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Newsline - January 18, 2001




PUTIN SAID PLANNING MAJOR GOVERNMENT CHANGES...

"Argumenty I fakty" on 17 January reported that there are rumors that President Vladimir Putin will launch a major reorganization of the government's executive branch in March, his first anniversary as the elected president. The paper said that the rumors involve not only shifts in personnel but also modifications of the constitution, including the creation of the post of vice president, who will simultaneously serve as prime minister, the reduction in the number of regions to 30, and the extension of the president's term to five years. If this comes to pass, the paper said, "the council of ministers will be transformed into a branch of the Kremlin and thus will end the division of state power left over from the epoch of Boris Yeltsin." PG

...AS KASYANOV PLANS SHIFTS IN CABINET

Both "Vremya novostei" and "Moskovskii Komsomolets" reported on 17 January that Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has at least four teams working on the reorganization of the cabinet. Among the changes being contemplated are: reducing the number of deputy prime ministers to two, thus displacing Aleksei Kudrin from that post, reducing the powers of Economic Development Minister German Gref, and reducing the paper flow through that body. "Moskovskii Komsomolets" said that in 2000 alone, the cabinet issued over 10,000 regulations and that as a result the body is "drowning in bureaucracy." At the same time, "Vremya novostei" said, many ministries are seeking to expand their staffs, despite Kremlin demands that they reduce the number of employees. PG

MOSCOW DEMANDS 'IMMEDIATE, UNCONDITIONAL' RELEASE OF BORODIN

Police in New York have arrested Pavel Borodin, secretary of the Belarus-Russia Union and former Russian President Boris Yeltsin's aide, agencies reported on 18 January. Borodin, who was reportedly invited to the U.S. to attend the inauguration of U.S. President George W. Bush, was detained at JFK airport under a Swiss arrest warrant. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov immediately summoned U.S. Ambassador to Russia James Collins and protested to him over the arrest. "The Russian side demands the immediate and unconditional release of Borodin," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement quoted by Reuters. Swiss prosecutors want Borodin for the investigation of a case implicating him and some Swiss firms in money laundering and bribery. JM

MORE MOVES ON THE MEDIA FRONT

Gazprom on 17 January filed suit to gain a controlling interest in NTV in order to satisfy Media-MOST's debts to it, Russian agencies reported. A Media-MOST spokesman said that this move "shows that Mr. Putin has no belief in freedom of speech," AP reported. The spokesman added that the Kremlin is discouraging possible foreign investors because it "cannot guarantee non-interference in editorial policy." In another court case, Moscow arbitration court adjourned tax cases against NTV and NTV Plus until 2 February. Prosecutors again searched Media-MOST offices on 17 January. Lawyers for arrested Media-MOST official Anton Titov filed suit to secure his release, Interfax reported. And Andrei Tsimailo, the deputy chairman of the Media-MOST board who was questioned last week, is receiving medical treatment in London, the agency said. Meanwhile, Moscow officials announced that they will not dismiss the city's finance chief, Yuri Korostelev, despite the charges against him. And Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said that the authorities must not pressure journalists to try to get them to report only what the powers that be want to hear, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 January. PG

PUTIN AIDE SAYS RUSSIA MUST PAY DEBTS...

In a speech on 16 January and a press conference on 17 January, Andrei Illarionov, who serves as the senior economic advisor to President Putin, said that "Russia needs to pay its debt for three simple reasons: because it is necessary to pay, because it is possible to pay, and because it is advantageous to pay," Russian and Western agencies reported. In other comments, Illarionov said that Russia's economic boom had ended in November and will not recur and that "all attempts to gain additional credits or restructure or write off debts will reduce the economy's competitiveness still further." PG

...AS FINANCE AIDE SAYS MONEY IS AVAILABLE

First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Ulyukaev told Interfax on 17 January that Russia has the money to make scheduled payments to the Paris Club of creditors, but he said that his agency will continue to implement the policy of the government. His ministry has set aside $8.5 million for another partial payment on 22 January. Meanwhile, Duma Budget Committee Vice Chairman Mikhail Zadornov said on Ekho Moskvy that Russia may succeed in reaching accords with both the Paris Club and the IMF by the middle of the year. PG

DUMA BEGINS BUSY SPRING SESSION

The Duma opened on 17 January with members singing the new national anthem, whose words and music President Putin has asked them to approve, Russian agencies reported. ("Novye izvestiya" reported that the controversy about the authorship of the lyrics appears likely to spill over into debates on the anthem. See "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2001.) Over the next six months, the legislature is slated to consider 613 different legislative acts, including a resolution on the Paris Club debt, a draft law on political parties (see "End Note" below) later in January, and draft land and labor codes. On the first day, the deputies approved in the first reading a draft revising social security provisions for the disabled and amendments in the third reading reducing punishments for minor crimes. But they did not approve a motion by Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia calling for the repudiation of Russian debts to the Paris Club. Eighty-seven deputies voted for the measure, far less than the 226 needed to pass, while 24 voted against. PG

STILL MORE REACTION TO BUSH INTERVIEW

Russian officials and media continued to react to U.S. President-elect George W. Bush's interview in "The New York Times." Presidential economic adviser Illarionov said on 17 January that he agrees with Bush that much of the aid to Russia in the past few years "has done much more harm than good." "That is why," he said, "we can positively evaluate this statement by Bush. The rejection of corrupting aid is true assistance." Meanwhile, former prime minister and the leader of the Fatherland-All Russia faction in the Duma, Yevgenii Primakov, said that Moscow "should not rush with conclusions" about the interview because "different statements are made before the inauguration, after summits, and after a more thorough examination of details," ITAR-TASS reported. He predicted that Russia can look forward to a balanced approach from the new administration. Meanwhile, "Segodnya" reported the same day that some in Moscow are considering plans to soften Russia's opposition to Bush's plans for a nuclear missile defense (NMD). PG

