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Newsline - February 16, 2000




PUTIN TO PRESENT PROGRAM ON 25 FEBRUARY...

Acting President Vladimir Putin announced on 15 February that he will publish his election program at the end of next week--just three weeks before the 26 March elections. Putin said that his election campaign will focus on bringing moral values back to Russia and ensuring that Russia's relations with its foreign partners are "based on the lofty principles of morality and decency." Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, who has already presented his program of political and economic measures, has criticized Putin for failing to do likewise. According to ITAR-TASS, Putin said that the economic program being worked on by the Moscow-based Center for Strategic Studies "is not just [any] program, this is my program." NTV reported earlier in the month that the center is working on a 10-year "political, economic, and ideological strategy for Russia." JAC

...AS KEY AUTHOR SAYS RUSSIA TO HAVE NEW, IMPROVED STATE

In an interview with "Itogi" on 8 February, German Gref, head of the Center for Strategic Studies, said that the center is working on "a new social contract, reforms of [state organs], modernization of the economy, and Russia's new international position." He added that while Russia has implemented economic reforms, the "state is in a more archaic condition than the economy." According to Gref, the state is actively involved in the economy but in a "highly ineffective manner" and "does not do anything at all in terms of establishing the rules of the game." Gref suggested that Russia's "Foreign Ministry be directly oriented toward protection of national companies' interests on global markets. It should elaborate a strategy for their integration into Western markets." According to NTV, economist Andrei Illarionov and former Economics Minister Yevgenii Yasin are working on the program. JAC

MOSCOW CONTINUES CHECHEN CAMPAIGN...

Russian forces continued their attacks in the southern mountains of Chechnya on 15 February in what Army General Anatolii Kvashnin, the chief of Russia's general staff, said is the approaching end of "the army phase of operation in Chechnya," Interfax reported. He said that Moscow will soon shift to "a phase of special operations" as soon as "between 2,000 and 6,000" Chechen fighters in the Shatoi district are defeated. Other Russian officials said that several Chechen field commanders have been detained and are now being interrogated, ITAR-TASS reported. Nearly 500 refugees have fled the fighting in the last four days, AP reported. PG

...SEEKS TO PORTRAY SITUATION AS RETURNING TO NORMAL...

Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin said on 15 February that the campaign in Chechnya will not depend on the Russian political calendar but will be waged with an eye to protecting "the lives of our servicemen," ITAR-TASS reported. In efforts to portray the situation as returning to normalcy, Russian agencies reported that Putin signed an order for spring planting in Chechnya, that officials at the Emergencies Ministry announced they are handing out food to residents in Grozny, that railroad troops are restoring Chechen railways, and that several schools have reopened in Chechnya itself. PG

...BUT WARNS OF TERRORIST THREATS

Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said on 15 February that Russia's security agencies have learned that the Chechens plan to stage numerous terrorist attacks on 23 February, the 56th anniversary of the deportation of the Chechens to Central Asia, Interfax reported. Russian Federal Security Service officials said that other Chechens plan to hijack an airport to take prominent Chechen leaders abroad and to exploit the upcoming haj to escape from Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailov said his officers will take every precaution against such actions, the Russian news agency said. PG

U.S. RECEIVES CHECHEN OFFICIAL

U.S. State Department officials on 14 February received Seilam Bechaev, the deputy chairman of the pro-independence Chechen parliament, to discuss humanitarian issues, Reuters reported. This was the first such meeting between U.S. and Chechen officials since the beginning of the Russian military action against Chechnya last year. State Department spokesman James Rubin said that the talks "focused on human rights and humanitarian issues, and we made clear our view that all parties in the conflict should cease fighting and intensify the political dialogue to bring about a lasting peace." The Chechen representative in Washington, Lyoma Usmanov, said the meeting was very successful. "The State Department doesn't spend two hours wasting time," he added. PG

GAZPROM TELLS NTV TO TOE GOVERNMENT LINE ON CHECHNYA

Gazprom head Rem Vyahkhirev told Interfax on 15 February that he "does not consider the position of NTV's leadership on the Chechnya problem completely correct." He added that NTV's coverage of the military campaign there "gives the Gazprom leadership serious cause to think about how we are investing our funds." Gazprom holds a 30 percent stake in NTV. On 16 February, Vyakhirev repeated his support for the candidacy of acting President Putin, saying Putin "is the most serious candidate for the position of head of state." JAC

FRENCH REPORTER SAYS BRIBES OPEN ALL CHECKPOINTS IN CHECHNYA

Speaking in Moscow on 15 February, Anne Nivat, a reporter for the French newspaper "Liberation," said that "money will take you through any checkpoint" maintained by Russian forces in Chechnya, Interfax reported. PG

NEWSPAPER: PUTIN FAVORS FSB OFFICIAL IN ST. PETE BALLOT

"Segodnya" reported on 15 February that acting President Putin intends to support the candidacy of Viktor Cherkesov, first deputy director of the FSB, in the upcoming St. Petersburg gubernatorial ballot. Like Putin, the 49-year-old Cherkesov is a native of St. Petersburg and worked for the KGB; before being brought to Moscow by Putin in August 1998, he was head of the St. Petersburg branch of the FSB. The newspaper comments that the St. Petersburg intelligentsia is "shocked" by Putin's choice for the governor's seat because Cherkesov was responsible for sending St. Petersburg dissidents to prison camps in the late 1970s and early 1980s and is regarded today as "one of the main suppressors of the democratic movement in Leningrad." Incumbent St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev is reported to have a large lead over all other contenders in the 14 May ballot. JC

ANOTHER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE REGISTERED...

