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Newsline - January 31, 2001




PUTIN CALLS FOR LAND REFORM

Speaking to the State Council on 30 January, President Vladimir Putin said that the country had "put off the issue" of land reform for too long and now "we have run out of time," Russian and Western agencies reported. He said the country "needs coherent land legislation," but in the face of leftist objections, he did not call for the buying and selling of farmland. Meanwhile, Russian agencies said that the sale of land might be left up to individual regions of the country. PG

GERMANY AGREES WITH RUSSIA ON ABM...

Visiting German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping told Russian officials on 30 January that Berlin opposes changes in existing arms control legislation, including the 1972 ABM treaty, Russian agencies reported. In other comments, he said that Berlin has no proof that Russia has put nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad, Interfax reported. Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov told Scharping that enlarging NATO could create a crisis in Europe. Meanwhile, Scharping signed an agreement on increasing contacts between their two agencies in 2001, Interfax reported. PG

...BUT REJECTS EXCHANGING DEBT

German officials have rejected exchanging any of Russia's Soviet-era debt for shares in Russian firms, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 January. Meanwhile, "Vremya MN" reported on the same day that Moscow has launched what the paper called "a massive PR campaign" to convince foreign countries to agree to debt rescheduling or forgiveness. PG

PUTIN'S TRAVEL SCHEDULE FILLS UP

Kremlin sources told Interfax on 30 January that President Putin will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori sometime this year but that no date has yet been sent. The Russian leader will also go to Ukraine, Armenia twice, and Israel, and will meet with the North Korean leadership at some unspecified place at some as yet unspecified time, Russian agencies said. PG

NTV LOSES IN COURT

A Moscow court upheld a complaint by Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov that NTV had made unfair comments about Ustinov's relations with Union of Russia and Belarus Secretary Pavel Borodin, Russian and Western agencies reported. NTV General-Director Yevgenii Kiselev said he might appeal the case to the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg. Meanwhile, Russian agencies reported, prosecutors continued to question Media-MOST chief accountant Mikhail Kalashnikov, even as they transferred arrested Media-MOST chief financial officer Anton Titov to another cell. More details continued to leak out about President Putin's 29 January meeting with NTV staffers. "Segodnya" reported that Putin had met with the chief prosecutor immediately before the session and that Putin had failed to convince his audience that his objections to the station are exclusively financial. PG

GUSINSKII FRAUD INVOLVED MORE THAN $1 BILLION

Russian Prosecutor-General Ustinov said on ORT that Media-MOST head and current fugitive in Spain Vladimir Gusinskii had obtained more than $1 billion through fraud, AFP reported on 30 January. Ustinov said that the authorities had tracked more than $200 million to foreign banks and identified large sums given to employees as interest-free loans. During his talk on ORT, Ustinov denied that there is any political motive behind the investigation of Media-MOST's NTV station. PG

RUSSIANS DIVIDED ON MEDIA FREEDOM

According to a poll conducted by the All-Russia Public Opinion Center, 42 percent of Russians think the media have sufficient freedom, 18 percent think media outlets have too much, while 33 percent think that the level of media freedom is not yet sufficient. PG

YAVLINSKII SAYS RUSSIA MOVING TO NATIONAL BOLSHEVISM

"The Moscow Times" on 30 January and "Novaya gazeta" of 29 January-4 February carried the text and selections of Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii's speech to the Emergency Congress in Defense of Human Rights on 21 January. In his speech, Yavlinskii said that the current set of pseudo reforms in Russia reflected the rise of "national bolshevism." And in other remarks, he called for making the country's secret services accountable to the law. PG

PARTY FORMATION PROCESS STEPS UP

Even before the Duma takes up bills on political parties on 7 February, more and more political groups are staking out positions on whether they will become political parties. The Fatherland movement has decided to form a shadow cabinet, "Versty" reported on 30 January. And a movement called Development of Entrepreneurship has decided to become a party, "Vremya MN" reported on 29 January. PG

RUSSIA-BELARUS RAPPROCHEMENT CONTINUES

Despite earlier tensions about the proper response to the detention of the secretary of the Union of Belarus and Russia, Pavel Borodin, in New York, the rapprochement between Moscow and Minsk continued on 30 January. The two sides agreed on a budget for their Union state, a cooperation agreement between the leading trade union groups in the two countries was signed, and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that any attempts to punish Minsk for its cooperation with Russia will be "resolutely rebuffed" by Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

BORODIN REFUSES TO GIVE INTERVIEWS

Jailed in New York, Borodin told ITAR-TASS on 30 January that he has "nothing to say" and will not meet with journalists. Meanwhile, the Office of the Russian Prosecutor-General told Interfax on the same day that Moscow has received the fourth investigative inquiry from Switzerland about Borodin's activities. The prosecutor's office said that an answer to an earlier Swiss inquiry will be dispatched "shortly." PG

PRESIDENTIAL ENVOYS GAIN POWERS AT KREMLIN'S EXPENSE

According to the 30 January "Kommersant-Daily," President Putin will soon sign a decree that will reduce the size and powers of the territorial directorate within his administration and thus allow his district envoys greater freedom of action. The paper said that this will allow the envoys not only to promote Moscow's policies in the regions but "more importantly" define what that policy will be. PG

AUDIO, VIDEO, COMPUTER DISK DEALERS IN MOSCOW REQUIRED TO REGISTER

According to the 30 January "Moskovskii komsomolets," all sellers of audio and video recordings and computer disks in the city of Moscow will now have to register with the city administration. PG

FOREIGN MINISTER ARRANGES TO MEET NEW U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE

During a telephone conversation on 30 January, Foreign Minister Ivanov and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell agreed to meet in the near future to discuss general issues in the Russian-American relationship, Russian agencies reported. PG

IVANOV PRAISES PRINCIPLE OF NEUTRALITY

Prior to departing for Switzerland later this week, Foreign Minister Ivanov said on 30 January that Moscow believes that "the ideology of neutralism, of the disapproval of the world's division into blocs, is very relevant in modern conditions," Interfax reported. He added that "a new system of all-European security is unthinkable without the balancing and stimulating role of the neutral countries." PG

MOSCOW SAYS U.S. AVOIDING DEBATE ON ARMS RACE IN SPACE...

Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said in a statement reported by Interfax on 30 January that the United States is seeking to obstruct a Disarmament Conference discussion on how best to prevent an arms race in space. The statement said that only the U.S. delegation is "blocking with immutable persistence [the] negotiations" on this topic. PG

...TRAINING ANTI-RUSSIAN FORCES FOR CHECHNYA...

"Izvestiya" reported on 30 January that a Russian soldier had told a Volgograd press conference the day before that he had been trained in Pakistan by U.S. security operatives to infiltrate a Russian motorized rifle division in 1995 in order to blow up a dam on behalf of the Chechens. PG

...AND PATENTING RUSSIAN INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

Gennadii Yemelyanov, the head of the information security apparatus of the Security Council, said that Americans had taken out patents on approximately 800 inventions connected with Russian defense technology, "Vremya MN" reported on 30 January. He called for the development of a more effective intellectual property law to prevent such losses to the country. PG

RUSSIAN MILITARY WARNS AGAINST SCRAPPING ABM

Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said on 30 January that the American withdrawal from the ABM Treaty "will result in a new arms race, including the most dangerous -- a race in rocket technologies," ITAR-TASS reported. His comments were echoed by Colonel General Valerii Manilov, the deputy chief of the Russian General Staff, who said that "the exclusive invulnerability the U.S. has in mind in the planning of a national missile defense means absolute vulnerability for all other countries." But academician Vladimir Petrovskii told ITAR-TASS on the same day that he believed there is a good chance for constructive talks between Moscow and Washington on preserving the treaty. PG

MOSCOW READIES WTO PROPOSALS

Andrei Kushnirenko, the head of the tariff department in the Economic Development Ministry, said on 30 January that Moscow is preparing to pass to the World Trade Organization in early February a package of proposals on access to markets in goods and services and on protection of agriculture. PG

MOSCOW OFFERS TO EXPAND COOPERATION WITH OPEC

Energy Minister Aleksandr Gavrin told Interfax on 30 January that the Russian government is prepared to expand cooperation with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) by offering mechanisms allowing for better monitoring of crude oil prices around the world. He said that Russia does not plan to join the cartel because "for OPEC and for Russia, it is good that there are independent oil producers that can influence" the decisions of OPEC. PG

MOSCOW MAY EXTEND EASED CITIZENSHIP PROCESS FOR CIS CITIZENS TO 2006

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 30 January that the Duma will soon have to decide whether to extend the 1992 law that made it easier for citizens of other CIS countries to become citizens of the Russian Federation. The 1992 law expired at the start of the year. If the measure is not extended, CIS citizens will have to follow the same naturalization procedure as anyone else hoping to become a Russian citizen. PG

PARADOXES IN BALTIC-RUSSIAN RELATIONS SEEN

Writing in the 30 January "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Nadezhda Arbatova identifies what she calls four paradoxes of Baltic-Russian relations. First, she says, the Baltic region is among the most stable areas in Europe but could easily become the most unstable. Second, Baltic security depends on East-West accord but efforts by the Balts to enter NATO could undermine that accord and thus their security. Third, Baltic-Russian cooperation is an important part of Baltic security, but such cooperation calls into question the need of Baltic countries for NATO membership. And fourth, the Russian-speaking portion of the Baltic populations is said to be a lever for Moscow but the Estonian and Latvian governments can eliminate that by pursuing a zero option on citizenship for that category of their residents. PG

RUSSIAN ARMS PRODUCTION JUMPS

Interfax reported on 30 January that Russian armaments and munitions works increased their output by more than 25 percent in 2000. As a result, the country was able to increase exports and now controls 6.6 percent of the world's arms market, up from 4.4 percent in 1999. PG

NEW ECONOMIC QUARTERLY LAUNCHED

A new journal, "The Economy of Russia: XXI Century" was issued on 30 January, "Vremya MN" reported. Its pages will feature economic statistics and analyses by a wide range of scholars, journalists, and officials. PG

NATIONAL POLITICAL PARTIES DISCUSS REASON FOR FAR EASTERN CRISIS

Yabloko announced on 30 January that it supports an initiative of its own Primorskii Krai organization and the regional division of Union of Rightist Forces appealing to President Putin to dismiss krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, Interfax reported on 30 January. State Duma deputy (Yabloko) Sergei Mitrokhin told reporters that the problem in the krai is not just one of the fuel and energy system, but of power. On the same day, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said that the federal government "has shown its complete lack of helpfulness." He said that attempts to place blame for the situation have focused on one or two individuals, but the reason for the energy crisis is the "absence of elementary discipline, responsibility, and organization." JAC

TEACHERS, FARMERS GO UNPAID IN MORDOVIA

The backlog of unpaid wages in the republic of Mordovia reached 211.3 million rubles ($7.5 million) by the beginning of the year, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 30 January. More than 1,600 organizations, one-third of which are agricultural, owe their workers wages. According to the agency, at the present time more than two-thirds of farms in the republic are unprofitable. Meanwhile, RFE/RL's Saransk correspondent reported on 20 January that teachers in several raions in the republic have not received their wages in six months or more. The problem, according to the correspondent, is that in order for the raions to receive their money from the republican budget, they must first fulfill the republic's plan for purchasing milk, meat, alcohol, etc., from certain organizations. If they have not fulfilled the plan, then teachers and doctors in the raion do not get paid. JAC

