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Newsline - January 28, 2000




GROZNY SITUATION UNCLEAR

Lieutenant-General Gennadii Troshev, who is deputy commander of Russian forces in Chechnya, said on 27 January that federal forces have broken through Chechen lines and are advancing towards the center of Grozny "from all sides," ITAR-TASS reported. Interfax the same day quoted a Russian military spokesman in Mozdok as saying that Russian troops took the settlement of Michurin the previous day. But Interfax also quoted a Chechen general as claiming on 27 January that the Chechens still control Michurin. The general added that in some places Russian forces have been practically driven back to the points from which they launched the storm of Grozny two weeks ago. LF

STEPASHIN SAYS CHECHEN WAR WAS RESPONSE TO SHPIGUN ABDUCTION

Former Interior Minister and Premier Sergei Stepashin told Interfax on 27 January that preparations for a new military operation in Chechnya began in March 1999, shortly after the abduction in Grozny of Russian Interior Ministry general Gennadii Shpigun (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 1999). But Stepashin said that only local operations to create a "security zone" extending to the Terek River were envisaged, and not "large-scale hostilities." The objective of the localized operations, Stepashin said, was to locate and eliminate "terrorist bases" throughout Chechnya. On 14 January, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" quoted Stepashin as saying that planning had begun in March and that the incursion into Chechnya would have taken place even if the terrorist bombings in Moscow and other Russian cities had not occurred. LF

DESPITE SHORTFALL, RUSSIA MAY STOP IMPORTING GRAIN

Acting President Vladimir Putin told the Russian cabinet on 27 January that Moscow may stop purchasing grain on international markets even though its own domestic production is unlikely to meet demand, particularly in the area of fodder and forage crops, ITAR-TASS reported. The Agricultural Ministry said that Russia faces a grain shortfall for the 1999-2000 agricultural year of 10.2 million tons. If nothing else is done, such an approach would likely lead to lower production of meat and dairy products, but Putin has tasked the ministry to develop a program to boost production, narrow price disparities, and reduce expenditures. Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shcherbak said that the Russian government had sent a request to the U.S. for 5 million tons of food assistance of mostly fodder grain, but the U.S. has agreed to supply around only 500,000 tons. According to Reuters on 21 January, Russia has not yet officially accepted the smaller package. PG/JAC

PACE CALLS ON RUSSIA TO HALT FIGHTING IN CHECHNYA

By a vote of 84 to 71, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a resolution on 27 January calling on Moscow to immediately halt military operations in Chechnya and open a political dialogue with the Chechens, ITAR- TASS and other agencies reported. If Moscow fails to do so, the resolution said, PACE will introduce disciplinary sanctions against Russia at its April 2000 session. Another resolution--which would have restricted the voting rights of the Russian delegation-- failed to gain a majority. The vote came after an appearance by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who said on his return to Moscow that "On the one hand, we succeeded in defending Russian rights in PACE but on the other hand, the debate showed that a number of European parliamentarians continue to be biased regarding the situation in Chechnya," ITAR- TASS reported. PG

RUSSIA, U.S. AT ODDS ON WARHEAD LIMITS, ABM CHANGES

Russian and American officials staked out contrasting positions on warhead limits and modifications in the ABM treaty in advance of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's upcoming visit to Moscow. Moscow would like in upcoming talks to reduce the number of strategic warheads on each side to 1,500, while the U.S. advocates a minimum of 2,000-2,500, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, the U.S. would like to introduce certain modifications in the ABM treaty, while Moscow wants that accord to remain unchanged. PG

BORODIN "SUMMONED" TO SWITZERLAND...

When asked about reports that an arrest warrant has been issued for the Secretary of State of the Union of Belarus and Russia, Pavel Borodin, CIS Minister Leonid Drachevskii told reporters on 27 January that he "reacts calmly to publications in the Western media" since Russia already experienced "the noble and pathetic struggle by 'The New York Times'" against Russian money-laundering in which it made use of "unverified information." Germany's dpa reported on 27 January that Swiss authorities said that they have issued a summons for Borodin, the former head of the Kremlin's facilities directorate, to answer questions about money-laundering--not an arrest warrant per se (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2000). However, the "Financial Times" and "Guardian" appeared to confirm the earlier Reuters report that an actual arrest warrant has been issued. JAC

...AS LUZHKOV SUBPOENAED FROM ARIZONA

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov has received a subpoena from an Arizona court asking for his testimony in a lawsuit regarding the murder of U.S. businessman Paul Tatum in Moscow in 1996 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 1999). However, Luzhkov's lawyers said that the subpoena was improperly composed and cannot be considered a legal document, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 28 January. As a result, Luzhkov has not responded to the subpoena. JAC

DUMA CRISIS FADING

State Duma deputies postponed on 28 January voting on the appointment of deputy chairmen to committees in the lower legislative house until 9 February, when the three boycotting factions of Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), Fatherland-All Russia, and Yabloko have announced that they will return. SPS leader Sergei Kirienko announced the previous day that former Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov (SPS) will chair the Duma's legislation committee, and former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov (SPS) will be offered the post of deputy speaker. JAC

RUSSIA BOOSTS GOLD OUTPUT...

