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Newsline - February 2, 2001




YELTSIN'S 70TH BIRTHDAY MARKED, ROLE ASSESSED

President Vladimir Putin visited his predecessor Boris Yeltsin in hospital on 1 February on the occasion of the first Russian president's 70th birthday, Russian and Western agencies. Other Russian and international leaders also sent their greetings. Meanwhile, the day became an occasion for reflections on Yeltsin's historical role. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" ran excerpts from a new book by his aides. RTR ran a documentary on his life and rule. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov spoke for many when he said he has mixed feelings about Yeltsin, Interfax reported. But most of the press coverage was positive: "Kommersant-Daily" said that Yeltsin had one indisputable accomplishment: "he gave the country freedom," although it added that his gift has not much outlasted his period in office. PG

MOSCOW TO SET UP SPECIAL FOREIGN DEBT CENTER

Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin said on 1 February that the Russian government will set up a special structure to handle Russia's foreign debts, Interfax reported. Technical consultations with the International Monetary Fund continued in Moscow, as the Finance Ministry announced that Russia plans to pay the IMF $300 million and the Paris Club creditors $267 million during February (see also "End Note" below). PG

KASYANOV CALLS FOR A STRUGGLE AGAINST WINTER

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 1 February criticized his cabinet for failing to prevent the suffering Russians have undergone this winter and said they must do more to struggle against the elements, ITAR-TASS reported. He noted that the cabinet had discussed what to do four times in preparation for the winter season and every time ministers presented optimistic prognoses. "You must draw your conclusions," Kasyanov said, "and make sure that we never again see the situation some Russian regions experienced this year." PG

'SECRET' MILITARY REFORM MISREPRESENTED

"Vremya novostei" reported on 1 February that on the basis of leaks about a document President Putin has signed but classified secret, "analysts hastened to draw the conclusion that Chief of General Staff Anatolii Kvashnin had gained the upper hand in his public dispute with Defense Minister Sergeev over military reforms." In fact, the paper said, one of the only two Duma members to have seen the revised reform plan, Andrei Nikolaev of the defense committee, said that the program is "more of a 'Gref-style reform' than anything else." That is, the reform reflects economic calculations rather than military-strategic ones with investment in the military rising slowly but steadily rather than being refocused in new directions. PG

SPECULATION ABOUT RUSSIAN DEFECTOR IN U.S. CONTINUES

Writing in "Kommersant-Daily" on 1 February, Afanasii Sborov suggested that the latest reports about the supposed defection of Russian diplomat Sergei Tretyakov may be driven by new political calculations in Washington or may reflect the fact that he was in fact an intelligence agent rather than a diplomat. PG

FOREIGN MINISTER PRESSES SWISS ON BORODIN

Visiting Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on 1 February urged Swiss officials to respond quickly to Russian requests to release Union of Russia and Belarus secretary Pavel Borodin, who is now being held for extradition in the United States, Russian and Western agencies reported. Meanwhile, Russian prosecutors said that if the Swiss provide the necessary information, Moscow itself could conduct a criminal probe of Borodin, Interfax reported. "Izvestiya" reported the same day that Swiss Prosecutor Bernard Bertossa has acknowledged giving an interview to that the paper, thereby refuting reports in other Russian papers that Bertossa had denied doing so. Prior to meeting the Swiss, Ivanov told the Disarmament Conference in Geneva that Moscow is prepared for massive cuts in nuclear arms, broader negotiations, and other confidence building measures as long as the U.S. does not withdraw from the ABM Treaty regime and build a national missile defense. PG

BEREZOVSKII TO BE CHARGED IN AEROFLOT CASE

The Office of the Russian Prosecutor General said on 1 February that it will press charges against Boris Berezovskii for his role in the so-called Aeroflot scandal, Russian agencies reported. Although Berezovskii has not yet been formally charged, prosecutors said that he will have to return to Russia or face the possibility of being put on an international most wanted list. Deputy Prosecutor General Vasilii Kolmogorov dismissed suggestions that prosecutors are only after business figures like Berezovskii and Vladimir Gusinskii. "This is not true," he said. "We also have the case of Aeroflot, the case of SBS-Agro and other cases against the so-called oligarchs." PG

MOSCOW ASKS SPAIN TO SEIZE GUSINSKII'S PROPERTY

Deputy Prosecutor General Kolmogorov said on 1 February that the Russian government has formally requested that the Spanish authorities seize the property of Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii, Russian agencies reported. Gusinskii currently faces an extradition hearing in Spain. But Media-MOST spokesman Dmitrii Ostalskii said that Gusinskii rents rather than owns the mansion in Sotogrande where he has been living and thus there is nothing to seize. Meanwhile, in Moscow, officials moved Media-MOST financial chief Anton Titov from the Butyrka prison to the Matrosskaya Tishina detention center so that he can receive medical treatment, Interfax reported. PG

SUPPORT FOR PUTIN WANING?

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 1 February that President Putin led the list of the most influential political figures in Russia for the 16th month in a row, but it said that he is "not at the top when the positive/negative effect is taken into account." The paper suggested that Putin is failing to make his own positions clear and consequently his standing might decline. One person who has already fallen off the list of the top 20, the paper said, is media magnate Berezovskii. PG

DUMA COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN URGES SERIOUS FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION...

In an interview published in the 1 February "Parlamentskaya gazeta," Duma anti-corruption committee chairman Nikolai Kovalev said that Russia, widely regarded as one of the most corrupt countries on earth, must launch a serious attack against corruption. He said that according to official figures, 10 percent of organized crime groups now receive assistance from state officials, but he noted that a recent survey in St. Petersburg found that 98 percent of businesspeople there had suffered extortion attempts, and 96 percent admitted bribing officials. He noted that the Duma has been trying without success to pass an anti-corruption law since 1993, and expressed the hope that perhaps it will do so this year. Kovalev himself said that the fight must involve both raising the salaries of officials so that they will be less interested in taking bribes and imposing stiffer punishments on those who do. PG

...AS ANTI-MONEY LAUNDERING SERVICE SET UP

A special division for preventing money-laundering is being organized within the Federal Tax police, "Vremya MN" reported on 1 February. But the paper suggested that it may simply have been announced in order to improve Russia's image in advance of a meeting in Paris this week of the international Anti-Money Laundering Commission. PG

YAVLINSKY LETTER REFLECTS HIS WEAKNESS, PAPER SAYS

"Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 1 February said that Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinsky had written the letter some Western media outlets thought had come from President Putin to call attention to himself at a time when his party is losing support not only in Russia but also in the United States "now that the Democrats are no longer in the driver's seat" there. PG

CHERKESOV URGES RETHINKING FEDERAL SYSTEM...

