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Newsline - February 16, 2001




CABINET, DUMA MOVE TOWARD A BUDGET COMPROMISE...

When a vote is taken on 22 February, the pro-Kremlin Unity faction in the Duma will support the government's proposed budget modifications which will allow Moscow to service its international debts this year, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said, according to Interfax. Meanwhile, Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov said that a compromise is emerging now that the government has softened its stance on shifting resources among budget items about which Duma deputies are concerned, Russian agencies said. His comments came after Deputy Finance Minister Tatiana Golikova told his committee that the government backs raising the domestic state debt from 30 to 35 billion rubles ($1 -- 1.25 billion). PG

...AS GOVERNMENT PLEDGES FISCAL DISCIPLINE...

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said on 15 February that the government will do everything in its power to improve tax collections, Russian agencies reported. Meanwhile, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref told Interfax on 15 February that the government will do whatever is necessary to keep inflation within budget guidelines of 12-14 percent for the year. But presidential economic advisor Andrei Illarionov said that inflation in February alone is likely to be 2.4 to 2.5 percent. PG

...BUT FACES PROBLEMS IN DEBT TALKS

Talks between the Russian government and the International Monetary Fund ran into difficulty on 15 February, AP reported. The two sides have not reached agreement on the timeframe of a new standby loan agreement on debt, with Russia wanting a three year deal but the IMF offering only a one year agreement. A breakdown in the talks could threaten Moscow's future talks with the Paris Club of creditors. Meanwhile, Washington signaled that it would agree to revise its stance on Russian repayments to the Paris Club if Russian finances become more troubled, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

PUTIN SAYS PROTECTING INVESTMENTS A PRIORITY

In a message of greetings to participants in an international conference on "Investments 2001: New Realities and New Possibilities of Northwest Russia," President Vladimir Putin said that creating guarantees for investors in Russia's economy is a major priority of Russian state policy, Russian agencies reported on 15 February. PG

KASYANOV SAYS POPULATION DECLINE A SECURITY THREAT

Prime Minister Kasyanov told his cabinet on 15 February that the continuing decline in the population of Russia now represents a threat to the country's economic, political and national security, Russian and Western agencies reported. The cabinet called for the elaboration of both an immediate and a long term plan to correct the situation by trying to attract Russian migrants from the former Soviet republics (for details, see "Endnote" below). PG

KGB SEEN BEING RESTORED

Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Union of Rightist Forces Duma deputy Sergei Kovalev, and former KGB Major General Oleg Kalugin were all quoted by "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 15 February as expressing the belief that a new super security service comparable to the Soviet-era KGB is likely to be set up in the near future. Zhirinovsky said that "a restored KGB is not the worst thing that could happen. Separatism and disintegration of the state are much worse." Kovalev said that such an organ would be part of what he called "controllable democracy" in Russia, while Kalugin suggested that "Putin is [former KGB chairman and CPSU General Secretary Yurii] Andropov's pupil and admirer." PG

SWISS CHARGES AGAINST BORODIN DETAILED

On a day when detained Russia-Belarus Union secretary of state Pavel Borodin said that he expects to return home soon and when his lawyers filed motions for a trial, Swiss prosecutors outlined in detail the case against him in papers filed with the New York court, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 February. PG

TURNER TALKING TO GAZPROM ON NTV STAKE

Representatives of American media magnate Ted Turner met on 15 February with representatives of Gazprom to discuss the possible acquisition of a stake in NTV, Interfax reported. The same day, NTV announced that it had received a $50 million credit from embattled oligarch Boris Berezovsky. In other media moves, a Spanish court refused to take Vladimir Gusinsky into custody, saying that house arrest is sufficient, AP reported. Poll results released on the same day showed that only 12 percent of Russians now believe that the governments efforts against Media-MOST and NTV have a political foundation, Interfax reported. PG

MOST RUSSIANS SAY AFGHAN INTERVENTION WAS A MISTAKE

On the 12th anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, a poll conducted by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion found that 54 percent of all Russians consider that the introduction of Soviet troops into Afghanistan was a political adventure on the part of Soviet leaders, Interfax reported. But 24 percent said the dispatch of Soviet troops there was necessary to defend the geopolitical interests of the USSR and 16 percent said that the Soviet forces had been sent to help the Afghan people struggle for the establishment of a popular government. PG

