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Newsline - July 20, 2000




PUTIN QUOTES KIM AS PROPOSING ALTERNATIVE TO MISSILE PROGRAM...

After two hours of talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang on 19 July, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Kim "voiced an idea whereby North Korea is even prepared to use exclusively the rocket equipment of other countries for peaceful space research if they offer it," Reuters reported. Asked whether Moscow would be prepared to supply North Korea with such equipment, the Russian president responded: "Why should Russia be the only one to pay? ...If other countries say that [North Korea] is a threat to them, they could support the project. [That] threat could be minimized by giving [Pyongyang] its own booster rockets," according to Interfax. Putin was also quoted as saying that Kim had assured him that Pyongyang's missile program is "entirely peaceful." JC

...SIGNS SECOND PRO-ABM DECLARATION IN TWO DAYS...

At their 19 July meeting, Russian President Putin and North Korean leader Kim signed a declaration that Putin said underlined the two countries' commitment to the UN charter and "similar views on resolving certain international problems." Interfax reported later that the joint document stresses the importance of the 1972 Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty and welcomes more cuts in nuclear arsenals under the START-2 and START-3 agreements." One day earlier in Beijing, Putin had put his signature to a joint declaration with China urging that the ABM treaty remain unchanged (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2000). Interfax also reported that Putin had invited Kim to visit the Russian Federation "at a convenient time." JC

...RECEIVES HERO'S WELCOME AND FAREWELL

Arriving at Pyongyang airport on 19 July, Russian President Putin was welcomed by a cannon salute and a military parade staged by goose-stepping troops in white tunics. Russian media reported that up to 1 million people lined the streets from the airport shouting "Greetings to Putin!" and "Long live Kim Jong-il!" And those scenes were repeated the next day when Putin headed back to the airport and took his farewell from Kim on the tarmac in front of his plane. During his visit, Putin laid a wreath at the memorial to Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea and Kim's father. JC

STATE DUMA RATIFIES FRIENDSHIP TREATY WITH NORTH KOREA

The same day as Putin and Kim met in Pyongyang, the lower house of the Russian parliament voted 363 to eight with one abstention to ratify the friendship treaty with North Korea. Presenting the document to the State Duma, Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Ivanov said the treaty allows the two countries "to fight jointly for peace and disarmament [and thereby] bring our partner out of international isolation to a significant extent." During the pre-vote debate, both Foreign Affairs Committee chairman (People's Deputy) Dmitrii Rogozin and deputy speaker (Yabloko) Vladimir Lukin spoke out strongly in favor of ratification. The only dissenting voice to be heard, according to Interfax, was that of Sergei Kovalev, a member of the Union of Rightist Forces and long- time human rights activist. The Russian agency quoted Kovalev as saying that "decent governments and parliaments" should not declare friendship with regimes that are as "brutal, treacherous, barbaric, and repressive" as that of North Korea. JC

TAX REFORM MOVES PAST DUMA...

The Duma on 19 July approved in the third and final reading the second part of the Tax Code. If enacted, the legislation would introduce a flat income tax rate of 13 percent, establish a minimum 5 percent unified social tax, raise excise taxes on a variety of goods such as alcohol and tobacco, and amend the law on value-added tax. According to ITAR-TASS, the bill passed by a vote of 234 to 111, securing only eight votes more than necessary for its passage. Such a narrow margin could mean that the bill will ultimately fail since the upper house is expected to reject it. Russian Regions faction leader Oleg Morozov said that "overriding a Federation Council veto of the tax code would be very difficult, if not impossible." JAC

...ONLY TO STALL IN THE UPPER HOUSE...

In an interview with Russian Television on 19 July, Duma deputy speaker (Union of Rightist Forces) Irina Khakamada said that "the Federation Council is now virtually in a position where it can destroy the entire concept of next year's budget." Senators oppose the legislation in part because they feel that certain provisions would take too big a bite out of regional tax revenues (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 19 July 2000). Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed recently called the reforms a "serious step backward toward socialist distribution:" Lebed also complained that he does not believe in the "good and wise" federal bureaucrat who will comprehend that "the roads in Krasnoyarsk Krai are longer than [those] in Orel Oblast and that more resources for geological prospecting are needed in Krasnoyarsk than in Moscow." Senators are expected to consider the tax legislation on 26 July. JAC

...AS GOVERNMENT HOPES FOR THE BEST

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told reporters on 19 July that the government will send the draft 2001 budget to the State Duma on 26 August. He said the draft will assume that the new tax reform legislation is in force, despite some forecasts of its likely rejection by the upper house (see above). He said that revenues in the draft budget will stand at some 1 trillion rubles ($36 billion), a significantly higher figure than in the 2000 budget, which assumed revenues of 800 billion rubles. JAC

