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Newsline - February 1, 2001




PUTIN ALLOCATES BLAME FOR ENERGY CRISIS

At a 31 January meeting with Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, President Vladimir Putin said that three parties are responsible for the energy crisis in the Russian Far East: energy monopoly UES, the energy ministry, and the regional administration headed by Primorskii Krai Yevgenii Nazdratenko, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Putin said that "there was no appropriate reaction" from any of these groups, and that Moscow had been forced to help Primorskii Krai "at the expense of other territories and regions where the situation is no less grave." Meanwhile, Nazdratenko fired his deputy, Viktor Chepik, who was responsible for the energy sector. Nazdratenko was then hospitalized after suffering a suspected heart attack, Russian agencies reported. One of Nazdratenko's advisors, Natalya Vstovskaya, told reporters that the governor's illness was connected with his worries about recent developments in the region and his mother's recent death. PG/JAC

PUTIN, BUSH AGREE TO EXPAND DIALOGUE

For the first time since George W. Bush became U.S. president, President Putin spoke to him by telephone on 31 January, Russian agencies reported. Putin's press service said that Bush had initiated the call. During their conversation, the two agreed to increase dialogue and cooperation, and Putin expressed his hope that the case of Union of Russia and Belarus secretary Pavel Borodin, who is being detained in New York pending an extradition hearing, will be resolved in a way that will "comply with both legal and humanitarian principles." PG

PUTIN CALLS FOR STUDY ON STATE INVESTMENTS

President Putin has directed Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov to present a report in January 2002 on "optimizing state participation in the capital" of banks, investment firms, and stock and financial companies, presidential spokesman Aleksei Gromov told ITAR-TASS on 31 January. PG

PUTIN COMPARED TO YELTSIN ON LATTER'S 70TH BIRTHDAY

Writing in "Novye Izvestiya" on 31 January, the 70th birthday of former President Boris Yeltsin, who remains in hospital, Vyacheslav Shishkin compared him with his successor, Putin. "Yeltsin became a reformer after leaving the system in which he was raised," Shishkin writes. "Unlike Yeltsin, Putin has never lost his links with that system. What's more, he belonged to the most conservative and perfectly structured part of that system--the secret services--which do not have any ex-members or retirees, just an 'active reserve.'" Shishkin argues that Putin acts not on the basis of democratic values but rather "from a different political dimension. This dimension is simple: it divides people into friends and enemies. It is very simple to become an enemy: all it takes is not being an ally." As a result, Shishkin suggests that Russia is entering into "a period of depressing uncertainty." PG

KREMLIN CONFIRMS GOVERNMENT TO BE REFORMED...

A senior Kremlin official told ITAR-TASS that plans are in the works to reform the structure and performance of the government, but he denied that there will be any "personnel revolution," as many Moscow commentators have suggested. The official provided few details, noting that mergers of some ministries are being discussed in a preliminary way. But he did say that calls to amend the constitution or introduce a vice presidency are "not serious and are not being considered." PG

...AS SPECULATION ABOUT CHANGES GROWS

Writing in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 31 January, Marina Volkova said that the paper's sources predict "a staff revolution in late March to early May" in the upper reaches of the Russian government. She suggested, as others have, that President Putin may have had to agree to staff stability for a year as a precondition for his replacing Boris Yeltsin. (Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko said that such reports were "utter rubbish," Interfax reported the same day.) Among the prime candidates for replacement with Putin nominees are, among others, Prime Minister Kasyanov, Tax Minister Gennadii Bukaev, Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, Central Bank chief Viktor Gerashchenko, and UES chief Anatolii Chubais. PG

PRESIDENTIAL ENVOYS TO REPORT TO VOLOSHIN

President Putin has signed a decree that will reduce the size and importance of the presidential administration's Main Territorial Department and require that the envoys report directly to Aleksandr Voloshin, the head of the presidential administration. The paper suggested that Sergei Samoilov, the director of the Main Territorial Department, is likely to be dismissed, but the paper said that the changes may give the envoys more powers in some respects but fewer in others. It quoted a senior administration official who said that "these measures will make it clear to the presidential envoys that their task is 'to coordinate, not to rule.'" PG

PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY TO REDUCE RANKS OF FEDERAL BUREAUCRATS

The number of federal workers in the Siberian federal district will be reduced, Igor Prostyakov, first deputy presidential envoy to that district, announced on 31 January, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to Prostyakov, a restructuring of all federal organs in the district is expected in the spring of this year. Prostyakov said that the number of such workers in his district is unjustifiably high, because the federal center over a long period had transferred part of its function to the regions. As a result, the number of bureaucrats taken in to perform these tasks increased by 5-10 times. At the same time, according to Prostyakov, the large number of bureaucrats did not stop the regions from making improper economic and administrative decisions. Yevgenii Primakov, during his brief stint as prime minister, once estimated the number of federal bureaucrats employed in the regions at more than 300,000. JAC

PUTIN SAYS CHANGES AHEAD FOR FEDERATION COUNCIL...

