Accessibility links

Newsline - November 21, 2000




PUTIN CRITICIZES GOVERNMENT FOR HANDLING OF MILITARY BENEFITS...

In a speech to top military officials on 20 November, President Vladimir Putin praised the military and criticized the Finance Ministry for its handling of benefits to servicemen. He told Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin that he is "absolutely dissatisfied with the latest statement by members of your staff that the mechanisms for providing social guarantees to servicemen will be upgraded during the course of reforms. In that case, we will upgrade you in the course of reforms." Putin suggested that one necessary reform would be to drop perks for the military such as free travel and provide them with monetary compensation instead. Putin called for the problem of benefits, which affects "2 million servicemen and their families," to be solved soon and made Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov personally responsible for its resolution. JAC

...ANNOUNCES HIGHER PENSIONS FOR RETIRED SOLDIERS

Putin also said that Russia's armed forces are successfully fulfilling their main responsibilities, such as strategic deterrence and the prevention of aggression against Russia. He noted that by 2006, new combat-ready forces using the most modern technology and planning methods will be deployed on Russia's flanks facing Central Asia and the southwest. However, Putin also said that "the present status of our troops and their leadership does not yet meet either the purposes or the scale of the tasks confronting us." But he added that "key decisions about building the armed forces have been made" and now Russia "has entered the implementation phase," which will be under "unfailing control." Putin announced that the forthcoming reduction of the size of the armed forces will occur simultaneously with an increase in pensions for officers who retire from active military service. And in April 2001, former servicemen will receive a raise in pensions, while another increase will be granted in 2002. JAC

PUTIN DEFENDS MILITARY ACTION IN CHECHNYA...

In his 20 November speech to top military officials, President Putin said that the work of the armed forces is absolutely necessary to rebuff those who are trying to push Russia "into a bloody swamp of endless internal conflicts." He also lashed out at those who view current Russian actions in the Northern Caucasus as "a relapse of imperial policy." PG

...SEES NO QUICK END TO CONFLICT...

Putin tried to put Russia's losses--2,600 dead so far--into context by noting that this number is the same as annual Russian losses from highway accidents and fires. But he said that such losses are "too high anyway" and added that "we don't need victory at any price." The AVN military news agency suggested that such remarks show that Putin does not intend to step up the fighting but rather pursue a strategy to minimize Russian losses, even though he insisted that "the anti-terrorist operation must be followed through to the end." PG

...LEAVES CHECHNYA'S FINAL STATUS OPEN

In other comments, Putin said that "Chechnya's formal status is not so important today. What is important," he added, "is that this territory should never be used by anyone as a springboard to attack the Russian Federation" and that the dispute be settled "by political means alone." But several pro-Moscow Chechens insisted to AFP that Putin's words do not point to independence for that North Caucasus republic. One said that Putin personally assured him that Moscow will never allow that to happen. PG

COUNCIL OF EUROPE OFFICIAL SAYS RIGHTS SITUATION IN CHECHNYA IMPROVING

In a letter to Vladimir Kalamanov, President Putin's special representative on human rights in Chechnya, Bruno Haller, the secretary-general of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, said he has evidence that the human rights situation in that North Caucasus republic is improving, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 November. PG

PUTIN SLAMS PRIMORSKII KRAI LEADERSHIP...

President Putin met with Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko on 20 November to discuss the situation regarding heating shortages in regions such as Primorskii Krai and Arkhangelsk and Kamchatka oblasts, ITAR-TASS reported. President Putin said that the federal government has not only transferred the full amounts necessary for the region to make adequate preparations for the winter but has even exceeded the necessary amount. "This is why the situation that has taken shape there is just outrageous," he commented. Last week, the presidential envoy to the Far Eastern district, Konstantin Pulikovskii, called the krai's leadership incompetent because of its handling of the current teachers' strikes and heating crisis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 2000). JAC

...AS GOVERNOR TELLS ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS NOT TO LEAVE TOWN

Also on 20 November, Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko announced the cancellation of all business trips, domestic and foreign, for officials in his administration so that the savings could be channeled toward wages for state-sector workers and for the purchase of fuel, ITAR-TASS reported. He also called on krai officials to reduce their expenditures on long-distance telephone and cellular phone calls. Meanwhile, RFE/RL's Vladivostok correspondent reported that teachers and medical workers continue to stage protest in the krai. The situation in Arsenev is particularly explosive because teachers, doctors, and other workers have not been paid in five months. JAC

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER CALLED BACK TO ST. PETERSBURG FOR QUESTIONING...

