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Newsline - March 23, 2000




PUTIN POLLING CLOSE TO 50 PERCENT

Polls released this week in advance of the 26 March presidential election show acting Russian President Vladimir Putin with approximately 50 percent of the vote. That figure is almost 15 percentage points lower than a month ago but still puts him far ahead of Communist candidate Gennadii Zyuganov with approximately 28 percent of the electorate (up 6 percentage points since early February), Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii with 8.9 percent (nearly double his support a month ago), and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia candidate Vladimir Zhirinovskii with 3.8 percent. PG

ASTROLOGER, SHOIGU PREDICT PUTIN FIRST-ROUND WIN...

Georgii Rogozin, who served as official astrologer to former President Boris Yeltsin, has said that the planets are aligned for a victory in the first round for acting President Putin, Reuters reported on 22 March. Rogozin said that Putin's win will bring with it a lengthy period of stronger and more centralized Russian leadership. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu said that Putin must win in the first round, Interfax reported. "A second round would not be welcome," he said. "Everybody is tired. Furthermore, it would involve more spending." PG

...WHILE ELECTION OFFICIAL FORESEES RUN-OFF

Central Election Commission head Aleksandr Veshnyakov told "Izvestiya" on 22 March that he believes the probability of a second round is "very high" but noted that a run-off would not "complicate" the work of the commission. AFP quoted analyst Yurii Korgunyuk of the Center for Applied Political Studies as similarly saying there is a strong likelihood Putin will face Zyuganov in second round. He reasoned that while Communist supporters are likely to come out in force on election day, "many of those who might vote for Putin are not motivated." JC

PUTIN SUPPORTS HUMAN RIGHTS...

Acting President Putin on 22 March spoke out in favor of defending human rights in Russia, DPA reported. Russia can grow stronger only if "people have enough to live on, their national and cultural needs are protected, and human rights are respected," ITAR-TASS quoted him as saying during a visit to Kazan. Moreover, Putin added, the actions of the state "should never have negative consequences for the population." PG

...OUTLINES ECONOMIC APPROACH...

During a 22 March speech in Naberezhnye Chelny, acting President Putin called for absolute guarantees of ownership rights, the creation of equal conditions for all economic entities, the setting up of clear regulations in the marketplace, and a fight against red tape, ITAR-TASS reported. He said he favors "normal business relations with all foreign countries, both in the West and in the East." He urged a protectionist approach to allow businesses to flourish but said this does not mean building "a closed economy." He rejected calls for dividing up major machine-building enterprises, saying that "we have to ensure that machine-building in Russia develops faster than in the West." He called for reducing the tax burden by improving tax collection. And he said he will oppose any efforts at belt- tightening that would hurt those who are most in need of social protection. PG

...CALLS FOR NEW, IMPROVED FEDERALISM

Speaking in Kazan on 22 March, acting President Putin said that relations between the center, the regions, and localities must be improved, Interfax reported on 22 March. Government at the municipal level, he said, should be "transparent, accessible, and controlled by the people." But in response to a question, he ruled out excessive devolution of power to the regions. "We must aim to make life equally good in all Russian regions. We will not achieve that without a unified legal and economic space in Russia," Putin said. Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev, for his part, suggested creating a commission on which all federation subjects would be represented and that would iron out contradictions and discrepancies between the constitutions and legislation of the federation subjects and the Russian Federation, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Putin pledged his personal support for Shaimiev as someone who could positively influence the evolution of relations between Moscow and the federation subjects. PG/LF

COSMONAUTS BACK PUTIN, SOLDIERS' MOTHERS DON'T

Nikolai Popov, the chief of staff of the Cosmonauts Training Center, told ITAR-TASS on 22 March that Russian cosmonauts support acting President Putin for election. But the same day the influential Soldiers' Mothers Committee called on Russians to vote against him, saying that Putin's victory would mean more war, AP reported. "If you are voting for war, put aside money for your children's funeral," one placard at the organization's Moscow news conference said. PG

PUTIN THRILLED BY LOOP IN JET

Acting President Putin said in Kazan on 22 March that he was thrilled by rolling over the jet in which he flew from and to Chechnya, Reuters reported. "When we were flying back," Putin said, "the pilot and I dipped the aircraft's wings and then we pushed on to turning the plane over on itself--what you call a roll-over. After the maneuver, the pilot took back control of the plane and what I felt was quite a thrill." PG