At a 31 January meeting with 11 of the 34 new members of the Federation Council, President Putin said that reforms of the Federation Council are designed to make the upper house more efficient, with the members serving there on a full-time basis, Russian agencies reported. He said that the exact future status of the Federation Council remains open: "Time will show," Putin said. "No one is going to rush things." In other comments, he suggested that the Council's most pressing tasks are to work on the labor and land codes. PG

...AS OTHERS DISCUSS WHAT THEY MIGHT BE

"Segodnya" on 31 January said that the Kremlin plans to make both personnel and organizational changes in the Federation Council to make it "easier to manage." The paper said that President Putin hopes to oust Council Speaker Yegor Stroev because, in the words of one Kremlin aide, "he constantly stresses that the Federation Council is a house of parliament for the regions. It is time to put an end to such feudalism." Citing unnamed sources, "Segodnya" claimed that Stroev has been offered the post of speaker of the Russia-Belarus Union parliament if he agrees to resign his current position. One possible successor, the paper said, is Sergei Popov, the head of the executive committee of "Unity." The paper said that the Kremlin hopes to organize the Council along party lines as well. It concluded that all the regional leaders there can do is "bargain with the Kremlin about the terms of an honorable surrender." PG

FEDERATION COUNCIL APPROVES SOME DUMA MEASURES...

On 31 January, the first day of its current session, the Federation Council approved, among other Duma-passed legislation, bills that will increase taxes on gambling establishments, allow governors to seek more terms in office, provide protection to former presidents, and change the term for Constitutional Court justices, ITAR-TASS reported. It also approved measures extending benefits for Chornobyl clean-up workers and allowing reserve officers to serve six to 12 month contracts as peacekeepers. Most passed overwhelmingly. PG

...REJECTS OTHERS

But the Federation Council also showed that it was in no mood to act merely as a rubber stamp for the lower house. It rejected legislation that would have allowed ombudsmen to visit prisons and investigation facilities without permission or advance notice. It rejected amendments to the criminal and criminal procedure codes designed to liberalize the country's legal system, although members said that they accepted many of the ideas contained in the bill. And it rejected amendments to legislation regulating the use of nuclear power after concluding that the bill did not provide for sufficient government control. PG

LAND CODE DRAFT LIKELY TO GO TO DUMA IN SUMMER

According to the 31 January "Izvestiya," the draft land code is likely to be discussed in the cabinet and then the State Council before being sent to the Duma for consideration. Given those constraints, Minister for Economic Development and Trade German Gref said that the land code may actually be passed this year, although he acknowledged that laws governing the sale of agricultural land are likely to be postponed until later. "Izvestiya" also quoted Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev as saying that in all likelihood, the regions will be allowed to decide whether farm land can be bought and sold. PG

MOSCOW SEEKS TO MEET DEFECTOR IN U.S.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on 31 January that it is seeking to arrange a meeting between its consulate in New York and the first secretary of its mission to the United Nations, who left his office "under unclarified circumstances," Interfax reported. Ministry spokesman Yevgenii Voronin said that the U.S. State Department had inexplicably gone public about the case but had not allowed Russian officials to meet with the Russian diplomat to learn whether he was acting of his own free will. PG

DIFFICULT IMF TALKS BEGIN IN MOSCOW

International Monetary Fund officials arrived in Moscow to begin talks with Russian officials about debt rescheduling amid suggestions that Moscow is interested primarily in putting pressure on the Paris Club of creditors and will not get any new assistance from the IMF, AP reported on 31 January. The best that Moscow can hope for, IMF officials said, would be a precautionary agreement, allowing it to draw upon funds only if Russia's economy were to decline precipitously. PG

