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Newsline - December 29, 2000




PUTIN SLAMS CENTRAL BANK

Speaking at a meeting of governors in the Central federal district on 28 December, Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized the Russian Central Bank, suggesting that it "has not done its best to develop the banking system." He also stated that "I would not say our banking system is functioning properly." According to Putin, Russia's banking system should be reformed and its commercial banks enlarged. Also on 28 December, "Kommersant-Daily" reported that the office of the Prosecutor-General is investigating a 5.86 billion ruble ($208 million) credit from the Central Bank to the failing SBS-Agro, and former SBS-Agro head and Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko will soon be called in for questioning. JAC

RUSSIA, IRAN DISCUSS REGIONAL SECURITY...

After meeting with his Iranian counterpart Ali Shamkhani, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev told reporters in Teheran on 28 December that Russian and Iran intend to cooperate on a wide range of military issues. Sergeev also met with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, who has agreed to visit Moscow in 2001. According to "Segodnya," Sergeev's visit is the first by a Russian defense minister to Iran in 20 years. Commenting on Sergeev's visit, Leonid Ivashov, head of the Defense Ministry's department for international cooperation, said that "Moscow is ready to supply Teheran with spare parts for Soviet-made equipment" for conventional weapons. He added, however, that the issue of supplying missile technology is not even being discussed during Sergeev's visit. According to Ivashov, the primary focus of Sergeev's visit is not military-technical cooperation per se, but "regional security issues," such as the situation in Chechnya, Afghanistan, and Central Asia. JAC

...AS U.S. EXPRESSES CONCERN

When asked about the U.S., Ivashov noted that the U.S. "did not go into raptures over [Sergeev's] visit, but Russia has its own interests and acts in strict accordance with its international commitments," Interfax reported. Upon arriving in Teheran on 26 December, Sergeev declared that neither Russia nor Iran will allow any country to prevent them from expanding their relations. On 28 December, U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker weighed in on the issue, stating that "it's not sufficient for Russia to simply call this type of equipment, quote, 'defense.' Some of the equipment reportedly being discussed between the Russian minister of defense and his Iranian counterpart would pose a serious threat." JAC

RUBLE ENDS THE YEAR SHAKILY

The value of ruble dipped to 28.60 rubles per dollar on 27 December on Moscow's interbank market, and the Central Bank was forced to sell about $500 million in order to stem the decline, Interfax reported. The next day, the ruble's value appeared to stabilize somewhat, increasing to 28.54 rubles per dollar, Interfax-AFI reported. Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko told reporters on 28 December that the government is not taking the currency market situation too seriously because "similar fluctuations in the foreign exchange rate are usual for the end of the year." In an interview with NTV's "Hero of the Day," Duma Banking Committee Chairman Aleksandr Shokhin (People's Deputy) predicted that the ruble could plunge to 31 rubles/$ at the beginning of 2001, but that would be "nothing terrible" since that "ruble would [still] be lower than the rate of inflation." JAC

AUTHOR SAYS NEW ANTHEM A HYMN FOR THE ORTHODOX

President Putin told reporters on 28 December that it is possible that he will approve new words to Russia's national anthem by decree. Currently, an advisory panel is reviewing possible new lyrics. The author of the words to the old Soviet anthem, Sergei Mikhailov, has penned a new version, and he told Russian Television that the new lyrics are the "hymn of an Orthodox country." Meanwhile, not all television and radio stations have begun broadcasting Russia's new anthem, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 28 December. According to the daily, only Radio Rossii played the anthem the previous day; however, Andrei Bystritskii, deputy chairman of All-Russia State Television and Radio Company, said by New Year's Eve all of its TV and radio stations will be playing the old Soviet tune. The management of Media-MOST's NTV and TV-6, in which Boris Berezovskii owns a large stake, maintain that they will not play the anthem since they are not state-owned. JAC

NEMTSOV OUTLINES HIS CHECHEN PEACE PLAN...

Speaking at a press conference on 28 December at Interfax's Moscow head office, Duma deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) and former Russian Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov gave details of his five-point proposal for ending the Chechen conflict, Russian agencies reported. It comprises an official rejection by Moscow of the Leninist principle of the right of national self-deternmination; the appointment of a governor-general who would be responsible for both civic and economic problems and the military and security sphere in Chechnya; talks with Chechen fighters aimed at ending hostilities; the abolition of the institution of the presidency in Chechnya; and the repatriation of and assistance to internally displaced persons. Nemtsov said that at their 26 December meeting, President Putin had responded "positively, on the whole," to those proposals. He added that he estimates it would take no less than three--five years to implement them. If those measures prove ineffective, Nemtsov continued, then Chechnya should be divided into a lowland zone that would be incorporated into Stavropol Krai, and a highland zone that should be cordoned off. LF

... AS MORE RUSSIAN OFFICIALS SLAM HIS TALKS WITH CHECHEN PARLIAMENTARIANS

Lieutenant General Vladimir Bokovikov, who is deputy presidential envoy to the South Russia federal district, said on 28 December that the 23 December talks between Nemtsov and three other State Duma deputies and seven members of the Chechen parliament elected in 1997 were "pointless and not legitimate," ITAR-TASS reported. Bokovikov argued that the Chechen parliament deputies "do not represent anyone but themselves" and the interests of "small groups" whom he did not name. Russian presidential envoy for Chechnya Vladimir Kalamanov, for his part, told Interfax that many Chechens have expressed "indignation" over the meeting initiated by Nemtsov. Kalamanov criticized Aslanbek Aslakhanov, who is Chechnya's deputy to the State Duma, for having participated in the 23 December meeting without prior consultation with his voters. LF