Russia produced 125.87 tons of gold in 1999--10.4 percent more than the previous year, Oleg Braiko, head of the Union of Gold Producers, told Interfax on 27 January. Braiko attributed the rise to the ruble's devaluation, which began the year before and which generated extra profits enabling companies to finance production in 1999. In addition, commercial banks increased financing to the industry last year. Gold production increased in Krasnoyarsk Krai, the Irkutsk and Amur oblasts, and the Republic of Sakha, while it fell in Magadan Oblast. JAC

...AND RAMPS UP BEER PRODUCTION

Russia also achieved its highest-ever annual production of 4.32 billion liters of beer in 1999--27 percent more than the previous year, according to Interfax. The previous record was 3.56 billion liters in 1985, according to Vladimir Shishin, head of the Russian Beer Association. Demand for beer has increased in Russia, which is Europe's third-largest market. Market analysts Datamonitor predicted last October that beer sales in Russia will grow by 60 percent by 2002, challenging the dominant position of vodka in the domestic alcohol market. JAC

COMMISSION PROVIDES PRESIDENTIAL RACE UPDATE

The Central Election Commission has registered 15 initiative groups for 26 March presidential elections as of 28 January, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov, he expects an additional 16-20 more groups to seek registration. During the 1996 presidential elections some 77 candidates were nominated but only 12 were finally registered. Initiative groups must collect 500,000 signatures to support their candidates, but no more than 35,000 in each region. Among the candidates nominated so far are acting President Putin, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev, Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii, Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, and Conservative Party leader Lev Ubozhko. On 27 January, the coordinating council of Democratic Russia announced its support for Titov's candidacy. JAC

ILLEGAL CAPITAL FLIGHT FROM RUSSIA NOW AT $1 BILLION A MONTH

Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko told ITAR-TASS on 27 January that illegal capital flight from Russia amounted to $1 billion a month during 1999, ITAR-TASS reported. Despite progress in fighting this problem, Gerashchenko said, "the outflow of capital remains a more acute problem." Meanwhile, U.S. prosecutors have returned an indictment against Svetlana Kudryavtseva, a Bank of New York employee, who is charged with engaging in Russian money-laundering there, AP reported on 28 January. JAC

YELTSIN'S DAUGHTER REMOVED FROM TV BOARD

Acting President Putin signed a resolution on 27 January removing Tatyana Dyachenko, former President Boris Yeltsin's daughter, from the collegium of Russian Public Television, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 28 January. First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, First Deputy Media Minister Mikhail Seslavinskii, and the deputy head of the presidential administration, Dmitrii Yakushkin, retained their positions in the collegium. Added to it were presidential spokesman Aleksei Gromov, Communications Minister Leonid Reiman, and the first deputy head of the presidential administration, Igor Shabdurasulov. JAC

PATRIARCH BLAMES U.S. SPECIAL SERVICES FOR RIFT WITH U.S. ORTHODOX...

Asked about the rift between the Moscow Patriarchate and the U.S.-based Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II said on 28 January that the "U.S. authorities and American special services will never allow the two churches to unite," ITAR-TASS reported. Aleksii added that "there are leaders and believers in the [U.S.-based] Russian Orthodox Church who want to unite, but I am convinced that the leadership of the church, who invent various accusations against the Moscow Patriarchate, including its alleged collaboration with Soviet power, in reality is politicized itself and is not free to decide on unification." JAC

...AND REGRETS CALL FOR INDEPENDENT UKRAINIAN BRANCH

Aleksii also commented on a statement by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who has called for the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Aleksii noted that such a statement "causes regret" and "one cannot tear apart the spiritual ties between our churches which have a millennium-long history." He added: "I reminded the president of Ukraine that we had granted the Orthodox Church of Ukraine independence in financial and administrative issues. Only the spiritual ties remain which various forces are trying to tear apart." JAC

ISRAEL OFFERS TO TEACH MUSCOVITES TO SAVE WATER

Israeli Interior Minister Natan Sharansky and Industry and Trade Minister Ran Kogen told Moscow Mayor Luzhkov on 27 January that Israeli experts are prepared to come to the Russian capital to help its residents economize on water use, ITAR-TASS said. Luzhkov for his part expressed interest in expanding imports of other Israeli-produced goods. PG