AMOCO SALE OF LUKOIL SHARES MAY LEAD KREMLIN TO SELL OFF ITS SHARES AS WELL

British Petroleum Amoco sold its 7 percent shares in LUKoil back to that company for a sizeable profit, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 January. That in turn has caused more Russian officials to consider selling off the Russian government's 6.13 percent stake in that company, the news service said. PG

RUSSIAN-JAPANESE RELATIONSHIP STALLS

A commentary in "Vremya novostei" on 31 January suggested that Moscow's relationship with Tokyo is not developing well despite military-to-military contacts and continuing predictions of a summit meeting. Duma deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) Irina Khakamada said that she doubts there will be a peace treaty between the two countries in the near future, Interfax-Northwest reported. Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori said that such a treaty, along with geopolitical partnership and broad economic cooperation, is a precondition for significantly expanded ties, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. PG

MYSTERY LETTER WAS WRITTEN BY YAVLINSKY

A letter some Western news outlets said last week had been written by President Putin was in fact prepared by Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinsky, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 31 January. The letter in question called for a more cooperative relationship between Moscow and Washington on a wide variety of issues. PG

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER EXPRESSES CONCERNS ABOUT EU ENLARGEMENT

Igor Ivanov said in Bratislava on 31 January that he fears the continued expansion of the European Union could adversely affect Russia's economic ties with future members of that body, Interfax reported. In other comments, Ivanov reiterated Moscow's opposition to the eastward expansion of NATO but said that Russia will continue to maintain good relations with applicant countries. After visiting Slovakia, Ivanov flew to Switzerland where he plans to discuss the case of Pavel Borodin, Russian agencies said. In another Borodin-related move, Russian prosecutors invited Swiss investigators to come to Moscow to discuss the situation. PG

MOSCOW COMPLAINS ABOUT U.S. VISA PLANS

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 31 January said that an American plan to introduce new transit visa requirements will represent "a considerable limitation on Russian citizens' rights to freedom of movement," ITAR-TASS reported. The Foreign Ministry statement said that it hopes Washington will take Russia's position into account. If that does not happen, the statement said, Moscow reserves the right to "take proper measures against U.S. citizens." PG

DUMA DEFENSE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN SAYS ALL NUCLEAR STATES SHOULD NEGOTIATE START III

Duma Defense Committee chairman Andrei Nikolaev (People's Deputy) said on 31 January that all countries with nuclear weapons should participate in START III talks, but that those negotiations should begin only after the U.S. Senate completes ratification of two documents under this treaty. PG

MOSCOW PLANS TO INCREASE OIL EXPORTS

A Russian government commission has decided to increase the export of oil in February by 3 million tons over the planned amount, ITAR-TASS said, citing an announcement by Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko. PG

EU AMBASSADORS MEET WITH NTV REPORTERS

The ambassadors of the European Union countries hosted a meeting on 31 January with the journalists of embattled NTV, Reuters reported. NTV General-Director Yevgenii Kiselev said he viewed the meeting as a "gesture of support." In other comments, Kiselev said that "all NTV's leading journalists will leave if there is a hostile takeover [of the station] by the state." In other developments, a Russian broadcasting official said he expects that U.S. media magnate Ted Turner will in fact invest in NTV in the near future, possibly in conjunction with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Interfax reported. And the Moscow arbitration court on 31 January postponed by mutual consent a tax case against Media-MOST. PG

GUSINSKY FIGHTS EXTRADITION

Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinsky told a Spanish court on 31 January that he will fight extradition to Russia because he said he does not believe that "Russian justice is independent," Reuters reported. The case will now be heard before a panel of High Court justices in Madrid. PG

CORRECTION:

"RFE/RL Newsline" erroneously reported on 31 January that 270 kilograms of plutonium had been stolen from a research institute in St. Petersburg. The substance in question was in fact not plutonium but platinum.




