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Newsline - November 28, 2000




PUTIN CALLS FOR MORE FUNDING FOR COURT SYSTEM...

Addressing the fifth All-Russian Congress of Judges on 27 November, President Vladimir Putin pledged to increase the funding of the judicial system by 33 percent next year. He also said that "this year, the program for financing the judicial system has practically been fulfilled." However, the Audit Commission reported recently that 2000 budget expenditures for the courts were fulfilled only at the rate of 56.1 percent of the planned level during the first three quarters of 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2000). Putin also claimed that wages are being paid regularly. On 25 November, Putin signed a decree raising the wages of judges and employees of the prosecutors' offices by 20 percent as of 1 December, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC

...SAYS LACK OF JUDICIAL REFORM IMPEDING ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Putin also acknowledged that the court system's work load has tripled over the last six years and that more than 5 million civil cases pass through the judicial system each year. Moreover, some 3,226 Russian citizens have been kept in detention centers without trial for one to two years, while some 400 people have been held for two to three years. He concluded that flaws in the judicial system and slow legal reform are acting as brakes on Russia's development. "Shortcomings and errors in the judicial system are allowing the rise of legal nihilism," he said. JAC

GOVERNMENT FACES MORE CRITICISM

After criticizing the government's performance in managing social benefits for the military, President Putin chaired a cabinet session on 27 November at which the government's performance was again criticized, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2000). According to Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, the cabinet came under fire for failing to take necessary measures in a timely fashion, Interfax reported. He did not specify what measures he meant. Kudrin also said that Putin instructed the cabinet to "respond to dangers arising on markets more quickly and actively and to maintain the positive trends and rate of economic growth already achieved." JAC

PUTIN ASKS DUMA NOT TO TAKE A BREAK

President Putin asked the State Duma on 27 November to continue its current session uninterrupted until 25 December in order to be able to consider important draft laws, Interfax reported. On 25 November, "The Moscow Times" reported that 45 Duma deputies have launched a new lobby group called Business Russia, which will promote laws intended to "unleash market forces on the [Russian] economy's black spots." The chairman of the new group is Igor Lisinenko of Fatherland-All Russia; his deputy, Marina Barzhanova is from the Union of Rightist Forces. Lisinenko is also deputy head of Arkadii Volskii's Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. JAC

GUSINSKII CONFIRMS EXISTENCE OF SEVERAL PROPOSALS TO OBTAIN STAKE IN NTV

Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii told Reuters on 26 November that he is looking for foreign investors to buy a sizable stake in NTV, possibly as soon as Christmas (the agency did not specify which Christmas Gusinskii was referring to). Gusinskii said that he already has several proposals. "Kommersant-Daily" reported the previous day that among the interested buyers are Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and companies linked to Italian media mogul Silvio Berlusconi and U.S. media magnate Ted Turner. Interfax reported on 23 November that Gazprom-Media and Media-MOST will begin negotiations on 27 November with representatives of Deutsche Bank about the sale to a Western investor of 25 percent plus one share of NTV. JAC

RUSSIA, IRAN TO NEGOTIATE ARMS SALES IN NEAR FUTURE

Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov reaffirmed on 27 November that Russia is prepared to conduct negotiations with Iran on resuming supplies of conventional arms, Interfax reported. He said that "Russia is ready to supply Iran with everything that does not contravene our country's international obligations in this area." On 24 November, Klebanov told reporters that Russia will start such negotiations in the near future, according to the agency. On 23 November, Russian Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko and his Iranian counterpart, Mohsen Nurbakhsh, signed an agreement on cooperation in banking operations and a letter of intent pledging to assist each country's commercial banks in opening subsidiaries. Gerashchenko said that the signing of the agreement was unrelated to the possible resumption of military cooperation between Russia and Iran. He added, however, that "if Iranian army commanders show an interest in the purchase of certain types of Russian armaments, then why not?" JAC

RUSSIA LOOKS TO LARGER INVESTMENTS FROM ITALY

Russian President Putin told his Italian counterpart, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, after their meeting in the Kremlin on 27 November that Russia wants to broaden its ties with Italy and put more emphasis on investment than on trade in raw materials. Ciampi expressed his conviction that as Russia implements reforms, "the confidence of Italian and foreign businessmen will increase and they will broaden their presence in Russia." Both leaders praised the development of Russian-Italian ties. According to Interfax, the volume of bilateral trade turnover last year totaled $4.9 billion and is expected to increase to some $7 billion this year. JC