REFRACTIONS FOR THE REFRACTORY

Russia's Alrosa diamond company has given the name Themis, the ancient Greek goddess of law, order, and justice, to a 69-karat diamond on the occasion of the 278th anniversary of the Russian public prosecutor's office and the 80th anniversary of Yakutia's Supreme Court, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 January. The newly mined stone has been transferred to the Russian State Diamond Collection where it will become part of the national heritage. PG




ARMENIA, U.S. FORM ECONOMIC 'TASK FORCE'

Armenian Premier Aram Sargsian and visiting U.S. State Department coordinator Bill Taylor signed an agreement in Yerevan on 27 January establishing a task force to promote bilateral economic ties and ensure the more rational use of U.S. economic aid, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Several U.S. government agencies, including the Agency for International Development and Eximbank, will be represented on the new task force. Taylor also met with Armenian President Robert Kocharian, who pledged Armenia's willingness for economic cooperation with other regional states, according to ITAR--TASS. Taylor told Sargsian on 26 January that the World Bank supports the U.S. initiative to convene an international conference on economic reconstruction in the Caucasus. LF

ARRESTED FORMER ARMENIAN EDUCATION MINISTER DECLARES HUNGER-STRIKE

Ashot Bleyan, who has been held in pre-trial detention since May, has declared a hunger-strike, Snark reported on 26 January. Bleyan is charged with embezzlement of public funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March and 15 May 1999). He has rejected those charges as politically motivated. LF

ARMENIAN JOURNALIST'S JAIL SENTENCE SUSPENDED

Armenia's Court of Review on 27 January suspended the one-year prison sentence handed down last year to Nikol Pashinian, editor of the newspaper "Haykakan Zhamanak," but failed to clear him of criminal charges, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Pashinian was found guilty last year of insulting law-enforcement officials, declining to publish a retraction, and slandering two persons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 2 September 1999). Pashinian said he will challenge the Court of Review's failure to throw out the charges against him with the higher Court of Appeal. LF

PROVISIONAL DATE SET FOR AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT'S IRAN VISIT

Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov told journalists in Baku on 27 January that President Heidar Aliyev is likely to visit Iran in February or March of this year, Turan reported. The visit had been scheduled for last September but failed to take place, partly because of Azerbaijan's annoyance at Tehran's reluctance to extradite to Azerbaijan former Azerbaijani special forces officer Mahir Djavadov, whose brother, Rovshan, was killed in 1995 in what Azerbaijan claims was an attempt to overthrow Aliyev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 August 1999). LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT DISMISSES TOP ENERGY OFFICIALS

At an emergency meeting of energy sector officials late on 26 January, President Aliyev blamed the energy shortage that has necessitated rationing on corruption and inefficiency, Turan and AP reported. Aliyev charged that top officials not only take no measures to prevent the embezzlement of heating oil intended for the country's thermal power stations, but some of them are even involved in that theft. He further claimed that the population pays double the officially stated figure of only 26 percent of the total amount owed in electricity bills, and that corrupt officials pocket the difference. He termed inadmissible three instances of theft of crude from the Baku-Supsa oil export pipeline. Aliyev then dismissed the deputy chairman of Azerenergy JSC and the acting chairman of Azerigas for "serious shortcomings in their work." LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PLANS 'NATIONAL RESISTANCE'

Meeting in Baku on 27 January, representatives of most opposition parties decided to set up an initiative group to create a new National Resistance Movement, Turan reported. The aims of that movement will be to campaign for a just solution to the Karabakh conflict and for democratic elections. Opposition parties have been discussing the expediency of creating such a movement for several months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 1999). LF

RUSSIA RETURNS SOME IMPOUNDED MILITARY EQUIPMENT TO GEORGIA

Russian customs has released a consignment of arms impounded in Moscow last year, Caucasus Press reported on 28 January. The arms had been sent to Romania for an exhibit of military technology and were being shipped back to Georgia via Moscow. Russian customs impounded the weapons, fearing they were destined for Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1999). But Russian customs officials have not yet released a consignment of 3,000 camouflage uniforms donated by the U.S. to the Georgian armed forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 1999). LF

GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY DISCLOSES DESERTION FIGURES

Some 3,000 servicemen deserted from the Georgian army in 1999, Defense Ministry spokesman Koba Liklikadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 28 January, according to Caucasus Press. He added that the primary reasons for deserting are appalling living conditions and the lack of public respect for military personnel. "Rossiiskaya gazeta" in December 1999 estimated the total strength of the Georgian armed forces at 33,000; ground forces number 13,000. LF

CHECHENS BEGIN PUBLISHING NEWSPAPER IN GEORGIA

A Chechen information bureau in Tbilisi has begun publication--with the assistance of the Association of the Georgian Free Press--of the newspaper "Chechenskaya pravda," Interfax reported on 26 January. The agency described the contents of the paper as "anti-Russian." The Georgian authorities deny any connection with the paper. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S FOREIGN MINISTER DISCLOSES DETAILS OF BORDER DISPUTE WITH UZBEKISTAN