Viktor Cherkesov, the presidential envoy in the North-Western federal district, on 1 February called on the government to consider whether the territorial and administrative arrangements of the Russian Federation need to be revised, Interfax reported. He pointed to obvious asymmetries in the relationships among autonomous regions, regions, and federal districts, but he said the constitution should not be changed to solve this problem. PG

...AS MOSCOW SEEN MAKING CONCESSIONS TO REGIONS

Writing in "Kommersant-Vlast" on 30 January, Dmitrii Kamyshev said that President Putin made concessions to the regional governors, allowing them to run for reelection twice or even three times, because he does not want to have to struggle with them during difficult economic times ahead. PG

PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY DESCRIBES NEXT STEP IN REGIONAL REFORMS

Addressing a meeting of the heads of legislatures in the Volga federal district on 1 February, presidential envoy to that federal district Sergei Kirienko announced that the task of bringing regional laws into compliance with federal legislation has been largely completed, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Kirienko, 751 of the 853 normative acts and laws in the district that were not in compliance have been amended. Kirienko added that the creation of a single legal space in the district was the first step towards strengthening Russian statehood. The next step will be working on laws that delineate the responsibilities of federal and regional powers and the formation of a single economic space. JAC

ELECTRICITY, HOT WATER PRICES SOAR IN SOME REGIONS

As of 1 February, a number of Russian regions raised the prices of communal services, such as telephone services and electricity, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. In Moscow Oblast outside of the city of Moscow, telephone service will rise from 45 rubles ($1.60) to 55 rubles a month, while electricity charges are expected to climb by 25 percent. Last year, the price of electricity for consumers rose by 58 percent in the oblast. Meanwhile, in Ulyanovsk Oblast, charges for heat and hot water have soared. According to RFE/RL's Ulyanovsk correspondent, the price for heat per square meter of apartment space has risen from 35 kopeks to 2.5 rubles, and the price of hot water has increased six times, rising from 5 rubles per person to 30 rubles. The rate hikes are apparently unavoidable because the city currently owes the local electricity supplier 5 million rubles, which is three times the size of the city's annual budget. JAC

FEDERATION COUNCIL SEEN BECOMING A 'HOUSE OF LOBBYISTS'

The new members of the Federation Council, "Vedomosti" reported on 1 February, are converting the upper chamber from a place of regional representation into a "house of lobbyists." It cited an oil company executive as saying that "we control at least two-thirds of the new senators who have arrived here today. And we are not going to stop there." Meanwhile, Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev said on 1 February that the Federation Council will work as an upper chamber of parliament and cooperate closely with the president, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

LUZHKOV LASHES OUT AT FEDERAL AUTHORITIES

Moscow Mayor Luzhkov said that police allegations that his officials have embezzled $1.5 million are without foundation, Russian and Western agencies reported. He said the investigation, which has not yet led to any indictments, was entirely "political," and he promised to "fight against such moves aimed at smearing the city government's reputation." Meanwhile, Police Colonel Nikolai Perepelitsyn was murdered in the Russian capital on 1 February, Interfax reported. PG

NAZDRATENKO ACCUSED OF HAVING 'POLITICAL ILLNESS'

Doctors treating Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko report that his condition remains unchanged, and that he suffered a "crisis of hypertension," Interfax reported on 1 February citing the governor's advisor Natalya Vstovskaya. Meanwhile, local television journalists from "Novaya Volna" told the agency that they had recorded Nazdratenko's arrival at a Vladivostok hospital emergency room. According to the cameraman, Nazdratenko showed no sign of being poorly disposed, and when Nazdratenko's assistants noticed the filming, they demanded that the cameraman surrender his videocassette. Nazdratenko's political opponents have already accused him of having a political illness. Longtime foe and State Duma deputy Viktor Cherepkov (independent) said that Nazdratenko's heart problems are only a "way of avoiding responsibility for the energy crisis in Primorskii Krai," "Vremya novostei" reported on 2 February. JAC

MIRONOV CALLS FOR MORE RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

Igor Lebedev, deputy Russian Human Rights Commissioner, said on 1 February that his boss, Oleg Mironov, has come "to the conclusion that many articles in the [1997] law do not correspond to Russia's international obligations...on human rights and should be changed," Reuters reported. Lebedev said that Mironov believes that the Duma should amend the legislation to bring it into line with international human rights treaties and extend the time religious groups have to reregister by at least three years. But Vladimir Kartashkin, the representative of the presidential commission on human rights, does not believe the 1997 law contradicts Russia's international commitments, Interfax reported the same day. PG

RUSSIA MAY CONTINUE TO EXPORT MORE OIL

Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko said on 1 February that Russia may export 1.5 million more tons of oil in March than it had earlier announced, Russian agencies reported. His projection comes on top of a decision earlier this week to increase oil exports in February by more than 3 million tons over plan to approximately 12 million tons. PG

RUSSIA MAY LOSE 15 MILLION TONS OF GRAIN IN 2001

The Russian agricultural ministry said that Russia may lose as much as 15 million tons of grain in 2001 because of equipment and fuel shortages, 5 million tons more than it lost in 2000, Interfax reported on 1 February. Fifteen million tons is equal to approximately 20 percent of this year's anticipated harvest. PG

