Accessibility links

Newsline - November 17, 2000




GAZPROM SAYS IT STILL WANTS TO MAKE PEACE WITH MEDIA-MOST...

After withdrawing his signature from an agreement with Media-MOST earlier this week, Gazprom-Media head Alfred Kokh told reporters on 16 November that he is urging the leaders of Media-MOST "to resume without delay" talks on settling the company's $211.6 million debt to Gazprom. Kokh explained that he pulled out of the previous agreement "following lengthy consultations with Gazprom's top leaders and with experts" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2000). Gazprom management, according to Kokh, demanded that Gazprom-Media secure additional guarantees that Media-MOST and its chief, Vladimir Gusinskii, will implement the terms of the agreement. Political leaders and analysts have suggested that government pressure on Kokh was another likely--if not the main--factor in the agreement's collapse. JAC

...AS ABRAMOVICH IS TOUTED AS REPLACEMENT FOR BEREZOVSKII AT ORT

"Segodnya," which is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-MOST Group, reported that rumors about Boris Berezovskii's sale of his share in Russian Public Television (ORT) to former Sibneft head Roman Abramovich are sweeping the State Duma's corridors. The daily admits that there is no proof that such a deal has occurred but goes on to argue at some length that Abramovich is an ideal person to replace Berezovskii as a part-owner of ORT. For one thing, the daily asserts, Abramovich is "virtually the only person" with the financial wherewithal to fund the channel. It also argues that with the recent announcement by Abramovich that he plans to seek another elected office, the governorship of Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, a media holding could come in handy. JAC

PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY THREATENS CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS IN FAR EAST...

The presidential representative to the Far Eastern district, Konstantin Pulikovskii, arrived on 16 November in Ussuriisk in Primorskii Krai, a district that has been experiencing a two-week-long teachers' strike as well as periodic pickets by residents protesting the lack of heat (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 15 November 2000). Upon his arrival, Pulikovskii declared that Primorskii Krai is the only region in his district where there are wage arrears and zero fuel supplies for the approaching winter--a situation that he blames on the incompetence of the region's leadership, RFE/RL's Vladivostok correspondent reported. According to Pulikovskii, the money for teachers' wages was sent by federal authorities last summer. JAC

...AND CALLS LOCAL LEADERSHIP INCOMPETENT...

According to ITAR-TASS, Pulikovskii reported that he has tasked law enforcement officials with investigating the delay in the payment of teachers' wages in the event that criminal proceedings have to be launched. The wage backlog to teachers in the region totals some 18 million rubles ($650,000). The previous day, Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko told reporters that federal monies for the wages of state-sector workers have been fully disbursed and alleged that the hold-up in paying wages in Ussuriisk, in particular, is somehow connected with the upcoming mayoral election in that district (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2000). JAC

...AS RESIDENTS CONTINUE TO LIVE WITHOUT HEAT

On the issue of the lack of heat in the krai, the region's Emergencies Ministry directorate reported that more than 80,000 people residing in Artem, Partizansk, and Kavalerovo raions remain without heat in their homes, according to Interfax. On 16 November, the prosecutors in Kavalerovo Raion and the city of Artem launched criminal proceedings in connection with the absence of heat in offices and apartments, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC

NEW ARMS EXPORT CONTROL BODY TO BE SET UP

Unidentified sources in Moscow told Interfax on 16 November that it is planned before year's end to set up a new department at the Defense Ministry to oversee the country's arms exports. Leading arms export specialists are to be transferred from the Industry, Science, and Technology Ministry. The new department will report to newly appointed Deputy Defense Minister Mikhail Dmitriev, whose previous post was deputy minister for industry, science, and technology, according to those sources. Earlier this month, President Putin merged Rosvooruzhenie and Promeksport to create a new state arms trading company, Rosoboroneksport (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2000). JC

KVASHNIN TAKING CHARGE OF MILITARY REFORM?

Addressing the State Duma on 16 November, Chief of the General Staff Anatolii Kvashnin announced that it is proposed that Russia's diverse security structures be united under the General Staff, Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported the next day. The Federal Border Guard Staff would be used as ground forces during "special periods," while the Interior Troops would be transformed into a national guard that assumes some of the functions of the ground forces, which themselves are to undergo significant reductions in their ranks. The Defense Ministry should become a political body headed by a civilian, Kvashnin added. (Security Council Chief Sergei Ivanov recently gave up his military rank, prompting speculation that he is about to become defense minister). According to the daily, which is controlled by Boris Berezovskii, the measures announced by Kvashnin have been approved by the Security Council and the president. JC

MOSCOW ABOUT TO LAUNCH NEW OFFENSIVE AGAINST U.S. OVER ABM?

