Accessibility links

Newsline - December 7, 2000




POPE GETS 20 YEARS FOR ESPIONAGE...

The Moscow City Court on 6 December found U.S. businessman Edmond Pope guilty of spying and sentenced him to 20 years in a high-security prison--the maximum sentence demanded by the prosecution. According to that ruling, Pope, who was arrested in April, had bought top secret documents on a high-speed underwater torpedo. Pope's defense, however, maintains that the information he obtained was already in the public domain. The court's ruling came just a couple of hours after Pope's final statement, in which he stressed his innocence and asked the court to acquit him. "Two months of hearings, 15 volumes of documents, more than 10 witnesses, 200 appeals from the defense...and that comes down to writing the 20-page conviction in two hours!" Pavel Astakhov, Pope's lawyer, commented to journalists. "Excuse me, but you really have to be naive to believe that the decision was not made beforehand." JC

...AS U.S. SAYS VERDICT SOURS BILATERAL TIES...

White House spokesman P. J. Crowley, responding to the news of Pope's conviction, said in Washington that the court's verdict is "unjustifiable [and] flat-out wrong" and "has cast a shadow" over U.S.-Russian relations. Crowley said that U.S. President Bill Clinton has been following Pope's case very closely and that Washington increasingly fears for the health of the U.S. businessman, who has suffered from a rare form of bone cancer. "We have been making clear to the Russian government that they should move to release Mr. Pope on humanitarian grounds," he added. Pope's wife, Cheri, who was in Moscow to hear the verdict, has said she will ask Russian President Vladimir Putin, to pardon her husband. Pope has seven days in which to appeal the court's ruling. JC

...AND FSB WELCOMES 'FAIR AND CORRECT DECISION'

The press service of the Russian Federal Security Service told ITAR-TASS on 6 December that the court's ruling on the Pope case is "a fair and correct decision" that serves Russia's interests. "Russia has secrets and scientific developments that must be protected," the FSB press service stressed. JC

DEFENSE MINISTER: RUSSIA COMPLYING WITH LAW OVER COOPERATION WITH IRAN

Meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen in Brussels on 6 December, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev commented that Russia is not violating any international treaties or laws by pursuing "military-technical cooperation" with Iran, Interfax reported, citing unidentified members of the Russian delegation in the Belgian capital. According to those sources, Sergeev stressed that the "positive changes" that have taken place in Iran must be taken into account, as must that country's "increasingly constructive role in the Middle East." Also on 6 December, U.S. and Russian arms experts met in Moscow to begin discussing Russia's declared intention to pull out of a 1995 agreement with the U.S. not to sell conventional weapons to Iran. JC

WOULD-BE COMPOSER YELTSIN OPPOSES PUTIN OVER ANTHEM

In an interview published in the 6 December "Komsomolskaya pravda," former President Boris Yeltsin added his voice to those who are opposed to reinstating the Soviet-era anthem with a new text. Earlier this week, incumbent President Putin had asked the State Duma to approve reintroducing the anthem and the Tsarist coat-of-arms as well as retaining the tricolor flag (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2000). "I'm categorically against the restoration of the Soviet anthem," Yeltsin said, noting that he associates its music with "party congresses and conferences that consolidated the power of the party's bureaucrats." Referring to opinion polls showing that many Russians favor the Soviet-era anthem, Yeltsin said that the president of a country should not "blindly follow the mood of the people. On the contrary, it's up to him to actively influence it." At the same time, the former head of state conceded that the issue of the anthem is "problematic." "Maybe I myself should sit down and write the verses and the music," he quipped. JC

COMMUNIST LEADER REJECTS LINK BETWEEN ANTHEM, LENIN'S CORPSE...

As expected, the leadership of the Communist faction in the State Duma has decided that its members should support the legislative package submitted by President Putin on the state symbols. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov responded negatively to Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais's recent comment suggesting that if the former Soviet national anthem is going to be readopted, then the next step by the authorities should be to bury the remains of former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin. Zyuganov called Chubais a "scoundrel and instigator," noting that "once again [Chubais] is provoking mass unrest and a schism in the country." JAC

...AS OTHER GROUPS EXPRESS SUPPORT, OPPOSITION FOR ANTHEM

ITAR-TASS reported on 6 December that a number of groups and organizations have expressed their support for President Putin's initiative on the state symbols (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2000). The All-Russian Council of Veterans, the Central Spiritual Board of Muslims of Russia and the CIS, the Buddhist Singha of Russia, and the Russian Olympic Committee have all given their backing. Also, a group of artists and intellectuals that includes actors Aleksandr Kalyagin and Georgii Zhzhenov, film director Marlen Khytsuev, and sculptor Zurab Tsereteli has signed an appeal in favor of the anthem, according to the agency. The same day, the website lenta.ru reported that the human rights groups Memorial and the Moscow Helsinki Group find the proposed use of the Soviet national anthem unacceptable. Nobel Prize-winning author and former Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has also expressed his opposition. JAC

