Accessibility links

Newsline - July 31, 2000




PUTIN REAFFIRMS HE'LL OPPOSE OVERTURNING PRIVATIZATIONS

President Vladimir Putin met with a group of leading Russian businessmen for 160 minutes on 28 July, Russian agencies reported. He allowed each of them to speak and reassured them that he will oppose overturning past privatizations. "I want to draw your attention to the fact that you built this state yourself, to a great degree through the political or semi- political structures under your control," he told them. "So there is no point in blaming the reflection in the mirror. Let us get to the point and be open about what it is necessary to do to make our relationship in this field civilised and transparent." He told the meeting that business people should present their ideas on a statute of limitations for past violations of the law. Participants agreed to set up a permanent mechanism for consultations between businessmen and the state. PG

NEMTSOV SEES END OF OLIGARCH ERA

Proclaiming that "the revolutionary period of the redistribution of property is at an end," Boris Nemtsov, leader of the Union of Rightist Forces' parliamentary group Duma and the organizer of Putin's meeting with major Russian businessmen, said on 28 July that the era of the oligarchs is over. "Oligarchs have been done away with in Russia, because no one has gained special terms for himself and everybody is prepared to live by general rules." PG

BEREZOVSKII SAYS OLIGARCHS 'TIMID AS RABBITS'

Arguing that Russian President Putin remains a liberal politician, Boris Berezovskii, one of several business leaders who did not attend the 28 July meeting with Putin, told "Izvestiya" the next day that most of the country's oligarchs "are as timid as rabbits" and are failing to defend their interests vis-a- vis the state. At the same time, he said that he favors pardoning everyone involved in privatization just as pardons were granted to close the chapter of the Soviet era. PG

SELEZNEV SEEKS REDISTRIBUTION OF POWERS

State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told Interfax on 29 July that he favors giving the parliament the right to confirm not only the prime minister (as is already the case) but also deputy prime ministers and the heads of power ministries and agencies. Meanwhile, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said he backs the idea of creating a State Council, which he argued could grow from a consultative to a real legislative body. PG

DID GUSINSKII MAKE A DEAL WITH REGIME?

Igor Shabdurasulov, the former first deputy chief of the presidential administration, told Interfax on 28 July that Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii may have made a deal with the authorities to gain his release. If so, Shabdurasulov said, Media-MOST may soon be sold to Gazprom, in effect putting it in the hands of the government. PG

PUTIN SIGNS FEDERAL SUPREMACY LAW

President Putin on 29 July signed into law legislation reaffirming federal supremacy in legislation and giving Moscow new powers over the regions. Earlier this month, the State Duma overrode a Federation Council veto of the legislation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2000). PG

IVANOV REJECTS U.S. CRITICISM OVER AZIZ VISIT

Following his meeting with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz in Moscow on 28 July, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov rejected outright a U.S. statement that such contacts are inappropriate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 2000). "Russia is a sovereign and independent state that determines itself with whom and on what scale to maintain relations," Interfax quoted him as saying. Moscow's "intensive dialogue" with Iraq meets bilateral interests and assists efforts to resolve Iraq's current situation, he said. Ivanov also said that Moscow is considering restoring air links with Baghdad but needs permission from other countries to overfly their air space. According to Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, the talks with Aziz did not touch on military-technical cooperation, nor does Moscow intend to resume arms deliveries to Iraq. JC

MOSCOW EXPRESSES 'CONCERN' OVER LONDON'S DECISION ON B-2 BASES

The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed its "grave concern" over reports that the U.K. plans to allow U.S. B-2 stealth bombers to be based on its territory, Interfax reported on 28 July. If this report is true, the ministry said, "Britain may become the first state since the end of the Cold War to offer its territory to accommodate U.S. strategic bombers." The ministry added that such an act has "negative implications." PG

MOSCOW READY TO HELP MODERNIZE LIBYAN FORCES

Deputy Prime Minister Klebanov said on 28 July that Moscow is prepared to participate in the modernization of the Libyan army, Interfax reported. He added that several Russian-Libyan working groups currently are discussing the resumption of Russian supplies of arms to that country. Klebanov is due to meet with the Libyan foreign minister, Abdel Rahman Shalgam in Moscow this week. Shalgam arrived in the Russian capital on 30 July; during his three-day visit, he is scheduled to meet also with President Putin and his Russian counterpart, Ivanov. PG/JC

PUTIN SAYS NAVY KEY TO GREAT POWER STATUS

Speaking in Kaliningrad on 30 July on the occasion of Navy Day, President Putin said that "when the navy became weak, it was always worse for the country. When it stood on its own feet, Russia also rose up and was able to call itself a great state." He also sent his congratulations to the country's paratroop forces, which are marking their 70th anniversary. PG

NAVY TO 'RETURN' TO MEDITERRANEAN

Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov told "Vremya MN" of 28 July that the Russian Navy is planning "to return to the Mediterranean" this fall, AP reported. Russia's sole aircraft carrier, "Admiral Kuznetsov," will be accompanied on that voyage by several other ships, Kuroedov said, adding that this group of vessels will be "more powerful than our Soviet-era Mediterranean squadron." The navy commander was also quoted as saying that Russia will seek to maintain its presence in different ocean areas, including the Arctic where, he noted, Russian scientists have located rich natural resources. JC