The Central Election Commission on 15 February registered Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev as a presidential candidate. Tuleev is the fourth candidate to be officially registered for the 26 March presidential elections. According to his property and income declaration, Tuleev earned 200,995 rubles ($6,986) in 1998-1999. He does not own any real estate, but his wife owns a plot of land and country house in Kemerovo Oblast as well as an apartment in Moscow. He has no bank accounts, but his wife has 500 rubles on deposit at Sberbank. She earned 92,600 rubles in 1998-1999. While the "poorest" of the candidates registered so far, Tuleev has the largest amount of money in his campaign account (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2000). JAC

...AS KREMLIN FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR TULEEV ALLEGED

"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 16 February that Tuleev has another advantage in that Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko recently agreed to extend by one year reductions in tariffs on freight exported from the Kuzbass. The newspaper, in which Boris Berezovskii has a controlling interest, concludes that there are two reason why the Kremlin has agreed to provide financial support to one of acting President Putin's competitors: to reduce the number of votes that might go to Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov and to ensure Tuleev's continued support in the Kremlin's campaign to appoint governors. Tuleev has reportedly declared that the president of the Russian Federation should appoint regional leaders. The previous day, Constitutional Court Chairman Marat Baglai said the constitution would have to be amended to allow for such appointments (see "RFE/RL Federation Report," 16 February 2000). JAC

VODKA BECOMES CAMPAIGN ISSUE

Acting President Putin told reporters on 15 February that despite reports in the press that the government is raising the minimum price of vodka, "the government has not taken any decision" on increasing vodka prices (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2000). According to ITAR-TASS, Putin said "the government does not regulate vodka prices, the market does." However, "Kommersant- Daily" reported on 16 February that Putin had pledged that the government would do all it could to prevent the price of vodka from increasing. It added that on 15 February, two committees in the State Duma independently decided to investigate the "vodka question." JAC

NATO CHIEF LOOKS FORWARD TO 'NEW CHAPTER' IN TIES WITH MOSCOW

NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson arrived in Moscow on 15 February, saying he hopes his visit will open a "new chapter in the dialogue and cooperation between Russia and NATO on questions of mutual interest." A joint declaration to be issued at the end of his visit will "create a new and substantial basis for progress" in Russian-NATO relations, he added. Robertson is expected to meet with acting President Putin, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. Ties between the alliance and Moscow have been virtually frozen since March 1999, when NATO began its bombing campaign in Yugoslavia. JC

'SPECIAL DEPARTMENTS' RETURN TO ARMED FORCES

Acting President Putin signed a decree last weekend providing for "directorates [departments] of the Federal Security Service in the armed forces, other troops, armed formations, and bodies," Russian press reported on 14-15 February. Like their Soviet counterparts, the so-called "special departments," which former President Boris Yeltsin officially disbanded in 1993, the new structures will primarily be engaged in rooting out any manifestations of political disloyalty within the forces and uncovering foreign spies--or put another way, as reported by "Izvestiya" on 14 February, "preventing and suspending the activities of individuals that damage the security of the Russian Federation." Neither the army command, the police, nor the Prosecutor-General's Office will have the right to interfere in the work of the military counterintelligence departments. Putin was head of the FSB from July 1998 to March 1999. JC

GERMANY REAFFIRMS OPPOSITION TO DEBT FORGIVENESS

Germany's chief negotiator to the Paris Club of creditors told the "Financial Times" on 15 February that Germany is not prepared to forgive Russia's sovereign debts along the lines of Russia's recent agreement with London Club creditors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2000). One unidentified source in the German government told Reuters the same day that "Russia is a rich nation that should mobilize its resources" while another noted that "it is a paradox that just as Russia's economy starts doing better the pressure to reduce debts increases." Russia owes nearly half of its foreign debt to Germany. Former Finance Minister Boris Fedorov wrote in "Segodnya" the same day that "for a pretender to status in the Group of Eight, it is simply shameful, in my view, to beg for debt forgiveness." JAC

RUSSIA SEEN HAVING SPY ADVANTAGE OVER U.S.