YAVLINSKII SAYS PUTIN IS NO DEMOCRAT

Yabloko presidential candidate Yavlinskii said on 22 March that acting President Putin is a "secret communist" and a danger to democracy, Reuters reported. Yavlinskii added that Putin is indistinguishable from Communist leader Zyuganov: "There's no difference between Zyuganov and Putin. Zyuganov simply likes a red flag and Putin doesn't care about that," Yavlinskii added. PG

NEMTSOV, KHAKAMADA BACK YAVLINSKII PROPOSAL

Boris Nemtsov and Irina Khakamada, two leaders of the Union of Right Forces, said on 22 March that they welcome Yabloko candidate Yavlinskii's call for a broad coalition of rightist forces and will campaign for him, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia candidate Zhirinovskii said he will not withdraw from the election and announced he will go to Belgrade to speak to Serbian leaders, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

ELECTION COMMISSION WARNS YAVLINSKII ABOUT CANVASSING ON MILITARY BASE

The Central Election Commission issued a warning to Yabloko presidential candidate Yavlinskii over his appeal to soldiers at a military base in February, Interfax reported on 22 March. Canvassing on a military base is prohibited by Russian law. PG

TULEEV CALLS FOR MORE EXECUTIONS

Kemerovo Governor and presidential candidate Aman Tuleev on 22 March called for an end to the current moratorium on capital punishment, Interfax reported. He said that Chechen rebels should be "shot on the spot." And he noted that it was a mistake to move toward the abolition of capital punishment. "Banditry still exists in Russia," Tuleev said. "In Prokopevsk, a cannibal ate eight people. Well, he is still in a mental clinic, relishing his memories." PG

MORE THAN 800,000 RUSSIAN CITIZENS TO VOTE ABROAD

Some 840,000 Russian citizens in 138 countries are expected to vote in the 26 March elections, Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Sergeev told the Central Election Commission on 22 March, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

TRADE SURPLUS IN JANUARY

Russia's foreign trade surplus of $4 billion in January 2000 was up from $1.7 billion a year earlier but down from $5.1 billion in December 1999, Interfax reported. PG

RUSSIA, VIETNAM BEGIN WORK ON OIL-PROCESSING PLANT

Zarubezhneft and PetroVietnam have begun construction in central Vietnam of what ITAR-TASS describes as the biggest and most up-to-date oil processing plant in Southeast Asia. The plant, which expected to cost some $1.3 billion, will process 6.5 million tons of crude annually when it goes on line in 2002, the news agency reported on 22 March. JC

AEROFLOT ACCUSED OF ILLEGAL CAPITAL EXPORTS

Aleksandr Gromov, the acting head of the Federal Service for Hard Currency and Export Control, accused Aeroflot on 22 March of illegally exporting capital, ITAR-TASS reported. The air line denied the allegations pointing out that Gromov had suggested that Aeroflot exported more capital than it had in fact earned during the entire year. PG

RUSSIA SAYS LATVIA RELATIONS AT 'DANGEROUS' STAGE

Aleksandr Udaltsov, the Russian ambassador to Latvia, said in Riga on 22 March that relations between Russia and Latvia have reached "a dangerous stage when the negative trend gathers momentum that may be difficult to halt," Reuters reported. At the same time, Udaltsov said that he does not favor the use of sanctions to resolve outstanding differences. Moscow has sharply criticized Latvia for discriminating against its Russian-speaking minority and for trying former Soviet partisans for war crimes. Meanwhile, State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev admonished Lithuanian parliamentary Speaker Vytautas Landsbergis for his criticism of Russia during speeches on the 10th anniversary of the declaration of the re-establishment of Lithuania's independence, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

DEFENSE MINISTRY SAYS REOPENING NATO OFFICE 'PREMATURE'

Colonel General Leonid Ivashov told Interfax on 22 March that "the time has not yet come" to open a NATO military communications mission and information office in Moscow. Meanwhile, Vice Admiral Mikhail Motsak, the chief of staff of Russia's Northern Fleet, told Interfax that there are at least 10 NATO submarines patrolling off Russia's northern coasts. PG

MOSCOW PREPARED TO CONSIDER MILITARY MEANS TO STOP TALIBAN

Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov said on Russian Television on 22 March that Moscow might be prepared to consider using military operations to stop the Taliban movement if political measures do not work. His comments follow a Russian appeal to the UN Security Council for expanded sanctions against the Afghan group and a warning by a senior Federal Border Guards Service officer that a Taliban advance to the Tajik-Afghan border could destabilize all of Central Asia, Interfax reported. Also on 22 March in the Uzbek border town of Termez, Afghanistan's Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Massoud and ethnic Uzbek leader Abdurashid Dostum met for the first time in many years. They discussed coordinating military actions against the Taliban. Russian and Uzbek representatives participated in those talks, according to ITAR-TASS. PG/LF