PROSECUTOR ORDERS INQUIRY INTO RAID ON ORT

Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov on 6 December ordered an internal inquiry into the raid conducted the previous day on the offices of Russian Public Television (ORT) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2000). Ustinov called the raid an illegal use of forceful methods in the investigation into whether the network has failed to pay customs duties, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Senior investigator with the Moscow Air Transport, Prosecutor Georgii Tsabriya, has been dismissed in connection with the incident. Oligarch-in-exile Boris Berezovskii owns a 49 percent stake in ORT, and "Nezavisimaya gazeta," which is controlled by Berezovskii, alleged on 6 December that the raid was "a show of force" by the state, which "may consider this a very convenient moment for an attempt to gain control over all ORT shares." The daily points out that Berezovskii is in the U.S. and therefore "cannot get to the bottom of the matter." JAC

KUDRIN SAYS GOVERNMENT EXPECTS TECHNICAL DEFERMENT FROM PARIS CLUB...

In an interview in "Trud" on 6 December, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said that the government believes that the Paris Club of creditors will agree to a "technical rescheduling" of Russia's debts until it can complete its negotiations with the IMF. Kudrin also noted that in 2000, for the first time Russia, stopped increasing its state debt. And Moscow saved about 34.7 billion rubles ($1.2 billion) on the repayment of the state debt because Russia did not receive IMF credits worth $2.4 billion that had been expected. "Since we have not taken out any new loans, we will not have to pay more interest," he explained. JAC

...EXPRESSES OPPOSITION TO SHARES FOR LOAN PAYMENT PLAN?

Also on 6 December, "Kommersant-Daily" reported that Kudrin has expressed his opposition to swapping shares of Russian companies for debt forgiveness, as German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder recently proposed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2000). However, the newspaper suggested that Kudrin may have been "tailoring" his remarks to his audience, which was a domestic one, and does not want to be accused of "selling out Russia." JAC

RUSSIAN PLANES SOUGHT FOREIGN SUB AFTER 'KURSK' SINKING

Speaking in Brussels on 6 December, Russian Defense Minister Sergeev confirmed that several days after the "Kursk" nuclear submarine sank in the Barents Sea in mid-August, Russian aircraft were sent in search of any foreign submarine that might have been escaping from the scene of the disaster, ITAR-TASS reported. Norwegian Vice Admiral Einar Skorgen had previously said on national television that six Russian planes had taken off on 17 August allegedly in pursuit of a foreign vessel in the Barents Sea. Skorgen's statement, Sergeev said, will be included in the materials collected by the Russian government commission investigating the cause of the "Kursk" disaster. JC

MORE ATTACKS ON JOURNALISTS, PUBLISHER REPORTED IN PRIMORSKII KRAI...

An unidentified gunman seriously injured Dalpress director Maya Shchekina as she stepped out of the lift in her apartment building in Vladivostok on 6 December, Interfax reported. According to AP, the attack was the second apparent assassination attempt against Shchekina this week and the second violent incident connected with newspaper publishing in Vladivostok during the same period. Earlier in the week, reporters from "Narodnoe veche" were beaten by private security guards employed by a city government department. Shchekina's company, Dalpress, publishes 90 percent of all newspapers in Primorskii Krai, and the attacks on her are considered by some crime analysts to be part of a struggle for control over the company. JAC

...AS KRAI OFFICIALS SUE THEIR CRITICS

Also on 6 December, prosecutors charged five officials in Artem, Ussuriisk, and Vladivostok with negligence for their part in cutting energy supplies to local residents, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, 11 other criminal cases relating to power cuts are already under way in other cities in the region. Despite the criminal cases and the recent dispatch of some 50 federal level officials under the leadership of Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu, agencies report that energy supplies remain low. An official told Reuters that there is enough heating oil in the towns of Artem, Arseniev, and the Khasan raion only to keep pipes from freezing for a few more days (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 6 December 2000). Meanwhile, krai administration officials have filed law suits against presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district Konstantin Pulikovskii and several central media organizations charging that their business reputation has been defamed, the website lenta.ru reported. JAC




ARMENIA, ISRAEL DISCUSS MIDDLE EAST PEACE

Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Navaf Massalha met with Armenian President Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian in Yerevan on 6 December to discuss the Middle East peace process and how it is likely to impact on the historical Armenian quarter in East Jerusalem, RFE/RL's Yerevan Bureau reported. Massalha told RFE/RL that the Armenian leadership would prefer that the Armenian quarter remain within the Christian Quarter but will not seek any direct involvement in the peace process or side with either the Israelis or the Palestinians. Massalha quoted Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Levon Mkrtchian as saying that the Jerusalem Patriarchate of the Armenian Apostolic Church is the "legal party" in discussions on the quarter's future. LF