PROSECUTOR DEMANDS 15-YEAR SENTENCE FOR FORMER KARABAKH DEFENSE MINISTER

Prosecutor Vartan Avagian on 31 January called on the Supreme Court of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic to hand down a 15-year prison sentence on the enclave's former Defense Minister, Samvel Babayan, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. He also said that Babayan's property should be confiscated, and that he should be barred from holding any senior government position for five years after his release. The prosecution argues that Babayan master-minded the attempt last March to assassinate Karabakh President Arkadii Ghukasian with the aim of seizing power. Babayan has denied any involvement in that attack (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2000). LF

SENIOR AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL SLAMS WAR INVALIDS' DEMANDS

Presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev told Turan on 31 January that the Azerbaijani leadership considers the hunger-striking Karabakh war invalids' demands for increased benefits "illegal," "groundless" and "politically motivated" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 31 January 2001). He said that the government already provides them with the maximum financial assistance possible given the size of the state budget, adding that "It is inadmissible to put in groundless claims on behalf of invalids, demonstrate disrespect for the laws, and use the language of ultimatums and pressure in conversation with state institutions." Police in Baku on 1 February again surrounded the building where the headquarters of the society representing the invalids is located, Turan reported. Police have also expelled hunger-striking invalids from premises in Khachmas, Guba and Hadjigabul. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT NAMES NEW BAKU MAYOR

President Heidar Aliyev appointed Hajibala Abutalibov as mayor of Baku on 30 January, Turan reported the following day. Abutalibov had served as mayor of Surakhany from 1994-1999, when he was named a deputy prime minister. He succeeds Rafael Allakhverdiev, a long-time ally of President Aliyev who submitted his resignation and split with the present leadership last fall (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 40, 13 October 2000 and No. 42, 27 October 2000). Allakhverdiev had identified Abutalibov as his probable successor. LF

AZERBAIJANI JOURNALISTS PROTEST INCREASED VAT ON NEWSPRINT

A group of Azerbaijani journalists picketed the State Customs Committee on 31 January to protest the recent 100 percent increase in VAT on imported newsprint, Turan reported. They accused the Azerbaijani authorities of trying to bankrupt independent newspapers and said they will conduct further protest actions unless the increase is rescinded. Turan reported on 1 February that the Azerbaijani Commodity Exchange has announced as auction of newsprint to be held the following day, for which the initial bid is fixed at 3 million manats ($627) per ton, plus a currency exchange duty of 1 percent. The registration fee for participation in the auction is 30,000 manats. LF

IRAN SENDS HUMANITARIAN AID TO AZERBAIJAN

A consignment from Iran's Imam Khomeini Charity Fund that includes 60 tons of rice, 20 tons of dates, and cooking oil arrived in Baku on 31 January, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported the next day. The foodstuffs are to be distributed among needy families by the Fund. According to Bahram Kazemzadeh, who heads the Fund's Baku office, his branch supports more than 10,000 families. Ahmad Qazi, Tehran's Ambassador to Baku, said that provision of such a donation is in line with the goals of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of Iran's Islamic Revolution. AWS

UN SECURITY COUNCIL EXTENDS GEORGIAN OBSERVER MISSION'S MANDATE...

The UN Security Council voted unanimously on 31 January to prolong for a further six months the mandate of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), RFE/RL's UN correspondent reported. Noting that "the situation in the conflict zone remains very volatile," the Council adopted a resolution calling on Georgia and particularly Abkhazia to embark on immediate talks aimed at reaching a political settlement of the conflict that would define Abkhazia's status within Georgia. Georgian Ambassador to the UN Petre Chkheidze objected to a provision of that resolution that called on Georgia to sign a draft agreement on peace and the non-resumption of hostilities that has been under discussion for over two years, terming it "unacceptable" and "dubious in several respects." He said insistence on signing that agreement could jeopardize Abkhaz-Georgian talks on confidence-building to be held in Yalta in March. LF

...AS RUSSIA DOES LIKEWISE FOR PEACEKEEPING FORCE

Also on 31 January, the Federation Council complied with a request from Russian President Vladimir Putin and voted by 116 to three to extend for a further six months the mandate of the 3,000-strong Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, Russian agencies reported. LF

GEORGIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH, JEWISH COMMUNITY SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENT

Representatives of the Georgian Orthodox Church and Georgia's Jewish community signed an agreement on 31 January at the Georgian parliament pledging mutual respect and support, Caucasus Press reported. The two denominations also vowed to cooperate in furthering democratization and peace and stability in Georgia and the entire South Caucasus. The Georgian Orthodox Church has signed similar agreements with the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Catholic Church in Georgia and the All-Caucasus Muslim Religious Board. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT CREATES NATIONAL FUND

Nursultan Nazarbaev has used the $660 million that Kazakhstan received from the sale last year to Chevron Overseas of a further 5 percent stake in the Tengizchevroil joint venture to create a national fund, Reuters and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 31 January. The fund is intended to offset losses to the national budget resulting from fluctuations in the world market prices for raw materials. Nazarbaev will head the governing board of that fund, of which the prime minister and national bank governor will be ex officio members. LF

