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Newsline - February 2, 2000




FIGHTING IN GROZNY CONTINUES

Russian military spokesmen said on 2 February that fighting in Grozny continues, Western agencies reported. But while AP said that the federal forces "are meeting fierce resistance" from the city's remaining Chechen defenders, dpa quoted Russian military commanders as saying their men are encountering practically no resistance. Russian officials continue to deny Chechen claims that Chechen defenders have withdrawn en masse from the city. AP quoted Russian military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Aleksandr Sapronov as saying that Russian troops are now concentrating on preventing those Chechen fighters who left Grozny on 1 February from retreating south into the mountains. Meanwhile, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said that federal forces have occupied strategic heights in Itum-Kale close to the border with Georgia and overlooking the mouth of the Argun gorge. LF

BASAEV DENIES HE IS SERIOUSLY WOUNDED

In a statement posted on a Chechen website on 2 February, Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev admitted that he had suffered a minor shrapnel wound in the leg but noted that "I have enough strength to annihilate the aggressors," Caucasus Press reported. The previous day, former Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov had said that Basaev had had one leg amputated after his car ran into a minefield. In Tbilisi, Georgian Security Ministry Anti- terrorism Center Head Levan Kenchadze commented that Basaev will not be allowed to seek medical treatment in Georgia, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

RUSSIAN OMBUDSMAN CALLS FOR RELEASE OF RFE/RL CORRESPONDENT

Russian human rights ombudsman Oleg Mironov said in Moscow on 1 February that the detention of RFE/RL correspondent Andrei Babitskii constitutes a violation of European conventions ratified into Russian law and of the constitutionally guaranteed right to press freedom, ITAR-TASS reported. Speaking in Vienna on 1 February, Freimut Duve, who is the OSCE official responsible for monitoring the media, similarly called on the Russian authorities to release Babitskii, Caucasus Press reported. Duve said the delay in freeing the journalist raises concerns that he has been subjected to physical pressure. Duve expressed concern that "for the first time democratic Russia is reverting" to the methods employed by the USSR. Also on 1 February, two Moscow lawyers agreed to defend Babitskii, according to Interfax. LF

DUMA COMMITTEE PROPOSES EXTENDING CHECHEN AMNESTY

Members of the Russian State Duma's Security Committee on 1 February proposed extending the amnesty they passed in mid-December for Chechen fighters who voluntarily surrender and lay down their arms, committee chairman Aleksandr Gurov told ITAR-TASS on 1 February. The original term of the amnesty expired on that date. Gurov said the amnesty is a "humane act aimed at preserving the lives of Russian citizens." LF

STAVROPOL SUSPENDS ENTRY FOR CHECHEN DISPLACED PERSONS

Displaced persons from Chechnya will not be allowed to enter neighboring Stavropol Krai until further notice, the region's governor, Aleksandr Chernogorov, told ITAR-TASS on 2 February. Chernogorov said the ban is a "forced measure" in response to attempts by Chechen militants to enter the region under the guise of fugitives. LF

PUTIN AVOIDS MENTION OF CHECHNYA IN FOREIGN-POLICY STATEMENT...

Putting in a brief appearance at a Middle East conference in Moscow on 1 February, acting President Vladimir Putin delivered a 15-minute foreign-policy statement that avoided mention of Chechnya but defended sovereign countries' right to take what they consider appropriate action on their own territory. "It is unacceptable to cancel such basic principles of international law as national sovereignty and territorial integrity under the slogan of so-called humanitarian intervention," Reuters quoted him as telling delegates. Alluding to the U.S.'s desire to set up its own limited national defense system, Putin noted that there is a threat of the "destruction" of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which he described as the "cornerstone" of all agreements limiting nuclear weapons. And in an apparent reference to NATO expansion in Europe, he commented that Russia is in favor of an "indivisible" Europe and is a "reliable" and "predictable" partner in building such a Europe. JC

...WHILE ALBRIGHT WARNS OF CONFLICTS WITHIN STATES...