DEATH RATE TWICE BIRTH RATE IN RUSSIA

The State Statistics Committee announced on 22 March that in January, there were 195,500 deaths and only 93,900 births, Interfax reported. The number of deaths increased by 19,3000 from the same period one year earlier, while the number of births declined by 600. Meanwhile, the committee reported that unemployment at the end of February stood at 9.12 million, down 12.3 percent from February 1999, Interfax said. PG




MOSCOW CONDEMNS ATTACK ON KARABAKH PRESIDENT

A Russian Foreign Ministry official on 22 March expressed "indignation" over the previous night's assassination attempt in Stepanakert against Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Interfax reported. "This is not the way to handle political issues." the official said. In Yerevan, Armenian Prime Minister Aram Sargsian told the parliament that the situation in the unrecognized republic is calm. Ghukasian and his wounded bodyguard and driver were transported to Yerevan for medical treatment on 22 March. LF

VETERAN ARMENIAN DISSIDENT ASSESSES POLITICAL SITUATION

Speaking at the National Press Club on 22 March, Self- Determination Union Chairman Paruyr Hairikian, who also heads the presidential human rights commission, said the appointment of Aram Sargsian as prime minister was "a political mistake" in the light of his lack of political experience, Snark reported. Hairikian characterized the present situation as a struggle for power by all political parties and argued that there is a need to amend the constitution to stipulate that both the president and the premier are elected for a three-year term. Hairikian expressed concern over the progress of the inquiry into the 27 October parliament shootings, in particular the arrest of three suspects solely on the basis of testimony given by the leader of the five gunmen who perpetrated the killings. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT AMENDS LAW ON NUCLEAR ENERGY

Deputies voted on 22 March to amend the law on nuclear energy to require that the government coordinate with the legislature any measures on the operation of the existing nuclear power station or construction of a new one, according to Snark, as cited by Groong. Also on 22 March, an ad hoc commission presented to the parliament the findings of an inquiry begun last October that confirm suspicions that corruption and inefficiency in the energy sector has cost Armenia millions of dollars over the past eight years, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. LF

AZERBAIJAN, U.S. PLEDGE TO EXPAND MILITARY COOPERATION

Admiral Charles Abbot, who is deputy commander of the U.S. Force in Europe, met with Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev in Baku on 21 March and with Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev the following day to discuss expanding bilateral military cooperation, Turan reported. Abbot expressed his appreciation to Guliev for the participation of an Azerbaijani contingent in the KFOR peacekeeping operation in Kosova, and presented him with a program of measures Azerbaijan is to undertake in the field of security, defense, humanitarian programs, mine- clearing, and promoting democracy. LF

AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA RESOLVE PIPELINE DISAGREEMENTS

Meeting in Tbilisi on 22 March, Azerbaijani President Aliyev and his Georgian counterpart, Eduard Shevardnadze, reportedly resolved their outstanding disagreements over the export of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via the planned Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline, AP and Turan reported. Aliyev said at a joint press conference that he has agreed to increase the transit tariff that Georgia will receive per metric ton of oil transported through the pipeline, but he did not say by how much. In late February, Aliyev said that Tbilisi's demand for 3 percent of the crude transported plus 20 cents per barrel in transit fees was "unrealistic." LF

GEORGIAN CENTRAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION APPEALS ON BEHALF OF PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE

The Central Electoral Commission wrote to Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze on 21 March demanding that he permit former Batumi Mayor Tengiz Asanidze to campaign for the Georgian presidency, Interfax reported. Asanidze has spent the past seven years in jail after being convicted of theft of state property. He was amnestied last fall by President Shevardnadze, but the Adjar authorities refused to release him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 12 October 1999). Meanwhile, the OSCE election observer mission in Georgia has denied the claim by opposition candidate Djumber Patiashvili's campaign manager Mamuka Giorgadze that it detailed a special observer to accompany Patiashvili on his campaign engagements, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2000). LF

LEADING KYRGYZ OPPOSITION FIGURE ARRESTED

Former Bishkek Mayor and opposition Ar-Namys Party Chairman Feliks Kulov was taken on 22 March from a Bishkek hospital to the Ministry of National Security for questioning, Reuters and Interfax reported. Kulov was charged with abuse of office during his term as head of the National Security Ministry in 1997-1998. Also on 22 March, police dispersed several hundred demonstrators in the town of Kara-Buura who had been picketing the local administration building to protest Kulov's defeat in the 12 March parliamentary runoff. Thirty protesters were arrested, according to Interfax. LF