IVANOV SAYS ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE IN KOSOVA COMPARES WITH CHORNOBYL

Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov said on 17 January that the environmental impact of the conflict in Kosova compares with that of the Chornobyl nuclear accident and the Desert Storm operation in Iraq, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Nikolai Ryzhkov, who heads the Duma commission for assistance to Yugoslavia, sent a letter to the International Tribunal on the Former Yugoslavia calling for "court hearings" on the use of depleted uranium shells, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 January. PG

BEREZOVSKII FUNDS CIVIL RIGHTS GROUPS

"Novye Izvestiya" reported on 17 January that embattled magnate Boris Berezovskii has given a $150,000 grant to the Democracy International Foundation headed by Aleksandr Yakovlev and $100,000 to the Public Center for Supporting Criminal Law Reforms. Yakovlev's center will use the money to create an online database concerning the victims of Stalin's repression, the paper said. PG

200,000 CIS CITIZENS NOW LIVE UNREGISTERED IN RUSSIA

Interior Ministry officials told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 January that more than 200,000 citizens of other CIS countries reside in Russia without the necessary registration. (Some 400,000 such residents now have the necessary Russian permits.) The officials said that registering many of them was difficult because approximately 500,000 of these migrants from CIS countries did not have passports or other citizenship documents and thus remained until the end of 2000, "citizens of the former USSR." PG

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT HAPPY WITH VISIT, BUT MOSCOW MAY BE THINKING ABOUT REPLACING HIM

Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on his departure from Moscow on 17 January that there were not "any unexpected developments" in his visit to the Russian capital, Interfax reported. And he expressed himself satisfied with the content of discussions. But "Segodnya" reported the same day that some in Moscow are thinking about replacing the outspoken Belarusian leader "with a figure less antipathetic to the West." Specifically, the paper said, there are "rumors" about the Kremlin preparing to "'help'" Lukashenka not be re-elected. Meanwhile, a poll conducted by monitoring.ru as reported by Interfax found that 60 percent of Russians support the creation of a single state embracing both Russia and Belarus and that only 16 percent oppose the establishment of such a state. PG

NATO OFFICE TO OPEN IN MOSCOW

"Izvestiya" reported on 17 January that a NATO office will open in Russia in connection with the upcoming visit of NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson. PG

RUSSIA, JAPAN FAIL TO AGREE ON SUMMIT DATE

Japanese and Russian officials on 17 January failed to agree on an exact date for a summit meeting between the leaders of the two countries, Russian agencies reported, but Japanese media suggested that the session would take place in Siberia at the end of March. Meanwhile, the Japanese delegation continued to discuss the drafting of a peace treaty between the two countries. At the same time, the Japanese delegation expressed concern about Russia's refusing to pay its debts to the Paris Club, Interfax reported. PG

RUSSIA, FRANCE AGREE ON NMD

Security Council Secretary Ivanov said that he and visiting French Defense Minister Alain Richard agreed on the importance of maintaining the 1972 ABM treaty, Russian and Western agencies reported. The agencies disagreed as to the extent the two sides had agreed to investigate the use of depleted uranium shells in Yugoslavia. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said after his meeting with Richard that the two countries will explore the joint development and manufacture of arms in meetings over the next several months, Interfax reported. And Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said that the two have agreed to move towards "full-scale cooperation in the military sphere." PG

MOSCOW SEEKS REVISION OF NATO, BELGRADE ACCORD

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told visiting Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic that Moscow backs a revision of the ceasefire agreement between NATO and Belgrade, Interfax reported. The two also agreed on conditions that would have to be met before parliamentary elections could take place in Kosova. Prime Minister Kasyanov promised his visitor that Moscow will provide assistance for rebuilding Yugoslavia, including gas and energy supplies. PG

MOSCOW PROMISES ELECTRICITY IN FAR EAST BY FEBRUARY...

President Putin discussed the energy crisis in the Far East with Prime Minister Kasyanov, and the Duma asked Kasyanov to appear to discuss the situation, Russian agencies reported. After a cabinet session on 17 January to talk about the energy crisis in Primorskii Krai, Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko told reporters that the government is working on measures to settle the crisis and has requested that Unified Energy Systems resolve the problem of electricity shut-offs by the end of January. Khristenko pledged that "in February the population of Primorskii Krai should have full electricity supplies." JAC/PG

...AS ZYUGANOV BACKS PRIMORE GOVERNOR

On the same day, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov criticized the central government for its handling of the problem, saying that Moscow should support krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, who is "choking on his own problems." Meanwhile, in the city of Artem, the chief manager of a municipal heating network was sentenced to two years for his failure to secure heating to homes there, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 January. According to the krai prosecutor's office, this is the first in 13 criminal cases opened in connection with the disruption of heating in the territory. JAC

GORBACHEV DOES NOT RULE OUT SEEKING OFFICE IN TATARSTAN

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has said that he will announce his intentions regarding running for the presidency of Tatarstan once he knows whether or not incumbent President Mintimer Shaimiev will seek re-election, Interfax-Eurasia reported. The Tatarstan branch of the Social Democratic Party invited Gorbachev to participate in 25 March presidential elections. Gorbachev is chairman of that national party. So far 12 candidates are registered in the race, including State Duma deputies Ivan Grachev (People's Deputy) and Sergei Shashurin (People's Deputy), and Tatarstan Public Center Deputy Chairman Ildus Sadykov. Shaimiev is considered likely to seek re-election to what will be his third term in office. However, the State Duma must first pass a bill that would exempt certain regional leaders from the law forbidding third terms (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 17 January 2001). JAC

SOME KALININGRADERS CONSIDERING INDEPENDENCE

Moscow's new tariff policies have contributed to a dramatic rise in prices in Russia's exclave of Kaliningrad, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 13 January. And that in turn has led some entrepreneurs there to conclude that "if Moscow does not want to face up to the problems of Kaliningrad, then it will be necessary to secede from Russia and to create on the territory of Kaliningrad Oblast a Baltic republic." Officials there said that they would struggle against such an idea but added that they, too, want Moscow to change its policies so that prices in the region will moderate. Meanwhile, a European Commission official told dpa that the region has "nothing to fear" from EU enlargement in advance of European Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten's visit to Moscow to discuss that region and other issues, Reuters reported. PG

