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Newsline - February 12, 2001




PUTIN ASKS WHY RUSSIA ALONE SHOULD PAY SOVIET DEBT...

President Vladimir Putin said in Vienna on 9 February that "the situation in [Russia] is becoming more predictable" but that recent positive changes are "just the beginning," ITAR-TASS reported. He said that Moscow will pursue further economic liberalization as it works to join the World Trade Organization, that it will fight corruption, and that it will build on progress made in the last year in government functioning and cooperation between the executive and legislative branches of government. He reiterated that Russia will pay its debts. But he did ask rhetorically "why should we be paying for all the republics of the USSR, tens of billions of dollars are in question?" The reason for that, not acknowledged by Putin or reported by Russian or Western agencies over the weekend, is that the Russian Federation assumed the debt in exchange for a dropping of claims by the former Soviet republics to Soviet property held abroad. PG

...AND WHY NATO SHOULD CONTINUE TO EXIST

Following meetings with Austrian leaders on 9 February, President Putin said "NATO still exists. Why?" AP reported. Putin said that Russia "for the next decades" will be focusing on its domestic problems and will not pose a danger to anyone. In the absence of a Russian threat, "there is no need to expand military alliances." And he said that if Russia is not welcomed by the alliance, then "we cannot welcome plans" for NATO's expansion. Putin then met with Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek, Slovak President Rudolf Schuster, and Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga. During his meeting with the Latvian leader, Putin said that there were problems in the relationship arising from what he said is Riga's mistreatment of Russian speakers in that Baltic republic (for more details of the meeting with Vike-Freiberga, see item in Part II). PG

PUTIN SAID TO WANT GOVERNMENT SHAKEUP...

Gennadii Raikov, the leader of the People's Deputy faction in the Duma, said that President Putin had told him that "we have a large cabinet, and not all of its members are performing their assigned functions," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 9 February. The paper noted that "this is probably the first time that someone from the government has openly declared that cabinet dismissals are inevitable," but it reported that the Kremlin had undercut Raikov's claims by saying that Putin had only talked about restructuring the cabinet. Yet another government change was predicted by "Izvestiya" on 9 February. The paper said that in the near future a council for foreign policy will be set up in the president's office. PG

...AS KUDRIN WARNS OF PROBLEMS WITHOUT ONE...

In an interview published in the 9 February "Moskovskii komsomolets," Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin said that "we will lose control if we preserve the present structure [of the government]. The present structure is not an effective mechanism because it has not been changed since the early 1990s." He argued that Russia should "follow the example of other countries and establish the institution of responsible ministers who will be in charge of various aspects of the cabinet's activities." Under such a system, ministers would have the power of deputy prime ministers "at the same time," noting that his own situation is "an example of such an arrangement." PG

...AND NIKOLAEV CALLS FOR CIVILIAN DEFENSE MINISTER

In an interview published in "Vek" on 9 February, Andrei Nikolaev, the chairman of the Duma Defense Committee, said that Russia should have a civilian at the head of the Defense Ministry. Such a civilian minister, he said, need not focus on training issues but rather on policies, goals, and budgets. Meanwhile, "Nezavsimoe voennoe obozrenie," no. 4, reported that the Russian air force is focusing on developing planes and strategies to deal with local conflicts. PG

INFLATION RATE UP IN FEBRUARY

Consumer prices rose at a monthly rate of 3.36 percent during the first five days of February, the State Statistics Committee said on 9 February, according to Russian news agencies. That is up from 2.8 percent in January 2001 and points to an annual rate for 2001 far in excess of the 12 percent set in the state budget, "Izvestiya" reported the same day. PG

UNITY DEPUTY CALLS FOR APPOINTED GOVERNORS...

In an interview published in "Segodnya" on 9 February, Duma deputy (Unity) Vitalii Lednikov called for passage of a law that would allow the president to appoint and dismiss governors. Under such an arrangement, he added, the governors would serve not for any fixed term but at the pleasure of the president. Lednikov acknowledged that the proposal had not yet been discussed or endorsed by the Unity faction, but he said that many deputies "say this move is long overdue." PG

...AS UNITY CALLS FOR PARTIES LAW AMENDMENTS

Unity Duma leader Boris Gryzlov said on 10 February that his party plans to introduce amendments at the second and third readings of the parties law which will allow public servants -- except for the serving military -- to participate in politics and also give greater specificity on financing and organizational questions, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

LAND BILL TO MAKE ALL KINDS OF LAND LEGALLY EQUAL

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said on 9 February that the government's draft land bill makes all categories of land equal in the eyes of the law, ITAR-TASS reported. But he indicated that did not mean that land sales will begin immediately -- that will be phased in over several years -- or that sales of agricultural land would be permitted -- a subject, he said, of additional legislation. PG

ILLARIONOV, GREF OUTLINE ECONOMIC PLANS

Speaking on 10 February at a Moscow seminar on the California energy crisis, Presidential Economic Adviser Andrei Illarionov said that the crisis in the Western U.S. showed that Russia must move either toward a totally controlled market or a totally liberalized one, Interfax reported. Attempts "to sit between two chairs will lead nowhere but to a catastrophe," he said. On the same day, Economic Development and Trade Minister Gref said that the government plans to push ahead with income tax legislation, profit tax rules, restructuring agriculture, a new customs code, and currency deregulation, ITAR-TASS reported.

VESHNYAKOV SAYS MORE ELECTION REFORMS AHEAD

Speaking to the Unity party seminar on 10 February, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said that a law had been prepared for the election of legislators to the Russia-Belarus Union parliament, ITAR-TASS reported. In addition, he said that modifications and amendments had been prepared on the parties bill, and on elections and constitutional reforms. PG

YABLOKO, KREMLIN RAPROCHEMENT SEEN

An article in "Vremya MN" on 9 February said that the liberal Yabloko party is working ever more closely with President Putin thanks to a convergence of views on foreign policy issues. PG

LOWER LEVEL EES OFFICIAL TO TAKE BLAME FOR FAR EAST ENERGY CRISIS

Speaking to reporters in Khabarovsk on 9 February, Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais said that he does not intend to resign because of the energy crisis in Primorskii Krai, Interfax reported. According to the agency, Chubais has reportedly sent a proposal to EES's board asking them to dismiss Anatolii Kopsov, an EES official who heads the company's task force on crisis regions. EES Corporate Communications Adviser Sergei Pinchuk told "The Moscow Times" on 8 February that "in terms of power supplies, the Far East is walking a tightrope. A super effort is needed to prevent it from going off the cliff." JAC