ARMENIA, INDIA TO EXPAND ECONOMIC COOPERATION

On an official visit to India from 4-6 December, Armenian Foreign Minister Oskanian met with Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee and with his Indian counterpart, Jasvant Singh, to discuss expanding economic and political cooperation, including within international organizations, Armenian agencies reported. The two foreign ministers also discussed the Karabakh and Kashmir conflicts. Oskanian also met with India's health minister to discuss cooperation in the pharmaceutical sector and in training medical specialists. LF

NEW DISPUTE THREATENS ARMENIAN MAJORITY PARLIAMENT BLOC

The two parties aligned in the majority Miasnutiun parliamentary bloc, the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and the People's Party of Armenia (HZhK), failed on 6 December to reach agreement on a candidate to head the parliament's Finance and Economy Committee, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That committee has in the past been headed by an HHK nominee, but the HZhK has made clear it will not endorse the HHK's proposed candidate, Gagik Minasian. Two other HHK deputies aspire to that position, one of whom, Vartan Bostanjian, is seen as enjoying the tacit support of the HZhK. In an interview with "Zhamanak" on 6 December, HZhK chairman Stepan Demirchian disclaimed any responsibility for the disagreement, which he blamed on the Republican Party. LF

AZERBAIJANI CORRUPTION WHISTLE-BLOWER ACCUSED OF MURDER

Naval officer Djanmirza Mirzoev, who was dismissed after publicizing corruption within the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 34, 26 August 1999), has been arrested and charged with the murder in April 1994 of the head of the country's Naval College, Turan reported on 6 December. Mirzoev sought unsuccessfully to register as a candidate for the November parliamentary elections. Over the past five years, he has been held in detention for questioning for a total of nine months; sympathizers have formed a committee to protect his rights. LF

GEORGIA TO APPEAL TO INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY OVER RUSSIAN VISA ANOMALIES

Georgia's ambassador to Moscow Zurab Abashidze told journalists on 6 December that Tbilisi plans to raise with the Council of Europe and the OSCE the legality of Moscow's decision to exempt residents of Georgia's breakaway Republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from the visa requirement for Georgian citizens that took effect the previous day, Interfax reported. He characterized that decision as a violation of Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Georgia refuses to allow the opening of Russian consulates in those regions to enable inhabitants to acquire a Russian visa if the requirement is extended to all citizens of Georgia. Abashidze also hinted that Tbilisi may retaliate by reneging on a tentative agreement reached with Moscow to transform the Russian military base in Abkhazia into a logistical and rehabilitation center for the Russian troops serving under the CIS's aegis as a peacekeeping force on the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT THREATENS TO EXTEND STATE OF EMERGENCY

Addressing a government session on 6 December, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said that the state of emergency imposed earlier that day in eastern Georgia could be extended countrywide in a bid to combat rising crime, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze said many of those crimes are committed at the instigation of "destructive forces" and foreign intelligence services. LF

ANOTHER SUSPECT ARRESTED IN GEORGIAN PRESIDENTIAL ASSASSINATION BID

Sasha Zakaraia was arrested in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi on 6 December on suspicion of involvement in the failed February 1998 attempt to kill President Shevardnadze, Caucasus Press reported, citing the Georgian Interior Ministry. More than 20 people are currently on trial on charges related to that attack. LF

TURKISH BUS ATTACKED IN WESTERN GEORGIA

Masked gunmen on 6 December opened fire on a Turkish passenger bus en route from Tbilisi to Istanbul after it failed to halt at a road-block in the Guria region of western Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. The driver and co-driver and two passengers were injured. LF

U.S. DIPLOMAT UNABLE TO MEET WITH KAZAKH PRESIDENT

Stephen Sestanovich, who is adviser to the U.S. secretary of state on the Newly Independent States, was forced by adverse weather conditions on 6 December to cancel a planned flight from Astana to Almaty, where he was to have met with Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. In a telephone conversation, the two men discussed the prospects for bilateral relations, which Nazarbaev termed "one of the top priorities" in Kazakhstan's foreign policy. LF

KYRGYZSTAN REGISTERS UPSWING IN INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION

Kyrgyzstan's industrial output grew by 10.3 percent during the first 11 months of this year, compared with the same period in 1999, Interfax quoted Industry and Trade Minister Esengul OmurAliyev as telling a press conference in Bishkek on 6 December. Industrial production in November 2000 was 21.5 percent higher than in November 1999. OmurAliyev also noted that overall foreign trade turnover has increased year-on-year by an estimated 10 percent, while trade with Uzbekistan expanded by 35 percent in 2000. LF