FISHERMEN TO SUE AGAINST AUCTIONING BIOSPHERE

Fishermen on Sakhalin on 16 January announced that they intend to bring suit in Russian courts to block or modify the Russian government's plans to auction biosphere resources, "Izvestiya" reported the next day. The paper said that local officials back the suit. PG

RUSSIAN TAX REVENUES SOAR IN 2000

The Tax Ministry collected 613 billion rubles ($22 billion) in 2000, 1.8 times as much as in 1999, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 January. The amount collected was 56 percent more than that set in the state budget and 21.3 percent more than the government tasked it to collect. Moreover, budget revenues rose at the end of the year, with 75 billion rubles collected in December alone, up 30 percent over November. PG

CRIME RATE UP SLIGHTLY

The Interior Ministry told Interfax on 17 January that 2,952,000 crimes had been registered in Russia in 2000, 1.6 percent more than in 1999. Crime fell in 63 of the subjects of the federation. Serious crimes declined overall by 6.18 percent, the ministry added, but the number of murders increased by 2.2 percent. PG

FSB OFFICER ACCUSED OF STRIPPING PALLADIUM FROM SUBS

An FSB officer, the Severomorsk garrison commander, and another man were charged with stripping palladium from submarines in line for decommissioning, ORT television reported on 17 January. PG

UNESCO EXHIBIT ON CHILD HOMELESSNESS IN RUSSIA

UNESCO this week opened an exhibit in Moscow on Russia's increasingly numerous homeless children, "Izvestiya" reported on 17 January. For the third time in the last century, UNESCO Moscow Office Director Wolfgang Reuters said, "homelessness has become a social problem" in Russia. Estimates of the number of unsupervised and homeless children in that country range from 500,000 to 2.8 million, the paper said. PG

YELTSIN, GORBACHEV TRAIL ONLY HITLER AND STALIN ON EVILDOERS LIST

A poll of residents of Voronezh found that residents there ranked Hitler and Stalin as the most evil people of the 20th century but listed Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev in third and fourth place, "Argumenty I fakty" reported on 17 January. PG

PACE NOTES SOME IMPROVEMENTS IN CHECHNYA

Speaking in Moscow on 17 January after a two-day visit to Chechnya, members of a delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said that while the situation in Grozny is still "highly dangerous," "much has been done" to improve the human rights situation in the region, Reuters and dpa reported. German politician Rudolf Bindig specifically noted the restoration of a civil court system. Delegation head Lord Frank Judd called for more support for the civilian administration of Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov. He also expressed concern that no criminal investigation has yet been opened into the disappearance last year of Chechen parliament speaker Ruslan Alikhadzhiev, Interfax reported. LF




COUNCIL OF EUROPE VOTES TO ADMIT ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN

The Council of Europe Ministerial Committee voted unanimously on 17 January to admit Armenia and Azerbaijan as the 42nd and 43rd members of that organization, AFP reported. The formal accession ceremony is to take place on 25 January. The Council had set conditions in June 2000 for both countries' admission, including the requirement that the 5 November parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan be free and fair (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June 2000). The OSCE monitoring mission concluded, however, that both the 5 November ballot and the 7 January repeat elections in 11 constituencies failed to reach international standards for free and fair elections. LF

NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL ENDS VISIT TO AZERBAIJAN

Lord George Robertson held talks in Baku on 17 January with Azerbaijani parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov and with Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev. Abiev said that Azerbaijan sees participation in European security structures and cooperation with NATO as crucial to its security, and NATO membership as "a long-term prospect," Reuters reported. Robertson, for his part, told Abiev that military reform is a necessity for all of NATO's partners, and that delaying making cuts in Azerbaijan's armed forces will only make that process "more painful," according to ITAR-TASS. Robertson also told journalists that he sees no reason why increased cooperation between Azerbaijan and NATO should negatively affect Azerbaijani-Russian or NATO-Russian relations, according to AFP. Before leaving the same day for Ashgabat, Robertson also met behind closed doors with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Quliev. LF

AZERBAIJAN TO REPAY ENERGY DEBTS TO IRAN

President Heidar Aliyev on 17 January signed a decree obliging the state oil company to pay off Azerbaijan's $44.3 million debt to Iran for electricity supplied to the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan, Turan reported. The debt will be paid in quarterly installments of $2.768 million over a period of four years. Until 1998, Azerbaijani had paid for those energy supplies with shipments of heating oil. Iran had demanded that it be repaid in two years. Iran suspended energy supplies to Nakhichevan last month, having threatened to do so in August because of Azerbaijan's accumulated debts. LF

AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL SEEKS TO ALLAY PRESS FEARS

Ali Hasanov, who heads the public-political department within the presidential administration, denied on 17 January opposition charges that the Azerbaijani leadership is seeking to muzzle the independent press by creating an artificial shortage of newsprint, Turan reported. He explained that it had been decided to impose 18 percent VAT on goods imported from Russia beginning on 1 January 2001, but that implementation of that decision had been postponed indefinitely following the visit to Baku last week of Russian President Vladimir Putin. LF

TOP RUSSIAN, GEORGIAN SECURITY OFFICIALS MEET

Georgian National Security Minister Nugzar Sadjaya met in Moscow on 17 January with Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov to discuss security issues in the Caucasus and Georgia's debts to Russia, Russian agencies reported. Ivanov told journalists after that meeting that Moscow is willing to facilitate the implementation of any agreements on resolving regional conflicts within the CIS that are worked out by the parties to those conflicts, including by providing peacekeeping forces. That formulation would appear to preclude such a role for Russia in implementing conflict settlements brokered by international organizations such as the UN and OSCE. The former is currently engaged in mediating in the Abkhaz conflict, while the OSCE supports the ongoing talks between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan aimed at resolving the Karabakh conflict. Ivanov also said that the four signatories (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Russia) to the 1996 Kislovodsk declaration on peace in the Caucasus will convene a summit later this year. LF