RUSSIA TO INCREASE AIRBORNE FORCES

Because "every third paratrooper is now carrying out combat tasks with a peacekeeping contingent or in hotspots," airborne forces commander Colonel General Georgii Shpak said that the number of men under his command will grow by 4,000-5,000 to 44,000- 45,000 men by the end of 2001, Interfax reported on 30 July. But he said that "there are no plans for increasing the airborne group in Chechnya." That detachment currently numbers 4,100. PG

MANILOV ARGUES ROCKET FORCES MUST HAVE LOWER STATUS

Colonel General Valerii Manilov, first deputy chief of the General Staff, was quoted by Reuters on 28 July as saying that "it is unavoidable, logical and objectively the case" that the Strategic Rocket Forces become "part of one of the new branches of the armed forces under a three-prong structure." This does not necessarily mean, he explained, that the rocket forces would be reduced in size but that there would be a reallocation of funds toward conventional forces and away from ground-based missiles. Manilov's immediate superior, Chief of the General Staff Anatolii Kvashnin, has argued in favor of bringing the forces under the direct control of central command--a proposal that Defense Minister Igor Sergeev strongly opposes. The Security Council is expected to discuss the reform of the armed forces early next month. JC

CHECHEN SPOKESMAN DENIES TALKS IN PROGRESS WITH MOSCOW

Chechen presidential spokesman Mairbek Vachagaev denied in Moscow on 30 July that President Aslan Maskhadov is engaged in talks with Russian government representatives, Interfax reported. Two days earlier, Russian presidential representative to South Russia Viktor Kazantsev had said that such talks are being conducted with Maskhadov and field commander Ruslan Gelaev through interim Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov. He added that the talks focus on the conditions for Maskhadov's capitulation, saying that "the military is tired of this war." In Moscow, Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii confirmed that "contacts" have been made with the Chechens to discuss Maskhadov's hoped-for surrender, but he added that "'talks' is too grand a word" to describe them. On 29 July, Kazantsev told Russian Television that he thinks it would be "useful" to negotiate also with commanders of small groups of Chechen fighters, Interfax reported. LF

CHECHENS CONTINUE HIT-AND-RUN ATTACKS

Bands of Chechen fighters staged at least 11 hit-and-run attacks on Russian positions, mainly in Grozny, on 29-30 July but inflicted no casualties, dpa and ITAR-TASS reported. In response to those raids, limitations were imposed on lorry traffic throughout Chechnya on 30 July and inspections at Russian checkpoints intensified. Meanwhile air and artillery bombardment of suspected Chechen positions in southern Chechnya continued. LF

KADYROV MEETS WITH IRAQI DEPUTY PREMIER

Kadyrov met in Moscow on 29 July with visiting Iraqi Deputy Premier Aziz, Interfax reported. Shamil Beno, whom Kadyrov last week named as his envoy for liaison with Russian President Putin, said the two men discussed Iraqi assistance to companies in Chechnya and other North Caucasus republics that wish to establish economic cooperation with Iraq. He quoted Kadyrov as agreeing with Aziz that "the economic sanctions against Iraq...are simply a reflection of the West's political stance." LF

GANTEMIROV ENDORSES MAGOMADOV

Chechen first deputy administration head Beslan Gantemirov confirmed on 27 July that he has withdrawn his candidacy for the 20 August by- election to the State Duma, ITAR-TASS reported. Gantemirov said he has asked his own potential electorate to back Lecha Magomadov, a former second secretary of the Chechen-Ingush Oblast Committee of the CPSU who now heads the Chechen branch of the pro-Kremlin Unity party. LF

KASYANOV SAYS RUSSIA'S B-CREDIT RATING SHOULD ATTRACT INVESTORS

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told U.S. Ex-Im Bank President James Harmon on 28 July that the recent increase in Russia's credit rating to B- should lead foreigners to increase their investments in Russia, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, IMF Director General Horst Koehler said in Berlin the same day that his agency will consider in the fall whether to resume credits to Moscow, dpa reported. He said that Russian President Putin appeared to be heading in the right direction but something "must also really happen" for the IMF to resume its loan program. PG

THREE RUSSIANS IN FOUR FAVOR PROSECUTING ILLEGAL PRIVATIZERS

According to a poll conducted by the Public Opinion Sociological Foundation, 75 percent of Russians favor prosecuting those who illegally privatized state enterprises, and 63 percent believe that the results of privatization should be reversed if laws were broken, Interfax reported on 28 July. PG

REDEFINING STRATEGIC COMPANIES?