Erlan Idrisov told journalists in Almaty on 27 January that Uzbek border guards, supported by an armored personnel carrier, advanced 5 km into the territory of Kazakhstan's Sary-Aghash and Qazyqurt districts on 25 January and unilaterally demarcated a 60 km stretch of the border, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. Local Kazakh residents subsequently removed the border markings and held protest meetings. Idrisov said Kazakh and Uzbek government officials had reached agreement on the sidelines of the 25 January CIS summit to set up a joint commission to demarcate the border, which was to meet for the first time in March. Idrisov affirmed that Kazakhstan "will not cede one meter" of its territory to Uzbekistan. LF

NGOS IN KYRGYZSTAN PROTEST STATE INTERFERENCE IN ELECTION CAMPAIGN

Tolekan Ismailova, who is executive-director of the Coalition for the Democratization of Society, which groups together some 130 NGOs, told journalists in Bishkek on 27 January that her organization has appealed to President Askar Akaev to prevent continued government interference in the parliamentary election campaign, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. The coalition has compiled a report citing cases in which local authorities have recommended appointing specific individuals to local election commissions. The Coalition also condemned the requirement imposed by the Central Electoral Commission that prospective candidates should pay a registration fee of 30,000 soms (approximately $600). As a result, far fewer candidates have registered to contest the 20 February poll than did the 1995 parliamentary elections. RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 27 January that a total of 455 candidates have registered to contend the poll. LF




BELARUS INTRODUCES CUSTOMS DECLARATIONS ON RUSSIAN BORDER

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has issued an edict requiring the declaration of goods shipped across the border with Russia as of 1 February, Belapan reported on 27 January. Valery Yarasheuski, of Belarus's State Customs Committee, said customs declarations will be required solely for statistical purposes, and there will be no customs control on the Belarusian-Russian border as before. Yarasheuski added that customs declarations jointly with so-called "contract certificates" regarding the shipped goods must be submitted to the customs authorities before the date of export shipment or within a 15-day period after the date of import. Those failing to submit the declarations will have to pay fines amounting to 10 percent of the contract value of shipped goods. JM

SPLIT UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT FAILS TO CONCILIATE...

The 27 January talks between the opposing factions of the split parliament brought no results, Interfax reported. Oleksandr Zinchenko, from the center-right majority, told the agency that the left minority demands that all the resolutions passed by the majority be subject to repeat voting. The sides also did not agree on how to begin the 1 February session and who is to chair it. Meanwhile, the minority's Oleksandr Moroz commented that both parallel sessions held by the split lawmakers on 21 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2000) were "illegitimate." JM

...WHILE MAJORITY COMES WITH SINGLE CANDIDATE FOR SPEAKER

Leonid Kravchuk, who is the temporary coordinator of the parliamentary majority, told Interfax that the majority decided on 27 January to propose Ivan Plyushch as its only candidate for the post of speaker. Deputy speaker Viktor Medvedchuk, who was viewed as another candidate for speaker (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2000), withdrew his candidacy and appealed to the majority to support Plyushch. JM

NATO CHIEF PRAISES 'DISTINCTIVE' TIES WITH UKRAINE

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson told journalists in Kyiv on 27 January that "the special, distinctive partnership between NATO and Ukraine continues to develop extremely well," Reuters reported. During his meeting with Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, Robertson stressed Ukraine's essential role as "a core of stability in the center of Eastern Europe." Robertson pledged to continue developing NATO-Ukraine relations under the mutual special partnership accord. JM

FORMER UKRAINIAN PREMIER ALLEGES UKRAINE MISUSED IMF MONEY

The 28 January "Financial Times" reported that former Ukrainian Premier Pavlo Lazarenko is preparing to testify to the U.S. House of Representatives that President Leonid Kuchma's government was engaged in embezzlement and money laundering. Lazarenko maintains that $613 million in IMF funds were diverted from the central bank in December 1997 and invested in speculative government bonds, reaping interest rates of up to 66 percent. Some $200 million in proceeds were allegedly deposited in the Belgian and Swiss accounts of people close to Kuchma, including his aide Oleksandr Volkov. The "Financial Times" notes that Lazarenko's testimony could stall his extradition to Switzerland and complicate the resumption of the IMF loan program to Ukraine. JM

EX-LATVIAN PREMIER QUITS PARLIAMENT

Former Latvian Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans quit the parliament on 27 January. Kristopans said at a press conference that there is not any specific reasons for stepping down, though he did voice dissatisfaction over current government policies, LETA reported. His party, Latvia's Way, is a member of the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Andris Skele of the People's Party, with whom Kristopans has been involved in a long-running public feud. Kristopans was a well-known basketball player before entering business and politics. Mariss Andersons will replace him in parliament. Tragedy also struck the parliament on the same day, as Social Democrat deputy Leonards Stass suffered a fatal heart attack while at work. MH

LATVIAN PRESIDENT VOWS TO PUNISH GUILTY WAR CRIMINALS...