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kudrin was summoned by prosecutors in St. Petersburg on 17 November as part of their investigation into the city's finances from 1992 to 1996, when Kudrin was a deputy mayor, "Segodnya" reported on 18 November. The daily, which is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-MOST, reported that according to unnamed sources, Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov, who also hails from St. Petersburg, was behind Kudrin's summons. It also reported that according to other unnamed sources, the investigation was instigated by members of the "Family"--the entourage of former President Boris Yeltsin. Those sources pointing their finger at Ivanov suggest that the Security Council head wants to diminish Kudrin's influence with Putin. Those singling out Family members say those individuals are "trying to save their own skins" by unearthing scandals from the past in which the current Kremlin officials are involved. JAC

...AS RIVALRY ALLEGED WITH SECURITY COUNCIL HEAD

"The Moscow Times" reported on 21 November that Kudrin and Ivanov are widely seen as the likely replacements for Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who is reportedly about to be dismissed. The daily noted that Putin has publicly criticized Kudrin twice in the past week, suggesting that the president "is less than enchanted with Kudrin these days." Yurii Korgunyuk, a political analyst with the INDEM think-tank, told the daily that "Kudrin has been bitten by the siloviki [power ministry officials], who are clearing the way for their man [Ivanov]." JAC

NTV ANCHORMAN SAYS SUMMONS WAS NOT PRESSURE TACTIC

NTV General-Director and Anchorman Yevgenii Kiselev told reporters on 20 November that his summons to the Office of the Prosecutor-General does not appear to have been politically motivated and was not intended to exert pressure on NTV. After meeting with prosecutors that day, Kiselev said that the conversation had been about how Media-MOST gathered materials three years ago for reports on the privatization of the aluminum industry. Kiselev added that "if the laws in our country are observed, this [interrogation] is not a threat to me or my colleagues. [But] I don't know if the people in the Kremlin who concocted this whole mess will be satisfied with my answers." JAC

BEREZOVSKII TO FACE SLANDER CHARGES?

State Duma Anti-Corruption Commission Chairman (Fatherland-All Russia) Nikolai Kovalev told reporters on 20 November that the commission will look into Boris Berezovskii's recent claims that he transferred money from Aeroflot to Unity and to help fund President Putin's presidential campaign. Kovalev said that he hopes that Berezovskii will offer more concrete details of and documentation substantiating his allegations. He added that if Berezovskii cannot substantiate his accusations, he could face slander charges for tarnishing the image of the president and the country, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC

FORECASTS DIFFER OVER FUTURE OF STATE COUNCIL

The first meeting of a full session of the State Council will take place on 22 November. On the newly-formed body's agenda will be state symbols, such as Russia's national anthem, and a strategy for state development up to 2010. President Putin said on 17 November that he believes that the State Council could become a political center forecasting the country's development, while the Ministry for Trade and Economic Development could become an economic center, Interfax reported. On 20 November, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev claimed that "an understanding has been reached with President Putin that the State Council, now a consultative body, will become a legitimate successor to the Federation Council." According to Interfax-Northeast, Yakovlev also said the council will become a constitutionally recognized body shortly. JAC

NEW GOVERNOR'S MEN ATTACK RUTSKOI'S FORMER DEPUTY?

Former Vice Governor of Kursk Oblast Sergei Maksachev has been hospitalized for injuries he says he sustained during a beating at the Kursk regional administration building on 19 November. Maksachev said he went to that building to submit his resignation; while there, he encountered someone who introduced himself as the new vice governor and who asked Maksachev to disclose details about former Kursk Governor Aleksandr Rutskoi's alleged "financial machinations." When Maksachev refused to do so, he was beaten up "for three hours" and subjected to anti-Semitic remarks. Maksachev's father is Jewish. Earlier this month, newly appointed Kursk Governor Aleksandr Mikhailov claimed that he and President Putin were both seeking to rid Russia of Jewish "scum," among which he included Rutskoi (who has a Jewish mother). He later apologized for those remarks (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 22 November 2000, upcoming). Mikhailov denies any knowledge of the alleged 19 November beating. Meanwhile, Putin has asked federal Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov to take personal charge of the investigation into Maksachev's claims, Interfax reported. JC

POPE RE-TRIAL IN THE OFFING?

The Prosecutor-General's Office announced on 20 November that Oleg Plotnikov, the main prosecutor in the espionage trial of U.S. businessman Edmond Pope, is to be replaced because of very high blood pressure, Interfax reported. Yurii Volgin will take over as the prinicipal figure for the prosecution in the Pope trial. But Pope's lawyer, Pavel Astakhov, told journalists the same day that Plotnikov has been replaced because his son was a member of the Federal Security Service team that investigated Pope's case. Under Russian law, Astakhov noted, it is prohibited to take part in a trial if a family member is involved in the case. Astakhov said that the defense has requested that Plotnikov be removed as main prosecutor; if the court grants that request, he added, the trial would have to begin anew. JC

MOSCOW CONDEMNS BOMB ATTACK AGAINST ISRAELIS IN GAZA...

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 20 November condemned the bombing earlier that day of a bus carrying Jewish settlers in Gaza, in which two people died and nine, including children, were injured. The ministry said the incident has caused "deep pain and indignation" in Moscow, and it accused those behind the attack of wanting to exacerbate the already tense situation in the Israeli territories under Palestinian jurisdiction, Interfax reported. JC

...AS PUTIN ORDERS IVANOV TO STEP UP MID-EAST PEACE EFFORTS

Also on 20 November, President Putin told his foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, to set up joint efforts with the U.S., the UN, and Europe to help end the violence in the Middle East and persuade the Israeli and Palestinian sides to return to the negotiating table, a Kremlin spokesman told journalists. Ivanov was reporting to Putin after a seven-day trip to the Middle East during which he discussed the situation in Israel with many of the leaders of the region. On the last leg of his trip, Saudi Arabia, on 19-20 November, Ivanov called for the Gulf to become free of "all types of weapons of mass destruction." Russia, he stressed, wants to help establish the region as a "zone of peace and stability" and restore "good-neighborly relations between Iraq and its neighbors." JC