RELATIVES OF ABDUCTED SPANIARDS MEET WITH GEORGIAN OFFICIALS

Relatives of the two Spanish businessmen abducted in late November near Tbilisi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2000) met in Tbilisi on 17 January with Georgian Interior Ministry officials to discuss the search for those two men, Caucasus Press reported. They told Georgian journalists that none of the relatives of the two kidnapped men has made any contact with the kidnappers. Georgian Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze had complained last week that relatives of the two men had embarked on negotiations with the kidnappers in Russia, thereby complicating efforts by the Georgian police to secure the men's release (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2001). LF

GEORGIAN LEFT, RIGHT WING OPPOSITION STAGE SEPARATE PROTESTS

Several hundred people participated in a meeting in Tbilisi on 17 January convened by the People's Patriotic Union, an umbrella organization uniting left-wing political parties, to demand the return to Georgia of former National Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, Caucasus Press reported. Giorgadze fled Georgia in September 1995 after the failed car-bomb attempt to kill then parliament speaker Eduard Shevardnadze, and was subsequently accused of organizing that attack. Also on 17 January, right-wing parties staged a march along Tbilisi's main boulevard to the parliament building to demand the release of all political prisoners. Five prisoners at the Rustavi penal colony have embarked on a hunger-strike to demand the release of 49 persons they consider political prisoners, while two imprisoned supporters of deceased President Zviad Gamsakhurdia have threatened suicide unless they are released by 1 February. Participants in both demonstrations called on President Shevardnadze to resign, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT CALLS FOR LOWERING UNEMPLOYMENT, INFLATION

Speaking at a 17 January cabinet session in Astana that focused on preparations for celebrating the 10th anniversary of Kazakhstan's independence, President Nursultan Nazarbaev said efforts must be made to create new jobs, including by reviving dormant industrial enterprises, Interfax reported. He noted with approval that the official unemployment rate fell from 4 percent to 3.5 percent in 2000, but said it must be lowered further to 3 percent this year. Observers estimate that the true unemployment figure in Kazakhstan is far higher. Nazarbaev characterized lowering inflation as the cabinet's "second most important task." He described last year's annual inflation rate of 9.8 percent as "low,"" but added that all families are nonetheless concerned by the increase in prices for food, household and medical services. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S RUSSIANS WANT PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION IN GOVERNMENT

Representatives of organizations representing Kazakhstan's Russian population, including Lad (Harmony) and one of the two organizations claiming to represent the Semirechie Cossacks, decided at a meeting in Almaty on 14 January to create a new political party named the Russian Party, Russian community spokesman Gennadii Beliakov told RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital on 17 January. The primary objective of the new party will be to lobby for proportional representation for Russians in state and government bodies. Russians currently account for approximately 30 percent of Kazakhstan's 15 million population. LF

ECO OFFICIAL VISITS KYRGYZSTAN

Abdulrahim Ghavahi, who is secretary general of the Economic Cooperation Organization that Kyrgyzstan joined in 1992, met in Bishkek on 16 January with President Askar Akaev to discuss transport projects within the ECO and the security situation in Central Asia, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Ghavahi also met with Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Muratbek Imanaliev. LF

U.S. DEFENSE OFFICIAL VISIT TAJIKISTAN

U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Jeffrey Starr met in Dushanbe on 17 January with Tajikistan's Defense Minister Sherali Khairullaev to discuss regional security, the situation in Afghanistan, the prospects for bilateral military cooperation, and for Tajik participation in NATO's Partnership for Peace program, AP and ITAR-TASS reported. Starr noted Tajikistan's key role in ensuring stability in Central Asia. Tajikistan is the only former Soviet republic that did not sign up for NATO's Partnership for Peace program in 1994. Starr also discussed on 17 January with Tajik Deputy Prime Minister for Defense and Security Saidamir Zuhurov regional security issues and cooperation to counter illegal drug trafficking, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 18 January. LF

TAJIK ECONOMY CONTINUES TO RECOVER

Tajikistan's GDP grew in 2000 by 8.3 percent to 1.8 billion somonis ($800 million), Interfax reported on 17 January. Industrial output rose by 10. 3 percent year-on-year to 1.36 billion somonis, while agricultural production increased by 12.4 percent despite last summer's severe drought. While GDP growth was over double the 1999 figure of 3.7 percent year-on-year, the 1999 figures for GDP, industrial output, and agricultural production were still only 34 percent, 38 percent, and 57 percent of the indicators for 1990, prior to the collapse of the USSR and the outbreak of civil war in Tajikistan. Foreign trade turnover in 2000 increased by 8 percent, and Tajikistan ended the year with a foreign trade surplus of $104 million. LF




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION MULLS SINGLE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE

The Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces, which unites five major opposition parties in Belarus, has discussed the fielding of a single democratic candidate against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in this year's presidential ballot, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 17 January. The council is planning to hold a roundtable with the participation of other opposition parties as well as a congress of democratic forces in order to propose a single presidential challenger. Belarusian Popular Front leader Vintsuk Vyachorka said the united opposition has already scored a success by reducing the number of discussed hopefuls to three: Syamyon Domash, Mikhail Chyhir, and Uladzimir Hancharyk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2001). "It is essential that all the three candidates have no party affiliation. This is a signal to those [opposition party] leaders who are considering their participation in the presidential race," Vyachorka noted. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT CONSIDERS BORODIN'S ARREST IN U.S. AN 'UNFRIENDLY ACT'

President Lukashenka on 18 January condemned the arrest of Pavel Borodin, secretary of the Union of Belarus and Russia, by U.S. authorities in New York under a Swiss arrest warrant, Interfax reported. Lukashenka called the arrest a "highly unfriendly act by the United States against Belarus and Russia and their union." Meanwhile, Belarusian lawmaker and former presidential staff deputy chief Ivan Pashkevich commented that "Borodin, who has compromised himself, is harming the image of the Union of Belarus and Russia." (See story of Borodin's arrest in Part 1). JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT TO SACK TYMOSHENKO?

