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Newsline - August 21, 2000




DIVERS DISCOVER 'KURSK' SUBMARINE FLOODED

After opening a safety hatch on the "Kursk" submarine and discovering the vessel flooded on 21 August, Norwegian divers said they believe all of the 118 crew are dead. A spokesman for the Norwegian armed forces told Reuters that the "inner section is full of water." Interfax quoted Northern Fleet spokesman Vladimir Navrotskii as saying that the possibility of using a remote-controlled video camera to examine the ninth compartment of the submarine was being examined. Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov had been quoted as saying that it had been decided not to use the British LR5 submersible transported to the scene of the disaster because it would be unable to dock with the "Kursk." There had been conflicting statements by Russian and Norwegian officials about, among other things, the extent of the damage to the rear escape hatch. While Russian Navy spokesmen had said that a massive crack on the hatch would prevent the LR5 from docking with the submarine, Norwegian officials had maintained that the hatch was in "fair condition" and would allow for the docking to take place. JC

RUSSIAN NAVY ADMITTED WORST FEARS APPEARED CONFIRMED...

Even before the Anglo-Norwegian team arrived at the scene of the disaster at 10:30 p.m. CET on 19 August, the Russian Navy had said that there was virtually no chance that any of the "Kursk" crew members were still alive. Chief of the Northern Fleet Staff Mikhail Motsak told Russian Television that many crew members died immediately after the explosion destroyed the bow of the vessel. Klebanov said the next day that the submarine's front five or six compartments were flooded within seconds but that some crew members might have survived for a while in the back three compartments. Meanwhile, Klebanov on 20 August again suggested that possible causes of the "Kursk" disaster were a mine from World War II or a collision with a foreign submarine. AP quoted him as saying that there were up to three foreign submarines in the area when the "Kursk" sunk and that requests for information from foreign countries had not been met. He did not specify which countries had been contacted. JC

...AS PUTIN PLEDGED RESCUE OPERATION WOULD CONTINUE TILL 'LAST MINUTE'

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been strongly criticized for his handling of the "Kursk" disaster, said on 20 August that "until the last minute, we will do everything to save everyone who could be saved." Sounding a note of caution, however, he added that "regrettably, sometimes it's not us but circumstances that determine how the situation develops." "With sorrow in our hearts and, I do not exaggerate, tears in our eyes, we are following all that is happening in the Barents Sea," Putin remarked. Some Russian media have criticized the president for not interrupting his vacation in the wake of the disaster and for making no comment until several days after it occurred (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 2000). On 18 August, Putin cut a short a visit to Yalta where he attended a CIS summit meeting and held bilateral talks with several CIS leaders (see below). As a result of his decision to depart earlier than scheduled, the meeting of CIS heads was brought forward one day. JC

DOMESTIC POLITICAL LEADERS QUESTION PUTIN'S HANDLING OF SUBMARINE INCIDENT...

In an interview with NTV on 18 August on the "Kursk" submarine disaster, Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) faction leader Boris Nemtsov declared that the "behavior of [Russian] President [Vladimir Putin] in this situation is amoral." Nemtsov noted that Putin, "as supreme commander in chief," had "no right to rest in Sochi" while his subordinates were faced with such an awful situation. Nemtsov also criticized Putin for allowing foreigners "to render help too late" and for not paying sufficient attention to the relatives and families of the soldiers on the submarine. Nemtsov said "such callousness and lack of feeling" is "just awful." In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 18 August, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said that he believes Putin made "a serious mistake" in not travelling to the scene of the submarine catastrophe and suggested that Putin "was either misled or simply miscalculated." JAC

...WHILE OTHERS SLAM THE MILITARY

Other Duma deputies criticized the delay in asking for foreign assistance but refrained from criticizing Putin by name. State Duma deputy speaker (Yabloko) Vladimir Lukin blamed the "instinct of high secrecy" still characteristic of Russia, as "the usual official cover-up style of information was [executed at] all levels of the military command and political leadership." Vyacheslav Volodin, deputy leader of the "Fatherland-All Russia" faction, predicted that the submarine incident will undermine Russia's prestige and that of its political leadership. He added that Putin should reprimand the country's military leaders for the delay and poor organization of the rescue work. Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman (People's Deputy) Dmitrii Rogozin denied that any inappropriate delay had occurred and said that the rescue operation had not been properly covered in the media (see also "End Note" below). JAC

JOURNALISTS DEMAND EQUAL ACCESS TO 'KURSK' DISASTER SITE

The Russian Union of Journalists had issued a statement on 18 August protesting the decision to grant access to the site of the "Kursk" disaster only to a reporter and camera team from state-run Russian Television, "Vremya MN" reported the next day. The union said that it was "unacceptable and counterproductive to create an information blockade" and accused the authorities of "unfair competition." Since 17 August, RTR has been broadcasting live from the cruiser "Petr Velikii." Also on 18 August, the Murmansk edition of "Komsomolskaya pravda" published a list of the names of the crew on the "Kursk," saying it had paid a high-ranking naval officer 18,000 rubles ($649) for the classified document. The navy, which had come under strong criticism for not releasing the names earlier, said it had informed the relatives and saw no need to make the names public, "The Moscow Times" reported on 19 August. LUKoil and Vladimir Potanin's Interros Group are major shareholders in "Komsomolskaya pravda." JC