President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, while attending the international conference on the Holocaust in Stockholm, vowed to seek justice against all war criminals. Speaking on 27 January, Vike- Freiberga said, "Our criminal code condemns genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, regardless of the ideology in whose name such crimes were perpetrated, be it Nazism or Communism," BNS reported. The president also reemphasized that "Latvia holds no statute of limitations on these crimes and is committed to the prosecution and punishment of those found guilty through the due process of law." Vike- Freiberga also stressed the importance of understanding the Holocaust, saying, "The sacred duty of the living is to remember the dead, to honor their suffering, and to reassert their dignity as human beings." Reuters reported that Latvian and Australian officials met in Stockholm to discuss the case of suspected war criminal Konrads Kalejs and to speed up the conclusion of an agreement on extradition. MH

...AS DOES LITHUANIAN PREMIER

Also at the Holocaust conference in Stockholm on 27 January, Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius stressed his commitment to prosecuting war criminals. Kubilius said that pursuing war criminals is "a moral duty that must be fulfilled in the 21st century as well," adding that "forgiving or forgetting [the culprits] is out of the question," ELTA reported. Kubilius told the conference that the Holocaust is especially painful in Lithuania, as Jewish culture flourished in that country before World War II. Kubilius also held bilateral meetings with Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, Finnish Premier Paavo Lipponen, Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, and Israeli Premier Ehud Barak. MH

LITHUANIA GDP CONTRACTS BY 3 PERCENT

Lithuania's Statistical Department on 27 January revealed that preliminary figures show 1999 GDP contracted by 3 percent, ELTA reported. This drop comes despite a fourth quarter GDP growth of 1.2 percent. This is a dramatic improvement from GDP results of the first nine months of the year, which showed a 4.9 percent drop from the same period in 1998. MH

POLISH COALITION PARTY SEEKS CABINET CHANGE

The Main Board of the Christian National Union (ZChN), a component of the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), adopted on 27 January a resolution calling on the AWS "to take steps aimed at changing the cabinet," PAP reported. An anonymous ZChN activist told the agency that the resolution reflects the union's view that Premier Jerzy Buzek's cabinet has "exhausted its potential to govern." The 28 January "Gazeta Wyborcza" reported that the ZChN is going to propose on 28 January that AWS leader Marian Krzaklewski head the government. The CBOS polling center reported this week that 58 percent of Poles assess the performance of the current cabinet negatively, while Buzek himself has only a 24 percent approval rating. JM

EU OFFICIALS WELCOME NEW AGREEMENTS BETWEEN TOP CZECH PARTIES

Representatives of the European Commission and the European Parliament on 27 January welcomed the new series of agreements between the governing Social Democrats and the opposition Civic Democratic Party, CTK reported. Juergen Schroeder, the European Parliament rapporteur, said the agreements should ease the tense atmosphere in the Czech Republic and improve the pace of EU membership preparations. In other news, the Chamber of Deputies approved a procedural amendment to enable the lower house to pass bills on the first reading, and thus speed up the process of adopting EU-related legislation. VG

HAVEL MEETS WITH AUSCHWITZ SURVIVORS

President Vaclav Havel and Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy met with survivors of the Holocaust on 27 January at the Prague Castle to mark the 55th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz, Czech media reported. Havel, who just returned from a conference on the Holocaust in Stockholm, supported the idea of officially recognizing 27 January as a "day for victims of Nazism...and the fight against racism." VG

SURVEY FINDS STRONG RACIST TENDENCIES IN CZECH SOCIETY

The international organization Opinion Window on 27 January released the results of a survey which found that Czechs exhibit "substantially more widespread xenophobic opinions" than many previously surveyed societies, Czech media reported. The survey was conducted about a month ago among 1,124 respondents in the form of individual interviews and group discussions. The survey states that only 17 percent of Czechs can be described as "tolerant." Half of the respondents were found to harbor antipathy towards the country's Romany minority, while 30 percent had similar feelings toward skinheads. VG

SLOVAK JUSTICE MINISTER SAYS PROSECUTION OF MECIAR UNLIKELY

Jan Carnogursky on 27 January said legal proceedings will probably not be brought against former Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. Carnogursky said any attempt to prosecute Meciar for alleged crimes he may have committed during his rule would only heighten divisions in the country. "It's like the case of General Pinochet in Chile," Carnogursky told Reuters. Meciar has been accused of abusing his powers while in office. Former Slovak Intelligence Service head Ivan Lexa, who was appointed by Meciar, is facing charges in connection with the abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son in 1995. In other news, the head of the Slovak government's personnel department was dismissed on 27 January for granting illegal Christmas bonuses to cabinet ministers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2000). VG