MORE PUTIN MEETINGS SET

President Putin will meet with his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma in Dnipropetrovsk on 12 February, Putin's office told Interfax on 1 February. The Russian leader will go to Vietnam in early March and to Switzerland in the second half of the year, Russian agencies said. Meanwhile, negotiations with Tokyo continue on the exact date of Putin's Irkutsk summit with the Japanese prime minister. And the Foreign Ministry said that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il will visit Russia sometime this year but no date has yet been announced. PG

RUSSIA-BELARUS DEFENSE SYSTEMS GROUP MEETS

The first meeting of the council of Governors of the Defense systems Interstate Financial and Industrial Group, which brings together officials from Russia and Belarus, on 1 February discussed the production and modernization of air defense systems, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

RUSSIAN-AMERICAN JOINT MILITARY EXERCISES START

A joint Russian-American command and staff military exercise on non-strategic anti-ballistic missile defense began in Colorado on 1 February, ITAR-TASS reported. This is the third such joint exercise between the militaries of the two countries. Earlier exercises took place in 1996 and 1998. PG

MOSCOW PRESSES PAKISTAN TO INFLUENCE TALIBAN

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov told Pakistan's Ambassador to Russia Iftikhar Murshed on 1 February that Moscow hopes Islamabad will use its influence on the Taliban movement in Afghanistan and thus curb the Taliban's use of force against the people of that country, Interfax reported. PG

MOSCOW COMPLAINS ABOUT RADIATION IN KOSOVA

Citing a United Nations report, the Russian Foreign Ministry on 1 February issued a report saying that eight spots of high radioactivity have been located in Kosova and that in some of them the radiation is more than 3,000 times the normal background rate, Interfax reported. The statement said that "experts are especially concerned about a high concentration in the areas affected by the uranium substance, which may penetrate into human and animal organisms." The report linked this radiation to NATO's use of depleted uranium weapons in Kosova. PG

RUSSIAN SUSPICIONS ON AID GROUPS HIGHLIGHTED

Writing in "Itogi" on 30 January, Dmitry Sabov suggests that "the feeling [among Russians] that all these 'humanitarians without borders' over there in Chechnya are helping 'them' rather than 'us' dates back to 1994 and 1996." He continued that "it is hard to say now who is to blame" for this situation because some aid workers have criticized Russian policies there and even called, as in the case of Doctors without Borders, for sanctions against Moscow. PG

MOSCOW SETS UP NEW EXPORT CONTROL REGIME

Boris Kuzyk, the general director of the New Programs and Concepts Industrial Holding, told Interfax on 1 February that President Putin's recent decree setting up an export control commission for high technology items was "the finishing touch" to Moscow's effort to improve control over Russian military-technical cooperation with other countries. He added that the new commission shows that Russia will live up to "its commitments under international accords on the non-proliferation of mass destruction weapons and their means of delivery." PG

RUSSIAN AIRCRAFT FIRM HOLDS TALKS WITH IRAQ

A delegation from the Altai Aircraft Manufacturing Enterprise arrived in Iraq on 1 February to discuss replacing equipment at a steel mill there, the possible sale of IL-76 planes, and the training of Iraqi technical and flight personnel, Interfax reported. PG

FSB PREVENTS EXPLOSION AT KAZAN RAILWAY STATION

An FSB bomb disposal unit found and destroyed what "Moskovskii komsomolets" said on 1 February was a "powerful bomb" at the Kazan railroad station. PG




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT GIVES INTERVIEW TO TURKISH MEDIA

In an interview with prominent Turkish journalist Mehmet Ali Birand that appeared in the "Turkish Daily News" on 1 February, Robert Kocharian said that even if Turkey were to acknowledge the 1915 genocide, Armenia has no legal grounds for making any territorial claims on Turkey and will not do so. Nor, Kocharian said, will the Republic of Armenia request compensation from Turkey for the sufferings of the genocide victims. He said it is not even necessary for Turkey to admit to "genocide," simply "mass killings," saying such an acknowledgment is "a matter of honor" for Armenia. Kocharian said the recent French parliament resolution recognizing the 1915 genocide was the result of lobbying by the Armenian community in that country, and that diaspora Armenians who are descendants of genocide victims have the right to lobby for the passage of such resolutions, and to file suit for compensation. Kocharian said that efforts by Armenia and the diaspora to achieve international recognition of the genocide proceed in tandem, adding that it is unimportant where those parallel campaigns are coordinated from. LF

ARMENIAN SECURITY MINISTRY DISCOVERS ANOTHER ARMS CACHE

National Security officials have discovered and confiscated quantities of arms and ammunition on the territory of a private livestock farm in Ararat province, according to Snark on 31 January as cited by Groong. The weaponry included a grenade launcher, mines, explosive devices, home-made sub-machine guns and ammunition. An Armenian Defense Ministry official was arrested in December after quantities of arms and ammunition were found during a search of his apartment and garage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2000). LF

ARMENIAN TAX REVENUES SOAR

Prime Minister Andranik Markarian told a cabinet session on 1 February that tax revenues in January amounted to 9.4 billion drams ($17 million), 47 percent more than during the same period last year, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The government's tax target for this year is 168.4 billion drams. Minister for State Revenues Andranik Manukian attributed the January increase to the improving economic situation and greater efficiency on the part of his agency. He expressed confidence that the big shortfall in tax revenues which resulted in a serious fiscal crisis last year will not be repeated this year. LF

POLL INDICATES EXTENT OF ARMENIANS' GLOOM

In a recent government-sponsored poll of some 300 residents of Yerevan, Gyumri, Vanadzor and Ararat, 68.3 percent of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the present situation in Armenia, according to Armenpress on 31 January as cited by Groong. Among the government's most serious failures, 75.6 percent of respondents cited the mass impoverishment of the population, 43.7 percent the way that privatization had been conducted and its economic consequences, 42 percent the failure to identify the perpetrators of political assassinations, and 41.3 percent the creation of "an atmosphere of permissiveness." Among the country's primary achievements since independence, 47.3 percent named the creation of the Armenian army, 43 percent victory in the Karabakh war, 37 percent the recognition by several foreign countries of the 1915 genocide and 21 percent Armenia's admission to full membership of the Council of Europe. LF