MORE THAN 50 PERCENT TURNOUT REPORTED IN CHECHEN DUMA BY- ELECTION

Chechen elections officials said on 21 August that more than 50 percent of the 495,000 registered voters participated in the previous day's ballot for a candidate for the Russian State Duma, ITAR-TASS reported. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov had told AFP the previous day that less than 5 percent of registered voters had participated in the poll. "It is impossible to organize democratic elections on territory occupied by enemy troops," he said. Chechen spokesman Movladi Udugov claimed that Chechen fighters had launched a total of 47 attacks on polling stations and other Russian posts. On 18 August, Duma election candidate Isa Ibragimov escaped uninjured when a bomb exploded outside his home in Gudermes. LF

RUSSIAN DELEGATION FLIES INTO BAGHDAD

A 35-strong Russian delegation led by Deputy Emergencies Minister Ruslan Tsalikov arrived at Baghdad airport on 19 August on an airplane reported to be carrying 3.5 tons of humanitarian aid, including baby food, medicine, and medical equipment. AP quoted Tsalikov as telling journalists that the Russian delegation is on a "humanitarian mission so we do not need approval for the permission to fly into Iraq," an allusion to the UN Security Council resolution banning flights to and from Iraq. ITAR-TASS reported on 21 August that the previous day, the Russian Ministry of Emergencies and the Iraqi Interior Ministry signed a memorandum of understanding on civil defense and disaster prevention, including Russian assistance in the setting up of a mine-clearing center in Iraq. Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu was to have headed the delegation to Iraq but canceled his participation in the wake of the "Kursk" submarine disaster. JC

PUTIN MEETS WITH SELECTED FELLOW CIS PRESIDENTS

President Putin arrived later than expected in Yalta on 18 August because of extended talks in Sochi with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 19 August. Putin met again in Yalta with both Rakhmonov and Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev to discuss the fighting in southern Kyrgyzstan. He also held a 30-minute meeting with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev and assured Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze that Moscow will do its best to help resolve the Abkhaz conflict. In his traditional Monday radio broadcast on 21 August, Shevardnadze said Putin had noted that "special talks" should be held on the closure of the Russian military base in Gudauta, given the base's importance for the ongoing CIS peacekeeping operation in Abkhazia, according to Caucasus Press. Russia is obliged to vacate that base by 30 June 2001. The anticipated meeting between Putin and the presidents of the three South Caucasus states to discuss the various proposals for a South Caucasus security pact did not take place, "Vremya MN" noted on 19 August. LF

NTV COMPLAINS POLITICAL PRESSURE CONTINUES

In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 18 August, NTV Director-General and anchorman Yevgenii Kiselev asserted that pressure from government authorities on Gazprom has caused talks between the gas monopoly and Media-MOST on the latter's debt to the former to collapse. Kiselev also denied that talks are under way to sell NTV; however, the daily reported the same day that Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii is consulting with his lawyers in London on 17 August about the sale of his controlling packet of shares in the Media-MOST holding company. Gazprom-Media head Alfred Kokh was also reportedly in London to consult with Gusinskii's lawyers. Media-MOST owes Gazprom some $486 million. Gusinskii rival Boris Berezovskii owns a controlling interest in "Kommersant- Daily." JAC

BUSINESSES INCREASINGLY TURN TO COURTS TO SOLVE DISPUTES WITH BUREAUCRATS...

According to Supreme Arbitration Court head Veniamin Yakovlev, businesses and state agencies are increasingly sorting out their disputes through the courts, "The Moscow Times" reported on 19 August. Yakovlev recently told reporters that the number of businesses suing other businesses has increased by 20-30 percent every year, while the number of law suits between businesses and government agencies has increased by 70-80 percent." Yakovlev said that five years ago, almost all cases heard in district arbitration courts were law suits between businesses, but he added that law suits between businesses and government agencies may soon outnumber civic cases. According to the judge, last year the ratio of such cases was 54 to 46. JAC

...AS JUDGES FACE NEW TYPES OF PRESSURE

Yakovlev added that the court system is under strain from the growing number of law suits. Judges are not only underpaid and overworked but are also threatened, beaten, and killed. According to Yakovlev's office, two judges were killed in 1998, one in St. Petersburg and one in Astrakhan, while four other judges have been severely beaten in the past five years. JAC