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 November cited unidentified sources as saying that Moscow intends to accuse Washington of violating the 1987 treaty on medium- and short-range missiles through its use of the Hera missile target. According to those sources, Russia will demand that the U.S. stop developing and testing the Hera, which Moscow classifies as a mid-range, ground-based missile. In the past, the Hera has served as the target in U.S. tests of its proposed limited national missile defense system. The newspaper suggests that Moscow may be about to launch a full-fledged "diplomatic and propaganda attack" aimed at making the "U.S. president-elect" reconsider plans for such a system. JC

IVANOV MEETS WITH BARAK, ARAFAT

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak during their meeting in Jerusalem on 16 November that he supports continued Israeli-Palestinian negotiations under U.S. auspices. He also underlined that Russia would not support a decision on the issue of international observers in the Israeli territories under Palestinian jurisdiction that would go against Israel's position. Barak, for his part, asked Ivanov to urge Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to put an end immediately to the violence in those territories. Interfax reported that after their meeting later the same day in Gaza, Ivanov and Arafat issued a statement stressing that there is no "reasonable alternative" to the peace process in the Middle East. The two leaders also agreed to maintain close contacts on all issues, Ivanov told journalists before departing for Jordan on the next leg of his Middle East tour. JC

RUSSIA TO INCREASE FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE TO YUGOSLAVIA...

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told reporters on 16 November that the Russian government will increase assistance to Yugoslavia by $30 million. He said that $40 million has already been allocated in the federal budget for loans to Yugoslavia and that Russia once again began supplying gas on 1 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2000). In addition, Russia will take part in the reconstruction of four thermoelectric plants in Serbia and Montenegro as well as in a railways project. JAC

...AS IT CHERISHES HOPES OF GETTING LIBYA TO REPAY LOANS

Russian and Libyan officials held talks in the Libyan capital this week on Tripoli's debt to Moscow, Deputy Emergency Minister Yurii Brazhnikov told Interfax on 16 November. According to Brazhnikov, Russia and Libya "for the first time ever" discussed concrete figures for the debt. However, he added that while Russia estimates Libya's debt at $3-4 billion, depending on whether interest is taken into account, "Libya, as per its usual practice, is refusing to recognize its debts." In the meantime, both countries, Brazhnikov said, want to pursue trade, economic, scientific, and technical cooperation, which will not lead to the accumulation of new debts. Brazhnikov said that the old debts "mostly have to do with the military-technical sphere." JAC

CONTROVERSIAL POLITICIAN INJURED IN DAGHESTAN SHOOTING

Daghestan Peace Committee chairman Magomed Khachilaev was seriously wounded in a shooting incident in Makhachkala on the evening of 15 November, ITAR-TASS reported. A woman accompanying him was shot dead. Police have arrested a resident of Daghestan's Novolak Raion who has confessed to the shootings, but it is not clear whether his motives were personal or political. Magomed Khachilaev and his younger brother, Nadir, were arrested in 1998 after leading an abortive attempt to storm the government building in Makhachkala (see "RFE/RL Newsline, " 21 and 22 May 1998). They were later amnestied. LF

GROZNY MAYOR EXPLAINS DISAPPEARANCE OF CHECHEN CAPTIVES

In a five-hour meeting with Chechen Prosecutor Vsevolod Chernov in Grozny on 16 November, Beslan Gantemirov gave details of the fighting in the city four days earlier in which a number of Chechen fighters taken prisoner by Russian forces later managed to escape (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2000). Initial Russian reports claimed that Gantemirov commandeered the Chechens, who reportedly included field commander Arbi Baraev. Chernov on 16 November, however, said that Gantemirov was questioned "as a witness" to the incident. He did not clarify whether Baraev was among the Chechen prisoners. LF

FARMERS ALLEGEDLY STORING SECRET CACHES OF GRAIN FOR BARTER DEALS

Russia produced 5.3 million tons of rye this year, 15 percent more than the previous year, Interfax reported on 16 November. The same day, Arkadii Zlochevskii, chairman of the Grain Union, told the agency that the 2000 grain harvest will exceed the official Agriculture Ministry forecast of 65 million tons and amount to 70-71 million tons. He said that farmers will conceal an estimated 10-15 percent of their harvest in order to carry out barter deals. The bulk of this concealed amount will be hidden in the 15 regions where the harvest is 20 percent above the annual consumption rate, according to Zlochevskii. JAC

NEGLECTED CHILDREN PLAGUED BY ALCOHOLISM

About one-third of neglected children in Russia suffer from alcoholism, an all-Russian conference devoted to the problems of neglected children revealed on 16 November, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Participants in the conference organized by the Russian society of the Red Cross argued that the magnitude of the situation with neglected children is approaching that of a national catastrophe. Specialists noted that Russian authorities are doing little, while foreign charitable organizations are the primary funders of children's orphanages. JAC

