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Newsline - March 10, 2000




PUTIN SUGGESTS PRESIDENTIAL RULE OVER CHECHNYA

In an interview published in the 10 March "Kommersant-Daily," acting Russian President Vladimir Putin said that "perhaps direct presidential rule could be introduced [in Chechnya] for a couple of years after the [26 March] presidential election." PG

RED CROSS SAYS MOSCOW VIOLATING GENEVA CONVENTION

The International Red Cross Committee said on 9 March that the Russian Federation is violating the provisions of the Geneva Convention by preventing Red Cross workers from visiting detention camps, Russian and Western agencies reported. "We can only express our regret that we have still not been allowed to exercise our legal right to visit and defend detainees in Chechnya," IRCC spokeswoman Viktoria Potikova told dpa. PG

IVANOV SAYS MOSCOW 'INTERESTED' IN DIALOGUE ON CHECHNYA

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told a delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 9 March that Moscow "is interested in maintaining a dialogue with international organizations on Chechnya," Interfax reported. Moscow, he said, "does not conceal that problems do exist and it would be naive to think that the Chechen problems can be settled quickly." Meanwhile, Federation Council deputy speaker Vladimir Platonov told the PACE group that their trip to Chechnya is "being thoroughly prepared." PG

HEAVY FIGHTING AROUND CHECHEN VILLAGE

Having claimed that Russian forces now control the entire Argun gorge, the Russian military told Interfax on 9 March that heavy fighting is continuing around Komsomolskoe, a village near Urus-Martan. Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said that the Russian command will not give Chechen leader Ruslan Gelaev free passage from there to the mountains. From the scene, Russian Major General Mikhail Labunets said that Chechen forces "will not be allowed out, and we will not try to capture them--they will be destroyed," dpa reported. Meanwhile, Russian military commanders acknowledged that they suffered heavy losses at the end of February but denied reports that there would be a massive withdrawal of Russian paratroopers from Chechnya, Interfax reported. And the Russian military told Interfax that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has called for a new campaign against Russian soldiers and civilians. PG

MOSCOW PUTS MILITARY IN CHARGE OF CHECHEN MEDIA

The Russian government has issued a decree ordering the Russian Defense Ministry to organize state radio broadcasting in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 March. PG

GERMAN TV APOLOGIZES FOR SHOWING ATROCITY FILM

Ulrich Ende, the manager of German television company N-24, has sent a letter to the Russian ambassador in Germany, Sergei Krylov, officially apologizing for having shown a film about Russian atrocities in Chechnya, Russian presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii said on 9 March, according to ITAR-TASS. According to Yastrzhembskii, the letter said the film had not "served the truth." PG

RUSSIAN ANALYST SEES MOSCOW LOSING CHECHNYA

Writing in "The Moscow Times," Pavel Felgengauer, one of Russia's leading military analysts, argued that the current wave of Russian attacks in Chechnya is only stiffening Chechen resistance. "This two-faced Russian policy of offering official love on the one hand and actual destruction on the other can only produce a long-lasting, savage guerrilla war that the Russian military will most likely lose in the end," Reuters reported on 9 March. Meanwhile, a Russian soldier told AFP that "the war won't be over for a long time...because the Chechens keep reappearing in villages we've already taken." PG

FSB LINKS PLANE CRASH WITH CHECHNYA

The plane crash at a Moscow airport on 9 March that killed the prominent journalist Artem Borovik and Gruppa Alyans head Zia Bazhaev has prompted speculation in the press about both the accident and the business relations of the two men. Federal Security Service spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich hinted that a Chechen group might have been behind the blast. He told Interfax on 9 March that "Chechen rebels were trying to force Bhazaev to fund rebel units. But he refused." Bazhaev was born in Chechnya and reportedly maintained close ties to the region. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 10 March, Borovik constantly faced threats for his investigative reports. A spokeswoman for Bazhaev's company said the two men were friends and that "is probably why they ended up on the same plane," "The Moscow Times" reported. However, Borovik's company issued a statement that Bazhaev had shown "some interest" in Borovik's effort to establish a local edition of the publication "Versiya" in Ukraine. On 10 March, Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov said that "what experts are saying hardly suggests that the crash was an act of terrorism." JAC

