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Newsline - January 5, 2001




PUTIN DISCUSSES RUSSIAN SECURITY COUNCIL PLANS...

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Security Council head Sergei Ivanov on 4 January to discuss the Council's plan of work over the next six months, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, "Versiya" of 26 December--1 January reported that officials in the Council are planning to convert it from an advisory body to the key link in Putin's management of the country, with all key security bodies directly subordinate to it. That will make Ivanov the second most powerful man in the country, the magazine said. To that end, it reported, Council officials currently are drafting a new law to replace the 1992 legislation on which the Council currently operates. In addition, the new law will regularize the position of the coordinator of state information policy. PG

...AUDITS...

President Putin met with Audit Chamber chairman Sergei Stepashin on 4 January to discuss the chamber's audits of several Russian companies and regions, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 January. PG

...AND TURKMEN GAS

Putin spoke by telephone on 4 January with Turkmenistan's President Saparmurad Niyazov to discuss supplies of Turkmen gas and how to reconcile the two countries' opposing views on the status of the Caspian Sea, Interfax reported. Turkmenistan had suspended natural gas deliveries to Russia three days earlier after Moscow and Ashgabat failed to reach an agreement on the price for that gas. Turkmenistan is asking $40 per thousand cubic meters at the Turkmen border, to be paid half in cash and half in commodities. Adding the transit fees for Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, that is equivalent to $58 per thousand cubic meters at the Russian border. ITAR-TASS said that Niyazov defended Turkmen's price structure and raised the issue of the indebtedness of Russian banks to Ashgabat. LF/PG

MOSCOW SAYS U.S. VIOLATING START-I ACCORD

Aleksandr Yakovenko, an official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, said on 4 January that the United States is in direct violation of the START-I agrement because it is destroying only the first stage of the MX and not the entire missile as required, Russian agencies reported. Yakovenko said Washington's violation of this agreement could allow the U.S. to put these missiles back into active service very quickly and thus threaten the balance envisioned by the accord. The Russian spokesman added that Moscow has raised this issue in a variety of forums and at various levels but has not received any satisfactory response. PG

MOSCOW TO SKIP PAYMENT TO PARIS CLUB -- BUT PLEDGES TO PAY IN FULL

Gennadii Yezhov, a spokesman for Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, told Interfax on 4 January that Moscow will not make a first-quarter payment on its debts to the Paris Club. But Yezhov and other officials insisted that Moscow will meet its obligations in full over the course of the year and is therefore not defaulting as some had suggested. Yezhov said that payments will be set following an IMF visit to Moscow later this month or in February, but observers told AP that Moscow is missing the payment because it has not included funds for the payment in its much-ballyhooed balanced budget and that officials there do not want to call that in question immediately. Meanwhile, the finance ministry set aside $118.5 million for a debt payment to the IMF, Interfax reported. PG

PALESTINIANS WANT MOSCOW INVOLVED IN PEACE TALKS

Palestinian representative in Moscow Hairi al-Oridi told ITAR-TASS on 4 January that Palestinians "demand Russia's presence at the peace talks. This is Russia's right, and it must use it," he said. Meanwhile, Russian officials expressed confidence that the talks being promoted by the U.S. could lead to an agreement and said that they have no plans to put their own proposal forward, the Russian agency said. And the Israeli embassy in Moscow denied that Israel is against Russian participation in the talks. PG

MOSCOW TO RESUME FULL COOPERATION WITH NATO

The Russian Defense Ministry told "Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie," No. 49, that Moscow plans to resume "full-fledged" cooperation with NATO in 2001, including setting up a NATO information center in Moscow. PG

MEXICAN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS TO EXCHANGE VISITS

Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda told ITAR-TASS on 4 January that over the next several years Mexican President Vicente Fox will visit Moscow and Russian President Putin will come to Mexico. Last year, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev led a parliamentary delegation to Mexico, and Castaneda said ties were good and getting better. PG

APPEALS COURT REINSTATES CHARGES AGAINST GUSINSKII

A Moscow court on 5 January reinstated fraud charges against media magnate Vladimir Gusinskii, Reuters reported. A lower court in December had said the charges were without foundation, but prosecutors had appealed that ruling. Gusinskii remains in Spain, free on bail pending a Spanish court's decision on whether to extradite him to Russia. PG

RUSSIANS FEAR ARMY CUTS WILL WEAKEN COUNTRY

A ROMIR poll found that nearly a third of all Russians--32.7 percent-- are concerned that the Security Council's decision to cut the size of the army will weaken the country, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 January. Only 7.8 percent said they believe that the cuts will improve military preparedness. Meanwhile, observer Vladislav Shurygin wrote in "Zavtra," No. 1, that the Russian military has fallen behind the West in its hardware, hampering operations and making casualties more likely. PG