Leonid Kuchma is considering a request by Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko to fire Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko because of the criminal charges recently brought against her (see "RFE Newsline," 16 January 2001), Interfax reported on 17 January. Potebenko argued that Tymoshenko's dismissal will prevent her from using her government post to influence the investigation. Kuchma's spokesman, Oleksandr Martynenko, said Kuchma will decide on Tymoshenko's fate "shortly." Tymoshenko commented that Kuchma's compliance with Potebenko's request would mean a victory of "Ukraine's shadow [economy] circles" against which she claims to have launched an efficient campaign. JM

COUNCIL OF EUROPE OFFERS TO HELP EVALUATE 'MOROZ TAPES'

The Council of Europe on 17 January offered to arrange for an expert evaluation of the audio recordings that allegedly implicate President Kuchma in the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze and are widely known as the "Moroz tapes." The council added that it will take such a step only following the Ukrainian parliament's official request for help in establishing the authenticity of the tapes. Interfax reported that the same day that the parliamentary commission headed by Oleksandr Lavrynovych decided to send the tapes as well as genetic samples of the body believed to be Gongadze's to the Council of Europe for independent tests. JM

UKRAINIAN LEGISLATIVE GROUP TO PROMOTE UNION OF UKRAINE, BELARUS, AND RUSSIA

Communist lawmaker Pavlo Baulin on 17 January announced the creation of a parliamentary group named "For the Union of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia" (ZUBR), Interfax reported. Baulin added that the path to Ukraine's rebirth is possible only in its union with Belarus and Russia. The group consists of 20 lawmakers from several caucuses. JM

COURT HALTS ESTONIAN RAILWAY PRIVATIZATION

The Tallinn administrative court on 17 January accepted the lawsuit by the Railway Privatization People's Ltd. Co. (RER) and halted the privatization of the state-owned Estonian Railroad Co., BNS reported. On 13 December, the Estonian Privatization Agency had selected the 1.7-billion-kroon ($96 million) offer by the U.S. consortium Rail Estonia for a 66 percent share of the company. RER, a consortium of local businesspeople and Sweden's national rail company SJ, filed the suit arguing that Rail Estonia, 90 percent of which belongs to the consultancy firm Kingsley Group, did not fit the privatization requirement that the strategic investor have broad experience in rail infrastructure and rail freight management. The company's privatization is likely to be halted for months as decisions by lower courts may be appealed. SG

LATVIA'S CARGO TURNOVER INCREASED BY 5.7 PERCENT IN 2000

Cargo turnover at Latvia's ten ports grew from 49.026 million tons in 1999 to 51.843 million tons in 2000, an increase of 5.7 percent, BNS reported on 17 January. More than two-thirds of the cargo (34.755 million tons) went through Ventspils, whose turnover rose by 2 percent over 1999. The increases at other ports were generally higher: Riga handled 13.352 million tons (up 11 percent), Liepaja 2.965 million tons (up 28 percent), and the seven minor ports handled 771,000 tons (up 39 percent). SG

TALKS ON LITHUANIAN SHIPPING COMPANY'S PRIVATIZATION DELAYED FURTHER

Even though the Danish navigation company DFDS Tor Line has submitted all the required documents, the Lithuanian cabinet decided at its meeting on 17 January to ask the Justice Ministry to analyze the legal aspects of DFDS Tor Line replacing B.B. Bredo in the privatization of the Lithuanian Shipping Company (LISCO), BNS reported. Bredo signed the privatization agreement in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 October 2000), but failed to make a necessary payment by the 1 December deadline, primarily because court actions by other LISCO stockholders prevented it from reregistering some ships in the Marshall Islands. The privatization had raised considerable protests and, thus, Transportation Minister Gintaras Striaukas declared after the meeting that "We cannot launch the negotiations until everything is transparent and clear, so that no doubts arise." SG

POLISH PREMIER WANTS TO KNOW CULPRITS OF YAMAL PIPELINE SCANDAL

Jerzy Buzek has demanded that a commission led by Communications Minister Tomasz Szyszko determine who is personally responsible for the government's loss of control over Poland's stretch of the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline, "Rzeczpospolita" reported on 17 January. Szyszko said the previous day that the government no longer controls either the pipeline stretch or the fiber optic information highway laid along the pipe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2001). The daily commented that Poland has become "almost completely" dependent on gas supplies from Russia. JM

CZECH TV JOURNALISTS APPOINT 'TRANSITIONAL MANAGER'...

Journalists at Czech Television who continue the labor sanctions appointed Ladislav Paluska, a former finance director of the station dismissed by controversial manager Jiri Hodac during his short tenure, as the TV station's new acting director on 17 January. They said they were doing so to fill a "managerial vacuum" created by the fact that Vera Valterova, appointed interim director by Hodac before he resigned, has not produced any documents certifying that her appointment was legal. Paluska said that "as a finance director, I am the right person to assume this job." Valterova requested that the police evacuate Paluska from the director's office, but after talking to the striking journalists' committee, the police left the TV offices. Interior Minister Stanislav Gross later said he had told both sides involved in the conflict that police will not intervene in the dispute, CTK reported. MS

...BUT STEP CRITICIZED BY BOTH SUPPORTERS AND OPPONENTS

Prime Minster Milos Zeman said Paluska will not receive the backing of the Social Democratic Party (CSSD), adding that the party rejects "actions on the margin of the law, even if they do not exactly breech it." Supporters of the striking committee, among them Christian Democratic Party Chairman Jan Kasal, also criticized the action, calling it "imprudent." Civil Democratic Party (ODS) leader Vaclav Klaus denounced the move, calling it "a gross mistake" committed by "strike patrols" who now "open the eyes of those who believed they were fighting for a just cause." ODS Deputy Chairman Ivan Langer compared the action with those of the communist People's Militia. The strikers' committee said it will sue Jindrich Beznoska, financial manager appointed by Hodac, for spreading the "false alarm" that "strike patrols" have occupied the TV before police were called to the premises. MS

