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Newsline - January 24, 2001




PUTIN TELLS ISRAELI PRESIDENT MOSCOW IS COMMITTED TO MIDDLE EAST PEACE

President Vladimir Putin told his visiting Israeli counterpart Moshe Katzav on 23 January that Russia wants to promote peace in the Middle East in cooperation with the United States, abhors terrorism, and will do everything possible to prevent current problems from escalating into another round of violence, Russian and Western agencies reported. He said that Moscow's role, like that of any power not directly involved, "consists of supporting the process, in helping to find a compromise." PG

MOSCOW PLANS RESPONSE IF U.S. WITHDRAWS FROM ABM LIMITS...

Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said in an interview published in the 23 January "Parlamentskaya gazeta" that there is no basis to American arguments in favor of scrapping the ABM Treaty, but that if Washington leaves the treaty, Russia will respond. Meanwhile, Major General Vladimir Dvorkin, the director of the Defense Ministry's Fourth Research Institute which deals with nuclear weapons planning, said in an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 22 January that an American withdrawal from the ABM Treaty might force Russia to "build up its strategic Missile Forces" and to "abolish numerous restrictions" on some of its high-tech weapons. Such asymmetric measures," he said, "are what Russia in its current position can afford." PG

...BUT HOPES FOR U.S.-RUSSIA NUCLEAR COOPERATION

Meanwhile, Unity faction leader Boris Gryzlov told ITAR-TASS on 23 January that he believes Washington is prepared to consider the creation of a collective ABM system. And a spokesman for the atomic power ministry said that it hopes for an extension of an agreement allowing Russia to export low-enriched uranium to the United States, the Russian news agency said. PG

MOSCOW PURSUES PARIS CLUB DEBT TALKS

Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Kolotukhin on 23 January flew to Paris to negotiate with the Paris Club on debt rescheduling, Russian agencies reported. Meanwhile, Tatyana Paramonova, the deputy head of the Central Bank of Russia, said that the bank is in a position to respond positively to a request from the government to help pay its debts on schedule. Andrei Ilarionov, the presidential advisor who last week had appeared to demand that Moscow pay its debts all on time, said on ORT that Russia has never refused to pay its debts, that recent delays were the result of technical problems, and that Moscow will pay in such a way as to avoid negative consequences for Russian society, Interfax reported on 23 January. Also on 23 January, "Komsomolskaya pravda" carried an interview with Stephanie-Emmanuelle Palais, the co-chair of the Paris Club, who said that "at the present stage," there is no agreement within that body concerning imposing sanctions on Russia." PG

DUMA TO TAKE UP FOUR BILLS ON POLITICAL PARTIES

The Duma will discuss on 7 February four bills on political parties, including the one offered by President Putin, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 January. Duma Deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) Grigorii Tomchin predicted that the debate will be intense and that some 500 amendments will be offered, but he added that his group, which over the weekend announced plans to become a party itself, "on the whole" backs Putin's draft. PG

HUMAN RIGHTS GATHERING CRITICIZED

An editorial in "The Moscow Times" on 23 January criticized the extraordinary congress of human rights activists in Moscow held over the weekend for adopting a confrontational approach. It said that rhetoric about "a human rights state of emergency" only deepens divisions between government and society. Meanwhile, Sergei Markov, the director of the Moscow Institute for Political Studies, said in an article carried on strana.ru on 22 January that there is little reason for optimism either about the state of human rights in Russia or about the state of Russian human rights activism. He said the latter has been politicized, remains overly focused on the state as a source of violations, and is too dependent on foreign grants for its activities. But in an article in "Segodnya" on 23 January, longtime human rights activist Sergei Grigoriants pointed to yet another form of abuse: the fabrication of spy cases by the FSB to whip up spymania in the population. PG

NEW MOVES IN BORODIN CASE...

Lawyers for Secretary of the Russia-Belarus Union Pavel Borodin, who is under arrest in New York at the request of Swiss prosecutors, said on 23 January that they will use any available means to free their client, but indicated that the court case could last for months, Interfax reported. At a 25 January hearing, they will ask for the court to set bail. PG

...AND IN GUSINSKII CASE

Prosecutors on 23 January charged Media-MOST financial chief Anton Titov with fraud, a spokesman for the Office of the Prosecutor General said, according to Russian and Western agencies. Meanwhile, "Segodnya" reported that prosecutors who have been interrogating Titov for a week asked him about articles that had appeared in that newspaper. Meanwhile President Putin was said by Unity party leader Gryzlov to have no objections to U.S. media magnate Ted Turner purchasing part of NTV, Russian agencies said. The same day, Deputy Prosecutor General Vasilii Kolmogorov met in Madrid with the judge who will hear the deportation proceedings against Gusinskii, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

PACE HEARS ABOUT THREATS TO MEDIA IN RUSSIA

A hearing at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 22 January heard reports from journalists and human rights activists about the plight of media freedom in Russia, AFP reported. Aleksei Simonov, the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Glasnost, noted that 15 journalists were killed and 73 more attacked in Russia during 2000. RFE/RL correspondent Andrei Babitskii said that pressure on the media "hasn't eased off" in the course of the year. Russian government officials, including media minister Mikhail Lesin declined to participate. PG

MILITARY REFORM SAID TO HAVE 'GONE PERSONAL'

The ambitions of individual Russian generals are blocking serious reform of the Russian military, "Izvestiya" suggested on 23 January. It said that the disputes within the government over how to proceed are no longer a reflection of genuine policy differences but "have gone personal," a development that the paper indicated might mean that all proposed reforms would simply be reversed at some point in the future. PG

MOSCOW SETS WTO PLANS

The Russian government committee preparing the groundwork for Moscow's application to join the World Trade Organization reached agreement on tariffs Moscow will insist upon maintaining in upcoming talks, its position on access to services markets, and levels of state subsidies for agriculture, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said in Moscow on 23 January, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Ulyukaev said in Moscow the same day that Moscow is considering liberalizing its banking laws to meet WTO requirements, both by reducing state ownership of some banks and opening the Russian banking sector to more foreign banks, Reuters reported. PG

MOSCOW ATTACKS HUNGARIAN REACTION TO GAZPROM DEAL

Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko on 23 January sharply criticized the Budapest media for characterizing a Gazprom investment project in Hungary as "economic expansion," Interfax reported. He said that there should be "only one criterion for this type of initiative -- whether it is economically viable or not and whether it is profitable for both sides." PG

UNITY OPPOSES REVERSING PRIVATIZATION...