The staff director of the U.S. House of Representative's Intelligence Committee, John Millis, told an audience in Washington D.C. on 15 February that Russia has more spies around the world than does the U.S., Reuters reported. Millis said that Russia also has more spies monitoring the U.S. than the U.S. has monitoring Russia: "My guess is that U.S. intelligence would be grateful if they had one-tenth of the capability deployed against Russia that Russia has deployed against the U.S." Millis concluded that the "U.S. intelligence community is woefully underprepared for the future." JAC

COURT OVERTURNS DECISION BARRING MAKASHOV

Russia's Supreme Court on 15 February overturned a ruling by a Samara Oblast court upholding a district election commission's rejection of the registration of General Aleksandr Makashov for 19 December State Duma elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 1999). Makashov, who was running on the ticket of the Movement for Support of Army, had served in the previous State Duma, where he made headlines internationally for his anti-Semitic remarks. The Supreme Court ordered that Makashov's complaint about his registration be sent back for reconsideration by the "court of the first instance." Makashov will have another chance to enter the Duma on 26 March when repeat elections are held in a district in Sverdlovsk Oblast where the majority of voters on 19 December chose none of the candidates, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 16 February. Meanwhile, the Federation Council has confirmed the appointment of Nikolai Bondar as a member of the Constitutional Court. JAC

LEGAL PROCEEDINGS AGAINST SCIENTOLOGISTS CONTINUE

The decision of a Moscow court annulling the registration of the Hubbard Humanitarian Center in that city has come into force, "Novye Izvestiya" reported on 15 February. Meanwhile, a preliminary criminal investigation launched against the center's director has been completed and the results will be submitted to the court, according to the daily. Last October, when the court declared the registration invalid, a Russian Orthodox Church spokeswoman welcomed the ruling, saying that "our Church is strongly critical of [the Church of Scientology]. We define them as a totalitarian sect" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2000). JAC

'MIR' TO GO COMMERCIAL?

AP reported on 16 February that an agreement will be signed later this week in London whereby a private company will lease the "Mir" space station for commercial use. MirCorp, a Bermuda-registered company that was formed last December, is reported to have already invested $20-30 million to keep "Mir" in orbit at least until the end of the summer and intends to raise another $40 million to extend the station's life in space. Under the agreement, Energia, which is 38 percent owned by the Russian government and a majority shareholder in MirCorp, will continue to operate the station. Last fall, Pizza Hut announced that it would have its logo placed prominently on the Proton rocket that was to launch the International Space Station (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 1999). JC




ARMENIA'S KOCHARIAN VISITS LEBANON

President Robert Kocharian arrived in Beirut on 15 February for his first official visit there, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, Iraq announced that it has established diplomatic relations with Armenia. PG

IRAN WELCOMES ARMENIAN SECURITY PROPOSAL

A spokesman for the Iranian Embassy in Yerevan said that Tehran welcomes Armenian President Kocharian's proposal to create a regional security system that would involve at least Iran, Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and Turkey, Interfax reported on 15 February. The spokesman added that Tehran is willing to serve as a mediator in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute if all sides "consider it necessary." PG

KURDS DEMONSTRATE IN ARMENIAN CAPITAL

Several hundred Armenian Kurds rallied in Yerevan on 15 February in support of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is currently being held by Turkey, ITAR-TASS reported. Shouting "Liberty to Ocalan, Peace to Kurdistan," the demonstrators marched on the U.S. embassy and then dispersed. The Caucasus office of the Kurdistan National Liberation Front said that the arrest of Ocalan had been "the result of a murky and mean conspiracy by rapacious barbarians." And it added that "the PKK can lead us through any trials to a final victory." PG

AZERBAIJAN'S Aliyev IN U.S. TO DISCUSS PIPELINE, KARABAKH

President Heidar Aliyev met with U.S. President Bill Clinton on 15 February to discuss expanding cooperation in developing the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline and increasing U.S. involvement in seeking a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute with Armenia, AP reported. Aliyev told reporters that his meeting with Clinton would give "additional impetus to a final settlement." In other remarks, Aliyev called for the repeal of Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, which limits U.S. assistance to his country. Meanwhile, Georgia's Foreign Minister Irakly Menagarishvili said in Baku that Georgia and Azerbaijan are making progress in developing the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, Interfax reported. PG

BAKU TO DEFEND INTERNET AGAINST ARMENIAN HACKERS

Azerbaijani Security Minister Namik Abbasov met with technical experts on 14 February to discuss how to respond to Armenian hacker attacks on Azerbaijani websites, Interfax reported on 15 February. One Azerbaijani source said that "it can be said without exaggeration that the entire Azerbaijani [section] of the Internet is under threat." PG

AZERBAIJANIS DON'T VIEW IRAN AS FRIEND

Only 3 percent of Azerbaijanis view Iran as a friend of Azerbaijan, while only 9.5 percent think it is important to improve relations with Tehran, according to a poll conducted by ARG-Caspian Energy reported in "Zerkalo" on 15 February. According to the poll, Turkey, Russia, and the U.S. are viewed as the closest friends of Azerbaijan. PG

GEORGIAN EMBASSIES FACE CASH CRUNCH

The Georgian Foreign Ministry said on 15 February that Tbilisi's diplomats abroad lack the funds to pay rent and utility bills for Georgia's embassies, AP reported. The ministry said that some embassies might have to be closed. PG