HUNGARIAN PREMIER URGES EU ENLARGEMENT IN PORTUGAL

Viktor Orban on 27 January told his Portuguese counterpart, Antonio Guterres, that during Portugal's presidency the EU should start membership negotiations with Hungary in all areas. Guterres said his country considers it important that the EU's internal reforms take into account the interests of EU candidates, including Hungary. Orban told reporters in Lisbon he was assured that all parliamentary parties in Portugal would support the quick ratification of Hungary's accession. MSZ




NEW CROATIAN GOVERNMENT GETS DOWN TO BUSINESS

The new government of Prime Minister Ivica Racan agreed at its first session on 27 January to cut ministers' salaries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2000). Other government officials can expect similar cuts in a move designed to reassure voters that officials are sharing the economic difficulties of ordinary citizens, "Jutarnji list" reported. Elsewhere, Racan said that the government will not ask for a rescheduling of the foreign debt. On 28 January, Deputy Prime Minister Zeljka Antunovic called for a war on graft and crony capitalism. She stressed that corruption has penetrated "every level of state administration," Reuters reported. PM

CROATIAN MINISTER: HAGUE HAS JURISDICTION OVER OPERATION STORM

Foreign Minister Tonino Picula told "Jutarnji list" of 28 January that the Hague- based war crimes tribunal has the legal right to investigate war crimes committed in the course of Operation Storm. The previous government held that Storm, which the army carried out in August 1995 in the Serb-held Krajina region, was an internal affair outside The Hague's jurisdiction. Picula, who has described himself as a "rocker at heart," is himself a veteran of Operation Storm. He also told the Zagreb daily that Croatia must quickly make up for lost time and seek rapid integration into Europe. The EU demands that Zagreb improve its cooperation with The Hague as a pre-condition for better relations with Brussels. PM

CONSERVATIVE VOTERS TO DECIDE CROATIAN PRESIDENTIAL VOTE?

The Rijeka-based daily "Novi List" published a poll on 28 January which gives Stipe Mesic 36.8 percent and Drazen Budisa 33.4 percent in the 7 February runoff presidential vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2000). Some 23.4 percent of voters are undecided. The independent daily concluded that people who voted for Mate Granic and other defeated conservative candidates in the first round have switched to Budisa or are undecided. Budisa has strong anti-communist credentials. PM

CROATIA'S BILL FOR TUDJMAN'S FUNERAL: $662,000

The funeral and tomb for late President Franjo Tudjman cost the taxpayers a total of $662,000, Hina reported on 27 January. The decision to cover the costs was one of the last ones taken by the outgoing government of Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa before the new government took office. The bill includes the funeral, the tomb, and the costs of providing free public transportation to enable Croats from all over Croatia and Bosnia to attend the funeral, AP reported. PM

CROATIAN EX-MINISTER DETAINED ON SUSPICION OF EMBEZZLEMENT

Police in Zagreb detained outgoing Minister of Tourism Ivan Herak on 27 January, just hours after the new government took office. He is suspected of diverting $195,000 for the reconstruction of a hotel on the island of Rab into an account for his own company, "Jutarnji list" reported. Herak is now in custody in Pula, where a judge will soon determine whether there is enough evidence to indict him. He is also under suspicion of having used the ministry's advertising campaign to launder money. PM

NATO CONFINES HERZEGOVINIANS TO BASE

SFOR commander General Ron Adams ordered on 27 January that all ethnic Croatian forces in Bosnia- Herzegovina (still widely known by their wartime name of HVO) must not leave their bases or conduct training exercises. NATO troops then surrounded HVO bases to enforce the ban. A NATO spokesman said that the ban will be lifted as soon as the Croats supply SFOR with unspecified information. The spokesman added that NATO's demands will be "easy to meet," AP reported from Sarajevo. PM

REPUBLIKA SRPSKA AS 'BEACON'

Serbian opposition leader Vladan Batic said in Banja Luka on 27 January that the Bosnian Serb entity is a "beacon" for other Serbs because Prime Minister Milorad Dodik and many other leaders refuse to take orders from Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Batic is attending a meeting of opposition leaders and political personalities from the Republika Srpska, including former President Biljana Plavsic, in honor of visiting Crown Prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 January 2000). PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION LEADER BLASTS EU