PUTIN PAYS TRIBUTE TO PLISETSKAYA

President Putin attended the 75th birthday celebrations for prima ballerina Maya Plisetskaya at the Bolshoi on 20 November. The head of state presented the dancer, who now resides in Germany and Spain, with 75 roses and praised her for "stretching the bounds of the possible for art and for ballet." Plisetskaya took part in the gala performance that followed and in an interview with NTV's "Hero of the Day" program revealed that she still "craves new challenges" and is looking forward to an upcoming project in Japan. Plisetskaya joined the Bolshoi in 1943 and was one of its leading figures until 1989, when she left after a dispute with then director Yurii Grigorovich. Six years later, she returned to the Bolshoi stage. JC




ARMENIA URGED TO END TORTURE

Amnesty International on 20 November called on Yerevan to "implement without delay" the recommendations of the UN Committee Against Torture issued on 17 November. In a press release, the international human rights organization said that it has received credible reports of torture in Armenia and noted that "in many cases," the authorities have been "reluctant" to investigate. Meanwhile, the Free Hayk Mission has called on the Armenian authorities to release political prisoners, Noyan Tapan reported on 20 November. PG

ARMENIAN NUCLEAR PLANT TO RESUME OPERATION

Ashot Martirosian, the head of Armenia's nuclear supervision agency, told Interfax on 20 November that the second generating unit of the Metzamor power plant will be restarted in early December. Nuclear fuel from Russia, he added, will keep the plant operational until at least May 2001. PG

OPPOSITION LEADERS SAY AZERBAIJAN IN CRISIS

As protests continued on 20 November in Sabirabad and Nardaran, opposition leaders, including the Democratic Party's Sardar Jalaloglu and National Independence Party Etibar Mamedov, said that Azerbaijan is in crisis. Many of them protested what they said were up to 100 arrests in Sheki over the weekend, while officials rejected that figure. Meanwhile, Popular Front leader Ali Kerimov said that the arrests in Sheki would fail to intimidate the population, Turan reported. And in a conversation with U.S. Ambassador Ross Wilson, Mamedov said that he fears both the authorities and the opposition could lose control over the situation, something he said other forces would undoubtedly exploit, the Azerbaijani news service reported. PG

AZERBAIJANI OFFICIALS BLAST OPPOSITION

Ali Akhmedov, the executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party, said on 20 November that "rallies in Baku and the country's other regions are aimed at destabilizing Azerbaijan and provoking confrontation with the authorities, with foreign support." But he said that "we have enough forces to oppose and to cut short these attempts." Meanwhile, Ali Hasanov, an official in the presidential administration, told Turan that the demonstrations over the weekend highlighted the weakness rather than the strength of the opposition. PG

ALL FOUND GUILTY IN AZERBAIJANI OIL EMBEZZLEMENT CASE

Sixteen people, including two foreign economic relations ministers, were found guilty in Baku of embezzling some $30 million in oil products, the Azerbaijani television station ANS reported on 20 November. They were sentenced to jail terms of up to 12 years. PG

GEORGIA, RUSSIA LOCK HORNS ON VISA REQUIREMENTS

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said on 20 November that Russia's plans to introduce a visa regime for Georgian citizens is discriminatory and that Tbilisi may reconsider its attitude toward the presence of the Russian base at Gudauta unless Moscow changes its position, Caucasus Press reported. In response, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that his government hopes Tbilisi will take a constructive line and not "issue ultimatums," ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov said that he remains certain that the visa regime will be introduced in December. The Russian agency also reported that Shevardnadze told a briefing that the question of Georgia's withdrawal from the CIS has not "yet" been raised--the clearest indication so far that it may be soon. PG

SHEVARDNADZE SAYS GEORGIAN POWER SITUATION TO IMPROVE

President Shevardnadze told a press conference on 20 November that his government will ensure that the country gets "a relatively normal electricity supply" within the next week to 10 days, Georgian Television reported. Shevardnadze dismissed suggestions that the recent power outages could lead to a crisis of power: "Georgia will never witness the events of 1991 and 1992," he said. "Their [the opposition's] heyday will not come." PG

SHEVARDNADZE EXPLAINS ANTI-CORRUPTION STRATEGY

In addition to discussing the power crisis, President Shevardnadze used his weekly radio broadcast on 20 November to explain why he is beginning the struggle against corruption only now. "Hasty steps would not give positive results in the matter," he said, adding that "we would not be able to do away with corruption until we were ready." Now that the legal structures are in place, Shevardnadze said, he will take the lead in stamping out corruption. He added that the number of those likely to be found guilty is large. PG

WEST ADMITS IT DOES NOT UNDERSTAND CENTRAL ASIA, SAYS KAZAKH OFFICIAL

According to Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrisov, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said during President Nursultan Nazarbaev's visit to London that the West's understanding of Central Asia is "superficial" and in many places "mistaken," Interfax reported on 20 November. Idrisov said that this acknowledgement is "very important" and could lead to "greater mutual understanding" between Kazakhstan and other countries. In other comments, Idrisov denied reports that Nazarbaev had met with former Kazakh Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin. PG