NO SUSPECTS OR ARRESTS IN MOSCOW BOMBING CASE SO FAR

Moscow hospitals continue to treat 19 victims of the 8 August blast near the Pushkinskaya metro station, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 August. Nine of the 19 are listed in a serious condition. Twelve people have died so far from the blast. On 18 August, a spokesperson for the Prosecutor-General's Office said that so far no suspects have been detained in the investigation into the bombing, "The Moscow Times" reported. Earlier, Interfax and other Russian media reported that two suspects have been detained. JAC

COMMISSION TO MULL CHANGES TO ELECTION LAW

In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 August, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov declared that he opposes the legislation on political parties drafted by the pro-Kremlin Unity party. Under the draft legislation, parties would need to attract more than 7 percent rather than 5 percent of the popular vote in order to have State Duma members selected from party lists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 2000). Veshnyakov suggested that any problems with how government officials are elected in Russia should be addressed within the context of changes to existing legislation on elections. He added that on 14-15 September the commission is planning a conference at which possible amendments to the election law will be discussed. JAC

ONE SMALL PAW FORWARD, ONE GIANT LEAP FOR RUSSIAN SPACE PROGRAM

Russia on 19 August marked the 40th anniversary of its first round-trip canine space launch, ITAR-TASS reported. In 1960, dog-cosmonauts Belka and Strelka became the first canines to fly around the Earth and return alive. Three years earlier, their colleague, Laika, had also been launched into space but there were no landing space crafts at that time. As had been expected, she and her capsule did not survive the mission. According to the agency, one of Strelka's puppies, Pushka, was later given to then U.S. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy at the request of the Soviet leader at that time, Nikita Khrushchev. JAC




ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTS MEET

Robert Kocharian and Heidar Aliyev met in Yalta on 18 August on the sidelines of the informal CIS summit to continue their talks on approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict, Turan and Noyan Tapan reported. The two presidents told journalists after their meeting that they will continue talks, but they admitted that it will not be easy to reach an agreement, which, they said, will require concessions from both sides. Turan quoted Kocharian as arguing that establishing economic cooperation would facilitate a political settlement of the conflict but as expressing understanding for Azerbaijan's insistence that a political solution must precede such cooperation. LF

PLANE HIJACKING THWARTED IN AZERBAIJAN

The crew of an Azerbaijani Airlines plane en route to Baku from Nakhichevan on 18 August overpowered a man who produced a Molotov cocktail and demanded that the flight be diverted to Turkey. Mekhti Guseynli, who is a former head of the Nakhichevan branch of the opposition Musavat party, said he wanted to visit former President Abulfaz Elchibey, who is undergoing hospital treatment in Ankara. He also demanded changes to the Azerbaijani and Nakhichevan election laws and the postponement until 15 December of the parliamentary poll scheduled for 5 November. Those demands were made in a telephone call to the editor of the newspaper "Yeni Musavat." On 19 August, the newspaper's editor, Rauf Arifoglu, rejected a demand by investigators from the Prosecutor-General's Office to search the newspaper's Baku office for the tape, Turan reported. LF

AZERBAIJANI COURT SHUTS DOWN INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER

Baku's Sabayil district court on 18 August ruled in favor of the suit brought by Information Minister Siruz Tebrizli to shut down the newspaper "Uch nogte," Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 18 August 2000). The media law allows the closure of any newspaper that loses three court cases within 12 months. "Uch nogte" editor Hoshgadam Idayatkyzy termed the verdict "groundless" and said she will appeal it. LF

FORMER ADMINISTRATOR DEMANDS AUTONOMY FOR GEORGIAN PROVINCE

Georgian parliamentary deputy Iveri Chelidze, who was recently replaced as President Eduard Shevardnadze's representative in the Kodori gorge in western Georgia, told Caucasus Press on 19 August that he believes the mountainous region of Svaneti should be granted autonomous status and subordinated directly to the president. Chelidze argued that the local authorities are incapable of controlling the situation in the region, which, he said, is a refuge for criminals. The Svans, who are an ethnic sub-group speaking a language related to, but distinct from, Georgian, have long had a reputation for lawlessness. A group of German tourists was recently shot at in Svaneti (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2000), and a 14-year-old boy was abducted in the region on 13 August. His abductors had demanded a ransom, initially naming a figure of $50,000 but later seeking $500,000. On 20 August, however, they released him in exchange for immunity from prosecution. LF

IMPLEMENTATION OF ABKHAZ PROTOCOL REVIEWED

Dieter Boden, who is the UN secretary-general's special representative for the Abkhaz conflict, and Georgian minister for special assignments Malkhaz Kakabadze attended a session in Sukhum on 19 August of the UN-sponsored Coordinating Council for Abkhazia's working group for security issues, Caucasus Press reported. Participants reviewed compliance by both sides with the protocol on non-aggression signed at a meeting of the Coordinating Council on 11 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2000). The two sides agreed to submit to the UN Observer Mission and the CIS peacekeeping force lists of their checkpoints in the safety zone along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia as well as lists of military personnel deployed within that zone. Under the 11 July, no more than 600 such personnel from each side can be stationed in that area. LF