AZERBAIJANI POLICE CONTINUE BLOCKADE OF WAR INVALIDS' HEADQUARTERS

Police in Baku continued to surround the headquarters of the Society of Karabakh War Invalids on 2 February, refusing to allow anyone to enter the building where invalids are in the 12th day of a hunger-strike to demand a three-fold increase in their disability pensions and allowances, Turan reported. Rei Kerimoglu, a spokesman for the society, said that the building in Saatli Raion where invalids are conducting a parallel strike has also been cordoned off, and the strikers are threatening to set fire to the building if police attempt to storm it. Meanwhile Azerbaijani officials have made conflicting statements on the protest. Parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov argued on 1 February that the invalids' allowances should be raised, while Finance Minister Avaz Alekperov told a press conference the following day that although the assistance provided to war invalids is inadequate, their demands are nonetheless "unreasonable" and "politically motivated." LF

AZERBAIJAN PASSES AMNESTY LAW

Azerbaijan's parliament approved on 1 February by a vote of 101 to one an amnesty law submitted two weeks earlier by President Heidar Aliev, Turan reported. Under that law, almost 2,300 prisoners are eligible for release and a further 800 will have their terms reduced. LF

SUPPORTERS OF FORMER GEORGIAN PRESIDENT POSTPONE COLLECTIVE SUICIDE

Supporters of deceased President Zviad Gamsakhurdia who last month embarked on a hunger-strike in Rustavi penal colony to demand the release of fellow Gamsakhurdia supporters whom they consider political prisoners announced on 1 February that they have postponed until 14 February their collective suicide planned for 2 February, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2001). Parliament deputies had told journalists on 31 January that the legislature will debate whether to ask the Supreme Court to review the cases of 24 Gamsakhurdia supporters sentenced on charges of taking up arms against the state. LF

KAZAKHSTAN HOPES FOR OBSERVER STATUS IN PACE...

Saken Seidullaev, a member of the upper chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament, told journalists in Astana on 1 February that Kazakhstan hopes to be granted observer status in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe by the summer of 2001, Interfax reported. Noting that Kazakhstan first applied for that status in 1997, Seidullaev explained that Astana has already ratified six relevant international conventions, and must now ratify six more. He said that during last week's PACE session in Strasbourg, which he attended as head of the Kazakh delegation, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Turkey and Lithuania all expressed support for Kazakhstan's bid for observer status. LF

...PLANS TO DOUBLE GRAIN EXPORTS TO IRAN

Nurlan Smagulov, who is president of a state food production corporation, told journalists in Astana on 1 February that Kazakhstan plans to double grain sales to Iran from 50,000 tons last year to 100,000 tons in 2001, Interfax reported. Kazakhstan produced 11.5 million tons of grain last year, while Iran imports 7 million tons annually. Smagulov explained that the campaign by neighboring states (by which he presumably meant Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan) to become self-sufficient in grain production had narrowed Kazakhstan's traditional market. But he admitted that obstacles exist to increasing exports to Iran, in the form of transportation difficulties and delays in bank settlements. LF

RESIDENTS OF KYRGYZ CAPITAL PROTEST GAS, HEATING SHORTAGES

Some 150 people blocked the main highway leading from Bishkek to President Askar Akaev's suburban residence on 1 February to protest electricity outages in Bishkek on the previous two days, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Bishkek mayor Anatolii Slezovskii assured the demonstrators that he will do his best to resolve the problems. Electricity consumption in Bishkek has risen by 30 percent in recent days to compensate for the cutoff of natural gas supplies from Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2001). Chu and Osh oblasts are similarly without electric power for several hours each day; in the town of Osh, only 23.3 percent of buildings currently have normal heating, while 32 percent are without heat. LF

TURKMENISTAN INTRODUCES ENTRY DUE FOR UZBEK CITIZENS

In accordance with a decree issued by President Saparmurat Niyazov, as of 1 February Uzbek citizens must pay $6 for a permit to enter Turkmenistan, Interfax reported. That fee is payable in Turkmen currency at the exchange rate on the date of entry. LF

TURKMEN AUTHORITIES HUNT FOR FUGITIVE PROTESTANT PASTOR...

Police in Ashgabat arrested Protestant Christian Nikolai Ognev on 29 January, possibly believing that he knows the whereabouts of fugitive Pastor Shokhrat Piriev, Keston News Service reported on 1 February. Piriev went into hiding late last year after he and two colleagues from the Bezmein church in Bezmein near Ashgabat were tortured by Turkmen security officials and evicted from their homes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2001). LF.

...BUT BACKTRACK ON CONFISCATION OF PENTECOSTAL CHURCH

The Ashgabat City Court on 31 January returned to a lower district court for review a ruling handed down four weeks earlier that the home of Pentecostal Pastor Viktor Makrousov be confiscated, Keston News Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2001). The city court termed that ruling, against which Makrosuov had appealed, "flawed." LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT BRIEFS INTELLECTUALS ON THEIR TASKS...