Pro-Kremlin Unity Duma fraction leader Gryzlov said that his party is opposed to revising privatization projects of the early and mid-1990s, Interfax reported on 22 January. He said that as a matter of "principle," Unity will propose a draft bill allowing lawsuits against post-1998 privatization ventures. PG

...WANTS TO OPEN OFFICE IN U.S.

Unity leader Gryzlov said in Moscow on 23 January that his party hopes to establish a permanent office in the United States, ITAR-TASS reported. Gryzlov said that this move should be approved by the U.S. Republican Party, whose views he said are close to those of the pro-Kremlin Unity party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2001). He said that his party also plans to open missions in Belarus and Germany. PG

NAZDRATENKO SAYS HIS REGION'S PROBLEMS REPLICATED COUNTRY-WIDE...

In an article published in the 23 January "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko said that the problems in his region are "a mirror" of those which exist across the country. Nazdratenko had been under fire for his imperious form of rule and most recently for power shortages that have left many residents of the Krai in the cold. PG

...AS MOSCOW SAYS HAS GIVEN PRIMORSKII KRAI MORE CASH

Meanwhile, the chief federal inspector for Primorskii Krai told ITAR-TASS on 23 January that Moscow has transferred more than 450 million rubles ($16 million) more than planned to the region since the start of the year. The statement followed reports in the Vladivostok media that the Russian authorities have failed to provide enough assistance. In an indication that more help may be on the way to regions suffering a power shortage, "Nezavsimaya gazeta" reported on 23 January that the federal authorities will cut the amount of heavy heating oil exported to less than 20 percent of the total produced in February. PG

FEDERAL COFFERS TO OPEN UP AGAIN FOR COLD REGIONS

The federal government will allocate an extra 150 million rubles ($5.3 million) to Sakhalin Oblast to help that region cope with its current energy crisis, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 January. Prime Minister Kasyanov reportedly made the pledge of new funds at a meeting with Sakhalin Governor Igor Farkhutdinov the previous day. Part of the money will be used to buy coal from Irkutsk Oblast to replace current supplies that have frozen. The energy situation in the oblast has gradually worsened, with electricity shut-offs reached 12 hours a day, RFE/RL's Russian service reported on 22 January. JAC

WHAT'S GOOD ENOUGH FOR MOSCOW IS GOOD ENOUGH FOR VOLGOGRAD

Newly re-elected Governor Nikolai Maksyuta announced on 22 January that he is going to introduce the office of plenipotentiary representatives from his administration in each of the cities and raions in the oblast in order to strengthen "vertical power," ITAR-TASS reported. He explained the step is necessary because local officials sometimes ignore regional laws and decrees. In addition, raion officials frequently do not coordinate their work with counterparts in neighboring areas. Unlike President Putin, Maksyuta will have eight rather than seven envoys. Maksyuta is not the only regional leader to copy Putin's administrative reforms. Last summer, Sakha President Mikhail Nikolaev introduced seven super districts in his republic (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 7 June 2000), and more recently Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov announced the establishment of his own State Council. JAC

ORENBURG GOVERNOR TIGHTENS BORDER WITH KAZAKHSTAN

Orenburg Governor Aleksei Chernyshev has directed officials there to put up signs identifying as a border area locations near the 5 km section of land between his oblast and Kazakhstan, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 January. PG

PROBLEMS ON THE RUSSO-CHINESE BORDER

Khabarovsk Krai Governor Viktor Ishaev has urged Moscow to settle a border dispute with China by dredging a channel in order to define the demarcation line between some small islands and Chinese territory, Interfax reported on 23 January. ITAR-TASS reported the same day that Russian border guards had stopped a sturgeon-smuggling operation in Khabarovsk, and the news service said that all checkpoints on the Russo-Chinese border will be closed from 28-31 January as Chinese customs officers take their New Year vacation. PG

MOSCOW DISMISSES IRAQI STATEMENT ON KUWAIT

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yakovenko on 23 January dismissed as something other than "the official point of view" of Baghdad statements by Iraqis calling into question the inviolability of Kuwait's borders, ITAR-TASS reported. Yakovenko added that such "heightening of propaganda tension" between the two countries underscores the need for resolving the Iraqi problem through the resumption of monitoring in exchange for "the suspension and then the lifting of sanctions." Meanwhile, Interfax reported, Russia has handled nearly one-third of all Iraqi exports under the oil-for-food program. PG

A FLURRY OF DIPLOMATIC ACTIVITY

Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen arrived in Moscow on 23 January to meet President Putin, Russian agencies reported. Meanwhile, Macedonian Defense Minister Ljuben Paunovsky will be in the Russian capital on 24-27 January on the invitation of Russian Defense Minister Sergeev. Acting OSCE chairman and Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Dan Geoana is now scheduled to arrive in Moscow for a three-day visit on 6 February. And Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands will make a state visit to Russia on 5-8 June. PG

JAPAN MAY SHIP RADIOACTIVE WASTES VIA THE ARCTIC

Japanese nuclear power plants are considering shipping radioactive materials from Western Europe via the Northern Sea Route along the coast of the Russian Federation, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 January. The project, which Japanese sources said had been discussed with Moscow, would not only shorten the distance the materials would have to travel but also reduce the threat that ships carrying them might be attacked by terrorists. PG