IVANOV WELCOMES BELGRADE'S RETURN TO OSCE

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, addressing a meeting of the OSCE foreign ministers in Vienna on 27 November, welcomed Belgrade's return to the organization, saying it is "of particular significance for Russia." Referring to the tensions in southern Yugoslavia between ethnic Albanians and Serbs, Ivanov urged the OSCE "not to close [its] eyes and ears to the events taking place there" and to take steps "in the interest of preserving [Yugoslavia's] territorial integrity." Also on 27 November, Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, head of the Russian Defense Ministry's international department, backed Yugoslav demands that ethnic Albanian guerrillas be kept out of the 5-kilometer demilitarized zone between Serbia and Kosova. Ivashov expressed the hope that tensions in the region will be resolved in a "nonviolent way," Interfax reported. JC

KAZANTSEV DENIES HOLDING TALKS WITH GELAEV

Russian presidential representative to the South Russia federal district Viktor Kazantsev on 27 November denied that he is conducting talks with Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelaev, ITAR-TASS reported. "Kommersant-Daily" had quoted Kazantsev on 24 November as saying that his aides were conducting such talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2000). Kazantsev ranked Gelaev with radical field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab, despite Gelaev's public condemnation of Wahhabism. LF

GROZNY MAYOR ACCUSES POLICE OF COLLABORATION

Addressing a conference of local administrators in Gudermes on 27 November, Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov claimed that three of the capital's four permanent police divisions are collaborating with Chechen fighters loyal to President Aslan Maskhadov, Russian agencies reported. He said the overwhelming majority of the militia that he led from late 1999 until May of this year have been dismissed and that all "anti-terrorist" activities in Grozny should be suspended pending the vetting of all police personnel. Some Grozny police were present at the 12 November shoot-out in Grozny, during which several Chechen captives, possibly including field commander Arbi Baraev, were apprehended and then disappeared (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2000). In Moscow, Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii dismissed Gantemirov's accusations as unsubstantiated. LF

COURT ACCEPTS NEW EVIDENCE IN POPE CASE

The Moscow City Court has accepted new evidence in the espionage trial of U.S. businessman Edmond Pope that could prove the defendant's innocence, Pope's lawyer, Pavel Astakhov told journalists on 27 November. One of the documents submitted as evidence gave authorization for a report on a high-speed underwater torpedo to be sent abroad. That document, Astakhov said, proves that neither Pope nor Anatolii Babkin, the author of the report, had planned to receive or transfer classified data. Earlier this month, Babkin withdrew his original testimony in which he claimed to have provided Pope with such data. That testimony, he later said, had been given under duress (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2000). JC

RAILWAY TARIFF HIKE PUT ON HOLD...

The Railways Ministry announced on 27 November that it is postponing a planned rise in transportation tariffs scheduled for 1 December, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2000). According to a Railways Ministry spokesperson, the issue will be reconsidered at the beginning of 2001. "Segodnya" reported on 24 November that Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko failed to persuade the Anti-Monopoly Policy Ministry that such increases are necessary. At the time of the announcement of the planned increase, the ministry said that higher tariffs were needed to finance repairs of outdated equipment. JAC

...AS INFRASTRUCTURE CRISIS PREDICTED

"Delovye lyudi" reported in its issue No. 116 that Russia is teetering on the "brink of an infrastructure collapse" because a variety of facilities are wearing out beyond repair, natural resources are being exhausted, and necessary investments are not being made. "If the current rate of investment in the electricity sector remains unchanged, by 2005 32 percent of capacity will be destroyed owing to physical wear and tear, resulting in a corresponding reduction in electricity output," the publication argued. Also reported to be under threat are the oil refining and natural gas industries, the latter of which is facing "the complete exhaustion of main gas deposits," according to the publication. JAC

PATRIARCH ASKS OLD BELIEVERS TO RETURN TO FOLD

Addressing a Russian Orthodox Church conference on 27 November, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II called on members of the Old Believers sect to forget their past grievances with the Church, ITAR-TASS reported. Aleksii said that the schism over the past three centuries "remains a cause of deep sorrow for our people," and he called past persecution of the Old Believers unfair. According to the agency, on 27 November priests from Old Believer parishes were allowed for the first time to participate in public prayers at Moscow's Assumption Cathedral. The agency also reported that there are 15 Old Believers parishes in Russia. JAC