LESIN SAYS FOREIGN INVESTORS WELCOME, DENIES MEDIA FREEDOM UNDER THREAT

Press Minister Mikhail Lesin told Interfax on 10 February that the Russian government has no objections to foreign investors in the country's media outlets, but he added that they should consider whether the firms they want to put their money in are actually profitable and not demand guarantees. In other comments, he denied that there is any threat to freedom of speech in Russia. "Has anyone really been closed?" he asked. In other media-related developments, prosecutors again searched the offices of Media-MOST on 9 February and Gazprom chief Rem Vyakhirev reiterated that "debts have to be paid" but said that his company will not threaten NTV's independence. "The only difference [once his company takes control of NTV, Vyakhirev said,] is that the technique will now work for the benefit of the whole of Russia rather than for only one or two chosen bosses." On 11 February, Interfax reported that Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov has said that no charges will be made against Media-MOST journalists concerning loans they might have received. PG

KREMLIN LUKEWARM ON ANTI-CORRUPTION BODY

Kirill Kabanov of the Russian National Anti-Corruption Committee said that Russian Security Council officials had told him that there is no special need for a special agency to fight corruption in Russia, "Vremya Novostei" reported on 9 February. His group has drafted a bill to create one but so far it has received little support. Kabanov said that corruption in the law enforcement agencies reflected the drop in the prestige of police work, poor funding, and a general lack of a sense of responsibility. Moreover, he said, throughout the country, corruption is endemic. "In Soviet times," he said, "there was so-called telephone law -- a manifestation of corruption as well, by the way. Now, it's money that decides." PG

MOSCOW LESS INTERESTED IN CIS, MORE IN ETHNIC RUSSIANS

In an interview with Kyiv's "Den" newspaper published on 10 February, Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov said that he expected the integration of the Commonwealth of Independent States to continue but not at an accelerated pace. Meanwhile, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 9 February the statement of Duma CIS committee chairman Boris Pastukhov that "we are witnessing inequality of people in many former republics of the Soviet Union...primarily the Russian-speaking population and persons of other so-called 'non-titular nations.'" Pastukhov, whose committee also is responsible for Russian "compatriots" abroad, said Moscow must step up its protection of them. PG

COURTS CONSIDERED 8,000 CORRUPTION CASES IN 2000

Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov on 11 February said on ORT that Russian courts had considered approximately 8,000 cases of alleged bribery and corruption during 2000, AP reported. Ustinov used the opportunity to defend the decision of his office to drop charges against former Kremlin property manager Pavel Borodin, currently being held in the U.S. and facing extradition to Switzerland. He said: "we have nothing concrete, nothing that would give us reason to charge" him. PG

DUMA MAY SUSPEND TIES TO U.S., SWISS PARLIAMENTS

Duma International Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin said on 9 February that he does not rule out that the Russian parliament may suspend its ties with the Swiss parliament and the U.S. Congress until Russia-Belarus Union Secretary Borodin is released, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, on the same day, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" speculated that Borodin's arrest in New York may have had even murkier origins than hitherto suspected. The paper pointed to an ethnic Kazakh, Ulukbek Eshtaev, who claims to have a KGB background, as possibly having lured Borodin to the U.S. PG

MOSCOW UPSET BY CIA STUDY...

The Foreign Ministry on 9 February released a statement saying that a statement by CIA Director George Tenet is "surprising" in its effort "to present Russia as a culprit in the propagation of weapons of mass destruction" and to suggest that Moscow is always acting against American interests, Interfax reported. The statement said that "the CIA has not very often given a good account of itself," adding that "Tenet's gloomy revelations on Russia and on our relations with the United States may fuel the hawkish moods in the U.S. Congress and be instrumental in increasing the CIA budget, but they do not reflect the facts, nor do they set the priorities of Russian-U.S. cooperation." Moscow has not yet reacted to a statement by U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice who was quoted in the 10 February Paris "Figaro" as saying that "I sincerely believe that Russia constitutes a threat to the West in general and to our European allies in particular." PG

...PLEASED BY BUSH CALL FOR DEFENSE REVIEW

Interfax on 10 February reported that a Russian military spokesman had welcomed the decision of U.S. President George W. Bush to engage in a comprehensive review of American defense policies. Such a review could open the way to talks on a wide variety of issues, the spokesman was quoted as saying. On 9 February, the Foreign Ministry reported that Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov had discussed by telephone with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell the possibility of the two meeting in the near future, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

JAPAN CONSIDERING SUMMIT DATE

The Japanese press reported on 11 March that Tokyo is giving final consideration to the date of a summit meeting between Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and Russian President Putin, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, the Khakasia Republic in Siberia announced plans to build a memorial to 285 Japanese prisoners of war who died there between 1945 and 1947, Interfax reported on 10 February. PG

EU EXTENDS RESTRICTIONS ON RUSSIAN STEEL...

Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Maksim Medvedkov said on 9 February that the European Union has extended the 12 percent reduction on imports of Russian steel, Interfax reported. The EU imposed this restriction because of what the EU says are Russian subsidies to steel producers. PG

...AS RUSSIA PLANS TO RESTRICT GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS

Vladimir Plotnikov, the chairman of the Duma Agriculture Committee, says that the Duma will seek to introduce restrictions against genetically modified foods in order to product domestic consumers, "Izvestiya" reported on 9 February. PG

RUSSIA TO PHASE OUT PURCHASES OF FOREIGN PLANES

Aleksandr Neradko, the head of the State Civil Aviation Service, said on 9 February that state regulation of the country's domestic airlines calls for gradually eliminating purchases of airplanes built abroad, Interfax reported. On the same day, the 78th anniversary of the formation of Aeroflot, officials laid the cornerstone for a new passenger terminal in Moscow, Sheremetyevo-3, which is to be completed by 2003. PG

MOSCOW SEEKS HELP TO DESTROY CHEMICAL WEAPONS

A spokesman for the Munitions Agency told AP on 9 February that the Russian government will begin to destroy its chemical weapons stocks "in the second half of this year" but need additional Western funding to go forward. Russia is now more than a year past the deadline it had agreed to at the start of the process. PG

MOSCOW PLANS FREE TRADE ACCORD WITH BELGRADE

Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko said on 9 February that Moscow and Belgrade are considering a draft free trade agreement, Interfax reported. He announced that the two countries have already signed an agreement for the delivery of 1.5 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas to Yugoslavia in 2001. Meanwhile, Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, the head of the Defense Ministry's main international cooperation department, said on 9 February that Defense Minister Igor Sergeev's recent visit to Yugoslavia had promoted bilateral military ties. PG