GEORGIA'S SHEVARDNADZE DOES NOT EXPECT A CLINTON VISIT

President Eduard Shevardnadze told journalists on 15 February that he does not expect U.S. President Clinton to pay an official visit to Tbilisi, ITAR-TASS reported. Despite press reports to the contrary, Shevardnadze said, "Bill Clinton does not plan to visit southern Caucasus countries soon. As far as I know, the U.S. president had such a wish but, owing to an utterly busy schedule, he has been unable to realize it." PG

KAZAKHSTAN, RUSSIA REACH ACCORD ON BAIKONUR

A meeting of Kazakhstani and Russian officials in Moscow has settled the dispute over Russian use of the Baikonur cosmodrome, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 February. The two sides also made progress on expanding cooperation in the energy and transportation sectors, the Russian agency said. PG

KAZAKHSTAN DEMANDS IMMEDIATE DEMARCATION OF UZBEK BORDER

The Kazakhstan government has told its delegation to border talks with Uzbekistan to demand the swiftest possible delimitation of the Kazakh-Uzbek border, Kazakh television reported on 15 February. Prime Minister Kasymzhomart Tokaev said that the talks were not going smoothly but that they must go on. "No structures along the border, whatever reasons they are based on--the fight against terrorism, banditism and so forth--are possible without the delimitation of the border," he concluded. PG

TWO THOUSAND TO OBSERVE KYRGYZ ELECTIONS

Approximately 2,000 representatives of international organizations will monitor the Kyrgyz parliamentary elections on 20 February, the chairman of that country's central election commission told ITAR-TASS on 16 February. Meanwhile, that body's head, Sulaima Imanbaev, rejected a proposal from six opposition groups to delay the elections until October because of government interference in the electoral process, Interfax reported on 15 February. And Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev announced that he would make the fight against poverty a top priority over the next decade, the Russian agency said. PG

RUSSIA TO HELP FORM TAJIK EMERGENCY MINISTRY

The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry will help form its counterpart in Tajikistan, the Plus news agency reported on 15 February. Mirzo Ziyoyev, who heads the Tajik ministry, will go to Moscow to discuss how Russia can help him introduce such a ministry. PG

TAJIKSTAN WELCOMES HOME TAJIKS FROM KYRGYZSTAN

Dushanbe on 16 February welcomed "25 of our fellow citizens who have been forced to live for long years in Kyrgyzstan," the Blitz news agency reported. It added that from 1998-2000, some 3,031 Tajikistanis had returned from Kyrgyzstan. PG

TURKMENISTAN WANTS TO SELL MORE GAS TO RUSSIA

Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov said on 14 February that his country is eager to sell more gas to Russia and cannot wait for the completion of the Trans-Caspian pipeline, Turkmen television reported. PG

U.S. CALLS ON UZBEKISTAN TO MODIFY OR DROP RELIGION LAW

John Beyrle a representative of the U.S. State Department, told Uzbek officials in Tashkent that they should modify or even replace the Uzbek law on religion, Blitz news agency reported on 16 February. Beyrle said that the law, which he described as one of the harshest in the world, placed severe limitations on religious activity by all people of faith in Uzbekistan. PG

UZBEKISTAN'S KARIMOV SAYS ECONOMIC TARGETS MET

President Islam Karimov sharply criticized his government's economic performance but acknowledged that most of its 1999 macroeconomic targets had in fact been met, Interfax reported on 15 February. He said that GDP grew by 4.4 percent and that the budget deficit was only 3 percent of GDP. PG




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS CONTROVERSIAL ELECTORAL CODE

Belarusian Television on 15 February reported that Alyaksandr Lukashenka has signed the new electoral code. The same day, experts from the Consultative Council of Opposition Political Parties noted in Minsk that the code does not meet internationally accepted standards for holding elections. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER OPTIMISTIC ABOUT DEBT RESTRUCTURING SCHEME

Viktor Yushchenko said on 15 February that he is satisfied with investors' response to the debt restructuring proposals that he presented in London the day before (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2000). He added that Ukraine's Finance Ministry will make similar presentations in Frankfurt, Zurich, Munich, Vienna, Milan, and Paris. Yushchenko hopes that Ukraine will be able to restructure 85 percent of its foreign debts. JM

UKRAINIAN LEFTIST LAWMAKERS REGISTER FOR SESSION

The 15 February parliamentary session took place with the participation of 350 registered deputies, Interfax reported. This means that leftist lawmakers, excluding those from the Progressive Socialist Party, registered for a session for the first time since the center-right majority took over the leadership of the Supreme Council. JM