ISLAMIC MILITANTS MAKE THIRD INCURSION INTO SOUTHERN KYRGYZSTAN

A third detachment of Islamist militants entered the Chon-Alai district of Osh Oblast in southern Kyrgyzstan early on 20 August and exchanged fire with Kyrgyz government troops, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. No fatalities were reported on either side. It was the first incursion by the militants this year into Osh Oblast, following two thwarted attacks earlier this month on Batken Oblast. Visiting Batken Oblast on 19 August together with Defense Minister Esen Topev and Security Council secretary General Bolot Djanuzakov, President Askar Akaev called for resolute action to repel the invaders, according to Interfax. Also on 19 August, Batken Oblast governor Mamat Aibalaev called for restricting access to the oblast by foreigners, who, he argued, could be taken hostage by the Islamist fighters. LF

CENTRAL ASIAN PRESIDENTS DISCUSS KYRGYZ FIGHTING

Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov, and Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov met with President Akaev in Bishkek on 20 August to discuss the fighting on Kyrgyzstan's southern border, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The four Central Asia presidents issued a joint declaration of readiness to cooperate in the fight against "terrorism." But in an allusion to Ivanov's proposal three months ago to launch air strikes against Taliban bases in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2000), they made clear that they oppose any preventive air strikes against the territory of other independent states. They also appealed to Russia to accede to the Tashkent agreement on combating terrorism and organized crime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2000) and to the UN Security Council to devote greater attention to security problems in Central Asia. LF

KYRGYZSTAN SUPREME COURT CHAIRMAN RESIGNS

President Akaev on 18 August issued a decree releasing Akynbek TilebAliyev as Supreme Court chairman "at his own request" on health grounds, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The government newspaper "Kyrgyz Tuursu" claimed several days earlier that TilebAliyev had exerted pressure on the presiding judge in the trial of former Vice President Feliks Kulov to acquit the latter. LF

KYRGYZ BUSINESSMEN APPEAL ON BEHALF OF ARRESTED COLLEAGUE

A group of 26 businessmen from Chu Oblast has written to President Akaev asking him to release from custody Jalgap Kazakbaev, the director of the Kara-Balta mining complex, provided that Kazakbaev gives a written pledge not to leave the country, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 19 August. Kazakbaev was arrested in June 1999 on charges of embezzlement. Protests against his arrest delayed a parliamentary session (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 1999). LF

MOSCOW SEEKS TO INCREASE PURCHASES OF TURKMEN GAS

Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev has asked Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov to sell Russia 8 billion cubic meters of natural gas in addition to the 20 billion cubic meters the two sides agreed on last December, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 1999). Turkmen government officials say, however, that the price offered by Moscow is too low. The price agreed on last year was $36 per 1,000 cubic meters. LF

BUREAUCRATS ON TURKMEN CAPITAL FORFEIT AUGUST SALARIES

President Niyazov last week issued a decree depriving Ashgabat Mayor Ashir Cherkezov and several other city officials of their August salaries for failing to ensure uninterrupted supplies of water and electricity to homes in the capital, "Kommersant" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 17 August. Their wages have been paid into the state budget. LF

UZBEK, LITHUANIAN BUSINESSMEN SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENT

Manufacturers from Uzbekistan and Lithuania have signed a cooperation agreement in Tashkent, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 17 August. The Lithuanian delegation suggested that Uzbekistan make greater use of the port of Klaipeda and proposed setting up joint ventures in the textile, food, and chemical sectors. LF




BELARUSIAN COMMUNISTS TO RUN IN LEGISLATIVE ELECTIONS

The Belarusian Communist Party announced at its congress in Minsk on 19 August that it will field 75 candidates in the 15 October elections to the 110-seat Chamber of Representatives, Belapan reported. The party claims to be in opposition to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Meanwhile, Central Electoral Commission chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna said the previous day that the 110 district commissions have registered 475 groups to collect signatures in support of candidates proposed by citizens. The registration of all candidates will be concluded on 4 September after political parties and workers' collectives provide lists of their candidates. JM

CIS LEADERS MEET IN YALTA

The presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, and Ukraine held a three-hour informal summit in Yalta on 18 August. After the meeting, Russian President Putin left Yalta the same day, saying that the drama of the Kursk submarine demands his attention in Russia (see Part I). The presidents of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan did not attend the summit because of the fighting in their countries with Islamic insurgents. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, who prefers bilateral to multilateral meetings, had said in late June that he would not attend (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2000). Ukrainian presidential spokesman Oleksandr Martynenko said the presidents discussed the improvement of economic relations in the CIS, according to Interfax. The summit adopted a statement supporting the process of globalization and stressing the role of regional integration in this process. JM