DUMA GIVES PRELIMINARY OK TO ELECTION LAW

After turning back a proposed amendment that would have allowed for the presidential appointment of governors -- only 32 deputies voted for it -- the Duma approved in the first reading by a vote of 305 to 78 with one abstention a draft bill regulating elections in the federation subjects, Interfax reported. Among other things, the bill requires a second round of voting when no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the votes cast. Meanwhile, Central Election Commission head Aleksandr Veshnyakov told a meeting of regional electoral commissions that the CEC will set up special groups to prevent violations of election laws. Presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin told the same group that there must be the strictest possible control over the use of government funds by candidates, Interfax said. Voloshin added that the new parties law will help to create "a mature political system" in Russia. But Duma state organization committee chairman (Communist) Anatoly Lukyanov said that the country's elected bodies do not reflect the people at large but rather the capitalists, generals, and former senior officials, the Russian agency said. PG

DUMA URGES PROTECTIONIST STANCE IN WTO TALKS

The Duma on 15 February passed a resolution introduced by the former chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers, Nikolai Ryzhkov, calling on the government "to make public the package of measures it is going to take in order to protect Russian producers during the process of joining the World Trade Organization," ITAR-TASS reported. PG

ROGOZIN WARNS DEPUTIES AGAINST NATO INVITATIONS

Dmitriy Rogozin, the chairman of the Duma International Affairs Committee, said on 15 February that his colleagues should not go anywhere at the invitation of NATO, Interfax reported. He said that Duma leaders agree with his views on this point. PG

DUMA TO FORM RUSSIA-UKRAINE-BELARUS SUPPORT GROUP

The Duma voted on 15 February to charge its CIS committee with developing proposals for the creation of an interfactional support group "For the Union of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia" (ZUBR), ITAR-TASS reported. Unity deputy Sergei Apatenko said that the idea for the organization had come from Ukrainian parliamentarians. In another move, the Duma approved a modification in legislation governing the import and export of rare metals, giving the Kremlin greater leeway in deciding what will be permitted, Interfax-AFI reported. PG

YAVLINSKY DEFENDS COOPERATION WITH PUTIN

In an interview published in "Segodnya" on 15 February, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinsky said that his party is "in an open dialogue" with President Putin, supporting him on certain foreign policy issues but speaking out against Putin's efforts to build "a police state." Yavlinsky said that "as for offering our services -- we don't kiss hands." In other comments, Yavlinsky dismissed suggestions that Yabloko is a party of the past. PG

BUSINESSMEN MOVE TOWARD THE GOVERNMENT

Five more prominent businessmen will soon join the government's business council, Interfax reported after two of them, Interros group chairman Vladimir Potanin and Uralmash head Kakha Bendukidze met with Prime Minister Kasyanov on 15 February. The other three are Alfa Bank head Mikhail Fridman, ZRosprom chairman Mikhail Khodorkovsky and MDM Bank chairman Aleksandr Mamut. Meanwhile, embattled media magnate Boris Berezovsky said in Paris the same day that the statement of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs shows that body has effectively dropped any support for saving NTV's independence, Interfax said. Moreover, he continued, the statement itself represents "big business' abandonment of claims for power." PG

WAGES NOW FORM 25 PERCENT OF GDP

Labor and Social Development Minister Aleksandr Pochinok said in Moscow on 15 February that wages and salaries now form 25 percent of Russia's GDP, Interfax reported. He said that this percentage, an increase over earlier years, is "insufficient." In other comments, he said that the number of unemployed fell by 2.5 million in 2000 and now stands at 7.7 million. PG

A BUSY DAY IN RUSSIAN COURTROOMS

A court in Makhachkala refused to hear a suit for damages against the Soviet government for its actions 20 years ago against human rights activist Vzig Meylanov, "Izvestiya" reported on 15 February. Also in Makhachkala, prosecutors asked for the forced confinement in a psychiatric institution of Akhmed Amirkhanov, who hijacked a Russian airplane to Israel in November 2000, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, a Moscow court declared for the second time that the extension of the investigation into the so-called Aeroflot case is legal, the Russian agency said. And a court in Krasnoyarsk banned a 16-year-old girl from going to discotheques for a year after she filed a false fire report, "Segodnya" reported. PG

MOSCOW CRITICIZES RUMSFELD STATEMENT...