UKRAINE'S PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION REPORTEDLY PLANNING TO SPLIT COMMUNISTS

Petro Symonenko, leader of the Communist Party of Ukraine, told Interfax on 15 February that the presidential administration is planning to create an "alternative" party that will include the word "Communist" in its name. According to Symonenko, the presidential administration has instructed regional authorities to hold meetings of local residents to set up such a party. He added that the first of such meetings has already been held in Cherkasy Oblast. Symonenko believes that the authorities will be unable to split his party since he argues it is united by the principle of "democratic centralism." Presidential spokesman Oleksandr Martynenko denied that the administration is planning any such step, arguing that "the president is not a supporter but rather an opponent of communist ideology." JM

EU TALKS OFFICIALLY START FOR LATVIA, LITHUANIA

At a meeting in Brussels on 15 February, EU membership negotiations with all remaining associate members--including Latvia and Lithuania--officially opened. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas, who took part in the meeting, called it an "extraordinary event," BNS reported. Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said in Riga that "Latvia has left behind for good the post-Soviet period and has become a democratic and open European state." In a related story, European Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen told Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who also took part in the Brussels gathering, said he supports the construction of the Via Baltica transport link from Helsinki to Warsaw and will lobby for it with Polish authorities. Polish authorities earlier suggested there is no need for such a link, citing the low volume of traffic on the route. MH

RUSSIA PROTESTS ESTONIAN AWARDS TO WAR VETERANS

The Russian Foreign Ministry has issued a statement protesting Estonian President Lennart Meri's plans to decorate a group of World War II veterans who fought against the Soviets alongside Germans, Interfax reported on 15 February. Of the 168 individuals Meri plans to decorate on the occasion of Estonian Independence Day, 19 fought against the Soviets, BNS added. Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves blasted Moscow's statement, stressing that the decorations are for those who fought against the Soviet occupation, adding that "Estonia hands out medals, not knives...as do other countries," ETA added. MH

LATVIA TO DECORATE YELTSIN

The council of the Tri-star Order, the highest award of the Latvian state, decided on 15 February to honor former Russian President Boris Yeltsin for his support for the restoration of Latvia's independence, BNS reported. The idea to decorate Yeltsin originally came from the center-left New Party. MH

LITHUANIA ADOPTS LAW ON WAR CRIMES TRIALS IN ABSENTIA

The parliament on 15 February adopted a law providing for trials of war criminals found too ill to attend court sessions. The provision, passed by a vote of 54 to six, has a direct impact on several dozen cases of Nazi and Soviet war crimes--the most prominent being the case against suspected Nazi war criminal Aleksandras Lileikis. Defendants in such trials will be allowed to monitor court proceedings via closed circuit television, BNS reported. If approved by the president, the law would lay to rest an ongoing dispute with the U.S. Justice Department. MH

WALESA SEEKING PREMIERSHIP IN EXCHANGE FOR SUPPORTING KRZAKLEWSKI'S PRESIDENTIAL BID?

Polish Television reported on 15 February that former President Lech Walesa has sent a letter to Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) leader Marian Krzaklewski proposing that the AWS parliamentary caucus be reformed and the entire cabinet replaced. The report quoted an adviser to Walesa as saying that Walesa should head a new cabinet and that, in that capacity, Walesa would support Krzaklewski's presidential bid this year. Krzaklewski refused to comment on the letter, saying he will meet with Walesa first. AWS parliamentary caucus spokesman Piotr Zak said the letter does not specify who should be prime minister and who should run for president. AWS politicians met Walesa's proposal with skepticism. Miroslaw Styczen said the proposal is a "political fiction," while Stefan Niesiolowski called it "absurd." JM

CZECHS ASK EU NOT TO POSTPONE ENLARGEMENT

Prime Minister Milos Zeman said in Portugal on 14 February that the EU must not wait until it has reformed its institutions before ratifying membership of the six "fast-track" candidate countries. He said that "nothing should prevent" the enlargement and institutional-reform processes "from running parallel, which would accelerate the entry date," AP, Reuters, and CTK reported. With regard to EU sanctions against the new Austrian government, Zeman said: "That action was positive, because it forced the Austrian government to make very clear statements that it will not undermine the European construction [process]." He dismissed as "nonsense" Austrian far-right leader Joerg Haider's demand that EU enlargement must be postponed till wages in the East reach EU levels, and he added that Haider's calls that the German minority expelled from Czechoslovakia be compensated ignores a treaty signed by Austria in 1974. MS

CZECH OPPOSITION ALLIANCE, CIVIC INITIATIVES TO COOPERATE IN ELECTIONS

The four-party opposition alliance, has reached agreement with the civic initiatives Impulse 99 and Thanks, Now Leave to cooperate in the Senate elections scheduled for fall 2000, CTK reported on 15 February. Freedom Union Deputy Chairman Vladimir Mlynar told journalists that the alliance (which comprises the union, the Christian Democrats, the Civic Democratic Alliance, and the Democratic Union) will include candidates representing the two civic alliances on its lists. He also said that cooperation is likely to extend to the 2002 elections to the Chamber of Deputies. Thanks, Now Leave spokesman Josef Broz said his organization has a candidate for the next presidential elections, but he declined to reveal that candidate's name, saying only that further details will be released within the next month. MS

EU PRAISES SLOVAK 'AMBITIONS'