RUSSIA TO AUGMENT PLANNED PENSION INCREASE

Labor and Social Development Minister Aleksandr Pochinok said in Novosibirsk on 23 January that increases in wages and hence in deductions to the pension fund will allow Moscow to increase pensions by 23 percent this year, 5 percent more than originally planned, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

MTS STATIONS SEEN AS KEY TO AGRICULTURE PRODUCTION

A senior Agriculture Ministry official told ITAR-TASS on 23 January that there will be almost 800 machine and technological stations (MTS) operational this spring on Russian farms. Leonid Orsik said that "the MTS is the best acceptable form of concentration of machinery and equipment." PG

MOSCOW BANS CATTLE IMPORTS FROM PARTS OF GERMANY

The Agriculture Ministry has banned imports of live cattle from the German states of Bavaria, Schleswig-Holstein, and Lower Saxony because of concerns about the spread of BSE ("mad cow disease"), Russian and Western agencies reported on 23 January. PG

RUSSIA'S INTERNATIONAL IMAGE SAID WORSE THAN THAT OF THE USSR

Yuri Kobaladze, the former Foreign Intelligence Service press service spokesman and current director of Renaissance-Capital, believes that Russia's image around the world today is worse than that enjoyed by the Soviet Union in the past, both because of greater coverage of developments in Russia and because of the collapse of the USSR's effective propaganda system, "Segodnya" reported on 23 January. PG

NICOTINE COUNTERREVOLUTION LAUNCHED IN DUMA

Duma deputies who smoke introduced a measure on 23 January that would overturn the ban on smoking there imposed six months ago, ITAR-TASS reported. The proposal is to be considered on 24 January, AP quoted Duma leaders, including smokers like speaker Gennadii Seleznev, as saying. PG

LATSIS SAYS 2003 PROBLEM NOT NEW

Political commentator Otto Latsis wrote in the 20-26 January issue of "The Russia Journal" that the problems many people in Moscow refer to as the 2003 problems are not in fact new. Debt repayments and infrastructure needs have peaked before, Latsis said, and the need to replace infrastructure may in fact give Russia an advantage because new installations will almost certainly be more technologically modern than those they replace. PG

INTEREST IN INTERNET SEEN FALLING IN RUSSIA

Andrei Vakulenko, the director of the Internet-Incubator company, said in Moscow on 22 January that interest in the Internet has fallen in Russia over the last year, Interfax reported. He described as "largely unfounded" predictions that the potential for Internet development in Russia is high. Vakulenko's comments came at a conference organized by the International Research and Exchanges Board's release of a new book, "The Russian Internet on the Brink of Great Changes." PG




ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN DENIES TIES WITH RUSSIA DETERIORATING

Vahe Gabrielian again told journalists in Yerevan on 23 January that the warming in relations between Russia and Azerbaijan is likely to contribute to resolving regional problems, including the Karabakh conflict, rather than adversely impact on Armenian-Russian ties, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Gabrielian said no date has yet been set for a planned official visit to Armenia this year by Russian President Vladimir Putin, but added that Putin is likely to attend a meeting in Yerevan in May to mark the tenth anniversary of the signing of the CIS Collective Security Treaty. He also described Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov's low-key 21 January visit to Yerevan as "a planned working visit." LF

AZERBAIJANI JOURNALISTS STAGE PROTEST

"Scores" of journalists employed by independent media outlets congregated outside the state publishing house in Baku on 23 January to protest an attack last week on one of their colleagues and the anticipated steep rise in the price of newsprint, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2001). Some 100 police prevented the protesters from holding a symbolic burial of an issue of the newspaper "Umid" (Hope) at a nearby cemetery. Speaking in Baku the same day, President Heidar Aliyev professed to know nothing about either the anticipated price rise or last week's attack on journalist Haji Zamin, according to Turan. The Council of Editors had addressed an appeal to Aliyev on 19 January in connection with that assault (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001). LF

SUPPORT GROWS IN AZERBAIJAN FOR WAR INVALIDS' HUNGER-STRIKE

The number of Karabakh war invalids currently participating in hunger-strikes in 68 localities across Azerbaijan has now reached over 500, Turan reported on 24 January. The hunger-strikers are demanding a three-fold increase in their pensions and allowances (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2001). The chairmen of the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan, the Yurddash Party and the "conservative" wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party visited hunger-striking veterans in Baku on 23 January to express their support. On 24 January, the independent daily "Azadlyq" quoted presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev as saying that the hunger-strike is "politically motivated," and that the invalids' demands will not be met. LF

KAZAKHSTAN, IRAN DISCUSS ECONOMIC COOPERATION

Zharmabai Tuyakbaev, speaker of the lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament, held talks in Astana on 23 January with Iranian Ambassador Murtaza Saffari, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Issues discussed included bilateral relations, the two countries' positions on the Caspian Sea, and the situation in Afghanistan. Tuyakbaev said there are no areas of bilateral relations where problems cannot be solved on a mutual basis. He singled out as the most promising areas for expanding cooperation the export to Iran of metals and grain from Kazakhstan and crude oil swaps, according to Interfax (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2000). LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT UPGRADES TAX POLICE

Nursultan Nazarbaev issued a decree on 22 January creating on the basis of the former Tax Police Committee, which was subordinate to the Ministry for State Revenues, a new State Board of Financial Police, which is defined as an autonomous executive organ that is, however, not part of the government, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The rationale cited for that decision was the need "to reinforce the Interior Ministry's efforts to prevent, discover and curb economic and financial crime." LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION CONTINUES TO PROTEST KULOV VERDICT...