CHECHEN PRESIDENT RULES OUT PRECONDITIONS FOR PEACE TALKS

Said-Hassan Abumuslimov, who is an aide to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, told AFP on 27 December that Maskhadov will agree only to unconditional peace talks. Russian presidential envoy to the South Russia federal district Viktor Kazantsev had said earlier that day that Moscow would agree to talks with Maskhadov only if the latter apologized for precipitating the war. "Maskhadov is the president of an independent state and it is inconceivable to impose such conditions on him," Abumuslimov said. He said he hopes Kazantsev will persuade President Putin to begin talks with Maskhadov "on an equal footing," but acknowledged that he doubts Putin would agree to do so. LF

MORE YOUTHS END UP ADDICTED

The number of drug addicts in Russia according to official statistics is more than 2 million -- a seven-fold rise in recent years, but unofficial estimates put the total closer to 3 million persons, Valerii Sudarenkov, who is head of the Federation Council's Committee on Science, Culture and Education, reported at a hearing in the upper house on 28 December. According to Sudarenkov, Russia has experienced a jump in the number of addicts among adolescents--even those as young as 14. He also noted that in Russia, unlike other countries, young people make the transition from "light" narcotics to serious drugs, such as heroin, more quickly. Related to increased drug use is a growing number of cases of HIV-infection and drug-related crimes. The number of such crimes increased by 4 percent to 224,000 already this year from 216,000 last year. JAC

MURMANSK A HOTBED OF FOREIGN SPIES

Foreign intelligence services have targeted Murmansk Oblast as a "priority" area for their activities, Nikolai Zharkov, head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) directorate in Murmansk Oblast, told Interfax North-West on 28 December. According to Zharkov, since the beginning of the year, 12 foreign intelligence actions involving 15 foreign agents have been foiled in the oblast. Security officers also put a stop to unlawful actions by foreign correspondents following the sinking of the Kursk submarine off Murmansk's coast in August. Zharkov also revealed that foreign governments frequently "pursue their own interests" under the cover of environmental organizations. For example, a U.S. fund, which he did not name, has earmarked funds for the destruction of the last, not the earliest, generation of nuclear submarines, which he said is not only inexpedient from an environmental point of view but also raises a number of other questions. RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 21 December that Murmansk Oblast received $7.5 million from Great Britain for the construction of an enterprise that will process domestic and imported nuclear waste. JAC

ZYUGANOV SUPPORTERS FAVOR BUSH

In a nation-wide poll of 1,500 rural and urban residents conducted on 23 December, the Public Opinion Foundation found that while those respondents with higher education and residents of large cities tended to favor U.S. Vice President Al Gore in the recent presidential elections, U.S. president-elect George W. Bush had more supporters among the followers of Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov. Overall, 28 percent of respondents favored Bush, 15 percent Gore, while 47 percent were indifferent, Interfax reported. A similiar share -- 45 percent -- of respondents were undecided about whether the elections aroused disappointment in the democratic system of the U.S. Twenty-seven percent were disappointed, while 28 percent felt the election demonstrated the system's stability. Just before the elections, Zyuganov expressed his preference for Bush, noting that the policies pursued in the past by the Republicans were "unambiguous and predictable" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 November 2000). JAC

DAGHESTAN'S STATE DUMA DEPUTY HIGHLIGHTS SOCIAL PROBLEMS

Gadjimurad Omarov, who represents Daghestan in the State Duma, has writted to Viktor Kazantsev, the presidential envoy to the South Russia federal district, complaining that Russian government programs aimed at improving "crisis" conditions in the south of the republic are not being systematically implemented, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 24 December. As a result, Omarov said, the average income in southern Daghestan is only 30-50 percent of the average for the republic, and the region is home to 77 percent of the republic's registered unemployed. LF




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT PRAISES GOVERNMENT'S PERFORMANCE

Addresing a cabinet session on 28 December, Robert Kocharian lauded the efforts made over the past eight months by Andranik Markarian's government to end economic stagnation, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. "The government did get down to business," Kocharian said. "It has been trying to improve the situation we were in at the beginning of the year. I think that we have registered achievements." LF

ARMENIAN OFFICIALS DENY RUMORS OF SECRET KARABAKH SETTLEMENT

Two senior Armenian officials have refuted a report published on 21 December in the independent Azerbaijani daily "Azadlyq" claiming that at their 1 December meeting on the sidelines of the CIS summit in Minsk, Armenian President Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliyev agreed on the substance of a secret Karabakh peace accord. According to "Azadlyq," which referred to "sources close to the [Azerbaijani] president's family," the accord envisages a period of three--five years during which confidence-building measures will be implemented, after which talks will begin on the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territory and the future status of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Caucasus Press on 26 December quoted Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian as saying that meetings between the two presidents will continue, and that representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh will participate. Armenpress on 27 December quoted Armenian presidential spokesman Vahe Gabrielian as saying that once the two presidents agree on a settlement, its content will be made public for discussion by the parliament and nation-wide before the final signing. LF