ZHIRINOVSKY'S SOLUTION FOR DEBT CRISIS: RENAME THE COUNTRY

Speaking on 9 February to a Duma hearing on economic security, Duma Deputy Chairman and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky said that he had found a loophole that would allow Russia to escape its foreign debt burden: renaming the country, Interfax reported. "Who prevents us from totally ending the existence of the Russian Federation, establishing a new state and abandoning all of the Russian Federation's commitments?" Zhirinovsky said that "we have a new one -- Russia, Belarus, and Armenia -- and let's give it a new name, the 'Eurasian Confederation,' for example." Hearing organizers promised to take Zhirinovsky's ideas into account, the Russian news service reported. PG

ORTHODOX CHURCHMAN OPPOSES TAX NUMBERS

Archimandrite Pankratii, the abbot of the Valaam monastery in Karelia, told Interfax-Northwest on 10 February that the Russian Orthodox church regards the assignment of individual taxpayer numbers as "sinful rather than gracious and God-pleasing." PG

ONE-THIRD OF RUSSIANS UNAWARE OF PRESIDENTIAL ENVOYS

A poll reported that only 64 percent of Russians know about the existence of the institution of presidential envoys and that only 24 percent can name the one in their district, "Izvestiya" reported on 9 February. PG

PENSIONERS IN RUSSIA'S NORTH SUFFERING

Valentina Pivnenko, the head of the interfaction Duma deputies group called Russia's North, said that pensioners in the northern portions of Russia are suffering even more than those elsewhere because of the high cost of living, "Izvestiya" reported on 9 February. PG

NAZDRATENKO SAYS HE WILL NOT SEEK RE-ELECTION...

Former Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko was released from the hospital on 11 February, where he was recently admitted following problems with hypertension. Nazdratenko told Interfax-Eurasia the same day that he does not plan to announce his candidacy in upcoming gubernatorial elections; however, he said that he will continue attending sessions of the Federation Council until the new governor is selected. Meanwhile, presidential envoy to the Far East, Konstantin Pulikovskii, arrived in Vladivostok on 11 February. The purpose of his trip, according to "Segodnya" on 12 February, is to clarify the circumstances surrounding the naming of the acting governor of the krai. JAC

...AS QUESTIONS ARE RAISED OVER HIS 'SUCCESSOR'

Initially, Konstantin Tolstoshein was named acting governor, but later news reports said that Nazdratenko had in fact named his first deputy governor, Valentin Dubinin, to the post, and that Tolstoshein was only filling in until Dubinin, who had been out of town at the time of Nazdratenko's resignation, could return. Legislators in the krai's parliament have questioned whether Dubinin should be the acting governor, arguing that there is no legal basis for the resigning governor to name his successor, and that the acting governor should be named by the legislators or Russia's president. On 9 February, a group of State Duma deputies appealed to the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court to clarify the proper legal procedure for appointing an acting governor in the krai. JAC

FIRST CHECHEN GOVERNMENT APPOINTMENTS APPROVED

Following a meeting in Gudermes on 9 February with Viktor Kazantsev, the federal representative to the South Russia Federal District, Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov has finally approved the structure of the future Chechen government, Interfax reported on 10 February (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 6, 9 February 2001). Kadyrov on 10 February announced the appointments of Viktor Aleksentsev and Hero of Russia Colonel Yuri Em as deputy heads of the Chechen government. Vasilii Vasilenko from Moscow was named press minister, and economist Abu Sugaipov minister of household services. Veteran journalist Movla Osmaev, who served as deputy information and press minister in 1995-1996 under Doku Zavgaev, has been tapped to be minister of culture. Lema Dadaev was named minister of science and public and specialized education, and Magomed Vakhaev has been appointed minister of labor and social protection. The responsibilities of government ministers Magomed Muzaev and Ilya Gavrilov are not clear. The cabinet does not include an interior minister as the federal Interior Ministry refuses to hand over responsibility in that sphere to Kadyrov's administration. LF

CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER APPREHENDED

Russian Interior Ministry forces captured "Brigadier-General" Ali Shabazov and 10 of his men in the village of Shalazhi early on 9 February, ITAR-TASS reported. A former Soviet army officer, Shabazov was subordinate to field commander Ruslan Gelaev and commanded the sector between the western suburbs of Grozny and the administrative border between Chechnya and Ingushetia. LF




ARMENIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL RESIGNS

Boris Nazarian submitted his resignation as prosecutor-general late on 8 February, Noyan Tapan reported. Nazarian, a close associate of former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian, was appointed to that post following the October 1999 parliament shootings. It is not clear whether he offered any explanation for his decision, or whether President Robert Kocharian has accepted his resignation. LF

ARMENIAN WAR VETERANS ORGANIZATION RALLIES BEHIND PREMIER

Following a congress in Yerevan on 10 February, leaders of the Yerkrapah Union of veterans of the Karabakh war formally stated that the organization will not split with the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) headed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Its individual members will, however, be free to decide whether or not to quit either the Yerkrapah Union or the HHK to join the new political party to be founded by Aram Sargsian and Albert Bazeyan. Both men quit the HHK last week to register their rejection of the policies of the Markarian government (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 6, 9 February 2001). LF

ARMENIAN OFFICIAL DISAVOWS CALLS FOR AUTONOMY FOR CO-ETHNICS IN GEORGIA...

Speaking in Yerevan on 9 February, presidential press spokesman Vahe Gabrielian said that recent statements by members of the Communist Party of Armenia and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation -- Dashnaktsutiun calling for territorial autonomy for the predominantly Armenian population of Georgia's Djavakheti region do not reflect "the opinion or policy of the [Armenian] state," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Gabrielian said that administrative divisions within Georgia are an internal Georgian issue. But he added that the Armenian leadership does not overlook issues relating to Armenian communities abroad in its relations with the countries where they live. Also on 9 February, Armen Rustamian, a member of the HHD parliament faction, told journalists that his party is not advancing territorial claims on behalf of the Armenian population of Djavakheti, but supports their right to self-determination, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

...DEFENDS TREATMENT OF DETAINED ARMENIAN BUSINESSMAN

Gabrielian also told journalists on 9 February that the Armenian authorities have demonstrated every possible humane approach towards detained businessman Arkadii Vartanian, Noyan Tapan reported. Vartanian was taken into custody on 30 October after a march by his supporters to the presidential palace and subsequently charged with calling for the overthrow of the Armenian leadership. He was hospitalized last month with heart problems. Gabrielian noted that Vartanian was taken to a specialized clinic of his own choice rather than the remand prison hospital, and that his lawyer and relatives are free to visit him there. LF

AZERBAIJANI AUTHORITIES FOUND NEW SOCIETY FOR WAR INVALIDS

A constituent congress took place in Baku on 9 February of a new government-sponsored committee intended to represent the interests of war veterans and invalids, Turan reported. Only representatives of state-controlled media were allowed to attend. The congress elected a 145-member board and 82 chairmen of district branches of the committee. Mehti Mehtiev, about whom little is reportedly known, was named the committee's chairman. The new committee is clearly intended to undermine the society of Karabakh war invalids whose members launched a hunger-strike last month to demand an increase in their pensions and allowances, and whose leader, Etimad Asadov, was denounced at the congress as a "mafioso" who is sought by police in an unnamed foreign country. Turan reported on 10 February that most members of the new committee are veterans of World War II. LF