OIL EXPORTS VIA NOVOROSSIISK UP 12 PERCENT IN 2000

Russia's Oil Information Agency told Interfax on 4 January that 12 percent more oil had flowed through the Novorossiisk port in 2000 than in 1999 -- some 40,252 million tons in all. PG

RUSSIAN OIL MAJORS INSIST ON EQUAL EXPORT ACCESS

Vagit Alekperov of LUKoil, Mikhail Khodorkovskiy of YUKOS, Semen Kukes of TNK, and Yevgenii Shvidler of Sibneft have sent a letter to Energy Minister Aleksandr Gavrin insisting that all producers be granted equal export opportunities, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 January. PG

RUSSIANS TRUST PUTIN BUT NOT THE COURTS OR MEDIA

A poll conducted by ROMIR in December found that 72 percent of Russians were inclined to trust the Russian president and that 26 percent approved all of his actions, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 January. But only 25 percent said they trusted the judicial system and 30 percent said they had no faith in the courts. The same poll found that only six percent of Russians fully trust the media, 37 percent "rather do not trust" media outlets, and 16 percent say that they do not believe newspapers or the electronic media at all. PG

MOSCOW PREPARING BILL ON INTERNAL BORDERS

Aleksandr Blokhin, the minister for Federation Affairs and Nationality and Migration Policy, was quoted by "Segodnya" on 4 January as saying that his ministry is preparing a draft law to regulate internal administrative boundaries. At present, he said, federation subjects generally reach agreements among themselves about these borders. But he added that there are "about 20" unresolved disputes that the new law would among other things address. PG

ANOTHER GOVERNOR SAYS PUTIN TO REDUCE NUMBER OF REGIONS

Vologda Governor Vyacheslav Pozgalev told Interfax on 4 January that he is certain President Putin "is now preparing the necessary changes to the Constitution" to reduce the number of federation subjects to no more than 50. He explained that "this follows logically from [Putin's] activities." Pozgalev added that not only should the number of regions be reduced but that all regions should have equal opportunities. Last month, "Segodnya" reported that Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed said that Putin would issue a decee in January or February eliminating the independent status of the autonomous okrugs (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 January 2001). JAC

TWO-HEADED EAGLE REPLACES SNOW LEOPARD AT TATARSTAN SUPREME COURT

As of 1 January, the snow leopard, a historical symbol of the Tatar people, was removed from the republic's Supreme Court building in Kazan and replaced by the new Russian coat of arms, the two-headed eagle, RFE/RL's bureau there reported on 3 January. The replacement of the symbols significes the resubordination of the republic's Supreme Court to the Russian federal Supreme Court. In addition, the court's 35 justices were given new identification cards signed by President Putin, replacing those signed by Tatarstan's State Council Chairman Farit Mukhatmetshin. JAC

ORGANIZERS FOR POOR PROTEST AGAINST TIME-BASED TELEPHONE CHARGES

Rossiya Molodaya, a public movement made up of a number of organizations representing interests of veterans, invalids, and indigent groups in Kazan, has launched a protest against the introduction of time-based charges for local telephone use, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 3 January. Under the new system, customers must pay 6 kopeks for each minute of phonecalls compared with the old system of a flat 30 ruble ($1.10) per month fee. The group contends that the new system violates citizens' constitutional rights and has been introduced through a monopoly's diktat. JAC

DRUGS TRANSFORMING TUVA

The rate of drug addiction in the Tuva Republic last year rose to almost four times Russia's national average, the republic's Ministry of Health announced on 4 January. Tuva has 226.1 addicts per 100,000 members of the population, compared to the national average of 59.7 addicts per 100,000, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to the agency, the number of addicts in the republic has increased 40 times during the last 10 years, and the number of crimes involving the illegal sale of drugs has risen 10 times. Last fall, RFE/RL's Kyzyl correspondent reported that Tuva is becoming a "second Colombia," where the local narco-business is becoming the republic's primary business activity (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 11 October 2000). Two reasons why the local population is turning to the sale of drugs is that the amount of arable land in the republic is shrinking and the rate of unemployment in Tuva is one of the highest in Russia. JAC

RUSSIAN JOURNALISTS EXPRESS SOLIDARITY WITH CZECH TV WORKERS

The Russian Union of Journalists expressed its support for striking Czech Television employees who have been protesting the apppointment of Jiri Hodac as CT general director, CTK reported on 4 January. The Russian union's statement said that it is confident that the protests, the positions of the country's leaders, and the international solidarity of journalists and human rights activists will lead Prague to reverse its decision. PG

KARATE--TRAINED YOUNG TO FIGHT TAX EVADERS

Some 144 young people aged 10 to 15 are being trained in karate at the Moscow Tax Police Cadet School so that they can help collect taxes from vegetable markets and banks, "Die Welt" reported on 4 January. PG