SCRAP METAL WORKERS PICKET WHITE HOUSE

Workers from the scrap metal industry picketed the Russian White House to protest high export duties on their product, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 30 January. The picketers said that the tariffs were reducing their income and forcing firms to lay off workers. PG

YELTSIN HOSPITALIZED

Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin was hospitalized on 30 January for a high fever and suspected viral infection, Russian and Western agencies reported. Yeltsin, who turns 70 this week, had a fever of over 38 degrees, and doctors said that he had been admitted to the hospital in order to avoid any risk that his fever will affect vital organs. PG

AUSTRIA TO COMPENSATE RUSSIAN WORLD WAR II FORCED LABORERS

The Austrian Reconciliation Foundation plans to begin paying compensation in March 2001 to Russian citizens who were forced to work in Austria during World War II, Interfax reported on 30 January. Some 25,000 Russian survivors will receive a total of approximately $48.3 million. Moscow is currently negotiating with Germany for similar payments to Russians forced to work for that country during World War II. PG

CAUSE OF 'KURSK' DISASTER STILL DEBATED

Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said on 30 January that there are still two theories of why the "Kursk" submarine sank last August: an onboard explosion or a collision with another object, Interfax reported. Klebanov, who heads the government commission investigating the disaster, added that he "no longer thinks that the evidence pointed to a collision with a World War II-era mine." PG

GRAIN PRICES RISE, MEAT IMPORTS FALL

Shortages of grains are pushing food prices higher, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 30 January. Meanwhile, the Agricultural Ministry said on the same day that imports of meat had dropped 53 percent during the first 11 months of 2000 compared to the same period a year earlier, ITAR-TASS reported. That pattern could suggest that Russian farmers are slaughtering cattle rather than using ever more expensive fodder. PG

NATIONAL ANTHEM STILL PLAYED WITHOUT WORDS

According to "Argumenty i fakty" on 30 January, few people have yet heard the new words to the restored national anthem because, as the presidential administration acknowledges, the special recordings needed to broadcast the song with words have not yet been made. PG

PUTIN DRINKING LESS

"Argumenty i fakty" reported on 30 January that President Vladimir Putin drank four liters of beer a week while he was in Germany, a habit that caused him to gain 20 kilograms of extra weight. Now, the paper says, he drinks less and exercises more. Meanwhile, "Moskovskii komsomolets" complained on the same day that very little is yet known about Putin's wife, Ludmila. The paper said that she has resisted efforts by Kremlin imagemakers to appear more frequently in public and speak about herself. PG

TAIGA TIGER MUNCHES ON PET

A resident on the outskirts of the village of Svatogore in Khabarovsk Krai came home to discover a tiger in his dog's kennel licking the remains of his pet, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 30 January. The man alerted specialists from the local ecological committee, who managed to take the tiger away. The tiger had apparently fallen into a hunter's trap and, after removing itself, hurt one of its paws. It then wandered to a taiga village to escape hunger and the severe frost. According to the agency, the tiger is now recuperating in a special center for rehabilitating wild animals. JAC




FORMER ARMENIAN DISSIDENT INTERCEDES FOR DETAINED BUSINESSMAN

Paruyr Hairikian said on 30 January that the presidential human rights commission of which he is chairman has concluded that detained businessman Arkadii Vartanian should be released, Noyan Tapan reported. Vartanian was taken into custody on 30 October following a march by his supporters to the presidential palace in Yerevan and subsequently charged with calling for the overthrow of the Armenian leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October and 13 November 2000). According to Hairikian, as other participants in the march have already been released, there is no reason to detain Vartanian any longer. LF

PROSECUTORS INSIST FORMER KARABAKH DEFENSE MINISTER ORDERED ASSASSINATION BID

Senior prosecutor Vahram Avagian told the Supreme Court of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic on 30 January that the attempt last March to assassinate the enclave's president, Arkadii Ghukasian, was ordered by former Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan and carried out "directly or indirectly" by the other 15 defendants, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. Babayan has denied masterminding the attack, while his former bodyguard, Sasun Aghadjanian, had admitted planning to open fire on Ghukasian's motorcade to "intimidate" the president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 29 December 2000). LF

AZERBAIJANI POLICE MOVE AGAINST HUNGER-STRIKING WAR INVALIDS...

Azerbaijani special police used force on 31 January to break up groups of hunger-striking Karabakh war invalids in Baku and several other towns across Azerbaijan, RFE/RL's Baku bureau reported. Hundreds of police also surrounded the Baku building housing the headquarters of the society representing the war invalids. Turan reported on 30 January that the number of participants in the hunger-strike has risen to over 1,000. The invalids are demanding a threefold increase in their pensions and other benefits (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 January 2001). LF

...AFTER INTERIOR MINISTER ACCUSES THEM OF PLANNING COUP

Speaking in Baku on 30 January, Ramil Usubov accused Etimad Asadov, who heads the organization representing Azerbaijan's estimated 7,000 Karabakh war invalids, of attempting to destabilize the political situation with the aim of overthrowing the leadership, Turan reported. Usubov compared Asadov to rebel Colonel Suret Huseinov, who toppled President Abulfaz Elchibey in 1993, and the Djavadov brothers, who were accused of attempting to stage a coup in March 1995. Usubov rejected the invalids' demands for increased pensions and benefits, arguing that the invalids and their families already receive adequate state support. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ENDS TURKEY VISIT