IMF RENEWS ITS CALL FOR STRUCTURAL REFORMS

The latest IMF mission to Moscow concluded its series of technical consultations with the Russian government on 18 July, Deputy Prime Minister Kudrin announced the next day. According to Kudrin, the two parties "found mutual understanding on the main issues." An unidentified source close to the negotiations told Interfax that fund officials praised Russia's macroeconomic indicators but criticized the lack of structural economic reform. A press statement issued by the IMF's Moscow office reported that mission members concluded that Russia faces "policy challenges" in two areas. First, short-term macroeconomic policies "must be geared toward preventing the exceptionally strong balance of payments from jeopardizing the recovery or triggering renewed inflationary pressures." And second, "a broad-based acceleration of structural reforms is required if the recovery is to be sustained and gains from stabilization are to be preserved." If these two challenges are met, further sustainable economic growth and reduction of inflation in Russia are possible, according to the statement. JAC

PROSECUTOR INCREASES PRESSURE ON GUSINSKII

The Office of the Prosecutor-General revealed on 19 July that it is preparing to seize all property belonging to Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii. The same day, investigators began to inventory Gusinskii's possessions at one of his homes in a Moscow suburb. The senior prosecutor assigned to Gusinskii's case, Valerii Nikolaev, said that his office will freeze all Gusinskii's assets in Russia and abroad, Interfax reported. One of Gusinskii's lawyers condemned the measure, calling it an "attempt to control Gusinskii's private life," while another said it is "an attempt to put psychological pressure" on his client. Nikolaev, for his part, said that Russian Criminal Code requires that such measures be taken against those accused of major fraud. JAC

DUMA REFUSES TO DEBATE CUTS IN ROCKET FORCES...

Lawmakers on 19 July rejected a proposal by Aleksei Mitrofanov of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia faction to discuss a draft resolution on the "inadmissibility" of unilateral cuts in the Strategic Rocket Forces, Interfax reported. The proposal was backed by only 85 deputies (226 would have been required for approval). Communist deputy Viktor Ilyukhin was quoted as saying that such cuts would be "treacherous," while deputy speaker Lukin argued that the issue should not be discussed at an open session of the house. Mitrofanov's proposal comes in the wake of an open row between Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and chief of the General Staff Anatolii Kvashnin over the future of the Strategic Rocket Forces (see "End Note" below). JC

...SLAMS FRENCH AUTHORIES OVER TALL SHIP INCIDENT

Also on 19 July, the Duma voted by 324 to one with eight abstentions to pass a statement saying that the seizure of the tall ship "Sedov" at the French port of Brest last week is a "continuation of the unfriendly French moves toward Russia that have been made recently, including the seizure of the bank accounts of Russian diplomatic missions and consular establishment in France." The statement added that the house will recommend that the Russian president "take adequate measures" vis-a-vis France. The "Sedov" is caught up in a legal wrangle between the Swiss trading company Noga and the Russian government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 19 July 2000). Reuters reported on 19 July that French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine has sent a letter to his Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, saying Paris is making efforts to help Russia "within the bounds of its legal possibilities." JC

RUSSIA TELLS UKRAINE 'NYET' TO CURBS ON LANGUAGE

After meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yushchenko, on 19 July, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told reporters that he expressed "concern over the state of the Russian language in Ukraine" and over reports that "the system of teaching Russian is being phased out," ITAR-TASS reported. Yushchenko, acknowledging that the two officials had exchanged opinions "on topics that cannot be called very pleasant," said that "there is no state policy [in Ukraine] that would restrict the use of languages." The same day, State Duma deputies adopted a statement criticizing Ukraine for provoking inter- ethnic tensions "in connection with discrimination against the Russian language in Ukraine." Kasyanov and Yushchenko also discussed fuel and energy issues, with Russia agreeing to help finish the construction of the Rivne and Khmelnytskyy nuclear power plants in Ukraine and to start building a joint fuel and energy system. JAC

CHECHENS LAUNCH NEW ATTACKS

Six Russian servicemen were killed on 19 July and 11 more wounded in Chechen attacks on police convoys or vehicles near Argun, Chiri-Yurt, Dzhalka, and Gekhi, Interfax reported quoting Russian Interior Ministry spokesmen. But a separate attempt to capture the police headquarters in Nozhai-Yurt, southern Chechnya, was repulsed after three hours of fighting in which five Chechen attackers were killed, a spokesman for presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii told ITAR-TASS on 20 July. LF