UKRAINE'S TYMOSHENKO SAYS RUSSIA TO RAISE GAS PRICE

Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko has said Russia is planning to sell gas to Ukraine for $103 per 1,000 cubic meters, Interfax reported on 19 August. "Russia is going to forbid the supply of gas to Ukraine for any structures, including Itera or other suppliers, create a state gas supply monopoly, and set the price of $103 per 1,000 cubic meters at the border with Ukraine. In fact, a monopoly is to be created to prevent the purchase of gas at market prices," Tymoshenko said. According to the deputy premier, Ukrainian gas consumers will not be able to buy gas at such a price and therefore Kyiv will have to switch to buying Turkmen gas. Tymoshenko recalled that she had negotiated the purchase of Turkmen gas at the price of $50 per 1,000 cubic meters at the Turkmen border. JM

POLICE CONTINUE TO INVESTIGATE RIGA EXPLOSIONS...

Latvian police continue to investigate two explosions at the "Centrs" shopping center on 17 August, as the number of people reported injured rose to 35, including three seriously, LETA and BNS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2000). President Vaira Vike-Freiberga called the bombings "cowardly and mean." National Police Chief Juris Reksna said that the explosive devices could not have been made by an amateur and that so far about 100 people have offered evidence in the case. Preliminary police information shows that the first blast contained about 1 kilogram of TNT and the second about 200-300 grams. Police are still considering various motives for the bombings, such as terrorism or a business dispute. No one has taken responsibility for the incident. MH

...PROMPTING INCREASED REGIONAL COOPERATION AGAINST TERRORISM

In his message of condolence to Latvian President Vike-Freiberga, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered Russian assistance in combating terrorism. Estonian Interior Minister Loodus pledged Estonian support in the Riga bombing investigation and also said that his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Rushailo, has requested Estonia's assistance in investigating the 8 August explosion in Moscow. Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius said there is an "urgent need for the Baltic states to unite in the campaign against terrorism and organized crime." MH

MASS MURDER SUSPECT CONFESSES IN LITHUANIA

Vladminiras Vladimirovas, a security guard with the company "Senukai" who had been suspected of shooting dead four other security guards, has confessed to murdering his colleagues in the company's Kaunas warehouse a week ago, ELTA reported. Ammunition, silencers, and personal items of the victims had been found at the home of the suspect. Investigators believe the motive was to seize his colleague's weapons, BNS added. MH

JEWISH ORGANIZATION PROTESTS DISCO NEAR AUSCHWITZ

The Simon Wiesenthal Center has strongly protested plans to open a discotheque close to the former Nazi concentration camp in Oswiecim (Auschwitz). "Young Poles are being encouraged to dance in the immediate vicinity of the largest Jewish graveyard in history. After 50 years, have we learned nothing?.... This is an obscenity which demands immediate intervention by the Polish government," the center said in a statement. Last week, the Oswiecim district authorities approved an application whereby a building used by the Nazis as a tannery from 1942-1945 will be converted into a discotheque, reversing an earlier decision not to grant permission for such a conversion. The Polish government has not yet commented on the Jewish organization's protest. JM

FORMER SOLIDARITY LEADER HOSPITALIZED FOR 'TESTS'

Lech Walesa was hospitalized last week for "diagnostic tests," PAP reported on 19 August, quoting Walesa's re-election team member Marek Gumowski. Meanwhile, Walesa told Polish Radio that his tests are connected with a malfunctioning thyroid. He noted that he feels well and expects to return home within a few days. However, Walesa's wife told PAP that her husband "has some problems with his heart." On 21 August, dpa reported that doctors have released Walesa from hospital, advising him "to take a few days rest." JM

DEPUTIES FROM GOVERNING CZECH PARTY CALL FOR CHANGES IN WAKE OF SCANDAL

Deputies from the ruling Social Democrats (CSSD) said on 18 August that Premier Milos Zeman must make some changes in his advisers' team in the waker of the "Operation Lead" scandal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2000), the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported. CSSD Deputy Michal Kraus said if the report about one Zeman adviser confirming that another of Zeman's advisers had authored the Operation Lead campaign is true, then "it is so scandalous that the premier should seriously consider whether his advisers...benefit the future of the CSSD." Social Democrat Deputy Karel Splichal said Zeman "should carry out a purge." Chamber of Deputies deputy chairwoman Petra Buzkova, the target of the operation, said it is in Zeman's interest "to return lost credibility to the office." PB

CZECH HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS AGREE WITH UN REPORT ON ROMA

The Prague-based Helsinki Citizens Assembly and the Movement for Civic Solidarity and Tolerance (HOST) said on 18 August that they welcome a statement issued in Geneva the previous day by the UN Committe on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which cited racial discrimination against Roma and urged governments in Central Europe to fight racism, CTK reported. HOST's Michal Horak said discrimination by employers in the Czech Republic persists, despite a Czech law passed last October that bans racial and other forms of discrimination in the workplace. Petra Tomaskova of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly pointed out that relevant legislation exists and that the main problem is the lack of "political will to prosecute discrimination cases and generally integrate Roma into society." PB