Thirty supporters of opposition Ar-Namys Party chairman Feliks Kulov picketed the government building in Bishkek for an hour on 24 January to protest the seven-year jail sentence handed down two days earlier on the party's chairman, former Vice President Feliks Kulov, and to demand his release, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 January 2001). Also on 24 January, Kulov's defense lawyers told journalists in Bishkek that they will appeal the verdict first in the Bishkek Military Court, which conducted the hearing, and then if necessary in the country's Supreme Court and Constitutional Court. On 23 January, Ar-Namys issued a statement saying that the case against Kulov had no legal foundation and calls into question the expediency of further dialogue between the opposition and the authorities. The statement appeals to the international community to suspend cooperation with the Kyrgyz leadership. LF

...WHICH HUMAN RIGHTS WATCHDOG TERMS 'UNFAIR'

On 22 January, the Vienna-based International Helsinki Foundation issued a statement condemning Kulov's trial as unfair and "an obvious violation of international law and standards." The IHF noted that many Kyrgyz are convinced the sentence on Kulov was intended specifically to prevent him from playing any role in national politics for a long period of time. LF

KYRGYZ CAPITAL RAISES WATER TARIFFS

The Bishkek City Council approved on 23 January a proposal to increase drinking water tariffs by 80 percent from 1 February, from 0.6 soms to 1.1 soms per cubic meter, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. (The current exchange rate is 48.9 soms:$1.) But the city council also turned down a proposal to raise tariffs for public transportation. LF

TAJIKISTAN EQUIVOCATES OVER APPEAL TO ADMIT AFGHAN FUGITIVES

Tajik presidential spokesman Zafar Saidov told Reuters on 23 January that Dushanbe will not comply with the previous day's appeal by the UNHCR to allow some 10,000 displaced persons currently camping on the Afghan side of the Afghan-Tajik border to enter Tajikistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2001). Echoing President Imomali Rakhmonov, Saidov said the displaced persons, some of whom have spent three months on the border, have not been allowed to enter Tajikistan because they include armed fighters. He added that allowing the displaced Afghans into the country would compound the economic problems that Tajikistan currently faces. Interfax, however, on 23 January quoted an unnamed Tajik Foreign Ministry official as saying that "it is still too early" to speak of a concrete decision on whether or not to allow the displaced persons to enter Tajikistan. LF

UZBEK DELEGATION DISCUSSES HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES WITH EU

An Uzbek government delegation headed by Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov held talks with EU representatives in Brussels on 22-23 January on developing political and economic ties, the human rights situation in Uzbekistan, and on cooperating to counter the smuggling of drugs from Afghanistan to Europe via Central Asia, RFE/RL's EU correspondent reported. Speaking at a joint press conference with Komilov on 23 January, Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, who represents the Swedish EU presidency, said Uzbekistan has agreed to allow International Red Cross representatives access to Uzbek detention centers and observers from the EU to attend trials in Uzbekistan. LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT WANTS U.S. TO RETURN $1 TRILLION TO RUSSIA

Alyaksandr Lukashenka said in Moscow on 23 January that he does not know whether Belarus-Russia Union State Secretary Pavel Borodin, who was arrested in New York last week, is a "thief," Belarusian Television reported. Lukashenka added, however, that the charges of money laundering against Borodin are insignificant in comparison with $1 trillion that was illegally transferred from Russia to the U.S. "The U.S. should not dress up as defenders of Russian money [in connection with Borodin's case]. During 10 years, they transferred from Russia $1 trillion as a minimum, laundered it there, and are keeping silent... [It was] $1 trillion transferred from Russia during the period of perestroika, reform, and so on. So let them bring that money back, it is needed here," Lukashenka said without specifying whom he means by "they." JM

BELARUS REMAINS OUTSIDE PACE

The Political Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 23 January held hearings on the situation in Belarus but did not make any resolution, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Belarus's guest status in PACE was suspended in January 1997, following the controversial constitutional referendum in November 1996. The hearings were attended by two delegations from Belarus: four deputies of the Chamber of Representatives and three opposition politicians. "I think we will regain the guest status in PACE within this year," Uladzimir Kanaplyou from the Chamber of Representatives said. "I think the priority issue for discussions with PACE is presidential elections [in Belarus]... The Chamber of Representatives is of no interest from the viewpoint of [the] political future," oppositionist Anatol Lyabedzka commented. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER PONDERS ABOLISHING TYMOSHENKO'S PREVIOUS POST

Premier Viktor Yushchenko told journalists on 23 January that he is considering abolishing the post of deputy premier for fuel and energy, which was held by Yuliya Tymoshenko until her dismissal last week, Interfax reported. Yushchenko noted that Tymoshenko's ouster will negatively affect reform in the fuel and energy sector. Asked whether there will be more cabinet reshuffles, the premier said that depends on the ability of the government and the pro-government parliamentary majority to form a "combat fist" to push ahead with reforms. Yushchenko's spokeswoman Natalya Zarudna said the same day that the premier signed the presidential decree sacking Tymoshenko but did not specify when he did so. JM

UKRAINE'S PRO-MOSCOW ORTHODOX CHURCH SAYS POPE'S VISIT CAN STIR PROTEST

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate has warned the Vatican that Ukrainian believers may stage street protests if Pope John Paul II pushes ahead with his visit to Ukraine in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2001). "Our flock does not want the pontiff to visit [Ukraine] as long as the inter-Christian conflict with Greek Catholics is not regulated in western Ukraine. [The flock] has the right to protest the pope's visit with such actions as pickets, rallies, and processions," the Kiev Metropolitan's office (Moscow Patriarchate) told Interfax. JM