GANTEMIROV TROOP REVIEW BANNED

Lieutenant General Vladimir Bokovikov, who is deputy presidential envoy in South Russia, has banned the parade of "combat units" in Grozny which Chechen deputy interim administration head Beslan Gantemirov announced on 19 July, Interfax reported. Gantemirov is scheduled to meet with presidential envoy Viktor Kazantsev in Mozdok on 20 July and with interim administration head Akhmed-Hadji Kadyrov to discuss the confrontation in Gudermes two days earlier between Gantemirov and Kazantsev, according to AFP (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2000). LF

PROSECUTORS REFUSE TO LOOSEN SCREWS ON NIKITIN

The Office of the Prosecutor-General has filed an appeal with the Supreme Court's Appeals Collegium challenging the Supreme Court's earlier ruling on the espionage and treason case of retired Navy captain and environmentalist Aleksandr Nikitin. Last December, Nikitin was acquitted on those charges by a St. Petersburg court, a ruling that the Supreme Court upheld in the spring (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2000). The appeals collegium will review on 2 August the prosecutor's request that the case be reopened and reinvestigated. Nikitin was first arrested in February 1996 for his work revealing the Russian navy's environmentally hazardous handling of nuclear waste. JAC

GOVERNMENT HOPES FOR HALF A BILLION FOR ONAKO

The Federal Property Fund announced on 20 July the terms for the planned privatization of the 85 percent government-owned stake in the ONAKO oil company, Interfax reported. Bidding will begin on 21 July and end on 14 September. Results of the tender will be announced on 19 September. The starting price is $425.25 million, at the upper end of the scale that analysts previously thought the company might fetch (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2000). JAC




ARMENIAN OPPOSITION DEPUTY QUERIES OFFICIAL REASON FOR ENERGY PRIVATIZATION

Arshak Sadoyan, who is an opposition parliamentary deputy representing the National Democratic Union, told journalists in Yerevan on 19 July that government arguments for privatizing four energy distribution networks are flawed, RFE/R's Yerevan bureau reported. Sadoyan rejected the official claim that those networks are in serious disrepair and that foreign investment is essential to make them functional and profitable. He claimed that energy sector officials misappropriate some $40 million annually, which if used for the purpose for which it was intended would reduce the need for foreign investment. And he added that he estimates that the four networks are worth $400-500 million, whereas the government intends to sell them for $40 million. Snark the same day quoted the Armenian Energy Ministry press center as saying that the state loses $45 million annually from energy losses attributable to obsolete transmission equipment. LF

LAWYER WANTS FORMER KARABAKH ARMY CHIEF'S TRIAL HELD IN ARMENIA

Zhudeks Shakarian, who represents former Karabakh Defense Minister and army commander Samvel Babayan, has demanded that his client's trial take place in Armenia, rather than in the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Noyan Tapan reported on 19 July. He added that Babayan has been subjected to violence during his pre-trial detention. Babayan is accused of masterminding the 22 March assassination attempt on the enclave's President Arkadii Ghukasian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2000). Karabakh Prosecutor-General Mavrik Ghukasian said on 27 May that the investigation into the case was completed and would be submitted to the court in mid-June. LF

AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN THREATENS TO REVISE ELECTION LEGISLATION

Murtuz Alesqerov on 19 July condemned the decision by six members of the Central Electoral Commission not to attend a session of that body the same day as constituting "irresponsibility and incompetence," Turan reported. The six were representatives of the opposition Azerbaijan National Independence Party and Azerbaijan Popular Front, which have declared a boycott of the commission's work until the amendments to the election law demanded by the opposition and the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights are enacted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2000). Alesqerov said that unless the opposition abandons its boycott and agrees to participate in the work of the commission, he will suggest amending the law on the Central Electoral Commission to stipulate that its decisions be taken by a simple majority, rather than a two-thirds majority, as is currently the case. LF

AZERBAIJAN DENIES PRESENSE OF MERCENARIES ON BORDER WITH DAGHESTAN

Azerbaijani National Security Ministry spokesman Araz Kurbanov on 19 July rejected as "untrue" an ITAR-TASS report that Daghestan's State Council discussed earlier the same day the threat posed by the alleged presence on the border between Azerbaijan and Daghestan of some 1,500 Afghan and Pakistani mercenaries. Kurbanov said that the Russian Federal Border Guard Service similarly rejected that claim. LF