'MIR' IS ONLY MORTAL, AFTER ALL

Yurii Koptev, head of the Russian Space Agency, announced on 16 November that a cabinet meeting earlier the same day decided to ditch the "Mir" space station into the Pacific Ocean early next year. A controlled descent of the 14-year-old space station will end on 27-28 February in the Pacific some 1,500-2,000 kilometers off the Australian coast. Anatolii Kiselev, head of the Khrunichev center that designed and built "Mir," warned that there are no guarantees that all parts of the station will fall into the ocean. State funding for Russia's space program has dwindled over recent years, and officials recently advocated that what funds are available be used for the International Space Station (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 October 2000). The private venture MirCorp has leased the station for commercial purposes, including space tourism, but Russian officials said the company has not honored its commitments to pay for the station's operation. On 16 November, government officials stressed that safety concerns were paramount in the decision to ditch the aging space station. "Nothing can last for eternity, not even 'Mir,'" Kotpev commented to reporters. JC




U.S. MILITARY OFFICIALS VISIT ARMENIA

Richard Myers, who is deputy chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, held talks in Yerevan on 15 November with Armenian President Robert Kocharian, who affirmed Yerevan's readiness to broaden military cooperation with the U.S., Interfax reported. The two men also discussed regional security issues and the prospects for resolving the Karabakh conflict. Myers met the following day with Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who briefed him on the recent redeployment of Russian military hardware from Georgia to Armenia. Sarkisian stressed that that redeployment does not violate Armenia's CFE commitments. Myers and Sarkisian also discussed possible U.S. aid for a planned Armenian peacekeeping force, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION, BAKU AUTHORITIES AGREE ON PLANNED PROTEST MARCH

Representatives of Azerbaijani opposition parties and the Baku municipality reached agreement on 16 November that a protest march in the city scheduled for 18 November will follow the route proposed by the authorities, not that requested by the opposition, Turan reported. Musavat Party secretary Arif Hadjiev told the agency that the opposition had not insisted on its original demand in order not to create a pretext for the authorities "to aggravate the situation." He predicted that at least 30,000 people will take to the streets to protest the falsification of the 5 November parliamentary poll. Also on 16 November, the opposition Azerbaijan National Independence Party turned to the Appeals Court, claiming the election results were "totally falsified," Turan reported. LF

RUSSIA IMPOUNDS SWISS TRUCKS BOUND FOR GEORGIA

The Swiss government on 16 November confirmed that the Russian authorities in Rostov Oblast have detained a consignment of 50 trucks that are intended for the Georgian Ministry of Justice, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. The vehicles are intended for the transportation of convicts. A senior Georgian Justice Ministry official has rejected as "absurd" the Russian claim that Tbilisi intends to pass the trucks to Chechen fighters. LF

GEORGIA SAYS RUSSIAN VISA MOVE 'ILLEGAL'

Georgia's Foreign Ministry on 16 November formally protested Russian plans to impose a visa requirement on Georgian citizens travelling to the Russian Federation beginning on 5 December, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. It also condemned as "destructive" a 14 November Russian Foreign Ministry statement announcing that residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia will be exempt from the visa requirement. LF

KAZAKHSTAN OFFERS TO EXTEND BAIKONUR AGREEMENT

Attending the launch of a Russian Progress cargo rocket from the Baikonur cosmodrome on 16 November, Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev said that Astana is willing to extend for a further 10 years the Russian lease of that facility, for which Moscow pays $115 million annually, Interfax reported. Toqaev said the original lease agreement signed in 1994 will not be "radically changed." LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT AMENDS LAW ON STATE BUDGET

The lower chamber of the parliament on 16 November amended the law on the 2000 state budget, increasing revenues by 875.8 million soms to 11.6 billion soms (about $242 million) and expenditures by 1.52 billion soms to 12.07 billion soms (about $252 million), RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Most of the increase in expenditures (685 million soms) was used for defense and security purposes. Finance Minister Sultan Mederov told deputies that the increase in revenues resulted from the restructuring of Kyrgyzstan's debts to Russia and Turkey. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER AGAIN CALLS FOR COOPERATION WITH AUTHORITIES

Former Kyrgyz Vice President and opposition Ar-Namys Party chairman Feliks Kulov told journalists in Bishkek on 16 November that his party will avoid at all costs a confrontation with the Kyrgyz authorities, Interfax reported. He said that his party plans to participate in the upcoming planned dialogue between the authorities and political parties. Kulov suggested that one of the topics of discussion at that forum be the passage of a law on dual citizenship, which, he said, would "significantly improve the mood of the Russian-speaking population in the country." Echoing his warning of one week earlier, Kulov said that popular discontent with the country's leadership is increasing in the wake of the disputed 29 October presidential poll (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 2000). LF

KYRGYZSTAN'S FIRST DEPUTY PREMIER RESIGNS

Boris Silaev, one of a very few Russians to hold senior posts within the Kyrgyz leadership, announced his resignation on 15 November, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Silaev, who is 55 and a former mayor of Bishkek, said he will leave Kyrgyzstan shortly to take up permanent residence in Moscow, where Mayor Yurii Luzhkov has offered him a post in the city government. Silaev offered no explanation for his decision to leave Kyrgyzstan. LF




STATISTICS MINISTRY SAYS BELARUSIAN ECONOMY IS BLOOMING...