ANTI-MONOPOLY MINISTER OKAYS OLIGARCHS' ASSET GRAB

Ilya Yuzhanov announced on 9 March that the recent acquisitions of shares in major aluminum plants "do not violate anti- monopoly legislation since the investigation shows that in each case stakes of less than 20 percent have been bought." Boris Berezovksii's LogoVAZ group and Roman Abramovich's Sibneft were reported behind the acquisitions of some 60-70 percent of Russia's aluminum industry (see "End Note" in "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2000). In his remarks to reporters, Yuzhanov said that he knew the names of the buyers and sellers of the stakes but declined to reveal them, saying this was a commercial secret. According to Yuzhanov, Putin told him to continue analyzing the information gathered and said that such deals should be more transparent, Interfax reported. Some analysts have suggested that the government's decision on the deal may serve as the best indicator of Putin's real attitude toward Berezovskii and the role oligarchs play in the Russian economy. JAC

IVASHOV ADDS VOICE TO LATEST NATO DEBATE

Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, head of the Defense Ministry's international relations department, told "Trud" of 7 March that he personally sees "no place for Russia" in NATO in its current form. Ivashov was commenting on acting President Putin's recent remark to BBC Television that he does not rule out Russia's joining the alliance on equal terms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2000). He added that if "in the long run NATO transforms from a military organization into a purely political one, then we will have a different situation altogether to discuss." Meanwhile, Radio Mayak reported on 9 March that the Duma Council has rejected a proposal by leftist factions to include the issue of Putin's recent NATO statements on the agenda of the next Duma session. JC

RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT CALM ABOUT LOOMING OIL PRICE 'CORRECTION'...

First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told journalists on 9 March that he "disagrees with assertions of some politicians and economists that a sharp decrease in world oil prices is possible, which will considerably aggravate the economic situation in Russia." According to "Trud-7" on 10 March, Kasyanov added that current oil prices are overstated and may soon be "corrected." Last month, Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, who oversees the Fuel Ministry, called Russia's fuel and energy sector a major support for the national economy, which yields 30 percent of budget revenues and 45 percent of the country's total hard-currency revenues as well as accounting for up to a third of Russia's industrial production, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 February. JAC

...AS INDUSTRY EXPRESSES CONCERN

Not surprisingly, domestic oil manufacturers and traders are less sanguine about their future than is Kasyanov, noting that acting President Putin recently signed a decree increasing export duties on crude oil and diesel fuel effective 1 April, "Trud-7" reported. They also maintain that the Russian oil industry did not take proper advantage of high world oil prices by increasing exports. According to the daily, over the past two months Russia exported 4.3 percent less than the amount stipulated by the Fuel Ministry because that ministry delayed issuing the necessary export documents. Oil industry officials also draw attention to the sector's continuing need for investment. According to the daily, more than 60 percent of equipment in oil extraction and more than 80 percent in oil processing is obsolete. JAC

KALYUZHNYI TO DISCUSS OIL PIPELINE TO CHINA

Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnyi will be in Beijing on 19 March to discuss building an oil pipeline from Angarsk, Irkutsk Oblast, to the Chinese capital.. Reuters on 9 March quoted the minister as saying that the heads of practically all Russian oil companies will be going with him to take part in the talks. Under current plans, the 2,400-kilometer pipeline would be completed by 2004 and have an annual throughput capacity of 30 million tons. Kalyuzhnyi estimated the cost of the pipeline at $1.7 billion, which, he said, should be shared by all participants in the project. JC

PUTIN'S ECONOMIC GURU CALLS FOR LEVEL PLAYING FIELD FOR REGIONS

In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 9 March, German Gref, director of the Center for Strategic Research, which is drafting acting President Putin's economic program, declared that "the state has been illegally ousted from its traditional spheres of activity" because "there is a weak, vertically integrated system of power with poorly- funded state law enforcement agencies and vaguely-defined powers for state bodies, which allows them to interfere in everything." He added that "we must put an end to the state's omnipresent control over business." At the same time, he called for overhauling the system of economic relations between the center and the regions as well as granting equal rights to all regions and applying the same budgetary policies to each of them. The previous day, the OECD issued its review of the Russian economy, which among other things recommended reforming center-region fiscal relations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 2000). JAC

GAP BETWEEN RICH AND POOR GROWS

"Argumenty i fakty" (No. 10) reported that the income of Russia's wealthiest segment of the population is now 40 times higher than that of the poorest, according to the Academy of Sciences' Economic Forecasting Institute. According to the weekly, "the richest 20 percent of Russians now get 60 percent of all income." In 1999, the percentage of the Russians with poverty-level incomes increased to 54.7 percent, compared with 47.8 percent in 1998. Meanwhile, the percentage of the population identified as affluent increased slightly, from 4.2 percent to 4.3 percent. JAC

BEIJING TO BUY 'MIR'?