EIGHT MILLION IMMIGRANTS FROM FORMER REPUBLICS IN DECADE

Russian migration officials told Interfax on 4 January that more than eight million people have arrived in the Russian Federation from former Soviet republics and the Baltic states during the last 10 years. In recent years, the flow has declined and last year made up only 17 percent of the decline in Russia's population from excess deaths over births. The officials noted that there are an estimated 1.5 million illegal immigrants in Russia at the present time. PG

ONLY 58 PERCENT OF RUSSIA'S 16-YEAR-OLDS WILL REACH 60

The State Statistics Committee told Interfax on 4 January that if existing mortality trends continue, only 58 percent of young men aged 16 now will reach their 60th birthday. Committee experts noted that this was only slightly better than the projections for 16-year-olds in 1897 when 56 percent were expected to reach 60. The demographers also pointed out that Russians had the longest life expectancies in 1985-86, 64.91 for men and 74.55 for women. PG

PRIVATE OWNERSHIP OF LAND INCREASES

The Federal Land Registry told ITAR-TASS on 3 January that some 130 million hectares of land in Russia have become privately owned over the last decade. It said that there are now 43 million landowners and that these proprietors now own approximately 8 percent of the country's total land surface. PG

ONLY ONE RUSSIAN IN 100 ON-LINE AT HOME

Only 4 percent of all Russians have their own computer at home, the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion told Interfax on 4 January and only one has the ability to go on-line from his or her residence. Among residents of Moscow, these figures are 16 percent and 3 percent respectively. Slightly more have access to computers and the web at work. PG

WINTER CLAIMS 100TH VICTIM IN MOSCOW

Russian health officials said that Moscow's harsh winter claimed its 100th victim on 4 January, when two more people died from exposure. PG




TRANSNEFT SUSPENDS GAS SUPPLIES TO AZERBAIJAN

The Russian company Transneft suspended gas supplies to Azerbaijan on 3 January because of customs problems, Interfax reported the following day. Transneft had begun shipments to Azerbaijan 10 days earlier, under an agreement with Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR to supply 2 million cubic meters of gas daily until 31 December 2001. That gas was intended to fuel power stations and heating plants. Azerbaijan is still, however, receiving some 7.2 billion cubic meters of gas daily from the ITERA/DITGAS Russian-German consortium. Those supplies, which began in November, were also initially interrupted because Russia's Customs Committee had not issued the necessary permit for the transit of the gas across the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2000). LF

LATVIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS GEORGIA, ARMENIA

Following his 3 January talks in Baku (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2001), Indulis Berzins flew on 4 January to Yerevan via Tbilisi, where he met during a brief stopover with his Georgian counterpart Irakli Menagharishvili, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. Menagharishvili expressed his support for the simultaneous admission of Armenia and Azerbaijan to full membership of the Council of Europe, of whose Ministers Council Berzins is chairman. Menagharishvili added that Georgia has done all in its power to facilitate that process. But Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian told Berzins later on 4 January in Yerevan that it would be incomprehensible for the Armenian leadership and people if the country's admission to full Council of Europe membership were made contingent on developments in another country, according to ITAR-TASS. Azerbaijan's acceptance into full membership is widely believed to be contingent on whether the 7 January repeat parliamentary elections in 11 constituencies are perceived as fair and democratic. LF

IS SHAMIL BASAEV IN GEORGIA?

Georgian White Legion guerrilla commander Zurab Samushia, whose stated ambition is to gun down Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba in cold blood (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 25, 23 June 2000), claimed on 31 December that Chechen militants led by field commander Shamil Basaev have left Chechnya and are now quartered somewhere on the Black Sea coast of Abkhazia, according to "Trud" on 5 January. The paper quoted Samushia as stating that the White Legion is preparing to attack Basaev's men. Basaev fought on the Abkhaz side during the 1992-1993 war. LF

U.S. NORMALIZES TRADE WITH GEORGIA

U.S. President Bill Clinton has granted Georgia normal access to U.S. markets, Reuters reported on 4 January. Georgia is the second former Soviet republic to receive that privilege after Kyrgyzstan. The agency quoted State Department spokesman Richard Boucher as saying Clinton had signed the relevant proclamation on 29 December. Boucher further underscored Washington's "support for Georgia's sovereignty, territorial integrity and free market democratic transformation." LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION PROTESTS ABOLITION OF NATIONAL RECONCILIATION COMMISSION

Representatives of the 21st Century parliament faction, one of the members of the opposition Revival Union, held a press conference in Tbilisi on 4 January to demand that an emergency session of parliament be convened to discuss the abolition of the National Reconciliation Commission created in April 2000, Caucasus Press reported. Vassili Maghlaperidze, who chaired that commission, had announced its dissolution in late December, saying that it had fulfilled its purpose by identifying imprisoned suporters of former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia who were eligible for pardon or amnesty (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 29, 21 July 2000). The 21st Century faction on 4 January argued that the commission should be revived and enlarged to include representatives of the Interior Ministry and Prosecutor-General's office. Faction members also repeated their earlier demand that President Eduard Shevardnadze should take over as commission chairman. LF