ETHNIC HUNGARIAN PARTY MIGHT PULL OUT OF SLOVAK COALITION

The chairman of the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), Bela Bugar, said on 18 August that the SMK might withdraw from Slovakia's four-party coalition government if the SMK's request for a self-governing region in southern Slovakia is not met, CTK reported. The SMK has proposed--as part of plans for administrative redistricting--the setting up of a Komarno district, which would have an ethnic-Hungarian majority. The daily "Novy Cas" said the SMK's demand has "turned the entire Slovak political scene upside down." It added that instead of accusing the SMK of blackmail, the coalition should realize that the ethnic Hungarian party has a right to "fulfill [its] election program." The SMK has 15 seats in the 150-strong parliament, and the coalition parties together have 92 seats. PB

SLOVAK POLICE CLOSE INVESTIGATION OF KOVAC JR. KIDNAPPING

Police announced on 18 August that the investigation into the August 1995 abduction of the son of then President Michal Kovac (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 1998) has been completed, the television station Markiza reported. The strictly confidential file of the investigation, which is some 5,000 pages long, was delivered along with a list of suspects to the Regional Prosecutor's Office in Bratislava. Twelve people have reportedly been accused in connection with the kidnapping, which is alleged to have been orchestrated by former Slovak Intelligence Service chief Ivan Lexa. Lexa has since fled the country. PB

HUNGARIAN PREMIER VISITS SCHUSTER

Viktor Orban went to Kosice on 18 August to visit with recovering Slovak President Rudolf Schuster, CTK reported. Schuster was in Austria for 48 days after Slovak doctors failed to correctly diagnose his condition. He said his recovery is going well and that he meets with people from the president's office every day. The president added that the fact that he survived is "a miracle" and that his faith in God pulled him through, saying "thanks to God I was born again." Orban was in Kosice for the opening of a Hungarian consulate-general (see below). PB

HUNGARY CELEBRATES 1,000 YEARS OF STATEHOOD

The Country Image Center of the Prime Minister's Office spent more than 765 million forints ($2.7 million) on the 20 August commemoration of the "Hungarian Millennium," which marks the 1,000th anniversary of the foundation of the Hungarian state. Leading representatives of the historical Christian Churches were also present at the ceremony, including Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I and Cardinal Angelo Sodano of the Vatican. Bartholomew announced that the Eastern Orthodox Church has recognized King Stephen, the founder of the first Hungarian state, as a saint. MSZ

HUNGARY OPENS CONSULATE IN KOSICE

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Slovak counterpart, Mikulas Dzurinda, opened a Hungarian consulate-general in Kosice, southern Slovakia, on 18 August. Orban said in his speech that Hungary advocates the policy of small steps toward progress in bilateral relations, Hungarian media reported. MSZ




MONTENEGRIN POLICE ARREST YUGOSLAV OFFICERS FOR HUMAN TRAFFICKING

Montenegrin police arrested two Yugoslav army officers near Budva on 19 August, the Podgorica daily "Vijesti" reported. The officers were driving a Yugoslav army van in which some 25 Chinese citizens were hidden. Police said that the officers intended to smuggle the Chinese to Italy, for which each Chinese had paid some $230, AP reported. The army is investigating the charges, Reuters reported from Belgrade on 21 August. There have been numerous reports in the Western press in recent months suggesting that Belgrade has become an important destination for Chinese seeking to enter Western Europe illegally. There are some 40,000 Chinese in Yugoslavia, most of whom are traders. PM

MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT: NO PARTICIPATION IN YUGOSLAV ELECTIONS

President Milo Djukanovic told "Vijesti" of 21 August that his Democratic Socialist Party (DPS) will not endorse any list of candidates put forward by the Serbian opposition for Montenegro in the 24 September elections. Djukanovic stressed that the DPS will not take part in the "electoral farce" in any form, adding that "self-respecting Montenegrins will not have any trouble finding more intelligent things to do." PM

GROWING FOREIGN CONCERN OVER SERBIAN REGIME'S DETAINEES

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office told "The Independent" of 21 August that the British authorities are investigating reports in the British press that the two Britons held for "terrorism" in Belgrade were tortured and beaten. In Belgrade, their court-appointed lawyer said that he knows nothing of the allegations. In The Hague, the government is considering breaking off diplomatic relations with Yugoslavia if the four Dutch men held in Belgrade do not receive a fair trial, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 21 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2000). Foreign Minister Jozias van Aartsen recently expressed anger that the Yugoslav authorities had placed the four "under pressure" in order to obtain a videotaped "confession" that they planned to kill or capture Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. PM

VIOLENT INCIDENTS CONTINUE IN KOSOVA

Unknown persons threw at least two grenades and injured nine children at an outdoor basketball court in Crkvena Vodica on 18 August. Angry Serbs shouted at nearby peacekeepers and beat a BBC reporter. A British NATO spokesman said the next day that "only terrorists" are capable of attacking innocent children. In Malisheva, an explosion took place at the offices of the moderate Democratic League of Kosova (LDK). This is the latest in an apparent series of violent measures by unknown persons against LDK offices and politicians in the runup to the 28 October local elections. PM