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 1 February addressed a nationwide conference in Minsk of "workers of culture and activists of the arts," Belarusian Television and Belapan reported. He told that forum that he does not interfere in the sphere of culture as regards "trifles," but remains very attentive to general cultural and intellectual trends in the country. According to Lukashenka, Belarusian intellectuals should "defend the cultural heritage and spiritual wealth of the entire Slavic civilization from the aggressive impact of globalization or, more precisely, Americanization." Lukashenka promised to support such efforts with improved housing conditions for intellectuals: two blocks of apartments are to be build in Minsk, one in each oblast center, and several apartments in each raion center. JM

...URGES THEM TO ACCEPT FOREIGN MONEY

Lukashenka also said $70.8 million out of a planned $108 million has already been sent to Belarus from abroad to finance this year's presidential campaign. He did not identify the sponsors, noting only that the money is not intended for him. He suggested to the intellectuals that they may obtain part of that money and urged them to accept it. In what was apparently intended as a joke but came over as a pronouncement of utter disrespect for his listeners, Lukashenka said: "Why should you accept [that money]? Because they will pay for your talent. It is not important whether you will sing [the praises of] Lukashenka or another candidate--the people will be listening to you. This I call a good investment in our culture." JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKER SAYS MELNYCHENKO'S TAPE IS AUTHENTIC

Taras Chornovil from the Rukh parliamentary caucus has recognized his voice on an audio tape provided by Mykola Melnychenko, President Leonid Kuchma's former bodyguard, Interfax reported on 1 February. Chornovil said the recording of his conversation with Kuchma last autumn could in no way have been faked. Last year, Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko voiced the official Kyiv opinion about the Melnychenko recordings, saying they were doctored. JM

UKRAINIAN POLICE STORM PRISON, FREE HOSTAGES

Security service forces on 2 January freed two prison guards and killed three of their captors in a raid on a penal colony in Kherson Oblast, southern Ukraine. Six prisoners had held two of their guards hostage since 30 January, reportedly demanding talks with representatives of Russia's insurgent Chechen Republic. According to Inter Television, one of the rebellious prisoners was Ruslan Kolaev, a Chechen who fought Russian troops in Chechnya in mid-1990s. JM

ESTONIA'S GROWTH FUELED BY DOMESTIC CONSUMPTION

Estonia's economy grew by 7 percent in the third quarter of 2000 year-on-year, according to the Statistics Agency of Estonia, ETA reported on 1 February. Commenting on that increase, the Estonian Central Bank noted that private consumption during the third quarter was up 13.3 percent--the biggest increase ever. But the Central Bank also expressed concern that the spending rate was unsustainable because investments fell during that same quarter. Imports rose by 27.6 percent during the third quarter of 2000, but exports of goods and services kept pace, growing by 27.7 percent. The Finance Ministry announced that Estonia's budget deficit for 2000 was 601.6 million kroons ($35.3 million), or 0.72 percent of GDP. AB

ESTONIAN-FINNISH POLICE COOPERATION SCORE SUCCESS

A joint Estonian-Finnish police unit named FinEst has broken the back of an international gang of criminals which had for years run a region-wide narcotics and prostitution network in Estonia, Finland and Sweden, the daily "Postimees" reported on 1 February. The arrests began in Tallinn, Helsinki and Stockholm last August and involve dozens of individuals. The FinEst team was formed after Finland's Interior Minister Kari Hakamies publicly criticized Estonian law enforcement as corrupt and incapable of preventing extensive drug smuggling into Finland. The Finnish government later allocated funds for the establishment of a joint narcotics squad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2000). AB

LATVIAN PRIME MINISTER SAYS HIS GOVERNMENT IS 'MORE STABLE THAN EVER'

Prime Minister Andris Berzins told a press conference in Riga on 1 February that his government is "more stable than ever," despite the defection of one of the government's coalition partners, the New Faction, to the opposition, LETA reported. Berzins explained that no decision can be adopted by the three remaining coalition partners -- People's Party, Latvia's Way, and For Fatherland and Freedom (TB/LNNK), if they fail to agree. Therefore, Berzins reasoned, all the remaining parties are "more determined" to keep the coalition intact. "I don't believe that they [TB/LNNK] intend to pummel the government," Berzins said. TB/LNNK has been in the forefront of a dispute over the privatization of Latvia's state-owned shipping company, LASCO in recent days. AB

WILLIAMS INTERNATIONAL INVITES LITHUANIAN EX-PRESIDENT TO VIEW MAZEIKIAI OIL REFINERY

Williams International, a U.S.-based strategic investor and managing partner in the state-owned oil refinery Mazeikiu Nafta (Mazeikiai Oil), has invited former President Algirdas Brazauskas to come to see the progress made at the oil refinery in the last year, ELTA reported on 1 February. Brazauskas, well-known for defending the interests of the Russian oil giant LUKoil, has consistently criticized the U.S. investors and recently accused them of using their position in the refinery to money launder funds and misappropriate state subsidies to the plant. James E. Scheel, Director of Operations at Mazeikiu Nafta, wrote in his letter to Brazauskas, "[your] accusations do not correspond to reality." The letter also reminded Brazauskas that Lithuania's State Comptroller has conducted regular inspections of financial and operational records and found everything in order. AB

POLISH PRESIDENT REGRETS DEATH OF UKRAINIAN SHOT BY POLICE

Aleksander Kwasniewski on 1 January sent a letter of condolences to his Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kuchma, over the killing of a Ukrainian driver by a Polish policemen during a road check (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2001), Polish media reported. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko in a harsh statement on 31 January demanded severe punishment for the killer. "This self-willed act calls for strict measures. We are hard and adamant where our citizens' interests are involved," Zlenko said. Kyiv says the Ukrainian was shot in cold blood, while Warsaw maintains the death was an unhappy accident resulting from a scuffle. The killing received much coverage in the Ukrainian media. The Shield of the Motherland ultra-nationalist group staged a picket in front of the Polish embassy in Kyiv demanding that the Polish policemen responsible for the shooting be handed over to Ukraine. JM

POLAND'S BROADCASTING SPHERE TO INCLUDE 'VOLUNTARY SECTOR'

The parliament has amended the law on broadcasting by introducing the institution of a voluntary sector broadcaster, that is, non-commercial and non-private, PAP reported on 1 February. Under the amendment, a voluntary sector broadcaster promotes charity work and moral values, cultivates traditions, and "respects the Christian system of values, taking universal ethical values as the basis". Such broadcasters are not allowed to broadcast advertisements or receive payments for the dissemination of their programs. JM

CZECH SENATOR DOES NOT MEET WITH CASTRO, DELAYS RETURN

Czech Senate Chairman Petr Pithart, in Cuba to negotiate the release of two Czechs detained since 12 January, decided to stay an additional two days in hopes of meeting with Cuban President Fidel Castro, CTK reported. Originally scheduled to meet with the Cuban leader late on 31 January and return to the Czech Republic late the next day, Pithart delayed his departure to 3 February after receiving a letter from Castro asking him to stay in Havana, apparently for a meeting. Pithart also revealed that there has been "a certain shift in the assessment" of the activities of the two men, and that Ivan Pilip and Jan Bubenik are now being investigated under a law from 1999 which is less severe than the law previously cited. DW

CZECH TV NOVA BECOMING POLITICAL FORCE...