UZBEK BORDER GUARDS AGAIN SEEK UNILATERAL DEMARCATION OF FRONTIER WITH KAZAKHSTAN

Excavators and trucks crossed from Uzbekistan 10 kilometers into the territory of the South Kazakhstan Oblast on 22 March and began unsanctioned border demarcation work, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported the following day quoting an oblast Interior Ministry official. It is the second such attempt by Uzbekistan this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2000 and "End Note," 2 February 2000). On 23 March, former Kazakhstan Customs head and unsuccessful 1999 presidential candidate Ghani Qasymov noted that Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have similar border problems with Uzbekistan. He called for the Kazakh leadership to begin discussing the creation of a military bloc of Central Asian states aligned against Uzbekistan. LF

TURKMEN, AZERBAIJANI OFFICIALS PESSIMISTIC ABOUT TRANS- CASPIAN PIPELINE

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov told Shell Oil officials on 22 March in Ashgabat that the proposals submitted earlier this week by Shell's partner, the U.S. company PSG, for proceeding with construction of the Trans-Caspian gas export pipeline are unacceptable, Interfax reported. ITAR-TASS had reported on 20 March that Niyazov refused to extend PSG's mandate for the project, which expired in February. Niyazov said that "with virtually no support at state level," it is unlikely work on the pipeline, tentatively scheduled to begin in early 2001, will start in the near future. In Baku, Azerbaijan state oil company president Natik Aliyev similarly expressed doubt that the Trans-Caspian pipeline will be completed on schedule in late 2002, according to Interfax. He said "long and detailed" negotiations will be needed before construction can begin. But he denied that plans by Azerbaijan to export gas from its Shah Deniz Caspian deposit by alternative route will render the Trans-Caspian pipeline unnecessary. LF




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION SAYS BAN ON MARCHES 'CYNICAL'

The Belarusian opposition says the recent ban on the march planned this weekend to mark the anniversary of the foundation of non-Bolshevik Belarusian Democratic Republic in 1918 is a continuation of the authorities' "cynical anti- Belarusian policy," RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 22 March. The opposition believes that the ban is intended to provoke street clashes with the police on 25 March and to intensify "the climate of distrust and confrontation" in Belarus. The opposition plans to hold the march, despite the ban, and claims that it has the constitutional right to organize street rallies. The Minsk authorities have given permission only for a meeting to be held on the city's outskirts on 25 March. Rallies commemorating the Belarusian Democratic Republic will take place in some 20 cities throughout the country. JM

UKRAINIAN COAST GUARDS FIRE ON TURKISH FISHING BOATS

Ukrainian coast guards on 22 March opened fire on four Turkish fishing boats, sinking one vessel, killing one fisherman, and wounding another, Interfax reported. The agency said the Turkish fishermen were poaching in Ukraine's territorial waters. According to Interfax, fire was opened after the Turkish boats ignored warning shots and one vessel tried to ram a Ukrainian boat. The Ukrainian coast guards took aboard all the 18 people from the sunken boat and seized the other Turkish vessels. Ukrainian Border Guard chief Pavlo Shysholyn told Ukrainian Television that the Ukrainian side fired after "the Turkish ships...maneuvered dangerously, threatening our border guard ships." Reuters quoted a Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying on 23 March that Ankara is seeking information about the incident. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SAYS REFERENDUM DEPENDS ON COURT VERDICT

Leonid Kuchma said through his spokesman Oleksandr Martynenko on 22 March that he will cancel his decree on the 16 April referendum if the Constitutional Court rules that the vote contravenes the constitution, Interfax reported. Martynenko added that the court's ruling on the referendum "will be final in this question." The Central Electoral Commission told the agency that it is waiting for a ruling on the constitutionality of the referendum and therefore has not yet taken any decision on printing referendum ballots. The ruling is expected no later than 27 March. JM

ESTONIAN PREMIER PRESENTS NATO CASE IN BRUSSELS

Prime Minister Mart Laar, Defense Minister Juri Luik and acting Defense Forces commander Colonel Mart Tiru presented Estonia's NATO action plan to the North Atlantic Council in Brussels on 21-22 March. During a speech to NATO ambassadors on 22 March, Laar called the document the "most thorough state defense document ever adopted" by the country. That document outlines the incremental increase in defense spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2002, ETA reported. Laar also stressed that "special attention is naturally paid to the Baltic countries' defense cooperation," according to BNS. During a brief meeting with Laar, NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson confirmed he will visit Estonia on 17-18 May, "Eesti Paevaleht" added. MH