The Russian State Property Ministry has proposed changing the definition of strategic corporations to allow more of them to be sold, Interfax reported on 28 July. At present, there are approximately 700 corporations in which the government is required to maintain a share. The ministry would like to divide those companies into four categories; in one of those categories the state would maintain 100 percent of the stock and in the three others smaller amounts. Meanwhile, officials in the Russian government said that Moscow is not currently considering any changes in the mechanism used to set export duties on crude oil, the Russian news agency said. The denial came after Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko had suggested that a change might be in the offing. PG

RUSSIA EXPECTS $57.2 BILLION EXPORT SURPLUS IN 2000

Russia's Ministry of Economic Development and Trade has announced that Moscow expects a trade surplus of $57.2 billion this year, if unofficial trade is not included, Interfax reported on 28 July. If unofficial trade is included, the positive balance will be approximately $49 billion, the ministry said. Both figures are up from their 1999 counterparts, $41.9 billion and $34.3 billion, respectively. The ministry added that both exports and imports have increased over the corresponding period last year. PG

RUSSIA SEEKS FUNDING FOR PORTS BYPASSING BALTIC STATES

Russian Transportation Minister Sergei Frank and Leningrad Governor Valerii Serdyukov met on 28 July to discuss how to fund the construction of Baltic Sea ports that would allow Russian exporters to bypass the Baltic countries, Interfax- Northwest reported 29 July. Frank indicated that Moscow would increase its backing for the project if "construction proves efficient." PG

TATAR OIL COMPANY TO OPEN OFFICE IN MONGOLIA

Tatneft announced on 30 July that it plans to open an office in Ulan- Bator, Interfax reported. The company seeks to participate in geological prospecting in the southern region of that country. Tatneft currently maintains offices in Iran and Iraq. PG

MORE RUSSIAN SHIPS MAY BE IMPOUNDED

Switzerland's Noga company will seek to impound three Russian sailing ships in mid-August when the vessels arrive in Amsterdam, Interfax reported on 28 July. A Swedish arbitration court has declared that Noga can seize the vessels to recover what the Russian government has failed to pay the company. Last week, following the release of the Russian tall ship "Sedov," a lawyer for Noga said the company will "seize" Putin's plane when the Russian president arrives in France in October for an EU meeting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 2000). PG

PUTIN EMERGES AS PATRON OF THE MOVIES

Attending the closing ceremony of the Moscow International Film Festival on 29 July, President Putin promised that funds will be allocated in future budgets to assist Russia's ailing movie industry. "The more we devote to the arts, the more we invest in the moral aspects of existence, then the more effectively they will reflect on our material life," Reuters quoted Putin as saying. JC

HEAD OF PERFORMING ARTS ACADEMY SHOT DEAD

Sergei Isaev, head of the Russian Academy for the Performing Arts, was shot dead at his dacha outside Moscow early on 29 July. According to NTV, Isaev was shot five times from outside one of the windows of his dacha. Police have said the motive for the shooting is unknown, but they have not ruled out that Isaev was the victim of a contract killing. JC




NATO OFFICIAL WRAPS UP ARMENIA VISIT

NATO Deputy Secretary- General for Political Issues Klaus Peter Kleiber held talks in Yerevan on 28 July after talks with President Robert Kocharian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, Armenian agencies reported. Kleiber told journalists later that NATO intends to strengthen its ties and cooperation with Armenia. He said he discussed with Sarkisian plans for creating groups of Armenian troops to participate in international peacekeeping operations, according to Noyan Tapan. Kleiber also said "there is some optimism" that a settlement of the Karabakh conflict may soon be reached, adding that he understands that Armenia "is doing its best to establish peace" in the South Caucasus. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES ENERGY NETWORK PRIVATIZATION BILL IN FINAL READING

Deputies voted late on 28 July in the second and final reading to approve the government-proposed bill on the privatization of four energy networks, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Last-minute efforts by the opposition to block the bill proved fruitless. The number of deputies voting for and against the bill was virtually the same as in the first reading two days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 2000). LF

LAWYER OF FORMER KARABAKH DEFENSE MINISTER THREATENED

Police have begun round-the-clock surveillance of the Yerevan apartment of Zhudeks Shakarian, the lawyer of former Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan, after an anonymous telephone caller threatened violence against his daughter and grandchild, Noyan Tapan and "Hayastani Hanrapetutiun" reported on 29 July. The criminal case against Babayan, who is accused of masterminding the 22 March attempt to assassinate Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, is to be submitted to the court on 31 July. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION ADOPTS NEW ELECTION STATEMENT

Representatives of 16 opposition parties adopted a three- point statement in Baku on 28 July, Turan reported. They pledged to continue their efforts to persuade the authorities to amend the existing election legislation in line with OSCE recommendations; to boycott the 5 November parliamentary poll if such amendments are not made; and to cooperate more closely with electoral commissions to preclude falsification of the poll outcome. Also on 28 July, one of the six opposition representatives on the 18-member Central Electoral Commission told Turan they he and his colleagues will abandon their boycott of the commission's work in order 'to avoid possible legislative violations." The same day, 16 opposition parties proposed convening a joint rally on 5 August to pressure the authorities to ensure the poll is fair and to annul that article of the law that excludes parties not formally registered six months before the announcement of the poll date, AP reported. LF

AZERBAIJAN RELEASES LAST ARMENIAN POWS

Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry said on 28 July that the last two Armenian prisoners of war being held in Azerbaijan have been released, Turan and Reuters reported. Armenia has freed nine Azerbaijani prisoners in recent weeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 24 July 2000). LF