Similarly, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright did not mention Chechnya by name while addressing delegates to the Middle East conference, but she did note that the conference's work could also serve as a model for ending "difficult and painful conflicts." "Conflicts within states, as well as those between states, threaten our common security," she remarked. Albright is due to meet with Putin at the Kremlin on 2 February and is reported to have said that during that meeting, she will further criticize Russia's actions in Chechnya. At the same time, she has made it clear that the U.S. does not intend to impose sanctions since "making moves which would prevent economic reform would be counter-productive," according to Reuters. JC

...AND MEETS WITH CRITICISM FOR SUGGESTING RUSSIA FACES ISOLATION

Also on 1 February, several Russian leaders responded to Albright's statement the previous day in Moscow that Russia will increasingly face isolation if it continues to reject negotiations over Chechnya. Presidential aide for Chechen media coverage Sergei Yastrzhembskii rejected her statement, saying that it was aimed "more at U.S. public opinion" and did not reflect the "real possibilities and intentions of our partners," Interfax reported. Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov commented that Albright's statement was "no longer just a threat but the most real, blatant blackmail." And Fatherland-All Russia leader and former Premier Yevgenii Primakov, with whom Albright met on 1 February, dismissed her warning as "unrealistic," saying that the secretary of state knows that Russia is a "very important partner for the whole world." JC

U.S., RUSSIA SIGN NEW FOOD AGREEMENTS

The U.S. and Russia on 1 February signed agreements whereby Russia will receive free of charge 20,000 tons of seeds and 200,000 tons of food commodities this year, Reuters reported. Agreements for an additional 300,000 tons of wheat are still being negotiated. Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shcherbak said that he expects to conclude those agreements this week. The 300,000 tons of wheat is far short of what Russia reportedly will need this year and the 5 million tons it requested. However, acting President Putin said Russia will not need to import grain this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 28 January 2000). Last year, grain output surged to 54.7 million tons, 14 percent higher than the previous year. Meanwhile, doctors in Kemerovo Oblast have announced that 2,000 tons of free rice sent by the U.S. are "infected with a fungus" and are unsuitable for consumption by humans or animals, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 February. JAC

RUSSIA HOPES FOR NEW MONEY FROM WORLD BANK THIS SPRING...

After a meeting between acting President Putin and World Bank President James Wolfensohn on 1 February, Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko told reporters that Russia will begin receiving new installments of World Bank loans. For example, it will get a $100 million installment from a coal sector loan in March, another $250 million from a social protection adjustment loan in April, and a $100 million from a structural adjustment loan between May and June, according to Khristenko. However, First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said the same day that Russia will receive no money from its structural adjustment loan in the coming months. Last month, Khristenko announced that the World Bank had decided to resume lending to Russia from its coal sector loan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 1999). JAC

...AS KASYANOV CALLS FOR IMF BACKING AT DAVOS

Addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on 30 January, First Deputy Prime Minister Kasyanov called on G-7 countries to press the IMF to support Russia's new economic program, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 1 February. According to the daily, Kasyanov said that without financial backing from the West, achieving economic growth in Russia will be difficult. When asked to comment on financier George Soros's statement in Davos that the "IMF must pull out of Russia since foreign investors and international financial institutions have lost the ability to influence the development of the situation in the country," Kasyanov said the statement only "confirms the desire for a conflict between the West and Russia." In his remarks at Davos, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii said that establishing property rights, contract rights, and sorting out taxation should be key priorities for the Russian government. JAC

WHO IS THIS PUTIN?

"Segodnya" reported on 1 February that at a joint press conference in Davos on 30 January, First Deputy Prime Minister Kasyanov, Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, Union of Rightist Forces leader Sergei Kirienko, and Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais were all stumped by the simple question "Who is Putin?" According to the daily, a reporter from "The Philadelphia Inquirer" asked "Who is this Putin? We all have little information about him or his views. If the future president of Russia is indeed a 'blank slate,' which people have the right to write on this slate?" After a long uncomfortable silence, Kasyanov offered some "general phrases." According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Kasyanov said a "few words about the president's predictability and his desire to implement reforms and follow the path of economic liberalization." JAC

TITOV FOR VICE PRESIDENT?

Samara Governor Titov has suggested that the post of vice president be reintroduced in Russia, "Segodnya" reported on 2 February. He added that the vice president should "actively participate in the work of the Federation Council." Ekho Moskvy reported the previous day that Titov, who is chairman of the Federation Council's budget committee, does not exclude the possibility that he will withdraw his candidacy for the presidency at some later stage of the presidential campaign in favor of another candidate. JAC

PUTIN APPOINTS ANOTHER OFFICIAL FROM ST. PETERSBURG...