WORLD BANK RELEASES LOAN TRANCHE FOR ARMENIA

Owaise Saadat, who is the World Bank's resident representative in Armenia, told journalists in Yerevan on 22 December that after a one-year delay, the bank has now disbursed the final $6 million tranche of a deficit-funding structural adjustment credit (SAC) for 1999, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He said the next such SAC loan, worth $50 million, will be made available in March provided that the planned international tender for four state-owned energy distribution networks is completed within the time frame agreed in talks last month between the bank and the Armenian government. LF

DEFENDANT WITHDRAWS TESTIMONY IN KARABAKH TRIAL

Sasun Aghadjanian, who is accused of seriously wounding President Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, in an apparent assassination attempt last March, told a Stepanakert court on 26 December that the enclave's former Defense Minister Samvel Babayan played no part in that attack, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Babayan, whom Ghukasian had fired in 1999, was arrested shortly after the March attack, but has consistently proclaimed his innocence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2000). Aghadjanian, who has undergone at least one psychiatric examination (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 2000), implicated Babayan in his pre-trial testimony, but on 26 December claimed that he had masterminded the attack personally. He said he decided to "intimidate," but not to kill Ghukasian following a 1999 speech by the latter which he found offensive. LF

AZERBAIJAN AMNESTIES PRISONERS, GEORGIA DESERTERS

Azerbaijan's President Aliyev on 28 December pardoned 54 persons sentenced on charges of plotting his ouster in October 1994 and March 1995, ITAR-TASS reported. Also on 28 December, the Georgian parliament passed by an overwhelming majority of votes an amnesty for 4,500 deserters from the country's armed forces, Caucasus Press reported. LF

RUSSIA COMPLETES WITHDRAWAL OF EXCESS MILITARY HARDWARE FROM GEORGIA

Russia has withdrawn from Georgia the last consignment of military equipment and weaponry in excess of the limits stipulated under the revised CFE treaty ahead of the 31 December deadline for doing so, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 December citing a Russian Foreign Ministry statement. The equipment was taken from the military bases at Vaziani, near Tbilisi, and Gudauta, in Abkhazia, in accordance with an agreement signed in November 1999. The future of the Gudauta base remains unclear, as Georgia has not yet formally agreed to Moscow's proposal to turn it into a support base for the Russian peace-keeping force currently deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. Equipment belonging to that force still remains at the Gudauta base, Caucasus Press reported on 28 December quoting a senior Russian military official. LF

GEORGIAN COMMUNISTS APPEAL TO PUTIN TO REHABILITATE STALIN

Delegates to a congress of the United Communist Party of Georgia (SGKP) voted on 27 December to invalidate all resolutions taken by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union condemning Joseph Stalin, ITAR-TASS reported. SGKP chairman Panteleimon Giorgadze termed the vote "our duty towards the most gifted politician of the 20th century," according to Reuters. Congress delegates also voted to appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin to rehabilitate Stalin, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 28 December. LF

STANDOFF BETWEEN GEORGIAN LEADERSHIP, MEDIA INTENSIFIES

Speaking at a press confernce in Tbilisi on 28 December, Georgian parliament deputy speaker Vakhtang Rcheulishvili accused the independent Georgian media of being "as corrupt as some politicians," and said journalists are equally to blame for the current situation on the country. He specifically singled out the newspapers "Alia" and "Rezonansi" for propagating what he termed misleading information. President Eduard Shevardnadze accused the media last week of launching an "informational offensive" against the Georgian leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2000). Also on 28 December, parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania ordered the parliament's press service to revoke the withdrawal of a journalist's accreditation. Nino Tkeshelashvili, who works for the independent TV station Kavkasi, had her accreditation withdrawn two weeks ago after a heated exchange with the chairman of the parliamentary procedural committee. LF

BALCEROWICZ TO REMAIN GEORGIAN PRESIDENTIAL ADVISOR

Former Polish Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz, who was confirmed on 22 December as the new president of the Polish National Bank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2000), will not give up his post as economic advisor to Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Interfax reported on 28 December. A team of Polish economists working under Balcerowicz's guidance is currently preparing proposals on the reform of the Georgian pension system and other social programs. LF

GEORGIAN NAVAL CAPTAIN ACQUITTED

A Tbilisi district court on 28 December found former Georgian navy commander Otar Chkhartishvili not guilty of misappropriating 50,000 laris ($27,000), Caucasus Press reported. Chkhartishvili was arrested in May 1998 on charges of abuse of office and embezzlement, and sentenced in April to two years' imprisonment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2000). But an appeals court rejected most charges of the indictment in June, whereupon a new investigation was initiated. The Georgian Military Procurator's Office has said it will appeal Chkhartishvili's acquittal. LF

MOLDOVA TO OPT OUT OF MILITARY COOPERATION WITHIN GUUAM

Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi has announced that his country will not participate in any military cooperation projects within GUUAM, the informal group that aligns Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova, Caucasus Press reported on 29 December. Lucinschi said Chisinau seeks to maintain its neutrality and will therefore abjure military cooperation within the CIS as well. But he reaffirmed Moldova's interest in economic cooperation within GUUAM, including the transportation of Caspian oil to European markets via the South Caucasus. LF