ARAB PEACEKEEPERS BAR KOSOVA SERBIAN ARCHBISHOP FROM CHURCH

Peacekeepers from the United Arab Emirates prevented moderate Serbian leader Archbishop Artemije from visiting the damaged St. Elias Church, north of Prishtina, AP reported on 19 August. The soldiers told Artemije that there is "no access" to the church. Artemije's office issued a statement that said: "In Christian Europe, where soldiers from a faraway Arab country are deployed, we are witnessing a merciless destruction of Christian Orthodox temples while some [people] express readiness that 50 new mosques be erected here, all under the protectorate of the UN mission and the [NATO-led] troops." The reference to the mosques alludes to recent press reports from Dubai that the U.A.E. is planning to finance the construction of 50 mosques in Kosova. PM

GERMAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS KOSOVA

Rudolf Scharping is slated to arrive in Prizren from Sarajevo on 21 August to visit German KFOR troops. In Sarajevo, the German Social Democratic minister met with Sarajevo's Social Democratic Mayor Muhidin Hamamdzic and Social Democratic leader Zlatko Lagumdzija. He did not meet officials from any of the nationalist parties, dpa reported. PM

BELGRADE'S BROADCASTER OFF AIR IN BOSNIA

Representatives of the international community in Sarajevo have confirmed that they shut down a transmitter near Bijeljina in eastern Bosnia, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 21 August. The 16 year-old transmitter was used to relay short-wave broadcasts of Radio Yugoslavia. PM

ALBANIA'S BERISHA TO SHUN OSCE MONITORS

Sali Berisha, who heads the opposition Democratic Party, told "Rilindja Demokratike" of 19 August that he does not consider OSCE election observers impartial and will not cooperate with them in the 1 October local elections. The OSCE plans to send about 150 observers to monitor the vote in a country where political life is highly polarized, dpa reported. OSCE spokesman Giovanni Porta told the news agency that "our sole interest is to ensure that vote in Albania is free and fair." PM

DENOUEMENT IN CROATIAN POLITICAL STANDOFF?

Social Liberal leader Drazen Budisa will discuss his recent public charges surrounding General Petar Stipetic with his coalition partners on 22 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 2000), "Jutarnji list" reported on 21 August. That daily, "Novi List," and "Slobodna Dalmacija" carry commentaries suggesting that Budisa's ego is responsible for causing unnecessary tensions in the coalition. PM

NINE DEAD IN CROATIAN HEAT WAVE

Some nine persons have died from the heat in recent days in the hottest weather to hit Croatia since 1950, dpa reported. No relief is in sight for Croatia or the rest of Central Europe. In related news, a specially equipped Czech helicopter with six-man crew left Prague for Macedonia on 20 August in response to a request from the Skopje authorities for help in fighting fires that have broken out during the heat wave, CTK reported. PM

MACEDONIAN POLITICAL LEADER HOSPITALIZED IN U.S.

Deputy Prime Minister Vasil Tupurkovski has undergone heart surgery in Washington, AP reported from Skopje on 18 August. He is reported to be feeling well and will soon resume his duties. PM

MACEDONIAN AUTHORITIES MAKE MARIJUANA HAUL

Macedonian police found some 100 kilograms of marijuana bound for Kosova in the truck of an ethnic Albanian driver from Macedonia during a "routine control" outside Skopje on 18 August. The marijuana came from Albania and has a street value of $46,000, AP reported. PM

ROMANIAN LIBERAL PARTY NOMINATES PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE

An extraordinary congress of the National Liberal Party (PNL) has approved Theodor Stolojan as the party's presidential candidate, Romanian media reported on 18 August. Although before the congress several PNL leaders had opposed Stolojan's nomination, there were only two votes against and three abstentions. First deputy chairman and Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica saw his position in the party strengthened after being named campaign manager. Stoica said the PNL still supports Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu to continue as premier after the elections, but he warned that this offer is valid only if Isarescu does not run for president. Finance Minister Decebal Traian Remes harshly attacked Stoica and stressed his support for Isarescu, but at the same time he refused to resign from the party. ZsM

BULGARIA EXPELS LITHUANIAN, RUSSIAN BUSINESSMEN

Bulgaria has ordered one Lithuanian and four Russian businessmen to leave the country for actions threatening national security and links to international crime organizations, BTA reported on 18 August. The five are banned from entering the country for 10 years. One of those banned--Michael Chorny, who is a shareholder in Mobiltel, Yukos Petroleum, Roseximbank, and Neftinvestbank--said he will appeal the decision and perhaps sue the head of the National Security Service, Antanas Atanassov, who signed the order. Chorny reportedly also holds Israeli and U.S. passports. PB