Eduard Shevardnadze held talks in Ankara on 30 January with Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, Deputy Prime Minister Devlet Bahceli, and with former President Suleyman Demirel, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 31 January. Ecevit characterized bilateral relations as "special," adding "Georgia's problems are our problems. Georgia's security is our security." Shevardnadze also addressed the Foreign Economic Relations Council, inviting Turkish businessmen to invest more in Georgia. Turkey is already Georgia's most important trade partner. In addition, Shevardnadze met in Ankara with representatives of Turkey's Abkhaz minority. He explained to the Abkhaz Georgia's offer of broad autonomy to the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia and invited them to visit Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. LF

SECOND GEORGIAN SECURITY OFFICIAL DIES FROM PARCEL BOMB INJURIES

The Georgian security official injured in a parcel bomb explosion on 30 January at a Tbilisi post office has since died of his injuries, Caucasus Press reported on 31 January. One of his colleagues was killed by that explosion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2001). LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT ENUMERATES PRIORITIES

Nursultan Nazarbaev told a meeting of regional officials in Astana on 30 January that although Kazakhstan has succeeded in building a "powerful government" and in completing economic reforms, numerous problems must still be addressed, Interfax and Reuters reported. Nazarbaev singled out the fight against poverty and unemployment and more stringent measures to eradicate corruption and combat religious extremism. He called especially for local officials and police in the south and east of the country to monitor observation of the law on religious groups in order to preclude the distribution of proscribed religious propaganda and the unsanctioned construction of churches and mosques. Nazarbaev listed the Tengiz-Novorossiisk oil export pipeline and the 180-kilometer Aksu-Konechnaya railroad as major construction projects that must be completed before the celebration later this year of the 10th anniversary of Kazakhstan's independence. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT STOPS OVER IN MOSCOW TO DISCUSS TERRORISM

En route from Davos to Bishkek on 30 January, Askar Akaev made a stopover in Moscow for talks with Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov, Russian agencies reported. The two men discussed the threat posed to Central Asia by terrorism and religious extremism. LF

KYRGYZ OFFICIAL DENIES REPORTS OF LAWSUIT AGAINST TOBACCO GIANT

Askerbek Ermatov, director-general of Kyrgyzstan's state tobacco company, told journalists in Bishkek on 30 January that Russian media reports that Kyrgyzstan has brought a lawsuit against the U.S. tobacco company Philip Morris are untrue, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2001). LF

TAJIKISTAN AGAIN DEPORTS UZBEK ISLAMISTS

The Tajik Security Services have flown some 250 members of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) from Tajikistan's eastern Tavildara region to Afghanistan, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 January, quoting the Tajik Ministry for Emergency Situations. That ministry is headed by former Tajik opposition field commander Mirzo Zieev, who is said to be a personal friend of IMU leader Djuma Namangani. Following a Tajik government commission inspection of the Tavildara region earlier this month, officials had denied the presence of any IMU activists there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 17 January 2001). LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES JOURNALISTS

Addressing an expanded cabinet session, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyzaov has again complained that journalists devote too much time and energy to praising his person and achievements, while neglecting serious problems, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 30 January. LF

TURKMENISTAN POSTPONES PLANNED OIL AND GAS EXHIBITION

An oil and gas exhibition scheduled for mid-March has been postponed to mid-October to give potential foreign investors in that sector more time to acquaint themselves with the relevant Turkmen legislation, Interfax reported on 30 January, quoting the Turkmen Oil, Gas, and Mineral Resources Ministry. LF




OSCE IN MINSK SAYS ITS PROJECTS NEED NO GOVERNMENT APPROVAL

The OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group said on 30 January that its projects in Belarus cannot be subject to the host government's approval, Belapan reported. The group noted that under the OSCE Permanent Council's decision of 14 December, OSCE missions "have to conduct consultations with their respective host governments on projects financed by the [OSCE] budget or by voluntary contributions from OSCE Member States." However, the group said the OSCE Permanent Council rejected the proposal to make such projects dependent on the agreement or approval of the host country. The group was commenting on the Belarusian Foreign Ministry's request that OSCE projects in Belarus be preliminarily coordinated with the government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2001). JM

MINSK ADMONISHES VILNIUS OVER SEMINAR FOR BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry summoned Lithuanian Ambassador Jonas Paslauskas on 30 January to express concern about a recent Vilnius-based seminar on "non-violent democratic resistance in Belarus" for some 40 Belarusian opposition figures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2001), Belapan reported. The ministry noted that the seminar was of a "clearly destructive nature" and "aimed at creating unfavorable conditions" in Belarus before this year's presidential ballot. According to the ministry's press release, Paslauskas "shared the concern of the Belarusian side and gave assurances that the Lithuanian government had nothing to do with the event," noting that the seminar was organized by private individuals. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER ANNOUNCES CABINET RESHUFFLE

Viktor Yushchenko on 30 January said a decision on a reshuffle in his cabinet may be made "within the next two to three days," Interfax reported. He did not provide any details. Meanwhile, presidential administration head Volodymyr Lytvyn said the recently discussed idea of forming a coalition cabinet in Ukraine cannot be implemented. According to Lytvyn, a coalition cabinet may be formed only following appropriate amendments to the constitution. Lytvyn noted that now the appointment of a cabinet or its members can be made only by way of consultations between the executive and legislative branches, adding that the parliament does not have a "deciding say" in this process. JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKER ACCUSES SBU OF PREVENTING HIM TO OBTAIN CORPSE ANALYSES