KAZAKHSTAN ADOPTS LAND LAW

Both chambers of Kazakhstan's parliament on 27 December again discussed, and adopted in the final reading, the draft land law passed in the first reading in November, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Reuters and Interfax reported. The bill, which has been submitted to President Nursultan Nazarbaev for signing, provides for the long-term leasing, but not for private ownership of agricultural land, according to Reuters. The Senate (the upper chamber) made some 70 amendments to the draft earlier this month, one of which precludes discussion in the Mazhilis (the lower chamber) of the price of land. On 28 December, representatives of the political parties aligned in the Land Protection Front expressed their disapproval of the law at a press conference in Almaty, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. They argued that the law does not differentiate between arable land and semi-desert, noting that the population of semi-desert and desert regions is almost exclusively ethnic Kazakh. LF

KAZAKHSTAN, UZBEKISTAN FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT ON DEBTS

A session of the Kazakh-Uzbek Cooperation Commission in Astana on 26 December failed to yield an agreement on the payment of Tashkent's estimated $4.2 million debt, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The Kazakh government had demanded payment of that debt after Uzbekistan raised fees for supplies of natural gas to southern Kazakhstan from $35 to $50 per thousand cubic meters. LF

NEW KYRGYZ PREMIER CONFIRMS STREAMLINED GOVERNMENT STRUCTURE

Kurmanbek Bakiev on 28 December presented to parliament the formal blueprint for his new government, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. That plan corresponds almost 100 percent with the proposals made to parliament on 21 December by President Askar Akaev which cut the number of ministries and government agencies from 42 to 27-29 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 2000). But Bakiev also told parliament deputies on 28 December that the composition of the new government will not be unveiled until next month. Observers had anticipated that he would do so before the end of the year. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT PASSES AMNESTY LAW

The lower chamber of the Kyrgyz parliament passed on 26 December in the second and final reading a law on a general amnesty prepared in April, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Under its terms, some 3,000 people of a prison population of 15,560 will be eligible for release. Parliament committee chairman Azimbek Beknazarov, who co-authored the bill, told RFE/RL that it had originally been scheduled for passage on 9 May, the 55th anniversary of the end of World War II. He said the Kyrgyz leadership decided to postpone the debate so as not to create conditions for the amnesty of imprisoned politicians Feliks Kulov, Daniyar Usenov and Topchubek Turgunaliev. LF

KYRGYZ POLITICIAN TAKES PAPER TO COURT

Presidential administration head Misir Ashyrkulov has brought slander charges against the newspaper "Komsomolskaya pravda v Kyrgyzstane," a weekly supplement to the Moscow-based "Komsomolskaya pravda," RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 27 December. Ashyrkulov is demanding 3.2 million soms (about $65,000) in damages for a 1 December interview in which Viktor Zapolsky, editor of the independent newspaper "Delo Nomer," accused the Kyrgyz Security Ministry of fabricating criminal cases. Ashyrkulov headed that ministry in 1998-1999. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT, RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT DISCUSS REGIONAL SECURITY

Visiting Dushanbe, Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov discussed with President Imomali Rakhmonov bilateral relations, Central Asian security and the situation in Afghanistan, Interfax reported on 27 December. Trubnikov termed the war in Afghanistan "a direct physical threat." LF




MINSK TIES BELARUS CURRENCY TO RUSSIAN RUBLE

The Belarusian government announced on 27 December that Minsk will keep its national ruble within a set fluctuation band against the Russian ruble as of 1 January, Russian and Western agencies reported. Minsk will allow its currency to fall no more than 3 percent in value against the Russian ruble each month. Currently, it has been falling at the rate of about 5 percent a month. On the same day, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent to the Duma the 30 November 2000 agreement calling for the introduction of a single currency once the two countries form a union state, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

BELARUSIAN WAGES FALL

The Belarusian statistics ministry told Belapan on 27 December that average monthly wages fell from $73.50 in October to $70.00 in November, the first officially reported decline in nine months. PG

BELARUS URGED TO SPEED UP INVESTIGATION OF JOURNALIST'S DISAPPEARANCE

The New York-based journalist watchdog group, the Committee to Protect Journalists, on 26 December urged Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka to step up the investigation into the disappearance of Dmitry Zavadsky, an ORT cameraman who has been missing since 7 July 2000, AP reported. "We now fear that the journalist may have been killed," CPJ said. PG

UKRAINE EXPECTS INFLATION TO FALL

The Ukrainian government expects inflation to fall to 13.4 percent in 2001, down from the 23.8 percent during the first 11 months of 2000 and also less than the 19.2 percent in 1999, Interfax reported. PG

PAY DISPUTE SHUTS OFF TV IN WESTERN UKRAINE

The state-owned Lviv regional broadcast center stopped broadcasting the programs of the state-owned Lviv television and radio production company on 25 December because the latter owes the former $1.8 million, the "Kyiv Post" reported on 28 December, according to DPA. As a result, the 2.7 million people of the region cannot get television at all and can hear FM radio transmissions only between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm. The shutdown reportedly has also affected communications links used by police and emergency workers. PG

UKRAINIAN NUCLEAR REACTOR RESTARTED

Ukrainian officials restarted a reactor at that country's Yuzhna plant on 27 December after it had been unexpectedly shut down for repairs earlier in the week, AP reported. The state's Energoatom nuclear agency said 11 of the 13 nuclear reactors at Ukraine's four atomic plants are currently generating electric power. PG