PROTESTS GROW OVER CLOSURE OF AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN AZERBAIJAN

Students of the American University of Baku have launched a campaign to protest the decision taken earlier this month by Azerbaijan's Ministries of Justice and Education to revoke the five-year license issued last year to that institute. They stress that the university is strictly apolitical, that its academic standards are high, and that its faculty members, unlike some at state-funded higher education establishments, do not demand bribes for enrolling students. Faculty members have written to the Azerbaijani president, premier and parliamentary speaker protesting that the closure of the university is unfair and illegal. The university first opened in 1995. LF

RUSSIA, U.S. DISCUSS RUSSIAN TROOP WITHDRAWAL FROM GEORGIA

Meeting in Moscow on 19 July, Russian Foreign Ministry officials and a U.S. expert delegation discussed political, financial, and logistical aspects of the planned withdrawal of Russian military equipment from Georgia, Interfax reported. The U.S. has offered some $10 million toward the cost of reducing the amount of Russian military hardware deployed in Georgia and the closure of four Russian bases there. On 17 July, Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Burduli told journalists in Tbilisi that the U.K. has proposed creating an international fund to be controlled by the OSCE that would contribute to the Russian troop withdrawal from Georgia, according to Caucasus Press. LF

ARMED ATTACK ON POLICE IN WESTERN GEORGIA

A group of unidentified armed men opened fire late on 19 July on a police car in the west Georgian district of Zugdidi, Caucasus Press reported. One police officer and one of the gunmen were injured in the ensuing exchange of fire. LF

KAZAKHSTAN TO PROCEED WITH CHINESE OIL PIPELINE

Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev has set up a working group headed by Energy, Industry, and Trade Deputy Minister Kanat Bozumbaev to draft proposals on the joint construction of a 3,000 kilometer oil pipeline from western Kazakhstan to China, Interfax reported on 19 July. The estimated cost of that venture is $3-3.5 billion. During a visit by Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev to Beijing late last year, China reaffirmed its commitment to that project, which was originally agreed on in 1997. Kazakh officials had queried last August whether the pipeline is economically viable (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 1999). LF

KAZAKHSTAN SUSPENDS TELECOMMUNICATIONS RELAY FROM UZBEKISTAN

KazakhTeleCom on 17 July stopped relaying international telephone calls from Uzbekistan, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported two days later. No official reason for that decision has been given, but analysts suggest that it may have been intended as a means of retaliation for Uzbekistan's refusal to increase supplies of irrigation water for southern Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2000). LF

TAJIKISTAN UNVEILS MONUMENT TO SLAIN UN OBSERVERS

The Tajik government on 19 July unveiled a monument in Garm, east of Dushanbe, to four UN observers shot dead on patrol two years earlier, AP and Asia Plus-Blitz reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 1998). LF

TURKMEN AMBASSADOR DENIES RESTRICTIONS ON ARMENIAN CHURCH

Toyli Kurbanov, who is Turkmenistan's ambassador in Yerevan, has rejected as "absolutely untrue" a Keston News Service report detailing restrictions on the Armenian Church in Turkmenistan, according to Snark on 18 July as quoted by Groong (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2000). LF

BANGLADESHI DELEGATION VISITS UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan's Prime Minister Utkir Sultanov and Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abdussamad Ozod, meeting in Tashkent on 17 July, discussed prospects for bilateral trade and economic cooperation, Interfax reported. Ozod expressed support for Uzbekistan's initiatives in the spheres of regional security and combating terrorism. He also met separately with his Uzbek counterpart, Abdulaziz Kamilov. LF




BELARUS, ARMENIA TO BOOST RELATIONS

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and visiting Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian on 19 July stressed the need to boost bilateral trade and economic relations, Belapan reported. Lukashenka noted that both countries need to create an appropriate legal environment for cooperation and find ways to ship goods between them. "We know that you are locked in and cannot get through--Azerbaijan on one side and Georgia on the other, and there is no way to Belarus," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying. Markarian and his Belarusian counterpart, Uladzimir Yarmoshyn, signed three intergovernmental agreements on economic cooperation. Last year's Belarusian-Armenian trade turnover did not exceed $3 million. A commentator for "Belorusskii rynok" told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service that Armenia is interested in repairing aircraft defense systems in Belarus and in purchasing spare parts for military hardware. JM

AUTHORITIES ACCUSE TRADE UNIONS OF 'DISTORTING' SITUATION IN BELARUS

The presidential administration has accused "some trade union leaders" of "imposing on Belarus's public opinion and the world community a groundless theory about the infringement of trade union rights by the authorities," Belarusian Television reported on 19 July. The administration said those leaders have "usurped" the right to speak in the name of Belarusian citizens and "distorted" the image of Belarus in foreign countries. "The attempt of those leaders to organize a mass pressure [campaign] on the state structures through international appeals...is motivated only by their striving to keep their lucrative posts," the administration noted. Quoting suppression of trade union rights, the U.S. recently suspended the benefits Belarus had received under the Generalized System of Preferences for the world's poorest countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2000). JM