KAZAKHSTAN PLANS NEW PRIVATIZATION EFFORT

Eduard Utepov, the deputy head of the State Property and Privatization Committee, told Interfax-Kazakhstan on 20 November that Astana plans to sell part of its shares in six major enterprises, including Aluminum of Kazakhstan and KazKhrom. In another economic move, the government announced the creation of a new interagency commission for petroleum exports under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Kasymzhomart Tokaev. And the authorities said that Kazakhstan has increased its output of uranium by 16 percent over the last year, Interfax reported. PG

DIAL 911 IN KAZAKHSTAN

Officials in Almaty and Ust-Kamenogorsk announced on 20 November that at the start of next year, they plan to open emergency phone lines analogous to the 911 call lines in the U.S., Interfax reported. PG

KYRGYZSTAN'S DEPUTIES GIVE PRELIMINARY APPROVAL TO BUDGET

The Assembly of People's Representatives on 20 November approved in the first reading the 2001 draft state budget, Interfax reported. The budget contains provisions to repay more than $100 million in foreign debt during the next year, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Meanwhile, Kyrgyz Finance Minister Sultan Mederov said that inflation will be under 13 percent for 2000, far below the government's initial forecast of 20 percent. PG

TAJIKISTAN INDICTS LEADER OF TAJIK UZBEKS

The Tajikistan government has indicted Jahon Ruziev, the chairman of the Society of Ethnic Uzbeks in Tajikistan, with murder, banditry, embezzlement, and misappropriation of funds, Asia-Plus reported on 20 November. Also charged in the same indictment were Igor Pyagay, the former head of the presidential apparatus's Department for Industry, as well as Khursand Davlatov, Mahmudhon Safaraliev, Valijon Ruziev, and Anvar Turaev. PG

NO CUTS PLANNED FOR RUSSIAN BORDER TROOPS IN TAJIKISTAN

Colonel-General Nikolai Reznichenko, the first deputy director of Russia's Federal Border Service, told ITAR-TASS on 20 November that there will be no reduction in the number of Russian border guards in Tajikistan. The main cutbacks, he said, will be on the country's northern and western border, with the number of border troops to be increased on the Russia-Kazakhstan border. PG




BELARUSIAN SOVIETS ELECT UPPER HOUSE

The Minsk City Soviet (Council) has elected eight members of the Council of the Republic, Belapan reported on 20 November. The six oblast soviets are expected to elect their representatives to the country's upper house in the near future. The Central Election Commission registered 56 candidates proposed by local soviets for the Council of the Republic, while the remaining eight members of the 64-seat council will be appointed by the president. This means that none of the 56 candidates will face competition in the elections. JM

LUKASHENKA'S SECURITY SERVICE ACCUSED OF MURDERING JOURNALIST, OPPOSITIONIST

A number of Belarusian media outlets have received an e-mail from an address on the yahoo.com free server accusing Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's Security Service of killing Russian Public Television cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski and opposition politician Viktar Hanchar, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 20 November. The sender, who identified himself as a Belarusian KGB officer, said the KGB arrested nine people, including five officers of the presidential Security Service, who confessed to killing Zavadski and burying him near Minsk. According to the sender, the arrested group was also "directly involved" in killing Hanchar, who disappeared in September 1999. The e-mail said Lukashenka has prohibited Zavadski's body from being exhumed and has ordered that the investigation be transferred from the KGB to the Interior Ministry in order to conceal security service agents' involvement in Zavadski's case. JM

UKRAINIAN DEPUTY PREMIER PLEDGES TO FIGHT CORRUPTION IN COAL MINING

Yuliya Tymoshenko has promised to start fighting corruption in the coal mining industry, which she called "the most corrupt sector" of the country's economy. Tymoshenko made the promise on 20 November in a Kyiv court that was considering her husband's request to release him from jail. Oleksandr Tymoshenko was arrested on embezzlement charges three months ago. Earlier this month, he was also accused of offering a bribe to former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko. "I'm not going to make a deal with those corrupt clans that repeatedly advised me to leave... My husband told me that I should not quit my cabinet post, that I should continue with what I'm doing," Tymoshenko said. According to the "Ukrayinska pravda" Internet newsletter, Tymoshenko suggested that her resignation is the price she has to pay for her husband's release. JM

ESTONIAN RULING COALITION PROPOSES LARGER 2001 BUDGET

The council of the ruling coalition proposed on 20 November that the government increase the 2001 state budget by 300 million kroons ($16.28 million) to 29.75 billion kroons, BNS reported. The budget would remain balanced and additional funds would come from an increase in the dividends of state-owned enterprises (210 million kroons), expected larger corporate tax revenues (70 million kroons), and income from fines (20 million kroons). The council recommended that the additional funds be allocated to emergency services, a fund financing free school lunches, broadcasting, regional investments, dredging the shipping lane between the mainland and the western island of Hiiumaa, and the Migration Fund. SG