UKRAINE, POLAND SIGN MILITARY COOPERATION ACCORD

On 22 January in Yalta, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk and his Polish counterpart, Bronislaw Komorowski, signed an accord on military cooperation in 2001-2003, Ukrainian media reported. Kuzmuk told Komorowski that Ukraine could help Poland modernize its MiG-29 and Su-22 military aircraft at Ukrainian aviation repair plants to bring them in line with NATO standards. JM

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT ADOPTS EUROINTEGRATION ACTION PLAN FOR 2001

The government on 23 January endorsed its Eurointegration action plan for 2001, BNS and ETA reported. Noting that the European Union values not what is promised, but what is realistically completed, Prime Minister Mart Laar said that this year's action plan is less ambitious than in the past, but is realistic, The government intends to pass 171 decrees and expects the individual ministries to issue 268 regulations dealing with EU integration. It will also present 83 draft laws and 38 bills on ratifying international conventions to the parliament this year and 44 more draft laws and 17 ratification bills in 2002 so that Estonia would be ready for EU membership by 1 January 2003. Moreover, for the first time the government intends to combine the Eurointegration action plan with the government's action plan for 2001. SG

PACE VOTES TO END THE MONITORING OF LATVIA

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 23 January voted to end its monitoring of Latvia, recognizing its achievements in the observance of human rights and the integration of non-citizens, BNS reported. The final report on Latvia read before the vote praised its decision to ratify a number of Council of Europe conventions and to adopt the state language law and a social integration program. The assembly urged Latvia to continue the democratic reforms and social integration of the population and to ratify the universal convention on protection of minorities which it signed in 1995. Latvia's President Vaiva Vike-Freiberga in a speech after the vote said that the multicultural environment of Latvia is reflected in its general education system that provides education not only in Latvian, but in five other languages: Russian, Polish, Jewish, Ukrainian, and Belarusian. SG

BANK OF LITHUANIA GOVERNOR REAPPOINTED

By a vote of 74 to none with two abstentions, the parliament on 23 January approved the appointment of Reinoldijus Sarkinas for a second five year term as governor of the Bank of Lithuania, BNS reported. Sarkinas was nominated by President Valdas Adamkus, who stressed that his continued work would help ensure the stability of the country's financial system while it unpegs its currency, the litas. from the U.S. dollar and pegs it to the euro. In confirmation hearings in the parliament earlier in the week, Sarkinas said that 1 January or 1 February 2002 would be the most convenient dates for the switch, especially for businesses which make contracts for imports or exports on an annual basis. The parliament and government still have to make a number of decisions to enable the switch, Sarkinas observed, but the date should be announced at least six months in advance. SG

NATO URGES POLAND TO SPEND MORE ON MILITARY

General Joseph Ralston, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, said in Warsaw on 23 January that Poland must spend more money on modernizing its military to bring it up to NATO standards. Ralston's visit to Warsaw coincides with the Sejm's budget debate. The government planned to increase military spending this year to 15 billion zlotys ($3.6 billion), or 1.9 percent of GDP, from 13.8 billion zlotys in 2000, but last week the parliamentary budget committee trimmed the proposed expenditures by 98 million zlotys. Defense Minister Komorowski has threatened to resign unless the army receives more funds. "The struggle for this year's defense ministry budget is not over. I hope it will meet our needs," PAP quoted General Czeslaw Piatas, head of the Polish Army General Staff, as saying. JM

POLAND'S NEW PLATFORM NOT TO ALLY WITH SOLIDARITY BLOC

Andrzej Olechowski, a leader of the newly proclaimed Citizens' Platform (PO) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001), said on 23 January that he rules out an alliance with the Solidarity Electoral Action in parliamentary elections this fall. "I don't know how I could stand in ranks with trade union activists," Olechowski told Radio Plus. He added, however, that it is possible for the PO to propose joint election lists with the Freedom Union and the Conservative Peasant Party. The PO is to hold a nationwide convention in Gdansk later today. "We will become witnesses to a test--is [the Citizen's Platform] only an initiative of three politicians, which was favorably received by the media, or is it also the desire and will for cooperation of thousands of people?," Donald Tusk, another PO leader, commented on the upcoming convention. JM

CZECH PARLIAMENT OVERRIDES SENATE VETO ON TV LAW

The Chamber of Deputies on 23 January overrode the 17 January veto of the Senate on the amended law on Radio and Television Council and rejected the Senate's proposed version of that bill. The vote was 120 for, 50 against, and nine abstentions. The Senate voted to grant the chamber only some transition powers to overcome the present crisis and said the council must not be elected by the lower house alone. The bill keeps that right in the hands of the house, though council members are now to be appointed from among candidates proposed by civic and professional organizations. President Vaclav Havel signed the bill hours after it was passed in order to expedite a solution to the crisis. But Havel sent an accompanying letter to the parliament chairman criticizing some provisions in the bill. MS

RELATIVES OF CZECHS HELD IN CUBA PLEAD FOR FREEDOM

Lucie Pilipova, wife of deputy Ivan Pilip who has been detained in Cuba together with human rights activist Jan Bubenik, told journalists in Havana on 23 January that she is convinced both men are innocent and pleaded with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro to free them. Pilipova said she and Jan Bubenik's brother Martin received a two-week visa, but if need be she will ask for an extension and fetch her three children from Prague. MS

CZECH POLITICIANS REACT TO CUBAN DETENTION

Chamber of Deputies chairman and Civic Democratic Party leader Vaclav Klaus on 23 January said Pilip and Bubenik "have been turned into an instrument in a political game with the help of which the Cuban regime seeks to stay in power," CTK reported. The exact intricacies of that game, Klaus said, "are still unclear." In contrast, Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) leader Miroslav Grebenicek told journalists that President Havel "had been informed of Pilip's intentions" before his departure for the U.S. and Cuba and so was the Czech government. Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek dismissed that claim as "nonsense." Grebenicek said he has no reason to doubt Pilip and Bubenik had infringed Cuban law and said that behind their "so-called struggle for freedom and democracy" there was "a not entirely disinterested motive: financial profit." MS