BILATERAL COMMISSION TO TACKLE UKRAINE'S GAS DEBT TO RUSSIA

Following his 19 July talks in Moscow with Mikhail Kasyanov (see Part 1), Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yushchenko said the two sides reached understanding on the size of Ukraine's gas debt to Russia but he gave no figures. Russia's Gazprom says Ukraine owes more than $2 billion, while Ukraine maintains that its gas debt totals $1.4 billion. Yushchenko added that both countries agreed to set up an intergovernmental commission to resolve the gas debt problem. The commission will meet next week, and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko will lead the Russian side. Yushchenko also said both sides discussed the issue of a gas pipeline bypassing Ukraine, which was recently raised by Gazprom. "If we resolve the problem of [Ukraine's] payment for gas, we will not need to make any investments in new pipelines," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" quoted Kasyanov as saying. JM

DUMA DEPUTY CALLS FOR VILNIUS TO BACK AWAY FROM HISTORY

During a private trip to Vilnius, Russian State Duma deputy Aleksandr Chuev called on Lithuania to back away from historical issues such as compensation for the Soviet occupation and urged clemency for Communists involved in a failed putsch in 1991, BNS reported on 19 July. Chuev, the head of the Duma's group for relations with Lithuania, said he hopes the demand for compensation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2000) will be dropped after the October general elections so that the two countries can discuss other bilateral issues such as the long-delayed border agreement. Chuev also called for clemency for those individuals convicted in Vilnius of taking part in the attempted communist coup in January 1991. And he advised President Valdas Adamkus that it would be better to visit Russia after the Lithuanian October elections. Chuev has been honored in Lithuania for his activist role supporting Lithuania in 1991. MH

POLISH PARLIAMENT APPROVES 3 PERCENT TAX ON FARM PRODUCTS

The Sejm on 20 July voted by 230 to 209 with one abstention to impose a 3 percent value-added tax on agricultural products, in line with EU requirements, Reuters reported. The parliament overturned its May decision setting the VAT rate on farm products at zero percent. At the time, some undisciplined lawmakers from the Solidarity Electoral Action voted against the 3 percent tax proposed by their cabinet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2000). JM

POLISH TREASURY MINISTER FACES THIRD NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION

Opposition deputies from the Peasant Party have filed a no- confidence motion against Treasury Minister Emil Wasacz, accusing him of mishandling the privatization of state assets, Polish media reported. This is the third attempt to oust Wasacz, who survived an opposition-inspired vote of no confidence in December 1998 and narrowly escaped dismissal last January, following a no-confidence motion filed by his colleagues from the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS). "I am confident that this time all our deputies will support Minister Wasacz. It would be utter political stupidity on their part to vote otherwise," Reuters quoted AWS lawmaker Stefan Niesiolowski as saying. According to PAP, the Freedom Union, which quit the coalition with the AWS last month, will vote against the motion, thus helping Wasacz to stay in his post. JM

FORMER SOLIDARITY LEADER DOES NOT WANT VETERANS' RIGHTS

Lech Walesa said on 19 July that he does not want to join the line of veterans, PAP reported. The former Solidarity leader was commenting on the Solidarity trade union's recent appeal to its political arm in the parliament, the Solidarity Electoral Action, to grant veterans' rights as members of the anti- communist opposition in 1968-1989. Walesa added that victory is a sufficient honor and reward for years of struggle, while special merits should be honored only when the country becomes rich. JM

CZECH ROMA ACTIVIST'S HOUSE ATTACKED

Police in the west Bohemian city of Rokycany have charged two 17-year-olds with "violence against a group of people and an individual." The charges were filed on 19 July following an attack five days earlier on the home of Roma activist Ondrej Gina, when the youths threw a Molotov cocktail through a window. The device failed to ignite. Gina said he had earlier received telephone calls threatening to "send him to heaven" and calling him a "black bastard." In another incident, the windows of the Rokycany Romany Cultural Association were broken on 18 July and petrol poured into the building. Rokycany Deputy Mayor Miluse Vykopalova told CTK on 19 July that a "a mountain is being made out of a molehill." She said if someone else's window had been broken, no one would have heard about it, but Gina "probably feels isolated and wants to be heard about." MS