Acting President Putin signed a decree on 1 February dismissing Dmitrii Vasiliev as chairman of the Federal Securities Commission and appointing Igor Kostikov in his place. Vasiliev tendered his resignation last fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 1999). Kostikov is the former deputy chairman of the Finance Committee of the St. Petersburg administration, "Izvestiya" reported on 2 February. When Putin was first deputy mayor of the city in 1994, Kostikov was responsible for issuing the city's GKOs, according to the daily. Also on 1 February, Putin appointed Andrei Popov as head of the presidential administration's department for domestic policy. Popov is a former Duma deputy and member of the Agrarian faction. He replaces Andrei Loginov. JAC

...NAMES NEW REPRESENTATIVES TO REGIONS

Putin also signed decrees naming presidential representatives to Orenburg and Belgorod Oblasts, Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug, and the Republic of Tyva. These are Vladislav Shapovalenko, Vladimir Gerasimenko, Vladimir Kurikov, and Mikhail Kozlov, respectively. JAC

FOREIGN MINISTRY CONCERNED ABOUT RIGHTS OF RUSSIAN SPEAKERS IN UKRAINE

The Russian Foreign Ministry sent a note to the Ukrainian Embassy in Moscow on 28 January protesting the worsening conditions for the Russian language in Ukraine, according to ITAR-TASS on 1 February. The note called on Ukraine to observe the treaty of friendship, cooperation, and partnership between Russia and Ukraine and to guarantee the right of Russians freely to express and preserve their ethnicity and culture and "to maintain and develop their culture without being subjected to any attempts at assimilation against their will." Unidentified diplomatic sources at Russia's Foreign Ministry told the agency that the ministry is concerned about the toughening of administrative and other measures in Ukraine against the preservation and development of Russian language and culture. According to ministry sources, schools that taught primarily in Russian have been closed in Ternopol, Rovno, and Kiev regions in Ukraine. JAC

NO OFFICIAL RESPONSE FROM SWITZERLAND RE BORODIN

In response to a query from the Office of Russia's Prosecutor-General, the Russian bureau of Interpol reported that it has received no inquiries in connection with a summons issued by Swiss prosecutors to the former head of Kremlin's facilities directorate, Pavel Borodin. According to Interfax, the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office also sent an inquiry to its Swiss counterpart but has so far received no reply. Borodin was recently named secretary of state of the Union of Belarus and Russia. JAC

RUSSIAN EMBASSY IN DENMARK TARGETED BY TERRORISM

The Russian Embassy in Copenhagen said on 1 February that the attack on the embassy the previous day had been an act of terrorism, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, an unidentified offender threw two bottles filled with explosive liquid into the window of the embassy's consular department. The resulting fire injured one and caused damage to the building. Last month, the Russian embassy in Beirut was targeted by a group protesting Russia's military campaign in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2000). JAC

FOREIGN INVESTORS OBTAIN STAKE IN INDEPENDENT TV CHANNEL

A mutual fund called Smallcap World Fund of the American Funds Group has acquired a 4.5 percent stake in the television networks NTV and TNT, "The Moscow Times" reported on 2 February. According to the daily, the American Funds Group is the third-largest group of mutual funds in the U.S. Vladimir Gusinskii's Media Most, which owns NTV and TNT, issued a press release hailing the acquisition as Media-Most's "first step toward international stock markets." JAC




ARMENIA'S FOREIGN DEBT RISES

Armenia's aggregate foreign debt grew by 13 percent in 1999 and now stands at $876 million, slightly less than half of GDP, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 1 February, citing official statistical data. The authorities estimate that the figure will rise to $938 million by the end of this year. The Armenian government and Central Bank will spend a total of $78 million on external debt servicing in 2000. That figure is roughly one fifth of projected government revenues. Last year, a total of $61.6 million was spent on external debt servicing. LF

LUKOIL HEAD TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT OF AZERBAIJAN?

Vagit Alekperov is considering a bid for the presidency of Azerbaijan, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 1 February, citing sources close to Ilham Aliev, who is the son of Azerbaijan's incumbent president and vice president of Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR. The newspaper claims that Heidar Aliyev suggested to Alekperov in 1998 that he should run for president in the absence of a qualified alternative candidate, but Alekperov declined and Aliyev was subsequently re-elected for a second term in the October 1998 presidential poll. Azerbaijani observers consider that Alekperov, who was born in Baku and graduated from Azerbaijan's Oil and Chemical Institute, has missed his chance and that Heidar Aliyev is now grooming his son to succeed him (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 51, 24 December 1999). Meanwhile a group of Azerbaijanis residing in Russia has proposed businessman Ismail Tagizade as a candidate in the 26 March Russian presidential poll, Turan reported on 1 February, citing "525- gazeti." LF

TWO AZERBAIJANI SERVICEMEN APPREHENDED AFTER KILLING OFFICERS

Two Azerbaijani conscripts who deserted their unit in Geranboi on 30 January after shooting two officers and two fellow servicemen were detained on 1 February in their homes in Baku and Sumgait, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. An investigation has begun into the motives for the shootings. LF