MOSCOW SAYS WALLENBERG WAS EXECUTED IN 1947

Aleksandr Yakovlev, who heads the Russian presidential commission on rehabilitating victims of political repression, has said his commission has "no doubts" that war hero Raoul Wallenberg was executed at the KGB headquarters in Moscow in 1947. "Wallenberg was a victim of Stalinist repression" and will be "rehabilitated [posthumously] as a victim of political repression," Yakovlev said. Wallenberg is credited with having saved the lives of tens of thousands of Jews while serving as a Swedish diplomat in Budapest during World War II. He disappeared in January 1945 on his way to meet with a Soviet commander in Hungary. According to the official Soviet version, he was arrested as a spy by Red Army counterintelligence and died of a heart attack, aged 34, at Moscow's Lubyanka prison in July 1947. A separate Russian-Swedish commission is also investigating the Wallenberg case and is expected to issue its final report in January. JC




ARMENIAN CABINET CUTS DRAFT BUDGET

Meeting in emergency session on 27 November, the cabinet slashed expenditures in the draft budget for 2001, originally set at 297 billion drams ($540 million), by 17.5 percent, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Vartan Khachatrian, who was named as finance minister two weeks ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2000), argued that the original targets, which would have resulted in the highest-ever budget deficit, are not realistic. The revisions will reduce the anticipated deficit from 92 to 50 billion drams, or 4.5 percent of GDP. LF

RUSSIAN FSB DIRECTOR VISITS AZERBAIJAN

Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev assured visiting Russian Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev in Baku on 27 November that "we would like to establish cooperation with Russia in all spheres, including security," Turan reported. Aliyev added that Azerbaijan is ready to cooperate with Russia in resolving unspecified problems in the North Caucasus. Patrushev also met with Azerbaijan's National Security Minister Namig Abbasov, with whom he discussed efforts to combat terrorism and organized crime and signed a protocol on air transport safety. LF

RUSSIA DENIES INTRODUCTION OF GEORGIAN VISA REGIME WILL BE POSTPONED

In a statement issued on 27 November, the Russian Foreign Ministry denied that the planned imposition of a visa requirement for people entering Russia from Georgia has been postponed for three months, ITAR-TASS reported. Moscow had earlier announced that the requirement would take effect on 5 December. But Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said on 27 November in his traditional weekly radio broadcast that the two countries' foreign ministries have agreed to postpone the visa requirement until 1 March 2001, according to Caucasus Press. The cost of a Russian entry visa for Georgian citizens will be $10. Also on 27 November, a Georgian Foreign Ministry official told Caucasus Press that the EU Council on 23 November adopted a statement expressing concern at the Russian decision to exempt from the visa requirement residents of the breakaway Georgian republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The EU said that move contradicts the principle of Georgia's territorial integrity. LF

KAZAKHSTAN REGISTERS INCREASE IN DRUG ADDICTION

Speaking in Almaty on 27 November, Kazakh National Security Department official Rakhat Aliyev said the number of drug addicts in Kazakhstan has increased 300 percent over the past five years, Interfax reported. The number of women addicts grew by 500 percent, while that of child addicts soared by 900 percent over that period. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARTY DEMANDS ACQUITTAL OF JAILED LEADER

The opposition Erkindik (Liberty) party issued a statement in Bishkek on 27 November demanding the acquittal and release of its leader, Topchubek Turgunaliev, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. TurgunAliyev was found guilty in September of masterminding a plot to assassinate President Askar Akaev and was sentenced to 16 years' imprisonment; a Bishkek court on 24 November cut that term to six years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2000). The statement said that the court failed to prove Turgunaliev's involvement in the alleged plot. LF




BELARUSIAN ADMINISTRATION SHAKEUP SEEN AS TIGHTENING SECURITY...

Belarusian Television's main newscast "Panarama" on 27 November discussed several possible reasons for President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's sacking of three top security officials earlier the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2000). Lukashenka is reported to be dissatisfied with security bodies' investigation of several high profile cases, including the disappearance of prominent oppositionists Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar and Russian Public Television cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski. Another reported reason is NATO's alleged attempt to destabilize the situation in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus Report," 28 November 2000) "according to the Yugoslav scenario, which includes armed intervention." The program also warned against possible terrorist acts on Belarus's communication links and pipelines. "Panarama" suggested that by replacing the inefficient officials Lukashenka is seeking to ward off the emerging threats and "to decisively reinforce the structure of state power." Neither Lukashenka nor any administration official has so far commented on the security reshuffle. JM