INTER-PARLIAMENTARY UNION TO SEND DELEGATION TO HAVANA

The Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union will send to Havana in the next days a delegation headed by its general secretary, Anders Johnsson, to review the circumstances of Pilip and Bubenik's detention, CTK reported on 23 January. Johnsson said the detention of the two will not affect the preparations for holding a conference of the union in Havana, adding that the organization has held a similar conference in Turkey, a country repeatedly criticized for imprisoning people for their political beliefs. He also said the union cannot intervene in Bubenik's behalf, since he is not a parliamentarian. Meanwhile, a petition in support of Pilip and Bubenik is being prepared by members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and will be discussed at a plenary session of the assembly on 27 January. MS

MATICA SLOVENSKA CRITICIZES GOVERNMENT

The approval last week by Mikulas Dzurinda's cabinet of the European Charter on Regional and Minority Languages is a "gross violation of Slovakia's sovereignty and territorial integrity," according to Stanislav Bajanik, a leader of the Matica Slovenska "cultural" organization. Bajanik said the charter prepares the way for the "introduction of a model of collective rights that contradicts the Slovak constitution." He deemed the approval of the charter "an insult to Slovaks" and emphasized that "the rights of minorities cannot be promoted at the determent of those of the majority," CTK reported. MS

SLOVAK CHURCH FINANCING TO UNDERGO CHANGES

Culture Minister Milan Knazko told journalists on 23 January that if the parliament approves an amendment to existing legislation, churches will no longer be entirely dependent on the state budget to finance of their activity and might receive more money as of next year, CTK reported. Knazko explained that under the envisaged amendment, people will themselves decide which church they wish to finance, while atheists unwilling to do so will be able to contribute to the restoration of cultural monuments. Knazko said the new system will not entail a raise in taxation but would amount to a "widening of citizens' rights." MS

SLOVAK COMMUNISTS SUPPORT CUBAN DETENTION OF CZECHS

Slovak Communist Party (KSS) Secretary General Ladislav Jaca told journalists on 23 January the KSS supports the detention by Cuba of Ivan Pilip and Jan Bubenik on charges of subversion, TASR reported. He said the two are "well-known anti-communists" who came to Cuba after visiting in Miami "the American headquarters of opponents of Fidel Castro's regime." He noted that it is "interesting that last year nearly 2,000 foreigners visited Cuba, and none of them were detained." The extraparliamentary KSS is of the opinion that Pilip and Bubenik were involved in a "plot against Fidel Castro" directed by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and "the Prague castle", meaning Czech President Havel. MS

HUNGARY, SWEDEN DISCUSS EU ENLARGEMENT

Hungary expects "radical progress" in its EU membership negotiations during Sweden's EU presidency, visiting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told journalists in Stockholm after meeting his Swedish counterpart, Goran Persson, on 23 January. Orban said the chapters in the aquis communautaire on competition and customs could be closed during the Swedish presidency. He also remarked that there is a chance that Hungary will become a full EU member before the 2004 European parliamentary elections. For his part, Persson said Hungary is among the best prepared candidates, and that it is a "rather easy" country to negotiate with. MSZ

NEMETH WILL NOT ACCEPT ROLE IN HUNGARIAN SOCIALIST PARTY

Former Prime Minister Miklos Nemeth will not accept any formal position in the opposition Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs announced on 23 January. Nemeth did not explain his decision, but said he agrees with the goals of the party and supports its policy. The announcement ended months of speculations about Nemeth's role in Hungarian politics, and about his possible nomination as the MSZP's candidate for prime minister in the 2002 elections. MSZ




DEL PONTE TO MEET WITH SERBIAN LEADERS

Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, met in Belgrade on 24 January with representatives of Serbs from Kosova. They want charges brought against ethnic Albanian militants, whom the Serbs say kidnapped their loved ones. She will later meet with Serbian Prime Minister-designate Zoran Djindjic, National Bank Governor Mladjan Dinkic, and several other top Yugoslav and Serbian officials. Djindjic has stressed the need to cooperate with The Hague but wants to try former President Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 January 2001). Some observers suggest that Djindjic may be using cooperation with the tribunal as an issue in a political tug-of-war with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. PM

DEL PONTE WALKS OUT ON YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT

An angry-looking Del Ponte hurriedly left a one-hour meeting with Kostunica in Belgrade on 23 January, brushing past reporters, Deutsche Welle reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2001). The chief prosecutor had been expected to ask the president to arrest and extradite all indicted war criminals on Yugoslav territory, starting with Milosevic. Kostunica argues that the constitution prohibits the extradition of any citizen (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2001). He told the "International Herald Tribune" of 24 January that "if one wants to destabilize the situation in this country, one might behave the way Carla Del Ponte behaves" regarding the arrest and trial of war criminals. PM

MYSTERY CONTINUES OVER SERBIAN INDICTMENT

Del Ponte was also expected to give Kostunica in Belgrade on 23 January a sealed indictment for one unnamed person. Kostunica had said that he will publish any indictments from the tribunal. It is not clear to whom she will now give the text. Speculation in the Serbian press suggests that the indictment could have been for Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj or Borislav Pelevic, who was a deputy to the late Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan. Del Ponte's spokeswoman, Florence Hartmann, said that the indictment will serve as a "test of the good will" of the Belgrade authorities, AP reported. Hartmann added that Del Ponte will issue a "frank" statement about her talk with Kostunica at the end of her visit on 25 January. Meanwhile, the tribunal "ordered" the Yugoslav authorities to freeze all of Milosevic's assets. PM

YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT REBUFFS DEL PONTE

After Del Ponte left the meeting with Kostunica in Belgrade on 23 January, a joint press conference was canceled. The president's office said in a statement that "Kostunica brought up his objections to...the problem of secret indictments and the politicized work of the tribunal, pointing out especially the danger that selective justice could bring... He also pointed out the fact that most of the indictments have been against Serbs. [That] most of the Serbian political and military leaders were indicted could be seen as [presupposing] the collective guilt of an entire people, despite the fact the tribunal formally insists on personalizing responsibility... The prosecutor dismissed these remarks," Reuters reported. As did the Milosevic regime, Kostunica has called the court a tool of U.S. foreign policy and has urged that NATO and the U.S. be investigated for "war crimes" in conjunction with the 1999 Kosova campaign. PM

DEL PONTE: MILOSEVIC KNEW OF ATTACK ON SERBIAN TELEVISION

Del Ponte's spokeswoman Hartmann said in Belgrade on 23 January that Milosevic knew that NATO had targeted the building of Radio Television Serbia for bombing on 23 April 1999, "Vesti" reported. Del Ponte provided information to that effect from NATO to lawyer Slobodan Sisic, who represents the families of 13 of the 16 people killed in the bombing. Sisic said that "if there is real, written, positive evidence about this--and we have absolutely no reason to disbelieve Mme Del Ponte--this completely changes the entire concept of our proceedings," Reuters reported. The families maintain that Milosevic knew that the building was slated for attack but kept it open and did not warn the staff of the danger. The families also want to charge NATO for the deaths, but Del Ponte told Sisic that she does not have sufficient information to link the bombing to any one individual. Del Ponte also met with Serbian civil rights activists and with the brother of murdered journalist Slavko Curuvija. PM

MONTENEGRIN MINISTER SLAMS EU

Montenegrin Foreign Minister Branko Lukovac discussed regional cooperation in Tirana on 23 January with Prime Minister Ilir Meta and other top Albanian officials, "Pobjeda" reported. Lukovac told reporters that the EU's recent statement on Serbian-Montenegrin relations "will make future talks [between Belgrade and Podgorica] more difficult and will hurt the international community's credibility," AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline" and "Balkan Report," 23 January 2001). He added that "the international community should not express one-sided opinions." PM

SECOND THOUGHTS IN BRUSSELS ON MONTENEGRO?

In Brussels, some top EU officials seemed to moderate the views expressed in the recent statement, "Vijesti" reported on 24 January. A spokesman for Foreign Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten said that the EU will accept the results of a Montenegrin referendum, even if the majority votes for independence. The Podgorica daily also published the results of a new opinion poll, which suggests that 55.6 percent of the population will vote for independence. President Milo Djukanovic remains the most trusted politician with 27 percent of the respondents' votes, followed by Socialist People's Party (SNP) leader Predrag Bulatovic with 12 percent. PM

EU STATEMENT ON MONTENEGRO ONLY 'SUGGESTIONS'?

Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic said in Podgorica on 23 January that the recent EU statement is only a list of "suggestions... that one should keep in mind," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He added that he is sure that Brussels will respect any Montenegrin decision expressed in a referendum. SNP leader Bulatovic meanwhile welcomed the EU statement, saying that it has put the government in a bind. He argued that the government must abandon its goal of independence or risk finding itself on a collision course with the international community. PM

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY REACTS TO HERZEGOVINIAN PROTESTS

Alexandra Stiglmayer, who is the spokeswoman for High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch, said in Sarajevo that the Croatian People's Assembly that opposes the new Bosnian federal government is simply a "debating club" without any political authority, "Oslobodjenje" reported on 24 January. OSCE spokesman Luke Zahner said that he still sees room for a compromise in recent remarks by Herzegovinian leader Ante Jelavic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2001). PM

SLOVENIAN PROSECUTOR ARRESTED ON BRIBERY CHARGE

State Prosecutor Zdenka Cerar, who is in charge of district attorneys, said in Ljubljana on 23 January that an internal investigation shows that Ptuj prosecutor Marjan Glavar has taken bribes and been linked to corruption. He is under arrest. Slovenian media have previously linked Glavar to drug smuggling and human trafficking, AP reported. The new prosecutor in Ptuj is Franc Lengar, "Dnevnik" reported. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER IN STRASBOURG

Addressing the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 23 January, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said his country will continue to pursue "full integration" into the EU and NATO and criticized the fact that visa requirements imposed by the EU on Romanian citizens have not yet been lifted, calling the measure "an injustice." Outlining his cabinet's priorities, Nastase said "sweeping changes" are needed to fight poverty and promote social justice. He said his government wants to continue cooperation with international financial institutions and the EU with the aim of forging what he called "a market economy with a human dimension." He also said the struggle against corruption and organized crime will be intensified. Nastase also appealed to the assembly to help bring about the release from a Tiraspol prison of Ilie Ilascu, who is now a Romanian senator and who has been nominated a member of the Romanian delegation to the assembly. MS

ROMANIAN FINANCE MINISTER MEETS IMF BOARD CHIEFS

Finance Minister Mihail Tanasescu said after meeting in Washington on 23 January with members of the IMF executive board that he has outlined the main features of the government's economic policies and the manner in which the Nastase cabinet intends to structure the 2001 budget. He said Romania's main problem is a "lack of credibility" stemming from the fact that none of the six stand-by agreements signed with the IMF since 1990 has been fulfilled by Bucharest. Tanasescu said he hopes this image will change and that an IMF delegation will arrive in early February to assess the proposed budget with Romanian officials, saying the IMF is urging that the budget be submitted to the parliament "urgently," Romanian Radio reported on 24 January. MS