FORMER HEADS OF AZERBAIJAN'S STATE GOLD COMPANY FACE CRIMINAL CHARGES

The president and vice president of Azergyzyl, the state gold company liquidated by a presidential decree 10 days ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2000), have been charged with divulging state secrets, Interfax reported on 1 February. The two officials reportedly passed to a British and a Pakistani company documents detailing the size of Azerbaijan's gold reserves and the location of its gold fields. LF

AZERBAIJANI WAR VETERANS, POLICE CLASH IN BAKU

Five disabled veterans of the Karabakh war and an unspecified number of police were injured in a clash on 31 January in Baku, the chairman of the Karabakh War Invalids' Society, Etimad Asadov, told Turan on 1 February. The police were attempting to demolish a tea house that the veterans had built in a Baku square without official permission. The tea house provided the veterans' sole source of income. LF

TENSIONS RISING ON ABKHAZ-GEORGIAN BORDER

Some 200 armed Abkhaz have gathered at the bridge over the Inguri River, which marks the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, Caucasus Press reported on 2 February, quoting a member of the staff of the CIS peacekeeping force deployed there. The Abkhaz are demanding the release of two Abkhaz customs officers injured in a shootout last week and the handing over of the bodies of three officers killed in that clash. A group of Georgians has formed on the opposite side of the bridge to demand the release of several Georgians taken hostage by the unidentified Abkhaz (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2000). LF

SUPPORT FOR KAZAKHSTAN'S PRO-PRESIDENTIAL PARTY WANING

Popular support for the OTAN party has dwindled since the October 1999 parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported on 2 February, citing a recent poll of 2,000 people conducted by the Almaty Sociologists and Politologists Center. According to that survey, the Communist Party, which has more than 30 percent support, is the most popular political party in Kazakhstan, followed by the Civic Party. OTAN, which was founded in January 1999 to support President Nursultan Nazarbaev, is in third place with 20 percent support. LF

THREE MEN DETAINED IN KAZAKHSTAN TRYING TO SELL URANIUM

Kazakh National Security Committee officials recently detained three men in Almaty who were in possession of uranium that they had offered for sale, Interfax reported on 1 February, quoting Kazakhstan security officials. Interfax said the quantity of uranium was 530 grams, while RFE/RL's Almaty bureau put the figure at 3 grams. Specialists from Kazakhstan's Nuclear Institute told RFE/RL that the uranium was probably stolen from the Ulba metallurgical plant in eastern Kazakhstan. LF

KAZAKHSTAN TIGHTENS VISA REQUIREMENTS...

As of 1 February, Kazakhstan no longer recognizes transit visas issued to foreign nationals by other CIS member states, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. A Kazakhstan Foreign Ministry spokesman explained that "criminal elements" have taken advantage of the "transparency" of Kazakhstan's borders, turning the country into a transit corridor for weapons and drugs. This, he continued, has adversely affected the security situation throughout the country. LF

...AS KYRGYZSTAN PREPARES TO RELAX THEM

The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry has drafted measures for the gradual introduction of a visa-free regime for citizens of countries that belong to the World Trade Organization, Interfax reported on 1 February. U.S. and Japanese citizens can already enter Kyrgyzstan without a visa, and that regime will be extended to Denmark, France, Italy, Germany, and Spain by the end of this year. LF

KYRGYZSTAN SEEKS MEMBERSHIP OF AFGHAN MEDIATION GROUP

President Askar Akaev has raised with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan the possibility of Kyrgyzstan's joining the so- called Six Plus Two group of countries, which are currently engaged in trying to mediate a settlement of the civil war in Afghanistan, Interfax reported on 1 February. The group comprises Russia, the U.S., China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Also, Akaev repeated Kyrgyzstan's offer, first made in 1997, to host an Afghan peace conference (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 1999). LF




BELARUS'S PRIVATE VENDORS LAUNCH NATIONWIDE STRIKE...

According to Valery Levaneuski, leader of the strike committee of private outdoor-market vendors, some 90,000 such salespeople throughout Belarus launched a month-long strike on 1 February to protest what they consider the government's discriminatory policy toward small businesses, Belapan reported. The protesters demand that the government revoke value-added tax for small businesses and fines for administrative offenses, which were recently increased. They also want the fixed income tax frozen at last year's rate and an end to extortion on the part of the police, tax inspectors, and market administrations. Levaneuski does not rule out that the authorities will resort to using strike- breakers. He noted that Belarus's outdoor market vendors provide 50 percent of the revenues for local budgets and 20 percent for the central budget. JM