KYRGYZSTAN, UZBEKISTAN REACH AGREEMENT ON ENERGY, WATER RESOURCES

OmurAliyev also told journalists in Bishkek on 6 December that he and his visiting Uzbek counterpart, Rustam Yunusov, signed an inter-governmental agreement in the Kyrgyz capital the previous day on water resources and energy supplies, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Under that agreement, the Uzbek government will supply heating and power plants in Bishkek next year with 700 million cubic meters of natural gas and another 525 million cubic meters for private consumers at a cost of $42 per 1,000 cubic meters. Kyrgyzstan will pay half that sum in cash and half in commodities. In addition, Uzbekistan will provide Kyrgyzstan with 200,000 tons of oil products. In return, Kyrgyzstan will provide Uzbekistan with 2.2 billion kWh of electricity. Agreement was also reached on restructuring Kyrgyzstan's estimated $2 million debt to Tashkent for previous gas deliveries. LF

TUBERCULOSIS SPREADING IN SOUTHERN KYRGYZSTAN

The incidence of tuberculosis in Kyrgyzstan's southern Djalalabad Oblast increased by 13 percent this year, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported, quoting a regional health official. Ninety-one people in the oblast have died of the disease this year. LF

UNHCR ASKS TAJIKISTAN TO ADMIT AFGHAN FUGITIVES

Taslimur Rahman, who heads the Dushanbe office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, formally asked Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov on 5 December to allow an estimated 10,000 Afghans to enter Tajikistan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 7 December. The Afghans have taken refuge on islands in the River Pyandj, which marks the border between northern Afghanistan and Tajikistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2000). The Tajik government has reportedly not yet responded to the UNHCR's request. Also on 7 December, Muhammad Soleh Registoni, who is military attache at the Afghan Embassy in Dushanbe, told Asia Plus-Blitz that he opposes allowing the Afghans to enter Tajikistan. He argued that allowing them to do so could encourage a massive influx of Afghans that the Tajik authorities would be unable to cope with. In addition, Registoni pointed out, if Taliban supporters then occupy the refugees' homes, the latter will be unable to return to Afghanistan. LF

EARTHQUAKE HITS TURKMENISTAN

An earthquake measuring 7.4 on the Richter scale shook southern Turkmenistan late on 6 December, Reuters reported. Chinese media reported that five people died and 11 were injured in the quake, but a Turkmen official denied it had caused either deaths or extensive damage. Also on 6 December, another tremor shook Baku, 11 days after the quake in Azerbaijan that claimed a total of 31 lives. LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT ORDERS IMPROVED LIVING STANDARDS WITHOUT MARKET REFORM

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 6 December discussed prices and wages with the cabinet, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The president repeated his former order to increase the average monthly wage to $100 by October 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 2000). According to official data, the average monthly wage in Belarus currently stands at $68. Simultaneously Lukashenka warned Premier Uladzimir Yarmoshyn against making any market-oriented moves. "You want to follow the path of many former USSR republics and plunge the state and the people into a market chaos. This won't happen," Lukashenka said. He endorsed Yarmoshyn's proposal to keep budget spending down by reducing the number of ministerial portfolios and told the premier to make this reduction "immediately in December." JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CLAIMS TO BE UNFAZED BY 'MOROZ'S TAPE'

Leonid Kuchma on 6 December said on Ukrainian Television that "recent statements about my involvement in the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze are an attack on stability in Ukrainian society," the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported. Kuchma said such an attack will not succeed. "I have nothing to explain, and these actions will not change my political direction," Kuchma noted, referring to Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz's allegation that he was involved in Gongadze's disappearance (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 5 December 2000). According to Kuchma, the allegation was motivated by those who want to "initiate an early election." Meanwhile, Moroz has handed over to the prosecutor-general an audio recording of Kuchma's alleged conversations with his ministers about Gongadze, Interfax reported. Lawmaker Yuriy Karmazin said Moroz has more audio recordings of Kuchma's conversations (see also "End Note" below). JM

KYIV REPORTS 12.6 PERCENT INDUSTRIAL GROWTH

Presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn told Interfax on 6 December that Ukraine's industrial growth in January-November 2000 was 12.6 percent, compared with the same period last year. Lytvyn said the figure well exceeds the Ministry of Economics' expectations, adding that the government's reforms are the main reason for industrial growth. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT ACCEPTS EBRD LOAN TO BUY FUEL

The parliament on 7 December approved a $100 million loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to buy fuel for thermal power plants in Ukraine, Reuters reported. According to Ukrainian law, all international loan agreements must be ratified by the legislature. The EBRD board decided in October on the loan, which is seen as vital for ensuring power supplies once the Chornobyl nuclear power plant is decommissioned on 15 December. Meanwhile, the Chornobyl plant's only reactor had to be shut down on 6 December owing to a steam leak. JM