According to "Versiya" (No. 9), rumors are coursing through Moscow that China has offered Russia several billion dollars for the "Mir" space station. The publication adds that Chinese specialists are said to hope that once the station has been completely overhauled, it would be operational for at least another 15 years. Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov recently returned from a trip to Beijing where he reached agreement on training Chinese cosmonauts in Russia and sending them to "Mir" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 2000). Last month, a Bermuda- registered company agreed to invest some $20-30 million to keep "Mir" in orbit over the next six months or so. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" speculated in January last year that a Chinese company was the foreign investor that the Russian Space Agency was seeking to sponsor "Mir" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1999). JC

PUTIN CONFIRMS TEENAGE LONGINGS FOR KGB

In a long interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 10 March, Acting President Putin confirmed an earlier report that he tried to join the KGB as a teenager (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2000). Putin revealed that when he was in the 10th grade (probably aged 16), he went to St. Petersburg's KGB headquarters to enroll, but an official told him that they only recruit university graduates and those who have finished their stint in the army. Young Putin asked what kind of university background was preferred and the official responded one in law. Putin also revealed that when he was working as a KGB officer, psychologists at the agency who observed him for a long time believed that he had an underdeveloped sense of danger. JAC




OSKANYAN SAYS ARMENIA'S TROUBLES STALL KARABAKH TALKS

Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanyan said on 8 March that the October 1999 assassinations in the parliament and ensuing events have almost "closed down" talks about resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, Noyan Tapan reported on 9 March. Meanwhile, head of the Armenian Democratic Party Akop Akopyan told the same agency that "everything done by the former ruling party--the Armenian Pan-National Movement--for 10 years" had led to the "Lebanonization" of Armenia. PG

AZERBAIJAN, TURKMENISTAN AGREE ON GAS SHIPMENTS

In a telephone conversation on 9 March, Azerbaijan President Heidar Aliyev and Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov agreed to pump Turkmen natural gas to Turkey via a pipeline to be constructed across the Caspian Sea, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP SAYS AZERBAIJAN'S DEATH ROW PRISONERS DYING BEFORE EXECUTION

Eldar Zeyanalov, the director of the Azerbaijani Human Rights Center, told "525 gazet" on 8 March that 50 of the 128 people sentenced to death in Azerbaijan between 1992 and 1998 died in prison before their sentences could be carried out. PG

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT APOLOGIZES FOR SALARY DELAYS

Eduard Shevardnadze on 9 March apologized to Georgians for "failing to resolve" the delays in salary payments, Prime News reported. Meanwhile, the Central Election Commission denied registration to nine of the 17 people who are seeking to run for president and said it might force more off the ballot if irregularities in their applications are found, Interfax reported. PG

GEORGIA CRITICIZES RUSSIAN MILITARY'S ACTIONS AS 'UNACCEPTABLE'

Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Grigol Katamadze lodged a protest with the Russian embassy in Tbilisi on 9 March over the detention of German diplomats by Russian military personnel near the Vazianai base on 3 March, Prime News reported. Katamadze told the news agency that the Russian military's behavior in this case was "absolutely unacceptable." Meanwhile, Georgian medical teams continued to vaccinate Chechen refugees in the eastern part of the country, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

KAZAKHSTAN GOVERNOR BANS JOURNALISTS FROM MEETINGS

Mangistau Region Governor Lyazzat Kiinov has banned journalists from attending government meetings, Khabar TV reported on 7 March. He said that their presence "deter[s] many from voicing their critical remarks and proposals to each other," but he noted that "we will be inviting the press now to our meetings if there is something officially interesting that could be shared with them and brought to the attention of the people." PG

KAZAKHSTAN EXPANDS TRADE WITH IRAN

Kazakhstan Prime Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev met an Iranian delegation in Astana on 9 March to discuss increasing trade between the two countries, Khabar TV reported. Tokayev said that Kazakhstan intends to send 300,000 tons of grain to Iran this year. In addition, the two sides discussed reconstructing a Kazakhstan port on the Caspian to boost trade. PG