PRIVATIZATION TERMS FOR LATVIAN SHIPPING COMPANY SUBMITTED TO GOVERNMENT

The Latvian Economics Ministry has submitted to the government regulations for the privatization of the state-owned Latvian Shipping Company (LASCO), BNS reported on 20 November. Under those regulations, 68 percent of the shares are to be sold to a strategic investor, 17 percent at a public auction for privatization vouchers, and 4 percent to current and retired LASCO employees in exchange for privatization vouchers, while 10 percent are to be transferred to the special national pension fund and 1 percent set aside as a privatization reserve. The initial sales price for LASCO shares will be determined by the Cabinet of Ministers after potential bidders submit offers. The ministry also recommended that the company remains registered in Latvia under its original name and maintains its current operations, profile, and fleet. SG

NATO PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE SUGGESTS ADMITTING LITHUANIA IN 2002

The political committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly on 19 November approved a draft resolution suggesting that Lithuania, Slovenia, and Slovakia be invited to join the alliance no later than in 2002, BNS reported the next day. Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas hailed the decision, noting that "the train has finally moved." The resolution will be put forward for adoption at the assembly's 46th session, which begins in Berlin on 21 November. The assembly's decisions are of a non-binding nature. SG

POLISH SECRET SERVICE DENIES TARGETING LEFT-WING POLITICIANS

The State Protection Office (UOP) has denied it is planning "provocations" against left-wing politicians, PAP reported on 20 November. Last week, Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) lawmaker Janusz Zemke told Polish Radio and "Trybuna" that the UOP and other government security agencies have provided the Finance Ministry with a list of SLD politicians to be subjected to special financial control. Zemke also said those services are preparing forged evidence of ties between SLD politicians and the Polish underworld. UOP spokeswoman Magdalena Kluczynska commented that Zemke's statement was politically motivated and aimed at discrediting the UOP in the public's eyes in order to "arouse social approval for its liquidation or takeover by the SLD." JM

BALCEROWICZ TO GET NATIONAL BANK JOB IN POLITICAL TRADE-OFF?

Democratic Left Alliance lawmaker Jan Sienko on 20 November said his party will support former Deputy Prime Minister Leszek Balcerowicz as a candidate to head the National Bank, provided that Balcerowicz's party, the Freedom Union (UW), agrees to early parliamentary elections, PAP reported. According to Sienko, it is also possible that the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) will support Balcerowicz if the UW endorses the 2001 budget draft. Premier Jerzy Buzek said the same day that Balcerowicz is a good candidate for the post of National Bank president. Balcerowicz is widely seen as the most likely person to be appointed by the president to that post since neither the SLD nor the AWS has a majority in the parliament to approve their own candidates. JM

CZECH POLITICIANS RESPOND TO SENATE ELECTIONS RESULTS...

"If one is unable to put up with defeat, one does not deserve a future victory," Prime Minister Milos Zeman told Czech Radio on 20 November in response to the Social Democratic Party's (CSSD) poor performance in the Senate election runoffs the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November 2000). Zeman did not await the election results at his Prague party headquarters but went on a short vacation to his cottage "to charge [his] batteries," CTK reported. Civic Democratic Party (ODS) leader Vaclav Klaus said the election outcome offers the "hope" of a future "government of the right." MS

...JOCKEY FOR NEW POSITIONS

Peter Pithart of the Christian Democratic Party told Prima television on 20 November that if the four-party coalition proposes him for the post vacated by ODS Senate chairwoman Libuse Benesova, who failed to be re-elected, he will say "yes." Pithart was Senate chairman from 1996 to 1998. Petra Buzkova, who is Chamber of Deputies deputy chairwoman and a potential contender for the CSSD leadership, said it would be "premature" to say whether she will run for the CSSD chairmanship at the party's national conference in spring 2001. Buzkova, who resigned as CSSD deputy chairwoman to protest the power-sharing agreement with the ODS, attributed the CSSD's defeat to that agreement, the CSSD's "inability" to present its true political record to the electorate, and Zeman's meeting last week with communist leader Miroslav Grebenicek, CTK reported. MS

CZECH-AUSTRIAN RELATIONS ABOUT TO THAW?

Czech Foreign Ministry sources cited by Reuters on 20 November said the government in Prague has proposed that Zeman and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel meet on 11 December to discuss ways of solving the dispute over the Temelin nuclear power plant. Earlier this month Zeman canceled a planned meeting with Schuessel because of border blockades staged by Austrian anti-nuclear protesters. Austria's APA agency, citing presidential sources, said President Thomas Klestil will pay a "working visit" to Prague on 28 November to discuss the dispute over Temelin with his Czech counterpart, Vaclav Havel. MS

SLOVAKIA, VATICAN TO SIGN 'FRAMEWORK AGREEMENT'

Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda and Cardinal Angelo Sodano are to meet on 24 November to sign a "framework agreement" on bilateral relations between Slovakia and the Vatican, CTK reported on 20 November, citing the Slovak Foreign Ministry. Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan told journalists after talks with Apostolic Nuncio Luigi Dosena the same day that the "last questions" concerning the agreement have been clarified, paving the way for the agreement to be signed. The document will not address a number of "controversial questions," such as state financing of the Slovak Catholic Church. Some Slovak politicians have argued that the agreement could undermine the principle of the separation of Church and state by giving the Catholic Church a privileged status over other religions. The agreement must be ratified by the parliament and signed by President Rudolf Schuster before it goes into force. MS