Major General Vladimir Belous, the head of Moscow's Center of International and Strategic Studies, told ITAR-TASS on 15 February that a statement by U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that Moscow is violating the anti-proliferation regime recalls "Cold War" times. Also on 15 February, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev dismissed as "nonsense" a report in the "Washington Times" that U.S. spy satellites have pinpointed the location of tactical nuclear warheads in Kaliningrad, Russian and Western agencies reported. And Russia's Council for Foreign and Defense Policy said that the U.S. continues to rely on a radar site in Varda (Norway) even though Washington has said that it has transferred control of that site to the Norwegian government, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

...BUT HOPES FOR DIALOGUE ON NMD

Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov on 15 February told a visiting European Union delegation that Moscow hopes for "a calm dialogue" with the United States over the what he said are the threats NMD poses to international security, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed as "no more than a fabrication" media reports about a bill supposedly before the U.S. Congress calling for the elimination of specific terrorists and supporters of terrorism, Interfax reported. PG

MOSCOW HOPES FOR PARTNERSHIP WITH EU

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Security Council secretary Sergei Ivanov told a visiting European Union delegation on 15 February that Moscow hopes to develop "a real partnership" with the EU and welcomes dialogue on all issues, Russian and Western agencies reported. But Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, who currently chairs the EU executive, said that better ties between the EU and Russia are contingent on a political settlement in Chechnya, Interfax reported. She added that Kaliningrad may become a proving ground for the development of relations. Meanwhile, Duma speaker Gennady Seleznev said that the EU ought to create special conditions for Kaliningrad and its residents once Poland and Lithuania become EU members, Interfax reported. PG

PATRIARCH OUTLINES CONDITIONS FOR PAPAL VISIT

In an interview published in "Segodnya" on 15 February, Patriarch Aleksii II said that Roman Catholic Pope John Paul II could visit Russia eventually if the leaders of the two denominations could agree on the division of church property and a ban on Catholic missionary activities in Russia. PG

RUSSIAN-INDIAN TIES WARM

Both Moscow and New Delhi welcomed the signing of contracts calling for India to purchase 300 advanced Russian T-90C tanks, Russian agencies reported on 15 February. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said in New Delhi that the contracts demonstrate that "a military partnership" functions between the two countries. Klebanov also said that the two countries have made progress toward the integration of their respective banking and financial systems. PG

RUSSIA MAFIA BOSS ARRESTED IN SPAIN

Spanish police reported on 15 February the arrest of Sergei Butorin, 36, one of the most wanted Russian mafia bosses, DPA said. Butorin faces 29 murder charges in Russia, including the killing of six police officers and a female prosecutor. In 1997, he killed another Russian contract killer in Greece, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. PG

PROTESTERS PICKET DUMA OVER TAX ID NUMBERS

Some 150 to 200 people picketed the Duma building on 15 February to protest plans to introduce individual taxpayer numbers, Interfax reported. Among the slogans they shouted, the news service said, was: "The new passport with a personal ID number is the passport of the slave of a concentration camp." PG

PASSPORT CHANGES SEEN EXACERBATING ETHNIC TENSIONS

Rashid Vagizov, the human rights ombudsman in Tatarstan, was quoted by "Izvestiya" on 15 February as saying that changing internal and external passports could exacerbate ethnic tensions within the Russian Federation. Specifically, he said that "the national republics can lose their symbols, people will not have the chance to declare their nationality and citizenship. A leveling of the peoples who live in Russia will take place." Meanwhile, the government information department told ITAR-TASS the same day that internal migration within Russia has contributed to ethnic "polarization," with the titular nationalities becoming ever more dominant in their own republics. And "Rossiiskaya gazeta" quoted Aleksandr Blokhin, the minister for federation affairs, nationalities and migration policy, as saying that Moscow has a nationalities policy but has not funded it: "Our actions are proportional to funding," he said. PG

KHABAROVSK POLICE LAUNCH SWEEP AGAINST ILLEGAL FOREIGN RESIDENTS

Khabarovsk Krai police on 15 February announced the launch of Operation Regime to identify foreign citizens, mostly Chinese, who are illegally living there, Interfax-Eurasia reported. PG

RUSSIAN KURDS PROTEST ON OCALAN ARREST ANNIVERSARY

Some 600 Russian Kurds held a protest meeting in Moscow on the second anniversary of the arrest of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan by the Turkish authorities, Interfax reported. PG

KURSK DISASTER LINKED TO TORPEDO EXPLOSIONS

The government commission investigating the August 2000 Kursk submarine disaster has found that torpedo explosions were responsible for the sinking, dpa reported citing gazeta.ru. The experts did not rule out a collision with a foreign submarine, but said that the collision theory is "less likely" than problems with the onboard torpedoes. PG

MIR TO FALL TO EARTH A WEEK LATER THAN PLANNED

A spokesman for Rosaviakosmos told journalists on 15 February that the Mir space station will be deorbited between 13-18 March, a week later than originally calculated, Russian and Western agencies reported. PG

MOST RUSSIANS HAVEN'T HEARD OF CZECH REPUBLIC

A survey of 1,000 urban Russians conducted by Prague's Russian-language newspaper "Russkaya Chekhiya" found that 56 percent think that Czechoslovakia still exists, CTK reported on 15 February. Eighteen percent said they could not believe that there are now two countries instead of one. Only 23 percent of the sample said that the Czech Republic is in Europe; five percent said it is in Asia. And 8 percent of those questioned said that the Czech Republic is a former Soviet republic. PG