NO DECISION TAKEN ON REVOKING LATVIAN DEPUTY'S MANDATE

A parliamentary regulatory commission announced on 22 March that it will not make a decision at this point on whether to revoke the parliamentary mandate of Janis Adamsons. On 3 March, the Zemgale Regional Court in Riga had ruled that as a Soviet border guard official, Adamsons was involved with the KGB (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2000). Although opinions differ among commission members on whether Adamsons's mandate violated lustration laws, which bans former KGB operatives from parliament, the commission has requested that the court provide all relevant information, BNS reported. MH

LATVIAN TAX OFFICIAL SAYS 40 PERCENT OF TAXES UNCOLLECTED

Head of the State Revenue Service Andrejs Sonciks said on Latvian Radio on 22 March that some 40 percent of tax revenues are bypassing the state treasury. That figure exceeds the earlier State Revenue Service estimate that some 30 percent of tax revenues are not going to the state coffers, LETA reported. Explaining that employment without contracts and tax evasion are to blame for this state of affairs, Sonciks said, "We cannot afford...at this time to maintain structures in order to combat every tax evader." Chairman of the parliament's Defense and Interior Affairs Committee Dzintars Kudums agreed with Sonciks's estimate, adding that 20 percent of those revenues could be recovered. MH

SOLIDARITY DEPUTIES WANT PROBE INTO PRESIDENT'S PAST

Deputies of the Solidarity Electoral Action announced on 22 March that they want to appoint a parliamentary commission to examine allegations that President Aleksander Kwasniewski committed financial irregularities when he headed the Youth and Physical Culture Committee in 1989, PAP reported. "Gazeta Polska" has formerly reported that some $80 million was illegally diverted from the account of the Central Tourism and Recreation Fund, which was subordinated to the committee managed by Kwasniewski. Kwasniewski's chief lawyer Ryszard Kalisz said all Kwasniewski's activities in the Physical Culture Committee have already been checked by the Supreme Audit Chamber, which found no irregularities. JM

CZECH ECONOMY SHOWS WEAK GROWTH

The Czech economy grew by 0.2 percent in 1999, compared with the previous year, Czech media reported on 23 March, citing figures released by the Czech Statistical Office. The modest growth comes after two consecutive years of decreases. On 22 March, the CSU released figures showing that the Czech Republic received a total of $5.1 billion in foreign direct investment last year. Among Central European countries, only Poland received more foreign investment than the Czech Republic in 1999. VG

PUBLICATION OF 'MEIN KAMPF' TO BE STOPPED?

The Bavarian federal state government has said it will use its ownership rights to Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" to stop the Prague Otakar II publishing house from distributing the book in the Czech Republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2000), "Pravo" reported on 23 March. VG

CZECH OFFICIALS SURPRISED AT RYABOV'S COMMENTS

The Czech charge d'affaires in Moscow, Frantisek Masopust, said on 22 March that he does not agree with Russian Ambassador to the Czech Republic Nikolai Ryabov's assessment of Czech-Russian relations as "confrontational," CTK reported. Ryabov made the comments at a meeting with journalists the day before. While Masopust said relations between the two countries are "normal and stable," he added that there is room for improvement. Other Czech officials have responded in a similar manner, but the opposition Civic Democratic Party's foreign affairs critic, Jan Zahradil, said communication with the Russian embassy has worsened since Ryabov became ambassador. Ryabov has criticized the Czech Republic's recent decision to impose visas on Russians. He also noted that the Czech Republic has had no ambassador in Moscow since Lubos Dobrovsky vacated that post in early February. VG

SLOVAK PARTY CALLS FOR RESTRUCTURING OF GOVERNMENT COALITION

The Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) on 22 March presented its evaluation of the governing coalition's performance to the other coalition members, TASR reported. The SDL argues that there are shortcomings in cooperation among the parliamentary caucuses of the parties in the government coalition. The SDL began talking about a "crisis" in the coalition after Stefan Kosovan was dismissed from his post as chairman of the board of governors of the state-owned energy company Slovenska Elektrarne. Kosovan had been nominated to that post by the SDL. The coalition will discuss the SDL's assessment next week. VG