RUSSIA, GEORGIA HOLD MORE TALKS ON CLOSURE OF BASES

During a third round of inter-governmental talks in Moscow on 29 July, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov pledged that Russia will begin withdrawing troops and military hardware from its base at Vaziani, near Tbilisi, on 1 August in compliance with an agreement signed in Istanbul last year, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. The withdrawal will leave a maximum of 153 tanks, 241 armored vehicles, and 140 artillery systems in Georgia by the end of the year. Klebanov also said that the two sides also discussed the possible transformation of the Russian military base in Gudauta, Abkhazia, into a training and rehabilitation center for peacekeeping troops. A decision on that issue will be made by 1 July 2001, Klebanov said. LF

UN RENEWS MANDATE OF OBSERVERS IN GEORGIA

The UN Security Council on 28 July unanimously voted to extend for six months, until 31 January 2001, the mandate of the 102-strong UN observer force deployed in western Georgia, Reuters reported. But at the same time, Security Council members expressed concern at the lack of progress toward a political settlement of the Abkhaz conflict. LF

GEORGIAN, ABKHAZ PRESIDENTS DISCUSS POSSIBLE MEETING

Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba told journalists in Sukhum on 28 July that he has discussed by telephone with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze the possibility of a face-to- face meeting, but he did not say when such a meeting might take place, AP reported. Shevardnadze had said on 24 July that he is prepared to meet with Ardzinba (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2000). The two men last met in 1997, when Ardzinba travelled to Tbilisi with then Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov. Since the fall of that year, Shevardnadze has consistently said that he would meet with Ardzinba only to sign documents regulating specific aspects of the Abkhaz conflict, LF

DESTRUCTION OF NUCLEAR TESTING RANGE IN KAZAKHSTAN COMPLETED

The last remaining silos and related infrastructure of the Semipalatinsk nuclear testing range in eastern Kazakhstan were blow up on 29 July, Reuters and Interfax reported. The destruction marks the completion of a five-year U.S.-Kazakh program, which was funded by the U.S., to destroy Kazakhstan's nuclear testing potential after the country acceded to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty. Some 500 test explosions were conducted at Semipalatinsk between 1949 and 1989, leading to high levels of radiation and a concomitant increase in the incidence of cancer and congenital deformities among the local population. LF

CHINESE VICE PRESIDENT VISITS KAZAKHSTAN

Hu Jintao met in Astana on 28 July with Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev to discuss economic cooperation and combating terrorism and religious extremism, Reuters reported. Kazakhstan offered to begin exporting electricity to China and extended an invitation to Kazakhs in China to settle in Kazakhstan. Toqaev told journalists both sides positively assessed bilateral relations. He stressed the importance to Kazakhstan's security of continued cooperation with China. Meeting later that day in Astana, Hu and Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev reaffirmed their shared commitment to plans to build a 3,000-kilometer pipeline to export oil from western Kazakhstan to China, Reuters quoted Foreign Minister Yerlan Idrisov as saying (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2000). LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT CONTINUES RUSSIAN VISIT

Askar Akaev on 28 July bestowed Kyrgyzstan's highest award on Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev in acknowledgement of the Russian military's assistance in expelling Islamist militants from Kyrgyzstan last fall, ITAR-TASS reported. Akaev professed his satisfaction with military cooperation with Russia both at the bilateral level and within the framework of the CIS Collective Security Treaty. Akaev also met the same day with Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov to discuss the possible production by enterprises subordinate to that ministry of equipment to protect Kyrgyzstan's borders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2000). Akaev then flew to Yekaterinburg for talks with Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel on expanding bilateral trade and economic relations. He also opened a Kyrgyz consulate in that Russian city. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT AGAIN HIGHLIGHTS AFGHAN THREAT

In an interview with "Narodnaya gazeta" on 28 July, Imomali Rakhmonov warned that "as long as the conflict in Afghanistan is not resolved, there can be no stable system of security in Central Asia." Rakhmonov also stressed the importance to his country of its "strategic partnership" with Russia, adding that the two countries' political and economic interests coincide in Central Asia and throughout the former USSR. LF

TURKMENISTAN'S PRESIDENT FIRES FOREIGN MINISTER

Saparmurat Niyazov on 28 July dismissed Boris Shikhmuradov from his post as foreign minister for "shortcomings and mismanagement," RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported. Shikhmuradov's successor is his first deputy, Batyr Berdyev, who had held that post for less than one month. Shikhmuradov, whom one exiled former Turkmen official has characterized as one of a very few intelligent and capable Turkmen government officials, has been appointed head of the Turkmen Institute of Sport and Tourism and ambassador-at-large, according to Reuters (see also "End Note" below). LF

UZBEKISTAN SOLICITS RUSSIAN AID TO EXTINGUISH CHEMICAL PLANT FIRE

The Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations sent fire-fighting equipment to Uzbekistan on 28 July in response to a request from Tashkent to help douse a fire caused by the ignition of gas tanks following an explosion at a chemical plant in Karshi, southwest of Samarkand, the previous day, dpa and ITAR-TASS reported. No details of casualties have been released. LF