The Ministry of Statistics has announced that Belarus's GDP in January-October 2000 grew by 5 percent, compared with the same period last year, Interfax reported on 16 November. Industrial production in this period increased by 8.6 percent and agricultural production by 5.4 percent. Inflation in January-October 2000 totaled 87.3 percent. JM

...WHILE INDEPENDENT EXPERT CLAIMS BELARUS ENDURES 'ECONOMIC ABSURDITY'

Belarusian economist Leanid Zlotnikau has said that the Belarusian government is continuing an "economic absurdity" in Belarus, Belapan reported on 16 November. According to Zlotnikau, the government "has virtually restored the Soviet-era practice of Gosplan" [the State Planning Committee of the USSR] to regulate the economy. "It is impossible to manage complex economic processes with simple methods. Such a policy may result only in the population's impoverishment," Zlotnikau said. He rejected the government's explanation that price hikes in Belarus this year were caused by increased prices for oil and "the accelerated devaluation of the Belarusian ruble." In Zlotnikau's opinion, prices and inflation in Belarus continue to rise because the government has not stopped its policy of printing money and issuing soft credits. JM

KYIV REVEALS IMF'S 'THREE CONDITIONS' FOR LOAN RESUMPTION

Valeriy Lytvytskyy, an adviser to Premier Viktor Yushchenko, announced on 16 November that Ukraine must comply with the IMF's "three conditions" before sending an official request to the fund to resume its $2.6 billion loan, Interfax reported. Lytvytskyy said the parliament must adopt, "at least in the second reading," a 2001 budget bill with a deficit not exceeding 3 percent of GDP, according to IMF calculation methods. The parliament must also adopt a law on banks and banking activity in Ukraine. Under the third condition, the government must submit to the parliament a list of enterprises subject to privatization. JM

EBRD HEAD DISCLOSES CONDITIONS FOR CHORNOBYL REPLACEMENT LOAN

Jean Lemierre, president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, said on 16 November that he will recommend that the bank's board of directors give Ukraine $215 million to complete two nuclear reactors designed as successors to the Chornobyl plant, Reuters reported. According to Lemierre, the loan should be made conditional on the introduction of a program to improve the safety of Ukraine's nuclear power plants, on the establishment of an independent safety body to oversee those plants, and on progress in the reform of the electric power industry. The deal should also be conditional on the IMF's approval of new loans for Ukraine, the EBRD chief said. The EBRD directors are expected to vote on the loan on 6 or 7 December. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT LISTS 'PALPABLE LOSSES' ON WAY TO DEMOCRACY

Leonid Kuchma said on 16 November that during the past nine years, Ukraine has become a fully sovereign country and "actually dismantled the totalitarian system," Interfax reported. "Ukraine's development is inseparably tied to a market economy and democracy," Kuchma said, but he added that the country has suffered "palpable losses" during its transformation. The president noted that, among other things, Ukraine's economic potential shrunk by half, living standards fell, and the country has been confronted with "serious demographic problems." Kuchma admitted that the making of Ukrainian statehood was impeded by a "Russian factor." "There has been stiff official and even stiffer unofficial opposition [in Russia] to asserting and strengthening Ukraine's economic sovereignty," he noted. JM

ESTONIA SAYS EU TOO SLOW WITH MEMBERSHIP TALKS

Estonia's chief negotiator for talks with the EU, Alar Streimann, and Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves, said on 16 November that the EU is unwilling to heed Estonia's request to increase the speed of membership talks, BNS reported. Streimann said that at the latest round of such talks in Brussels two days earlier, the EU admitted that its procedures do not allow for faster progress in membership talks and that there are difficulties receiving prompt answers to questions. Ilves regretted that the EU may have heeded the opinion of some Estonian politicians that the pace of the talks should not be too fast, and he stressed that many lawmakers, both in the ruling coalition and the opposition, regard early accession to the EU as a priority. SG

RUSSIAN EXTREMISTS DETAINED AFTER ILLEGAL ENTRY INTO LATVIA

Latvian police on 15 November detained four members of Russia's National Bolshevik Party after they illegally entered Latvia by jumping off the St. Petersburg-Kaliningrad train, BNS reported. The Latvian National Police Headquarters announced that the Russian extremists were in Latvia "with the purpose of carrying out actions aimed at discrediting the Latvian state." The Russian Federal Security Service had last week warned Latvia about possible provocations by Russian extremists and had assisted the St. Petersburg police in detaining some National Bolsheviks who intended to travel to Latvia. Latvian security police chief Janis Reiniks said the next day that his force had detained four local National Bolsheviks who apparently knew about the travel plans of their Russian colleagues and planned to cooperate with them. SG