LOCAL COURT RULES IN FAVOR OF NEO-NAZI

An oblast court in Orel overturned the decision of a raion court sentencing the head of local neo-Nazi group, "Russia Party," Igor Semenov, to three and a half years in prison for the illegal possession of firearms, "Izvestiya" reported on 14 February. According to the daily, when Orlov established the Orel branch of the party in 1991 he called for the physical extermination of Jews and people from the Caucasus. Seven of his followers have already been convicted of murder. According to the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, Semenov has close ties to the oblast administration, and the oblast's official newspaper, "Orlovskaya pravda," "has been campaigning on his behalf." The oblast court is now reviewing Semenov's case and may reduce his sentence. JAC

ULYANOVSK RESIDENTS GET QUICK REPRIEVE FROM PRICE HIKES

After raising the prices of communal services such as heat and hot water at the beginning of the month, Ulyanovsk Mayor Pavel Romanenko signed a decree on 15 February lowering them again, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 2001). On 1 February the price of hot water was raised from 5 rubles (17 cents) per person to 30 rubles. That rate has now been lowered to 20 rubles. The price of heating was raised on 1 February from 35 kopeks per square meter of apartment to 2.5 rubles. The new rate is now 1.20 rubles. According to the agency, the mayor explained the new lower rates were possible thanks to the work of a commission for regulating tariffs of various municipal services that was created on the order of Ulyanovsk Governor Vladimir Shamanov. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 2 February that following Shamanov's election, prices on a variety of goods rose since they had been artificially capped under former Communist Governor Yurii Goryachev. JAC

RUSSIAN OFFICIALS DENY PLANS TO DIVIDE CHECHNYA

Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii denied on 15 February that Moscow is considering redrawing the borders between federation subjects in the North Caucasus, including making Chechnya's northernmost Nauri, Shelkovskii and Kagarlinskii districts part of Stavropol Krai, Interfax reported. He said that any border revisions would be "irresponsible," and tantamount to "opening a Pandora's box." Yastrzhembskii denied that the alleged border revision was proposed by Russian presidential envoy to the South Russia federal district Viktor Kazantsev. Kazantsev's spokesman Anatolii Maksimchuk similarly told Interfax from Krasnodar on 15 February that there is no truth to media reports that Kazantsev has proposed "temporarily" placing the three north Chechen districts under the jurisdiction of Stavropol. LF




ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT KILLINGS TRIAL OPENS, ADJOURNS...

The trial began in Yerevan on 15 February of five gunmen who opened fire in the Armenian parliament on 27 October 1999, killing eight senior officials, and of eight other men accused of abetting them, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Judge Samvel Uzunian adjourned proceedings after less than two hours because of the absence of defendant Misak Mkrtchian, who is charged with illegal possession of weapons, and of two defense counsels. Some 200 relatives of the victims gathered outside the court-house to demand the death sentence for the five gunmen, as did members of the Yerkrapah union of veterans of the Karabakh war, which was founded by Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, one of the eight victims. Sargsian's brother Aram, who succeeded him as premier, said on 15 February he still believes the investigation failed to identify the persons who masterminded the bloodbath. Nairi Hunanian, the leader of the five gunmen, insists he acted alone. LF

...AS REPORTING RESTRICTIONS ANNOUNCED

Armenian Justice Minister David Harutiunian told journalists in Yerevan on 15 February that in order to ensure the impartiality of the court, verbatim publication of the testimony given by the 13 defendants will be forbidden, Noyan Tapan reported. Summaries of testimony will be permitted. All domestic and international media organizations wishing to cover the trial will be accredited to do so. LF

ARMENIAN NUCLEAR POWER PLANT SHUT DOWN AFTER MINOR ACCIDENT

Officials shut down the Medzamor nuclear power station near Yerevan on the afternoon of 14 February after damage to the high-voltage power line that connects it to the national grid resulted in a dangerous accumulation of power, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported the following day. The plant is to be reactivated within the next few days. The accident did not lead to any escape of radiation, according to Snark on 15 February as cited by Groong. LF

VERDICT IN KARABAKH ASSASSINATION TRIAL TO BE ANNOUNCED IN TEN DAYS

Judge Suren Aleksanian said on 14 February that the verdict in the trial of 16 men accused of attempting to assassinate Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, in March 2000 will be announced in 10 days, Noyan Tapan reported on 15 February. Also on 15 February, Armenian parliament deputy Kim Balayan (Armenian Revolutionary Federation -- Dashnaktsutiun) told Noyan Tapan that no response has yet been received to the appeal made by some 70 deputies to President Ghukasian to ensure that the verdict handed down on former Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan, who is accused of masterminding the attack, is fair (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2001). Babayan denies any part in the attack. LF