Guenter Verheugen, European commissioner for enlargement, said on 15 February that the commission "highly praises" Slovakia's "ambitious attitude" toward joining the union quickly, CTK reported. Verheugen, who was speaking after the EU started accession talks with the six countries--including Slovakia--not in the fast-track group, told journalists he expects "an entirely normal course of negotiations" with Bratislava. He recalled that Slovakia was excluded from the fast-track group because it had been lagging behind in fulfilling the union's political criteria. Verheugen commented that Slovakia's case was "exceptional" and that in 1998 the country had replaced a leadership "incapable of fulfilling EU standards" with a new one. One day earlier, Foreign Minister Jan Kukan said his country sees 1 January 2004 as a "realistic and ambitious" target date for joining the union. MS

U.S. OFFICIAL SAYS SLOVAKIA IS 'SERIOUS CANDIDATE' FOR NATO MEMBERSHIP

Slovakia is a "serious contender" for membership in NATO and has made "remarkable progress" toward that goal, Joseph Garret, director for European and NATO politics at the U.S. Defense Department, told journalists in Bratislava after meeting with Defense Minister Pavol Kanis, TASR and CTK reported. Garret said there is "still room for improvement" in the Slovak military forces, particularly in defense planning and the allocation of resources for defense purposes. He said that a team of U.S. experts has drawn up recommendations. Kanis noted that those recommendations were based on the situation in October 1999 and that "great progress" has been made since then in reforming the army. Kanis also commented that it is fortunate that, unlike the new members of NATO, Slovakia began carrying out its "radical military reforms" before joining the organization. MS

HUNGARY PREPARES THREE LAWSUITS OVER CYANIDE SPILL

Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced on 15 February that Hungary will bring lawsuits against the Australian-Romanian joint venture Aurul as well as against its Australian co-owner, Esmeralda, to seek compensation for damages caused by the company's cyanide spill into the Szamos and Tisza rivers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 15 February 2000). The cabinet is "also weighing the options" of claiming compensation from the Romanian government, Orban said. He added that an unsolved conflict with Romania would "only harm bilateral ties." But visiting Hungarian State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth said in Bucharest that Hungary has not demanded Romanian compensation. Romanian Foreign Minister Petre Roman told reporters in Brussels that the Hungarian government reacted "reasonably" to the spill and "did not make a political issue of it." MSZ/MS




MILOSEVIC APPOINTS INDICTED WAR CRIMINAL AS DEFENSE MINISTER

Without consulting the government of Montenegro, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has appointed General Dragoljub Ojdanic to succeed Pavle Bulatovic, who was recently assassinated. Milosevic also appointed General Nebojsa Pavkovic to replace Ojdanic as chief of staff, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 15 February. Pavkovic commanded Serbian forces in Kosova during the 1999 conflict. Ojdanic and Pavkovic are widely regarded as politically loyal to Milosevic. Serbian Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic told Reuters that Milosevic "still keeps his personal power garnished with a few obedient people, taking them from the same small circle and reshuffling them from one position to another." In Podgorica, the steering committee of the governing Democratic Party of Socialists noted that Ojdanic's appointment means that a post formerly held by a Montenegrin is now occupied by a Serb. PM

KILIBARDA LEAVES MONTENEGRO FOR BOSNIA

Montenegrin Deputy Prime Minister Novak Kilibarda resigned that post on 15 February to become his republic's "representative" in Sarajevo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2000). He also gave up his post as head of the People's Party. Kilibarda is an outspoken critic of Milosevic and of Montenegrin ties to Serbia. PM

MORE EU OIL FOR SERBIAN CITIES

The European Commission agreed in Brussels on 15 February to extend its Energy for Democracy program to include Kragujevac, Kraljevo, Novi Sad, Sombor, and Subotica in addition to Nis and Pirot. The commission plans to make up to 15,000 additional tons of heating oil available for the project. PM

BELGRADE PROTESTS TO BUCHAREST OVER CYANIDE SPILL...

On 15 February, the Yugoslav government formally protested to Romania over the cyanide pollution of the Danube and Tisza Rivers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2000). The Belgrade authorities also decided to seek compensation for the damage to Serbian agriculture and the killing of thousands of fish. PM

...GIVES NO CREDIT TO OPPOSITION OVER FLIGHT BAN SUSPENSION

The Yugoslav Foreign Ministry said in a statement on 15 February that the EU's decision the previous day to suspend the flight ban against Serbia came as the result of pressure from public opinion and business interests in EU member states. The statement made no mention of the key role played by the Serbian opposition in persuading Brussels to lift the ban (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2000). PM

REINHARD SAYS MILITARY NOT SOLUTION IN MITROVICA

KFOR commander General Klaus Reinhardt told a press conference in Prishtina on 15 February that his troops cannot solve all the problems of the divided city of Mitrovica. "Whatever we do as military, we only can lay the ground [work] for a security situation. I cannot solve the economic and social problems," Reuters reported. He stressed that Mitrovica needs economic development. Referring to recent attacks on KFOR in that city, Reinhardt said: "We are still investigating and as long as I don't have the entire picture, as long as I have only bits and pieces, I will not disclose them because that would not be fair. I need more information," he added. Reinhardt described the recent incidents as "very strange and bizarre." PM