PRIVATE TV CHANNELS SUSPEND BROADCASTS TO PROTEST DRAFT KAZAKH MEDIA LAW

Private television stations in Qaraghandy, Aqtobe, Shymkent, Oskemen, Ekibastuz and Temirtau suspended broadcasts for one day to register their objections to the draft media law currently under discussion in the lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 31 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2001). Further discussion of that draft was scheduled for 31 January but has been postponed. LF

ONE KAZAKH OPPOSITION POLITICIAN STEPS DOWN...

Gaziz Aldamzharov announced his resignation as deputy chairman of the opposition Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan on 29 January, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported on 31 January. Aldamzharov told RFE/RL he had done for the sake of his family and friends. He explained that his eldest son has been unemployed for three years and his youngest son for two years, and that both his wife and brother have repeatedly been unable to find work. Friends of his in Aqtau and Atyrau have also been sacked from their jobs because of their connections with him. The Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan is headed by former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who currently lives in the U.S. LF

...AS ANOTHER IS STABBED

Azamat Party Deputy Chairman Platon Pak was hospitalized in Almaty late on 30 January after unknown persons broke into his apartment and stabbed him, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. LF

JAILED KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER'S FAMILY TO SEEK POLITICAL ASYLUM ABROAD...

Marsel Kulov, the younger brother of jailed former Vice President Feliks Kulov, told journalists in Bishkek on 31 January that he and his other three siblings, together with their families, want to leave Kyrgyzstan for either Germany, the U.S. or Australia to escape political persecution, Reuters and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The total number of family members involved is over 100. A former police colonel, Marsel Kulov was constrained to resign from the Interior Ministry last year. LF

...AS HIS PARTY OUTLINES FUTURE PLANS

Emil Aliev, a leading member of Feliks Kulov's opposition Ar-Namys Party. told journalists in Bishkek on 31 January that the party is continuing with preparations to participate in a round-table discussion proposed by President Askar Akaev, which government, opposition and NGO representatives will also attend, Interfax reported. Aliyev said Ar-Namys has a total membership of 10,000, and will not yield to harassment and pressure from the Kyrgyz authorities to abandon its activities. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT, UN ENVOY DISCUSS AFGHAN FUGITIVES

Imomali Rakhmonov met in Dushanbe on 31 January with UN Representative Francesc Vendrell to discuss the plight of the estimated 10,000-12,000 displaced persons camped on the Afghan side of the Afghan-Tajik border. Vendrell admitted that those fugitives include many persons who are armed, but called on "the entire world community" to provide assistance to them, characterizing their plight as a "humanitarian catastrophe." It is not clear whether Vendrell tried to persuade Rakhmonov to allow the fugitives to enter Tajikistan as the UNHCR has requested. Tajikistan has said it cannot do so, first because some of the displaced persons are armed and second because doing so would destabilize the domestic political situation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 25 January 2001). The Russian government on 31 January dispatched some 200 tons of humanitarian aid for the Afghan fugitives, ITAR-TASS reported. Rakhmonov again argued that there can be no military solution to the ongoing civil war in Afghanistan and called on the UN Security Council to intensify mediation efforts by the "Six-Plus-Two" group of countries. LF

MORE ISLAMISTS DETAINED IN TAJIKISTAN

Police in Dushanbe arrested 11 members of the banned Hizb-ut-Tahrir party on 30 January, Reuters and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. They had reportedly been engaged in spreading banned Islamic propaganda over the past two years. Eight members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir were sentenced to various prison terms on 14 January and two more were arrested in Dushanbe on 24 January. LF

TAJIK ALUMINUM OUTPUT UP 30 PERCENT

Tajikistan's Aluminum Plant produced 300,000 tons of that metal in 2000, an increase of 30 percent over the previous year, the plant's director, Abduqodir Ermatov, told Asia Plus on 31 January. He added that it is planned to increase annual production to 430,000 tons by 2005. Aluminum accounts for some 55 percent of the country's exports. LF




