition of the death penalty, and the ratification of the Framework Convention on National Minorities. However, Atkinson expressed concern at the "widespread corruption" associated with privatization and licensing practices. He also noted "very real concerns" among the country's 800,000 ethnic Turks about "the lack of rights concerning their language, their education, [and] their access to television. They feel insufficiently represented in police and public bodies." The rapporteurs also recommended that the country's libel laws should be "decriminalized," saying those found guilty of libel should be fined rather than imprisoned. VG

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES BUDGET

The Bulgarian National Assembly on 8 December passed the government's draft budget by a vote of 134 to 80 in its first reading, according to a Bulgarian Radio report cited by the BBC. In other news, Bulgarian Defense Minister Georgi Ananiev met with his visiting Polish counterpart, Janusz Onyszkiewicz, in Sofia on 8 December, BTA reported. Onyszkiewicz said his country will help Bulgaria in its preparations for NATO membership. VG




AN OMINOUS ACCORD


By Paul Goble

A new "union treaty" signed on 8 December by Belarus and the Russian Federation threatens the prospects for democracy in both countries, stability across the post-Soviet region, and relations between Moscow and the West.

The agreement, sought since 1996 by Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, allows each country to retain its sovereignty. But it calls for the establishment of a confederal government consisting of a supranational Supreme State Council and having a common currency, tax, and customs and border procedures.

While the two sides continue to disagree on the scope and speed of integration, there appears in both Minsk and Moscow to be more willingness now than at any time in the past to pursue the new union treaty. And that in turn suggests the new union could take on a life of its own even if not all its provisions are implemented.

On the one hand, both Belarusians and Russians are likely to continue to struggle over the possibility of any integration of their two countries, a fight that is increasingly likely to define politics in these two countries. And on the other, leaders in other post-Soviet states as well as in the West seem certain to have to deal with the implications of this first step toward the tighter reintegration of some or all of the 12 former Soviet republics.

Regardless of how that debate develops over the coming months, three things are already evident. First, this union accord in itself undermines the prospects for democracy in both Belarus and the Russian Federation. Not only is Yeltsin likely to use it to keep himself in office beyond the year 2000, but the increasing authoritarianism of Belarus seems certain to spread eastward, a development that concerns at least some Russians.

Stanislau Shushkevich, the former chairman of the Belarusian parliament, said recently that Russia is the "main guilty party" for the difficulties facing Belarus at present. Shushkevich says Russia's "imperial way of thinking" has united practically all political parties. And he says its drive for integration with Belarus has enabled Belarusian authorities to "fool the voters."

Even more, the drive for reintegration has prompted Moscow to defend Lukashenka's authoritarian actions. For example, Russia's human rights commissioner, Oleg Mironov, visited Minsk recently to contest Western findings of massive violations of human and civil rights in that country.

Mironov said his visit was intended to "dispel the myth" that Belarus violates human rights. He failed to acknowledge the Lukashenka regime's use of force to disperse anti-regime demonstrations, the disappearance of several leading opposition figures, and the regime's denouncement of Western institutions for criticizing what Minsk is doing.

As it defends Belarusian behavior against the West, Moscow will find it ever easier to sanction such behavior at home, particularly in the context of its own massive violation of human rights in the Chechen war and the Western criticism it has received for such violations.

Second, the new union treaty in itself destabilizes the post-Soviet region. This pact is openly revisionist in its treatment of the disintegration of the USSR in 1991, suggesting, as both Lukashenka and some Russian leaders have argued, that other former Soviet republics should join either a Slavic Union or something even broader.

Some leaders may be attracted to this idea, others may be repelled, but all are certain to adjust their policies in response to this new treaty. That is especially true if Western governments take the position that this accord could be ratified "democratically." Up to now, Western countries have said that is a requirement, but they have not made clear how such a poll could take place under Lukashenka's rule.

But there is another way in which this accord might destabilize the region. Several Russian analysts have already suggested that some regions within Russia--including Tatarstan--might ask to join the new union in order to get out from under Moscow's tutelage and boost their own status. Such a move could further threaten the integrity of the Russian Federation itself and would certainly elicit a sharp response from Moscow.

And third, not only the ways in which this accord will reduce the prospects for democracy in both Belarus and the Russian Federation but also the likelihood that it will exacerbate tensions across the former Soviet space will almost certainly contribute to increasing tensions between Moscow and the West--tensions that as a result of Moscow's campaign in Chechnya already are higher than at any point since the collapse of the USSR.

Consequently, this latest Lukashenka-Yeltsin agreement, even if it is never fully implemented, may mark a turning point in the history of the entire international system. That may be what the two signatories want, but it is certainly something that many others, including a large number of Belarusians and Russians, clearly fear.


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