...AND AS GROUNDWORK FOR ELECTION CAMPAIGN

According to Yury Khadyka from the Belarusian Popular Front (BNF), the 27 November shakeup of the security apparatus can be seen as Lukashenka's preparation for next year's presidential campaign. Khadyka told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service that Lukashenka needs new security officials who would have "fewer levers" in politics and be more prepared to obey his orders. BNF exiled leader Zyanon Paznyak commented that Lukashenka is seeking to thwart Moscow from replacing him with a Belarusian "Vojislav Kostunica" and therefore fires any Belarusian-born official whom Moscow could possibly field as his challenger in the presidential elections. Human rights activist Hary Pahanyayla told Belapan that in the runup to the presidential campaign, Lukashenka intends to conceal the truth about the disappearance of Zakharanka, Hanchar, and Zavadski and has appointed officials who will help him achieve that goal. JM

UKRAINE IN THE DARK

Severe weather conditions, including snowstorms, caused blackouts in some 3,000 towns and villages throughout Ukraine on 27 November, primarily in the Vinnytsya, Khmelnytskyy, and Odesa regions, Interfax reported. According to the Ministry for Emergency Situations, some 90 percent of all blackouts occurred because of automatic shutdowns along power lines. Power supply failures had caused the Chornobyl nuclear power plant to shut down the same day, while three other nuclear reactors ceased operating on 28 November. President Leonid Kuchma has ordered Deputy Premier Yuriy Yekhanurov to set up a government emergency team to deal with the disaster. JM

UKRAINIAN TAX POLICE DETECT 3,800 FAKE FIRMS

Svyatoslav Pyskun, a department head at the State Tax Administration, told journalists on 27 November that from January to October of this year, tax police uncovered some 3,800 fictitious firms that had been used by their founders to evade paying tax, the "Eastern Economist Daily" and Interfax reported. The authorities froze 82 million hryvni ($15 million) in the bank accounts of those firms and have already confiscated 39 million hryvni that should have gone to the state budget. JM

ESTONIAN RAILWAY TO BE SOLD TO BRITISH COMPANY

The Estonian Privatization Agency on 27 November approved the sale of Edelaraudtee (Southwest Railway) to the British company GB Railways for 10 million kroons ($538,000), ETA and BNS reported. The British company is obliged to invest 260 million kroons in Edelaraudtee over five years and guarantee jobs for 366 of the current 830 employees. Transport and Communications Minister Toivo Jurgenson noted that GB Railways has significantly decreased its initial investment offer because the parliament decided to reduce the state subsidy to the railroad to 845 million kroons over 10 years. SG

SOCIAL DEMOCRATS MOST POPULAR PARTY IN LATVIA

A poll conducted in November by the public opinion studies center SSKDS indicates that the opposition Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party remains the most popular political party in Latvia with 17.3 percent backing, an increase of 0.4 percent over October, BNS reported on 27 November. The nationalist For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK replaces Latvia's Way in second place with 15 percent support (a 4.2 percent increase), while Latvia's Way is in third place with 12.8 percent (a 0.3 percent decrease). The People's Party saw its popularity increase by 1.4 percent to 8.9 percent, while that of the left-wing alliance For Human Rights in an Integrated Latvia dropped 0.3 percent to 5.6 percent. No other party polled the 5 percent necessary to gain seats in the parliament. SG

LITHUANIA'S LOCAL TELEPHONE RATES TO INCREASE

Lietuvos Telekomas announced on 27 November that starting next year rates for local calls from 7:00 a.m. to 8.00 p.m. will increase from 0.09 to 0.12 litas ($0.0225-0.03) per minute, Lithuania Radio reported. The rates for calls from 8:00 p.m. to midnight will also increase by 0.03 litas, but those between midnight and 6.00 a.m. will decrease by 0.01 litas. The price of long distance calls, especially abroad, has also been reduced. Monthly subscription fee for residents will remain at 17 litas but will be reduced for businesses by 16 percent to 30 litas. SG

MORE POLISH NURSES GO ON STRIKE OVER WAGES

Hundreds of nurses began hunger strikes throughout Poland on 27 November and thereby joined the protests in the health service against the government's failure to pay wage rises (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2000), Polish media reported. Some hospitals, particularly in the Silesia region in southern Poland, have started accepting only emergency cases because of staff shortages. JM

WARSAW WIDENS BAN ON WESTERN BEEF IMPORTS

The government on 27 November decided to extend the ban on beef imports to Germany, Belgium, Denmark, The Netherlands, and Spain because of concerns over mad cow disease (BSE), Polish media reported. Previously, Poland imposed a ban on beef imports from France, Great Britain, Ireland, and Portugal. Agriculture Minister Artur Balazs told the media that there have been no cases of mad cow disease in Poland. JM

CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS WANT TO MAINTAIN 'OPPOSITION AGREEMENT'

The leadership of the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) on 26 November discussed the party's poor showing in the recent Senate elections and decided against abolishing the so-called "opposition agreement" with the Civic Democratic Party, CTK reported. CSSD Deputy Chairman Petr Lachnit told reporters that the leadership also supports Zeman's continuing as party chairman and premier. Zeman, however, said he is still considering leaving both posts. On 27 November, leaders of CSSD regional organizations told CTK that Deputy Premier Vladimir Spidla, whom many consider Zeman's designated successor, should replace him at the national conference scheduled for April. They said Zeman's rival Stanislav Gross, who is also a potential contender for the CSSD leadership, should become Spidla's deputy. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT ILL AGAIN

Vaclav Havel is again ill with pneumonia and has been forced to cancel his official engagements for this week, CTK and APA reported. Austrian President Thomas Klestil's planned visit to Prague, during which the two heads of state were to discuss the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant, has been canceled. Havel will, however, appoint Zdenek Tuma as National Bank governor on 29 November. MS

AUSTRIA WITHDRAWS OBJECTIONS TO ENVIRONMENT CHAPTER IN EU-CZECH PARLEYS

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said after talks in Vienna on 27 November with his Austrian counterpart, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, that Austria has withdraw its objections to closing the environment chapter in the Czech-EU accession talks, CTK reported. Austrian sources confirmed Kavan's statement but added that Austrian objections to closing the energy chapter in the talks remain in force owing to the Temelin dispute. MS

FORMER SLOVAK PREMIER CHARGED WITH UNLAWFULLY AWARDING BONUSES...

Chief police investigator Jaroslav Ivor on 27 November told journalists that charges have been filed against former Premier Vladimir Meciar, who is suspected of illegally distributing bonuses to members of his former cabinets, CTK reported. If found guilty, Meciar could face up to 10 years in prison for "abuse of power as a public official." Ivor said that the bonuses were paid 11 times between 1993 and 1998, inflicting damage on the state budget. He said that the former premier knew he was acting unlawfully and later tried to legalize his actions through a 1995 cabinet resolution. Ivor said, however, that the resolution is invalid. Police earlier suspected incumbent Premier Mikulas Dzurinda of unlawfully awarding bonuses but later stopped the investigation on grounds of lack of evidence. MS

...WHILE GOVERNMENT CONSIDERS BANNING HIS PARTY

Interior minister Ladislav Pittner said the government will consider banning Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) if it is proved in court that the HZDS is "responsible for serious politically motivated crimes," CTK reported. Fugitive former Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) chief Ivan Lexa, a deputy representing the HZDS, and 11 other former members of the SIS were formally charged on 27 November in connection with the 1995 kidnapping of former President Michal Kovac's son and other crimes. Pittner said that if it is proven that Lexa acted with the knowledge of the HZDS or the awareness of its leadership, the cabinet may consider the ban. He also said the role personally played by Meciar in the crimes with which Lexa is charged must be investigated. Opinion polls have repeatedly shown the HZDS to be Slovakia's most popular party. MS




NATO SEEKS PEACEFUL SOLUTION IN SOUTHWEST SERBIA

NATO officials in Kosova have "pressured Yugoslav authorities and ethnic Albanian militants to keep talking in hopes of defusing a crisis that began when rebels killed four Serbian policemen" recently in the Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac region of Serbia, AP reported on 27 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2000). A KFOR spokesman said in Prishtina that "we are encouraged by the restraint of both sides." RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported that KFOR and Serbian troops have built up their respective forces just outside the 5 kilometer-wide demilitarized zone along the Serbian border with Kosova. In Vienna, Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic told his U.S. counterpart, Madeleine Albright, that Belgrade wants KFOR to seal off the zone on the Kosova side of the frontier but does not want NATO to enter the zone itself, Reuters reported. In Washington, a State Department spokesman called on Serbs and ethnic Albanians to refrain from violence. PM

SOUTHWEST SERBIA REMAINS TENSE

In Prishtina, officials of the ethnic Albanian Liberation Front of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB) said on 27 November that they have extended their unilateral cease-fire until 1 December. A UCPMB spokesman added, however, that Serbian forces have "brought in tanks all over the place [near the demilitarized zone]. We are dealing with a very tense situation," AP reported. Serbian forces in the area include the SAJ anti-terrorist unit as well as five armored brigades, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who heads the Yugoslav General Staff and commanded Serbian forces in Kosova during the 1999 conflict, said in Bujanovac that "if there isn't good will in the international community to solve the problem peacefully, Yugoslavia will decide to clean all Albanian terrorist forces out of the entire zone." "Danas" reported on 28 November that "the police and army are ready to intervene at once." PM

WHO OR WHAT IS BEHIND TENSIONS IN SOUTHWEST SERBIA?