ALL-BELARUSIAN CONGRESS CALLS FOR INDEPENDENCE TO BE DEFENDED

More than 1,500 delegates from throughout Belarus convened in Minsk on 29 July to warn against the threat of loss of independence as a result of the 8 December 1999 treaty to form a union state with Russia. The congress adopted an Independence Act that declares "independence and state sovereignty an essential value for the Belarusian people" and denounces as illegal "any agreements or measures aimed at eliminating or abridging Belarus's sovereignty," Belapan reported. The act calls on Belarusians at home and abroad to defend national independence and urges democratic parliaments, governments, and international organizations to help maintain Belarus's sovereignty. Delegate Vyacheslau Herasimenka told Belapan that the All-Belarusian Congress "offers the only legal way out of [the regime's surrender of independence to Russia] because it represents all strata of the Belarusian people." JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT INVITES FOREIGN OBSERVERS TO ELECTIONS

Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 28 July that the authorities want foreign observers to be present at the 15 October parliamentary elections in Belarus, Belarusian Television reported. "If they come--thanks, it will be good. If they don't, the elections will take place all the same," Lukashenka added. He said the authorities are not interested in "falsified elections" and pledged to give foreign observers "full access to the electoral process." Lukashenka noted that "we are holding these elections not for the West or the United States but for ourselves," adding that the ballot is "only a dress rehearsal" for the presidential elections due next year. JM

UKRAINE, RUSSIA MARK NAVY DAY IN SEVASTOPOL

The Russian and Ukrainian fleets on 30 July marked Navy Day in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol. The celebration was attended by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, former Russian Prime Ministers Yevgenii Primakov and Viktor Chernomyrdin, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, and Russian and Ukrainian admirals. Navy Day is celebrated on the last Sunday in July in Russia and on 1 August in Ukraine. Kuchma said he participated in the celebration to "reaffirm Ukraine's course toward constructive, peaceful, and friendly measures with regard to Russia," AP reported. JM

MOSCOW MAYOR WANTS UKRAINE-RUSSIA BRIDGE OVER KERCH STRAIT

During his visit to Sevastopol, Luzhkov signed a cooperation agreement with the Crimean authorities that provides for expanding Russian tourism to Crimea and boosting cultural exchanges and various joint business projects. In a separate document, Luzhkov and the Crimean authorities set up a company to build a railroad and automobile bridge over the Kerch Strait, which separates Crimea from Russia and is only some 6 kilometers wide at its narrowest point. JM

ESTONIAN POLITICIAN ACCUSES ALBRIGHT OF MEDDLING

Former parliamentary speaker Ulo Nugis has accused U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright of meddling in Estonian affairs. Nugis said that the letter from Albright to Prime Minister Mart Laar thanking him for dealing with the planned sale of a minority stake of Estonia's main power plants to U.S. company NRG Energy was unheard of and incomprehensible, ETA reported. Nugis added that "this is a sufficient sign for us to have second thoughts." His comment comes as a growing number of opposition politicians have voiced anti-U.S. sentiments in opposition to the NRG deal. MH

THREE POPULAR INITIATIVES REGISTERED IN LITHUANIA

The Lithuanian Central Electoral Commission registered three popular initiatives on 28 July. Those initiatives, sponsored by the opposition Social Democrats and Labor Democrats (LDDP), call for the reduction of value-added tax on heating, raising the minimum tax-free income, and preventing the privatization of strategic state-owned companies, BNS reported. If 50,000 individuals sign the petitions within two months, bills on these three issues will go to the parliament. However, the electoral commission said that if enough signatures are gathered, the bills will go to the house only after a new parliament convenes after the October general elections. MH

LATVIAN PRESIDENT SAYS RUSSIA MUST 'ACCEPT REALITY'

Addressing a discussion panel at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague on 28 July, Vaira Vike-Freiberga said she is confident her country will join NATO, adding that Russia "will simply have to accept reality." Vike-Freiberga said her country's aim of integration into NATO and the EU stems from its being a European country, and she remarked that "it does not matter one bit who is sitting in the Kremlin." The media in her country, she argued, are "distorting reality" when reporting on relations between the ethnic majority and the large Russian minority in connection with the controversy over Latvia's language law. MS

LITHUANIAN GDP RISES SLIGHTLY IN SECOND QUARTER

The Lithuanian Statistics Department on 28 July announced that the country's GDP grew by only 0.2 percent in the second quarter of this year, compared to the same period in 1999, ELTA reported. In the first half of 2000, GDP grew by a total of 2 percent. The previous week, the central bank had upped its forecast for 2000 to 3.1 percent. In the second quarter of 1999, GDP dropped by 1.4 percent. MH

KAUNAS HEATING DEAL APPEARS TO HAVE STALLED

ELTA reported on 28 July that preliminary talks between the city of Kaunas and French energy concern Dalkia on leasing the city's heating facilities have collapsed. Kaunas negotiators are reported to have believed there was no point beginning official talks since Dalkia was offering only a $123 million investment plan. The issue will be decided by the Kaunas City Council. Similar talks to lease Kauno Energija to Sweden's Vattenfall failed to yield results earlier this year. MH