...WHILE LUKASHENKA THREATENS TO 'REMOVE' THEM FROM MARKETS

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 1 February threatened to "remove from markets all those striking today," adding that supplies would be ordered directly from wholesale traders, Belarusian Television reported. "[The private vendors] have started to blackmail the authorities, they have already started to blackmail me. So we will find wholesale traders and deliver the goods [the vendors] sell at prices five times higher, making a profit on this and also financing the opposition," Lukashenka noted. According to the president, the protesters are "talkers, not entrepreneurs" because they "are thrusting their hands into politics." At a rally in Minsk the previous day, outdoor market vendors demanded the resignation of Minister of Entrepreneurship Alyaksandr Sazonau, State Tax Committee head Mikalay Dzyamchuk, and Lukashenka. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITY ELECTS NEW LEADERSHIP

By a vote of 255 to one, the parliamentary majority on 1 February elected Ivan Plyushch of the Popular Democratic Party as parliamentary speaker. Viktor Medvedchuk of the Social Democratic Party (United) became first deputy speaker and Stepan Havrysh of the Revival of Regions caucus deputy speaker. The majority, which held its session in the Ukrainian House, also elected heads of 21 parliamentary committees, who were without exception deputies from the majority. The leftist minority, which is led by former speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko and held a parallel session in the parliamentary building, has launched a hunger strike. According to Tkachenko, the protest will continue until the entire legislature convenes in the parliamentary building. JM

UKRAINE'S NEW SPEAKER WANTS TO AVOID EARLY ELECTIONS

Following his election, Ivan Plyushch told supporters of the right-center majority who had gathered in front of the Ukrainian House, that the majority was formed "to end any confrontation, assume responsibility, and follow the path the people voted for," according to the "Eastern Economic Daily." He added that Ukraine will soon experience "positive changes." Later that day, Plyushch told journalists that the Supreme Council must do everything possible to avoid early parliamentary elections. President Leonid Kuchma commented that the election of the parliament's new leadership was a "momentous" event. He added that the government will seek cooperation with the legislature to show Ukrainians that the "six-year confrontation" in the country is over. JM

UKRAINIAN CABINET SETS BUDGET TARGETS, POLICIES

The government on 1 February announced that GDP is expected to grow 0.5 percent this year and industrial production to increase by 3.2 percent. Inflation was set at 15.9 percent. In a memorandum that is to be reviewed by the president and submitted for parliamentary approval, the cabinet formulated seven main principles of budgetary policy. In particular, it pledges to implement a zero-deficit budget in 2000, strictly observe budgetary discipline, accept budget payments in monetary form only, and revoke some tax privileges. JM

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO ESTONIA CALLS TARTU PEACE TREATY 'OBSOLETE'

Aleksei Glukhov said on 1 February that the anniversary of the Tartu Peace Treaty between Estonia and Soviet Russia should not be commemorated at a political level but rather should be left to historians to remember, "Postimees" reported. Estonia on 2 February celebrates the 80th anniversary of the 1920 treaty, in which Russia "renounces voluntarily and for ever all rights of sovereignty formerly held by Russia over the Estonian people and territory." While Glukhov noted that Russia recognized the importance of the treaty at the time it was signed, as Estonian forces were close to reaching Petrograd, he said the document became obsolete when Estonia was incorporated into the Soviet Union. The unilateral redrawing of the border by Stalin after Estonia's incorporation deprived that country of regions in the northeast and southeast and divided in half the settlement of the Setu people, a Finno-Ugric people related to the Estonians, around Pechory in modern-day Russia. MH

SOLIDARITY LEADER ADVISED NOT TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT

Aleksander Hall, an activist of the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), has said incumbent President Aleksander Kwasniewski's high public rating means that the ruling coalition of the AWS and the Freedom Union should seek a joint presidential candidate in this year's presidential elections, PAP reported on 1 February. "Personally, I would advise [AWS leader] Marian Krzaklewski not to run," Hall said, adding that the public should not identify a joint candidate with the current "style of government." Meanwhile, Jerzy Gwizdz, another AWS activist, urged Krzaklewski to resign as AWS parliamentary caucus leader and head the cabinet. A recent poll by the CBOS polling center showed that Kwasniewski has the confidence of 78 percent of Poles, while Krzaklewski heads the list of most distrusted politicians with a negative rating of 54 percent. JM

CZECH COMMUNISTS WANT COMMISSION ON CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES

Vojtech Filip, leader of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia's (KSKM) group in the Chamber of Deputies, said on 1 February that a commission of parliamentary parties and experts from the presidential office, the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court should be set up to discuss the recent constitutional changes approved by the lower house of the parliament. The KSCM does not believe that the Senate will approve the those amendments, since the Social Democratic Party and the Civic Democratic Party are one vote short of a two-thirds majority in the upper house, CTK reported. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT HOSPITALIZED

Vaclav Havel was hospitalized on 1 February, suffering from flu, CTK reported. Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek said the president was taken to the Military Hospital in Prague after his temperature rose overnight. He said the doctors decided to keep him in the hospital to avoid any complications. Havel's engagements for the rest of this week have been canceled. MS

HAVEL ISSUES STATEMENT SUPPORTING EU CRITICISM OF HAIDER...