CZECH SENATE RETURNS TV BILL TO LOWER HOUSE

The Senate on 17 January returned to the Chamber of Deputies the bill amending the law on the Radio and Television Council. The vote was 39 in favor of returning the bill and 14 against. The lower house is expected to override the Senate's veto, as the CSSD and the ODS have a solid majority in that chamber that they do not have in the Senate. But even in that case, President Vaclav Havel can still veto the bill. This postpones again the appointment of the new Radio and TV Council, CTK reported. MS

U.S. DEMANDS CUBA RELEASE PILIP AND BUBENIK

The U.S. State Department on 17 January called on Cuba to "immediately release" Ivan Pilip and Jan Bubenik, CTK reported. A spokesman for the department said the "only misdemeanor" of the two Czech citizens was to have met Cuban activists who are in search of "a peaceful solution to change Cuba's totalitarian regime." President Havel's office announced Havel was discussing with the Foreign Ministry the possibility of a "presidential intervention," adding that "publicity is the last thing that would benefit the issue." Chamber of Deputies Deputy Chairwoman Petra Buzkova wrote to Cuban parliamentary speaker Alarcon y de Quesada, asking for the parliament's intervention in favor of the detained Czechs, but Cuban charge d'affaires in Prague David Paulovich refused to take the letter. Instead, Paulovich wrote to communist deputy Miroslav Ransdorf, asking him to explain to the public the Cuban position. MS

CZECH GOVERNMENT AGREES TO TEMELIN ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

The cabinet on 17 January decided to abide by the agreement with Austria that an international assessment of the environmental impact of the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant be conducted before the plant is launched, CTK and Reuters reported. The assessment is to be carried out by an international team of experts. Governmental spokesman Libor Roucek said the team will start working in January, and its report is expected in the spring, before Temelin is scheduled to start commercial operations. In the meantime, Roucek said, the tests at Temelin will continue. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT CLARIFIES POSITION ON EXPELLED GERMANS

President Rudolf Schuster on 17 January told journalists that he does not want the 1945 Benes decrees under which Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia to be questioned, CTK reported. Schuster said his recent letter to the Sudeten German Academy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2001) stemmed from personal reflections of someone "who has experienced certain things in childhood." Schuster's father was a Carpathian German. "I am not reopening anything," Schuster said, adding that "all measures adopted against those who collaborated with fascism remain valid. However, it is necessary to reassess what has been done rightfully, and what not." Earlier on 17 January, the Slovak Foreign Ministry said Bratislava "sees no reason" to apologize for the deportation of the Sudeten Germans, and Schuster's controversial statement had reflected his own "personal emotional opinion." MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT APPROVES EUROPEAN MINORITY LANGUAGE CHARTER

The cabinet on 17 January approved the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages, CTK reported. The charter refers to the use and protection of minority languages in education, the judiciary, state and local administration, the media, and culture. The right can be exercised in localities where minorities make up 20 percent of the population and more. The approval of the charter had been the subject of intercoalition differences for longer than a year. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said the decision "brings us closer to the amendment of the constitution." That amendment is stalled by the refusal of most coalition members to accept demands of the Hungarian Coalition Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2001). MS

SLOVAK VETTING OFFICE HEADED BY FORMER SECRET POLICE OFFICIAL

Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner on 17 January told journalists that he had been unaware of the fact that Vladimir Bencek was a former Czechoslovak communist secret police (StB) official, CTK reported. Bencek has been appointed acting head of the National Security Office (NBU), which is to conduct the screening of persons who handle secret NATO information. The law does not prohibit former StB officials to be employed in the Interior Ministry, with the exception of those who worked in departments specializing in the so-called "struggle against the inner enemy." Pittner said he has ordered a check on Bencek's record, adding that according to available information, as a former Stb employee who worked in the cipher department, Bencek would not necessarily be disqualified for the appointment. MS

MIEP SEEKS RETRIAL OF HORTHY ERA PREMIER

The extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) has filed an application with the Prosecutor-General's Office seeking the retrial of war-time Prime Minister Laszlo Bardossy, who was executed in 1946 for war crimes, "Nepszabadsag" reports on 18 January. MIEP Chairman Istvan Csurka said that in 1946 it was the Horthy era -- not Bardossy -- which had to face trial by the communists. In 1941, Bardossy declared war on the Soviet Union, and later on the U.S. He also pushed through the so-called "third anti-Jewish law," which banned marriages between Christians and Jews. MSZ




NO BREAKTHROUGH IN TALKS ON YUGOSLAV FEDERATION

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, Serbian Prime Minister-designate Zoran Djindjic, and Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica reached no agreement in Belgrade on 17 January in talks aimed at bridging differences on the future of Serbian-Montenegrin relations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2001). Djindjic said: "We have started the talks on the two platforms to try to find the lowest common denominator and have come to a point of major divergence on the status of the future union. At the moment, we are in a position where we don't have the impression we've reached a compromise. But there is a readiness to talk about the possible scenarios," Reuters reported. PM

SERBIAN LEADER SEEKS TO PRESERVE REMNANTS OF YUGOSLAV STATE

Djindjic stressed that "the world will see us as a region that is disintegrating while Europe is integrating," Reuters reported from Belgrade on 17 January. Djukanovic made no statement to the press but previously said that the former Yugoslavia must continue the ongoing process of dissolution before Serbia and Montenegro can establish relations on a new footing (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 November 2000). Djindjic also said on 17 January that if Yugoslavia breaks up, "Kosovo will become a problem zone again," AP reported. The regime of former President Slobodan Milosevic used similar domino-style arguments against the democratic dissolution of the former state, as though preserving unity were an end in itself. In any event, Kosova's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority wants nothing short of independence (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 December 2000). U.S. Professor Steve Hanke, who is Djukanovic's chief economic advisor, recently told RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service that a peaceful parting of Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosova would enable each of the three entities to concentrate on its crucial internal problems. PM

COURT GIVES GREEN LIGHT TO SERBIAN GOVERNMENT

The Serbian Supreme Court overruled challenges by Vojislav Seselj's Radicals against the results of the 23 December elections, thereby enabling Djindjic and his coalition partners to begin forming a government, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Belgrade on 17 January. A new government could be in place as early as 25 January. PM