KAZAKHS AMBIVALENT OVER PRISON AMNESTY

A poll conducted on 4 January by the staff of RFE/RL's Almaty bureau revealed that most of those questioned approve the amnesty for some 27,000 prisoners signed in late December by President Nursultan Nazarbaev to mark the 10th anniversary of Kazakhstan's Declaration of Sovereignty. Some respondents, however, attributed the gesture to the authorities' inability to provide food and clothing for the entire prison population, while others expressed concern that the release of prisoners will increase the incidence of tuberculosis nation-wide. Reuters reported in February 2000 that over 10 percent of the prisoners released under an amnesty in Kazakhstan in 1999 suffer from that disease. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARTY ADVISES LEADER TO LEAVE COUNTRY

The Political Council of the opposition Ar-Namys (Dignity) Party proposed on 3 January that its founder and chairman, former Vice President Feliks Kulov, leave Kyrgyzstan to avoid possible imprisonment, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported the following day. The Bishkek Military Court is due to resume on 9 January its review of its August decision to acquit Kulov on charges of abuse of his official position while serving as National Security Minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August and 12 September 2000). If the court reverses the acquittal, Kulov could be sentenced to eight years imprisonment. LF

ULTIMATUM TO UZBEK CONVERTS IN KYRGYZSTAN RETRACTED

The standoff in the village of Kurkol in Kyrgyzstan's Djalalabad Oblast between local villagers and ethnic Uzbek Jehovah's Witnesses was resolved peacefully on 4 January thanks to the intervention of Interior Ministry and Security Service officials, RFE/RL's Bishek bureau reported. Villagers had demanded on 3 January that the four Uzbeks either reconvert to Islam or leave the village (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2001). LF

PAKISTAN APPLIES FOR OBSERVER STATUS IN SHANGHAI FORUM

Habib-ur-Rahman, who is Pakistan's ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, submitted to the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry on 3 January a formal request for Pakistan to be granted observer status in the Shanghai Forum, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported the following day. He said that similar requests were made to the other four member states of that grouping (Russia, China, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan). ITAR-TASS quoted an unidentified Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry official as saying on 3 January that the five member states would take a joint decision on Pakistan's request at their next summit, which is scheduled for the summer of 2001. LF

TURKMEN COURT ORDERS CONFISCATION OF PENTECOSTAL CHURCH

Ashgabat's Kopetdag district court ruled on 4 January that a private house in the city belonging to Pastor Viktor Makrousov, and which is used by the Pentecostal congregation for religious services, is to be confiscated without payment of compensation, Keston News Service reported the same day. Makrousov said he will appeal that ruling. The presiding judge initially refused foreign diplomats entrance to the court room, but allowed them to attend the afternoon session after the Turkmen Foreign Ministry intervened. An OSCE representative in Ashgabat said the court ruling "appears to have very little legal foundation" and "seems to be motivated by an intent to stop Pastor Makrousov's religious activities." LF

GOLD THEFT RACKET SMASHED IN UZBEKISTAN

Uzbek police have arrested several employees of the Almalyk metallurgical plant in Tashkent Oblast who have succeeded in stealing over 1,100 kilograms of powdered ore over the past few months. That amount yielded over 6 kilograms of pure gold and 1.5 kilograms of silver valued at over 18 million soms ($50,500). LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT LASHES OUT AT WESTERN CRITICISM...

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 4 January denounced what he called "the policy of 'double standards" that some Western governments and groups have adopted toward his country, Interfax reported. Lukashenka said that "the more pressure that is put on the republic, the more it will risk." He pledged that Belarusian officials "will hold elections no worse than in other countries, including those of the CIS whose results you have recognized." PG

...BUT PRAISES ITALY FOR ITS ASSISTANCE

At the same time, Lukashenka praised the Italian government for the help it has provided to Belarus, ITAR-TASS reported. He said he is pleased by the large Belarusian liaison group in the Italian parliament and also by the willingness of the Italian people to take into their homes 40,000 Belarusian children who had suffered as a result of the Chernobyl disaster. The Belarusian leader's comments were made in a special message to Italy's ambassador in Minsk. PG

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT REJECTS CLAIMS BODYGUARD'S CLAIMS

President Leonid Kuchma on 4 January said that a former bodyguard who had accused him of various crimes is "mentally ill" and that he would not comment on those allegations, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Kuchma's comments came in response to a December 2000 RFE/RL Ukrainian Service broadcast in which bodyguard Mykola Malnichenko said that Kuchma had ordered law enforcement agencies to undermine the reputation of Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, DPA reported. Kuchma also reiterated that he has "no final information" concerning the fate of journalist Heorhy Gongadze. PG

