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Newsline - January 25, 2000




TV CHANNELS WARNED REGARDING ELECTION COVERAGE...

Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov met with the heads of Russia's leading television and radio organizations on 24 January to discuss the 26 March presidential election. First Deputy Media Minister Mikhail Seslavinskii told reporters after the meeting that only Russian Public Television and TV-Tsentr were officially warned against the use of some of the methods they deployed during the 19 December State Duma election campaign. "Vremya MN" predicted on 21 December that Media Ministry officials are unlikely to renew TV-Tsentr's broadcasting license when it expires on 29 May because they believe that the station ignored its warning about broadcasting "kompromat" during the election campaign. JAC

...AS NTV EJECTED FROM POOL COVERAGE IN CHECHNYA...

Reuters reported on 23 January that NTV journalists have been ejected from the military's journalist pool for describing significant losses during the military campaign in Chechnya. NTV correspondent Yurii Lipatov said the move amounted to "censorship." This action follows the departure of NTV head Oleg Dobrodeev on an extended vacation after Media Most head Vladimir Gusinskii charged that the stations' coverage of the war followed the Defense Ministry's line too closely (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2000). On 24 January, Vladimir Kozin, an advisor to the Foreign Ministry, said that "leading Western television and radio stations give airtime exclusively to the Chechen separatists and their allies, consciously distorting the situation in the North Caucasus." JAC

...AND RUSSIA'S LARGEST OIL COMPANY PURCHASES LEADING PUBLISHER

"Vremya MN" reported on 25 January that LUKoil has purchased a controlling interest in one of Moscow's largest newspaper and magazine publishing houses, Pressa, which produces around 150 newspapers and magazines. LUKoil Vice President Leonid Fedun told the newspaper that the oil holding obtained around 60 percent of Pressa's shares. The company had been owned by the presidential administration until mid-1998 when it fell into private hands. According to the website , LUKoil also owns shares in "Izvestiya," "Smena," TV-Tsentr, and REN-TV. JAC

GROZNY FIGHTING CONTINUES

Having advanced some 500 meters towards Grozny's Minutka Square on 24 January, Russian forces were still engaged in fierce fighting for control of the square on 25 January, RFE/RL's North Caucasus correspondent reported. The previous night, fighting between federal forces and Chechen guerrillas was reported at numerous points on the periphery of the Chechen capital. Early on 25 January, Chechen forces also launched an abortive attempt to break through the Chechen-Georgian border in the Argun Gorge, dpa reported, quoting Interfax. Meanwhile Interfax, NTV, and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" are increasingly questioning the accuracy of published Russian casualty figures. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on 25 January quoted NTV as estimating that Russian losses are 10 times higher than the official figures, and are averaging 50 dead per day. LF

PACE PRESIDENT TELEPHONES MASKHADOV

Lord Russell-Johnston, president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, told journalists in Strasbourg on 24 January that he held his first telephone conversation with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov last week, Interfax reported. The discussion, which Russell-Johnston said will be continued, focused on the fate of foreign nationals currently held hostage in Chechnya. LF

GOVERNMENT SAYS CHECHNYA OPERATION COSTING MORE THAN EXPECTED...

First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said on 24 January that "for several months of the operation in the North Caucasus, expenses unfortunately went over our expectations. We were counting on about three and a half billion rubles--in fact, the figure is around 5 billion rubles ($176 million)." While this amount may be more than the government expected, defense analysts previously estimated the likely cost of the war as much higher. Aleksei Ulyukaev, of the Moscow-based Institute for the Economy in Transition, estimated earlier that the war is costing about 4 billion rubles a month, while Digby Waller of the London- based Institute for International Strategic Studies figured that if the government is paying its troops the amount that they had been promised then the war is costing the government about $110 million a month, according to Reuters on 12 January. JAC

...WHILE ANALYST SAYS LONG RUN "COSTS" LIKELY TO BE EVEN HIGHER

Paul Beaver of "Jane's Defence Weekly" told the agency that while the war is relatively cheap, its "main cost is that they are mortgaging their future military force structure by running down equipment which is not being replaced." JAC

GOVERNMENT SCRAMBLING FOR REVENUE...