TOP SERBIAN PRIZE TO RFE/RL JOURNALIST

The jury voted unanimously on 17 January to award the Jug Grizelj prize, Serbia's most prestigious distinction for journalism, to RFE/RL's Omer Karabeg for his weekly Radio Most (Bridge) series, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Radio Most brings together individual experts and political figures from different former Yugoslav republics and with differing points of view to discuss timely topics. Most appears in English translation in RFE/RL's "South Slavic Report" (http://www.rferl.org/southslavic/). Most is also regularly reprinted in several periodicals in the region. Collections of Most have twice appeared as books, including a collection of Serbian-Albanian dialogues on Kosova (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 December 2000). PM

SERBIAN POLICE SUSPEND 22 FROM PRESEVO FORCE

The Interior Ministry has suspended 22 Presevo-area policemen, a defense lawyer told Reuters in Bujanovac on 17 January. Lawyer Milan Krstic added: "All the suspension rulings lack a legal basis and have been brought in an illegal way." Local police chief Novica Zdravkovic said that some of the men had taken part in a recent roadblock protest and that others had been lax in carrying out various duties, including failing to adequately inspect vehicles crossing the border with Kosova. Some of those suspended are department heads. Local Albanians have frequently accused the police of behaving in a high-handed manner. PM

DEL PONTE SAYS YUGOSLAVIA'S KOSTUNICA 'NOT A PRIORITY'

A spokeswoman for Carla Del Ponte, who is the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, said on 17 January that a meeting with Kostunica is "not a priority" for Del Ponte (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2001). Florence Hartmann, the spokeswoman, said that Del Ponte will hand her sealed indictments to Djindjic instead, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2001). Hartman added that "those arrest warrants are a chance for the Yugoslav authorities to prove they are committed to full cooperation" with the tribunal. During the recent Serbian election campaign, Kostunica frequently said that bringing former President Slobodan Milosevic to justice was "not a priority" for him. PM

SERBIA'S DJINDJIC TO PROSECUTE MILOSEVIC

AP reported from Belgrade on 18 January that it has obtained a document signed by Djindjic in which he promises to prosecute Milosevic for "serious crimes." The document does not elaborate on the nature of the crimes. Djindjic calls on the authorities to be thoroughly professional in preparing and prosecuting the case. He stressed that "the aim is to show with this example our determination" to demonstrate top standards of professionalism and the rule of law. PM

MS. MILOSEVIC COMES BACK TO SERBIA

Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic told Reuters on 17 January that Mira Markovic arrived at the Belgrade airport on a flight from Moscow that morning. She then passed through passport and customs controls. Ms. Milosevic flew to the Russian capital the previous Friday after boarding an Aeroflot flight from the VIP lounge without passing through the customs or passport controls. Unconfirmed press reports suggested that she met in Moscow with her son, Marko, who may be planning a return from voluntary exile (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2001). The government was widely criticized in the media for allowing her to leave the country. PM

ITALY CALLS ON MONTENEGRO TO BACK TOBACCO SUIT

Italian Finance Minister Ottaviano Del Turco appealed to the Montenegrin authorities on 17 January to join an EU lawsuit accusing two U.S. tobacco firms of complicity with cigarette smugglers. He added that "Montenegro would be sending a clear signal by adhering to the lawsuit. They have to get it out of their heads that they can receive EU economic aid while protecting smugglers," AP reported. Del Turco charged that the companies are "flooding" Montenegro with cigarettes in the knowledge that they will then be smuggled into third countries, such as Italy. "Every Montenegrin citizen would have to smoke 10 cigarettes simultaneously 24 hours a day for 20 years for all that stock to be sold there," Del Turco charged. Montenegro has filed a protest with Italy in denying recent accusations by Del Turco linking Djukanovic himself to a well-known smuggler (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2001). PM

BOSNIANS WARY OF KOSTUNICA'S VIEWS...

Some recent remarks by Kostunica have led many Bosnians to suspect that he does not respect the unity and independence of that country, Reuters reported from Sarajevo on 17 January. The Yugoslav president is slated to go to Sarajevo on 19 January. Kostunica said recently that the Yugoslav president and parliament never endorsed the 1995 Dayton peace accords, which require signatories to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 January 2001). Shortly after replacing Milosevic as Yugoslav president, Kostunica visited the Republika Srpska for the reburial of a nationalist poet without first calling on the Sarajevo authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 2000). In an apparent effort to clarify his views, Kostunica told "Dnevni avaz" of 18 January that he regards the Dayton agreements as "one of the constitutions under which Yugoslavia has to live." PM

...AS POLITICIANS MAKE CLEAR

Halid Genjac, who is the Muslim member of the joint presidency, called Kostunica's initial remarks on the non-ratification of Dayton and some other unspecified statements from Belgrade "a serious blow, not only to efforts to advance bilateral relations, but for stability and peace in the region." Foreign Minister Jadranko Prlic, who is an ethnic Croat, said that Bosnia will not let itself be "manipulated because of the internal [political] needs of a neighboring state." PM

MESIC REBUKES HERZEGOVINIANS

Croatian President Stipe Mesic told "Slobodan Bosna" of 18 January that the Herzegovinian branch of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) is behaving childishly by refusing to accept that its opponents have a majority in the Bosnian federal parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2001). Mesic added that the HDZ's behavior reminds him of the late President Franjo Tudjman's refusal to accept defeat in a Zagreb municipal election and invite the winners to form a government. PM

PROSECUTOR LAUNCHES INVESTIGATION OF CROATIAN MEDIA BOSSES

The Zagreb county Prosecutor's Office has begun looking into charges that Ninoslav Pavic, several other media tycoons, and some key businessmen close to Tudjman tried to establish a monopoly on the media for the benefit of the HDZ, "Republika" reported on 18 January. PM

CROATIAN SYNAGOGUE TO BE REBUILT

The Zagreb Jewish community plans to rebuild the centrally-located synagogue destroyed by the pro-Axis Ustasha regime in 1941, "Vecernji list" reported on 18 February. The small community hopes for financial assistance from abroad as well as from the city administration. The building will be located at Praska ulica 7 off Jelacic Square. PM