Legislator Serhiy Holovatyy on 30 January said the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) prevented him from receiving the results of an independent examination of the corpse believed to be that of missing journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported. According to Holovatyy, he was to receive the results from his compatriot, Ihor Stelmakh, in Germany. Holovatyy said their meeting could not be arranged due to interference from the SBU, which was trying to find Stelmakh in order to question him as a witness in the Gongadze case. JM

UKRAINIAN PROSECUTORS ARREST CAPTAIN OF SUNKEN SHIP

Ukrainian prosecutors have arrested Leonid Ponomarenko, the captain of the "Pamyat Merkuriya" (Memory of Mercury) ship, and charged him with breaking transport safety laws, Reuters reported. The "Pamyat Merkuriya" sank during a storm in the Black Sea on 26 January. Fourteen people died in the accident and five are still missing, while rescuers plucked 32 survivors from lifeboats and rafts after several days spent floating in the cold water. Volodymyr Rebrov, Crimea's deputy public prosecutor, said initial findings suggest the ship was overloaded. If found guilty, Ponomarenko will face up to 15 years in prison. JM

ESTONIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS TAX REDUCTION LAW

President Lennart Meri signed a law extending the reduction in the value added tax on heating to 5 percent for another five years, ETA reported on 30 January. The law, passed on 17 January, remains controversial because it creates a budget gap for the government of some 100 million kroons ($5.3 million), since the government assumed the tax rate will return to 18 percent on 1 July. Prime Minister Mart Laar said he had hoped that Meri will veto the legislation. AB

RULING COALITION NOMINATES MERI FOR NOBEL PRIZE

Prime Minister Mart Laar and chairmen of the government coalition parties will submit the name of President Lennart Meri to the Nobel Prize Committee in Oslo, ETA reported on 30 January. The proposal to nominate Meri for the Nobel Peace Prize has already been signed by the chairmen of the Pro Patria Union, Reform Party, and Moderates factions. AB

A PORTRAIT OF THE TYPICAL ESTONIAN HOUSEHOLD

The Statistical Office of Estonia released 1999 data on the lifestyle and habits of Estonians on 30 January which show that 84 percent of Estonian families live in an apartment or house that they own and that they spend 34 percent of their household income on food. An average Estonian family also spends 1.75 percent of its total income on flowers and 2.63 percent on gardening. Andres Patzig, managing director of the Estonian Flower Association, told ETA that elsewhere in the world the percentage of family income spent on flowers is close to zero. AB

SIX PERCENT GROWTH PREDICTED FOR LATVIA

The Ministry of Economy forecasts a 6 percent growth in the gross domestic product for 2001, LETA reported on 30 January. Olegs Baranovs, head of the ministry's National Economy and Structural Policy Department, said that all sectors of the economy are improving. Consumer prices, meanwhile, are expected to rise only 3 percent this year, with unemployment falling to 7 percent. The national debt is projected to grow to 13.5 percent of GDP and the foreign trade balance is expected to be minus 15 percent. The ministry said that in 2000, GDP grew 5.7 percent, inflation stood at 2.6 percent, the national debt was 13.2 percent in GDP, the foreign trade balance was minus 15.4 percent and the unemployment rate declined to 7.8 percent. AB

NEW LITHUANIAN CENTER TO PROTECT AGAINST 'MAD COW DISEASE'

The State Food and Veterinary Service has established a new center for the prevention of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), better known as "mad cow disease," ELTA reported on 30 January. Kazimieras Lukauskas, director of the State Food and Veterinary Service, said that no cases of mad cow disease have been registered in Lithuania so far, but Vilnius has banned the import of beef and all types of semi-finished beef and poultry foodstuffs, blood meal, bone dust, and fodder combined with any of these products from foreign states except for Latvia and Estonia. AB

LITHUANIAN POPULATION DECLINES

Lithuania's population fell by 5,600 persons last year, ELTA reported on 30 January. Petras Adlys, director general of the Lithuanian department of statistics, said that 3.69 million people resided in Lithuania at the end of last year. Adlys also noted that mortality rates have decreased slightly and average life expectancy edged upwards. AB

POLISH GOVERNMENT ADOPTS ARMY MODERNIZATION PLAN

The government on 30 January approved a six-year plan to cut troop numbers by one-quarter and modernize equipment in an attempt to bring the Polish armed forces closer to NATO standards, AP reported. "We have approved a plan that envisions the full compatibility of about one-third of our army with NATO standards by 2006," Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek said. Under the plan, troops are to be cut to 150,000 from the current 200,000. The plan also calls for the army to include some 75,000 professional soldiers by 2006. The Defense Ministry will spend more of its budget -- 22 percent, as opposed to 12 percent now -- on investment in new equipment. JM

KYIV PROTESTS SHOOTING OF UKRAINIAN IN POLAND

The Ukrainian Embassy in Poland has sent a note to Poland's Foreign Ministry protesting the killing of a Ukrainian citizen, Serhiy Kudrya, who was shot dead during a highway check near the town of Swidnik on 28 January, Ukrainian and Polish media reported. According to Ukrainian sources, Polish highway patrolmen stopped a Ukrainian couple while they were searching for a hospital to treat the woman, who was pregnant and had fallen ill. The patrolmen reportedly forced the driver out of the vehicle, ordered him to lie on the ground, and shot him in the head. The Ukrainians were returning from the Czech Republic and were driving a Czech-registered vehicle. According to the Polish side, the incident occurred during a scuffle between the Ukrainian driver and policemen, who had pursued the driver when he refused to stop after being flagged-down for allegedly speeding. JM

NEARLY 75 PERCENT OF POLES DISAPPROVE OF GOVERNMENT

The OBOP polling center found in mid-January that only 17 percent of respondents assessed positively the performance of Jerzy Buzek's cabinet, PAP reported on 30 January. Some 73 percent had a negative opinion of the government. Meanwhile, President Aleksander Kwasniewski's activities were assessed favorably by 77 percent of respondents, while 15 percent were of the opposite opinion. JM

CZECH OFFICIAL MEETS WITH CUBAN PARLIAMENT DELEGATION OVER DETAINED PAIR...