NEW ARMY CHIEF APPOINTED IN HUNGARY

Defense Minister Janos Szabo announced on 20 November that Major-General Ferenc Gyoeroessy will be the next chief of staff of the Hungarian army. The current army commander, Lieutenant-General Lajos Urban, was recently asked to become NATO South European commander James O. Ellis's special military envoy in the Balkans. In other news, Brigadier-General Istvan Szekeres addressed a letter to President Ferenc Madl complaining about the "humiliating" dismissal of generals from the army. Szabo told four generals, including Szekeres, that their dismissal had been ordered by Prime Minister Viktor Orban. The number of generals has fallen from 48 to 27 in recent months, "Nepszabadsag" reported. MSZ




SERBIAN OPPOSITION STILL FAR FROM ELECTION PACT

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said on 20 November in Belgrade that the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition can use his name on its lists in the 23 December Serbian elections only if he first approves the candidate it chooses for the post of prime minister, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November 2000). Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic, who aspires to that post, said his party will not participate in the vote unless the coalition first agrees "within seven or eight days" on who will form the new government, "Vesti" reported. Slobodan Vucetic, who is a leader of the G-17 group of economists and a former judge of the Constitutional Court, said the constitution gives the Yugoslav president no role in deciding the composition of the Serbian government. PM

MONTENEGRIN PARTIES REJECT FEDERAL ROLE IN BELGRADE-PODGORICA TALKS

Leaders of the governing Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and the Social Democratic Party rejected Kostunica's demand that the federal government participate in talks between Serbian and Montenegrin authorities over the future of relations between the two republics, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 20 November. DPS leader Miodrag Vukovic said that the federal government has no legitimacy in Montenegrin eyes and that Kostunica's demand is a "provocation." The Social Democrats' Dragisa Burzan told an RFE/RL correspondent that Kostunica's demand shows a lack of respect for Montenegro and recalls the policies of former President Slobodan Milosevic. Representatives of the People's Party, which also belongs to the governing coalition, said, however, that participation of the federal authorities in the talks "could be helpful." PM

MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT LAUNCHES 'DIPLOMATIC OFFENSIVE'

Milo Djukanovic is slated to attend the meeting of NATO's Parliamentary Assembly in Berlin on 21 November, Montena-fax news agency reported. On 24 November, he will take part in the EU's Balkan summit in Zagreb and then attend a meeting of the Central European Initiative in Budapest as a "special guest." The Montenegrin president has sought to dispel reports in the regional and international press that Western support for his government has waned following the recent political changes in Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November 2000). Milan Rocen, who is an aide to Djukanovic, told "Pobjeda" of 21 November that Montenegro needs to have its own seat at the UN. PM

WHAT ROLE FOR MONTENEGRO AT THE BALKAN SUMMIT?

The Zagreb daily "Vjesnik" on 17 November reported that Djukanovic was unhappy that the Croatian Foreign Ministry sent his invitation to the summit via Kostunica's office. Djukanovic plans to attend the meeting only if he has the same rights to speak there as do heads of state. He also insisted that his delegations' seats be marked by the Montenegrin flag and not the Yugoslav one, the daily added. A Croatian Foreign Ministry official told AP on 20 November that an "intense diplomatic discussion" is in progress between officials of the EU, Croatia, Montenegro, and Yugoslavia over Montenegro's role in the summit. PM

SERBIA'S MILOSEVIC RETURNS TO TELEVISION

The Belgrade television station Yu-Info, which the authorities set up during Milosevic's rule, showed footage on 20 November of the former leader participating in a meeting of his Socialist Party of Serbia. This was his first televised appearance since he resigned the presidency on 6 October in a broadcast carried on Yu-Info, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

BELGRADE WANTS DIPLOMATIC TIES TO SLOVENIA

The state-run Tanjug news agency reported on 20 November that the Yugoslav government has decided to establish relations with Slovenia. Mladjan Dinkic, who is widely expected to become head of the Yugoslav National Bank, said that he wants questions regarding the division of the assets and properties of the former Yugoslavia to be cleared up soon, the Ljubljana daily "Delo" reported. The Milosevic regime claimed to be the sole successor to the former Yugoslavia and hence entitled to all its assets and properties. The new Yugoslav authorities, however, have said that they want a fair division of the assets and properties among all successor states. Belgrade thereby met Ljubljana's chief precondition for establishing diplomatic ties. PM

EARTHQUAKES, MUDSLIDES IN SLOVENIA

A series of small earthquakes and heavy rain has led to mudslides in the Mangartsko planino region of northwestern Slovenia in recent days, Ljubljana radio 24-UR reported on 21 November. The danger of additional mudslides remains great. At least two and perhaps seven people have died in the natural disaster. PM

RED CROSS LISTS MISSING PERSONS IN BOSNIA

The International Committee of the Red Cross has issued a list in Sarajevo of 20,484 persons from all regions of Bosnia still missing from the 1992-1995 conflict. The tally includes 16,979 Muslims, 719 Croats, 2,537 Serbs, and 249 others, AP reported. Balthasar Staehelin, who heads the ICRC mission to Bosnia, said that most of the missing persons are presumed dead. He added that the number of missing persons could well be higher than that suggested by the list because some individuals have no surviving relatives to report them missing. PM