BALKAN COUNTRIES AGREE MEASURES AGAINST CORRUPTION

Representatives of the governments of Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Macedonia, and Romania agreed in Sarajevo on 15 February on a package of measures to combat corruption. Alpo Rusi chaired the session in his capacity as deputy to Bodo Hombach in the administration of the EU's Balkan Stability Pact. Bosnian Deputy Defense Minister Gvozden Bosko told the session that his country will cut defense spending by 15 percent in 2000 and that he hopes other Balkan countries will do likewise, Reuters reported. PM

SFOR TAKES SERBIAN WEAPONS

NATO peacekeepers removed an unspecified quantity of weapons from a Bosnian Serb military storage depot at Bratunac on 16 February. Experts will examine the weapons to determine whether they were used in the massacre of more than 7,000 Muslim males after the fall of Srebrenica in 1995 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 1999). The weapons will then be returned to Bratunac. PM

NEW HEAD OF CROATIAN SECRET SERVICE

Acting President Zlatko Tomcic appointed Ozren Zunec of the Social Democratic Party to head the Croatian Intelligence Service (HIS). Zunec replaces Miroslav Tudjman, who resigned recently and who is the son of late President Franjo Tudjman. The younger Tudjman quit ostensibly to protest a joke that President-elect Stipe Mesic made to "Le Monde" about the late leader. Under President Tudjman, the governing party used the HIS and other intelligence services for political purposes. Following the recent change of government, Miroslav Tudjman's sacking had been widely expected. PM

CROATIA GETS 'OBSERVER STATUS' IN PARTNERSHIP FOR PEACE

NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson told Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan in Brussels on 15 February that Croatia has been granted "observer status" in NATO's Partnership for Peace program. The move is widely seen as a gesture by the Atlantic alliance to the new Croatian government. President Tudjman long sought NATO membership for his country. The alliance, however, denied Croatia membership even in Partnership for Peace because of Tudjman's authoritarian rule and his policies in Bosnia. PM

CROATIAN MONEY FOR HERZEGOVINA

The Croatian government has pledged to respect Bosnian independence but will nonetheless pay $30 million to the Herzegovinian Croat authorities by the end of March, "Jutarnji list" reported on 16 February. The previous government promised the money, which will go to the Herzegovinian military and victims of the 1991-1995 war. The new Croatian authorities have "no idea" as to precisely what the Herzegovinians will do with the money. The independent Zagreb daily added that there is a discrepancy of more than $40 million between the amount that former Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa claims that the government recently paid the Herzegovinians and the lesser sum that the Herzegovinian leadership acknowledges. PM

HAGUE TRIBUNAL WANTS TUTA

A spokesman for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal said on 16 February that Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte will soon send a team of medical experts to Zagreb. They will determine how indicted war criminal Mladen "Tuta" Naletilic may be brought to The Netherlands without risk to his health, AP reported. Tuta suffers from a heart condition and has recently undergone surgery. His doctors claim that travel could endanger his life. PM

ROMANIA REPLACES CHIEF OF GENERAL STAFF

General Constantin Degeratu was replaced on 15 February by Major General Mircea Chelaru as army chief of staff, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Degeratu was appointed presidential counselor for defense, national security, and public order, replacing Dorel Marian, who will now co-ordinate the staff of the presidential office. Marian rejected media reports that he will oversee President Emil Constantinescu's campaign for the fall 2000 presidential elections. MS

EUROPEAN COMMISSION BELIEVES ROMANIANS 'SOMEWHAT OPTIMISTIC'

European Commission for Enlargement Verheugen, speaking at the opening of official membership negotiations with Romania in Brussels on 15 February, said the EU will help Romania "identify the weak points" in its membership quest and will extend financial help to overcome them. Verheugen and other EU officials consider Romania's target to join the union in 2007 "somewhat optimistic," Romanian media reported on 16 February. Foreign Minister Petre Roman said Bucharest is ready to open negotiations on six chapters of the EU charter. Negotiations will begin on 28 March. MS

MOLDOVA, RUSSIA SIGN MILITARY ACCORD

Defense Minister Boris Gamurari and his Russian counterpart, Igor Sergeev, have signed in Moscow an accord on military cooperation, Romanian radio reported on 15 February. The accord stipulates, among other things, that the two armies will hold a joint military exercise in Moldova in summer 2000. The Russian side repeated that it intends to withdraw its conventional arsenal from the Transdniester by 2001 and its troops from the region by 2002. MS

MOLDOVA TEMPORARILY HALTS ISSUING BIRTH CERTIFICATES

The Justice Ministry said on 15 February that it has temporarily stopped issuing duplicates of birth certificates--a step that observers believe is connected with the increasing number of requests by Moldovan citizens to acquire Romanian citizenship. Romanian authorities request such certificates to start the procedure (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2000). MS