In a statement issued through his spokesman, Havel said he "understands very well" the position of EU countries on the prospect nationalist leader Joerg Haider will join the Austrian government. He noted that the Czech Republic wishes to join an EU "based on shared values and mutual respect" and hence 'it cannot idly watch the rise of dangerous extremism." He added that Haider and his Freedom Party have "not only displayed anti-European attitudes" but have "denied the very principles on which the EU has been founded," namely "democracy and the respect for human rights." MS

...WHILE SLOVAKIA SAYS 'TOO EARLY' TO JUDGE HAIDER

Deputy Premier Pavol Hamzik on 1 February said he "does not wish to make statements that could worsen Slovak-Austrian relations," CTK reported. He said it is "too early to draw any conclusions" since negotiations on the formation of the cabinet in Austria are still ongoing. But he added that some of Haider's statements are "unacceptable." Foreign Ministry official Monika Keimova said that while Slovakia is concerned about the protection of the "democratic values on which the EU has been founded," its relations with Austria, the only EU country with which Slovakia has a common border, are "important" to Bratislava, particularly in view of its extensive trade with that country. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT SAYS 'EARLY ELECTIONS NO SOLUTION'

President Rudolf Schuster on 1 February said that early elections would offer "no solution to the country's problems," arguing that the government should serve out its full term in office. Schuster spoke after meeting with opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia leader Vladimir Meciar, CTK reported. Meciar had sought a meeting with Schuster to discuss the wording of the proposed referendum on early elections, but the president said he has "no comment" to make on the referendum initiative and will seek a ruling by the Constitutional Court. MS

SLOVAKIA TO INVESTIGATE TRAVEL AGENCY OVER ROMA MIGRATION

Pal Csaky, deputy prime minister in charge of national minorities and human rights, said on 1 February that several travel agencies are "exploiting the plight" of Roma in Slovakia and were behind the recent mass exodus to the West of members of that minority, CTK reported. Csaky singled out the East-West travel agency and its offices in Belgium and the Czech Republic, noting that the company's role in the exodus is now being investigated. He said the agency had printed instructions in the Slovak language on how Roma should behave once they reached a country where they could seek asylum and how to secure the financial help extended to asylum-seekers. MS




IS MILOSEVIC ARMING HIS MONTENEGRIN BACKERS?

Andrija Perisic, who is a top official of the governing Democratic Party of Socialists, said in Podgorica on 1 February that Montenegrin backers of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic recently increased the size of a paramilitary unit within the Yugoslav forces stationed in Montenegro. The unit is called the Seventh Battalion of the military police and includes an unspecified number of followers of Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic, who heads the pro-Milosevic faction in Montenegro, AP reported. The Montenegrin authorities have often charged that Milosevic is arming his followers in that mountainous republic. He similarly armed his backers in Croatia and Bosnia before launching wars there in 1991 and 1992, respectively. PM

MONTENEGRIN AUTHORITIES COOL ON SERBIAN OPPOSITION

Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic said in Podgorica that Milosevic has caused many of the problems in relations between Montenegro and Serbia. The prime minister added, however, that many other difficulties will continue to exist regardless of who is in power in Serbia. He stressed that future relations must be based on full equality "and not depend on what kind of regime there is [at the moment] in Belgrade," "Danas" reported on 2 February. Elsewhere, Deputy Prime Minister Novak Kilibarda criticized the Serbian opposition for speaking too little in public about the program the Montenegrin authorities published in 1999 as a basis for redefining relations between the two republics. Observers note that the Montenegrin authorities have provided the Serbian opposition with moral support and a place to meet without harassment by Milosevic's police, but ties between Podgorica and the opposition do not go much beyond that. PM

KOSOVA COUNCIL MEETING ENDS IN ACRIMONY

UN officials in Prishtina adjourned the first meeting of the Interim Administrative Council (IAC) on 1 February before any agreement was reached on setting up new administrative structures. The UN's Jock Covey said that he ended the session because the followers of Ibrahim Rugova had failed to dissolve their shadow-state institutions prior to the meeting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2000). The UN wants all unofficial administrative structures disbanded lest they impede the functioning of the IAC and the administrative bodies subordinated to it. PM

KFOR ARRESTS TWO SERBS

NATO troops arrested two ethnic Serbs near Rahovec on 1 February. The men are suspected of involvement in atrocities in a nearby village last year. PM