BELARUSIAN TRADE UNIONS COME UNDER FIRE

The Belarusian Federation of Trade Unions is planning to stage a rally in Minsk on 14 February demanding that wages be increased to catch up with price hikes. The Federation's Presidium said on 31 January that the authorities have already taken measures to prevent the planned protest, Belapan reported. The Presidium noted that many plants in Minsk fully paid December wages to their personnel, the first such occurrence in several months. Moreover, the state media have launched a smear campaign to discredit the Federation and its leader, Uladzimir Hancharyk, who has declared his intent to run in this year's presidential ballot. The Constitutional Court on 30 January begun to determine whether the current system of collecting trade union membership fees conforms with the constitution. Hancharyk has recently signed a cooperation deal with Mikhail Shmakov, head of Russia's Federation of Independent Trade Unions. JM

ANTI-KUCHMA PROTESTERS MARCH ON KYIV FROM WEST

Some 1,000 protesters on 31 January started a march from the city of Zhytomyr in western Ukraine on Kyiv to demand that President Leonid Kuchma step down because of the allegations that he is implicated in the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, AP reported. The organizers of the "Ukraine Without Kuchma" protest action expect that more anti-Kuchma marches on Kyiv will follow. According to an audio tape provided by Kuchma's former bodyguard, Mykola Melnychenko, the president allegedly instructed state officials, including Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, to get rid of Gongadze. The tape's most incriminating words ascribed to Kuchma and related to Gongadze are as follows: "To deport him [expletive] to Georgia and throw him out there [expletive]... It is necessary for Chechens to kidnap him and take him over to Chechnya [expletive] and ask for ransom." JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKERS SAID TO HAVE ALL MELNYCHENKO'S TAPES

Lawmaker Viktor Shyshkin, deputy head of the parliamentary ad hoc commission to investigate the Gongadze case, said on 31 January that the commission now has all the recordings made by Mykola Melnychenko in President Kuchma's office, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported. Shyshkin added that in the interests of the investigation, the commission will not disclose the content of all the tapes. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz said earlier that Melnychenko made 300 hours of recordings over a period of two to three months. JM

WESTERN ENVOYS CONCERNED OVER UKRAINE'S TENDER FOR RADIO FREQUENCY

The U.S. and British ambassadors and the German charge d'affaires on 31 January told National Television and Radio Council head Borys Kholod that they are concerned about the fairness of a tender for an FM frequency used by Kyiv's Radio Kontinent, Interfax reported. Kontinent, which rebroadcasts programs from the BBC, Voice of America, and Deutsche Welle, is also known for its criticism of the Ukrainian authorities. Missing journalist Heorhiy Gongadze was Kontinent's news editor. Kontinent director Serhiy Sholokh has accused the Ukrainian government of planning to shut down the station under the pretext of reviewing broadcasting licenses (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2001). Kholod told the envoys that there will be no problems with the retransmission of Western radio stations. Kholod added that Kontinent should apply for a new license as all other Ukrainian broadcasters have done. JM

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN KYIV

Ukrainian President Kuchma said after his meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on 31 January that Ukraine is interested in deepening its cooperation with Iran, particularly in the economic sphere, Interfax reported. Kuchma and his Iranian visitor discussed the joint production of the Ukrainian-designed medium-range An-140 passenger plane. It is expected that the first test flight of an Iranian-built An-40 will take place next week during anniversary celebrations of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko said he and Kharrazi discussed transporting Iranian oil and gas via Ukraine to Europe. "The idea is very attractive as we are trying to diversify sources for energy supplies," Zlenko said without elaborating. JM

UKRAINE'S FOREIGN DEBT SHRINKS BY $2 BILLION IN 2000

A Finance Ministry official told journalists on 31 January that Ukraine's foreign debt on 1 January 2001 decreased to $10.35 billion from $12.44 on 1 January 2000. The official added that the state's domestic debt stood at $3.8 billion, or 13 percent of GDP, at the beginning of this year. JM

ESTONIA COULD JOIN EU IN 2004

Estonia and Poland could be the next two countries to join the European Union, gaining membership in 2004, analysts from Skandinavska Enskilda Banken said in a report issued on 31 January, ETA reported. Estonia's economy is expected to grow by 5.5 percent in 2001 and by 5 percent in 2002, SEB said. Latvia's economy should grow by 4.5 percent in 2001 and 5 percent in 2002. The growth in Lithuania is forecast to be 3.5 percent and 4.5 percent accordingly. AAP

LATVIA'S POPULATION CONTINUES TO SHRINK...