VARIOUS FORECASTS MADE ON BALTIC ECONOMIC GROWTH

The UN Economic Commission forecasts that the GDP of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania will grow by 5.5. 4.5, and 2.1 percent in 2000, and 5.5, 4.4, and 3.5 percent in 2001, respectively, BNS reported on 6 December. The Swedish bank "Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken" issued slightly different forecasts for the years 2000 through 2002: 5.5, 5.5, and 5.0 percent GDP growth in Estonia, 5.0, 5.0, and 4.5 percent in Latvia, and 1.5, 3.0, and 4.0 percent in Lithuania. The World Bank, however, predicted that GDP growth in Latvia this year will be 3.8 percent. SG

ESTONIAN PENSIONERS PROTEST

More than 4,000 pensioners gathered in front of the Estonian parliament building in Tallinn on 6 December demanding higher pensions, ETA reported. Mai Treial, the deputy chairman of the Estonian People's Union, which together with the Pensioners' Union and Pensioners' Association organized the rally, said that in order to keep pace with the rising cost of living, pensions should be raised by an average of 110 kroons ($6.20) a month as of January. This would mean an increase in the average pension to 40 percent of the average net wage. At the beginning of 2000, there were 371,354 pensioners in Estonia: on the basis of that figure, the 110 kroon increase would result in additional expenditures of 410 million kroons for the state. While Prime Minister Mart Laar has stated that an increase in pensions may be possible from 1 April 2001, Finance Minister Siim Kallas declared that no hike can be considered before 2002. SG

LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES THREE MORE CHAPTERS FOR EU MEMBERSHIP

The cabinet on 6 December endorsed draft chapters for EU membership dealing with legal and internal affairs, energy, and finance control, BNS and ELTA reported. Lithuania agreed to adjust its more liberal visa policies vis-a-vis Kaliningrad and Belarus in order to be in full compliance with EU law. It will request a transition period of until 2008 to build the storage facilities and collect the compulsory 90-day reserves of gasoline and heavy fuel oil. Lithuania has now approved 26 of the 29 main chapters for EU membership. The remaining three, dealing with tax, agriculture, and regional policy and structural measures, are likely to be approved by the end of the year. SG

POLISH PREMIER DECLARES 'ZERO TOLERANCE' FOR CORRUPTION

Jerzy Buzek on 6 December pledged to show "zero tolerance" for corruption, PAP reported. "The cancer of corruption is growing in the shadow of politicians, those persons in whom we have great trust," Buzek told a news conference devoted to combating corruption. Later the same day, government spokesman Krzysztof Luft announced that Buzek has accepted the resignation of Silesian Province Governor Marek Kempski in connection with allegations of corruption in Kempski's office in Katowice (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2000). The government commission that has inspected Kempski's office said the governor personally was not involved in corruption but noted that he "had not fulfilled the obligations of proper supervision over the government administration that was subordinate to him in the province". JM

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN SAYS HAVEL'S FRIENDSHIP WITH TOSOVSKY 'OVER'

Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek says the split between Havel and former National Bank governor Josef Tosovsky is one "for life". Spacek, who is also a former premier, told the weekly "Tyden" of 4 December that Tosovsky's opposition to Havel's decision to appoint Tuma was "out of proportion" and was due to his wish to have deputy governor Oldrich Dedek succeed him. Spacek says Havel at first inclined to agree with Tosovsky, "because he had never told him 'no' in the last 10 years," but changed his mind after consulting with experts. After learning of Havel's decision, Spacek said, Tosovsky "aggressively accused the president of hurling the country into disaster" and thus "ended a lifetime friendship." MS

CZECH INVESTMENT AGENCY OPENS SILICON VALLEY OFFICE

CzechInvest, which seeks to attract foreign investment in the Czech Republic, has opened an office in Silicon Valley, AP reported on 6 December. The company evaluates projects and decides whether to propose incentives and benefits, including tax relief for up to 10 years, customs and value-added tax relief for new machinery, and $6,000 for every new job created. CzechInvest has offices also in Chicago, London, Paris, Cologne, and Yokohama and plans to open an office in Brussels shortly. MS

HUNGARY, CHINA TO BOOST BILATERAL RELATIONS

Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi and his visiting Chinese counterpart, Tang Jianxuan, signed a joint statement on 6 December on the basic principles for developing bilateral relations in all areas. Martonyi said the two sides examined which of the bilateral agreements signed when the two countries were part of the communist bloc should be replaced. The joint statement also states that Hungary accepts the "one China" principle, recognizing that Taiwan is an inseparable part of China. Martonyi told reporters that the two countries "see the issue of human rights in a different way" but will continue discussions on that issue. MSZ