SERBIAN AUTHORITIES FIRE WORKERS AT INDEPENDENT PUBLISHER

In Belgrade on 1 February, Serbian authorities fired some 284 workers at the publishing house that prints the independent daily "Glas Javnosti" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2000). Union leaders called the move "illegal," AP reported. One of several young men, whom the authorities sent to the publishing house as "guards," fired a shot into the air. Police are investigating the incident. PM

MESIC LEADS IN CROATIAN POLLS

Separate polls published by "Jutarnji list" and "Nacional" on 2 February give Stipe Mesic of the four-party coalition some 45 percent of the votes and Drazen Budisa of the two-party coalition 40 percent ahead of the 7 February runoff presidential election. A third poll, which appeared in "Globus," showed Mesic with 45 percent and Budisa trailing with 31 percent, Reuters reported. Budisa has won the support of many conservative voters who backed other candidates in the first round. Herzegovinian voters, in particular, favor Budisa. Mesic, however, appears to have attracted the largest number of votes that previously went to other candidates. There are few issues that separate Mesic from Budisa, and the campaign has frequently centered on personal insults instead. Mesic recently said in a newspaper interview that if Budisa "hits low, I can hit even lower." PM

TUDJMAN'S 'KNIGHTS' COME UNDER SCRUTINY...

Less than two months after his death, the press and opposition politicians have begun making public the results of their investigations into some practices of the late President Franjo Tudjman. "Slobodna Dalmacija" on 2 February wrote that the fate of perhaps billions of dollars donated by the diaspora to fund the war of 1991-1995 remains unaccounted for. One program was called the President's Knights' Fund, which required a donation of $5,000-$10,000 for a knighthood. Tudjman maintained great secrecy regarding the various fund-raising programs, and only such trusted aides as Gojko Susak and Hrvoje Sarinic had any detailed knowledge of them, the Split- based daily added. PM

...WHILE HIS ADVISERS ARE SACKED

On 1 February, Croatia's acting president Vlatko Pavletic "released from duty" some 20 employees of the president's office who had been advisers to Tudjman. Many are top politicians belonging to Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), including Ivic Pasalic, Zlatko Canjuga, and Ivan Jarnjak, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Elsewhere, officials of the HDZ decided that the party's two deputy speakers in the parliament will be Pavletic and Pasalic. Vladimir Seks will continue as HDZ faction leader. PM

ROMANIAN SENATE ELECTS NEW CHAIRMAN

National Liberal Party leader Mircea Ionescu-Quintus was elected on 1 February as Senate chairman, replacing Foreign Minister Petre Roman. Ionescu-Quintus received 72 votes, compared with the 38 cast for Democratic Party candidate Dan Vasiliu. National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) candidate Ulm Spineanu withdrew from the ballot, saying he wants the Democratic Convention of Romania to vote for a single candidate. Spineanu, who last week failed in his bid to be elected PNTCD deputy chairman, also lost his post as PNTCD parliamentary group leader and was replaced by George Achim, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 1 February. Following the defection from the PNTCD of former Premier Radu Vasile's supporters, the ruling coalition is one vote short in the Senate of the necessary majority to pass special "organic" laws. MS

ROMANIA ACCUSES BULGARIA OF 'BRIDGE OBSESSION'

Romanian Transportation Minister Traian Basescu told journalists on 1 February that the Bulgarian authorities "show a passion for generating problems with us." Instead of dealing with the whole complex of economic problems between the two countries, Sofia "always raises the issue of a second bridge over the [River] Danube," Mediafax quoted him as saying. Basescu spoke after inconclusive talks last week in Sofia between experts from the two governments. Among other issues, he mentioned Bucharest's demands that transit fees for Russian gas transported to Bulgaria through Romania be raised and that it be allowed to export electricity to Turkey and Greece via Bulgaria for low transit tariffs as well as the issue of transiting nuclear waste from Bulgaria to Russia. Basescu said further disagreements could jeopardize the two countries' chances in their accession talks with the EU. MS

ROMANIA BANS MEAT IMPORTS FROM MOLDOVA

Romania on 1 February banned meat imports from Moldova because of the suspicion that Moldova is re-exporting meat and meat products tainted with the "mad cow disease", AP reported, quoting an Agricultural Ministry spokeswoman in Bucharest. MS