OPPOSITION VIOLENCE IN ALBANIA

The 20 November issue of the Democratic Party's daily "Rilindja Demokratike" quoted party leader Sali Berisha as saying: "I ask you to protest every day so that the government cannot find a minute of peace." The Democratic leadership claims that the governing Socialists stole the local elections in October, despite reports of international monitors to the contrary (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 2000). On 17 November, a crowd threw fire bombs at the office of Prime Minister Ilir Meta and beat up a U.S. photographer and a diplomat, whom they allegedly mistook for government informers. On 20 November, several hundred Berisha supporters demonstrated outside the parliament and set fire to a Socialist deputy's car, Reuters reported. PM

ALBANIAN LEADER SEEKS 'EVENTUAL' RELATIONS WITH BELGRADE

Prime Minister Meta told Reuters in Tirana on 20 November that his government wants to renew diplomatic ties with Belgrade. He insists, however, that the Yugoslav leadership to first show that its policies toward Kosova and Albania are different from those of Milosevic. Meta said: "The re-establishment of diplomatic relations is a normal and necessary step that requires [a suitable length of] time. I would not find it strange if we exchanged visits in future. We hope, [however, that] the democratic changes [in Serbia] prove to [be effective] and that they will be reflected in changes in Belgrade's policies toward the region and Albania. It is up to the new Belgrade leadership to prove itself continuously in this direction. [For now, however,] time has been too short for Kostunica to [display] a clear stance regarding Albania and the Kosova problem." PM

ALBANIA TO REPRESENT 'ALL ALBANIANS' AT ZAGREB SUMMIT

Prime Minister Milo said in Tirana on 20 November that at the EU's upcoming Balkan summit in Zagreb, his delegation will represent the interests of all Albanians, regardless of where they live, Hina reported. He spoke at the start of consultations with ethnic Albanian leaders from unnamed neighboring countries. The talks are aimed at coordinating the views of the region's ethnic Albanian leaders in preparation for the summit. PM

EU APPROVES DOCUMENTS ON CROATIA, MACEDONIA

EU foreign ministers agreed in Brussels on 20 November to launch talks with Croatia on a stabilization and association agreement in the near future. The ministers approved a similar agreement with Macedonia, which was recently concluded after five years of negotiations, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

ROMANIAN POLL PREDICTS EXTREMIST LEADER IN RUNOFF WITH ILIESCU

An opinion poll conducted by the INSOMAR institute predicts that Corneliu Vadim Tudor, leader of the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM), will face Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) chairman Ion Iliescu in a runoff for the presidential contest in December, Romanian television reported. The poll shows Iliescu garnering 38 percent backing and Tudor 22 percent. Ahead of the parliamentary elections, the PDSR is leading the field with 41.5 percent support, while the PRM is second with 18.5 percent. However, according to a poll conducted by the Bureau of Social Research (BCS), Iliescu will receive 35 percent of votes in the first round and will face Premier Mugur Isarescu, whose backing is estimated at 14.5 percent, half a percentage point above that of Tudor. With regard to the parliamentary contest, the BCS poll puts the PDSR's backing at 39.5 percent, followed by the PRM with 15.5 percent. MS

ROMANIA STARTS SCREENING SECRET POLICE INFORMERS

The National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives has started questioning parliamentary candidates whose records show they were informers of the communist secret police, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 20 November. Later this week, the council will make public the results of the hearings. Mircea Ionescu-Quintus, leader of the National Liberal Party, told journalists that he went to the hearings "in order to see his file," but council chairman Gheorghe Onisoru refused to comment whether Ionescu-Quintus has been asked to testify. Onisoru also said that the records show that none of the presidential candidates was an informer. Under Romanian law, informers cannot be barred from running but their records are made public. They can be prosecuted if the records show that they misinformed the council about their past collaboration. MS

OUTGOING MOLDOVAN, ROMANIAN PRESIDENTS MEET IN BUCHAREST

Moldova's Petru Lucinschi, who paid a "private" one-day visit to Bucharest on 20 November, met with his Romanian counterpart, Emil Constantinescu, to discuss bilateral relations and ways to promote the two countries' accession to the EU, Romanian and Moldovan media reported. Neither of the two presidents is a candidate in the elections that both countries are to hold in the near future. Lucinschi presented Constantinescu with the highest Moldovan state order on the occasion of Constantinescu's 61st birthday. On 19 November, Theodor Stolojan, the National Liberal Party's candidate in the Romanian elections, visited Chisinau, promising to increase economic ties between the two states if elected president, AP reported. MS

TRANSDNIESTER HOSTS UNRECOGNIZED STATES MEETING

The self-proclaimed foreign ministers of the Transdniester, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia began a three-day meeting in Tiraspol on 20 November, RIA-Novosti reported. None of these territories enjoys international recognition, and all continue to be hotspots on the map of the post-Soviet states. The four officials plan to address how to resolve those conflicts and gain recognition as states. PG

EU CONSIDERS LIFTING VISA REQUIREMENTS ON BULGARIA, ROMANIA

EU officials on 20 November told RFE/RL that the EU has decided to draw up questionnaires for Bulgaria and Romania to establish whether these countries have taken the necessary measures to lift visa requirements imposed on their citizens. The questionnaires are to be drawn up by the EU justice and interior ministers, who are meeting in Brussels on 30 November. Also on 20 November, EU enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen warned that if the requirements are not lifted, Bulgarian public opinion could slide into "Euroskepticism." Reuters reported that visa restrictions on Romania are likely to remain in force owing to EU concerns that controls along the union's borders are insufficient to keep out illegal immigrants and combat organized crime. MS




MOSCOW SPARS BEFORE KNOCKING OUT LUKASHENKA?