First Deputy Prime Minister Kasyanov announced on 24 January that Russia will pay $1.05 billion in payments due on its post Soviet debt in January. He acknowledged that the situation regarding the collection of budget revenues is tense but the government "is taking all necessary measures to finance its planned spending for this month." According to ITAR-TASS, Kasyanov said that Russia must pay some $1.58 billion to the IMF alone during the months of February and March. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 21 January that Russia must make $3 billion worth of payments by 26 March and that government ministries have been told not only to save money but to earn it through leasing premises and other measures. JAC

...AS IMF MISSION HEADED FOR MOSCOW

A mission from the IMF was scheduled to arrive in Moscow on 25 January. Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko said earlier that there are three main items on the mission's agenda: execution of the 1999 fiscal and monetary program, structural reforms, and the medium-term economic program to be launched after presidential elections. Khristenko added that the discussion of structural reforms will be the most difficult. On 21 January, Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko told Ekho Moskvy that he does not expect a disbursement from the IMF during the first quarter of this year, because "the 'Russian question' will be one of the most important issues in the U.S. presidential race." "Kommersant-Daily" made a similar prediction on 19 January, noting IMF Managing-Director Michel Camdessus warned Russia that the Duma must pass laws on restructuring the banking system and on bankruptcy if it wants more money. "And the new Duma will hardly be able to do this within the next month or two," it concluded. JAC

RUSSIA PREDICTED TO CONTINUE TO BLEED CAPITAL IN 2000

Charles Dallara, managing director of the Washington-based Institute for International Finance, said on 24 January that capital flight from Russia in 2000 will likely total $20 billion, RFE/RL's Washington bureau reported. Although there was some reduction in the amount of capital leaving Russia during December 1999, a continuing lack of solid reforms and stable policies will contribute to the flow of capital outside of Russia's borders, according to the institute. JAC

TALBOTT SAYS CHECHEN WAR THREATENS RUSSIA'S FUTURE

Speaking in Tallinn on 24 January, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott said that "the horror unfolding [in Chechnya] is a threat to the evolution of both Russia's domestic order and its international role," Reuters reported. The American diplomat added that "Russia is not exactly sure where its home is--where, in its own transition from the Soviet era, it should go next; where it should come home to." (See also Talbott item in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE section.) PG

EU FOREIGN MINISTERS CONCERNED ABOUT CHECHNYA

The foreign ministerial council of the European Union on 24 January expressed its concern about Russian behavior in Chechnya but decided not to impose sanctions or to challenge Russia's right to defend its territorial integrity or fight terrorism, ITAR-TASS reported. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said after the meeting that "the chances of Brussels to exert pressure on Moscow are restricted," adding that "we must make use of an open dialogue with the Russian leadership." PG

DUMA BOYCOTT CONTINUES

State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told reporters on 25 January that the factions of Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), Yabloko, and Fatherland-All Russia continue to refuse to attend sessions of the lower legislative house. He added that former Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov (Russian Regions) has agreed to take up his old post and that the Russian Regions group also nominated Artur Chilingarov as a deputy speaker in the Duma. Chilingarov, a member of Fatherland-All Russia, won his seat in the single-mandate district in Nenets Autonomous Okrug but has apparently joined the Russian Regions group rather than the OVR faction. Seleznev said a final decision on committee posts will be made on 28 January. On 24 January, SPS member Boris Nemtsov said that the boycott may hurt public approval ratings for acting President Putin: "As people get to know Putin, they will become more sober, and it has already happened over the parliamentary crisis." JAC

PUTIN PRAISES COURTS...

Addressing a conference of judges from republic, oblast, and raion level courts from all over Russia on 24 January, acting President Putin declared that "judges should remain a key element of democracy in Russia." He said that "a clear sign of the rule of law in the state is the real power of the judicial system." He also criticized Russia's legal system for operating too slowly, noting that "long, drawn-out investigations of lawsuits and a high percentage of judicial errors cause concern." JAC

...DEFENDS CENTER'S RIGHT FOR SOLE CONTROL OVER JUDICIARY

Putin also called on federal authorities to ensure that the Russian Federation maintain a uniform judicial system, recalling that some leaders of federation subjects, such as Ingush President Ruslan Aushev, have attempted to establish judicial structures controlled by them. However, granting powers to judges is a prerogative of the president, Putin said, according to Russian Public Television. Last month, presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin also called for "preserving a single legal field in Russia" (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 12 January 1999). JAC

OSCE ACCUSES MOSCOW OF RETURN TO "OLD SOVIET TACTICS"

In a 24 January press release, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe accused the Russian Interior Ministry of "going back to old Soviet tactics," IRNA reported. Freimut Duve, the OSCE media watchdog, has written to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov concerning the case of Aleksandr Khinshtein, a "Moskovsky Komsomolets" journalist whom the Vladimir authorities had tried to arrest and then confine in a psychiatric clinic because of Khinshtein's articles on corruption. PG