OPPOSITION CAMPAIGN AIDE DETAINED IN KYRGYZSTAN

Officials arrested the campaign chairman of opposition leader Feliks Kulov on 9 March, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Emil Aliev, the deputy chairman of the Ar-Namys (Dignity) Party, has been accused of fraud in connection with a loan four or five years ago, Interior Ministry officials told RFE/RL. Yevgeni Taranov of Ar-Namys said that Aliev's arrest destroys their election campaign. He added that party officials have been unable to make contact with Aliyev since his arrest. PG

KYRGYZSTAN PRESIDENT REVOKES LAND TAX INCREASE

Askar Akaev has revoked a government decree doubling the tax on land and announced a series of measures to help peasants with the spring planting, Interfax reported on 9 March. PG

ETHNIC RUSSIANS LEAVING KYRGYZSTAN

During the first two months of this year, 8,000 ethnic Russians indicated that they plan to leave that country for the Russian Federation, Information-Blitz reported on 10 March. However, only 200 have filed applications to do so. PG

UZBEKISTAN, EU DISCUSS COOPERATION

An Uzbek delegation visited Brussels to discuss expanding cooperation with the EU, Information-Blitz reported on 10 March. The two sides focused on questions of financial transparency and the fight against narcotics trafficking. PG

TURKMEN-RUSSIAN GAS TALKS BEGIN

Negotiations between Turkmenistan and Russia over gas deliveries began in Moscow on 10 March, ITAR-TASS reported. The talks are likely to be contentious because the Russian side objects to the price Turkmenistan currently charges and Gazprom chief Rem Vyakhirev has expressed doubts about Turkmenistan's ability to deliver the amount of gas it has promised. PG




U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION HOLDS HEARING ON BELARUS

The U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, held a hearing on Belarus in Washington on 10 March, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Representative Christopher Smith, who is chairman of the commission, said President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime continues to stifle fundamental freedoms and violate human rights in Belarus, while refusing to engage in a "meaningful dialogue" with the opposition. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Harold Hongju Koh noted that the situation in Belarus has significantly deteriorated since the commission's hearing on the country in 1999. Ross Wilson, an adviser to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, said the Lukashenka regime has lost its democratic legitimacy and "lacks authority to commit Belarus" to the Belarus-Russia Union. The commission also heard testimonies by Belarusian opposition politicians Syamyon Sharetski, Stanislau Shushkevich, and Anatol Lyabedzka. Sharetski said he fears that Russia may annex Belarus. JM

UKRAINIAN NATIONALISTS SEIZE COMMUNIST PARTY HEADQUARTERS

Eleven radical nationalists from the previously unknown youth organization Independent Ukraine seized the Communist Party headquarters in Kyiv on 9 March and spread gasoline inside the building, threatening to set it on fire if their demands are not met. In particular, the group, whose members were aged 19 to 24, demanded the "decolonization" of Ukraine, the withdrawal of Russia's Black Sea Fleet from Crimea, a ban on the Communist Party of Ukraine, and Ukraine's withdrawal from the CIS. The building was cordoned off by the police, fire squads, and elite anti- terrorist troops. A group of Communists who had gathered near the building sang revolutionary songs at one point during the incident. The youths surrendered early on 10 March, announcing that the government has pledged to consider their political program. "We hope that our trial will turn into a trial of Ukraine's Communist Party," Reuters quoted one nationalist as saying. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER DISCUSSES CABINET ACTION PROGRAM WITH SPEAKER

Viktor Yushchenko presented the "Reforms for Prosperity" program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2000) to parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch and his deputy, Viktor Medvedchuk, on 9 March, Interfax reported. Plyushch said the parliament might approve the program by the end of March. He added that only following that approval can the parliament sign an accord on "shared responsibility" with the government in order to implement the program. Finance Minister Serhiy Tyhypko said that if the legislature rejected the program, Yushchenko's cabinet would almost certainly resign, according to the 10 March "Eastern Economist Daily." He added that if the program is approved, the parliament will not be able to dismiss any ministers. JM