NATO TO KEEP EYE ON LITHUANIAN PROGRESS

NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson told Lithuanian Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius in Brussels on 16 November that the alliance will closely watch Lithuania's further progress, defense spending, and its fulfillment of commitments as part of its membership bid, ELTA reported. Robertson emphasized that year 2001 will be significant for candidate states because as early as next spring the alliance will begin assessing how ready they are to become members. He praised Lithuania's active participation in the Membership Action Plan, particularly its contribution to NATO missions in the Balkans. Linkevicius said that the talks focused on Lithuania's financial commitments in getting ready for NATO, and he quoted Robertson as saying that "ships swimming slowly will simply sink." SG

POLISH PARLIAMENT REJECTS RESTITUTION REFERENDUM MOTION

The Sejm on 16 November voted by 228 to 190 with two abstentions to reject a motion on holding a referendum on returning property confiscated under Poland's communist rule, PAP reported. The referendum would have asked questions about the form, scope, and costs of the restitution of such property. The motion, spearheaded by the opposition Democratic Left Alliance and the Peasant Party, was intended to sharply limit compensation for illegally nationalized property (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2000). The vote means that the parliament will continue to work on the government's plan to offer former owners or their direct descendants compensation in bonds or property equal to 50 percent of the property's value. JM

BALCEROWICZ TO GIVE UP PARTY LEADERSHIP

Leszek Balcerowicz told the 17 November "Gazeta Wyborcza" that he will not seek re-election as head the Freedom Union at the party's planned congress in December. Balcerowicz's decision paves the way for him to be appointed governor of the National Bank, once the bank's current head, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, becomes vice president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Poland's National Bank head is proposed by the president and approved by the parliament. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT VETOES LAW BANNING FORMER COMMUNISTS FROM HIGH OFFICE

Vaclav Havel on 16 November vetoed the parliament's decision to uphold a law banning former high-ranking Communists and agents of the former communist secret police from holding positions in state administration. Havel's spokesman Ladislav Spacek told AP that the president decided not to sign the law and returned it to the lower chamber of parliament because it would further delay an urgently needed law on state administration. The Czech parliament voted in September to extend the validity of the law until special legislation on state administration is adopted. The EU has urged the Czech Republic to expedite the reform of state bureaucracy as a necessary condition for joining the union. A law banning Communists from holding state office was adopted in 1990 and prolonged in 1995; it is due to expire on 31 December. JC

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS TEMELIN DISPUTE TO BE RESOLVED BY YEAR'S END

Jan Kavan said on 16 November that the Czech Republic and Austria are working to resolve their dispute over the nuclear power plant at Temelin by the end of this year, CTK reported. According to the Czech foreign minister, the next summit between Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman and his Austrian counterpart, Wolfgang Schuessel, is tentatively scheduled for 11 December. Last week, Zeman had canceled bilateral talks scheduled for later this month owing to Austrian activists' continued blockades of Czech-Austrian border checkpoints. Those blockades ended three days later ("RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 10 November 2000). JC

SLOVAK EDUCATORS PROTEST 'UNBEARABLE SITUATION'

Some 4,000 people held protest rallies in Slovakia's eight regional centers on 16 November to protest "the unbearable situation in education," TASR reported. The protesters called on the government and the parliament to speed up the adoption of a law on public service, amend the Labor Code, raise their wages, and allocate adequate financial resources for education in the 2001 budget. They threatened to launch a nationwide strike if their demands are not met. The Trade Union of Education and Science Employees, which organized the protest, is to decide on 30 November on further action. JM

SLOVAKIA WANTS TO CONCLUDE EU ENTRY TALKS BY 2003

Slovakia would like to see all its EU entry negotiation chapters opened in 2001 and to close them "preliminarily" the same year, so as to wrap up the integration process in 2002, TASR reported on 16 November, citing a government report. "The government will take all necessary steps to pass a new constitution, start public administration reform, and all remaining tasks necessary for the progress of Slovakia's accession to EU," the report said. JM

HUNGARY'S 'GREENS' PROTEST LIGETVARI'S DISMISSAL

Representatives of some 40 environmentalist groups staged a demonstration outside the parliament building in Budapest on 16 November to protest the dismissal of Environment Minister Ferenc Ligetvari (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 10 November 2000). Speakers at the demonstration said it has become apparent over the past 10 years that environmental protection does not matter to any political party. Protesters read an open letter to Prime Minister Viktor Orban saying he should make a distinction between political compromise and opportunism, since the latter could have serious domestic and foreign policy consequences. The decision to sack Ligetvari--who will remain in office until the end of the month--was made because of a conflict with the Smallholders' party. MSZ




YUGOSLAVIA TO RENEW RELATIONS WITH U.S., U.K., FRANCE, GERMANY

The Yugoslav government on 16 November announced it will restore diplomatic relations with the governments in Washington, London, Paris, and Berlin, AP reported. Yugoslav Premier Zoran Zizic said that "there is no harder moment for a government than the breakup of diplomatic relations, and there is no better moment than [re-]establishing them." Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said that Belgrade is "returning to the world swiftly, its head [held] high and with dignity." He said Yugoslavia will focus its foreign relations on Europe and Russia but will establish diplomatic ties with all other countries, including "the most powerful country in the world--the U.S." British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said: "We have always said that we would hold out the hand of friendship in the event of democratic change." He said ambassadors will be exchanged soon. PB