KLEBANOV ANNOUNCES EXPANDED DEFENSE ORDERS

Russian Vice Premier Ilya Klebanov said in Kazan on 25 January that Moscow has decided on a new principle for the formation of defense orders, ITAR-TASS reported. He gave no details besides saying that these new principles would involve large state investments in the Russian defense industry. PG

RUSSIAN CASES MOST NUMEROUS AT EUROPEAN HUMAN RIGHTS COURT

The European Court of Human Rights said on 24 January that it had taken up more cases from Russia last year than from any other country, AP reported. 972 of the 8,396 cases lodged with the Strasbourg-based court were from Russia. The total number of cases grew 40 percent over the past year, the court said in its press release. PG

MOSCOW CONDEMNS LATVIA FOR CONVICTING SOVIET PARTISAN

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 24 January condemned Latvia for a decision by a Latvian court to convict a Soviet partisan for war crimes, AP reported. Vasilii Kononov, 77, was found guilty last week of ordering the execution of nine civilians he suspected of pro-Nazi sympathies. The Russian Foreign Ministry statement said that this was "an affair unprecedented in world experience--a man convicted for fighting against fascism," and it concluded that "the question arises of whether it is time for the European Union, to which Latvia aspires, to appraise the continuing 'ethnic self-cleansing' and hiding of accomplices of the crimes of fascism in the years of World War II, that is occurring in this country." PG

INDIA INVITES GAZPROM TO DEVELOP ITS GAS INDUSTRY

The Indian Oil and Natural Gas Ministry has asked Gazprom to help develop that country's gas industry, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 January. Among the projects in which Gazprom is expected to become involved are the construction of a gas pipeline from Iran to India and the development of offshore gas fields in the Bay of Bengal. PG




TURKEY SOLICITS ARMENIAN SUPPORT FOR REGIONAL STABILITY PACT

Turkish President Suleyman Demirel has written to his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian to urge that Armenia endorse the Caucasus stability pact that Demirel proposed during his visit to Georgia earlier this month, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 24 January, quoting Kocharian's press office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2000). Demirel argued that the pact, which is to be guaranteed by the international community, will "bring peace, stability, and prosperity not only to the Caucasus region but to the whole of Eurasia." He expressed confidence that Armenia and Turkey can act on their shared interests in strengthening regional peace and stability. It was not clear whether Demirel's missive made any concrete proposal on establishing formal diplomatic relations with Armenia. LF

WORLD BANK EARMARKS NEW LOANS FOR ARMENIA

Owaiss Saadat, who is the World Bank's resident representative in Armenia, told journalists in Yerevan on 24 January that the bank will grant Armenia some $85 million in new loans in 2000 provided that the cabinet continues to implement its previously agreed program of deregulation and economic reform, RFE/RL's bureau in the Armenian capital reported. Of that sum, $45 million is allocated to cover approximately half of the country's anticipated budget deficit, while the remainder will finance infrastructure, social, and judicial programs. Saadat said that a timetable for the release of the funds will be worked out over the next few months. LF

ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTS MEET IN MOSCOW

Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin chaired "frank and substantive" talks in Moscow on 24 January between Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliyev on the Karabakh peace process, Russian agencies reported. In a subsequent statement, Putin underscored the usefulness of, and Russia's support for, the ongoing dialogue on that subject between the two leaders who, he added, "are consistently seeking to find a compromise solution" to the conflict. Putin said Russia would be prepared to act as guarantor of such a settlement. Neither Aliyev nor Kocharian has made any public statement on their talks. LF

AZERBAIJAN LIQUIDATES STATE GOLD COMPANY

President Aliyev on 22 January issued a decree abolishing the Azergyzyl state gold company and transferring its functions to the State Commission for Geology and Mineral Resources, Interfax reported on 24 January. That commission will now be responsible for implementing the production-sharing agreement concluded in 1997 with a U.S. company to develop gold and silver mines close to the Armenian-Azerbaijani border (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 1997). LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION POLITICIAN ON TRIAL

The trial of Bigeldy Gabdullin, who is vice chairman of the executive committee of the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan and editor-in- chief of the independent newspaper "XXI vek," opened in Almaty on 25 January, RFE/RL's correspondent in the former capital reported. Gabdullin is charged with obstructing a police officer who in late December entered the premises where the party's executive committee was meeting and began making a video recording of the proceedings without presenting any official documentation allowing him to do so. LF