GEORGIAN OFFICIALS INSPECT FRONTIER WITH CHECHNYA, INGUSHETIA

Georgian Minister of State Gia Arsenishvili, parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania, and Georgian Border Guards Commander Lieutenant-General Valeri Chkheidze monitored the situation on Georgia's border with Chechnya and Ingushetia on 11 February, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. Both the Georgian border guards and the OSCE observers deployed on that sector of the Georgian border said no violations have been recorded recently. LF

GEORGIA, RUSSIA FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT ON REMOVAL OF MUNITIONS STORE

Talks between Russian and Georgian military officials have failed to yield an agreement on a timetable for the closure of an ammunition depot in Sagaredzho, eastern Georgia, ITAR-TASS quoted Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Avtandil Napetvaridze as telling journalists on 9 February. Georgian specialists believe it would be possible to remove all munitions and mines stored at that facility within 10-12 months, while Russian experts say it will take three years. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT ENUMERATES PRIORITIES FOR ARMY REFORM

Addressing Kazakhstan's top brass in Almaty on 9 February, Nursultan Nazarbaev singled out as the main focus of the reform of the armed forces begun last year the threats posed by terrorism, religious extremism, drug-trafficking, and the infiltration of Kazakh territory by "armed gangs," Interfax and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. He said the Soviet-era concentration on readiness to wage a major war with China is no longer relevant, and that greater flexibility and responsiveness on the part of the military are called for. "Today, the mobility and self-reliance of every serviceman, platoon and regiment are of primary importance," Nazarbaev said. As a first step in that direction, a rapid deployment force comprising a former paratroop battalion and the Kazbat peacekeeping force has already been formed, that unit's deputy commander, Adylbek Aldabergenov, told Interfax on 9 February. LF

JAILED KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER BEGINS HUNGER-STRIKE

Former Vice President and opposition Ar-Namys party chairman Feliks Kulov has begun a hunger-strike in jail, his lawyer told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 9 February. Kulov was sentenced to a seven-year jail term last month on charges of abuse of his official position while serving as national security minister in 1997-1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001). On 10 February, Kulov's lawyer said the Bishkek Military Court will begin considering Kulov's appeal against that sentence on 22 February. LF

FORMER SENIOR TAJIK OFFICIAL SENTENCED TO DEATH

Djakhongir Ruziev, who served from 1997-2000 as chairman of Tajikistan's State Committee for Precious Stones, was sentenced to death by the Tajik Supreme Court on 9 February on charges of committing one murder and organizing two more, and of stealing gems worth a total of $29 million, Interfax reported. Ruziev's nephew was found guilty on two counts off murder and likewise sentenced to death; four other people identified as Ruziev's accomplices were jailed. LF




BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES ARREST SON OF PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL

Police on 10 February arrested Alyaksandr Chyhir, son of former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir, accusing him of selling parts from stolen cars, AP reported. Mikhail Chyhir, who had declared his will to run in this year's presidential elections, said the arrest will not deter him from running. "The authorities realized they cannot touch me and decided to take revenge on our kids... The allegations against my son are absolutely absurd," he told journalists. In 1999, Mikhail Chyhir was jailed for five months and charged with embezzlement, theft, and other crimes while he was prime minister. In May 2000, he was convicted of abuse of power and given a three-year suspended sentence, but that sentence was canceled by the Supreme Court in December and the case was returned to a lower court. JM

MARCHERS PRESS UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT TO STEP DOWN...

Some 5,000 people marched through Kyiv on 11 February demanding that President Leonid Kuchma resign over allegations that he plotted the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, Reuters reported. Many people held banners reading "Kuchma Kaput!" and "Ukraine Is a Police State." This was the second such protest in the past week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2001). Meanwhile, a group of Ukrainian lawmakers and opposition politicians on 9 February set up a Forum for National Salvation Civic Initiative with the main goal of deposing Kuchma and transforming Ukraine into a parliamentary-presidential or parliamentary republic. JM

...WHILE HE DENIES ROLE IN JOURNALIST'S DEATH...

Kuchma told London's "Financial Times" on 10 February that he had no role in the death of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. "I can swear on the bible or on the constitution that I never made such an order to destroy a human being. This is simply absurd," he noted. Kuchma said the tapes provided by his former bodyguard, Mykola Melnychenko, were a montage of different conversations recorded "probably" in his office. "Maybe the name Gongadze came up in conversations, I don't remember. But I give you my honest word, I did not even know this journalist," Kuchma said. He said the tape scandal was staged by a "well-organized force" with "a great deal of money and capabilities," adding that "I completely reject the idea that this was done on the level of states, that it was the Americans or the Russians." JM

...WARNS AGAINST CONSEQUENCES OF PROTESTS...

Kuchma said on 9 February that the current anti-presidential actions in Ukraine threaten national security and independence. "If strategic investors and serious foreign companies do not come to Ukraine to take part in privatizations -- the results will be [obvious]," Interfax quoted Kuchma as saying. Kuchma said some opposition leaders are like "Lenins" and take "not people but a herd of cattle" to the streets. He also compared the anti-presidential rally in Kyiv on 6 February to a coup attempt of Hitler and his associates in Munich in November 1923, saying that "there is only one step from such national socialism to fascism." JM

...AND SACKS SECURITY CHIEFS

In what is seen as a step to appease the moods of "insurrection" in Ukraine, Kuchma on 10 February sacked Leonid Derkach, head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported. The opposition has demanded the sacking of Derkach, Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, and presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn for their alleged role in the liquidation of Heorhiy Gongadze, and Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko for his alleged attempts to hinder the investigation of the Gongadze case. Derkach will be replaced by his predecessor, Volodymyr Radchenko, who headed the SBU from 1996-1998. Kuchma also fired Volodymyr Shepel, head of the state bodyguard service. Defector Mykola Melnychenko, who provoked the tape scandal in Ukraine, was Shepel's subordinate. JM

PUTIN, KUCHMA MEET AMID UKRAINE'S POLITICAL TENSIONS

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Kuchma met at the Yuzhmash rocket factory in Dnipropetrovsk on 12 February to discuss boosting bilateral cooperation, including in the space industry. "Relations on the post-Soviet territory are a priority for us, especially with Ukraine, our largest partner," Putin told Ukrainian journalists ahead of his visit. Putin also said anti-Kuchma protests will not throw off Russian-Ukrainian cooperation. "[Ukraine's internal problems] are making some impression on us, but we will work with those elected by the Ukrainian people in accordance with democratic procedures," Interfax quoted Putin as saying. It is expected that the Dnipropetrovsk summit will result in signing 13 documents, including five on cooperation in the space industry. JM