The total population of Latvia declined by 13,800 persons, or 0.6 percent, last year despite a rise in the birth rate and a decline in the death rate, BNS reported on 31 January. At the beginning of 2001 Latvia had a population of 2.366 million. AAP

...BUT FOREIGN INVESTMENTS IN LATVIA GROW

The total volume of accrued direct foreign investment in Latvia in 2000 slightly exceeded total direct foreign investment in 1999, according to estimates made by the Bank of Latvia, LETA reported on 31 January. Five countries--the U.S., Germany, Denmark, Estonia, and Sweden--accounted for half of foreign direct investment. AAP

NATO CHIEF BELIEVES LITHUANIA IS READY FOR MEMBERSHIP...

A group of 25 senior NATO officers who have just started a two-week tour of the Baltics have persuaded NATO Secretary-General Lord George Roberston that Lithuania is ready for NATO membership, ELTA reported on 31 January. Robertson expressed this opinion to Lithuanian Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas during the latter's visit to Brussels on 31 January. But Robertson also expressed concern about Lithuanian domestic support for alliance membership, as polls have shown that only 49 percent of Lithuanians are positive about joining the alliance. AAP

...BUT RUSSIA CONTINUES TO OPPOSE ENLARGEMENT

The day that NATO specialists officially began their work in Lithuania, the Lithuanian daily newspaper "Lietuvos rytas" again warned that Russia opposes further NATO enlargement in the Baltics. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in Bratislava on 31 January that the expansion of NATO eastwards could create instability, Reuters reported on 31 January (see Part I above). According to "Lietuvos rytas" on 31 January, the same message was delivered to German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping in Moscow on 30 January by Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov. AAP

LITHUANIA PLANS FOR CLOSING IGNALINA AES

Lithuania's government on 31 January approved a plan to shut down one of two reactors at the country's Soviet-built Ignalina nuclear power plant, AP reported. The process of totally decommissioning the station may take as long as 80 years according to the government's plan. AAP

LITHUANIAN ECONOMY MINISTER DID NOT VIOLATE ETHICS LAW

Lithuania's state ethics commission cleared Economy Minister Eugenijus Maldeikis on 31 January of allegations of ethics violations, saying that it had found no evidence of a conflict of interest, Reuters reported. Maldeikis had allowed a Lithuanian-based Gazprom subsidiary pay for expenses during his recent working visit to Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January, 2001). Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas had said earlier that Maldeikis would have to step down if the ethics commission ruling was unfavorable. AAP

POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER TO BE FIRST TO LOOK INTO COMMUNIST SECRET SERVICE FILES

Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski has received the first application form to look into Poland's communist-era secret service archives, Polish media reported on 31 January. Under a bill on the National Remembrance Institute passed in 1999, all Poles are eligible to apply for their personal files, but the institute will open them only to people it considers victims of repression. They will be able to find out the names of people who informed on them. Bartoszewski, a 78-year-old survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp and a former prisoner of the communist regime, is among 20 Poles expected to get early access to their files because of old age and their prominent roles in the anti-Communist opposition. Bartoszewski said he is "not going to do anything" with any information he finds in his file, AP reported. JM

CZECH SENATOR'S MEETING WITH CASTRO DELAYED

A 1 February meeting between Czech Senate chairman Petr Pithart and Cuban President Fidel Castro, which was widely expected to provide a breakthrough in the case of two Czechs detained in Cuba for "subversive" activities, was postponed, Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Hynek Kmonicek told CTK on 1 February. Pithart is to leave Cuba late today (Cuban time), but Czech Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil said there is "a high probability that a meeting will be held before" he departs DW

CZECH ARMY DOCTOR DENIES EXISTENCE OF 'BALKAN SYNDROME'

According to a member of the Czech army chemical unit recently returned from conducting tests in Kosova, the "Balkan syndrome"--an alleged link between depleted uranium ammunition used by NATO and cancer--does not exist, CTK reported on 31 January. Otakar Neruda, one of a seven-member team that carried out radiation and chemical tests at sites where KFOR troops, including Czechs, were stationed, said the tests had found no unusual level of radiation. He said levels were "lower than in the Czech Republic, and there are no surface contamination levels." DW