POLAND, RUSSIA UNVEIL MEMORIAL AT KATYN MASSACRE SITE

Polish Premier Jerzy Buzek and Deputy Russian Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko on 28 July attended the opening of a memorial cemetery at Katyn (in Russia's Smolensk Oblast), where in 1940 the Soviet NKVD executed some 4,500 Polish officers taken prisoner the previous year. Buzek called for reconciliation between the two nations. He acknowledged that a whole generation of Poles regard Katyn as a symbol of genocide but stressed that "today we have a great chance to create a common history without hate and lies," dpa reported. Khristenko noted that although tragedies divide nations, "they can also unite them." The ceremony was attended by some 800 relatives of the slain officers. JM

SLOVAKIA TO BECOME OECD MEMBER

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development announced on 28 July that it will invite Slovakia to become its 30th member, AP reported. The OECD said the agreement on the terms of accession will be signed by a representative of the Slovak government and OECD Secretary General Donald Johnston at a date yet to be set; until that time, Slovakia will participate "as an observer" in the work of the organization. Johnston said the decision signals the "completion of the program of Partners in Transition that the OECD initiated in 1991 to assist Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia to transform their economies into market-based systems, so that they would be ready to join the OECD community." MS

FORMER HUNGARIAN PREMIER INVOLVED IN ILLICIT OIL DEALS?

Zsolt Nogradi, the chief witness in the alleged illicit oil deals now under investigation by a special parliamentary commission, told the private RTL Klub television on 30 July channel that former Prime Minister Peter Boross was among the officials involved in those deals. Nogradi said Boross, who at the time was interior minister in Jozsef Antall's cabinet, had secured for his son advantageous deals with state oil companies. Also mentioned as involved in the oil deals were deputies Ivan Petoe of the Free Democratic Party and Sandor Csintalan of the Socialist Party. Petoe responded that he and his lawyer will study the program before deciding what action to take. MS




KFOR BOOSTS SECURITY ON KOSOVA-PRESEVO BORDER

NATO peacekeepers in Kosova have increased security along the border between Kosova and southwestern Serbia "because of a rise in violence in Serbia's Presevo Valley," Reuters reported on 31 July. U.S. Captain Tom Hairgrove said that the ethnic Albanian Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac Liberation Army (UCPMB) has recently "been carrying out an increased amount of patrolling" and taking mortars across the border into Serbia. There has been "a general overall increase in military operations in the area, all on [the Serbian] side of the provincial boundary," he said. Hairgrove noted that he can hear "gunfire on the other side of the ridge [in Serbia and] explosions on the other side of the ridge. It would all be a guess to what it was," he added. Serbian state-run media have recently reported an increase in violence in the Presevo valley. There is little information available from independent sources on developments in the region. PM

PRESEVO ALBANIANS TO MIGRATE?

The Political Council of Albanians from Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac said in a statement in Prishtina on 29 July that repressive measures by Serbian police and troops are increasing in the run-up to the Yugoslav elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The council warned that the Albanians may soon be left with the choice of having either "to confront police violence and abuse" or else to leave. The council did not specify where the Albanians would go, but presumably it meant Kosova. The council called for the "direct engagement of the international community" to end tensions in the area. Reuters reported on 31 July that local residents say they "would have to flee" if the UCPMB were not present to protect them from Serbian forces. PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION APPEALS TO MONTENEGRO

Representatives of all leading Serbian opposition groups--except Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement--agreed in Belgrade on 29 July that they will take part in the 24 September elections on a joint slate, including a joint candidate for president. It is not yet clear who that person will be, but most media reports suggest it will be the Democratic Party of Serbia's Vojislav Kostunica, whom a recent poll suggested would win 42 percent of the vote, compared with 28 percent for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, Reuters reported. Kostunica stressed that the opposition can win "only with a massive turnout by all citizens," AP reported. Vladan Batic of the Alliance for Change appealed to the Montenegrin leadership to give up their plans to boycott the vote. "If we stay together, that will be [Milosevic's] end. By toppling Milosevic, the entire power structure will come down," he said in a message to Podgorica. PM

MONTNEGRIN AUTHORITIES FIRM ON BOYCOTT

Foreign Minister Branko Lukovac has said the Montenegrin authorities will not take part in the elections "under the existing conditions" resulting from Milosevic's new electoral legislation, Montena-fax reported on 30 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2000). In Podgorica the previous day, representatives of Montenegro's two leading ethnic Albanian political parties-- the Democratic League and the Democratic Union of Albanians-- said in a statement that they will also boycott the elections. But the pro-Milosevic Socialist People's Party (SNP) of Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic said that it will take part in the vote. The SNP endorsed the presidential candidacy of Milosevic, whom the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) nominated on 28 July. Representatives of the SNP and the governing Democratic Party of Socialists will discuss the elections in mid-August, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 31 July. PM

MILOSEVIC'S PARTY GEARS UP FOR YUGOSLAV CAMPAIGN

Speaking in Kikinda on 29 July, SPS General-Secretary Gorica Gajevic called the Serbian opposition people "who ran away from the defense of the country" during the 1999 conflict, when NATO intervened to stop the crackdown in Kosova. The party accused the opposition of trying to justify NATO's "crimes," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. She said that the elections will be a "popular referendum for the defense of freedom and national independence." PM

YUGOSLAV AIRFORCE LOOKING FOR 'SURGICAL STRIKE' CAPACITY?