PRAGUE STADIUM TO ACCOMMODATE ANTI-IMF PROTESTERS

Anti- globalization activists who plan to protest the annual meeting of the IMF and the World Bank in Prague in September will be accommodated in the city's Strahov Stadium, AP reported on 19 July. A spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry said the ministry is renting the stadium for the duration of the 14-day summit and will accommodate the protesters in tents. She also said some 11,000 policemen are undergoing training to provide security during the event. MS

SLOVAKIA CALLS OFF EUROPEAN PRESIDENTS MEETING

President Rudolf Schuster's Office announced on 19 July that it has canceled a planned meeting of the presidents of Slovakia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, and Switzerland owing to the president's illness, AP reported. The event was to be staged as a joint "mountain hike" to allow the leaders to get to know one another better. The office said Schuster wants to participate in the hike but "his current state does not allow it." The event has been postponed until next year. MS

SLOVAK OPPOSITION PARTY STILL AHEAD IN POLLS

The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) continues to lead in public opinion polls, CTK reported on 19 July, citing a recent survey by the UVVM. If elections were conducted now, 26.4 percent would vote for the HZDS, a drop of 2.4 percentage points from June. Robert Fico's Smer (Direction) party came second with 22.3 percent backing, an increase of 4.9 percentage points over last month. Premier Mikulas Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union was third (13 percent), followed by the Hungarian Coalition Party (8.6 percent), the Slovak National Party (8.3 percent), the Christian Democratic Movement (6.5 percent), and the Party of the Democratic Left (5.9 percent). MS




MONTENEGRO IN 'NO HURRY' ON REFERENDUM

Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic told Czech Radio in a telephone interview on 19 July that his government is in "no hurry" to hold a referendum on independence. He stressed that any decision to hold such a vote will depend on whether the Serbian opposition first succeeds or fails in its plans to oust the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Vujanovic called on the opposition to unite in order to defeat Milosevic in elections widely expected in the fall. He added that the Montenegrin authorities believe that "two- thirds" of the Montenegrin population would vote for independence in a referendum. PM

ROBERTSON: 'NO INFORMATION' ON MONTENEGRIN COUP...

Speaking in Sarajevo on 19 July, NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson said: "I have no information about a military coup in Montenegro and I've made it very clear on a number of occasions as secretary-general of NATO that we watch with care and concern what is going on in Montenegro.... President Milosevic should be aware that the international community is also concerned about what is happening and the right of [Montenegrin] President [Milo] Djukanovic to be able to fulfil the mandate given to him by the Montenegrin people," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2000). PM

...CALLS FOR ONE BOSNIAN ARMY

In Sarajevo on 19 July, Robertson called on the leaders of Bosnia's two entities to cut the size of their respective armed forces and integrate them into one Bosnian army. He added that he hopes that Bosnia will meet the criteria for joining the Partnership for Peace program "in my term of office," AP reported. NATO officials have repeatedly said that only a single, united Bosnian army can apply for membership in the program. PM

NATO FINDS POSSIBLE 'EXTREMIST TRAINING' CENTER IN KOSOVA

The U.S. military said in a statement issued at Camp Bondsteel on 20 July that "extensive security operations" by NATO peacekeepers in the area have revealed "training facilities," including "bunkers and firing positions," AP reported. The statement added: "The multinational effort consisted of extensive surveillance and patrolling missions that ultimately identified suspected training areas that might have been used by extremist elements. During the course of the operation, bunkers and fighting positions were destroyed, including some bearing evidence of recent occupation." The text did not indicate who might have built and used the facilities in the ethnically mixed area. PM

KOSOVA VOTER REGISTRATION ENDS

A spokesman for the OSCE said in Prishtina on 19 July that the voting registration process has ended in Kosova and will not be resumed, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He noted that more than 1 million persons registered but that very few of them are Serbs (see "RFR/RL Newsline," 17 July 2000). PM

FRENCH TROOPS DETAIN SERB IN MITROVICA

KFOR soldiers briefly detained Gojko Repanovic in northern Mitrovica on 20 July on suspicion of theft, AP reported. The French troops also attempted to arrest another two individuals, but the latter escaped. Following the arrest of Repanovic, some 100 angry Serbs assembled in the Little Bosnia section of town. The previous night, some 1,000 Serbs marched to demand the release of Dalibor Vukovic, whom KFOR arrested recently for setting fire to Albanian-owned cars (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2000). For his part, Bernard Kouchner, who heads the UN's civilian administration in Kosova, said through a spokeswoman that he is "outraged" that some Serbs have recently attacked UN policemen sent to protect the Serbian population, Reuters reported. PM

SERBIAN COURT SENTENCES POLICEMAN FOR KILLING ALBANIANS.