ICON THIEVES CAPTURED NEAR CHERNOBYL

Two men suspected of stealing church icons in 1997 from a special temporary storage facility in Chernobyl have been arrested, the Ukrainian Security Service told AP on 28 December. The authorities noted that the icons were not radioactive. PG

ESTONIA TO END YEAR WITH BUDGET DEFICIT

Finance Ministry adviser Daniel Vaarik said that Estonia will end the year with a budget deficit of about 350 million kroons ($21 million), or about 1.2 percent of the planned balanced 28.5 billion kroon state budget, ETA reported on 28 December. The parliament had expected to receive 617 million kroons from the sale of state property, but received only 36.7 million kroons in ten months. The largest object that the government failed to privatize was the Tallinn Olympic Yachting Center, for which it had expected to get at least 250 million kroons. The Finance Ministry will bridge the deficit with money from the cash reserve. SG

LATVIA AND LITHUANIA FULLY RESTORE STATE BORDER

The chairmen of the Lithuanian-Latvian State Border Delineation and Demarcation Commission, Zenonas Kumetaitis and Ints Upmacis, on 28 December in Vilnius signed an album of maps of the border, descriptions of the border, and a final border re-establishment protocol, BNS reported. The two countries began the re-establishment of the border by signing an agreement on the issue in June 1993 and subsequently formed a joint commission which continued the detailed work. The land border, which stretches for 588 kilometers, is marked by 1,805 posts. The commission will end its work in 2001 when the two countries and Belarus sign a document on the point of intersection of their frontiers. In July 1999 Latvia and Lithuania signed an agreement on their sea border, which Lithuania's parliament ratified about one year ago, but Latvia's legislature has delayed doing so under pressure from the country's fishing industry, which is afraid of losing traditional fishing grounds. SG

TWO NEW LITHUANIAN AMBASSADORS APPROVED

The parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee on 27 December approved the candidacies of Vygaudas Usackas and Ginte Damusyte to become Lithuania's ambassadors to the United States and NATO, respectively, BNS reported. Usackas had been Lithuania's senior negotiator for EU membership, but decided to give up that post when Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis decided not to retain him as one of his deputy ministers. While residing in Vienna, Damusyte also served as Lithuania's ambassador to Slovakia, Croatia, and Slovenia. She replaces Linas Linkevicius, who resigned after becoming defense minister. Valionis recommended that former chancellor Petras Austrevicius, whom Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas recently appointed director general of the government's European Committee, be appointed the new senior negotiator for EU membership. SG

KWASNIEWSKI SEEKS EARLY ELECTIONS IN POLAND...

President Aleksander Kwasniewski said on 28 December that the parliament should dissolve itself four months early in order to allow national elections to be moved up from the fall to June 2001, PAP reported. "It would be better for the electoral procedure and for Poland's democracy," he said. It would also give an advantage to Kwasniewski's allies in the Democratic Left Alliance, who currently enjoy the support of 40 percent of the electorate, far more than the currently divided Solidarity bloc, which is supported by 12 percent, AP reported. PG

...REACHES OUT TO NURSES, FARMERS

Meanwhile, Kwasniewski said that he will meet with protesting health care workers and offer them 203 zloty ($48) per month wage increases, AP reported. The Polish president also pardoned farm union leader Marian Zagorny, who had been sentenced to 15 months in prison for dumping 500 tons of imported grain to protest the government's economic policies. Zagorny has been placed on probation for five years. He remains unrepentant: "Grain-spilling is in the past now," he told PAP, but "there are other forms of protest" against low farm subsidies and imported foods. PG

SWEDEN TO 'LOAN' POLAND JETS IN HOPES OF SALE

The Saab aircraft company and Sweden's military plan to offer to lend Warsaw 16 advanced jet fighters for a period of five years in the hope that Poland will ultimately buy 60 of them instead of purchasing U.S. planes, Stockholm's "Dagens Nyheter" reported on 28 December, according to DPA. The paper said that this Swedish offer will be presented to the Polish government in the next few days. PG

CZECH TELEVISION OFF, ON, OFF AIR AS SITUATION REMAINS CONFUSING

Broadcasts on Czech Television were resumed on 28 December, following a decision by new director general Jiri Hodac to black out all broadcasts the previous day, in order to prevent rebel staff from the television's newsroom to broadcast their competing newscasts via cable and satellite television, CTK, AP and Reuters reported. Films and commercials were broadcast on 28 December, but Hodac re-imposed periodic black-outs to cut off transmissions by the rebel news staff. The resumption of broadcasting followed a decision by the Broadcasting Council calling on Czech television to "rectify the illegal situation and immediately resume broadcasting." Hodac expressed satisfaction with that decision and is threatening to remove the dissident journalists from the Czech TV premises. But TV Council Chairman Martin Muchka said the resumption of interruptions on Hodac's orders shows he did not "fully" met the council's decision. MS

HAVEL SIDES WITH TELEVISION REBELS

President Vaclav Havel on 27 December told Czech Radio that Hodac's appointment may have been in line with the letter of the law, but is "against its sense and its spirit." The February 1948 Communist take-over, Havel said, had also been in line with existing. laws. He said the situation arose because "party interests are paramount to everything and everything is done according to party interests, including appointments to boards of banks and television." The leadership of the ruling Social Democratic Party on the same day called for Hodac's resignation, and Deputy Premiers Pavel Rychetsky and Vladimir Spidla later met with representatives of the television unions. They said afterwards those talks were "interesting." MS