TV Nova is not only the most-watched television station in the Czech Republic, but is now a serious political force, CTK reported citing the 2 February issue of "Mlada fronta Dnes." Freedom Union (US) Senator Jan Ruml told the paper that in 1998, when his party had more public support than the Civic Democrats (ODS) of former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, TV Nova Director Vladimir Zelezny offered to cooperate with the U.S., but "when voter support fell his interest did too." Then, after Klaus and Milos Zeman of the Social Democrats (CSSD) signed the "opposition agreement" that put the minority CSSD in power and gave the ODS a significant say in government decisions, "Zelezny told me...'You mustn't be surprised that in this situation I have signed an agreement with both men." Critics claim that since then Nova has been loyal to the ODS. "[That] has been clear in the last year," said Ruml. DW

...IMPLICATED IN BANK FRAUD CASE AS FUNNEL FOR RUSSIAN MONEY

"Zemske noviny" reported on 2 February that Czech police have begun investigating loans for the operation of the television stations Nova and Prima as part of the embezzlement case involving IPB bank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January, 2001). The papers also say that money from Swiss accounts belonging to people connected to Russian media magnates was transferred through IPB to accounts for financing operations at Nova. This money was then transferred to companies that have nothing to do with television production at Nova. DW

CZECH BALKAN MISSIONS THREATENED BY ARMY'S FINANCIAL DIFFICULTIES

The Czech army lacks 150 million Czech crowns ($4 million) needed to support its participation in the KFOR and SFOR peacekeeping missions in the Balkans, CTK reported on 2 February, citing reports on TV Nova. "We will withdraw the An-26 (airplane) from the KFOR mission and save about 90 million crowns," said army chief of staff Jiri Sedivy. "We are considering reducing the operation of heavy caterpillar vehicles, even of withdrawing some of them." The government has pledged to keep Czech troops in the Balkans until the end of the year. "We will...be looking for the necessary means to fund our participation in the peacekeeping missions in the Balkans," Defense Ministry spokesman Milan Repka said. DW

SLOVAK COALITION AGREES ON CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT

The governing coalition has agreed on a crucial constitutional amendment to bring the country's basic law in line with EU standards, CTK reported on 1 February. The amendment, if passed by the parliament, will allow the reform of public administration and the passage of legislation on regional elections, and set the maximum period for arrests without official charges at 48 hours. Pavol Hamzik, the Slovak deputy premier responsible for European integration, said the agreement brings the country closer to the first group of countries aspiring for EU membership. In a European Commission report published this week, Slovakia was listed as a poor country where per capita income is 40 percent of the EU average. Hamzik said this evaluation should not be over-emphasized, adding that Spain, Portugal and Greece were also poor when they joined the EU. JM

SLOVAK PREMIER OPENS CULTURAL FESTIVAL IN NEW YORK

Mikulas Dzurinda on 1 February opened a month-long festival of Slovak culture entitled Celebrate Slovakia at New York's World Trade Center, CTK reported. The festival includes art, dance, music, and film presentations and is to take place at several prestigious institutions in New York, such as the Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art. Dzurinda said it is the first such extensive presentation of Slovak culture in New York, adding that it will help raise Slovakia's profile in the U.S. JM

HUNGARIAN PREMIER ASSESSES STATE OF THE NATION

In his state of the nation speech on 1 February, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the change of regime in Hungary is leading the country in a new world, "one built on the pillars of work, family and order." Orban said the year 2000 was Hungary's economically most successful in the past decade despite the many natural disasters and external economic difficulties that afflicted the country. He admitted that inflation did not drop as dramatically as the cabinet wanted, but noted that Hungary was the only state in Europe where the rate of inflation fell in 2000. Orban urged parliamentary parties to enact a status bill for ethnic Hungarians abroad, saying that they are "a resource rather than a burden." MSZ




MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT CALLS U.S. PRESENCE 'NECESSARY AND MORAL'

President Boris Trajkovski told U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington on 1 February that a continued U.S. presence in the Balkans is "necessary and moral," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Trajkovski specifically mentioned the need to keep a U.S. peacekeeping contingent in Kosova as a contribution to regional political stability, including that of Macedonia. Trajkovski appeared reassured after meeting with Powell, telling reporters that there is "no room for fear," Reuters reported. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher added that Powell told Trajkovski that the U.S. will not "cut and run" in the Balkans. Washington plans no hasty withdrawal and will make future decisions in consultation with European allies, the VOA's Croatian Service reported. Powell is slated to meet on 2 February with Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and with Kosovar leaders Ibrahim Rugova, Hashim Thaci, and Veton Surroi. PM

POWELL GIVES MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT 'BRUSH-OFF'

The "New York Times" reported on 2 February that "Powell has refused to see Milo Djukanovic, the president of Montenegro, sending a firm signal that the Bush administration opposes independence for his republic, Serbia's last partner in the Yugoslav federation. General Powell's decision not to see Mr. Djukanovic, who is in Washington to explain why he thinks Montenegro should be independent, was based on a desire not to encourage the further changing of borders in the region, administration officials said. A meeting would give further impetus to leaders in Kosovo, who want independence, and in the Serbian entity in Bosnia, whose leaders would like to attach themselves to Serbia proper" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 and 23 January 2001). For his part, Djukanovic told the daily that "it is wrong to suggest that Montenegrin independence will trigger instability in the region." Djukanovic noted that he will soon have a fresh mandate in early elections, and that his government has pledged full cooperation with The Hague. PM

SERBIAN FORCES SHELL DEMILITARIZED ZONE...