KAZAKH, KYRGYZ PREMIERS MEET

Kyrgyz Prime Minister Amangeldi MurAliyev headed a government delegation to Astana on 21 January to attend a session of the Kyrgyz-Kazakh intergovernmental council, Interfax and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. MurAliyev also met separately with his Kazakh counterpart Qasymzhomart Toqaev to discuss bilateral economic, military, trade, and customs relations. The two premiers were also scheduled to sign an agreement on the joint use of hydroelectric power stations on the Chu and Talas rivers, while the two countries' defense ministers were to sign a bilateral cooperation agreement. LF

POLICE GUARDS WITHDRAWN FROM KYRGYZ OPPOSITION POLITICIAN'S HOSPITAL WARD

The Interior Ministry guards posted in parliament deputy and opposition El (Bei Bechara) Party Chairman Daniyar Usenov's hospital ward were withdrawn on 23 January, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported the following day, quoting the parliamentary press service. The police had been deployed last week after Usenov failed to comply with a court summons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2000). LF

THREE SENTENCED TO DEATH FOR KYRGYZ CONTRACT KILLING

Kyrgyzstan's Military Court on 24 January handed down the death sentence on three people found guilty of the March 1997 murder in Bishkek of the head of the LUKoil-Kyrgyzstan company, Yusup Kolbaev, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. A fourth man received a nine-year prison sentence for his role as the killers' driver. LF

KYRGYZ, TAJIK PRESIDENTS MEET WITH PUTIN

Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev met with acting Russian President Putin in Moscow on 24 January on the eve of the CIS summit, Russian agencies reported. Akaev requested that repayment of his country's huge debt to Russia be rescheduled, presidential deputy chief of staff Sergei Prikhodko said. That debt was estimated last summer at $132.8 million, and Kyrgyzstan must pay $30 million in interest in 2000 alone. Agreement was reached on postponing until May 2000 a state visit to Moscow by Akaev originally scheduled for February. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov met with Putin the same day to discuss economic and military-technical cooperation, the situation in Afghanistan, and the threat posed by international terrorism, according to ITAR-TASS. LF




OSCE CONSIDERS BELARUSIAN ELECTORAL CODE FLAWED

The Chamber of Representatives on 24 January passed an Electoral Code, which regulates the electoral process in Belarus. Belarusian Television commented that the legislature has done "as much as possible" to ensure that this year's parliamentary elections will be held in a "democratic, free, and transparent" way. Meanwhile, the Warsaw-based OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said the draft code was prepared "badly," according to Interfax. The bureau believes that the document does not provide for a "multiparty or pluralistic composition" of the Central Electoral Commission and makes it possible for the authorities to exercise control over all electoral commissions. The code is said to include excessive restrictions that "nullify the possibilities to hold bright energetic campaigning and violate the right to the freedom of speech." The bureau concludes that the code does not comply with Belarus's obligations to the OSCE. JM

UKRAINE'S TKACHENKO SAYS HE IS 'ACTING' SPEAKER

Oleksandr Tkachenko told the Kontynent radio station on 24 January that he is "acting head of the Supreme Council," Interfax reported. Last week the center-right, pro-presidential majority voted to oust Tkachenko from the post of parliamentary speaker (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2000). Tkachenko confirmed that he has been deprived of official bodyguards and disconnected from business telephones in the parliament. He did not rule out that the dismissal of the Supreme Council leadership may be put on the agenda of the session scheduled for 1 February. According to him, 150 votes are sufficient to submit such a motion for parliamentary consideration. JM

UKRAINIAN LEFTISTS BRAND PARLIAMENTARY SPLIT AS 'COUP D'ETAT'

The Progressive Socialist Party on 24 January said the recent parliamentary split in Ukraine is an "unconstitutional, criminal coup d'etat" that is being perpetrated "to please foreign capital in order to enslave Ukraine," Interfax reported. The Communist Party also disseminated a statement saying that "under the patronage of President Leonid Kuchma an unconstitutional, criminal coup d'etat is taking place in the Supreme Council and around it." Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz told the Kontynent radio station that the parliamentary split is "an attempt at a coup d'etat," adding that its goal is to install "an authority of oligarchs" in the country. Moroz also said the parliamentary majority "does not realize what it is doing" and warned the majority deputies about criminal responsibility for exceeding their constitutional powers. JM

KUCHMA TO RUN FOR THIRD PRESIDENTIAL TERM?