General Pavkovic said in Bujanovac on 27 November that the recent developments in the area were "not at all spontaneous. We think it's a well-organized provocation by the ethnic Albanian terrorist forces, which are trying to destabilize this part of our country and unite it with Kosovo," AP reported. In Prishtina, an RFE/RL correspondent noted that "political observers [there] say it is not clear whether the UCPMB is the sole instigator of the recent clashes or whether Serbian forces loyal to former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic are instigating trouble in a bid to discredit and destabilize the new leadership of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica [in the runup to the 23 December Serbian parliamentary elections]. Although UCPMB continues to smuggle weapons across the boundary from Kosova, observers in Prishtina say it appears the insurgents are also purchasing weapons in Serbia." PM

SERBIAN LEADERS CALL FOR PEACEFUL SOLUTION

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said in Belgrade on 27 November that KFOR has "demanded that we not use the language of deadlines and ultimatums, but that of diplomacy and agreements," AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2000). Speaking in Bujanovac later that day, Kostunica told hundreds of anxious local Serbs that "there will not be a war because we are fighting for peace... We have shown that we are for peace because we respect all international documents on Kosovo." Kostunica stressed that "you have the army and the police but this time [in contrast to 1999] you also have the world on your side. We do not have anyone, particularly not the great powers, against us right now," Reuters reported. Kostunica was accompanied by General Pavkovic and Serbian security chief Rade Markovic, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Both men have long been regarded as Milosevic loyalists. PM

REFUGEES CONTINUE TO FLEE SOUTHWESTERN SERBIA

Some 800 people passed through one crossing point between Kosova and southwestern Serbia on 27 November alone, a spokeswoman for the UNHCR said in Prishtina (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2000). The next day, the UNHCR issued a statement saying that some 3,000 ethnic Albanians fled to Kosova over the previous four days, Reuters reported. Macedonian border authorities said in a statement on 27 November that some 500 ethnic Albanians fled the area into Macedonia during that same period. PM

YUGOSLAV LEADER HAS NO TIME FOR ALBRIGHT

On behalf of the OSCE, Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner welcomed Belgrade back into that organization in Vienna on 27 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2000). Yugoslav officials said that Kostunica had "scheduling problems" that prevented him from meeting with Albright, the "International Herald Tribune" reported. The two nonetheless met briefly and shook hands. Many Serbs dislike Albright because of her role in the 1999 conflict and because strong, assertive women do not fit easily into the Balkan macho political culture. Unnamed U.S. officials said that Kostunica is "being unnecessarily rude" to her in view of Washington's pledge of $100 million in aid to Belgrade, the daily added. Kostunica met with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov (see also Part I), "Vesti" reported. In addition, Kostunica attended a lunch in his honor hosted by Austrian President Thomas Klestil. Among the guests was Austrian far-right leader Joerg Haider, AP reported. PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION COALITION AGREEMENT SIGNED

Representatives of the 18 parties in the Democratic Opposition of Serbia coalition signed an agreement in Belgrade on 28 November. They reaffirmed that they will remain united for the December elections. PM

MONTENEGRIN GOVERNING PARTY SEEKS INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION

President Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists has said its chief goal is working for international recognition of Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Podgorica on 27 November. In related news, several pro-independence leaders in Montenegro criticized Serbian Orthodox Metropolitan Amfilohije for wanting to make 26 November a national holiday. On that date in 1918, an assembly in Podgorica voted to abolish Montenegrin statehood and unite with Serbia. PM

CROATIAN LEADER CALLS ON KOSTUNICA TO SEND MILOSEVIC TO HAGUE

President Stipe Mesic called on his Yugoslav counterpart to extradite Milosevic to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal once the 23 December elections are over, "Jutarnji list" reported from Zagreb on 28 November. PM

CROATIA OFFERING 'PEANUTS' TO MOSTAR?