A Pozarevac court on 20 July sentenced Boban Petkovic to four years and nine months in prison for killing three Kosovar Albanians during the 1999 conflict. The court sentenced Djordje Simic to one year in jail for providing Petkovic with the gun he used in the killings. AP reported that thousands of Kosovars died at Serbian hands during the conflict but that Petkovic and Simic are the only Serbs to be sentenced for killing Albanians at that time. PM

U.S., MACEDONIAN GENERALS PLEASED WITH BORDER SECURITY

General Henry Shelton, who heads the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed regional security with his Macedonian counterpart, General Jovan Andreevski, in Skopje on 19 July. The two men said in a statement that "the situation along Kosovo's border [has become] stabilized after joint efforts by Macedonian forces and NATO-led peacekeepers" following a series of incidents earlier in the year, AP reported. PM

EU TO LAUNCH STABILIZATION PACT TALKS WITH CROATIA

Chris Patten, who is the EU's commissioner for foreign affairs, announced in Brussels on 19 July that Croatia will become the second western Balkan country (after Macedonia) to begin talks with Brussels over the terms of a Stabilization and Association Agreement (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 July 2000). Talks are expected to begin before the EU's Balkan summit takes place in Zagreb in November, AP reported. Patten stressed that "this proposal is a great step forward in our efforts to stabilize the region. It is a tribute to the courageous steps taken by the new Croatian government in the short time it has been in office; the EU is determined to support Croatia." PM

CROATIAN DIPLOMATIC INITIATIVES IN FORMER YUGOSLAVIA

Croatian President Stipe Mesic told the Prishtina daily "Koha Ditore" that he soon hopes to visit Kosova to encourage the process of democratization there, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 19 July. In Zagreb, Foreign Minister Tonino Picula said that he will soon visit Montenegro for talks with his counterpart, Branko Lukovac, and President Milo Djukanovic. Picula stressed that he wants to show his support for the democratically elected government of the mountainous republic. PM

CROATIAN LEADERS PLEDGE UNITY

Prime Minister Ivica Racan and his coalition partner Drazen Budisa said at a press conference in Zagreb on 19 July that their two-party coalition remains strong and that "nothing" can destroy it, "Slobodna Dalmacija" reported. They added that the problems within their coalition are no greater than the differences within any single party in any country. PM

BOSNIAN BISHOP SEEKS HELP FOR CROATS

Franjo Komarica, who is the Roman Catholic bishop of Banja Luka in the Republika Srpska, told Croatian Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granic in Zagreb on 19 July that many Serbs have returned from Bosnia to Croatia recently, "Slobodna Dalmacija" reported. The bishop added, however, that "nobody is bothering about" the Croats from Bosnia who want to return home. PM

ROMANIAN CENTER-RIGHT ALLIANCE IN THE OFFING...

The leaders of the National Liberal Party (PNL) and the National Peasant Christian Democratic Party (PNTCD) met on 19 July and agreed to set up a "center-right pole" that would stop "the Left's accession to power," Romanian Radio and Mediafax reported. PNTCD leader Ion Diaconescu said after the meeting that the structure of the new alliance must still be discussed. Mediafax said the PNL is demanding 50 percent of the slots on parliamentary lists and wants the PNTCD to share the remaining 50 percent with other alliance members. PNL First Deputy Chairman Valeriu Stoica said the alliance must include only parties that mustered at least 3 percent in the June local elections. Stoica also said the PNL will continue talks with the Alliance for Romania because it might be necessary to back a joint presidential candidate if the fall presidential elections are decided in a runoff. MS

...BUT WHO WILL BE ITS PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE?

Diaconescu also said the sides discussed the possibility of backing Premier Mugur Isarescu for president, but Mediafax reported that the PNL has made its backing for Isarescu conditional on the premier's renouncing his political independence. Earlier on 19 July, Diaconescu said Isarescu has "reluctantly" accepted to run "at the urging of President Emil Constantinescu." But in an interview with Rompres, Isarescu said he is "honored" by the proposal but is asking for "some time for reflection." He said he would also consider whether renouncing his political independence is the best way to serve the process of continuing reform. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Decebal Traian Remes has withdrawn his resignation, saying Isarescu has convinced him that the cabinet needs him. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN PRESIDENT RESPONDS TO CONSTANTINESCU'S DECISION