ROMANIAN LOWER HOUSE APPROVES LOCAL PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION LAW

In the absence of the boycotting deputies from the Greater Romania Party, the Chamber of Deputies on 18 January approved the Local Public Administration Law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2001). The vote was 211 for, one abstention, and none against, Mediafax reported. On 17 January, Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania deputy Ervin Szekely expressed approval of the way the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) has promoted the law in the legislature. He praised the act as "a gain for democracy" and "a PDSR contribution to the respect of minority rights," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

ROMANIAN COMMUNISTS WANT CEAUSESCU TO HAVE 'CHRISTIAN BURIAL'

Romanian Workers' Party Chairman Ion Cristian Niculae on 17 January said he has obtained the agreement of Elena Barbulescu, the sister of executed dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, to have his remains exhumed and is now seeking the agreement of the dictator's daughter, Zoe. Niculae said there are three main reasons for which he wants the earthly remains of Ceausescu and his wife Elena exhumed, and one of them is to "give them a Christian burial." The two were militant atheists who ordered the destruction of numerous churches. The other two reasons, he said, are that there is a suspicion that they were executed before their trial on 25 December 1989 and that Elena should be laid besides her life companion, Mediafax reported. Earlier this month, Niculae said he wants the exhumation to confirm whether the dictatorial couple was tortured before being shot. MS

BULGARIAN RADIO, TV COUNCIL HITS BACK AT PROTESTING JOURNALISTS

The National Council for Radio and Television, in a statement released on 16 January, rejected the demand of a group of Bulgarian radio journalists that it resign because it has failed to select a new radio director. The journalists said the selection criteria had been changed at the orders of Prime Minister Ivan Kostov. The council said the journalists' demand for the council to resign was not a "Prague-style" protest aimed at safeguarding freedom of speech but an attempt to eliminate the council and "restore direct political dictates over the mass media," RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. The council was set up in 1998 as an independent body, and Socialist opposition leader Georgi Parvanov said that he will disband it if his party returns to power. MS

KOSTOV SAYS BULGARIA'S PROGRESS TOWARDS EU MEMBERSHIP IS UNDERESTIMATED

Premier Kostov, in an interview with the German daily "Financial Times Deutschland," on 16 January said Bulgaria's progress towards meeting the criteria for EU membership is "not yet fully recognized," BTA reported. Kostov said the financial and monetary systems have been "radically changed" and the national currency is stable. In terms of harmonization of legislation with that of the EU, he said, Bulgaria ranks second to only Hungary. Kostov said Sofia wants the EU to assess country performances in line with their respective achievements or failures, and not by "patching them up into groups." MS




Duma to Discuss Kremlin Bill to Overhaul Political Parties


By Sophie Lambroschini

On 17 January, Russia's State Duma began its first session of the new year, during which it is expected to discuss a controversial draft bill presented by President Vladimir Putin intended to overhaul the country's more than 270 political parties. The Kremlin, supported by the Central Electoral Commission, the bill's main author, argues Russia's unsupervised 273 parties should be streamlined. That, it says, would ensure more effective and democratic elections, with only about a dozen active parties.

But opponents of the bill argue the government is actually hoping to use the law to gain control over Russian political life, and that it could paralyze the development of political organizations in Russia.

The version of the bill officially proposed to the Duma by Putin on 25 December reflects plans voiced by the president as early as last February. At a meeting that month of the parliamentary Unity movement that Putin's team created to support him, the then acting president announced his intention of reorganizing Russia's motley collection of political movements into a two- or three-party system.

Putin told that meeting "Only a small number of parties can have real influence in society. In practice, it's just not possible any other way. A functioning party system has two or three parties. This does not mean, of course, that other parties will have no influence on the state. I think that in our state there's enough work for everyone."

The Kremlin bill would allow a party to be suspended if it were found to violate federal law. The bill also says an organization will only be given the status of a political party -- and the right to take part in elections -- if it has at least 10,000 registered members spread out over more than half of Russia's 89 regions, and no less than 100 members in each region. Present legislation does not impose any such criteria for forming a political party.

The bill's supporters say it would promote the participation of what they call real and representative parties. They say this would put an end to the practice of many tiny groups, which call themselves parties, of profiting illegally from benefits such as free airtime during election campaigns that they use for promoting themselves.

But reducing elections to a fight between a handful of parties is exactly what the bill's opponents -- mostly liberal deputies from smaller political groups such as Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces -- are afraid of.

Few opponents deny that the existing Perestroika-era legislation on political parties needs to be amended. But they argue the Kremlin's medicine is worse than the illness it is seeking to cure. They say that instead of encouraging the development of civil society through political parties, the bill would in effect asphyxiate it in order to establish Kremlin control.

Independent Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov says the Kremlin is now simply reproducing in the political sphere Putin's program -- reflected in his media policy and centralization plans -- of imposing what Ryzhkov calls a "harsh vertical [scheme] of power." He says the Kremlin is using the bill to create a political system from the top down where the communists and the pro-presidential Unity group will be the only significant parliamentary forces left.

Vladimir Lysenko is a Duma deputy with the small Russian Regions group and co-author, with Ryzhkov, of an alternative law that would guarantee the existence of multiple parties. Lysenko says "For the communists, [Putin's bill] would really be a great law because they are a mass party, compared to others. [The bill would give] the Communist Party a whole series of advantages compared to the younger parties that have appeared recently and don't yet have [the same institutional base and mass] membership as the communists."

Ryzhkov notes there is no Green Party in Russia. But, he says, with the further development of civic society and environmental consciousness, such a political group could be formed. Still, Ryzhkov adds, it would take time for a nascent Green Party to rally members throughout Russia's vast territory. Therefore, he argues, the limits set by the Kremlin's bill would make it much harder to create a Green Party in the foreseeable future. Sophie Lambroschini is a Moscow-based correspondent for RFE/RL.


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