By Jan Maksymiuk

Several unpleasant surprises have befallen Alyaksandr Lukashenka from the east in the past two weeks. Some Belarusian observers assert that those surprises reflect the Kremlin's changed attitude toward its closest ally and the nominal head of the Union of Russia and Belarus.

On 8 November, Russian Public Television (ORT) broadcast a documentary, made by ORT Minsk correspondent Pavel Sheremet, devoted to the disappearance of Sheremet's colleague, Dzmitry Zavadski, in the Belarusian capital earlier this year. Sheremet voiced what many in Belarus believe to be true but are afraid to say it in public--namely, that Zavadski was kidnapped by presidential security service agents. According to the documentary, members of the Interior Ministry's special task force, "Almaz," assisted the presidential bodyguards in that kidnapping. Sheremet, who had earlier accused Lukashenka of complicity in Zavadski's disappearance, told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service that some of the kidnappers were arrested but that Belarusian prosecutors are keeping silent about the case.

Lukashenka responded on 14 November by saying it was Sheremet who had something to do with Zavadski's disappearance. He added that the film was politically motivated. That opinion is shared by some Belarusian commentators who say that ORT--which now supports Russian President Vladimir Putin--would have not dared broadcast such a message to the Russian and Belarusian public if it had not received the prior approval of the Kremlin.

Another unexpected occurrence that same week was Lukashenka's appointment of former Interior Minister Yury Sivakou as deputy head of the presidential administration. Sivakou had been dismissed by Lukashenka in apparent disgrace in April, after the former's clumsy handling of an opposition rally in Minsk, at which hundreds of people, including foreign parliamentary deputies and journalists, were arrested. Sivakou's comeback is seen by some observers of the Belarusian political scene as one of Lukashenka's precautionary measures ahead of next year's presidential elections. Moreover, those observers point out that it was during Sivakou's term as interior minister when Lukashenka's fierce opponents, former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka and former Constitutional Court head Viktar Hanchar, disappeared. Sivakou, according to the same observers, knows more about their disappearances than does the general public, and Lukashenka simply wants to secure Sivakou's silence by offering him a high post in the administration.

One more unexpected blow to Lukashenka came on 15 November, the penultimate day of the trial of Tamara Rokhlina, the widow of State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin. Rokhlina reportedly told the court that her husband had been preparing "a mass peaceful demonstration of Russia's power ministry employees" against President Boris Yeltsin in 1998 because he believed that the Yeltsin regime was responsible for Russia's disintegration. She added that Lukashenka knew about the intended demonstration and helped Rokhlin financially with the preparations to stage it. Rokhlina's confession was immediately and vehemently denied by Lukashenka spokesman Mikalay Barysevich, presidential administration chief Mikhail Myasnikovich, and Lukashenka's adviser Syarhey Posakhau. Those denials are rather curious since all of them were directed toward the Russian public and were not disseminated in Belarus. Some believe that in view of Lukashenka's well-known ambitions to succeed Yeltsin as the leader of a unified Russian-Belarusian state, Rokhlina's charge of Lukashenka's complicity in an anti-Yeltsin plot sounds only too plausible in Belarus and therefore official Minsk decided not to publicize that charge domestically. Lukashenka broke his silence on Rokhlin's case on 17 November, when Belarusian Television quoted him as saying that he could not provide funds to Rokhlin's Movement in Support of the Army because "I didn't have [the amount of] money that would likely have been necessary to finance the movement."

"Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" wrote last week that Moscow has decided to put pressure on Lukashenka to make him behave as befits his real political status, which, according to the daily, Moscow sees as that of regional governor. "The Belarusian leadership's reaction to [Sheremet's documentary] is actually a struggle against Moscow's frontal and powerful pressure on Lukashenka," the newspaper wrote. "In fact, by using ORT, the Kremlin is now showing him his real position--that of governor. Moscow is indicating that if it decides to support Lukashenka in the [presidential] elections, he cannot count on more that the status of governor... Lukashenka realizes this perfectly well and is mad about the humiliation. He would like to be an equal partner for Putin, but he is being told with disgust: move aside, citizen, and do not stand in the way."

Without doubt, Putin's ascendancy to the Kremlin has significantly reduced Lukashenka's possibilities to promote himself in Russia's regions, where he reportedly wields much influence among local governing elites. During Yeltsin's reign, Lukashenka visited many of those regions, brandishing his Slavic-union idea and advertising himself as the right man to head that union. Putin cut short Lukashenka's Russian trips. Judging from recent signals, the Kremlin has now decided to tell Belarus's authoritarian leader how he should behave at home, too.


XS
SM
MD
LG