...AGREE TO COUPLE ELECTRICITY GRIDS

Putin and Kuchma announced an agreement to join their nations' electricity grids. The two presidents said the deal is the biggest achievement of their meeting in Dnipropetrovsk. "Today, we made a huge step forward on further harmonizing our production ties," AP quoted Putin as saying. Putin added that the agreement will allow the two countries to jointly export energy to Ukraine's neighbor, Moldova, and other countries in the region. JM

NATO OFFICIALS VISIT ESTONIA

NATO Assistant Secretary-General Klaus-Peter Klaiber led a delegation of NATO officials which on 8 and 9 February checked the implementation of Estonia's annual national plan and individual partnership program, BNS reported. Klaiber held talks with Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Defense Minister Juri Luik, Defense Forces Commander Rear Admiral Tarmo Kouts, and Bank of Estonia representatives. Klaiber praised Estonia's plans to raise defense spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product and its endorsement of a security concept last year, but noted the need to promote good relations with Russia and invest more in human resources. SG

LATVIAN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS MEET IN AUSTRIA

Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Vladimir Putin held talks in Innsbruck on 10 February, LETA reported. This was the first meeting of the presidents of the two countries since April 1994, when agreements on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Latvia were signed. Putin had prepared a list of complaints on violations of the rights of the Russian-speaking population in Latvia, which were discussed during the meeting. Vike-Freiberga stressed that during 10 years of independence Latvia has passed laws in compliance with all international norms to assure equal laws and that no human rights violations exist. At Putin's suggestion, the issue of the NATO expansion was not discussed during the meeting, but the two leaders did talk about the EU. Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins called the meeting a valuable diplomatic achievement for both countries. SG

BALTIC PRIME MINISTERS MEET IN RIGA

Prime Ministers Andris Berzins (Latvia), Rolandas Paksas (Lithuania), and Mart Laar (Estonia) attended the Baltic Council of Ministers meeting in Riga on 9 February, BNS reported. Talks centered on the Baltic states' progress in joining the EU and NATO and reiterated the need for Baltic unity in these efforts, The premiers also talked about the common interests in the spheres of energy, transport, environmental protection, and the free movement of people. In separate talks, Berzins told Paksas that the Latvian parliament's delay in ratifying the sea border treaty between their states could be overcome by the signing an agreement that will allow Latvian fishermen to continue fishing in accustomed fishing sites. SG

KAUNAS CITY COUNCIL ELECTS NEW MAYOR

The Kaunas City Council on 9 February, by a vote of 25 to 14, elected Social Liberal Erikas Tamasauskas over Conservative Ramunas Garbaravicius as the city's mayor, ELTA reported. Tamasauskas is the third mayor since the municipal elections in March 2000. The first mayor, Freedom Union Chairman Vytautas Sustauskas, resigned after being elected to the Lithuanian parliament. He was succeeded by fellow party member Gediminas Budnikas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 2000), who had formed an alliance with the Conservatives. The coalition, however, was not successful and Budnikas resigned as mayor, but has now been elected first deputy mayor. SG

POLAND'S MAIN OPPOSITION PARTY PLEDGES CONTINUITY IN EU MEMBERSHIP TALKS

Leszek Miller, leader of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), said on 9 February that European integration will be the main foreign policy objective of a future government formed by the SLD. Miller declared that the SLD will not make personnel changes in the current composition of the teams negotiating EU membership terms and will not introduce "radical revisions" of Poland's negotiating positions. "But [we will stick to our pledge] on one condition -- that the opposition is continuously consulted about the negotiations, that the opposition has access to the latest information, [and] that no surprises are sprung on the opposition in the form of initiatives which could break this consensus," PAP quoted Miller as saying. JM

CZECH TELEVISION STRIKE ENDS

Czech Television journalists ended their labor action on 10 February, after meeting one day earlier with Interim Manager Jiri Balvin. Balvin said he does not "intend to differentiate" between journalists who joined the strike and those who did not and that he expects the management appointed by his predecessor, Jiri Hodac, to resign. Hours later it was announced that Interim-Director Vera Valterova, News Director Jana Bobosikova, and Finance Director Jindrich Beznoska had been removed from their posts. Balvin said that their "further employment by Czech Television is a matter for negotiation." Czech President Vaclav Havel said the first decisions taken by the interim manager "seem to be sensible," CTK reported. On 11 February, Civic Democratic Party leader Vaclav Klaus criticized Balvin on Nova Television for having negotiated with the strikers before they ended the sanctions. MS

HAVEL ILL, INTERRUPTS MID-EAST VISIT

President Havel on 12 February was forced to interrupt a planned six-day visit to the Middle East and is being transported home on the personal plane of Kuwaiti Emir Sheik Jaber Al Ahmed Al Sabah, CTK reported. On 11 February, Havel felt ill and doctors established that he suffers from a recurrent bronchial inflammation. Havel had earlier conducted talks with the Kuwaiti leader, after meeting in Riad with Saudi Arabian King Fahed and other dignitaries. The visit plan also included the United Arab Emirates. MS

PRAGUE DROPS SOME REQUESTS FOR 'TRANSITION PERIODS' IN EU ACCESSION

Following the Hungarian and Polish examples, the Czech Republic has dropped some of its previous requests for "transition periods" in the accession negotiations underway with the EU, CTK reported on 11 February. In the energy chapter, Prague has informed the EU that it no longer asks for postponing the liberalization of the energy sector market till 2005 and is no longer asking to be granted permission to have lower VAT on telecommunication services and consumer fuel purchases. The Czech Republic has also withdrawn some of its earlier demands for "transition periods" in the environmental area, but maintains other demands, such as postponement of the expensive requirement to modernize sewage in municipalities with a population less than 10,000, CTK reported.