SLOVAK CABINET PASSES EU NEGOTIATING POSITION

The Slovak government on 22 March approved the country's national program for the adoption of the EU's aquis communautaire and its negotiations position paper on the first eight chapters it will discuss with the EU in membership talks, TASR reported. The same day, the Slovak parliament adopted a policy paper on the country's foreign-policy priorities, which include obtaining membership in NATO and the EU. Meanwhile, NATO Supreme Commander in Europe Wesley Clark met with Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda and other Slovak officials during a one-day visit to Bratislava on 22 March. Clark emphasized that the country can improve its chances for gaining admission into NATO by reforming its armed forces, TASR reported. VG

HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT WILL NOT RESPOND TO CSURKA'S COMMENTS

Prime Minister Viktor Orban told Hungarian Radio on 22 March that the cabinet is not obliged to respond to comments by opposition parties. Orban spoke following accusations that the ruling coalition failed to comment on the remarks of Istvan Csurka, chairman of the extreme-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party. Csurka had told the parliament on 20 March that the recent pollution of the Tisza River was an act of genocide by Romania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2000). Foreign Minster Janos Martonyi said Csurka's remarks were "irresponsible and unfounded" and therefore unworthy of "further analysis." MSZ




CROATIAN PRESIDENT VISITS BOSNIA

Stipe Mesic arrived in Sarajevo on 23 March for a two-day visit. It is his first official trip to another country as Croatia's leader. He told "Oslobodjenje" that his country will no longer interfere in Bosnia's internal affairs or finance the Herzegovinian para- state known as Herceg-Bosnia. He argued that the para-state must be dissolved, calling it a throwback to the days when Croatia's previous leadership sought to partition Bosnia. The president pledged that he will restore full legal status as recognized national minorities to Croatia's Slovenes and Bosnian Muslims, which the previous leadership abolished. Mesic is slated to meet with Muslim, Serbian, and Croatian members of Bosnia's central government. He will also hold talks with Cardinal Vinko Puljic and Father Petar Andjelovic of the influential Franciscan fathers. PM

TUDJMAN'S PRESS EMPIRE CRUMBLING

Croatia's parliament appointed a committee on 22 March to investigate how individuals close to the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) of the late President Franjo Tudjman acquired ownership of "Vecernji list" several years ago, "Jutarnji list" reported. The individuals, whose identities have never been made public, have long used the mass-circulation Zagreb daily as a mouthpiece of the HDZ. The government previously announced plans to sell the Zagreb daily "Vjesnik," which also represented the HDZ's views. On 22 March, the Split-based "Slobodna Dalmacija" reported that nearly 100 members of its staff protested against the pro-HDZ polices of the newspaper's management. PM

UN: STILL RESISTANCE TO MULTI-ETHNIC BOSNIA

Assistant Secretary-General Hedi Annabi told the UN Security Council on 22 March that the progress achieved toward integrating Bosnia's three ethnic communities since the end of the war in 1995 is primarily the result of actions by the international community. He added that there has been "significant resistance by entrenched nationalistic and backward-looking elements, which continues to be encountered at every stage," AP reported. The council began to discuss a report by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in which he noted that the UN "has had to take strong action to seek to overcome continued obstruction, resistance, and delay in some key areas." Those problems include setting up a joint border police force, the refusal of the Herzegovinian Croats to integrate their police with those of the Muslims, and the lack of non-Serbian members in the Republika Srpska police. PM

BOSNIAN MUHAJEDIN TO BE RESETTLED

Unnamed Muslim officials in Maglaj told "Oslobodjenje" of 23 March that Bosnia's Muslim leaders have agreed to resettle Bosnian and foreign Islamic fighters currently living in the village of Bocinja Donja. The Muslim authorities will "urge" some 89 Bosnian Muslim families there to return to their former communities. The authorities will also ask foreign fighters married to Bosnian women to resettle in their spouse's home community or to return to their own country. The officials added that Bosnian law grants the right of abode to any foreigner who has become naturalized through marriage to a Bosnian citizen. Observers note that the presence of the fighters remains a sore point in relations between the Sarajevo leadership and NATO. PM

INTERPOL PUTS MILOSEVIC ON WANTED LIST

Interpol has issued a call on the Internet for the arrest of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for genocide and war crimes, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 22 March. The appeal also includes a call for the arrest of four other high-ranking officials of the Belgrade regime whom the Hague-based war crimes tribunal indicted in 1999. PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION SETS PROTEST DATE

Representatives of Serbia's main opposition parties agreed in Belgrade on 22 March to hold a protest rally there on 14 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2000). A joint demonstration originally planned for March never took place because the opposition leaders could not agree on the order in which they would speak. Also on 22 March, leaders of the pensioners' union held a protest meeting to call attention to the poverty affecting many of Serbia's elderly. PM