SERBS IN MITROVICA BEAT UN POLICEMAN, 'ABDUCT' INTERPRETER

UN police staged a pre-dawn inspection of suspected sites of weapons caches in Serb-held northern Mitrovica on 7 December, a police spokesman told Reuters. Police found a large quantity of weapons and arrested three people. The weapons haul included "11 AK-47 assault rifles, seven hand grenades, nine anti-tank rockets, two packages of plastic explosives, a rifle, a pistol and 1,500 rounds of ammunition. This is one of the largest weapons finds in Mitrovica," a KFOR spokesman said. As word of the raid spread, a crowd of at least 150 people gathered in Mitrovica, AP reported. Some members of the crowd stopped a UN police car, beat the policeman inside, and "abducted" his female Serbian interpreter. Police representatives are trying to negotiate her release. PM

ALBANIAN PRIME MINISTER CALLS FOR 'DIALOGUE' ON PRESEVO VALLEY

Making an "unprecedented" visit to Kosova, Ilir Meta said in Prishtina on 6 December that "Kosova's final status must be decided by its citizens, because they are the ones who have to decide on their own fate, today and in the future," Reuters reported. Meta met with local leaders and with officials of the international community. He told the Kosova Transitional Council that the problems in the nearby Serbian Presevo valley must be solved through "dialogue and democratic means." Rada Trajkovic, who is a Serbian member of the council, said that Meta's visit is "not politically welcome" because Albania has not resumed diplomatic relations with Belgrade after a break in 1999. It was the Serbian position under Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that foreign officials must obtain Belgrade's permission before visiting Kosova. Albanian President Rexhep Meidani and most other visiting foreign leaders have disregarded that preference (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2000). PM

YUGOSLAV LEADER SAYS PATIENCE HAS LIMITS IN PRESEVO

Yugoslav Prime Minister Zoran Zizic said in Bujanovac on 6 December that Serbian forces could "eliminate in one or two days" ethnic Albanian guerrillas from the demilitarized zone bordering Kosova. Zizic stressed that "we are patient, but of course we will not spend the entire winter under such a serious threat [from the fighters] if diplomacy does not succeed," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In related news, Macedonian Defense Minister Ljuben Paunovski called on NATO and the Yugoslav authorities to put an end to tensions in southwestern Serbia, MIC news agency reported from Skopje. Paunovski also appealed to Kosovar leaders to use their influence to end the violence. PM

KOSTUNICA PARDONS SERBIAN ATTEMPTED MURDER SUSPECTS

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica pardoned three Serbian men from the shadowy Serbian Liberation Army on 6 December. A military court under Milosevic sentenced them in April to terms of up to five years' imprisonment on charges of conspiring to carry out "hostile activities," including attempts on the lives of Milosevic and General Nebojsa Pavkovic, Reuters reported from Nis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2000). In November, the supreme military court reduced their sentences. Kostunica has repeatedly refused to grant an amnesty to the approximately 700 Kosovars held in Serbian jails since Milosevic's crackdown in the province in 1998 and 1999. PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION OUTLINES POST-ELECTION PLANS

Leaders of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) agreed in Belgrade on 6 December on the composition of the government in the event of their expected victory in the 23 December Serbian parliamentary elections. There will be five deputy prime ministers, who will be selected as representatives of their respective political parties. Cabinet ministers will be appointed on the basis of their expert qualifications, the BBC's Serbian Service reported. The interior minister will be an individual who has no links to either a political party or the police, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Opposition leader Zoran Djindjic said that the DOS pledges a clean break with the past. "We think the overall system of power intensively built up here over the past decade, and generally over the past 50 years, should be dismantled," Reuters reported. Djindjic is expected to head the new government. Polls suggest that the DOS is likely to take some 60 percent of the vote. PM

CROATIAN POLICE FREE MEDIA BOSS

Police released media boss Ninoslav Pavic from detention on 6 December, saying that they do not have enough evidence to continue to hold him, dpa reported. Police detained Pavic and several other men earlier in the week on suspicion that they tried to form an illegal cartel to monopolize the private media (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2000). Referring to the new daily "Republika," which broke the story of the alleged cartel plot, Pavic said: "The dirty spy affair with third-grade newspapers has finished. I think we shall soon see who stood behind all this and that the rule of law will win out." Pavic's lawyers said they are looking into possibilities of wrongdoing against their client by unnamed employees of the Interior Ministry. A ministry spokesman said that an investigation into the alleged cartel is continuing. Prime Minister Ivica Racan on 5 December denied that the arrests were prompted by the story in the new daily, which belongs to Pavic's rivals. PM

SLOVENIAN HUMAN TRAFFICKING SUSPECT ARRESTED IN CROATIA

Police on the Croatian-Slovenian border arrested Simon Eberl on 6 December and held him in Varazdin, pending extradition to his home country. Italy has issued an international arrest warrant for Eberl, who is suspected of being a major figure in human trafficking between the Balkans and western Europe, Hina reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2000). PM