KAVAN TO RUN FOR PARTY DEPUTY LEADERSHIP

Foreign Minister Jan Kavan will run for the position of Social Democratic Party (CSSD) deputy chairman at the April CSSD National Conference that will elect Milos Zeman's successor as the head of the party, the daily "Pravo" reported on 12 January. Kavan was proposed for that position by delegates representing several regions and said he was "pleased" about the recommendation. Meeting in Ceske Budejovice, southern Bohemia, on 11 February, regional CSSD leaders confirmed their support of Vladimir Spidla to be Zeman's successor. Interior Minister Stanislav Gross is likely to be elected in April as one of Spidla's deputies and to be the "second man in the CSSD," CTK reported. MS

CZECH DEPUTY SPEAKS OF HIS CUBAN DETENTION

Deputy Ivan Pilip on 9 February told AP that during his interrogation by the Cuban authorities "all questions...were aimed at the role of the U.S. in our trip." Pilip said he had been aware that his activity on behalf of the Freedom House organization could lead to his detention but that he and "his friends" "hoped for a quick release." "My last trip to Cuba, also on behalf of Freedom House, had passed without incident in 1999," he said. He said Cubans' support for Fidel Castro is "less spontaneous" than in the past, but "they are still aware of his intellectual abilities and of his strength and boldness." He added that "unless something extraordinary happens, changes before Fidel Castro is gone will be extremely difficult." MS

SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTRY WANTS TO REPLACE RUSSIAN FIGHTERS

The Defense Ministry on 9 February said it will propose the replacement of Soviet-built fighters with new subsonic planes in a deal analysts estimate could be worth $1 billion, Reuters reported. A statement released by the ministry said Defense Minister Jozef Stank recommended that the current fleet, which includes a number of supersonic MiG-29s inherited from the Czechoslovak armed forces after the country split in 1993, should be replaced with "modern, subsonic, multipurpose aircraft." The statement said the proposal "best combines the need to protect the country's air space with the realities of the Slovak economy." The National Defense Council is to discuss the proposal later this month. Ministry officials said they viewed potential offset programs as a way to revive former arms manufacturers in Slovakia, including Povazke Strojarne, which used to produce fighter engines. MS

INTERNATIONAL FINANCE INSTITUTIONS BUY SHARES IN SLOVAK BANK

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) will evenly split shares amounting to 25.89 percent in Vseobecna Uverova Banka, Slovakia's second largest bank, AP reported on 9 February. The EBRD was established to help the transition to market-oriented economies and to promote private initiative in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE. The IFC promotes private-sector investment in developing countries. MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER ATTENDS SLOVAK OPERA GALA

Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban and his Slovak counterpart, Mikulas Dzurinda, attended an opera gala in Bratislava on 11 February organized by the Slovak Solvnaft and the Hungarian Mol companies, MTI reported. Under a deal signed in May 2000, Mol acquired a 36.2 stake in Solvnaft, becoming the most important foreign investor in that company. The two premiers agreed that Dzurinda will pay an official visit to Hungary on 4 April. MS

TORGYAN TO BECOME SMALLHOLDER PARLIAMENTARY GROUP LEADER

The Steering Board of the Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) on 9 February nominated FKGP chairman Jozsef Torgyan, the outgoing Agriculture Minister, as the party's parliamentary group leader. The board also nominated current group leader Attila Bank as deputy speaker of the parliament, and approved Torgyan's decision to designate Geza Gyimothy as agriculture minister. Torgyan denied that his nomination needs to be approved by members of the parliamentary group, saying he was elected parliamentary group leader in 1998, but his party chairmanship had prevented him from taking over the post. MSZ

FIDESZ CHAIRMAN ATTACKS HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION

Laszlo Kover on 10 February told the FIDESZ National Board that the former government has divided the country between rich and poor, and it did nothing to commemorate the Millennium of the Magyar Conquest in 1996. Kover described opposition intellectuals as "intellectually homeless" people, and asked them not to begrudge those "who have an intellectual roof over their heads." Opposition Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs said the insulting tone of Kover's remarks persuaded him that the Socialist Party was right to have voiced skepticism about FIDESZ's unexpected willingness to cooperate with the opposition. MSZ




YUGOSLAV GOVERNMENT SETS UP INTERNAL CUSTOMS POSTS...

The Federal Customs Directorate said in a statement on 11 February that internal customs posts on the borders between Serbia and Montenegro and between Serbia and Kosova will be set up the next day, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2001). The statement cited the need to "block illegal traffic in goods." AP reported from Belgrade on 12 February that the checkpoints are indeed in place. Officials from the EU, its Balkan Stability Pact, and the European Parliament said in Belgrade in recent days that they support Yugoslavia's efforts to control its borders and thwart crime, dpa reported. The former regime of President Slobodan Milosevic also set up customs checks on the border with Montenegro, which the Montenegrin authorities regarded as a form of economic blockade against their republic. PM

...TO THE SURPRISE OF MONTENEGRO

Montenegrin Trade Minister Ramo Bralic said on 12 February that "the re-imposition of control checkpoints between Serbia and Montenegro is a political move. Our government found out about it from the media," AP reported from Belgrade. He added that "if the [new Belgrade] government is really democratic, there were several other ways of establishing control of trade between the two republics, aside from the checkpoints." PM

MESSAGE TO MONTENEGRO: BRUSSELS KNOWS BEST

For at least the second time in less than one month, EU officials delivered a tough message to the Montenegrin government to work out a joint political arrangement with Serbia and not to declare independence, "Vesti" reported on 10 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2001). "Any renegotiation of the federal relationship must take into account the internal stability of Yugoslavia and the regional stability of Southeastern Europe. No unilateral action should be taken which could jeopardize this process," Sven-Olof Petersson, a senior official at the Swedish Foreign Ministry and head of the EU Political Directors Troika, said. Petersson conceded the Montenegrins' right to hold a referendum but added that such a vote is a "very sensitive issue" that has often led in the past to a polarization of society. He warned that leaders of a country must take responsibility for their decisions, adding that any unilateral move could have unspecified serious consequences. Dutch and Belgian diplomats also made up the delegation. PM

MONTENEGRO TAKES EU BLAST IN STRIDE

The office of President Milo Djukanovic replied to the EU's warning with a statement on 9 February, AP reported. Djukanovic rejected "European fears that the Montenegrin proposal for remodeling the federation could destabilize the Balkans. We [Montenegro] and Serbia will patiently seek a common solution, which should benefit both sides, and which would further strengthen and stabilize the region," he added. In a newspaper interview, Djukanovic stressed that the breakup of the flawed Yugoslav federation will actually contribute to stability in the Balkans, "Vesti" reported on 10 February (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 November 2000 and 19 January 2001). In January, several Montenegrin officials made it clear that they regard such EU statements as arrogant and inadmissible, particularly when coming from officials who themselves represent small countries. PM

YUGOSLAV PREMIER: MILOSEVIC EXTRADITION 'BENEATH DIGNITY'

Zoran Zizic said that Milosevic will not be extradited to The Hague so long as he is prime minister, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Podgorica on 12 February. Zizic stressed that any extradition would be "beneath the dignity of the state" and therefore unacceptable. PM