Oleksandr Volkov, a parliamentary deputy and former aide to President Leonid Kuchma, has suggested that Kuchma may run for a third term as president, Interfax reported on 24 January. "When Kuchma was elected the first time, there was no constitution. It is the 1997 constitution that stipulates that the president may not hold its post longer than two terms. And the law cannot be retroactive," Volkov told a Kyiv weekly. Volkov is seen by the anti-Kuchma opposition as an "oligarch" who helped collect some 4 million signatures in support of a constitutional referendum through the Social Protection Fund network he heads. The "Financial Times" reported last week that the U.S. government had requested that Kuchma remove Volkov from the process of decision making in the presidential entourage, but Kyiv has not confirmed this report. JM

TALBOTT IN ESTONIA

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott made a three-day visit to Estonia on 22-24 January, with the focus on Estonia's NATO integration. President Lennart Meri conferred the Cross of Terra Marianna First Order--the highest civilian honor--to Talbott for his work in strengthening U.S.-Estonian relations. In talks with Prime Minister Mart Laar, Talbott praised the commitment to increase defense spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2001, the government press secretary reported. On 24 January Talbott gave a lecture titled "A Baltic Homecoming" in honor of the first U.S. ambassador to Estonia, Robert Frasure, following the restoration of independence. Frasure died in an air accident in the Balkans in 1995 (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 21 August 1995). Talbott said "The fate of the Baltic states is...a litmus test for the fate of this entire continent," adding that "We will (pass the test) when...Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are secure, stable, prosperous democracies integrated" into Euro-Atlantic structures, Reuters reported. (See also Talbott item in Russia section.) MH

ESTONIAN PREMIER BACKS OFF EURO IDEA

Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar, heavily criticized at home over a suggestion that Estonia could introduce the euro before membership in the EU, backed off the controversial idea. The Prime Minister introduced the idea to European Commission President Romano Prodi on 22 January, who said it was "interesting" but "not possible" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2000). In response to media criticism, Laar reiterated that the idea was a personal one and was invoked just to stimulate debate. On 24 January Laar also decided to initiate a working group that would analyze the gradual transition to the euro currency. MH

LATVIAN PARLIAMENT SCOLDS PRIVATIZATION CHIEF

An ad hoc committee in the Latvian parliament investigating the country's privatization efforts scolded the head of the Latvian Privatization Agency (LPA), Janis Naglis, for making statements detrimental to the privatization of Latvijas Kugnieciba (Latvian Shipping Company, LASCO). The committee called the statements, in which Naglis argued that share prices for LASCO were too high, as "destructive" for the process, LETA reported on 24 January. Attempts to privatize LASCO failed several times, most recently in December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 1999). This comes as Economics Minister Vladimirs Makarovs refused to extend the contract of Naglis, whose work will terminate at LPA in March. MH

LITHUANIAN OIL SUPPLY DEAL STILL ELUSIVE

Despite the signing of one small agreement between Lithuania's Mazeikiai Oil and Russia's LUKoil, discussions over the long-term crude supply agreement remain deadlocked. Officials from LUKoil voiced pessimism over the deal, which hinges on the two sides agreeing to the price of crude. However, on 21 January the two companies did sign a one-year deal, whereby LUKoil provides some one million tons of crude for processing at Mazeikiai, with the end product going to LUKoil affiliates in Kaliningrad and western Russia, ELTA reported. In a related note, upon returning to Lithuania from a trip in Washington, Finance Minister Vytautas Dudenas said the International Finance Corporation is interested in acquiring up to 10 percent of Mazeikiai Oil, of which the state still has a majority stake despite handing over controls to the U.S. company Williams International. MH

POLAND APPEALS TO RUSSIA TO QUIT 'JOHN-LE-CARRE TYPE' OF SPYING

Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek on 24 January reaffirmed that last week's decision to expel nine Russian diplomats for spying (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 24 January 2000) was substantiated, PAP reported. "It was high time to end that type of spying activity, which should be limited to John Le Carre novels," Geremek noted, adding that Poland wants "good, loyal, and decent" relations with the Russian Federation. Geremek said he has no indications so far that the expulsion incident may force Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to cancel a visit to Poland, although no date has been set. NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said in Warsaw the same day that the alliance had been notified in advance about Poland's intention to expel Russian diplomats, adding that the incident is a matter between Poland and Russia. JM

SOLIDARITY POLITICIANS SUGGEST CHANGES IN CABINET

Some politicians of the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) have suggested changes in Jerzy Buzek's cabinet following the recent crisis connected with a no-confidence vote in Treasury Minister Emil Wasacz (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2000). AWS parliamentary deputy Maciej Jankowski said the AWS needs "a new opening, but not with the current premier." Another AWS politician, Ryszard Czarnecki, noted that a government reshuffle is "inevitable." AWS leader Marian Krzaklewski said he "rather rules out" the possibility of heading the cabinet, but added that a reshuffle is possible. Buzek admitted that the situation in the AWS is "very difficult," but declined to comment on his possible resignation. JM

CZECH GOVERNMENT APPROVES JEWISH RESTITUTION BILL

The Czech cabinet on 24 January approved a draft law on the restitution of Jewish property confiscated during World War II, CTK reported. Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky said the law would apply to land and property confiscated from individuals and organizations during the war, and subsequently not returned because of the communist takeover in 1948. The government has also set aside some 300 million crowns ($8.36 million) to compensate owners for property that cannot be returned because the state no longer owns it or the property no longer exists. VG

CZECH REPUBLIC, SLOVAKIA TO IMPOSE VISAS ON POST-SOVIET STATES?