BIZARRE CASE OVER SLOVENIAN-CROATIAN BORDER CONTINUES

Croatian police took Josko Joras from his home near the Dragonja River to the customs office in Pula, where officials demanded that he pay customs duty on a washing machine that he recently took to his home, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 6 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2000). Joras, who is a town councilman in the Slovenian town of Piran, argues that he does not have to pay duty on the washing machine because his home is in Slovenia and not in Croatia. PM

BOSNIAN-YUGOSLAV RELATIONS ON HOLD

Bosnian Deputy Foreign Minister Husein Zivalj told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service on 6 December that he does not expect Sarajevo and Belgrade to establish diplomatic relations before the end of the year 2000. Zivalj said that prior to the December elections, it will be politically difficult for DOS to distance itself from Belgrade's demand that Sarajevo drop its charges against Yugoslavia for genocide and aggression before the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. As a precondition to establishing diplomatic ties, Belgrade wants Sarajevo to agree that all bilateral issues will be solved between the two countries themselves without recourse to any outside body. PM

ROMANIAN EXTREMIST PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE SLAMS RIVAL...

Speaking on television on 6 December, Greater Romania Party (PRM) leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor sharply criticized his rival in the 10 December runoff and claimed that a poll conducted by the Institute of Marketing Research (IMAS) shows he is leading the contest, with 56 percent backing. IMAS director Alin Teodorescu on 7 December refuted that claim. Tudor accused Party of Social Democracy in Romania Chairman Ion Iliescu of having onced served Moscow and now having "changed masters." He also accused Iliescu of having been responsible for the bloodshed caused in December 1989 in order to legitimize his "illegal" order to execute Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu and of having encouraged corruption during his 1990-1996 presidency. Iliescu's seeking a new presidential mandate is unconstitutional, he added. MS

...TRIGGERS INDIGNANT RESPONSE FROM PDSR

In a 7 December press release, the PDSR said Tudor is making the same accusations against Iliescu that incumbent President Emil Constantinescu has often made, proving that Tudor is a "true rightist." Observers say that the PDSR is trying to harness the protest vote that mostly went to the PRM on 26 November. Speaking on Romanian Radio on 6 December, Iliescu said the PRM's electoral propaganda is trying to depict him as in league with the parties that were voted out of power. He denied that the PDSR intends to make a pact with those formations. Iliescu also appealed to officers and soldiers, among whom the PRM has strong support, saying he identifies with their "patriotism." Iliescu has refused to debate with Tudor on national television. MS

ROMANIA BANS BEEF IMPORTS

The Agriculture Ministry on 6 December announced it is banning imports of beef and beef products from EU and other countries where BSE (mad cow disease) has been registered. It listed Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, Great Britain, France, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain among EU countries and Cyprus, Israel, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein among non-EU states, Romanian Radio reported. MS

VORONIN NARROWLY FAILS TO BECOME MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT...

The latest round of voting in the Moldovan presidential elections ended on 6 December with Party of Moldovan Communists Vladimir Voronin only two votes short of the necessary 61 to become president. The center-right candidate Pavel Barbalat again garnered 35 votes, and five votes were declared invalid. The next round is scheduled for 21 December, and there are hints that the center-right alliance might choose another candidate for that round. Voronin said he will run and win on 21 December. MS

...WHILE CENTER-RIGHT LEADER CRIES 'FOUL PLAY'

Party of Christian Democratic People's Party leader Iurie Rosca said the support for Voronin demonstrates that there are defectors from among the center-right. He called on the members of that alliance to refrain from voting on 21 December in order to expose those who back Voronin. Rosca said it is preferable to have President Petru Lucinschi dissolve the parliament than have a Communist elected as head of state. MS

BULGARIAN ROMA SEEK PLEDGES AHEAD OF ELECTIONS

Eighteen Bulgarian organizations representing Roma joined forces on 6 December to call on political parties to pledge to improve the Roma's situation in that country. Rumian Sechkov, head of the recently created National Council of Roma, told AFP that Roma will support only those parties in the April 2001 elections that agree to include members of the minority on their lists. Parties seeking Roma support must also pledge to work for the passage of legislation on employing Roma in the civil service, police, army and local government, as well as "in all sectors of the economy." Sechkov said that companies that fail to support such quotas must be sanctioned by the government. The council also called on Bulgaria to provide Romany-language television programs, in line with the European Convention on Protecting Minorities, which Sofia ratified last year. MS




WHO'S BEHIND 'KUCHMA-GATE?'


By Taras Kuzio

On 16 September, 31-year-old Heorhiy Gongadze, a leading journalist and editor of "Ukrayinska pravda," went missing on his way home in Kyiv. "Ukrayinska pravda" had published insider material dealing with corruption at the highest level of the Ukrainian state. In early November, a farmer found a decapitated and mutilated body, believed to be that of Gongadze, in a village south of Kyiv.