The president of the Czech Senate, Petr Pithart, in Cuba to negotiate the release of two Czechs detained since 12 January, met with a Cuban parliamentary delegation in Havana, Reuters reported 30 January. Pithart described the talks as "very sincere, tough and open...on the legal, political, and historical aspects of the case," but added that discussions were "at the very beginning." Parliamentary deputy Ivan Pilip and businessman Jan Bubenik were arrested after meeting with two Cuban dissidents. Cuba has labeled them U.S. "agents" and wants to put them on trial for "subversive contacts." DW

...WITH DETAINEES IN PRISON...

Czech Senate leader Pithart visited the two Czech citizens detained on charges of subversive activity in the Villa Marista prison in Havana on 30 January for almost 40 minutes, Reuters reported. Pilip's wife, Lucie, in Havana to support her husband, confirmed the visit and said she was "a bit more hopeful today." DW

...AND WITH CUBAN FOREIGN MINISTER

Continuing his meetings with top Cuban officials, Czech Senate President Pithart met with Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque on 30 January, Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Hynek Kmonicek told CTK. Kmonicek refused to provide details of Pithart's talks in Cuba, citing the sensitivity of the problem. It is not yet clear when Pithart, in Cuba at the invitation of Cuban President Fidel Castro, will meet with the Cuban leader. DW

CZECH BANK FRAUD CASE COULD INVOLVE NOMURA

Charges brought against former IPB bank Deputy Director Libor Prochazka and seven others for embezzling one billion Czech crowns ($26 million) in the late 1990s could be connected to the sale of the Plzensky Prazdroj and Radegast breweries to the Japanese company Nomura, CTK reported on 31 January, citing "Mlada fronta Dnes." The sale of the breweries was one of the more questionable IPB transactions that came to light after the Czech National Bank put the bank under forced administration and sold it to Ceskaslovenska obchodni banka (CSOB). CSOB and Nomura are currently in dispute as to whether Nomura paid IPB for the breweries. CSOB claims Nomura still owes the bank nine billion crowns ($237 million). DW

SLOVAK PREMIER CALLS ON TOP BRASS TO DO MORE FOR NATO ENTRY

Mikulas Dzurinda on 30 January addressed a meeting of top-ranking army officers, calling on them to make the Slovak army "identify itself" with the "national priority" of Slovakia's admittance to NATO, CTK reported. Dzurinda said a possible invitation of Slovakia to the alliance may be decided in the next 10 months, adding that it is high time to eliminate the shortcomings that have been pointed out to Slovakia by NATO experts. Dzurinda noted that the effort showed by Slovak officers toward achieving NATO membership will decide their future career. "Those who will work hard should not only have a green uniform but also a green light in the army," the agency quoted Dzurinda as saying. JM

SLOVAK COALITION'S LAND DEAL OPENS WAY TO CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT

The leaders of Slovak coalition parties on 30 January settled the protracted dispute over the fate of unclaimed land, CTK reported. The deal removes the main obstacle preventing the introduction of a crucial amendment to the constitution. The amendment, together with a public service reform, is a key prerequisite for Slovakia to catch up with its neighbors who similarly aspire to EU membership. The parliament will discuss the amendment next week. The ruling coalition theoretically controls the three-fifths majority of votes in the 150-seat legislature, which is required to pass constitutional changes. JM

NEO-NAZI GROUP RECEIVES PERMIT FOR BUDAPEST RALLY

The neo-Nazi Hungarian National Freedom Party has received a police permit to commemorate on 13 February "the heroic acts of the Allied Hungarian-German forces" during the occupation of Budapest by Russian troops in 1945. Police said there is no way to ban a function if the application satisfies legal requirements, "Magyar Hirlap" reports on 31 January. In other news, the Jerusalem office of the Vienna-based Simon Wiesenthal Center has called on the Hungarian cabinet to reject a request from the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party to retry war-time Prime Minister Laszlo Bardossy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2001). MSZ




NATO'S ROBERTSON WANTS SERBS TO END CAUSE OF VIOLENCE

NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said in Brussels on 30 January that Belgrade must do more to remove the sources of tensions in the Presevo region. "We will continue to take robust action to prevent [the guerrillas] from getting the provocation they seek... I hope that the Yugoslav and the Serbian authorities will start putting in place some of the confidence-building measures" that Belgrade recently promised. "A greater degree of participation of the ethnic Albanian majority population in southern Serbia in their own administration and indeed in their own local police" would help to defuse tensions, Reuters reported. PM

SECURITY COUNCIL CONDEMNS PRESEVO VIOLENCE

Following an "informal session" called at Belgrade's request, the UN Security Council said in a statement on 30 January that "members of the council strongly condemned the attacks by ethnic Albanian extremist groups and in particular the killing over the weekend of a [Yugoslav] soldier. Members of the Council stressed the need to bring the perpetrators to justice," an RFE/RL correspondent reported. The statement added that the council members want "to make clear to Kosovo Albanian leaders that extremism in and around the Presevo Valley is unacceptable. [The council also] called on Kosovo Albanian leaders to contribute to the stability of the situation." (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2001). PM