CZECH PARLIAMENT TO DEBATE SITUATION

Chamber of Deputies chairman Vaclav Klaus has been forced to call a meeting of the chamber for 3 January 2001 after 42 deputies submitted a request for such a meeting, but Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODS) deputies were not among the signatories of the petition, and ODS deputy chairman Ivan Langer harshly criticized the opponents of Hodac's appointment. On 28 December, representatives of the rebel journalists denied that Jana Bobosikova, appointed by Hodac as the new head of the news department, had been attacked while leaving the television's premises. They called that claim "a deliberate provocation." Meanwhile, thousands continue to demonstrate outside the building. Support for Hodac's appointment has also been expressed by the international journalist organization Reporters Without Frontiers, by Slovak media personalities and by the Austrian Journalists' Club. MS

DECISION ON NEW SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTERS DELAYED

Democratic Left Party (SDL) leader Jozef Migas on 28 December said the National Committee of his party has not yet decided on the candidate for the post of Slovak defense minister, though it may do so the following day, CTK reported. Migas said the future defense minister must be acceptable to the party but also "give society and the party a vision." The SDL must nominate a new candidate to replace Pavol Kanis, who resigned earlier this month. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda has already rejected the SDL's proposal to nominate former chief of staff Jozef Tuchyna for that post. MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER SAYS HIS MODEL IS TELEKI

Prime Minister Viktor Orban, in an interview with Hungarian Radio on 27 December, said the government must represent the interests of "all Hungarians living in the Carpathian basin". Orban said he has been "browsing a number of books" on the subject and found that the ideas of Prime Minister Pal Teleki are more helpful than "other fashionable ideas." Teleki pursued a police of revision of the country's 1920 Trianon-imposed borders. Orban also said that "our starting point must be our own national self-interest," which "is not an abstract category, but the common interest of the entire Hungarian nation," the BBC's monitoring service reported. MS

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL APOLOGIZES TO HUNGARY

Amnesty International has apologized to Hungary for having published in The Netherlands an advertisement accusing Hungarian police of brutality against Roma children, Reuters reported on 28 December. The ad showed a three-year old Romany child with his teeth allegedly broken by police. Interior Ministry Secretary Laszlo Felkai told Reuters that the advertisement strengthened Western European perceptions that the human rights situation in Central and East European countries, which under communism was bad, remained so after the collapse of the former regimes. He said Hungary always conducts investigations when Amnesty International launches a complaint and that his ministry is making efforts to cut police violence against the Roma by organizing special courses for its staff on handling cases involving members of that minority and by increasing the number of Romany policemen. MS




YUGOSLAV DEPUTIES DEMAND UN REIN IN ALBANIAN GUERRILLAS

The Yugoslav parliament on 28 December passed a resolution calling on the United Nations to clear Albanian guerrilla fighters from the buffer zone between Kosova and the rest of Yugoslavia, Reuters reported. The deputies said that if the UN fails to act, Belgrade reserves the right to take steps to do so on its own. Meanwhile, conditions in the five-kilometer wide zone continued to deteriorate over the past several days, with shooting and shelling near Bujanovac, AP reported. PG

KOSTUNICA SEES NO IMMEDIATE TRIAL FOR MILOSEVIC

Arguing that his government has far more pressing problems, including dealing with Montenegro, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica told German Radio in Belgrade on 27 December that he does not anticipate the prosecution of former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic anytime soon, Reuters reported. "We need to create the institutional conditions to put questions of responsibility on a legal basis, rather than using revolutionary justice," he said, adding that "the people are hungrier for food than they are hungry for revenge or justice." PG

KOSTUNICA SEEKS CLOSER MOSCOW TIES

President Kostunica told visiting Russian State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev on 27 December that Yugoslavia and Russia will seek to expand their ties, Tanjug reported. Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 December that Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic will visit Moscow on 17-18 January. PG

FINAL RESULTS IN SERBIAN VOTE

The Republic Electoral Commission on 27 December released the final official results of the 23 December parliamentary vote in Serbia, Reuters reported. The Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS), which supports Yugoslav President Kostunica, received 64.08 percent of the vote and will have 176 seats in the 250-member parliament. Slobodan Milosevic's Socialists received 13.76 percent of the vote and will have 37 seats. The nationalist Radical Party received 8.5 percent of all votes and will have 23 seats, while the Party of Serbian Unity founded by the late warlord Arkan won 5.33 percent and will have 14 seats. No other party -- including the Yugoslav Left Party headed by Milosevic's wife and the Serbian Renewal Movement led by Vuk Draskovic -- received the 5 percent vote required for representation. The commission noted that it had cancelled the results from 19 of the more than 8,000 voting stations because of irregularities, and had not opened 56 stations in Kosova. It said that voter turnout was 57.72 percent. PG

GREECE WELCOMES DOS ELECTION VICTORY

Greek Foreign Minister George Panpandreou sent a message to Serbian Prime Minister-designate Zoran Djindjic saying that the latter's electoral victory "establishes democracy and confirms the Serbian people's will for changes which will take it towards the European family," Reuters reported on 28 December. Meanwhile, Munich's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" reported on 27 December that Berlin will provide Serbia with an immediate 50 billion mark ($23.7 million) aid package. PG

YUGOSLAVIA SEEKS TO RESTORE TIES WITH ALBANIA

Yugoslav Federal Prime Minister Zoran Zizic said on 28 December that Belgrade would like to reestablish diplomatic ties with Tirana, AP reported. Those links were suspended during last year's NATO airstrikes in Kosova and Serbia. At present, Albania is the only neighboring country with which Yugoslavia does not have diplomatic relations. PG

BELGRADE LIFTS RESTRICTIONS ON FOREIGN JOURNALISTS

Yugoslavia's Information Secretary Slobodan Orlic told Tanjug on 27 December that Belgrade will no longer impose restrictions on the admission and accreditation of foreign journalists. Instead, he said, the country's information secretariat will work to ensure that all foreign journalists can function in Yugoslavia freely. PG

SERBIAN POWER SHORTAGE SPARKS MORE PROTESTS...