Czech Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich said the government will soon decide whether to impose visa restrictions on Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, "Hospodarske noviny" reported on 24 January. The newspaper reported that Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, who opposed the imposition of visas on those countries last year, now supports the move. The move comes after the government imposed a tougher border regime aimed at "problem countries," such as the three former Soviet republics, which has caused delays at border crossings. Meanwhile, Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan on 24 January said his government would like to coordinate its visa policy with the Czech Republic vis-a-vis former Soviet republics, CTK reported. VG

SLOVAK INVESTIGATOR ASKS PARLIAMENT TO LIFT FORMER MINISTER'S IMMUNITY

Slovak Interior Ministry investigator Jaroslav Ivor on 24 January asked parliament to lift former Interior Minister Gustav Krajci's immunity from prosecution, TASR reported. Krajci is a parliamentary deputy of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. Ivor said an investigation had revealed that Krajci took bribes while he served as minister in the government of former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. VG

ALBANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS SLOVAKIA

Paskal Milo on 24 January invited Slovak firms to invest in Albania during an official visit to Bratislava, TASR reported. He said Slovak companies could help in building up his country's local infrastructure. Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, who met with Milo, said he supports maintaining the borders in the Balkans in such a way as to respect the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia and other countries. VG

HUNGARY, AUSTRIA TO CLEAR DANUBE BRIDGE DEBRIS

According to a Hungarian-Austrian joint report, the ruins of three bridges in Novi Sad destroyed during NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia could be cleared from the Danube in two or three months at a cost of some $24.1 million. Representatives of the two countries on 24 January presented the document in Budapest to Helmuth Strasser, chairman of the Danube Commission. Strasser said that if a consensus is reached the commission will forward the document to the EU which will then seek bids from member-states and other countries. MSZ




MESIC, BUDISA IN CROATIAN RUNOFF...

With 97 percent of the votes counted, Stipe Mesic of the coalition of four small parties leads the 24 January Croatian presidential election with 42 percent of the votes. Drazen Budisa of the coalition of two larger parties trails him with 28 percent. Mate Granic of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), which ran Croatia from 1990 until its defeat in the 3 January parliamentary elections, finished third with 22 percent. Granic's defeat ends the last hope of his party to hold on to at least one key office at the national level. Mesic and Budisa will face a runoff on 7 February. Reuters reported that "there is little love lost between the two and [their] advisers predicted a tough and dirty campaign." PM

...AS THE CAMPAIGN BEGINS

Mesic began the campaign on 25 January by accusing the secret services of attempting to sabotage his bid for the presidency. "All those who joined the campaign against me will have to account for their action, those in the intelligence services, the generals who behaved in the way that had some of the hallmarks of an imminent coup d'etat," Reuters reported. HDZ hardliners have previously attempted to use the secret services for political purposes. Elsewhere, Prime Minister-designate Ivica Racan spoke in favor of his ally Budisa. Racan stressed that his government will be able to carry out its program more effectively if Budisa is president. For his part, Mesic said that he will work with the government to achieve common goals, adding that he will also make sure that it keeps its promises. PM

CARROTS FOR MONTENEGRO...

British Prime Minister Tony Blair told visiting Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic that democracy in Serbia is the key to Montenegro's future. Speaking in London on 25 January, Blair said: "I believe Montenegro has now begun the same transition process that has produced greater prosperity and democracy elsewhere in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE.... But we can only be sure of that when we have democratic change and a democratic government in Belgrade," Reuters reported. "The current Belgrade leadership is still a factor for instability in the Balkans. And Montenegro itself will never be fully secure until there is democracy and economic reform in Serbia," Blair concluded. PM

...AND A STICK

Speaking in London on 21 January, an unnamed NATO diplomat told Reuters that Montenegro should not expect military support from the Atlantic alliance if Podgorica declares independence. The diplomat noted that keeping Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic from provoking a confrontation with Montenegro is a "dilemma facing all of us." The envoy added, however, that Djukanovic "should be very careful not to provoke a showdown because he shouldn't count on being rescued by the U.S. or its allies." PM

EU RETHINKING SANCTIONS ON SERBIA?