SERBIAN MINISTER OUTLINES PLAN FOR PRESEVO

Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic presented a plan in Belgrade on 30 January aimed at ending guerrilla activity in the demilitarized buffer zone along Serbia's border with Kosova in the Presevo region. Covic envisions a peaceful end to the tensions in the area but did not rule out using the Yugoslav army or Serbian police to "carry out anti-terrorist action," Reuters reported. Covic ruled out changing borders or introducing autonomy. He nonetheless called for "European standards" in human rights to be introduced and for the integration of the local ethnic Albanians into the Serbian "social system." The government also plans to affect an "economic, political, and social revitalization of the area." It is not clear whether the plan will meet basic Albanian demands for the thinning out of Serbian security forces and a greater political role for the Albanian parties. PM

TENSIONS MOUNT IN KOSOVA

KFOR troops fired tear gas canisters at protesters on 30 January following continuing violence in Mitrovica that has left two ethnic Albanians dead, Reuters reported. At one point peacekeepers intervened to prevent ethnic Albanians from attacking five local Serbs and a Bosnian Muslim. KFOR also blocked a crowd of some 1,000 Albanians from crossing into Serbian-held northern Mitrovica. The violence came in response to the killing of an Albanian teenager in clashes with Serbs the previous day. A curfew is in force from 10 pm to 6 am. London's the "Guardian" said that the latest violence is some of the worst Mitrovica has seen "for several months." The daily quoted local Albanians as saying that the protests are directed against French KFOR, whom many Albanians regard as pro-Serbian. On 31 January, peacekeepers fired teargas canisters to break-up a crowd of 1,000 ethnic Albanian protesters in Mitrovica, Reuters reported. PM

SERBIAN JUSTICE MINISTER: MILOSEVIC TO THE HAGUE

Vladan Batic said in Belgrade on 30 January that "it is only a matter of time and whether [former President Slobodan Milosevic] will surrender or be extradited by the new authorities" to The Hague, Reuters reported. Batic added that Yugoslav laws will be changed "within the next three months" to permit his extradition, "The Wall Street Journal" added. Batic noted that chief tribunal prosecutor Carla Del Ponte did not "insist on rapid moves" to extradite Milosevic during her recent visit to Belgrade. Instead, she stressed that those indicted must at some point go to The Hague. Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus told "Glas javnosti" of 30 January that Milosevic should turn himself in to the tribunal, adding that "this is his last chance to do something useful for his country." Labus stressed that Yugoslavia "will pay a high economic price" unless Milosevic leaves the political scene by 1 April. On that date, the U.S. government will decide whether to grant extensive aid to Serbia. PM

CROATIAN PRESIDENT: TRILATERAL SUMMIT DEPENDS ON EXTRADITION

Stipe Mesic told the Sarajevo daily "Dnevni avaz" of 31 January that calls for a summit of Yugoslav, Croatian, and Bosnian leaders are premature before Belgrade extradites indicted war criminals. PM

TWO MORE SERBIAN POLICE BOSSES SACKED

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said in Belgrade on 30 January that the government has fired Vlastimir Djordjevic and Obrad Stevanovic as deputies to the minister of the interior for police affairs, "Danas" reported. Sreten Lukic takes their place. The previous day, Djindjic repeated his long-standing position that the government is determined to uproot organized crime and to depoliticize the police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2001). PM

MONTENEGRIN AUTHORITIES GIVE YUGOSLAV OFFICE NO WELCOME

Municipal officials in Podgorica removed the sign on the building of the federal Yugoslav government's new office in the Montenegrin capital, Beta reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2001). City officials said they carried out the move "at the request of citizens." The Montenegrin authorities previously called the opening of the bureau unlawful. PM

MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT TAKES CASE TO U.S.

Milo Djukanovic leaves for a six-day visit to Washington on 31 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2001). He will present the case for Montenegrin self-determination to President George W. Bush, top government officials, and members of the policy community, "Pobjeda" reported. PM

CROATIAN FOOD COMPANY TO OPEN SERBIAN BRANCH

In yet another case of a former Yugoslav company seeking to reclaim its old markets in other republics, the Croatian food giant Podravka announced in Zagreb on 30 January that it plans to open a branch in Belgrade later in the year, AP reported. "Yugoslavia is Podravka's natural market," said Damir Polancec, a company executive. Yugoslav consumers "are looking forward to see our products returning to their stores," he added. Podravka makes soups, baby foods, and seasonings. PM

BOSNIA BARS U.S. GENETICALLY ENGINEERED CORN

The U.S. embassy in Sarajevo said in a statement on 30 January that it is "disappointed that Bosnian officials did not accept 40,000 metric tons of corn for animal feed being donated by the United States... The corn that was offered...met U.S. government standards for human and animal consumption. The inclusion of genetically-modified corn is not unusual," dpa reported. The Sarajevo authorities say that more research is needed into the effects of genetically-modified foods. Officials in the Republika Srpska originally appealed for donations of animal feed after last summer's drought, but Banja Luka is no more enthusiastic than Sarajevo about accepting the corn. PM

OSCE PROTESTS POLICE VIOLENCE AGAINST ALBANIAN OPPOSITION POLITICIAN

The OSCE issued a statement in Tirana on 30 January in which it condemned the physical mistreatment of Democratic Party activist Azgan Haklaj while in police custody, dpa reported. The statement added that "the OSCE is able to confirm that Haklaj has received injuries, bruising, and lacerations, which are consistent with his allegation of police assault while in police custody." The OSCE called on the police to behave in a more professional manner. Haklaj was arrested in conjunction with an attack by opposition supporters on the police station in Bajram Curri, where he heads the local branch of the Democratic Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2000). He is charged with helping organize attacks on state institutions, which could lead to up to 15 years imprisonment. His trial is slated to begin shortly. PM