YUGOSLAV FOREIGN MINISTER TO IMPROVE RELATIONS WITH THE HAGUE

Goran Svilanovic pledged on 16 November in Belgrade to improve Yugoslavia's relations with the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague and allow prosecutors from the court to work in the country, AP reported. Svilanovic said that "visas will be issued to the tribunal's personnel, and they will be able to reopen their office in Belgrade and to be present here." All UN personnel pulled out of Belgrade shortly before NATO's air campaign in spring of last year. President Kostunica has criticized The Hague tribunal and said he will not send indicted war criminals to the UN court. Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor of the tribunal, is expected to visit Belgrade in the coming weeks. PB

REFORMERS GIVE IN, SERBIAN GOVERNMENT MEETS

Serbia's transitional government met for the first time on 16 November, as members of the reform Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) decided to end their boycott over the presence in the government of Serbian security service chief Rade Markovic, AP reported. Nebojsa Covic, a DOS member and deputy premier in the cabinet, said "the citizens of Serbia can no longer wait because of somebody's stubbornness." He added that the urgency of pressing economic and social issues forced the DOS members to attend the government session, saying "we will insist on our demands that certain gentlemen resign... We will not wait much longer." Markovic is a close ally of former President Slobodan Milosevic. Elections to form a new Serbian government are to be held on 23 December. PB

SERBS TRICKLING BACK TO KOSOVA

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on 16 November that at least 1,000 Serbs who fled to Serbia proper have returned to Kosova on their own in recent months, Reuters reported. Maki Shinohara, a spokeswoman for the UNHCR in Belgrade, said: "I think we're no longer seeing an exodus from Kosovo; the situation has pretty much stabilized in that sense." She said those returning said security is not their main concern. "What they need is material assistance right now so that their returns can be sustained." An estimated 100,000-150,000 Serbs left Kosova after Yugoslav forces retreated from the province in summer 1999. PB

GUNMEN WOUND ETHNIC ALBANIAN POLITICIAN

Two masked men shot and seriously wounded Shkelzen Hyseni, a newly-elected councillor from the moderate Democratic League of Kosova party, Reuters reported. Hyseni was shot in his Pec apartment on 15 November. He was transferred to the hospital in Prishtina; his injuries are life threatening. PB

KOUCHNER CALLS FOR PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS IN KOSOVA...

The UN's administrator in Kosova, Bernard Kouchner, has called for parliamentary elections to be held in the Serbian province next spring, AP reported. Kouchner, addressing the UN Security Council in New York, said "we must act rapidly to organize elections throughout Kosovo to choose a parliament." He warned, however, that any moves to settle Kosova's future status "could very quickly lead to another conflict." He said the Security Council resolution giving the province "substantial autonomy" must be honored. And he added that it is important for Kosova to "speed the process of defining that substantial autonomy, and we must develop institutions in which the Kosovars will share more and more responsibilities in the administration of Kosovo." PB

...SIGNALS EVENTUAL RESIGNATION

Kouchner also indirectly told the Security Council the same day that he will soon leave his post as the UN's administrator in Kosova, although he did not give a date, saying "it depends on [UN Secretary-General] Mr. Kofi Annan." Kouchner, who took over the post in mid-1999, said he has met one possible successor for his job, former British Liberal Democratic Party leader Paddy Ashdown. Kouchner called Ashdown a "good one" but noted that the decision will be taken by Annan. Kouchner added that his address to the Security Council could very well be his final one. PB

CROATIAN NATIONALISTS THREATEN BOYCOTT OF BOSNIAN INSTITUTIONS

The nationalist Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) said on 16 November that it will boycott all Bosnian institutions unless Western authorities reverse a decision to disqualify 13 of its candidates for breaking election rules, AP reported. In a statement, the HDZ said: "If the Provisional Election Commission of the OSCE mission fails to withdraw its decisions...the HDZ asserts it will not participate in the formation of new governments at any level." It also claimed the OSCE is disregarding "the will of the Croat people" and is using force to impose "the worst form of a protectorate." The OSCE decided earlier in the day to remove 10 HDZ candidates from regional assemblies because the party held an unauthorized referendum on election day. The OSCE considered that vote to be campaigning, which is forbidden on election day. Three others were banned from holding office because they obstructed an OSCE audit, violating campaign finance rules. PB

HIGH COMMISSIONER ANNULS BOSNIAN POLICE DISMISSALS

Wolfgang Petritsch on 16 November ordered the country's Muslim-Croatian Federation to reinstate two financial police inspectors who were dismissed while conducting investigations, Reuters reported. The two inspectors were suddenly dismissed while taking part in important corruption investigations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 2000). PB

SLOVENIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW PREMIER

The parliament has approved Janez Drnovsek as prime minister, AP reported on 17 November. The vote for Drnovsek was 61 to five. Drnovsek, 50, said "the program of this government will be neither shock therapy nor careful management, but the revision of current laws." Deputies from the Social Democrats and the New Slovenia Party of outgoing Premier Andrej Bajuk, abstained from the vote in protest over committee assignments. Drnovsek's Liberal Democratic Party signed a coalition pact with the United List of Social Democrats (reformed Communists) and two smaller parties. The coalition will have 58 out of the 90 seats in the parliament. PB

CROATIAN BUSINESS LEADERS IN BELGRADE

About 1,000 Croatian and Serbian business executives met in Belgrade on 16 November to help re-establish economic relations, Reuters reported. Nevenka Zecevic, an official from the Croatian Trade Ministry, said the meeting "has to bind the two governments to start creating a framework to enable normalization and strengthening of economic cooperation." Representatives from some 250 Croatian firms attended the meeting. Bilateral trade between the two countries, which was roughly $1 billion before the wars of Yugoslav succession, was only $26.5 million in 1999. PB

EXPLOSION AT CROATIAN BARRACK INJURES 21

Croatian Defense Ministry officials said on 16 November that 21 soldiers were injured by a mortar blast during a training exercise at the Sveti Petar military base in Ogulin, Reuters reported citing the Croatian agency Hina. Defense Minister Jozo Rados told the government that four of the soldiers were seriously injured. He said the cause of the accident is being investigated. PB

ROMANIAN CHIEF OF CUSTOMS DISMISSED

Finance Minister Decebal Traian Remes dismissed Romanian Customs Office Director Nini Sapunaru on 15 November, Romanian media reported. Remes argued that Sapunaru used Customs Office funds for campaign purposes, while a Finance Ministry director said Sapunaru was dismissed because he did not have the necessary education for that post. A National Liberal Party (PNL) member, Sapunaru declared that Remes's decision was a political one and that the minister is waging a "personal war" against his former party, the PNL. Sapunaru called his dismissal illegal, arguing that the minister broke legislation on the status of public servants. Remes, who quit the PNL last August, joined the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic on 14 November. The media noted that Sapunaru's dismissal came a day after he and Remes argued publicly at a private television station. ZsM

FITCH IBCA UPGRADES ROMANIA'S RATING

The Fitch IBCA rating agency has upgraded Romania's rating for long-term debt in foreign and domestic currency from B- to Ba+, BBC's Romanian Service reported. According to a Romanian Finance Ministry press release, the short-term rating stays unchanged at B, and the long-term general perspective remains stable. However, the report warns that the B rating puts Romania among the worse-rated countries, as it is still "vulnerable to internal and external shocks." The report also urges that the government formed after the 26 November elections continue economic reform. "Ziarul Financiar" quoted a Standard & Poor's expert as expressing surprise at the "changing of the rating of a country two weeks before elections." ZsM

RUSSIAN, MOLDOVAN OFFICIALS MEET IN MOSCOW OVER TRANSDNIESTER ISSUE

Valeriu Sturza, the president of the Moldovan Commission for the Transdniester Region, met in Moscow on 16 November with Yevgenii Primakov, the head of Russia's Transdniester commission, AP Flux reported. The two sides agreed to schedule for the beginning of December a meeting that would be devoted to trying to finding ways to solve the Transdniester problem, Sturza told AP Flux. The meeting will be attended by officials from Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, the self-declared Transdniester Republic, and the OSCE. ET

COUNCIL OF EUROPE HEAD LAUNCHES HUMANITARIAN APPEAL FOR ILASCU

Walter Schwimmer, the general-secretary of the Council of Europe, asked separatist Transdniester authorities on 16 November to allow foreign doctors to examine Moldovan lawmaker Ilie Ilascu, who has been sentenced to death by Transdniester officials, AP reported on 17 November. Ilascu was sentenced to death on charges of terrorism. He opposed pro-Russian separatist forces who took up arms in 1992 and won control of the eastern part of Moldova, known as the Transdniester, and declared a mini-state that has not been recognized. Ilascu, who is also a candidate for Romanian parliament in the upcoming elections there, has complained of health problems and insufficient food. ET

MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT TO SELL ARMY'S LAST SIX JET FIGHTERS

Moldova is considering selling its last six MIG-29 jet fighters, AP Flux reported on 17 November, quoting Defense Ministry sources. Moldova wants to sell the planes because it cannot afford the cost of maintaining them. The ministry pledged to make public negotiations with any possible buyer. ET