Continuing power shutoffs have sparked protests across Serbia, Reuters reported. In Nis, people burned tires to block a road on 26 December. In Belgrade's Vidikovac suburb, some 300 people blocked a main street, while others were unable to move through the streets quickly because traffic lights were out. (The interior ministry on 28 December called on drivers to be extra-cautious.) And even an important football game had to be finished under emergency lighting when the main lights shut down. PG

...NO QUICK FIX SEEN

Most other indications were that the brownouts and blackouts are likely to continue for some time. Senior energy sector official Dragan Batalo said that prices will have to rise and more infrastructure must be built in order to match capacity to demand, AP reported on 28 December. He placed all the blame on the failures of the former Milosevic regime, as did Nada Kolundzija, a senior official of the 18-party DOS alliance, AP reported on 27 December. Meanwhile, Serbian Energy Minister Srboljub Antic said the same day that Serbian cities should follow the example of Cacak and Kragujevac by declaring a state of emergency and suspending schools and industrial facilities, Reuters reported. PG

YUGOSLAVIA EXPECTS ROBUST GDP GROWTH IN 2001

The Yugoslav government said on 27 December that it expects the country's GDP to grow by 10 percent in 2001, DPA reported. Meanwhile, the central bank announced that it will end its current fixed exchange rate on the dinar and switch to what it called "a managed fluctuating rate." As part of its austerity measures, the government plans to cut spending on the military and increase tax collection. Despite that, the government expects a current account deficit of 1.5 percent of GDP. PG

DJUKANOVIC TO RESIGN IF MONTENEGRINS DON'T BACK INDEPENDENCE

President Milo Djukanovic said on 26 December that if Montenegrins fail to support his call for independence in a referendum during the first half of 2001, he will resign as president, AP reported. He said that independence would not lead to any stoppage in "the free flow of people and goods" between Montenegro and Serbia. PG

FLOODING HITS MONTENEGRIN CITIES

Heavy rains over the last several days have flooded many Montenegrin cities, AP reported on 28 December. A Cetinje official said that the city has not had so much rain "since 1986." In an effort to lift people's spirits, Montenegrin television ran a jingle informing the population that people there are now "sailing on" to a better future. PG

JELAVIC URGES DUAL CITIZENSHIP FOR BOSNIAN CROATS

Ante Jelavic, the Croat member of the three-man Bosnian presidency, said that Bosnian Croats should have dual citizenship because the special agreement between Croatia and the Federation of Bosnia-Herezegovina is "a noose around the necks of Bosnian Croats ... and a worthless peace of paper," Hina reported on 28 December. He added that Bosnia's Croats no longer want to participate in Croatian elections. PG

TUDJMAN'S PARTY TO SEEK IMPEACHMENT OF CROATIAN PRESIDENT

Vladimir Seks, the parliamentary faction leader of the HDZ, which was founded by former President Franjo Tudjman, said that his party will seek the impeachment of incumbent President Stipe Mesic, DPA reported on 28 December citing "Jutarnji list." Seks said that Mesic and his government had harmed Croatian national interests by cooperating with the international war crimes tribunal. PG

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES CONFIDENCE IN NASTASE CABINET

With a vote of 314 for and 145 against, a joint session of the two chambers of the parliament on 28 December voted confidence in the cabinet headed by Adrian Nastase, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The new ministers were sworn in by President Ion Iliescu shortly afterwards. The opposition National Liberal Party (PNL) and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) supported the cabinet, while the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM) and the Democratic Party voted against it. On 27 December, Nastase and the leaders of the Democrats, the PNL and the UDMR signed a joint declaration pledging support for the government in "isolating extremism," its fight against poverty and corruption and for integration in Euro-Atlantic structures. But Democratic Party leader Petre Roman said his party will vote no-confidence because "one cannot simultaneously be in the opposition and back the government." MS

ANTI-SEMITIC INCIDENT IN BUCHAREST

Two men who claimed they were looking for "Auschwitz soap" made of human fat smashed windows and hurled objects on 28 December at the Jewish History Museum in Bucharest. The two hit a guard and attempted to strangle him, Mediafax reported. They started vandalizing the exhibition after they were told that the museum has no display of such soap. Sorin Iulian, secretary general of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania, was quoted by AP as saying that the museum used to display such soap made in Nazi concentration camps till last year, but it no longer does so. There has been recently controversy among Holocaust historians whether the soap had been fabricated from Jewish human fat, as previously believed. President Iliescu said in reaction on 29 December that the incident is "a grave insult against the Jewish community's memory and identity" and is "unacceptable in a tolerant, democratic society." MS