Zoran Djindjic of the Democratic Party and Alliance for Change coalition told the "Berliner Zeitung" of 27 January that the EU has proven "a catastrophe as a partner" for the opposition. He said that the EU makes big promises but does not deliver on them. Djindjic urged Brussels to pledge in the future to do only what it is willing or able to do. Djindjic noted that the EU recently refused to lift sanctions prohibiting oil shipments or direct air flights to Serbia, both of which would benefit ordinary Serbs and not the regime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2000). He said that by refusing to make this minimal concession to the Serbian opposition, the EU made the opposition look ineffective in the eyes of voters. The opposition will now begin "a pause" in its relations with Western Europe, Djindjic added. He said that the opposition must, in any event, change its tactics in Serbia and stress domestic social issues in order to mobilize popular support against the Milosevic regime. PM

STUDENTS JEER PROFESSOR SESELJ

Several hundred students at Belgrade University's Law Faculty jeered Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj when he arrived at the university on 27 January in his new capacity as a professor of law. The faculty's Professor Knezevic resigned in protest over the appointment of his new colleague, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Knezevic called the appointment a "caricature of education." His resignation brings to a total of more than 150 the number of professors to quit or be fired from the university in the past two years, since the government gave itself the right to appoint and dismiss faculty. PM

BELGRADE REOPENS AIR SPACE

The Yugoslav air transport authorities allowed Western airlines to use Yugoslav air space on 27 January for the first time since NATO's bombing campaign in the spring of 1999. PM

NEW LOOK OF MONTENEGRIN CABINET

Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic on 27 January made several changes in the government. Branko Lukovac replaces Branko Perovic as foreign minister. Perovic recently resigned after an Italian court linked him to the mafia. Budimir Dubak replaces Slobodan Tomovic as minister of religious affairs. Tomovic alienated many supporters of Montenegrin independence by recently showing public support for the Serbian Orthodox Church and belittling the rival Montenegrin Orthodox Church (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2000). The Belgrade daily "Danas" wrote that Serbian Orthodox Metropolitan Amfilohije did not bless Dubak at the ceremony. The other three appointments are Ljubisa Krgovic as deputy prime minister for financial affairs, Radojica Luburic as minister of culture, and Rade Gregovic to manage land use and zoning. PM

TIRANA OPERA MUSICIANS TO CONTINUE STRIKE

Seven musicians vowed to continue their hunger strike after police moved them from a theater to a hospital "for tests" on 27 January, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2000). The artists attended a rally of 200 colleagues and supporters in central Skanderbeg Square. The government calls the protest "illegal" and refuses to fire the culture minister or abandon plans to privatize the opera and ballet. PM

ROMANIAN EDUCATION MINISTER RESIGNS

Andrei Margas on 27 January tendered his resignation, Rompres reported. Government spokesman Ionut Popescu said the minister offered to resign because "in an impoverished economy with a small budget, reforms are really difficult." He said the prime minister had "taken note" of the resignation but did not specify whether he had accepted it. The resignation came as teachers across the country entered the fourth day of a strike demanding an increase in wages (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2000). Romanian Radio reported on 27 January that opposition deputies from the parliamentary Education Committee released an open letter in which they said the education system is "about to collapse." VG

IMF GIVES HOPEFUL SIGNAL TO ROMANIA ON STAND-BY AGREEMENT

IMF representative Emanuel Zervoudakis said on 27 January that the fund may release the next tranche of a $547 million standby loan to Romania provided certain measures are taken in the next few weeks. Zervoudakis said the IMF will make a final decision in March. He said the Romanian parliament should pass a 2000 budget by then and resolve issues related to salary policy. The IMF disagrees with the government's recent 80 percent increase in army salaries. In other news, Cluj Mayor Gheorghe Funar on 27 January said he will sue the prefect who suspended him from his post this week, Hungarian Radio reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2000). VG

MOLDOVAN PREMIER DISCUSSES TRANSDNIESTER WITH EU OFFICIALS

Dumitru Braghis discussed the possibility during his recent visit to Brussels of holding a high-level meeting involving representatives of Moldova, the breakaway Transdniester region, and the EU, BASA-Press reported on 27 January. The proposed meeting would reportedly involve Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi, European Commission President Romano Prodi, and EU security envoy Javier Solana. Braghis said a schedule for the meeting will be worked out according to the schedules of the three political leaders. Meanwhile, a Spanish military delegation on 27 January suspended its efforts to inspect the Russian army depots in Transdniester after twice being refused entry into the region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2000), BASA-Press reported. The Transdniester border guards reportedly would have allowed the Spanish team to enter on its own but refused to allow it to come in with an escort of Moldovan government officials. VG

HOLOCAUST CONFERENCE REJECTS BULGARIA'S REQUEST

Organizers of the international Holocaust conference in Stockholm on 27 January say they rejected a request by Bulgaria to add a clause to the forum's final declaration about the country's exemplary treatment of Jews during World War II, Reuters reported. The Swedish Foreign Ministry noted that many countries made requests for additional clauses but added that the organizers did not want them included because they wanted the declaration to be more general. The rejection was welcomed by the Jewish community of Greece, which had expressed outrage at the Bulgarian request. Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov told the conference that his country takes pride in the fact that it rescued its entire 50,000- strong Jewish population from being sent to Nazi concentration camps. VG