The Croatian government has approved a payment of less than $5,000 to the city of Mostar to help rebuild the famous Ottoman stone bridge that Herzegovinian Croat gunners destroyed in 1993. The Rijeka daily "Novi List" wrote on 28 November that the sum is "peanuts" in view of the role played by ethnic Croatian forces in the destruction of Mostar during their 1993-1994 conflict with Muslim forces. PM

SLOVENIAN POLICE ARREST HUMAN TRAFFIC GANGSTER

Police arrested Josip Loncaric near Ljubljana on 27 November, "Jutarnji list" reported. The Zagreb daily described him as the "biggest dealer in human traffic in Central Europe." He holds dual Croatian and Slovenian citizenship. PM

ROMANIAN POLLSTER PREDICTS TUDOR VICTORY IN PRESIDENTIAL RUNOFF

Alin Teodorescu, head of the Institute for Marketing and Research (IMAS), told Reuters on 27 November that he "will be very surprised" if Corneliu Vadim Tudor, leader of the extremist Greater Romania Party, does not win the runoff against Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) chairman Ion Iliescu. He said IMAS's latest polls show Tudor defeating Iliescu by 54 percent to 46 percent. The final results of the 26 November parliamentary and presidential contests are expected on 28 November, but with more than 96 percent of votes counted, no significant changes were reported to the results released one day earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2000). MS

NATIONAL PEASANT PARTY LEADERSHIP RESIGNS OVER ELECTION RESULTS...

The entire leadership of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD), headed by chairman Ion Diaconescu and first deputy chairman Ioan Muresan, resigned on 27 November, assuming responsibility for the party's failure to gain parliamentary representation. The PNTCD ran as the main formation of the Democratic Convention of Romania 2000 alliance. A provisional PNTCD team is to be elected over the coming weekend to act as caretaker until a PNTCD congress scheduled for January 2001 elects a new leadership, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

...AS OTHER PARTIES CONSIDER THEIR OPTIONS

PDSR spokesman Ioan Mircea Pascu on 27 November said his party might opt to form a minority government that would rule with the support of other parties, "depending on the issue at stake." Pascu explained that forming a coalition with the National Liberal Party (PNL) may be good for the country's "image abroad" but bad for the government's "domestic image." The Democratic Party, he said, "ruled itself out" as a coalition partner after launching an offensive against the PDSR on the eve of the elections. PRM First Deputy Chairman Cornel Ciontu said his party could "form a powerful team" with the PDSR but would not be ready to do so "at any price." PNL First Deputy Chairman Valeriu Stoica and Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania leader Bela Marko said they believe their parties will be in opposition. MS

ROMANIAN ELECTORAL OUTCOME TO IMPACT ON MOLDOVAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS?

Moldovan deputy Ilie Ilascu, who has been imprisoned since 1992 in Tiraspol, has been elected a senator on the lists of the PRM but cannot take up his seat before he renounces his seat in the Moldovan legislature, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Valeriu Matei, leader of the Party of Democratic Forces (PFD), on whose lists Ilascu was elected a Moldovan deputy in 1998, said the PFD "will do nothing" to influence Ilascu, who must himself decide whether he resigns from the parliament in Chisinau. Mediafax said that if Ilascu resigns from the Moldovan legislature, he will be succeeded by the next PFD candidate. This might facilitate the election of Pavel Barbalat as Petru Lucinschi's successor on 1 December. Presidential spokesman Anatol Golea said Lucinschi is "concerned" about the success of "extremists" in the Romanian elections, which might "negatively impact the process of European integration and bilateral relations." MS

BULGARIAN PATRIARCH REFUSES TO INVITE PONTIFF

Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarch Maxim is refusing "on canonical grounds" to extend an invitation to Pope John Paul II to visit Bulgaria, AP reported on 27 November, quoting Metropolitan Gelasy, the head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church's Holy Synod. Gelasy participated in a meeting between Patriarch Maxim and Vatican envoy Cardinal Edward Cassidy on 25 November. The cabinet headed by Ivan Kostov has repeatedly invited the pope to Bulgaria, but the pontiff said he will accept the invitation only if Maxim invites him as well. The government believes that a papal visit could amount to recognition that Bulgaria was not involved in the 1981 attempt on John Paul II's life. Two Bulgarian citizens were acquitted of complicity in that attempt owing to "lack of evidence." MS

BELGIUM SEEKS TO CUT NUMBER OF BULGARIAN ASYLUM SEEKERS

Visiting Belgian Interior Minister Antoine Duquesne told journalists on 27 November that his country is "very concerned" about the high number of asylum-seekers from Bulgaria and is considering steps to curb illegal immigration. The declaration comes when Bulgaria is seeking to have the EU abolish visa requirements for its citizens, Reuters reported. Duquesne said Bulgarians are not eligible for asylum because their country is a democratic state. Some 1,700 Bulgarians are currently applying for asylum in that country. MS




FAR EAST CRISIS SHOWS LIMITS OF PUTIN'S CENTRALIZATION REFORMS


By Sophie Lambroschini

The energy reductions and salary arrears now crippling parts of Primore Krai in Russia's Far East have left tens of thousands cold, hungry, and angry.