NO RUSSIAN POLICE FOR KOSOVA

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement in Moscow on 23 March that Russia will not send any police to Kosova. "The position of the United Nations [leadership] about the speediest deployment of an international police force in the province causes incomprehension. On the one hand, attention is constantly drawn to an acute shortage of police forces there. On the other, various pretexts are being found to delay for several months the arrival of Russian Interior Ministry officers for service in the contingent of the special police of the United Nations mission," AP reported the statement as saying. Repeating a view that Russian officials have frequently expressed, the statement added that "negative tendencies...have gone too far. The situation regarding ensuring the security of the non-Albanian population is constantly growing worse, while the activity of [ethnic Albanian] separatists, terrorists, and criminal structures is on the rise." PM

FORMER ROMANIAN OFFICIALS DENY EXISTENCE OF HOT LINE TO KREMLIN...

Alliance for Romania Chairman Teodor Melescanu, who was foreign minister under former President Ion Iliescu, told journalists on 22 March that he is "not aware" that a "hot line" between Bucharest and the Kremlin existed or that negotiations with Russia aimed at reviving links between the former Warsaw Pact capitals have "ever been conducted." Likewise, Romanian National Party Chairman Virgil Magureanu, who was head of the Romanian Intelligence Service under Iliescu, told journalists in Suceava that a hot line "never existed" and that the "scandal surrounding this problem is stupid." Former Foreign Intelligence Service head Ioan Talpes told journalists that "parleys, not negotiations" were under way with Russia against the background of the pending basic treaty. He said that "only the Kremlin" was interested in resuscitating the line, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau and Mediafax reported. MS

...BUT ROMANIAN DAILY TO PRODUCE PROOF

Testifying on 22 March to the Senate's Defense Commission, General Ioan Sima, chief of the Special Telecommunications Service, said that the equipment delivered by Russia in May 1995 (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 22 March 2000) was not destined for a "hot line but for "the modernization of international telegraph links' and that the "hot line" had not existed. He refused to elaborate, citing "state secrets." But Cornel Nistorescu, editor in chief of the daily "Evenimentul zilei," said on Romanian Television that on 23 March his newspaper will publish a document proving that former Prime Minister Nicolae Vacaroiu and Melescanu proposed that the government approve an accord with Russia "concerning specially encrypted international telephone links." According to Nistorescu, the two were implementing a decision taken by the Supreme Defense Council, headed by Iliescu. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CONNECTS VISA PROBLEM TO ROMA

Petre Roman said on 21 March that the Romanian government has an obligation to "protect 23 million Romanians against the few thousand Gypsies" who are damaging the country's image abroad and hampering the country's efforts to get off the EU's visa blacklist, Rompres reported. Roman was speaking after returning from a meeting of the Romania-EU Association Council. VG

GREENPEACE ACTIVISTS PROTEST OUTSIDE ROMANIAN MINE

A group of about 25 Greenpeace activists from various countries have blocked the entrance to the Aurul gold mine in Baia Mare, which caused a recent cyanide spill into the Tisza River, Rompres reported on 22 March. The activists unfolded a banner reading "Stop Cyanide. Esmeralda Must Pay," in a reference to the Australian firm that owns the mine. The management of the Aurul mine has refused to hold talks with the activists. The activists said they are prepared to protest for several days if necessary. VG

IMF REPEATS WARNING TO MOLDOVA

Moldovan Parliament Speaker Dumitru Diakov on 22 March told the legislature Budget Committee that the country will not receive funding from the IMF if it does not fulfill every aspect of the memorandum that the fund signed with the Moldovan government, BASA-Press reported on 22 March. Diakov was speaking after a meeting with the IMF's permanent representative in Moldova, Hassan al Atrash. Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis noted that the Budget Committee's decision to raise expenditures in the draft budget runs counter to the IMF's conditions. VG

BULGARIAN OPPOSITION MEMBERS TO MARK NATO BOMBING ANNIVERSARY IN SERBIA

Members of the Bulgarian Socialist Party have decided to attend ceremonies in Serbia to mark the anniversary of the beginning of the NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia last year, BTA reported. The other parties in parliament have refused to attend the ceremonies, according to Union of Democratic Forces deputy Dimitur Abadzhiev. Meanwhile, Aleksandur Tomov, the leader of the Euro-Left, said on 22 March that his party will send representatives to a congress of the opposition Social Democrats in Belgrade. VG

THOUSANDS DEMONSTRATE AGAINST UNEMPLOYMENT IN BULGARIA

More than 6,000 people marched through the streets of downtown Sopfia on 22 March to demand higher wages and protest the country's rising unemployment rate. The rally was organized by the Confederation of Labor Unions. Confederation leader Zhelyazko Hristov told the demonstrators he will demand negotiations with the government. Unemployment in Bulgaria stands at 17 percent. In other news, the Bulgarian parliament on 22 March voted to restitute 23,000 hectares of forests to a medieval monastery in Rila, BTA reported. The forests were nationalized by the communist regime. VG




CAN PUTIN MOVE RUSSIA BEYOND OBSTRUCTIONISM?