Party of Social Democracy in Romania leader Ion Iliescu said on 19 July that incumbent President Constantinescu's decision not to seek a second mandate will not affect his own decision to run for the post, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. PNL First Deputy Chairman Stoica has urged Iliescu to follow Constantinescu's example, but Iliescu responded by telling him to "mind his own and his party's business." He said "no runner gives up the race because another runner has torn a ligament." Iliescu also said he is not afraid of competing against Isarescu. "He who fears the wolf should not enter the forest," he commented. MS

BULGARIA PROPOSES HOSTING BALKAN MEDIA ACADEMY

Nikola Karadimov, Bulgaria's coordinator for the Southeast European Stability Pact, told journalists on 19 July that his country proposes setting up a Balkan Media Academy in Sofia to operate under the aegis of the pact. Karadimov, who spoke ahead of a visit to Sofia by South East European Stability Pact Coordinator Bodo Hombach, said the academy would help train journalists to work for independent media in the region. MS




RUSSIA'S TOP BRASS SPLIT OVER CONVENTIONAL, NUCLEAR NEEDS


by Sophie Lambroschini

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin had Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and Chief of the General Staff Anatolii Kvashnin fly to the Black Sea resort of Sochi. There, the men were supposed to mend their rift over the direction of Russian military policy.

The row erupted just days earlier when Kvashnin submitted a plan on the future makeup of the military forces. The chief of the General Staff proposed slashing the number of nuclear missiles and ending the Strategic Rocket Forces' independent status as the cornerstone of Russian defense policy.

That plan did not sit well with Sergeev, who headed the rocket forces from 1992 until his first appointment as defense minister in 1997. Sergeev said that the nuclear force is in better shape than other sectors of the Russian military and is an important symbol of Russian power. Downgrading it would underscore Russia's loss of superpower status, he argued.

Kvashnin's plan is drawn from lessons learned on the battlefield in Chechnya, where poor equipment has contributed to Russian casualties. He reasons that as the risk of nuclear war is now lower and START-3 talks are likely to further reduce both the U.S. and the Russian nuclear arsenals, strategic nuclear forces can be cut without risking security. He argues the money saved by downgrading the nuclear forces could be channeled to the conventional forces, which desperately need upgrading.

That plan was in line with proposals adopted under former President Boris Yeltsin and appeared set to win Putin's approval. Alarmed, Sergeev took the offensive, stopping just short of calling Kvashnin a traitor. The scheme, he said, constitutes "criminal stupidity and an attempt to harm Russia's national interests." The two men's longstanding personal animosity added ammunition to the feud.

After the Sochi meeting, Sergeev cast himself as the victor. But political analysts doubt that the dispute was settled so easily.

The military's glaring shortcomings in Chechnya have added tension to an issue that goes beyond choosing between more rockets or more tanks. Russian military expert Pavel Felgenhauer told RFE/RL that the problem is that Russia can no longer afford to act like a superpower: it cannot maintain its nuclear capability, wage a ground war against partisans in Chechnya, and undertake liberal reform of the army.

Felgenhauer says both men's arguments have merit. But he says Sergeev's emphasis on nuclear capability has contributed to the dilapidated state of the army. "When he became defense minister," Felgenhauer noted, "he purposefully spent almost all of the money allocated for new equipment on the acquisition of new intercontinental ballistic missiles."

The defense minister has tried to keep purchasing 20 to 30 ICBMs a year--which is more than the annual acquisitions of all other nuclear powers put together. Meanwhile, the conventional forces have seen their equipment crumble. According to Felgenhauer, Sergeev is thus partly to blame for the death of Russian soldiers in Chechnya, who are sent to war with outdated weapons.

Most generals agree. Many of them are said to personally dislike Chief of the General Staff Kvashnin, who comes across as rather boorish, compared with the refined Sergeev. But on the military's needs, they tend to support Kvashnin.

As commander in chief, it is of course President Putin who will have the final word. But some commentators doubt that he is sufficiently versed in military matters to make an informed decision. "Izvestiya" even implied that Putin could be manipulated by military leaders and in effect lose political control over the army.

The most likely outcome of the dispute is a compromise. According to military analyst Felgenhauer, the Kremlin is likely to agree to a little of everything: "They'll buy a few rockets, they'll buy some tanks, they'll fight a little in Chechnya, and make some liberal reforms. That is, they'll do half measures, with the result that reforms will fail, the war in Chechnya will be lost, and nuclear status will suffer."

A third voice, that of Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, is expected to be heard on the issue. Kudrin is charged with creating a budget surplus by 2001. That economic feat would require drastic cuts in the military budget and might mean the choice between tanks and missiles becomes moot for a military that can afford neither. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Moscow.


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