FORMER BULGARIAN AMBASSADOR SEEKS ASYLUM IN CANADA

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova said on 27 January that Bulgaria's former ambassador to Canada, Slav Danev, is asking for asylum in that country, AP reported. She gave no reason for Danev's actions, saying only that it is an "extremely unpleasant incident." She said his refusal to return home is illegal. Danev's mandate expired at the end of last year, and the government appointed a new ambassador to replace him. In other news, the Bulgarian charge d' affairs in Moscow met with officials at the Russian Foreign Ministry on 27 January to express Bulgaria's "astonishment" at Russian criticism of the recent Balkan summit in the town of Hissar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2000), Bulgarian Radio reported. The Bulgarian official said the Russian reaction was characteristic of international relations during the Cold War. VG




A New Vocabulary For An Old Agenda


By Paul Goble

At the Moscow summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States this week, acting Russian President Vladimir Putin used a new vocabulary with which few could disagree in the pursuit of an old goal which far fewer support.

Putin said that the post-Soviet states must band together in "the fight against international terrorism, extremism, and separatism." Such goals, stated in this way, drew little dissent either from the participants of the CIS meeting or among leaders of the international community as a whole.

But recent Russian rhetoric about Chechnya suggests that Putin is using these words less as a precise statement of Moscow's specific intentions than as a means of increasing Russian power over the 11 other former Soviet republics now part of the CIS, something most appear likely to oppose.

Indeed, Putin's remarks this week appear to reflect the difficulties Moscow has had in trying to justify both its efforts to develop the power of the Russian state and its struggle to find a way to describe its campaign in Chechnya in a palatable manner.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian leaders regularly talked about the importance of building democratic institutions, a position they saw as enhancing their chances of getting Western aid but ones that put Russia at odds with the even more authoritarian regimes in some post-Soviet countries.

But in recent months and especially since the appointment of Putin as acting president, Russia's rhetoric has shifted away from democratic norms to the need to build state power in the name of fighting terrorism and extremism.

Such a shift might have been expected to cost Moscow support in the West, except for the fact that many Western leaders have accepted the notion that the Russian state had become too weak to achieve anything and that its strengthening was thus a priority.

But such a shift clearly could and did win support both from authoritarian leaders in some post-Soviet states who were looking for a justification for their style of rule and from more democratic ones who face real challenges on the ground.

Thus, the highly authoritarian president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, greeted Putin's words this week as an indication that Russia now represented the only power capable of foiling "the geopolitical plans of the supporters of extremism and terrorism."

And more reformist but increasingly threatened leaders in several other post-Soviet states saw Putin's words as a kind of justification for their adoption of tougher positions toward their own populations.

All of these tendencies have been exacerbated by the Chechen war. Moscow began its campaign there in the name of blocking an independence movement and opposing the spread of Islamic fundamentalism.

These slogans initially appeared to confer certain advantages, but each of them entailed serious drawbacks. Talking about opposition to national independence did not play well in many of the post- Soviet states that only a decade ago had been a part of the Soviet Union.

And opposing Islam, while acceptable as a principle of action in some Western countries, was less and less plausible for a country with a rising percentage of Muslims in its own population and one that seeks to recover its influence over neighboring states with predominantly Muslim populations.

Consequently, Putin in particular and Moscow leaders in general have recast their campaign in Chechnya as a struggle against bandits, terrorists, and extremists--a goal which few either in the West or in the post-Soviet states are prepared to reject as illegitimate.

That helps to explain why there has been such muted Western criticism of Russia's actions in Chechnya compared to five years ago. And it also helps to explain why so many of the participants in the CIS summit appeared to be such enthusiastic supporters of Moscow's current line.

Indeed, some observers have gone so far as to suggest that Putin won an important victory at this meeting. After all, they note, all the CIS presidents came out against the same things Moscow said it was against.

But that is a misreading of both what the leaders of the non-Russian countries actually feel and what Moscow all too clearly hopes to achieve. Many leaders, including Ukraine's Leonid Kuchma, were very explicit that the CIS was far from being an effective institution, even though they and he backed Putin's language on "bandits."

Moreover, Putin's use of the CIS summit to celebrate the new Russian-Belarusian "union" shows that his intentions are not limited to fighting terrorism.

For both these reasons, the agreement at this CIS summit, as has been true at so many earlier ones, was more apparent than real, a reflection of Putin's rhetorical skill and also of the near certainty that many of the leaders at this meeting will ultimately likely see through it.


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