STATUE OF MARSHAL ANTONESCU TO BE ERECTED IN ROMANIA

Local officials in Bacau said on 30 January that a statue of pro-Nazi leader Marshal Ion Antonescu will be erected in their eastern Romanian city, AP reported. Antonescu, who came to power in 1940 and was ousted four years later, is blamed for the deaths of some 250,000 Jews. He was executed by the communist government in 1946. Some Romanians consider him a hero for his opposition to the USSR and communism, and want him rehabilitated. Bacau Mayor Dumitru Sechelariu said "whatever the criticism, his merits in the fight for the country cannot be denied." PB

ROMANIA AND ISRAEL SIGN TRADE TREATY

Israeli officials signed a trade treaty in Bucharest on 30 January aimed at increasing joint ventures between the two countries, AP reported. Romanian Foreign Trade official Cristian Colteneau said companies in both countries will benefit from tariff exemptions under the agreement. Some 600,000 Romanian Jews live in Israel. PB

BRAGHIS ALLIANCE DENIES ACCUSATIONS OF IMPROPER CAMPAIGNING

The Braghis Alliance rejected accusations of improper campaigning from three of its opponents in the 25 February parliamentary elections, Infotag reported 30 January. A day earlier, leaders of the Communist Party (MCP), Party of Revival and Accord (PRAM), and Democratic Party (DPM) complained to the Central Electoral Commission, demanding it force state officials to temporarily resign, "as they utilize the entire executive power system for the Alliance's benefit." In response, the Braghis Alliance said that the election campaign involves "not the entire executive power system but only candidates and their proxies," and that all of them have resigned, in conformity with the law. DW

MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTER TELLS RUSSIANS

TRANSDNIESTER WEAPONS GO TO CHECHNYA Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicolae Cernomaz told Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov during his recent visit to Moscow that "the weapons manufactured in Transdniester have begun shooting in Chechnya," Basa-Press reported 30 January. Cernomaz said that credible experts had produced evidence demonstrating that the breakaway region of Transdniester sells weapons to parties involved in armed conflicts. The Transdniester administration does not deny producing weapons, but denies having ever sold weapons to Chechen fighters. DW

BULGARIA'S POLICE CHIEF RESIGNS

General Vasil Vasilev submitted his resignation as national police chief on 31 January after one of his officers was arrested and charged with the shooting death of a teenage girl, AP reported. Vasilev said on national radio that he must take responsibility for action of his officers. His resignation must be accepted by President Petar Stoyanov. Lieutenant Kalin Kisyov was arrested on 30 January after confessing to the murder (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2001), which apparently occurred when he accidentally shot his gun while in a restaurant. The killing led Stoyanov to hold an emergency meeting with the interior minister and other officials over a spate of recent killings and other violent crime occurring in the country. PB




GAIDAR OFFERS MOSTLY POSITIVE VIEW OF PUTIN


By Julie Corwin

Russia's former acting premier, Yegor Gaidar, has offered a largely positive assessment of President Vladimir Putin's first year in office.

Gaidar, now a State Duma deputy with the Union of Rightist Forces faction, spoke on Monday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think-tank.

He said: "Last year in Russia we evidently had very serious political stabilization. We left the period of long-term economic and political instability which followed the collapse of the totalitarian system of the Soviet Union."

Gaidar expressed disagreement with presidential economic adviser Andrei Illarionov, who has charged that the government led by Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has squandered the opportunity to conduct serious reforms afforded by last year's run of high oil prices.

"I do not agree that economic reform agenda of 2000 was weak and unfulfilled," Gaidar said. "I think the government was able to choose quite a few important priorities and got important results, one being the tax reform. It's very difficult to push through a radical tax reform."

However, interspersed between his praise for what the government achieved last year was criticism about an "evident slowdown" in economic reforms so far this year, and the danger of going too far with other reforms, such as the strengthening of the central government vis a vis the regions. "As in everything in Russia, you can overdo, and you can overcentralize," he cautioned.

Noting that there has been talk about rewriting the Russian Constitution, Gaidar said this would be the "craziest idea" since it would subsume the government's entire agenda.

Asked about the current controversy over the independent media outlet NTV, Gaidar was careful to make a distinction between the government and the presidential administration. Gaidar said that the pressure against Vladimir Gusinsky's Media-MOST Group has come from the Kremlin, not the government. However, Gaidar said even from the Kremlin "the message is mixed."

In Putin's meeting with journalists, Gaidar declared that Putin "said all the right things." Nevertheless, "most Russians" -- including his own political group the Union of Rightist Forces -- "do not believe that NTV's problems are mostly financial." In a statement that contradicts President Putin's own stance, Gaidar declared that "it is impossible to divide financial problems and the press's freedom."

In Moscow, meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly said Monday that he does not plan to alter the status of private television channel NTV.

NTV General-Director and leading anchorman Yevgeny Kiselyov, who met with Putin along with 10 other NTV broadcasters and reporters, quoted the Russian president as saying that the channel should remain "in its present state."

"The president says that he is for the preservation of NTV's journalistic staff and for keeping the company out of state hands. I want to stress it. He said this."

The meeting took place in the Kremlin amid growing fears that state prosecutors are targeting the private channel as part of Putin's bitter feud with NTV owner Gusinsky. Gusinsky, founder and chairman of NTV's parent company Media-MOST, is currently under house arrest in Spain and is awaiting possible extradition on fraud charges brought by Russian prosecutors.


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