ESTONIAN PRIME MINISTER VISITS FINLAND

In talks with Finnish President Tarja Halonen on 4 January in Helsinki, Mart Laar noted that the countries of Central and East Europe were part of Europe both historically and culturally and their accession into the European Union will provide an unique opportunity to promote the common European spirit, BNS reported. Having served earlier as Finland's Justice Minister, Halonen addressed in depth the problems that Finland has faced in reforming its court system, and the two leaders concluded that Estonia's current situation was not that different. Halonen offered help in the training of judges and sharing other experience. While the talks were held in Finnish, Halonen said that she firmly intends to learn Estonian. SG

SWEDEN TO HELP LATVIA, LITHUANIA CATCH UP WITH OTHER EU CANDIDATES

Swedish Ambassador to Lithuania Jan Palmstierna said on 4 January in Vilnius that Stockholm is ready to open all the chapters of EU membership talks for Latvia and Lithuania, ELTA reported. Lithuanian parliament foreign affairs committee chairman Alvydas Medalinskas noted: "Sweden is doing its best [to ensure] that Lithuania and Latvia catch up with the front-runners, and it is...up to us whether this will be translated into reality." Medalinskas praised Sweden's plans to pay more attention to matters in northern Europe, especially in the Kaliningrad region, during its six month presidency of the EU. SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT RENOMINATES CENTRAL BANK GOVERNOR

After talks with Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas and Seimas Chairman Arturas Paulauskas on 4 January, Valdas Adamkus signed a decree nominating Reinoldijus Sarkinas for a second five year term as governor of the Bank of Lithuania, BNS reported. His first term ends in February, and the nomination still has to be approved by the parliament. Finance Minister Jonas Lionginas declared the decision logical, especially in view of the plans to unpeg the litas from the U.S. dollar later this year and peg it to euro. He noted: "This process could be dragged out if a new governor came to the bank. Furthermore, a new governor might bring about instability and mistrust." SG

POLAND CALLS FOR ARMS INSPECTION IN KALININGRAD

The Polish government on 4 January called for an international inspection of Russian arms dumps in Kaliningrad following reports that American officials believe that Russia has placed tactical nuclear weapons there, Western agencies reported. Russian officials have denied that they have done so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2001). A Polish official told Reuters that these reports are "a worrying sign that Moscow still treats Kaliningrad as a military bastion rather than a zone of economic cooperation with the Baltic region and the European Union." And Grzegorz Kostrzewa-Zorbas of the Polish Academy of Science said the placement of missiles there "is a bad sign for the Baltic countries, which want to join NATO but which Moscow wants to keep in its sphere of influence." In short, Kostrzewa-Zorbas said, this "is a step back towards Cold War realities." PG

CZECH LOWER HOUSE DEBATES TELEVISION SITUATION

The Chamber of Deputies is debating on 5 January the situation in Czech Television. A joint meeting of the chamber's Media and Culture Commission on 4 January failed to reach an agreement on a proposed resolution. The strikers are supported mainly by the Four Party Coalition, with some support from the communists, but the communists say the only way out of the crisis is early elections, CTK reported. The ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) is split over the demand that TV director general Jiri Hodac be dismissed, while the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) wants the chamber to condemn the "unlawful behavior" of the TV rebel staff. Chamber of Deputies and ODS chairman Vaclav Klaus has declared a "legislative emergency" to debate between 8 and 12 January the government-proposed amendment that would de-politicize the TV and Radio councils. That procedure allows bills to be passed after only one reading. MS

KLAUS ATTACKS HAVEL OVER TV CONFLICT

In an interview with the daily "Hospodarske noviny" on 4 January, Klaus said the journalists protesting against the TV Council's selection of Hodac as new Czech TV manager are "being used to defend interests that are not theirs." Klaus said the dispute is neither a "common labor action," nor one between "different financial interests linked with the Council," but "a political conflict between two concepts of democracy." The conflict, he said, will either end in a "victory for standard democracy" or in the triumph of "what someone called--perhaps a bit pejoratively--'Havlocracy.'" Klaus denied he was in any way involved in Hodac's nomination. MS

ZEMAN DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN TV DISPUTE

Prime Minister Milos Zeman, speaking to journalists in Valasske Mezirici, northern Moravia, on 4 January, said he learned from the media about Hodac's appointment and "this is not how the chairman of a party seeking control over the TV council would normally behave." He said the dispute is a "battle between the Four Party Coalition and the ODS," and "it seems to me absurd that the CSSD has been entangled in it," CTK reported. He also said he has twice asked Interior Minister Stanislav Gross to order police not to intervene against the striking TV staff. MS

CONTROVERSIAL CZECH TV MANAGER HOSPITALIZED

Jiri Hodac is in "stable condition," after being hospitalized on 4 January, CTK reported. He was found unconscious at home, and Jana Bobosikova, whom Hodac recently appointed the new manager of TV news, said he was suffering from "exhaustion." A hospital spokeswoman said Hodac's life was not in danger but refused to give further details. AFP cited "Prague sources" who believe Hodac's illness may be "diplomatic." Meanwhile, Culture Minister Pavel Dostal on 4 January said he is postponing filing charges against Hodac until he receives the opinion of lawyers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2001). A spokeswoman for the Prosecutor-General said the same day that 24 lawsuits have been filed against Hodac and three lawsuits by Hodac against TV employees, but so far investigations have not proven that any breach of the law was committed. MS