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT URGES POLICE VIGILANCE AFTER SECOND BOMB ATTACK

Petar Stoyanov called for the "full mobilization and concerted efforts" by police and other security forces after a casino owner died in a bomb blast, the second such incident in two days, dpa reported. The latest explosion took place in the Sofia suburb of Bojana, where the presidential residence is located. It killed a 27-year-old casino owner who had a minor criminal record. Police suspect organized crime to be behind both this explosion and the blast the previous day at the Ambassador Hotel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2000). Two people died in the latter incident. A spokesman for the opposition Socialists said the bombings are the latest incidents to show that the government and the Interior Ministry cannot counteract the increase in crime. PB




JOURNALIST'S ALLEGED ASSASSINS ON TRIAL IN MOSCOW


By Sophie Lambroschini

Earlier this week, a military court in Moscow's decrepit 19th-century Matrosskaya Tishina prison began the reading of an 800-page indictment of six men accused of murdering journalist Dmitrii Kholodov in October 1994. The full reading of the charges against five former paratroopers and a paratrooper-turned-businessman could take up to 10 days.

Kholodov's murder triggered outrage in the capital. It was widely perceived as post-communist Russia's first contract killing against a journalist because of his investigative work. Kholodov was killed by a booby-trapped briefcase that he had been told contained important documents.

At the time, the 27-year-old reporter for the feisty "Moskovskii komsomolets" was investigating cases of graft in the Western Army Group, which had just pulled out of eastern Germany. Kholodov had accused the Western Group of setting up what he called a "mafia" to illegally sell planes, helicopters, and thousands of tanks. The then defense minister, Pavel Grachev, was often the direct or indirect target of accusations or allegations of corruption by Kholodov and other journalists.

The assassination occurred only three years after the Soviet era, and censorship appeared to have ended. Its effect--and perhaps its intention--was to frighten journalists away from sensitive subjects. Vladimir Kosarev, head of the Defense Ministry's information department at the time, told RFE/RL: 'They scared them, they really did scare them. I know journalists who really became more careful after that. [Military affairs reporter] Aleksandr Zhilin, who was working then for 'Moskovskie novosti,' kept out of sight for several months, and he wasn't the shy sort. It's certainly possible that this reaction--the fright--was what was intended, but I don't have the evidence to confirm that."

In its indictment, the prosecution rules out any contract killing. It accuses the six former paratroopers of having concocted the briefcase murder on their own initiative, simply to please the Russian Defense Ministry by ridding it of a journalist seen as meddling in military affairs.

The six defendants, who have already spent up to two years in jail, all pleaded innocent to the charges. They say the case against them is based mainly on testimony that has been retracted since it was first given.

Last week, when the trial formally opened, the daily "Vremya novostei" tried to give the prosecution's view of the murder. According to the newspaper, the prosecution believes the idea for the assassination came from Colonel Pavel Popovskikh, former head of the paratroopers' intelligence department. In 1994, Popovskikh was often present at meetings presided over by Grachev where the minister lashed out at journalists' criticisms of the army.

According to "Vremya novostei," the prosecution contends that in order to ingratiate himself with Grachev, Popovskikh decided to teach journalists a lesson. The daily says Popovskikh asked two paratroopers from an engineering regiment, Aleksandr Soroka and Vladimir Morozov, to make the bomb and booby-trap a brief case, and the two involved four other alleged accomplices.

Eventually, Kholodov was told in a mysterious phone call that he would find documents relevant to his investigation in a briefcase left in a Moscow train station locker. Kholodov went to the station, picked up the briefcase, took it back to his office, and opened it. He was killed almost instantly.

The defense, however, says that this entire scenario is based largely on the testimony of a single soldier who was serving in the same regiment as the alleged bomb-makers and has since retracted his accusations. The defense also notes that one of the indicted former paratroopers, who first admitted his guilt, has since also retracted his testimony.

At the time of the murder, Kholodov was due to speak out at a State Duma hearing on corruption in the army. In addition, the dismissal of a Western Group general some weeks after Kholodov's murder implicated the Defense Ministry even further. Deputy Defense Minister Matvei Burlakov--who commanded the Western Group until it left Berlin--was fired by former President Boris Yeltsin because of what was called "on-going investigations" and to "save the honor of the armed forces." Burlakov was regarded as a close associate of Grachev.

Former Defense Ministry information chief Kosarev confirms that Grachev was furious at the time about articles that had raised suspicions of corruption about himself or the Western Group. "Indeed, [Kholodov's articles] irritated the heads of the Defense Ministry at the time--I mean, above all, Minister Pavel Grachev. Sometimes they enraged him to the point where he screamed. He would get indignant, saying, 'That little kid allows himself to cover me in mud.' Not only that, at ministry meetings, I would be rebuked for not stopping this flow of criticism."

Over the years, many journalists have expressed their concern that Kholodov's murder will never be solved. Some fear the ex-paratroopers may be only scapegoats in a case that involves individuals much higher up the military ladder. Reporting on the trial earlier this week, the private NTV station commented that "one accused is missing--the seventh one, the one who ordered the murder." The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Moscow.


XS
SM
MD
LG