Serbian tanks continue to fire shells into ethnic Albanian villages in the "demilitarized" Ground Safety Zone on southwestern Serbia's frontier with Kosova, the "Guardian's" Jonathan Steele reported from the region on 2 February. He added that "it is hard to find any Albanian who will criticize" the guerrillas, noting that "people are calling for a 'third force' to protect civilians from the Serbs." It is not clear whether the shells are trained on specific, allegedly guerrilla targets, or whether the firing is more random. Some observers have suggested that the Belgrade authorities are deliberately keeping up the tensions in the Presevo region to increase political pressure on the international community (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2001). PM

...WHILE SERBIAN AUTHORITIES TALK PEACE

Biserka Matic, who is the "senior Serb information official in the region," told the "Guardian" of 2 February that the new government is determined not to alienate the ethnic Albanians the way that its predecessor did. She noted that it is crucial to integrate the Albanians into state structures and the police, pointing out that mass sackings of Albanians in Kosova more than a decade ago led to the formation of two parallel societies in the province. She stressed that the new "government is trying to turn a page and finally do something smart." The London-based daily noted that the Yugoslav army is "literally a loose cannon" in the region, and that there are "serious differences" between Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic and the army's General Nebojsa Pavkovic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2001). The "Guardian" suggested that "the only tactics [the military] seem to know are to order tanks and heavy artillery to fire on villages." PM

BRITISH TROOPS QUELL RIOTING IN MITROVICA

Using a combination of persuasion and force, British peacekeepers ended a fourth consecutive day of rioting by hundreds of mainly youthful Albanians in Mitrovica on 1 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2001). The UN's Hans Haekkerup, KFOR's General Carlo Cabigiosu, and local Albanian leaders issued a joint statement calling for calm. NATO's Secretary General Lord George Robertson told reporters in Oslo that the alliance will "continue to be robust with those who seek to challenge law and order," AP reported. In Mitrovica, Cabigiosu stressed that "we aren't going to start a war." But the "Daily Telegraph" reported on 2 February that British forces are considering breaking the power of Serbian paramilitaries in northern Mitrovica on the model of the British army's 1972 Operation Motorman in Northern Ireland. That operation was directed against IRA strongholds. PM

MILOSEVIC UNDER POLICE WATCH

Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic confirmed on 1 February that he has placed former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic under 24-hour police surveillance at a Belgrade residence. RFE/RL has learned that the number of Milosevic's loyal body guards serving at the residence has been reduced. But both the Yugoslav and Serbian governments deny reports that Milosevic is under formal house arrest. No Serbian or federal Yugoslav criminal indictments have been issued against Milosevic. Mihajlovic, appointed last week as part of Serbia's new reformist government, had promised to place Milosevic under round-the-clock surveillance because of his indictment by the United Nations war crimes tribunal at The Hague. Serbian Justice Minister Zoran Batic told RFE/RL on 1 February that Belgrade's governing coalition has agreed upon a group of experts who will draft legislation that could clear the way for Milosevic to be transferred to The Hague. PM

BELGRADE THIEVES RELIEVE SLOVENIAN DELEGATION OF TWO CARS

A Slovenian business delegation to Serbia will soon be returning home, minus two Audi A8 cars, "Vesti" reported on 2 February. One car was stolen in front of a Belgrade restaurant, the other in front of the hotel Metropol, where the group was staying. A massive crime wave is one of the legacies of the Milosevic regime that the new government is committed to reversing. PM

EXPLOSION DAMAGES TITO-ERA WAR MONUMENT IN CROATIAN CAPITAL

An explosion in Zagreb's Mirogoj cemetery on 1 February damaged a communist-era monument to anti-fascist fighters, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Prime Minister Ivica Racan and Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic condemned the attack. Croatia has a small but vocal far-right movement that has become increasingly politically marginalized since the end of the war for independence in 1995. PM

CANDIDATE FOR BOSNIA'S MODERATES?

Bozo Matic, who is the president of the Academy of Arts and Sciences of Bosnia and Herzegovina, told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service on 1 February that he is willing to stand for prime minister on behalf of the non-nationalist Alliance for Changes coalition. His one condition is that he first receive assurances from the international community that it is serious about having the central and entity governments carry out important reforms quickly. Martin Raguz, who is the current prime minister and a member of the nationalist Croatian Democratic Community, declined to comment on Matic's statement but offered to debate him on television. PM

ROMANIAN ULTRANATIONALIST CRITICIZES PREMIER

Corneliu Vadim Tudor, the runner-up in December's presidential elections, said on 1 February that Premier Adrian Nastase "cannot save the country from disaster," AP reported. Tudor, speaking after a meeting with other political party leaders hosted by President Ion Iliescu, said Nastase is "very weak," noting that he won't stand up to international financial institutions. Tudor said institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF are "blackmailing" Romania. Tudor also criticized Nastase and Interior Minister Ioan Rus for failing to investigate corruption in the previous government and said he may call for a vote of no-confidence in the government next month. His Greater Romania Party has about 25 percent of the seats in parliament. Nastase currently has a job approval rating of some 62 percent, one month after taking office. PB

ROMANIA FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE

Mircea Geoana said following talks with Colin Powell in Washington on 1 February that the secretary of state assured him that the "strategic partnership" that exists between the two countries will continue, Romanian Radio reported. Geoana added that the two discussed Romanian efforts to continue with economic reforms and Bucharest's efforts to join the EU and NATO. Geoana also expressed, in his capacity as chairman of the OSCE, that organization's fears that the U.S. will reduce the number of its forces in the Balkans. Geoana met the previous day with members of the U.S. congress. PB

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT TO MEET WITH ILIESCU

Romanian President Iliescu said on 1 February that he will meet with his Moldovan counterpart, Petru Lucinschi, in the Romanian city of Husi on 9 February. They are to discuss issues related to the organization of the Moldovan-Romanian-Ukrainian summit scheduled for March or April. PB