EU 'SUGGESTS' THAT BELGRADE ARREST VUKOVAR CRIMINALS

Doris Pack, who led a European Parliament delegation to Belgrade, said on 10 February that "we have asked [Yugoslavia]...if it would be possible to incriminate the troika [of Yugoslav army officers] that destroyed Vukovar," in 1991, AP reported. She "suggested" that the arrest of Veselin Sljivancanin, Mile Mrksic, and Miroslav Radic would be regarded in the EU as a "sign of [the] good faith" of the new Belgrade authorities. Pack stressed that the arrests must "be soon because others, not only the EU, are waiting for some movement in this direction." She pointed out that "all our help is linked to conditions. We deliver, if you deliver as well." EU Commission President Romano Prodi said in Belgrade almost two weeks earlier, however, that he has "full confidence" in President Vojislav Kostunica and places "no conditions" on him in return for EU aid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2001). Prodi was specifically referring to the extradition of war criminals. Croatian authorities have long insisted on the arrest of the "Vukovar troika." PM

PRESEVO MAYOR: SERBIAN FORCES USE ALBANIANS AS 'HUMAN SHIELD'

Mayor Riza Halimi of Presevo said on 11 February that Serbian forces used an unspecified number of ethnic Albanians traveling in buses and other vehicles as "human shields" in an exchange of fire with the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB) on the Prishtina-Gjilan-Presevo road, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 11 February. Serbian forces said in a statement that the travelers were caught in crossfire during an UCPMB attack on a Serbian position. The statement added that Serbian forces helped bring the "members of the Albanian nationality...to safety." The Serbian military also reported several additional attacks by the UCPMB on various Serbian positions in the Presevo region. As with many of the reports on military activity in southwestern Serbia, there is no independent confirmation of the frequent Serbian and far less frequent Albanian claims. PM

MACEDONIA, YUGOSLAVIA TO SETTLE BORDER QUESTIONS WITHOUT KOSOVARS

Foreign Minister Srdjan Kerim said in Skopje on 11 February that his government and the new Yugoslav authorities have nearly completed work on defining their common border, dpa reported. He added that he expects the final document to be ready for signing at the 22 February Balkan summit in Skopje. Speaking to reporters, he refused to comment on reports that Kosovar leaders wanted to be included in the talks. Kerim added: "I do not know what relevant political factors from Kosovo could take part in talks on the border, because that issue is settled between Macedonia and Yugoslavia, according to international norms." PM

WORK BEGINS IN MACEDONIA ON TETOVO UNIVERSITY

Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, ethnic Albanian leader Arben Xhaferi, and the OSCE's Max Van Der Stoel attended the groundbreaking ceremony in Tetovo on 11 February for the republic's first private university (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2001). Instruction will be provided in Albanian, Macedonian, and English according to a well-defined curriculum. The university will be named after Van Der Stoel, who worked out the compromise formula. The ethnic Albanians of Macedonia have long wanted a university with Albanian-language instruction, but the Macedonian authorities feared that such an institution could easily turn into a focal point of Albanian nationalism, as Prishtina University did in the 1970s. The new institution aims at providing a world-class education free of nationalist indoctrination. Some observers have already suggested that, if successful, the university could attract students from well beyond Macedonia and the region's ethnic Albanian communities. PM

CROATIAN LEADERS SLAM VETERANS' PROTESTS

Nearly 100,000 war veterans and supporters of late President Franjo Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community demonstrated in Split on 11 February to protest the government's policy of prosecuting Croatian war criminals and cooperating with the Hague-based tribunal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2001). President Stipe Mesic said that the demonstrators are trying to take power from the street rather than fight elections that they know they cannot win, the BBC's Serbian Service reported. Parliamentary speaker Zlatko Tomcic said that the protesters' statements sounded more like an ultimatum than a call for dialogue, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. PM

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS MAKE CONTROVERSIAL IRAQI TRIP

Five Romanian parliamentarians, two from the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) and three from the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM) flew to Baghdad on 10 February in a Moldovan plane transporting equipment sent within the framework of the "Oil for Food" program, Mediafax reported. The Foreign Ministry said the trip was coordinated by the Chamber of Commerce and did not break any UN sanctions, but the chamber's chief, Constantin Cojocaru, said this body had no knowledge that parliamentarians will accompany the transport. Chamber of Deputies spokesman Andrei Chiliman said such trips require the approval of the parliament's bureaus, which has neither been sought nor granted. PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor said in reply "we do not need to ask the parliament's permission, because we serve the Romanian people" and called on Romania to resume ties with Iraq and not let its people "die of hunger." MS

ROMANIA 'SUSPENDS' SENTENCE OF CONVICTED GENERALS

Prosecutor-General Joita Tanase on 9 February said he is "suspending" the sentencing of generals Victor Stanculescu and Mihai Chitac until 9 May. They were both sentenced to 15 years in prison for the role they played in quashing the revolt in Timisoara against dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in December 1989. Stanculescu has been a fugitive since he was sentenced in July 1999. The prosecutor-general said his office is examining the possibility of launching an appeal against the sentence, as demanded by the Defense Ministry, which had been sentenced to pay damages to victims. Former Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica criticized the decision as "political" and said it was "strange" that Tanase, who has been in office for just a few weeks, had sufficient time to study the voluminous file and make a decision. MS

ROMANIAN PARTIES FACING INTERNAL CONFLICTS

The Democratic Party's National Coordination Council on 9 February decided to convoke an Extraordinary Convention in May. Democratic Party leader Petre Roman recommended that the convention meet in September but was outvoted 276 to 160. Only an Extraordinary Convention can elect a new leadership for the party and Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu officially announced he will run for the party's chairmanship. Deputy Chairman Radu Berceanu resigned after being criticized by Roman for his coordination of the party's electoral campaign. On 10 February, the National Council of the Alliance for Romania decided to define the party's ideology as "social-liberal," as proposed by chairman Teodor Melescanu, but rejected the proposal to define the party as "center-right." Melescanu said he favors negotiations with the Democrats for an alliance, while Bucharest branch chairman Doru Viorel Ursu said the council's decisions are "non-statutory" and supported negotiations with the ruling PDSR. MS

HIDDEN TENSIONS EMERGE AT ROMANIAN-MOLDOVAN SUMMIT

President Ion Iliescu on 9 February told his Moldovan counterpart Petru Lucinschi in Vaslui that negotiations on the pending basic treaty between the two countries must be resumed after the Moldovan elections. Lucinschi said Moldova has "no problems" with the treaty initialed in April 2000 and the new Moldovan parliament should ratify it. Lucinschi also said his country is opposed to the concept of "two Romanian states" and prefers to speak of "brotherly relations." While both presidents agreed on the need for an urgent settlement of the Transdniester conflict, Iliescu said Russia's responsibility for that effort is "important" while Lucinschi said Moscow plays "a positive role." They agreed that relations between their countries must improve "regardless of the outcome of the Moldovan elections." Iliescu also said the tightening of border controls to reduce illegal immigration must not hinder "the free travel of Moldovan citizens." MS