ESTONIAN PRESIDENT IN BRITAIN

Lennart Meri was in Britain recently to promote bilateral relations. In meeting with Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, Meri discussed strengthening bilateral ties, including expanding education opportunities for Estonians in Britain. Meri also met with EBRD officials as well as with British military commander General Charles Guthrie and naval commander Admiral Michael Boyce to discuss further cooperation and NATO integration issues. And he spoke at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies in London. MH

LATVIA BANS CHILD BEAUTY PAGEANTS

In the wake of a recent pedophilia scandal, the Latvian parliament on 9 March adopted amendments to legislation on the protection of children banning beauty pageants featuring minors, BNS reported. However, opponents of the amendments called it "absurd," saying it will hinder the work of Latvian models who are under the age of 18. MH

EU URGES POLAND TO RAISE ENVIRONMENTAL STANDARDS

EU Commissioner for the Environment Margot Wallstroem has urged Poland to meet EU environmental standards as quickly as possible. Following talks with Poland's Environment Minister Antoni Tokarczuk and Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz on 9 March, she noted that the country's main problems are delivering clean water to homes, treating waste water, removing garbage, and dealing with contaminated soil. "Legal work is too slow, [requested] transition periods are too many and too long, we need to see more work on administrative structures for taking care of environment issues and more political will has to be manifested," Reuters quoted Wallstroem as saying. JM

POLISH PREMIER DESIGNATES TWO MINISTERS

Jerzy Buzek has designated Tomasz Szyszko as telecommunications minister to replace Maciej Srebro, PAP reported on 9 March. Both Szyszko and Srebro are from the Christian National Union, which is a member of the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS). Buzek commented that since Szyszko is a parliamentary deputy, it will be easier for him to implement new regulations concerning telecommunications and adjust Poland's law to EU requirements. Buzek has also named Kazimierz Michal Ujazdowski as culture minister. Ujazdowski is a parliamentary deputy from the Conservative Peasant Union, another component of the AWS. JM

CZECHS RESPOND TO NATO SPYING ALLEGATIONS

Jaroslav Basta, minister without portfolio in charge of the secret services, said on 9 March that "it cannot be ruled out" that the alleged leak of information from NATO headquarters to Belgrade during the air strikes against Yugoslavia is connected with the Czech Republic, CTK reported. Following British media reports that a spy in NATO provided the Serbs with the secret plans of bombing targets, the BBC reported on 9 March that British Member of Parliament Menzies Campbell alleged that "some of the Czech security services were still in fairly intimate contacts with their old friends in Moscow." A NATO spokesman has denied the report. A Czech Defense Ministry official said the ministry has "no information" on the matter, and Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said that from his own experience he knows that "in politics, absolutely everything is possible, but we are in the realm of pure speculation. " MS

CZECH PRESIDENT CONCERNED ABOUT GROWING CORRUPTION

Vaclav Havel told journalists on 9 March after visiting the Office for Investigating Corruption and Serious Crime that he is "becoming really very concerned" about the spread of corruption. Havel said that "tens and hundreds of million of crowns are disappearing and the state shows a strange inability to clear up these cases and find the perpetrators." He added that the phenomenon is "reflected in the decreasing confidence of the people in the democratic state, the democratic system and its institutions," CTK reported. MS

UNVEILING OF TISO PLAQUE 'POSTPONED INDEFINITELY'

Confronted with protests in Slovakia and abroad, the Zilina municipal council on 9 March postponed the unveiling of a plaque commemorating Slovak fascist leader Jozef Tiso, Reuters reported, citing TASR. Mayor Jan Slota said the nuns at the convent on which the plaque was to have been mounted have asked for a postponement until an "unspecified later date" in response to "threats" they have received. Earlier on 9 March, the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda asking him to do all he can to scuttle the memorial plans. MS

U.S. AMBASSADOR CRITICIZES HUNGARIAN MEDIA DEVELOPMENTS

U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Peter Tufo told "Magyar Hirlap" of 9 March that Hungary must preserve its international reputation as a country with a multi-party democracy that respects the freedom of the press. He stressed the importance of the media's continuing objectivity. Jozsef Szajer, the parliamentary group leader of the Federation of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party, responding to similar criticism made by EU Ambassador Michael Lake earlier this week said it was the opposition's fault that it failed to elect members to the media boards. MSZ

WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL SEEKS HUNGARY'S HELP

The UN war crimes tribunal is seeking Hungary's cooperation in bringing to justice indicted war criminals from the former Yugoslavia, Carla del Ponte, the tribunal's prosecutor-general, told journalists in Budapest on 9 March. She said that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic must appear before the tribunal at the earliest possible date. "Vilaggazdasag" reported that Hungarian police are investigating whether suspected Yugoslav war criminals hold bank accounts in Hungary, but so far they have found no such evidence. MSZ




KFOR TROOPS CONFISCATE WEAPONS NEAR SERBIAN BORDER

NATO- led peacekeepers (KFOR) seized a horde of weapons at two locations near Kosova's border with southern Serbia on 9 March, dpa reported. A KFOR spokesman said the grenades, guns, ammunition, and military uniforms were found in a home belonging to an ethnic Albanian as well as in Serbian- owned homes in northern Kosova. In a separate incident in the Kosovar Serb village of Grabovac, north of Mitrovica, a scuffle broke out between Danish peacekeepers and Serbs during a house-to-house weapons search. Some 300 villages began stoning the peacekeepers, alleging the soldiers had caused damage during their search. Three Serbs were injured in the incident. PB

POLICE DEPUTY TRANSFERRED AFTER CRITICISM OF FRENCH SOLDIERS

The UN said on 9 March that the deputy chief of police in Mitrovica, British policeman John Adams, has been transferred to Prishtina after making comments the previous day that were critical of French KFOR soldiers, Reuters reported. Adams charged that the French soldiers impeded a UN police investigation after clashes on 7 March in Mitrovica in which 40 people were injured. He added that the soldiers also destroyed evidence that could have been used in prosecuting the perpetrators. A Western diplomat said that given "the nature of [Adam's comments] and the depth of French feeling on the matter it was impossible for him to remain in Mitrovica." PB

KOSOVAR ALBANIAN STUDENT LEADER PUT ON TRIAL FOR TERRORISM

Albin Kurti said at the start of his trial in the Serbian city of Nis on 9 March that he is a citizen of the Republic of Kosova and that he does not recognize Serbian or Yugoslav courts, Reuters reported. Kurti, a leader of the Independent Union of Albanian Students who worked for Kosovar Albanian leader Adem Demaci, is accused of "associating with others for hostile activities related to terrorism" and could serve 20 years in jail. He said the court "is in the service of the fascist regime of [Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic and has nothing in common with truth and justice." Kurti was arrested in April and is one of some 1,300-1,700 Kosovar Albanians being held by Serbian officials outside of Kosova. Several human rights organizations are attending the trial. PB

YUGOSLAV OFFICIALS SHUT DOWN MORE BROADCAST STATIONS

The Yugoslav Telecommunications Ministry closed the Nemanja Television and Tir radio stations on 9 March, Reuters reported. Owner Radisa Milosavljevic said ministry officials "took away all the equipment--transmitters, radio links, and a radio transmitter." Milosavljevic said he was told his broadcasting license was not in order. The TV station has been operating since 1995 and had up to 1 million viewers, he said. PB

DRASKOVIC MARKS ANNIVERSARY OF BLOODY CRACKDOWN

Serbian opposition leader Vuk Draskovic pledged on 9 March that "all criminals in power" and others linked to President Milosevic's government will be brought to justice, AP reported. Draskovic was speaking at the ninth anniversary of the government's suppression of an anti-government rally in which several people were injured and two others killed in subsequent violent clashes. Draskovic said that "with evil and misfortune, [Yugoslav officials] perpetrate their power today." PB

CHINESE JUDGE APPOINTED TO HAGUE COURT

The Chinese ambassador to Jamaica, Liu Daqun, has been named as a judge at the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague, Reuters reported on 9 March. The UN said Liu will complete the unfinished term of Chinese judge Wang Tieya, who resigned for health reasons. The term ends in November 2001. PB

MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT SAYS WEST TO HELP IF YUGOSLAVIA ATTACKS

Milo Djukanovic said after talks with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Sarajevo on 9 March that the West would come to Montenegro's aid in the event of an attack by Yugoslav forces, Reuters reported. Djukanovic said Albright "reiterated the readiness of the Western democratic world to offer...help." Djukanovic said his republic is in no hurry to secede from Yugoslavia but he noted that it does not have equal status within the federation. He said that his government hopes "that after all the lessons [Milosevic] should have drawn from previous defeats in former Yugoslavia he will not be ready to start another war adventure." But if he does, Djukanovic said, "we will have the potential to protect ourselves." PB