'VATRA ROMANEASCA' PROTESTS AGAINST NEW LAW

Like Matica Slovenska in Slovakia (see above), the Vatra Romaneasca "cultural" organization known for its anti-Hungarian minority postures protested on 24 January against the provisions of the recently-approved Law on Local Public Administration. Romanian Radio said the organization calls "unconstitutional" the provision allowing the use of minority languages in contact with officials in localities where minorities are 20 percent or more of the population. Vatra calls on President Ion Iliescu--a founding member of the union-- not to promulgate the law. MS

MOLDOVAN RADIO JOURNALISTS ATTACKED, ROBBED

A wave of attacks and robberies, whose victims are journalists working for the Teleradio state company, has been registered in Moldova, Romanian Radio reported on 24 January. The station's deputy director of the Department for International Relations, Tudor Osaci, was killed last week in the entrance hall of his apartment block. Earlier, the editor in chief of Moldovan Radio's news department, Maria Tifan, suffered a stroke after being attacked and savagely beaten near her house. Police say the aggressors are robbers, but have not been able to identify them. MS

POLLUTION KILLS FISH IN BULGARIAN RIVER

Toxic waste released from a copper ore processing plant has killed at least one ton of fish in Topolnitsa River in western Bulgaria, AP reported on 23 January, citing Bulgarian state radio. An inquiry has been launched. MS




RUSSIA REPORTED DISSATISFIED WITH OSCE'S FOCUS, PROCEDURES


By Roland Eggleston

Diplomats at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe say Russia is unhappy with criticism of its operations in Chechnya and Moldova and wants changes in the way the organization operates.

Russia's criticisms of the OSCE came to a head at the end of last year when Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov vetoed an official statement due to have been issued after a meeting of OSCE foreign ministers in Vienna. That draft statement called for an independent investigation of alleged atrocities against civilians in Chechnya. Other parts of the document criticized Russia for making what it said was little progress on the withdrawal of its troops from Moldova.

The Russian veto shocked the meeting. It was the first time that Moscow had vetoed an OSCE statement since the collapse of communism 10 years ago. In Vienna this week, some diplomats said they feared it could herald a return to the days when Moscow routinely vetoed statements after OSCE meetings because they were not to its liking.

Russia denies, however, that this will happen. Its chief delegate at OSCE headquarters in Vienna, Oleg Belous, said Russia vetoed the statement because it pointed the finger only at the former Soviet Union. He says Russia wants a balanced consideration of international problems, including those in the West.

Belous said Russia also wants a return to the principle that most OSCE agreements and documents require consensus -- that is, the unanimous agreement of all of the organization's members. Consensus is still the guiding principle at OSCE, but Russia claims it has been undermined and is not properly implemented.

Most of the criticisms in the Vienna statement vetoed by Russia were published anyway. The then OSCE chairwoman, Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner, repeated them in a so-called chairman's statement, which was not subject to a veto. Russia said later her comments did not reflect the consensus of the meeting and Russia was not bound by them.

In a speech before exercising his veto, Ivanov criticized what he perceived as an exaggerated OSCE focus on problems in the former Soviet Union, particularly the conflict in Chechnya. He charged that OSCE meetings focused on problems in the Caucasus, Moldova, Georgia and Central Asia but rarely discussed problems in the West which, he said, was riddled with xenophobia, racism and crime.

Diplomats said the focus of Ivanov's remarks was the statement's language on Chechnya. The proposed declaration said foreign ministers "urge Russian authorities to facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid to Chechnya." It deplored the continued loss of life and material damage in Chechnya and called for a "prompt and independent investigation and prosecution of all alleged atrocities against civilians and other violations of human rights."

Diplomats in Vienna say they are reluctant to comment on the matter because negotiations are underway with Moscow to end the dispute. But they agreed that Russian operations in Chechnya frequently come under fire at OSCE meetings, although few details emerge because the meetings are closed.

As OSCE chairwoman, Ferrero-Waldner unsuccessfully pressured Russia last year to allow an OSCE mission to return to Chechnya so it could assist in finding a political solution to the conflict and encourage a dialogue. The mission was forced to leave because of the fighting in the breakaway republic and it is now based in Moscow.

Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov was also critical of a passage in the proposed statement which said there is "growing concern" that Russia is making little progress in withdrawing its military forces from Moldova. At an OSCE summit in Istanbul in 1999, Russia signed a statement which said some forces would leave by the end of this year and that all Russian troops would be gone by the end of next year.

In another comment, the proposed declaration expressed concern over Russia's decision to demand visas for most citizens of Georgia beginning last month.

Russia's dissatisfaction is being taken seriously by the OSCE. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder discussed it with President Vladimir Putin during Schroeder's recent visit to Moscow, but the German Foreign Ministry declines to give any details of those talks. The OSCE's Secretary General, Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis, was in Moscow earlier this month to try to defuse the crisis and the organization's new chairman, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Dan Geoana, will go to Moscow shortly, probably sometime next month.

In the meantime, Moscow has circulated a paper at OSCE headquarters calling for changes in the way the organization works and the freedom of the chairman to make statements in the name of the organization.

European diplomats say the paper indicates Russia wants closer control of the chairman, who serves for only one year. The paper argues that when making comments on crisis areas such as Chechnya, the chairman should reflect what it calls a consensus view of the OSCE, including Russia, rather than make what it calls "one-sided statements" in the name of the OSCE or issue statements that do not reflect consensus among members. In Russia's view, if there is no consensus, then the chairman should not speak in the name of the OSCE.

In addition, Russia wants major issues to be discussed in closed meetings of small groups before they are raised at the weekly meeting of the OSCE's Permanent Council, which is currently its main forum for considering crises and other problems. Moscow wants various opinions on a problem to be identified and followed by political consultations aimed at finding compromises.

The Russian paper suggests that these private meetings should, in its words, "shun publicity" and not publicize draft documents. Nor, it urges, should statements made to the meeting by individual countries be publicized. Roland Eggleston is a senior RFE/RL correspondent based in Munich.


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