KARABAKH DENIES AZERBAIJANI CLAIMS OF FAILED INFILTRATION

The Defense Ministry of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic on 15 February issued an official denial of an Azerbaijani Defense Ministry report that an Armenian reconnaissance group attempted to cross the front line near the village of Acarli in Agdam Raion, according to Snark as cited by Groong. The Azerbaijani statement said the Armenian intruders opened fire, but were driven back when Azerbaijani forces returned their fire. ANS TV on 15 February claimed that two Armenians were killed in the exchange of fire. LF

AZERBAIJANI WAR INVALIDS RESUME HUNGER-STRIKE

Baku police on 15 February surrounded the headquarters of the Society of Invalids of the Karabakh War and of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party in an attempt to prevent war invalids convening at either venue, Turan reported. Electricity to the Society's headquarters was also cut off. Despite police intervention, several dozen invalids gathered at the Society's headquarters. Some 20 of them embarked on a new hunger-strike to demand the annulment of what they termed the Ministry of Justice's "illegal" decisions to revoke the Society's registration and to register a government-sponsored organization representing the interests of war veterans, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2001). Also on 15 February, the Azerbaijani authorities announced the creation of a government commission to assess the invalids' demands that their pensions and allowances be increased. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SAYS PARLIAMENT SHOULD RATIFY 'ZERO OPTION'

Eduard Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 15 February that if the parliament declines on 5 March to formally relinquish any claim by Georgia on a share of former Soviet assets in return for the restructuring of Georgia's debts to Russia, the Paris Club will refuse to restructure Georgia's $2 billion foreign debt, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. In that case, Shevardnadze continued, Georgia would have to use over half the annual budget for 2001 for debt repayment, which would precipitate economic collapse. Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili similarly appealed to parliament deputies on 16 February to ratify the "zero option," Caucasus Press reported. LF

KAZAKHSTAN, RUSSIA DISCUSS TRADE, OIL TRANSIT

Visiting Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko and Kazakhstan's First Deputy Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov co-chaired a session of the bilateral intergovernmental cooperation commission that opened in Astana on 15 February, Russian agencies reported. They noted that bilateral trade grew by 70 percent in 2000 to reach $4.5 billion. They also agreed on the need for a long-term agreement on Kazakh oil exports via Russia. In that context, Khristenko assured Akhmetov that Moscow will not impose any restrictions on those exports. The talks also focussed on Russian gas supplies to Astana and the creation of a joint enterprise, in which Russia's Unified Energy Systems is a partner, on the basis of the Ekibastuz Thermal Power Plant No. 2. LF

LITHUANIA NOTES PROBLEMS IN IMPORTING OIL FROM KAZAKHSTAN

Lithuanian Ambassador Virgilius Bulovas said in Almaty on 15 February that Lithuania is encountering unspecified problems in importing oil from Kazakhstan via Russia, Interfax reported. He said Vilnius hopes to resolve those problems by means of a trilateral accord currently under discussion. Bulovas repeated that Lithuania wants to import a total of 1 million tons of Kazakh crude in 2001. Under a three-year agreement signed last summer, Lithuania's Mazieiku Nafta was to receive 70,000 tons of crude per month, beginning in September 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2000), but no virtually oil was shipped last year. Bulovas said he hopes shipments will begin in March 2001. LF

NEW PROBLEMS MAY FURTHER DELAY COMMISSIONING OF KAZAKHSTAN-RUSSIA PIPELINE?

Trials of the 1,580 kilometer Caspian Pipeline Consortium pipeline linking the Tengiz oilfield with the Russian terminal at Novorossiisk, which are currently scheduled for late June 2001 may be delayed by up to six weeks, Interfax reported on 15 February. Zinon Abdrakhmanov, who manages the pipeline's eastern sector, said that some sections of the pipeline are clogged with paraffin and may need to be replaced. He also admitted that some ancillary equipment, including devices for measuring the volume of oil passing through the pipeline and the internal temperature and pressure, has not yet been installed. Those shortcomings have already delayed the launch of the pipeline from 1 January to 1 March 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2001). LF