KAVAN SAYS 'FREE SPEECH NOT IN DANGER'

In letters addressed to European Commission president Romano Prodi and other EU leaders, Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said that "despite the current problems" in Czech TV, "neither democracy nor the freedom of expression have been violated," CTK and AFP reported. European Commission envoy to Prague Ramiro Cibrian on 4 January discussed the situation with the Czech Republic's chief negotiator with the EU, Pavel Telicka. Also on 4 January, EU Enlargement Commission spokesman Jean-Christophe Filori said in Brussels that the commission is "following the situation very closely and notes that the legislation about to be adopted is likely to improve the situation." Filori said that the commission is "confident that Czech democracy, which has demonstrated its vitality in the past, will find the resources to overcome and settle the issue," Reuters reported. MS

BELGIUM TO PROBE DEPORTATION OF SLOVAK ROMA

The Belgian authorities will probe the circumstances of the October 1999 deportation of 74 Slovak Roma asylum seekers, CTK reported. Jean-Marc Picard, a lawyer for the Belgian Progressive Jewish Union (UPJB) said on 4 January the UPJB had appealed a decision of the Belgian judicial authorities to turn down a request for the examination of the case. The UPJB says it wants the authorities to clarify who was responsible for the expulsion of the asylum seekers. The heads of the Romany families were told at the time that their applications were under examination, but simultaneously members of their families were assembled by the authorities and sent to the airport, with some children taken directly from schools. The UPJB says that before deportation, the Roma were marked with non-removable numbers on their skin. MS




ALBRIGHT TELLS YUGOSLAV MINISTER: MILOSEVIC MUST GO TO HAGUE

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told visiting Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic in Washington on 4 January that "there can be no doubt that Yugoslavia has turned a corner and is moving in a positive direction toward Europe and democracy" (see "Endnote" below). She stressed, however, that former President Slobodan Milosevic must stand trial in The Hague for war crimes. She argued that "international crimes, or crimes against the international community, require international justice," AP reported. Albright was referring to recent statements by various top Belgrade officials that Milosevic should stand trial in Serbia for abuse of office and corruption. Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor of the Hague-based tribunal, feels that "Yugoslavia is not--and for many years will not--be in a position to hold a fair trial of Milosevic" for war crimes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2000). She believes that many Kosovar and other witnesses are too afraid to travel to Serbia. PM

SVILANOVIC HOPES FOR 'NEW START...'

Svilanovic said in Washington on 4 January that "I appreciate that I had the opportunity to really start, I sincerely hope, a new phase in relations... We believe that the wars have finally ended in the region and [that] we should do our best to prove that there is a will and a readiness...to continue all the efforts that have started towards peace, towards democracy, [and] towards the improvement of the human rights situation in the country," Reuters reported. Turning to the matter of Milosevic, Svilanovic said that his government intends "to cooperate" with The Hague and expects the tribunal to soon open an office in Belgrade. He added that he "looks forward" to having a "detailed discussion [with Del Ponte] on this issue" during her upcoming visit to the Serbian capital. PM

...AS HE LOOKS FORWARD TO BUSH ERA

On 4 January in Washington, Svilanovic also met with aides to Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell, who declined to meet the visitor personally for reasons of protocol, the news agency added (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2001). Referring to the next administration's intention to review U.S. peacekeeping missions in the Balkans, Svilanovic said: "We believe that it is something that could be achieved with full cooperation [of the] regional countries in the Balkans," Reuters reported. It is not clear why he felt able to speak on behalf of Serbia's neighbors. PM

YUGOSLAV LEADER SEES KOSOVA SOLUTION ONCE 'ETHNIC PICTURE CHANGES'

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica told the VOA's Serbian Service that he continues to be "very doubtful--and nothing will change in this respect--about the way in which the Hague court functions. But there remains an obligation [for Serbia] to cooperate with the court...," "Vesti" reported on 5 January. He has previously said that the tribunal is an anti-Serbian political tool of U.S. policy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2000). Turning to Kosova, Kostunica argued that a "lasting political solution" for the province will be possible once "the ethnic picture of Kosovo changes" and when "displaced persons return to Kosovo." He did not elaborate. Before the Kosova conflict began, Serbs made up less than 10 percent of the population, which is roughly 90 percent ethnic Albanian (see "Endnote" below). PM

JASHARI CHIEF INVITES KOSOVAR POLITICAL LEADERS

Rifat Jashari, the head of an influential family in Drenica, has invited the three most important Kosovar Albanian political leaders--Ibrahim Rugova, Hashim Thaci, and Ramush Haradinaj--for a traditional-style meeting in his home, "Koha Ditore" reported on 4 January. Jashari lost 53 members of his extended family in 1998, when Serbian forces attacked their compound with tanks and helicopters, believing it to be a base of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). The attack marked the beginning of the Kosova war and gave the Jasharis an esteemed place in Kosovar history. The daily stressed that the three political leaders will "hardly be able to refuse" the invitation by the head of the legendary extended family. Jashari said that he wants to forge unity among Kosova's main parties on a general strategy aiming at winning independence for the region (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 December 2000). PM

'BALKAN SYNDROME': FACT...