CROATIA, REPUBLIKA SRPSKA AGREE TO INCREASE REFUGEE RETURN

Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula and Republika Srpska Premier Milorad Dodik pledged in Banja Luka on 9 March to increase the scale of the repatriation of refugees to their prewar homes, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. The initiative calls for the return of 2,000 people from each side within three months and will work to develop settlements for Bosnian Croats who choose to stay in Croatia and for Serbs from Croatia choosing to remain in the Republika Srpska. Secretary of State Albright said the U.S. will grant $7 million to the Srpska government this year, of which $1 million will be used to facilitate the refugee returns. PB

WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL REJECTS CROATIAN PROPOSAL FOR TRIAL IN ZAGREB

Croatia said on 9 March that the war crimes tribunal has rejected a proposal for alleged war criminal Mladen "Tuta" Naletilic to be tried in Zagreb instead of The Hague, Reuters reported. Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan said "our proposals have unfortunately been rejected but we shall continue discussions." A tribunal spokesman said one idea being floated was for Naletilic to make an initial appearance in Zagreb, at which "charges would be read out in court in Zagreb and he would enter a plea" before being transferred to The Hague. PB

EU OFFICIALLY UPGRADES TIES WITH CROATIA

EU Foreign Relations Commissioner Chris Patten said in Zagreb on 9 March that the new Croatian government "shares the values of the EU and is commited to a process of political and economic reforms," Reuters reported. Patten said "the government has a difficult challenge in wiping the slate clean," but he added that he believes it will grasp the "golden opportunity." An EU assessment mission will produce a study on Croatia that, if positive, will lead to negotiations on a stabilization and accession agreement. PB

GREEK FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS GREEK VILLAGES IN ALBANIA

George Papandreou and Albanian Premier Ilir Meta toured ethnic Greek towns in southern Albania on 9 March, AP reported. Meta said "the future of our region will be very different from the past we left behind." The two were met by hundreds of villagers waving Greek flags. Papandreou told a crowd that "different cultural traditions can be creative and should not be feared." The status of the Greek minority in Albania and the illegal migration of Albanians to Greece in recent years have strained relations between the two countries. Greece claims there are some 400,000 Greeks living in Albania, though Tirana says there are only about 80,000. An estimated 300,000 Albanians live illegally in Greece. PB

BABIUC RESIGNS, ROMANIAN COALITION CRISIS INTENSIFIES

Government spokesman Ionut Popescu told journalists on 9 March that Defense Minister Victor Babiuc has tendered his resignation, which will take effect once the leaders of the coalition reach an agreement on his replacement. Democratic Party leader Petre Roman walked out of the coalition leaders' meeting without signing the agreement. He said later that the coalition partners are trying to tarnish his party's image by linking that agreement with one on a package of reform laws. Roman said that his party has helped draft those bills and that the coalition partners would like the Democrats to come across as a "bargaining party." A meeting of the Democrats' Steering Committee later the same day decided to convene a party congress on 17 March to decide whether "participating in the ruling coalition still makes sense." MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR U.S. INVOLVEMENT IN TRANSDNIESTER CONFLICT SETTLEMENT

President Petru Lucinschi on 9 March told Cavey Cavanaugh, special envoy of the State Department for regional conflicts in the CIS, that it is "absolutely necessary for international organizations and the U.S. to become involved" in efforts to settle the Transdniester conflict, AP reported. Cavanaugh said the U.S. is ready to support Moldova, and he noted that the Transdniester conflict is " a special issue in the political dialogue between Washington and Moscow." MS

BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN WASHINGTON

Nadezhda Mihailova told journalists after meeting with Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and leaders of the Congress on 9 March that the U.S. is backing Bulgaria's NATO membership bid, AP reported. Mihailova said that nearly one year has passed since the Balkan Stability Pact was launched and the time has come "to transform the pact's long-term vision of integrating the Balkans into Europe into a concrete policy, with structured benchmarks backed by financial resources." MS