IMPRISONED MOLDOVAN TO REPRESENT ROMANIA IN STRASBOURG

Ilie Ilascu, who has been imprisoned in Tiraspol since 1992, has been chosen to be a member of the Romanian parliamentary representation at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Ilascu was elected a Senator on the lists of the PRM in the November Romanian parliamentary elections. MS

LUCINSCHI TO CALL EARLY ELECTIONS IN FEBRUARY

President Petru Lucinschi on 27 December told journalists that after consultations with the parliamentary parties he has decided to dissolve the parliament on 8 January 2001 and to call early elections in February, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Lucinschi said there is no time to change the electoral system, and the February elections will have to be conducted under the old proportional system on party lists. He said the new parliament will be entitled to decide whether or not to abolish the outgoing legislature's decision to transform Moldova into a presidential republic and, if that happens, the decision will be submitted to a referendum. Lucinschi said he will not run for a new presidential mandate now, but has not decided what he might do if the parliamentary republic is abolished. MS

BULGARIA REGISTERS FIRST POSITIVE TRADE BALANCE

The balance of trade for 2000 is positive for the first time since 1989, BTA reported on 27 December, citing Bulgarian Radio. In the January-October period, the positive trade balance amounted to $165 million. Bulgarian Finance and Economy Ministry officials said the expected growth in the GDP over 1999 is 5 percent and inflation is likely to be 10 percent. MS




'THE GREATEST POLITICAL MISTAKE'


by Paul Goble

Moscow's dispatch of Soviet troops to Afghanistan 21 years ago this week was "the greatest political mistake" whose consequences continue to plague both Afghanistan and the Soviet successor states, according to the last Soviet commander there.

General Boris Gromov, who heads a Russian veterans organization, said on 27 December that "the dispatch of Soviet troops into Afghanistan was not justified either politically or militarily." And he called on everyone involved "to concentrate efforts on overcoming that error" by helping Afghanistan, former Soviet soldiers who served there, and their families.

Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's decision to send troops to defend what he believed was a communist government in Afghanistan was a key act in the overreach which many analysts point to as presaging the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union itself. It helped to reenergize Western opposition to Soviet communism.

When Moscow was finally compelled to withdraw from Afghanistan eight years later, many throughout the Soviet empire became convinced that Moscow would eventually be forced to leave their lands as well, a conviction that helped to power national movements in Eastern Europe and the non-Russian Soviet republics.

But as Gromov makes clear, the 1979 invasion continues to have an impact in Afghanistan, in Russia and other post-Soviet successor states, and in defining international relationships between Moscow and the rest of the world.

The continuing consequences of the Soviet invasion are most obvious in Afghanistan itself. The actions of the Soviet troops there destroyed much of the social infrastructure of traditional Afghan society, opening the way both to vastly expanded drug production and to the rise of the Taliban movement which rejects modernity in the name of radically traditional Islamist politics.

Drugs produced in Afghanistan continue to destabilize both Iran and the countries of Central Asia. In both places, leaders have invoked the dangers of drugs to justify their own authoritarian approaches and to win the sympathy and support of the international community.

But even more dramatically, the Taliban movement has become the latest symbol of Islamist politics, especially because of its willingness to provide sanctuary for accused terrorist Osama bin Laden. Increasingly, this distinctively local movement has been portrayed by some as a threat to the entire world and used to justify patterns of cooperation.

In Russia itself, the consequences of the 1979 invasion are perhaps less obvious but equally profound. On the one hand, and not unlike in the United States after Vietnam, most Russians concluded from the Afghan conflict that they must never fight again unless they are certain of their aims and capable of winning any conflict they enter with low casualties on their own side. Indeed, that Afghan model helps to explain Moscow's current approach in Chechnya.

And on the other hand, the bitter experience of the Afghan fighting has divided Russian society, with many now viewing that war as an exemplar of what was wrong with the old Soviet system and others drawing the opposite conclusion, deciding that the opening up of Soviet society under Mikhail Gorbachev was responsible for a defeat that Russia must at some point avenge.

Finally, the impact of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan continues to reverberate through the international community. Two decades ago, Moscow's actions prompted the United States and other Western countries to change their approach to the Soviet Union, not only boycotting the 1980 Olympics in Moscow but also adopting the harder line exemplified in U.S. President Ronald Reagan's denunciation of the USSR as "an evil empire."

Now, that invasion and the disastrous consequences it had for Afghanistan are having just the opposite effect, prompting a new kind of cooperation between Moscow and Washington. Last week, the two countries worked together in the United Nations Security Council to impose new sanctions on the Taliban to force them to hand over bin Laden and to stop supporting terrorism.

Not surprisingly, this new cooperation between Russia and the United States has outraged the Taliban. Their leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, said this week that "the United States and Russia want to destroy good Muslim people all over the world." And on the occasion of the Muslim holiday of Eid-ul Fitr, he urged the followers of Islam to "stay united against these cruel intentions."

But even the vast majority of Muslims who are appalled by the Taliban's actions are concerned about this new cooperation against an Islamic state, seeing it as an example of what Harvard University's Samuel Huntington called "the clash of civilizations" and portending more conflicts between the West and the world of Islam.

Twenty-one years ago, Brezhnev assumed that Soviet forces would soon put things right in Afghanistan. Instead, that action continues to transform the world a generation later.


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