CZECH ARMY PARALYZED BY FINANCIAL PROBLEMS, BAD CONTRACTS

The Czech army is running up losses of billions of Czechs crowns in bad contracts, which could affect its ability to hold training exercises, CTK reported 1 February, citing "Mlada fronta Dnes." "This year we lack one billion crowns ($27 million), but next year it will be three," said the new deputy defense minister for economic affairs, Jaroslav Tvrdik. In one instance, the ministry paid 1.2 billion crowns ($32 million) for a logistical information system that "does not work," said Tvrdik, adding that the ministry does not have the money to complete it. He added that no one person is to blame. "One person can never be responsible" for the ministry's current state, but rather "hundreds of people who don't work as they should." DW

MOSCOW WARNS SLOVAKIA OVER NATO MEMBERSHIP BID

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov met on 31 January in Bratislava with his Slovak counterpart, Eduard Kukan, TASR reported. Ivanov told journalists after that meeting that Russia does not consider the process of NATO enlargement as the right way to build European security. Ivanov noted that Russia will take "constrained measures" as a response to steps that might endanger "pan-European stability," without giving any details. Meanwhile, Premier Mikulas Dzurinda said the same day that he is going to launch a "personal foreign political offensive" during his upcoming visit to the U.S to lobby President George W. Bush for his support for Slovakia's NATO membership bid. Dzurinda's government is hoping the country will be included in the next expansion wave at NATO's 2002 summit in Prague. JM

ORBAN, TORGYAN DISCUSS SMALLHOLDER AFFAIRS

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Independent Smallholders' (FKGP) Chairman Jozsef Torgyan on 31 January discussed what Torgyan called "the libel campaign" against his son, Attila, as well as internal FKGP affairs. Torgyan told reporters after the meeting that his dismissal as Agriculture Minister was not discussed. Regarding allegations that his son illegally received some 3 million forints ($10,400), Torgyan said he asked Orban to investigate the matter as soon as possible. In other news, the FKGP dissidents said they will stage demonstrations, if necessary, to force Torgyan to resign as party chairman. MSZ




UN DISMISSES URANIUM THREAT IN KOSOVA

A four-member UN scientific team has concluded that there is no proven link between weapons containing depleted uranium and cancer in Kosova, AP reported from Prishtina on 31 January (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 January 2001). The WHO team stressed that the main dangers to health in the province are from lead and other forms of industrial pollution, as well as traffic-related accidents. German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping recently told the weekly "Focus" that "those who were against the Kosovo war are talking about risks [from depleted uranium] which do not exist at all, and overlooking real risks such as from burned refineries. The goal [of the campaign] is to subsequently destroy the legitimacy of the war. But no one will forget about the thousand-fold murders and mass deportations that we, along with NATO, stopped." PM

YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT PORTRAYS SERBIA AS VICTIM

Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, who represents the EU Council of Ministers during the Swedish presidency, told visiting Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica in Stockholm on 31 January that former President Slobodan Milosevic must be sent to The Hague. Kostunica was non-committal in his reply, adding that Milosevic is "under a kind of voluntary house arrest." Kostunica stressed that "a much more important question to my mind is the survival of our country. Montenegro and terrorism in southern Serbia are dangerous issues," dpa reported. He repeated his familiar message that Serbia has been a victim of sanctions, NATO air strikes, and depleted uranium, and that donor countries should keep this in mind when considering aid programs, Reuters reported. The Milosevic regime also sought to portray Serbia as a victim and thereby absolve itself of the lion's share of responsibility for destroying former Yugoslavia and starting four wars. The new leadership is seeking to cultivate Western feelings of guilt in order to speed Belgrade's reintegration into the international community and to obtain a reversal of the Kumanovo agreements. PM

DOZENS INJURED IN KOSOVSKA MITROVICA

French-led peacekeepers clashed on 31 January with a crowd of some 1,000 ethnic Albanians in the divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2001). Some members of the crowd hurled Molotov cocktails, stones, and at least one grenade at the troops, injuring at least 20. KFOR soldiers used tear gas and percussion grenades to disperse the Albanians, at least 40 of whom were injured in a melee that lasted most of the afternoon. KFOR commander General Carlo Cabigiosu said that he will not tolerate casualties among his troops. He called on the local communities to admit their respective shares of responsibility for the violence. He appealed to local Serbian leaders to express regrets for the death of an Albanian teenager that triggered angry protests by local Albanians. Hans Haekkerup, who heads the UN civilian administration, said that "it is unacceptable that the frustration and anger at ethnic killings is directed at the international community. The precondition to taking any concrete steps.. ce force. PB




There is no end note today.





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