BULGARIA REJECTS MACEDONIAN CRITICISM

Foreign Ministry spokesman Radko Vlaikov on 8 March rejected Macedonia's criticism of the Bulgarian Constitutional Court's decision to outlaw the OMO-Ilinden PIRIN party, BTA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2000). Vlaikov said that "those who believe that the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities offers legal justification for extremist activities are wrong." He added that the convention "applies to the rights of existing minorities but does not sanction setting up new minority groups." Bulgaria does not recognize the existence of a Macedonian minority. Vlaikov also said that Bulgaria guarantees the individual rights of all its citizens but "cannot tolerate separatist manifestations." And he noted that Sofia hopes the "excellent relations" with Macedonia will not be affected by the outlawing of the party. MS

RUSSIA EXTRADITES SUSPECT IN LUKANOV MURDER

Russia has extradited Ukrainian citizen Oleg Protsenko to Bulgaria, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 March. Protsenko is suspected of having been an accomplice in the assassination of former Prime Minister Andrei Lukanov in October 1996. MS




STRONG AND WEAK


By Paul Goble

Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin's repeated statements that he will work to build a "strong" state have gained him enormous support among many Russians weary of the disorder that has prevailed in their country over the last decade.

At the same time, his remarks have generated great concern among many others both there and in the West about the impact such a new state might have on Russia's chances to become a democratic society in which the state protects rather than tramples on human rights.

But perhaps most fundamentally, Putin's comments have reignited ongoing debates in both Russia and the West about whether the state he now heads is weak or strong, about what such assertions mean, and about what policy consequences the outcome of this debate has for Russia, her neighbors, and the world.

Those who argue that the Russian state is weak point to the government's inability to enforce a coherent policy line across all its institutions. They note the limits on the ability of Moscow to enforce its laws, collect taxes, or pay its employees on a regular basis across the entire country. And they call attention to the decay or even collapse of many key institutions, including the forced downsizing of the Russian army.

Some who argue that the Russian state is weak go even further. They argue that Russia is now a "failed state," a term used to describe countries where the nominal central government lacks the power and authority to give orders to its own bureaucracy or to subordinate regional authorities. And they suggest that Moscow must somehow rebuild state authority or face a future even more dire than the present.

Among those taking the "weak" side in this debate, some argue that this reconstitution of state power is so important that both Russians and the West must tolerate significant deviations from democratic norms. But others who have concluded that the Russian state is weak nonetheless insist that the rebuilding of the Russian state must stay within democratic norms or face another kind of disaster.

That disaster, these analysts argue, would be the reconstitution of an authoritarian regime in Russia, which would be likely to trample on democratic liberties at home and to pursue a far more aggressive policy toward Russia's neighbors, particularly the former Soviet republics and the three Baltic states. And in support of their argument, they point to the policies of earlier failed states, including post-World War I Germany.

Those who argue that the Russian state is strong, on the other hand, point to a very different set of realities. They note the reviving strength of the Russian military in Chechnya. They describe the government's power over the media, over central and regional debates, and especially Putin's ability to define the terms of public debate in advance of the presidential poll on 26 March.

And they argue that the Russian state is already reviving and that the disorder the "weak" state advocates point to was never as great as the latter group said and is quickly being overcome by Putin and his new team. Indeed, most of those who argue that the Russian state is already strong support what the acting Russian president is doing.

But as in the case of the advocates of the "weak" position, some of those who believe the Russian state is already strong argue that neither the Russian political system nor the West should tolerate violations of democratic norms and human rights by those who say they must rebuild a "strong" Russian state. Indeed, this group suggests, the Russian state may be in danger of becoming too strong for both democracy and peace.

And in support of their position, they point out that since the beginning of the Chechen war there has been a new militancy in Russian political discourse about Russia's neighbors and about the West's involvement both there and in Russia itself.

Just like the blind men in the famous story about the elephant, each of these positions captures an important truth about the Russian state today. On the one hand, it is far weaker than earlier Russian states, in terms of its coordinating ability. But on the other hand, it is much stronger, at least in terms of the capacity of some of its institutions, than some both in Russia and the West appear to believe.

Taken together, the two sides in this debate point to the importance of moves to strengthen the government's coordinating role as well as to the significance of having some of its institutions weaken still further. But both also highlight something far more important.

If they are read carefully, both the "weak" and the "strong" positions suggest that if the Russian state tries to recover its strength by sacrificing human rights and democratic procedures, any victories Moscow does achieve will be short-lived. And such Pyrrhic victories almost certainly will result in fresh disasters for Russia, its neighbors, and the world as a whole.


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