EU Commission President Romano Prodi said in Rome on 4 January that he wants an investigation into claims that NATO's use of depleted uranium in armor-piercing artillery shells has led to deaths and illnesses among some soldiers who took part in the 1999 Kosova campaign, Reuters reported. Prodi also called for "immediate contacts with the governments of Bosnia and Serbia to discuss pollution and the problems linked to depleted uranium." His statement came after claims by an Italian NGO umbrella organization that six Italian Balkan veterans have since died of leukemia. Belgium, Portugal, France, and some additional NATO or Partnership for Peace member countries are also looking into the matter. It is not clear what the normal, peacetime incidence of leukemia in European armies is. Italy, which has important business interests in Serbia, was a reluctant participant in the Kosova campaign. PM

...OR FICTION?

A Defense Ministry spokesman said in Rome on 4 January that there is no link between the six deaths and depleted uranium, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. "Vesti" reported on 5 January that it has received confirmation from the Yugoslav Defense Ministry that there "has not been a single case" of death or illness from the so-called "Balkan syndrome" among Serbian forces. Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported that the Bundeswehr announced that no German soldiers have fallen ill due to contact with depleted uranium. German experts added that the incidence of radiation exposure from the munitions is "practically nil," and that it is only one-third of what average citizens are exposed to. The experts added that any problem stemming from the depleted uranium comes from the fact that it is a heavy metal, and that this aspect should be studied. During and after the Kosova campaign, the Milosevic regime staged a disinformation campaign to link all manner of illnesses in Serbia to "NATO bombs" and other weapons. The aim of the campaign was to distract attention from the Serbian atrocities that led to NATO intervention and somehow imply that NATO was the evil-doer in the Balkans. PM

CROATIAN GOVERNMENT GIVES UP SOME PRICE CONTROLS

The authorities will no longer regulate the price of black bread, oil products, dried milk, artificial fertilizers, telephone cards, or several other products, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Zagreb on 4 January. Price controls will remain in effect for electricity, gas, radio and television fees, railway and ship passenger tickets, and some postal rates. PM

ROMANIAN FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE CHIEF RESIGNS

Catalin Harnagea, director of the Foreign Intelligence Service, has submitted his resignation "at the request" of President Ion Iliescu, AP reported on 5 January, citing a spokesman for the service. According to the daily "Evenimentul zilei," Iliescu demanded that Harnagea resign at a meeting with him in late December. A former journalist lacking foreign intelligence experience, Harnagea was appointed to the post by former President Emil Constantinescu in 1997, with a mandate to reform the service along Western lines. MS

MOLDOVAN POLITICAL MAP REDRAWN AHEAD OF ELECTIONS

Several central-right parties that made up the defunct Alliance for Democracy and Reforms (ADR) in the outgoing legislature have initiated contacts for running on joint lists in the early elections scheduled for 25 February, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The formations involved are the Democratic Party, the Party of Conciliation and Rebirth and the Party of Democratic Forces (PFD).The Popular Christian Democratic Party, which was also an ADR member, is not participating in these discussions. The PFD had earlier announced it will run in an electoral block including the National Peasant Christian Democratic Party and the Christian Democratic group headed by Valentin Doganiuc. Meanwhile, three Democratic Party deputies on 4 January announced their resignation from the party headed by Dumitru Diacov, accusing its leadership of taking decisions without prior consultation with its parliamentary group. MS

BULGARIA RUNS RADIOACTIVE TESTS FOR KOSOVA TROOPS

Bulgaria will run medical tests to check whether its peace keepers in Kosova were affected by radiation from depleted uranium ammunition used by NATO, Defense Minister Boiko Noev told journalists on 4 January. A Bulgarian medical team has already left for Kosova to perform the tests on the 39-man Bulgarian engineering platoon serving in the southern part of the province, Reuters and AP reported (see also Czech item above.) MS




HARD-HEADED DETENTE


By Patrick Moore

This is a phrase coined by the late President Richard M. Nixon to describe the Moscow policy he recommended to his successors. At a time of changes in both Belgrade and Washington, Nixon's phrase might also be considered in thinking about future U.S. policy toward Serbia.