While the federal government is looking to offload responsibility for the crisis, local authorities claim the situation has been blown out of proportion by Moscow in order to discredit them.

Energy crises in Primore have become chronic over the past several years. This time, however, the energy shortage also poses a direct challenge to the Kremlin, which has insisted that centralization of power is the only way to fight local mismanagement and lawlessness.

Primore is governed by Yevgenii Nazdratenko, who is notorious for his misrule. At first glance, the region seems a prime candidate for Kremlin intervention to exercise direct authority. But many Russian analysts say that in the case of Nazdratenko, the president has few effective weapons to use in enforcing his promised reforms.

Those analysts agree that a combination of recent factors--such as insufficient fuel reserves and energy cuts due to accumulated regional debts and broken-down equipment--have contributed to the energy cuts in Primore. But they also point to more fundamental reasons, such as embezzlement, insufficient regional revenues not compensated by federal subsidies, shady energy deals, and severe rises in fuel prices. At the same time, many analysts hold Nazdratenko, who has been accused of mismanagement and election-tampering, largely responsible for the region's chaos.

Nonetheless, Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin has announced that Moscow will provide the region with additional financing.

Petr Kozma, editor of the East West Institute's weekly regional news bulletin, says the Primore crisis makes clear that the Kremlin's new centralization policy provides no defense against autocratic regional governors such as Nazdratenko. "Actually, the situation there is in a deadlock. I don't know how the central leadership can solve it. Strong tactics won't work," Kozma said.

Over the past few months, Putin has promised to put an end to regional fiefdoms such as Primore, where courts, businesses, and the police are all directly subordinated to the governor. Earlier this year, the Kremlin pushed through the State Duma legislation intended to put governors under Moscow's control. Seven presidential representatives, whose powers are substantial and may yet be extended, are out searching for violations in the regions.

But in Nazdratenko's case, the Kremlin did not go much further than a reprimand. The presidential representative for the Far East district, Konstantin Pulikovskii, criticized Nazdratenko for allowing the crises over energy shortages and teachers' wages to occur. Pulikovskii also ordered law-enforcement agencies to determine where the money for the salaries has gone and why people in the region have insufficient heat.

According to Kozma, the Kremlin could push to get a relatively docile Federation Council--the parliament's upper house, made up of regional leaders--to lift Nazdratenko's parliamentary immunity. But, Kozma adds, Primore represents a no-win situation for the Kremlin because Nazdratenko has simply become too powerful. For now, he says, there is no one who could realistically replace a man who has total control of the region,

"If the local power is replaced [in the krai], there will be a situation where the economic infrastructure cannot be controlled because it was set up under the authority of only one person-- Nazdratenko. If someone else comes in, he will be sabotaged, and everything will fall to pieces," Kozma argues. Moscow is better off taking a pragmatic approach and seeking to negotiate a compromise with Nazdratenko, according to Kozma.

Primore State Duma deputy Viktor Cherepkov, a former mayor of Vladivostok and a long-time Nazdratenko opponent, goes even further. He says that the crisis in Primore reveals Moscow's weakness. The recently passed centralization reform legislation, he points out, includes a law that allows Putin to suspend a governor if a criminal investigation is opened against that regional leader. He says that many governors criticized the law as a potential instrument of blackmail. But in Cherepkov's view, it is in fact useless for the time being since it can be implemented only when a governor leaves his seat in the Federation Council, which could be as late as 2002.

Cherepkov also warns that other local bosses may learn from Nazdratenko's example. "This lack of determination [in Moscow] creates two difficulties for the president," he says. "[First,] it discredits him. And, second, it can create in other regions the same malign phenomena as exist today in Primore."

For that reason, Cherepkov urges even more radical centralization.

But Carnegie regional analyst Aleksei Titkov points out that the on-going energy crisis in Primore, already in its fourth year, has as much to do with rusting pipes and rises in energy price as with regional mismanagement.

Titkov says the Primore crisis shows the limits of present federal policies in a country where local rulers have had years to establish their power. It also proves, he says, that relations between Moscow, the regions, and powerful energy producers are extremely complex and cannot be solved by a few new laws on centralization. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Moscow.


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