NATO COMMANDER PRAISES BULGARIA

"I highly appreciate Bulgaria's active role in southeastern Europe" Supreme Allied Commander General Wesley Clark told Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova in Brussels on 14 February, BTA reported. He noted that Bulgaria makes an important contribution to enhancing regional and European security. Mihailova, who is heading the Bulgarian delegation to the Brussels talks on EU enlargement, also discussed with Clark her country's preparations for joining the organization and the military reforms under way in the Bulgarian armed forces. MS




ONE MONTH WITHOUT NEWS


By Paul Goble

Russian acting President Vladimir Putin's assertion on 15 February that he has asked Russia's security services to ensure the safety of missing RFE/RL correspondent Andrei Babitskii could either constitute a breakthrough in this case or be nothing more than another instance of obfuscation and delay.

If Putin's statement leads to Babitskii's safe return to Moscow, the acting president is certain to get enormous credit both at home and abroad. And he is likely to do so despite his own government's role in arresting Babitskii in the first place and then handing him over to people his regime calls "criminals" and "bandits" in exchange for Russian prisoners of war.

But if Putin's words do not yield that result, then they will only serve to call still greater Russian and international attention to the many contradictory statements other Russian officials have made during the past month about Babitskii.

Speaking to journalists in Moscow on 15 February, Putin said he is in constant contact with officials in the Russian security services and the Office of the Prosecutor-General concerning Babitskii's fate and that they are doing "all they can" to ensure that Babitskii remains alive and is set free. At the same time, Putin appeared to undercut his own remark by saying that "as far as I understand the situation, [Babitskii] already feels free."

Such an expression of interest in Babitskii's fate at the highest level is certain to be welcome news to Babitskii's family, friends, and colleagues, whose overriding interest is in his safe return.

It is also likely to be welcomed by Western governments interested in justifying their close contacts with the Putin government and to those concerned about what Russian treatment of Babitskii may imply about the future of democracy there.

But Putin's remarks do not necessarily point to a quick and happy resolution of the situation. Moreover, neither they nor any such resolution can expunge the events of the past month, in which there has been no news from Babitskii, a Russian citizen and a war correspondent distinguished by his accurate and even-handed reporting. Nor can the acting Russian president's words end concern about his commitment to democracy and freedom of the press. The record of the last month is simply too revealing.

On 16 January, Russian officials detained Babitskii, and on 27 January they formally arrested him. For more than a week, they denied that they had any information on his whereabouts, acknowledging his detention only after Russian and international media began asking questions.

Russian officials in both Chechnya and Moscow kept changing their story as to why he was under arrest. Some suggested that he was involved with "illegal armed formations." Others said he had failed to secure the necessary press credentials.

Throughout this period, Babitskii was not allowed to contact his wife or his lawyer, a clear violation of Russian law.

Then on 3 February, Russian officials produced a film clip that purported to show Babitskii being handed over to Chechen fighters, an action that clearly violates the provisions of the Geneva Convention.

Some Russian officials said that Babitskii had volunteered to be exchanged. Others--including Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo--claimed the exchange was entirely legal and proper. And still others asserted that with this exchange, Moscow no longer had any responsibility for Babitskii's fate.

Such Russian claims sparked a firestorm of criticism by media and human rights groups in the Russian Federation and abroad as well as demands by international organizations and some Western governments that Moscow find Babitskii and restore him to his family and colleagues.

Moreover, pro-independence Chechen officials, who would have had every interest in producing Babitskii to the world and thus embarrassing Moscow, repeatedly denied that any exchange had taken place or that Babitskii was in areas under their control.

In the face of this pressure, Moscow changed its line once again. Since 6 February, Russian officials have repeatedly asserted that Babitskii is alive but that they do not know where he is. Indeed, Putin's 15 February statement is simply the latest in a long line of similar Russian claims.

But his remarks, like those of other Russian officials, contain an inherent contradiction. If Putin and other Russian officials in fact know that Babitskii is alive, then they must know who is holding him and where he is. If they do not know that, then they cannot possibly know what condition he is in; and their assertions to the contrary must be treated with skepticism.

This record is troubling enough, but even if Putin's statement does lead to Babitskii's return, it is nonetheless worrisome for three reasons:

First, Putin's intervention implies that Russian democracy continues to depend on the will of one man rather than on institutions like constitutions and laws, a less than ideal foundation for democracy.

Second, Putin's words sound more like damage control than like the actions of someone whose oath requires him to defend the Russian Constitution at all times. His remarks came only after Russian and Western media demanded that he do something.

And third, Putin's words suggest something disturbing about his approach to such matters. They appear to indicate that he believes he can always talk his way out of bad past actions and that such an approach will work both with Russians and with his foreign interlocutors.

If Putin is able to produce Babitskii soon, some may indeed forget these lessons of the last month. But this past month without news is certain to continue to matter for the cause of human freedom and the future of Russia.


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