Military commentator Miroslav Lazanski wrote in "Vecernje novosti" of 30 July that one lesson of the 1999 conflict may be that Belgrade needs to upgrade its airforce so that it can carry out "micro-surgical precision strikes against important targets in neighboring countries." Such a capability by the Yugoslav airforce would help deter the country's neighbors from making their airspace and military facilities available to NATO, according to Lazanski. PM

MONTENEGRO WARNS YUGOSLAV NAVY TRYING TO CREATE INCIDENT

The Montenegrin Interior Ministry said in a statement on 31 July that a Yugoslav navy ship tried recently to "provoke an incident at the sea" with an Italian craft and put the blame for it on a Montenegrin police patrol boat, Montena-fax reported. The previous day, the Yugoslav Navy said in a statement that only the navy has the right to deal with traffic across international borders at sea. PM

SYDNEY OLYMPICS TO BE YUGOSLAVIA'S LAST?

Rade Djurdjic, who heads the Montenegrin Olympic Committee, said in Podgorica on 30 July that Montenegro will soon seek approval from the International Olympic Committee to participate in all games after the 2000 Olympics as a separate team under its own flag and not as part of a Yugoslav team, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

CROATIAN PREMIER PLEDGES HELP FOR MOSTAR

Ivica Racan visited Muslim and Croatian communities in Mostar on 28 July. He pledged that Croatia will work with the World Bank to help restore the historical Mostar bridge, which Croatian gunners destroyed in 1993. Racan also pledged help in cleaning up the Neretva River, which flows through Herzegovina into Croatia and the Adriatic. PM

CROATIA'S IMPORTANT TOURIST INDUSTRY ON THE MEND

More than 1 million tourists have visited Croatia so far during the 2000 tourist season, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 29 July. This is double the number reported in 1999, when the conflict in Kosova prompted many foreign visitors to stay away from the region. PM

HERZEGOVINIAN HDZ TO PRESS FOR 'NEW STATE STRUCTURE'

Ante Jelavic, who heads the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) in Bosnia-Herzegovina, said in Mostar on 29 July that his party considers the 1995 Dayton peace agreement outdated, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He added that the HDZ will work to "restructure" the state based on the recent Constitutional Court ruling that Muslims, Serbs, and Croats must be fully equal throughout the country. Observers note that the HDZ has long sought to redivide Bosnia into separate Muslim, Serbian, and Croatian entities. The international community has made it clear repeatedly that it supports the continuation of the Croatian-Muslim federation. PM

BOSNIAN MUSLIMS DEMAND RIGHT TO GO HOME

Some 3,000 Muslim displaced persons demonstrated in Tuzla on 29 July to be able to go back to their homes in the Republika Srpska. Some of the protesters told AP that they may use force in order to do so. PM

PETRITSCH SACKS TWO BOSNIAN MUSLIM OFFICIALS

The international community's High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch has sacked Bosnian Federal Agriculture Minister Ahmed Smajic and tax administration chief Ramiz Dzaferovic for "impeding reforms" in the economy. PM

ALBANIA TO VOTE ON 1 OCTOBER

President Rexhep Meidani announced on 28 July that local elections will take place on 1 October. The ballot is widely seen as a barometer in the run-up to the legislative and presidential elections expected in 2001. PM

ROMANIA'S LIBERALS SAY STOLOJAN AGREES TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT

National Liberal Party (PNL) leader Mircea Ionescu-Quintus told the weekly "Ziarul financiar" on 30 July that former Premier Theodor Stolojan has agreed to be the PNL's candidate in the presidential elections. The next day, Romanian Radio quoted Ionescu-Quintus as saying the PNL will participate in a meeting scheduled for 31 July with the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) but will "set a number of conditions" for their cooperation, including the PNTCD's ceasing to back incumbent Premier Mugur Isarescu for the presidency. On 28 July, Senator Constantin Ticu Dumitrescu said the political parties of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) can expect "quite a few surprises" if they do not reach an agreement that satisfy the civic organizations represented in the CDR. MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER DROPS 'HEAVY HINTS' TO ROMANIA

While Hungary is backing Romania's accession to NATO, the further expansion of the alliance "is not on the agenda" of the organization at present, Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban told the annual Balvanyos summer university at Baile Tusnad on 30 July. Only countries that are NATO members can convince other members that the organization's expansion is important, Orban said. He also said the 1996 elections in Romania marked a "turning point" because after that date the "anti-Hungarian atmosphere in Romania no longer originated from the government itself." Orban said Hungary continues to regard the Hungarian minority's demand for a state-financed university offering Hungarian-language instruction as legitimate. Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi, who also attended the Balvanyos meeting, held informal talks on 28 July with his Romanian counterpart, Petre Roman in Sfintu Gheorghe. MS

ROMANIAN NUCLEAR PLANT SWITCHED OFF OWING TO TECHNICAL FAILURE

The Cernavoda nuclear plant was switched off on 30 July to a "technical failure in the nuclear fuel loading system," Romanian Television reported. Authorities said the failure posed no danger to the population and that repairs will last about one week. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT MEETS PUTIN