'SHANGHAI FORUM' FAILS TO FORMALIZE AGREEMENT ON ANTI-TERRORISM CENTER

The military officials of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan ended their two-day meeting in Bishkek on 15 February without reaching any formal agreement on setting up an anti-terrorism center in Bishkek, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The Russian and Tajik representatives argued that the legal basis for doing so has not yet been prepared, but Kyrgyz General Askarbek Mameev expressed the hope that the requisite legal documents will be ready for signing at the group's summit planned for Shanghai in June 2001. LF

KYRGYZSTAN, UZBEKISTAN FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT ON BORDER

Meeting in Kyrgyzstan's Batken Oblast on 14-15 February, Kyrgyz and Uzbek government delegations failed to reach agreement on some 140 disputed points on their common 1,300 kilometer border, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Kyrgyzstan is demanding that Tashkent return to its jurisdiction all oil and natural gas fields on Kyrgyz territory that Uzbekistan has leased since before the collapse of the USSR and pay 9 billion soms ($180 million) in rent arrears for those facilities. The Uzbek side said it would agree to do so on condition that Bishkek placed under Uzbekistan's jurisdiction a highway leading to Sokh, an Uzbek exclave within Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan, however, rejected any linkage of what it termed border and economic issues. LF.

ROMANIAN EMBASSY IN UZBEKISTAN ROBBED

Four masked gunmen entered the Romanian embassy in Tashkent, tied up three diplomats and escaped with $7,000 and personal belongings, AP and Interfax reported on 15 February. Charge d'affaires Traian Bordeanu said the robbers had keys to the building. LF




LUKASHENKA SATISFIED WITH BELARUSIAN ECONOMY IN 1996-2000

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 15 February conferred with his ministers on the fulfillment of a government program called "Basic Directions of the Socioeconomic Development of the Republic of Belarus in 1996-2000," Belarusian Television reported. Lukashenka expressed his satisfaction with the cabinet's economic performance in the past five years, saying the country's GDP in that period increased by 36 percent, industrial production by 60 percent, and real incomes by 70 percent. He noted that Belarus is well ahead of other CIS countries according to many socioeconomic parameters, including the human development index (56th place in the world), per capita GDP ($7,000), and per capita meat production (65 kilograms annually). He urged his ministers to continue and even improve their fine work and ordered them to keep the monthly inflation rate below 2.5 percent. JM

CIVIC INITIATIVE WANTS TO SUE UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT FOR SLANDER

Lawmaker Serhiy Holovatyy told journalists on 15 February that the National Salvation Forum Civic Initiative intends to sue President Leonid Kuchma, parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch, and Premier Viktor Yushchenko for slander, Interfax reported. Holovatyy was referring to the statement of the three leaders in which the Forum was described as a group seeking salvation "for themselves from political bankruptcy and oblivion...[and] criminal responsibility" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2001). The Forum currently unites 63 representatives of political parties and public organizations. Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko said the previous day that the Forum was created in "an unconstitutional way." JM

INTERNATIONAL GROUP ASKS UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT NOT TO FORGET GONGADZE...

"The murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze may not be further ignored," Robert Menard, head of the Reporters Without Borders organization to protect journalists, said in a letter to President Kuchma, Interfax reported on 15 February. Menard added that if the Gongadze case is not clarified in the next few weeks, his organization will ask the Council of Europe to suspend Ukraine's membership, and will request the EU "to make all necessary conclusions regarding its political and economic relations with Ukraine." JM

...WHILE GONGADZE'S WIFE APPEALS ONLY FOR TRUTH

Myroslava Gongadze, wife of the missing journalist, told the Ekho Moskvy radio station that she only wants to learn the truth about her husband's fate, Reuters reported on 14 February. "Being at the center of these events is terrifying for me, but we must have an impartial investigation," Myroslava Gongadze said. She added that the blame for the current political unrest in Ukraine "lies solely with the investigative organs: their complete inactivity." According to her, the refusal of Ukrainian officials to unambiguously identify the headless body found near Kyiv and believed to be her husband's signals that they are covering up his murder. "There is only one explanation: if there is no crime, then there is no perpetrator of the crime," she said. JM

UKRAINIAN STUDENTS STAGE RALLIES OVER MISSING JOURNALIST

Some 100 students, led by the "For Truth" youth group, handed over a petition to the U.S. embassy in Kyiv on 15 February, asking the U.S. government to use its influence to solve the mystery of missing journalist Gongadze, Interfax reported. The group also asked for an expert assessment in the U.S. of the tapes that allegedly prove President Kuchma's complicity in Gongadze's disappearance. Another 50 students picketed the Education Ministry the same day, demanding that the educational authorities reinstate students from Rivne who say they have been expelled from their college for taking part in anti-Kuchma protests. JM