By Christopher Walker

In Soviet times, the prevailing communist concept of equality was based on the notion that it was fairer for all to fail than for one to prosper. As Russia has slid from the reform path and turned further inward over the course of the past half decade, it is reasonable to ask whether Vladimir Putin's Russia will rely on this old Soviet model or on one based upon cooperation and mutual advantage. For Russia's immediate neighbors, the stakes are particularly high. And the Baltic countries are a case in point.

Indeed, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are among the most interested parties in the intense speculation over how Putin's ideological orientation and governing style will evolve once he obtains an electoral mandate. The Baltic countries want to anchor themselves in the West and intend to fulfill this goal by joining key Western institutions, namely the EU and NATO. Over the past several years, Russia's stance toward the Baltics has been demonstrably uncooperative on a range of matters, including sensitive border disputes as well as citizenship and language issues. Whether or not Putin believes there is a long-term benefit for Russia through cooperation with its three Baltic neighbors will determine if Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia realize their ambitions to join Western clubs according to their own timetable, rather than one controlled by Moscow.

In the immediate aftermath of the Soviet Union's collapse, there was a period of cooperation, at times even characterized as a "partnership," between Russia and the West. But since the successes of communist and nationalist forces in the 1993 and 1995 parliamentary elections, Russia has moved away from such cooperation.

In fact, the nature of Russia's obstructionism over the past several years can be seen to fall into two categories: one active, the other passive. Active obstructionism was born of the failure of Western-style reforms to take root and the steady erosion of Russian living standards. Nationalists and Communists took advantage of a sour popular mood to slow down cooperation with the West on a number of fronts. While NATO's action in Kosova clearly annoyed Russia, Moscow's increasingly uncooperative posture predated the NATO campaign.

But perhaps more troubling is the variant of Russian obstructionism that is passive in nature, resulting principally from political gridlock and administrative incompetence. Severely drained by Russia's financial collapse, institutional exhaustion and corruption, Boris Yeltsin's administration was catatonic in its final years. Yeltsin himself was the clearest emblem of the overall moribund state. During this period, diplomats from neighboring countries routinely complained that they were unable to obtain decisions from Moscow or often simply could not locate an appropriate official in Moscow to answer their calls.

Russia's negative behavior manifested itself in other ways, including the conduct of military exercises with such provocative names as "Operation Comeback" on its borders with the Baltic countries or threatening to apply sanctions or otherwise isolate countries with which it disagreed. Russia has recognized that its poor relations with the Baltic States may be used as a tool to keep the Baltics from advancing toward western institutions.

Unless insufficient turnout somehow complicates matters by requiring further voting rounds, Putin's victory on 26 March seems assured. Much of his popularity is derived from the substantial support he enjoys as a result of the war in Chechnya and what is best described as the remilitarization of Russia. For the time being at least, it appears the campaign in Chechnya has served Putin's purpose, allowing him to garner considerable domestic political support, while simultaneously diverting attention from Russia's serious economic and social ills.

It remains to be seen whether the campaign in Chechnya will restore Russia's sense of prestige in the longer term. Should the campaign ultimately fail, Russia would find itself enfeebled to an even greater degree. Success achieved on the basis of abject brutality is similarly no source of comfort. Despite claims of Putin's ostensible administrative prowess, rigorous discipline, and high energy levels, he may not be capable of modernizing Russia quickly enough to keep pace with the rest of the world. And at the same time, Russia may not be willing simply to watch its immediate neighbors in the Baltics advance and join the former Soviet satellites in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE on the road to the West. Furthermore, Putin's stated intention of restoring Russia's strength and national prestige may not be consistent with integration into the community of nations and cooperation with Russia's neighbors.

Thus, if Moscow is unable to formulate a cooperative policy of its own--or otherwise come to terms with the fact that the Baltics and other states formerly under Moscow's domination will eventually join the West--Putin's Russia may end up playing the only role it believes it can, namely that of spoiler. The author is a New York-based analyst specializing in Eastern European affairs (intrel@aol.com)


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