MOLDOVAN POLLS SHOWS PARLIAMENT TO HAVE FIVE PARTIES

Only five political formations are likely to meet the 4 percent electoral threshold requirement and be represented in the next Moldovan parliament, according to a poll conducted by the local Institute for Public Technologies, Infotag reported on 9 February. The poll shows the Party of Moldovan Communists has the largest backing (48.2 percent), followed by the Braghis Alliance (15.3), the Party of Revival and Conciliation (9.2), the Democratic Party (6.2), and the Popular Party Christian Democratic (6 percent). Over 60 percent of the respondents said they are sure to participate in the ballot on 25 February, 33.7 percent have not yet decided whether to do so, and 5.6 percent said they will not participate in the elections, Infotag reported. MS

EIM TO MONITOR MOLDOVAN ELECTIONS

The European Institute for Mass Media (EIM) will monitor between 11 and 25 February the coverage of the electoral campaign in the Moldovan media, Flux reported on 11 February. EIM will collaborate for this purpose with the Chisinau-based CIVIS Center for Sociological, Political, and Psychological Investigations. MS

BULGARIAN SOCIALISTS MOVE NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION

The opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) on 9 February moved a no-confidence motion against the cabinet headed by Ivan Kostov, blaming it for the recent upsurge in crime, Reuters reported. "Escalation of crime in recent months is the result of the government's policy, " which has turned "clientilism and corruption into an official state policy," the motion said. The vote is scheduled for later this week but has no chance of being approved by the parliament, though the Turkish ethnic minority Movement for Rights and Freedom announced it will back it. MS

FORMER BULGARIAN KING CRITICIZES COURT DECISION

"The fact that I was deprived of the possibility to take part in the presidential elections has left me perplexed," former King Simeon II said in a written statement to the press on 10 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2001). While acknowledging that he has not permanently lived in Bulgaria in the last five years as stipulated by the constitution, Simeon said that "hardly any one else was more involved [than myself] in the problems of the country and its people." The former monarch said he respected the court ruling, but believed that the five-year residency requirement had been specifically designed to bar him from running, Reuters reported. He also promised to find a "valid alternative" to respond to the wishes of those who intended to vote for him in the presidential race. MS

FORMER BULGARIAN BANK OFFICIAL CHARGED WITH RESPONSIBILITY FOR ILLEGAL BAILOUTS

Stoyan Shukerov, former head of the National Bank's department for foreign currency transactions, was charged on 9 February with providing between 1993 and 1996 some $49 million in illegal bailouts to five commercial banks that went bankrupt in 1997, AP reported, citing BTA. He is suspected of lending the money without requiring collateral and poorly supervising loan recipients. He faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison if found guilty. MS

BULGARIANS' LIBYAN TRIAL POSTPONED AGAIN

A Libyan court on 10 February postponed for the ninth time the trial of the six Bulgarian medical personnel accused of having willfully infected children with the HIV virus in a Benghazi hospital, Reuters reported, citing Bulgarian Radio. The trial, which opened on 7 February 2000, is now due to resume on 17 March. MS




WHEN RELIGION, NATIONALITY, AND POLITICS INTERSECT


By Paul Goble

A provision in the Russian draft law on political parties prohibiting the organization of such groups on religious and ethnic lines has sparked a protest from members of the country's largest religious denomination, the Russian Orthodox Church.

A spokesman for the Union of Orthodox Christians, a group representing that denomination's lay members, sharply criticized the Kremlin's draft political party law that the Duma gave preliminary approval to on Wednesday. He said in Moscow on the same day that such a ban, if imposed, would deprive millions of Orthodox Russians of the right to promote traditional Russian Orthodox values.

The spokesman noted further that parties rooted in the Christian tradition play a key role in many political systems, including those of the most developed Western European states. And he said that parties promoting religious values can play an especially important part in the revival of Russian society.

This criticism of draft legislation developed by the administration of President Vladimir Putin is especially important for three reasons:

First, it provides an important clue as to how the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox church intends to expand its already large political role. By church rules, priests and hierarchs are prohibited from directly participating in political life at any level. But the ban does not extend to lay members of their congregations, and consequently, the Union of Orthodox Christians could easily become a political vehicle for the patriarchate itself.

Given the Orthodox Church's tradition of closely allying itself with the state and given the important role of priests in the lives of believers, the organization of such an Orthodox Russian party could thus become a powerful support for the central leadership, even if it offended many other groups.

Second, it suggests that the new draft law, one for which some four alternative drafts and more than 500 amendments have already been proposed, may face a more difficult future during upcoming discussions in the Russian parliament than many now expect.

Over the last several weeks, the Moscow press has been full of articles noting the objections of this or that political faction to the draft legislation but arguing that the Duma will certainly pass the bill in almost the same form proposed by the Kremlin. The objections from the Union of Orthodox Christians, however, may provide some important assistance to those who object to the bill for other reasons.

And third, the objections of the Union of Orthodox Christians highlight another instance of the law of unintended consequences. Those involved in drafting the law on parties and those commenting on its prospects have suggested that the ban on organizing parties based on religious or national lines was inserted to limit the political possibilities for small, non-Russian, and especially Islamic groups.

But now that members of the largest confession have discovered that this ban could affect them as well, many in Moscow and elsewhere are likely to be forced to confront a problem familiar to many other countries around the world.

Government attempts to restrict minorities in ways that end by restricting the rights of a majority group have typically generated a reaction among the majority that has often proved far more threatening than any of the minority actions would have been. In Canada, for example, earlier efforts to restrict the assertiveness of French-speaking Quebec residents have had the unintended consequence of helping to power Anglophone counter movements.

And efforts at restricting such minority rights, especially when they are lifted under political pressure from the dominant group, sometimes serve as the occasion for greater not lesser nationalist assertion by the dominant communities. Indeed, many minority groups often see such a pattern as both a reason and an opportunity for greater activity on their parts. If the draft parties law is revised, some minorities in Russia may thus organize precisely because that happened.

And to the extent that occurs, the chance of clashes along religious or ethnic lines are likely to increase -- precisely the opposite outcome the drafters of the original bill intended.

While those members of the majority group who first object to these restrictions at first may be doing so on human rights grounds, as appears to be the case with the Union of Russian Christians, others in that majority community may then seek to use any change in such restrictions to promote their own, more openly nationalist agendas. And that in turn could provoke a nationalist and religious response from the minorities as well.

In short, the Kremlin's effort to exclude national and religious elements from Russian political life could well end by promoting the inclusion of some and the further exclusion of others, a trend with potentially explosive consequences for the future development of a unified civil society in that country.


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