Foreign ministers of the EU member states are considering lifting the ban on direct air links to Serbia as a gesture of good will toward the Serbian opposition, "Vesti" reported from Brussels on 25 January. The daily added that British and Dutch diplomats are softening in their refusal to lift any sanctions so long as Milosevic remains in power. The opposition stresses that sanctions should be aimed directly at members of the regime and should not include blanket measures that primarily affect ordinary Serbs. PM

BOSNIAN SERBS WANT SILAJDZIC OUT

Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik and the moderate governing Sloga coalition appealed to the international community's Wolfgang Petritsch to remove Bosnian Muslim leader Haris Silajdzic from his post as co-chairman of the central government. Speaking in Banja Luka on 24 January, Dodik said that Silajdzic should go because of his recent remarks calling for the revision of the Dayton peace agreement. Silajdzic had argued that Dayton preserved an order "based on genocide" and ethnic cleansing dating back to the 1992-1995 conflict. Petritsch's spokesman, James Ferguson, said that Silajdzic's remarks were not "particularly helpful," adding there is a need for further implementation of Dayton rather than a revision of the peace treaty. Ferguson noted, however, that there is "no question" of removing Silajdzic. Petritsch has the authority to remove officials who he considers to be obstructing the implementation of Dayton. The Bosnian Serb leadership regards Dayton as legitimizing the continued existence of the Republika Srpska. PM

POSTWAR KOSOVA OPENS FIRST BANK

The Micro Enterprise Bank opened in Prishtina on 24 January, the first bank launched in the province since the end of Serbian rule in June 1999. Funded primarily by the German and Dutch governments, the bank is an attempt by the international community to revive economic life in Kosova. Board chairman Ajri Begu told AP that it will be an uphill fight to "win back the lost faith of the citizens in the banking system." PM

RIGHTS GROUP SLAMS MACEDONIAN POLICE

The Helsinki Committee for Human Rights said in Skopje on 24 January that Macedonian police used excessive force and violated citizens' property rights in investigating the recent killing of three policemen in an ethnic Albanian village (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2000). PM

ROMANIAN TEACHERS AND RAILWAY WORKERS GO ON STRIKE...

Romanian teachers and railway workers went on strike on 24 and 25 January, respectively. Tens of thousands of teachers on strike are demanding a minimum wage of 1.5 million lei ($81.65) and bonuses for 1999. They are also calling on the government to respect a protocol it signed in September 1998 concerning the education sector and wages. Some 90 percent of teachers have reportedly joined the strike. Meanwhile, railway workers went on an indefinite strike on 25 January to demand a 56 percent wage rise. But, a lawyers' union on 24 January suspended a planned five-hour strike after reaching agreement with the Justice and Finance ministries to begin negotiations on 26 January, Rompres reported. The lawyers are protesting a 40 percent profit tax for self-employed professionals, while companies pay just 25 percent, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. VG

...AND GOVERNMENT REFUSES TO BACK DOWN

Romanian State Minister in charge of the economy Mircea Ciumara said on 24 January that he will not talk to trade unions that are on strike, Reuters reported. Both Transport Minister Traian Basescu and officials at the Education Ministry said no agreements on wage increases can be made until the state budget is approved. Basescu said the same day that the railway strike would "bring nothing to the employees" in the public's eyes, Mediafax reported. He said he suspects the strike is actually aimed at scuttling the recently announced restructuring of the country's national railway company. The strikes come at a time when IMF officials are in Romania to assess the country's economy in light of a $547-million standby agreement which expires in March. VG

CRIMINAL CASE LAUNCHED AGAINST CLUJ MAYOR

The chief prosecutor of a regional appeals court on 24 January indicted Cluj Mayor Gheorghe Funar on suspicion of abusing his public position and harming private interests. The government has suspended Funar from his position pending an investigation. The indictment relates to a legal dispute in which the private company Alimentara claims the mayor gave it a permit to build a supermarket and then withdrew it. Funar, who also chairs the chauvinist Greater Romania Party, said the indictment is part of a political campaign against him, Hungarian TV reported. He said he will organize demonstrations in Cluj and Bucharest against his suspension. VG

COMMUNISTS, AGRARIANS WIN IN TARACLIA

The Communist and Agrarian parties came out on top in the 23 January elections in Moldova's Taraclia county, BASA-Press reported the next day. The Communists won 12 of the county council's 27 seats, the Agrarians took 11 seats, the Plai Natal Movement won two, and the Centrist Alliance gained only one seat. An independent candidate won the remaining seat. The election turnout was reported at 73.6 percent. BASA-Press reported that the Communists had won three mayoralties, while the Agrarians won two. A second round of voting will take place on 6 February in four villages. VG