BULGARIA SEEKS WESTERN AID AFTER DEVASTATING FIRES

The Bulgarian government said on 18 August that it is seeking help from the EU and the U.S. to cover damage caused by more than 2,500 wild fires across the country this summer, Reuters reported. Six people died and 17 were injured in the blazes, which destroyed some 15,000 hectares of forests and farmland. Bulgaria seeks money from the EU to help in re-foresting projects and fire-fighting equipment from the U.S. PB




PUTIN TO FACE AUTUMN OF DISCONTENT


by Julie A. Corwin

As efforts to rescue the crew of the "Kursk" submarine are pronounced futile, a likely casualty of the underwater disaster is not only Russian President Vladimir Putin's long- term popular support but also his administration's legislative agenda. When legislators return to Moscow for the 11 September opening of the State Duma, they will probably return to an altered political landscape--one in which Putin's authority has been weakened and a lack of cooperation with the Kremlin may no longer be perceived as obstructionist.

Even before the "Kursk" disaster, Putin and his administration faced a daunting challenge in trying to push through a number of important bills during the Duma's fall session. Working with the Kremlin, State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev had put together an ambitious legislative agenda packed with landmark legislation, some of which has drifted between revision and rejection since the middle of his predecessor Boris Yeltsin's tenure. Most prominent among this new legislation is the Land Code. Other items on the Duma's agenda may prove no less controversial, such as the laws on the constitutional assembly, political parties, states of emergency, money-laundering, the pension system, the draft 2001 budget, the Customs Code, and the Labor Code.

Both during his election campaign and his first few months as president, Putin declared his desire to secure passage of some kind of bill establishing private property rights. Even at the height of his popularity, Putin would have had his work cut out for him. This month, Communist and Agrarian leaders appealed to Putin to support their version of the Land Code, which would severely restrict private land sales. Meanwhile, the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) has prepared its version of the bill that would impose only one condition on land sales: that agricultural land be used for agricultural purposes.

Even if the Kremlin manages to forge some kind of compromise between the opposing positions in the Duma, the bill must still be passed by the Federation Council. Members of that chamber have been in no mood to accommodate the Kremlin since it stripped them of their powers and privileges through passage of the bill reforming the Federation Council. An even more important motivation than revenge is some governors' long-held suspicion of private land sales. Many governors from agricultural areas share the fears of their Communist and Agrarian colleagues in the Duma. They worry that countryside will witness its own version of Chubais- style privatization as land is bought up for kopeks, leaving the country's farmers even more impoverished.

The draft 2001 budget will also be strongly contested-- if not in the Duma, then certainly in the Federation Council, whose members will seek to check the government's attempt to hold onto a larger chunk of tax revenues. Granted, federal budgets in Russia tend to be more of a guide to action--an outline of the government's intentions--rather than a blueprint for dispensing and collecting monies. Nevetheless, regional leaders have always taken the budget process seriously, and this year--more than ever--it is in those leaders' interest to prevent the trend toward recentralization of financial flows from gaining more momentum.

The law on the constititional assembly is another bill likely to be fought over. Administration officials and Duma deputies reportedly fundamentally disagree over the composition of the proposed assembly. According to "Novye izvestiya," one draft currently circulating stipulates 400 delegates should be sent to the assembly, including the president, Federation Council members, 100 Duma deputies, 100 lawyers and legal experts, as well as judges from the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court and Supreme Arbitration courts. The Kremlin, for its part, would prefer a much smaller group of one-third to one quarter that size.

Of course, controversial bills were also considered during the Duma's last session in the spring, and the Putin administration managed to score some impressive victories, gaining passage not only of all three of Putin's bills reforming the Russian Federation but also of a controversial tax reform package. However, passage of the administrative reforms was in the deputies' interest, since the legislation reduced the national political profile of the country's governors, thereby increasing the importance of members of the lower house. Passage of the second part of the Tax Code through both legislative branches, on the other hand, was a clean win for the Kremlin. Although that legislation was designed to ease the tax burden of both companies and individuals alike, it was also expected to impact negatively on the interests of several groups close to Russian legislators, trade unions, oil companies, tobacco and alcohol producers, and regional governments. In the end, not only did the bill pass but some Duma deputies managed to include the legislation features that the government was afraid to ask for.

But that was July, when the country was experiencing rare political unity--at least among many Moscow-based politicians. Come September, that unity may be frayed as Putin's fellow politicians, sensing his new weakness, try to challenge his authority. SPS leader Boris Nemtsov has already called Putin's conduct in the "Kursk" affair "immoral," and others are questioning his failure to manage the crisis and the military more effectively. Also, some legislators may simply decide that they no longer have sufficient incentive to forge a compromise on the Land Code, when so many special interests are threatened. A popular leader might have been able to explain to voters that some kind of legislation establishing property rights is essential to move the country's economy forward. The argument remains valid, but the question now is will anyone listen.


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