UKRAINIAN OFFICIAL CONFIDENT RUSSIA WILL WITHDRAW TRANSDNIESTER ARSENAL

Visiting Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Dmitro Tkaci said on 1 February that Ukraine is confident Russia will honor its obligation to withdraw its arsenal from the Transdniester by 2002, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. He said the arsenal is worrying to his country not only because of Ukraine's capacity as a guarantor of agreements on the separatist region's future but also because "no country wants 42 tons of munitions stationed at its borders." Tkaci met with President Petru Lucinschi and Prime Minister Dumitru Barghis to discuss bilateral relations and the implementation of various agreements. He said he is confident that the Ukrainian parliament will ratify the Ukrainian- Moldovan border treaty. Tkaci is traveling to Tiraspol on 2 February to meet with separatist leaders to discuss "giving a new impetus" to the talks on the conflict's resolution. MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER ASKS EXPATRIATES FOR HELP IN EU MEMBERSHIP BID

Ivan Kostov on 1 February said he is sending invitations to 4,000 Bulgarian citizens who live abroad to travel to Bulgaria in April to discuss with him how they might contribute to the country's bid to join the EU. Kostov said he plans to call on international air lines to transport the expatriates home free of charge. During their stay, they will be offered accommodation at the government's expense, AP reported. MS




GOOD FENCES MAKE GOOD NEIGHBORS


by Paul Goble

An intensifying border dispute between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan calls attention to the obstacles all the countries in Central Asia still face in coping with the challenge of building state sovereignty.

The current dispute has been simmering for some time. But it gained new prominence earlier this month when Uzbekistan officials placed border post signs in the Saryagach region of South Kazakhstan province, despite the absence of any border agreement between the two countries. The media in Kazakhstan immediately denounced the move as a land and power grab by Tashkent.

The dispute escalated still further last week when Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Erlan Idrisov criticized Uzbek officials for what he said was a totally illegitimate action. Saying that "we have informed the Uzbek side in strong terms that its steps are inadmissible," Idrisov said that Kazakhstan "will not give up an inch of land."

Because this conflict has not resulted in violence, many observers have been inclined to play down its importance and to suggest that last week's exchange will quickly lead to talks on the situation. That may happen, but even if it does, the dispute shows that Central Asian states have a long way to go to solidify their statehood.

All five have secured international recognition and have projected power over most of the territory they claim as their own. But they have not yet met the third criterion of independent statehood as defined in the current international environment: the establishment of internationally recognized and uncontested borders.

The absence of such borders, the historical record suggests, not only threatens relations among states but can also undermine the ability of the respective governments to maintain their control over their own populations and territories. And these in turn can generate a spiral of instability that can sweep away all other achievements of the states involved.

There are three basic reasons why these countries have not yet succeeded in establishing carefully delimited and internationally recognized borders almost a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union led to their new status as independent states.

First, like all other former Soviet republics, the countries of Central Asia must contend with the always difficult task of converting internal administrative borders into internationally recognized state boundaries, a task all the more problematic because of the way in which these borders were drawn in the first place.

When they became independent, these countries had to take what had been internal administrative lines over which their governments had little control and turn them into state borders with all the attributes of such frontiers-- checkpoints, customs facilities, and border patrols.

That challenge, which would have been difficult and expensive in the best of circumstances, was complicated by Soviet history. Moscow drew the current borders in Central Asia for its own convenience, to heighten and institutionalize ethnic conflicts as well as to integrate these republics in a way that would help block any moves toward independence.

Thus, Moscow worked to ensure that each Central Asian republic had sizeable ethnic minorities from the titular nationality of its neighbors, and it worked to structure the transport and economic infrastructure in such a way that none of them could exist easily except in the closest commerce with the others.

That arrangement limited their chances of independence in the past and creates the basis for irridentist challenges and economic conflicts now.

Second, the post-Soviet states have been forced to develop this aspect of their sovereignty even as Moscow and the international community calls on them to yield some of their state authority in order to participate in expanded international commerce.

Since 1991, Moscow and the West, each for its own reasons, have urged that the countries of this region not move to create the kind of borders that in the past were typical of the international system but rather set up border arrangements more typical of the integration patterns of Western Europe.

The Russian authorities see this as a means of promoting Moscow's influence through the Commonwealth of Independent States, and the West views such a commitment to integration as a test of the worthiness of these states for inclusion in broader international organizations.

And third, the Central Asian republics are forced to take this step while dealing with population pressures, water shortages, and widespread political instability.

Because of population growth, each of the Central Asian countries is interested in gaining as much territory as it can to produce food. Because of water shortages in the region, each wants to have as much of the watershed as possible. And because of widespread political instability, each is concerned about setting up buffer zones around its core area.

These three factors help to explain why the border conflict between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan may prove to be far more important than a quick glance might suggest. And they also underscore the basic truth of American poet Robert Frost's observation that "good fences make good neighbors."


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