President Petru Lucinschi was in Moscow on 28 July for an "informal meeting" with Russian President Vladimir Putin, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported, citing the Moldovan presidential office. At that meeting, Lucinschi proposed that Russia, Ukraine, the OSCE, and the Council of Europe draw up a joint plan for the coordination of the Russian troop withdrawal from the Transdniester. Before his departure from Chisinau, Lucinschi had set up a Commission for Coordinating State Policies in the Transdniester. That body is headed by Vasile Sturza, presidential representative to the negotiations with the separatists, and includes several deputy ministers. The decision to set up the commission comes on the heels of the recent setting up of state committees in Russia and Ukraine for advancing the Transdniester negotiations. MS

BULGARIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S APARTMENT BUGGED

Listening devices were discovered in the apartment of Nikola Filichev on 28 July, BTA reported, citing the prosecutor-general's press office. The office said that the devices were planted by the Interior Ministry's Criminal Intelligence Service and that the service's former chief, Colonel Svetozar Spasov, has been detained, together with retired Colonel Plamen Arsov. Spasov was deputy director of the National Service for Organized Crime since he left the Criminal Intelligence Service. However, Interior Minister Emanuil Yordanov was cited on 29 July by AP as saying that the devices may have been planted by the communist secret police before 1990. Four other apartments in the same building, which houses mainly foreign diplomats, were also found to be bugged, including one now rented to a Socialist Party deputy and one to another prosecutor. An investigation has been launched. MS




A DIPLOMATIC SIGNAL


by Paul Goble

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's decision to dismiss his long-time foreign minister suggests that Ashgabat may have decided to turn away from the West and back toward Moscow.

Niyazov on 28 July fired Boris Shikhmuradov, who had been his foreign minister since 1993. The Turkmen president gave no reason for the firing, although a few days earlier he had criticized Shikhmuradov, who is half Armenian, for a weak knowledge of the country's national language.

But few observers believe that Shikhmuradov's linguistic competence dictated his fate, and instead many see his departure as a diplomatic signal of a fundamental shift in Turkmenistan's foreign policy rather than a simple change of leadership in the country's Foreign Ministry.

There are three reasons for drawing that conclusion. First, Shikhmuradov himself had been a survivor. In a government marked by frequent and often inexplicable changes in ministerial portfolios, he had retained his position longer than anyone else. His ability to survive for so long in a regime where envy and suspicion play such an enormous role among the entourage of Niyazov suggests he was removed less for personal or domestic policy reasons than for foreign policy ones.

Second, Shikhmuradov's successor is almost as different a diplomat as could be imagined. Shikhmuradov, 50, is an urbane English speaker who has extensive ties to Europe and the U.S. and has promoted the idea of a trans-Caspian pipeline to export Turkmenistan's natural gas to the West. His replacement, on the other hand, is a career diplomat with much closer ties to Moscow and to Tehran and to the pro-Iran faction within the Turkmen political elite. Indeed, despite his position as first deputy to Shikhmuradov, Batyr Berdyev has played only a marginal role in pipeline talks.

Consequently, Berdyev's appointment gives Niyazov even greater freedom of movement in the coming months, allowing him to blame Shikhmuradov for past policies and offering the chance to present a new face in talks with governments that viewed Shikhmuradov as too pro-Western.

Third, Shikhmuradov's departure comes at a time when Niyazov has appeared ever less happy with Western countries and ever more interested in pursuing ties with Moscow, Tehran, and Beijing. Niyazov has been increasingly upset by U.S. and European criticism of Turkmenistan's human rights record and his own dictatorial rule. He has indicated that he expected greater Western "understanding" of his approach because of Islamist threats and because of his country's enormous gas reserves.

And he has been even more upset about what he sees as the West's failure to deliver on pipeline plans. Earlier this year, Niyazov rejected proposals by the Western consortium created to undertake that project, one of whose members subsequently quit. Other Western firms are now also leaving Ashgabat.

At the same time, Niyazov has found a greater understanding for his less than democratic approach from governments in Moscow, Tehran, and Beijing and a greater willingness in all three places to purchase Turkmenistan's natural gas and thus provide him with the earnings he needs to keep his government in place.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Central Asia a few weeks ago, for example, he expressed his understanding of what he said was the tough approach the Central Asian regimes had taken to combat Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism.

Other Central Asian leaders quickly indicated their support for Putin's approach, thus tilting away from the West and toward Moscow. Now, Turkmenistan has done the same thing, not only sacking a pro-Western official but restarting gas deliveries to the Russian Federation as well. Moreover, in recent months, Ashgabat has stepped up its diplomatic and economic contacts with Iran and China in yet another indication of Niyazov's unhappiness with the West and his willingness to cooperate with regimes that his earlier foreign policy approach had precluded.

That shift in Ashgabat appears to have cost Shikhmuradov his job. But because his dismissal is part of a broader sea change across the Central Asian region, it may also be a diplomatic signal pointing to changes far beyond the borders of Turkmenistan.


XS
SM
MD
LG