Serbia's governing political elite feels it is on a roll. Montenegro remains a big problem, and the economy is a shambles. But the foreigners have been lining up to extend early recognition to the new Yugoslav government--which is not recognized by Montenegro--before Belgrade has proven its credentials on the key issues of war crimes, war guilt, and attitudes toward its neighbors. Not only have the foreigners given away potential points of political leverage without getting anything much in return, but they have been generous with their checkbooks as well.

Kostunica himself has said that he was surprised at the speed with which Belgrade has been welcomed back to the international community. Confident of his good fortune, he has also spoken of negotiating the return of Kosova to Belgrade's control despite the fact that the 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority there wants none of it. Serbian Prime Minister-designate Zoran Djindjic thinks that Kosova can be recovered after five years of internationally administered "confidence-building." Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic has called for the return of Kosova with international guarantees "over the heads" of the Albanian majority. Belgrade pundits write articles describing how Serbian diplomacy can tame the foreigners and win their support for what Djindjic calls a "reversal of alliances" that will line up the support of the international community behind Belgrade.

This is heady stuff. Some observers find it strange that certain individuals in Serbia expend so much energy on the chimera of Kosova at a time when Serbia has so many other problems to worry about. Do such Serbian politicians and writers really think that they can work out an agreement with representatives of some 2 million angry Albanians after the events of the past decade? Or that Belgrade can reestablish its colonial rule over a hostile population with the blessings of the EU and the U.S.?

But while the new government has pledged itself to undoing the authoritarianism, corruption, lawlessness, and economic Stalinism of the Milosevic years, it has shown no real sign of breaking with the narcissistic, self-pitying nationalism that fueled Milosevic's rise to power and four wars against his neighbors. Indeed, many of those who became angry with Milosevic's regional policies were unhappy not because he started wars, but because he lost them.

More recently, there has been much speculation in the Serbian press that U.S.-Yugoslav relations are on the threshold of a new era of mutual understanding. Some writers argue that President-elect George W. Bush will withdraw U.S. troops from the Balkans and repudiate the "interventionist" policy of President Bill Clinton. The gist of this train of thought is that Washington will seek good ties to Belgrade on the basis of Realpolitik without paying much attention to the other policies that the Serbian leadership is conducting.

Those commentaries often overlook the fact that, as governor of Texas, Bush supported NATO intervention in Kosova, a fact that he recalled during his presidential campaign. Several members of his policy team have indicated that he will review U.S. military commitments abroad but not take any rash steps.

Other Serbian commentaries suggest that there is unlikely to be any great shift in U.S. policy toward the Balkans, which is linked to broader, long-standing U.S. strategies in Europe. Such writers point out that Washington does not act unilaterally there but as part of NATO and generally in tandem with its EU and other allies.

One likely point of continuity in Western policy will be the demand that Milosevic and other indicted war criminals be sent to The Hague. It remains to be seen, however, whether all Western governments will press Belgrade on this, especially since they have lost much potential leverage through early recognition. Some have already hinted that they are in no hurry to push Belgrade on the extradition of Milosevic.

Whatever its specific policies toward Serbia may prove to be, Washington is probably well advised to work closely with Brussels and let the EU take the lead. First, many European leaders feel that, despite the fact that the U.S. was forced to take the initiative to end the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosova, time has come for the EU to show that it can manage many of the continent's problems itself. The Bush policy team has already indicated that the U.S. would like its European allies to take more responsibility on the continent. Serbia might be one good place to start.

A second reason is certain cultural differences that mitigate against particularly warm ties between the U.S. and Serbia. There is a deeply rooted anti-Americanism among many Serbs, particularly--but not only--among intellectuals. It largely stems from traditional small-power resentment against those who are stronger and larger. Added to this is a spicy dash of the Balkan quality known as "inat," or spiteful defiance. The hostility is not always rational and it antedates Milosevic. It will not go away easily, if at all.

There is also a near-religious devotion among many Serbs to Russia, despite the fact that in practice Moscow has often been anything but Belgrade's friend. This popular Serbian attitude toward Russia should be noted in Washington because for many Serbs it is automatically bound up with their image of the U.S. There is a tendency in Serbia (and elsewhere in the Balkans) to see the hand of the great powers everywhere in the region's affairs. Commentators speculate on "dark forces" at work and on "geopolitics." Given this cultural predilection to regard the Balkans as a devil's workshop of the powers, there is a knee-jerk reaction among many Serbs to view the U.S. as "the enemy of my Russian friend."

Dealing with this mind set is a problem Washington does not need. It is probably best left to the EU, especially since many people in Serbia often look to Germany and some other EU states as the Land of Milk and Honey to be respected and emulated.

Washington will nonetheless need to make the political point that it is involved in the region and is part of a broader effort at promoting security, prosperity, and democracy. Should it fail to do so, there is likely to be real uneasiness in some parts of the peninsula, particularly in Kosova, Albania, and Croatia. While pursuing a policy of hard-headed detente with the new "Not-Milosevic" leaders in Belgrade, the U.S. should not forget that it has friends and allies in the Balkans who look to it for leadership and support.


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