ETHNIC TURKISH LEADER IN BULGARIA WANTS CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE

Ahmed Dogan, the leader of the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms, on 24 January said on Bulgarian state radio that the constitution should be amended to reflect the existence of minorities in the country, AP reported. Dogan said the constitution refers to Bulgaria as a "mononational state," which is "simply not true." Bulgaria's ethnic Turks comprise about 10 percent of the nation's population. VG

BULGARIAN ROMA FILE PETITIONS AGAINST POLICE BRUTALITY

The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee Chairman Krasimir Kunev on 24 January announced that five petitions have been filed with the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg in connection with allegations of police brutality against Roma, BTA reported. Kunev said the lawsuits are aimed at jump-starting a debate on adopting measures to improve the situation. He called for legislation to more tightly regulate the police's use of firearms and require investigators to inform the relatives of a person who has been arrested. In other news, Italy on 24 January expelled eight crew members of a Bulgarian ship after they had been detained for helping illegal immigrants. The crew members claim their ship was hijacked (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 1999). VG




ANOTHER FORCED DEPORTATION?


By Paul Goble

As Russian forces continue their attacks on Grozny, Moscow appears to have decided as part of its broader campaign to render a portion of Chechnya uninhabitable and to forcibly move people living there to other locations.

At the end of last month, several Western journalists reported from Moscow that the Russian government had decided to destroy the villages of highland Chechnya in order to deny Chechen fighters any sanctuary and thus to accelerate the end of the conflict.

But because such actions recall some of the worst features of the Stalinist era, many Western analysts treated these reports with extreme skepticism. Now, however, a document, apparently leaked in Moscow and circulating in the West last week, suggests that Moscow has decided on even more radical measures.

The document in question consists of a report on the 15 December meeting of the Russian Security Council under the chairmanship of then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Marked for official use only, the two-page paper is addressed to Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev.

According to this report, which several Western analysts consider authentic, the Russian Security Council on that date addressed two issues: strengthening Moscow's influence over the member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States and suppressing the Chechens.

If the decisions concerning the CIS are very much a continuation of Moscow's recent policies, the Security Council's conclusions about how to deal with Chechnya represent a major departure from what Russian officials have said in public in the past.

According to this report, Russian forces have virtually completed the second stage of what the document calls "the anti-terrorist operation for the liquidation of bandit formations on the territory of Chechnya." And the meeting thus had to decide what to do in the third phase.

The language of the report is stark: It says that participants in the mid-December meeting agreed that Chechen settlements in the mountains do not have "any economic or other value" and thus "must be completely liquidated."

All structures there--"including cult and historical ones"--must be viewed as potential hiding places for bandit formations, the document specifies, and thus they are to be subject to "total destruction." Such actions, the report says, will effectively "liquidate forever the basis for the rise of new bandits and terrorists."

The Security Council report provides additional details on what that will mean: "the creation of conditions absolutely unsuitable for human habitation in the future" and "the resettlement of peaceful residents from this part of Chechnya either north of the Terek River or their assimilation into other regions of Russia."

And the Security Council adds that "after the completion of military operations all construction and other materials are to be removed from this part of Chechnya," thereby making it impossible that anyone will ever be able to live there again.

Such draconian measures not only represent a significant escalation of Moscow's expressed aims of ending Chechen resistance but inevitably invite comparisons with tsarist policies in the Caucasus in the 19th century and Stalin's forcible deportation of the Chechens in 1944.

As tsarist forces marched into the northern Caucasus in the last century, they routinely destroyed crops and deforested much of the region as part of their effort to pacify the population. In most cases, the policy backfired and left the local population more anti-Russian than before.

Then, in 1944, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin accused the Chechens of collaborating with the Germans and deported more than 600,000 of them to Central Asia.

That bitter experience cost more than one-third of them their lives and left those who remained alive and their descendants even more determined to return home and ultimately to escape Russian rule.

But neither the tsarist authorities nor Stalin's secret police resolved to make an entire portion of Chechnya uninhabitable and to forcibly move the population living there to other regions.

That is what Moscow under acting President Putin now appears prepared to do. But unless this action leads to the total extermination of all Chechens, it is likely to have an even more disturbing outcome than did the earlier efforts of tsars and commissars.

It is likely to generate an even more radical Chechen national movement, one defined by its hostility to everything Russian and prepared to engage in precisely the kind of actions that the Russian authorities have claimed they are acting to forestall.


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