GAGAUZ-YERI PARLIAMENT LEADER CALLS FOR FEDERALIZATION OF MOLDOVA

Mihail Kendighelean, chairman of the Popular Assembly of the Gagauz-Yeri Autonomous Republic in Comrat, has called on the central government in Chisinau to accept the idea of the federalization of Moldova, Basa-Press reported 1 February. "We cannot think of the Republic of Moldova as anything else but a federation between Chisinau, Tiraspol, and Comrat," Kendighelean said after a two-day visit to Moscow, referring to Moldova, the breakaway Transdniester Republic, and Gagauz-Yeri. According to him, the idea of the federalization of Moldova is supported by former Russian Premier Yevgenii Primakov, who represents Moscow in the negotiations. DW

BULGARIAN PREMIER SUPPORTS STOYANOV FOR SECOND TERM

Ivan Kostov said in Sofia on 1 February that he backs President Petar Stoyanov for a second term as president, BTA reported. Kostov said "Stoyanov has had a successful term of office and we suppose that he will surely run for a second one." Kostov made his comments after being asked about an issue before the Constitutional Court on whether someone must live in Bulgaria for five years before being allowed to run for president. The verdict is important as many believe former King Simeon II, who lives in Spain, is planning to stand for president. King Simeon is currently visiting Bulgaria, though he has declined to comment on his future plans. The presidential election is slated for later this year. PB

BULGARIAN POLICE CHIEF TO REMAIN ON JOB

President Stoyanov and Interior Minister Emanuil Yordanov met on 1 February in Sofia and agreed not to accept the resignation of police chief General Vasil Vasilev, Bulgarian Radio reported. The previous day, Yordanov told reporters that he would accept the resignation, though Stoyanov said the same day that Vasilev should not be blamed for the recent spate of violent incidents in Sofia and other parts of Bulgaria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2001). PB

BULGARIAN OPPOSITION MULLS NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION AGAINST GOVERNMENT

The two largest members of the opposition -- the Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), which represents Bulgaria's Turkish minority -- are planning to call a no-confidence vote in the government because of its failure to deal with a recent upsurge in violent crime in the country, BTA reported on 1 February. DPS leader Ahmed Dogan said the same day that the vote is likely to be called next week. Bulgarian Socialist leader Georgi Parvanov said that members of his party will support the measure. Dogan said the government of Premier Kostov has "done nothing to solve the problem" of violent crime. Kostov and Interior Minister Yordanov are to speak before the parliament on the crime issue on 6 February. Kostov's government has survived three no-confidence votes during its three years in office. PB




IMF VISITS RUSSIA FOR NEW TALKS


By Sophie Lambroschini

A delegation from the International Monetary Fund has returned to Moscow for two weeks of talks to map out future cooperation between the fund and the Russian government. But Russian officials say they expect little from those talks and want even less.

Higher oil prices over the past year have helped Russia to improve its finances, lessening any immediate need for a new loan, and enabling the country to live off its own tax revenues. IMF support is nonetheless still seen as a prerequisite for negotiations with the Paris Club of international creditors on rescheduling the some $38,000 million Russia still owes in Soviet-era debt.

Russia probably will not receive the $1,750 million IMF loan that it has included in its budget for 2001. But then, Russian officials now say they don't even need it.

Speaking last weekend at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Russian Central Bank chief Viktor Gerashchenko said that because of this past year's higher oil prices, Russia does not need IMF money this year. Instead, Russian negotiators are expected to push for an emergency stand-by credit that could be used as an insurance policy in case oil prices drop. The two sides failed to reach agreement in November.

International creditors will be looking for an agreement to provide a basis for rescheduling payments on Russia's Soviet-era debt. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov disappointed international lenders last month by saying Russia will not make this quarter's debt payments.

Troika Dialog analyst Sergei Prudnik says the debt issue should form the main aim of the IMF talks. He reasoned that "Even if IMF negotiations don't lead to getting money from the IMF, [the negotiations] are still important because an agreement would open possibilities for further negotiations with the Paris Club over restructuring the debt after 2001. In my view, the possibility of restructuring the payment schedule should in principle still be seen as the aim of negotiations with the IMF. [Negotiators should try to make the repayment schedule smoother], especially for 2003 when the main external debt burden falls. Such a restructuring will not be possible without an agreement with the IMF."

Recent pronouncements by Russian officials indicate they still take the debt issue seriously. On 26 January, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin said Russia will try to catch up on its missed 2001 payments and would eventually pay off the $38,000 million it owes. Kudrin was speaking just a few days before the arrival of the IMF mission, and his statement was clearly meant to impress the IMF.

But there are still strong obstacles to any agreement, the same obstacles left over from last November, the last time the two sides tried to agree and failed.

The "Financial Times" this week reported that the IMF remains concerned over what it sees as growing inflationary pressures. The paper says the fund wants to allow the ruble to appreciate against the dollar and to ensure that any additional budget revenues are used on debt reduction rather than current spending. The Russian government argues instead that allowing the exchange rate to drift would have a negative impact on growth.

The paper also notes that the IMF is concerned about the pace of structural reforms and the absence of restructuring and tighter regulation in the banking sector.

The Russian government has moved along somewhat, with the State Duma studying a blueprint for bank reform that included some amendments that echo IMF requests. At the same time, however, plans to make Sberbank, Russia's enormous state-controlled savings bank, more competitive and less monopolistic are at a stand-still.

Prudnik says this could be a major point of disagreement. "For now, it looks as if the Russian government does not want to decrease its influence in Sberbank. So I think there will be quite a harsh discussion of this issue."

In general, discussions over reforming the big state-owned monopolies, such as Unified Energy Systems (UES) and Gazprom, are still at the initial stage. Plans to break up UES unleashed a public row between its boss Anatolii Chubais and presidential adviser Andrei Illarionov and led to accusations of document falsifications. A reform program for UES that was supposed to be outlined by the end of last year has been put off until April. Sophie Lambroschini is a Moscow-based correspondent with RFE/RL


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