Some three weeks later, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, who is a bitter opponent of President Leonid Kuchma, told the Central European Initiative summit in Budapest that he had been given taped conversations conducted between Kuchma, head of the presidential administration Volodymyr Lytvyn, and Internal Affairs Minister Yuriy Kravchenko during the two months prior to Gongadze's disappearance. During those conversations, the officials discussed how to get rid of Gongadze, Moroz said. The Socialist leader repeated that claim in the Ukrainian parliament four days later.

Moroz said that the tapes were given to him by an employee of the government Communications Department of the Security Service who has since requested political asylum abroad for both himself and his family. "The president was worried by [Gongadze's] activities, gave instructions, and controlled their implementation," Moroz told a stunned parliament. He added that he believes the recorded conversations "show that the president ordered his interior minister to have Gongadze kidnapped." Kuchma and his head of staff, Lytvyn, have protested their innocence, and Lytvyn has launched a libel action against Moroz. Most deputies believe the tapes are genuine, a viewpoint that is likely to become more widespread.

The plot is likely to embrace other leading figures, besides Kuchma. As "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported, only Ukraine's oligarchs (whom the newspaper identifies and whose assets it enumerates in its 6 December issue) would not be afraid to organize the tapping of the president's private conversations. The Ukrainian media has long documented a growing dissatisfaction with President Kuchma among those oligarchs who financed his election campaign; in particular, they feel betrayed by Kuchma's toleration of Viktor Yushchenko's government.

Ukraine's first reformist government is supported by 100 center-right deputies of the 250 non-leftist majority that controls the parliament. It is making great strides toward structural reform, privatization and increased transparency and has also paid all pension, social security and wages arrears. Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshchenko is cleaning up the energy sector by replacing barter schemes with cash payments, taking measures to prevent the theft of Russian gas, reducing Ukraine's debt for Russian energy supplies, and holding open tenders for the privatization of gas distribution companies.

Tymoshenko is well suited to undertake the reform of the highly corrupt energy sector because she herself was held positions in that sector for a long time. Hence, she is also the target of so much criticism from media controlled by Ukraine's oligarchs. But despite Ukraine's energy indebtedness and the theft of Russian gas, the current situation benefits Russia and its own corrupt oligarchs since it means Ukraine is closely bound to Russia. Ukraine's oligarchs have long attempted to block plans to export Caspian oil through the not-yet-completed Odesa oil terminal, a project backed by the GUUAM (Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Moldova) regional group and the Yushchenko government.

These reforms, particularly in the energy sector, are eroding the corrupt economic base of leading oligarchs, such as Oleksandr Volkov, Viktor Medvedchuk, and Hryhoriy Surkis (the tapes include anti-Semitic insults against Surkis). Medvedchuk, who is first deputy parliamentary speaker and head of the United Social Democrats, has set his sights on the post of prime minister and is the presidential hopeful of the oligarchs in 2004. Four years of successful governmental reforms and a growing economy would make Yushchenko a strong presidential challenger to Medvedchuk, whose financial base would have been badly weakened by 2004 if the planned reforms are carried out.

The Ukrainian and Russian media have speculated that Russia is likely to be a strong supporter of the alleged Ukrainian oligarchs' plot because, as in the case of Belarus, Russia's priority is geopolitics, not reform. Greater devotion to domestic reform will lead to Ukraine's integration with the West. Kuchma hinted at this during the Minsk CIS summit when he said that the tapes were "a provocation, possibly with the participation of foreign special services," by which he presumably meant Russia.

It is no coincidence that the Russian prosecutor-general has opened a new case against Deputy Prime Minister Tymoshenko for allegedly bribing a Russian deputy defense minister four years ago, when she headed the United Energy Systems. The question inevitably arises as to why the case was opened only now.

The tapes will damage Ukraine's international reputation. The episode will taint Kuchma as Ukraine's version of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. "Turning Ukraine into another Belarus is the right way for Russia to establish long-term political and economic control over our country," "Tzerkalo Tyzhden/Nedeli" lamented. Aid from international financial institutions, which was suspended after a disinformation campaign against Yushchenko earlier in the year that claimed he allegedly misled the IMF, may be halted once more, just when the IMF, the EBRD, and World Bank have begun to praise the government's performance and reform program.

What is more, the tapes represent the gravest threat to Kuchma personally since he began his first term as president in July 1994. The manner in which this information has been disclosed suggests that those who arranged the taping of the conversations are interested not in affirming the rule of law, press freedom, or reforms but in bringing down the pro-reform and pro-Western government of Yushchenko and closely aligning Ukraine with Russia. The author is a visiting fellow at the Watson Institute of International Studies, Brown University.


XS
SM
MD
LG