UKRAINE, RUSSIA, MOLDOVA DISCUSS TRANSDNIESTER PROBLEM

The foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, and Moldova -- Anatoliy Zlenko, Igor Ivanov, and Nicolae Cernomaz respectively -- met in Kharkiv on 15 February to discuss the settlement of the situation in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region, ITAR-TASS reported. "We are interested in Moldova becoming a stable state, and in all existing questions being resolved by political means so as to promote stabilization of the situation in the country," the agency quoted Ivanov as saying. Cernomaz said Moldova wants to preserve its independence and territorial integrity, adding that "there [should] be a special status of Transdniester within this frame." JM

CALL FOR NEW RUSSIAN POLICY TOWARD ESTONIA

Chairman of the Russian Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Dmitrii Rogozin in an interview with the Estonian newspaper "Postimees" declared that Russia needs a new kind of policy toward Estonia because its previous policy has been inconsistent, BNS reported on 15 February. He said that at times threatening statements were made followed by no actions and at other times there were attempts to ignore existing problems and become friends. It would be better for Russia to know Estonia better and honestly discuss different development scenarios, as well as learn what kind of Russia Estonia would want to see. Rogozin noted that Estonia is a sovereign state which has the right to decide whether it will join NATO or not, but that he thinks that it is more important for Estonia to join the EU than NATO. SG

LATVIA, KAZAKHSTAN SET TO COOPERATE MORE CLOSELY

Kazakh Parliament Chairman Zharmakhan Tuyaqbaev in a speech at the Latvian parliament on 15 February praised Latvia's drive for EU membership as it would further increase the potential for intergovernmental cooperation, LETA reported. He called for greater cooperation in the fields of transit and transport and the signing of a bilateral agreement on protection of investments, a convention on prevention of double taxation, and documents on cooperation in the humanitarian field. President Vaira Vike-Freiberga told Tuyaqbaev that the "restoration of the historical Silk Road" by forming trade relations between the Far East and Baltic countries would be advantageous to both countries. Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins informed him about Latvia's current Presidency of the Council of Europe and told him about Latvia's experience in joining the World Trade Organization. SG

BELGIAN PREMIER VISITS LITHUANIA, LATVIA

In talks in Vilnius with his Lithuanian counterpart Rolandas Paksas and with President Valdas Adamkus on 15 February, Guy Verhofstadt praised Lithuania's progress in the negotiations for EU membership, asserting that he is confident that it would catch up with other candidates, BNS reported. He noted, however, that Lithuania will have to introduce mandatory driver liability insurance and change the article in the Lithuanian constitution forbidding foreigners to buy land. In the afternoon in Riga, Verhofstadt met with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Prime Minister Andris Berzins and discussed Latvia's integration into the EU and NATO. SG

NEW LITHUANIAN ECONOMY MINISTER APPOINTED

President Adamkus on 15 February signed a decree appointing Klaipeda Mayor Eugenijus Gentvilas as the new economy minister, ELTA reported. He replaces Eugenijus Maldeikis, who resigned after a scandal over an official trip to Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2001). Gentvilas, who is the deputy chairman of the Liberal Union, will take over the ministry only on 2 March since the Klaipeda City Council, which has to accept his resignation as mayor, has its next scheduled meeting on 1 March. SG

POLAND SOOTHES EU FEARS ABOUT FARMING

Deputy Agricultural Minister Jerzy Plewa, who heads Poland's EU membership negotiations on farming, has tried to dispel Brussels's fears that Polish agriculture will put an intolerable strain on the EU's $38 billion farming budget, Reuters and AP reported on 15 February. Plewa said Warsaw estimates that Poland will cost the EU agriculture budget between $2.6 billion and $3.7 billion. He noted that Poland's accession will not be too costly because direct subsidies to farmers are linked to acreage, yields, and numbers of animals, not to the number of farms (some 2 million in Poland). Plewa said half of Poland's farms are too small to qualify for subsidies from the EU's coffers. Plewa also suggested that the EU could learn much from Poland's non-intensive, largely non-industrialized methods of farming, especially in view of Europe's mad cow disease crisis and environmental concerns. JM

CZECH PREMIER MAKES CONTROVERSIAL RECOMMENDATION TO HEIR APPARENT...

In a report prepared for the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) April National Conference, Prime Minister Milos Zeman recommends that his likely successor as party leader, Vladimir Spidla, continue cooperation with the "reliable Civic Democratic Party (ODS)," CTK reported on 16 February, citing the daily "Pravo." Zeman calls critics of the so-called opposition agreement between the CSSD and the ODS "political illiterates." He says the ODS is likely to be the most long-standing opponent of the CSSD but unlike other parties, it has demonstrated that it respects agreements it enters into. He says Spidla is best suited to be CSSD leader as one who "has the least deficit of intelligence, diligence and character." Zeman also asks the conference to decide whether he should stay on as premier, saying he has repeatedly offered to give up that position too. MS

...CLAIMS TO HAVE 'NO KNOWLEDGE' OF ILLEGAL PARTY FUNDING

Zeman on 15 February said he has learned "from a daily I usually do not have much trust in" that his CSSD is suspected of having received an illegal donation from businessman Karl-Heinz Hauptmann in 1997-1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2001). Zeman said he has "no idea" who Hauptmann is but is not ready to "either confirm or deny" the "Mlada fronta Dnes" report before he has checked the information, CTK reported. On 16 February, the dailies "Ceske slovo" and "Zemske noviny" linked Hauptmann to Alon Barak, an Austrian-Israeli businessman suspected of having defrauded the Komercni banka. The two dailies say Barak and Hauptmann were business partners and there is a suspicion that Barak himself was involved in the alleged illegal donation. MS

CZECH ENVIRONMENT MINISTRY APPROVES TEMELIN COMMISSION PLANS...

Environment Ministry spokeswoman Rita Gabrielova on 15 February announced that the ministry has endorsed the plans of the commission that was set up to assess the environmental impact of the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant, CTK reported. The ministry said it agrees that reservations raised by Austrian and German experts, as well as by the EU, will be taken into consideration by the commission. The first meeting of this body was held on 13 February, with the participation of two experts each from the Czech environment and trade and industry ministries, as well as of foreign observers. The commission decided that its assessment will be published by 30 April in Czech, German and English. Public hearings on the assessment are to take place in Austria, Germany in the Czech Republic. MS

...AND AUSTRIAN OPPONENTS DROP BORDER BLOCKADE PLANS

Austrian environmentalists on 15 February decided to drop for now plans to renew blockades of crossing points at the borders between the two countries and will hold only demonstrations there, Reuters and CTK reported. "We do not want to be the whipping boy. We want the Czech government to carry out this study properly," a spokesman for the Austrian-Czech Anti-Nuclear Committee told Reuters. MS

TWO FORMER MANAGERS LEAVE CZECH TV

Former news director Jana Bobosikova and former finical director Jindrich Beznoska, both appointed by Jiri Hodac during his brief tenure as director general, have left Czech Television, CTK reported on 15 February. Vera Valterova, who was interim manager after Hodac's resignation, remains on the staff "for the time being" and expects "to be informed in writing about the management's future plans regarding me," CTK quoted her as saying. Bobosikova addressed a letter to interim director Jiri Balvin saying she was resigning because she disagrees with his "management method" and with the fact that Balvin had allegedly allowed himself "to be completely controlled by union leaders." She said she firmly believes Balvin should never have paid wages to the strikers for the period during which the labor action took place. MS

CZECHS STILL ASKING FOR 24 'TRANSITION PERIODS' IN EU PARLEYS

The Czech Republic has informed the EU it is withdrawing 6 applications for "transition periods" after it joins the union but is still asking for 24 such periods in different areas, CTK reported on 15 February. The agency said that it can be expected that some of the 24 requests are part of Prague's "negotiation tactics" and will eventually also be dropped. MS

SLOVAKIA TO EMULATE CZECHS ON 'TRANSITION PERIODS...'

Slovakia is preparing to follow the lead of EU first-wave candidate countries and withdraw some of its requests for "transition periods" after it joins the EU, Deputy Premier Pavol Hamzik said on 15 February. "We have to take note of the trend towards speeding up negotiations, and follow suit," CTK cited him as saying. Hamzik added that if Bratislava were to miss the chance of joining the EU together with the leading candidates, it might have to wait till 2010 or 2012 to do so. MS

...OPPOSES 'SCHENGEN BORDER' BETWEEN THE TWO COUNTRIES

Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan, reacting to reports in the Czech press, on 15 February told CTK Slovakia will oppose the alleged intention of the Czech Interior Ministry to introduce "Schengen-like" controls at the border between the two countries. "We are interested in accessing the EU at about the same time [as the Czech Republic]...We presume that the Czech Republic will not make any decision that would damage this basic concept," Kukan said. The Slovak daily "Narodna obroda" said on 15 February that the Czech Interior Ministry has carried out an analysis which concluded that controls at the border with Slovakia must be toughened and the visa-free agreement between the two countries must be abolished. Slovak Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Gandel said this conclusion was "hypothetical, and based on the assumption that the Czech Republic would join the EU before Slovakia." MS

HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN BRATISLAVA

Visiting Hungarian Foreign Minster Janos Martonyi and Kukan said on 15 February that relations have "vastly improved" after years of mutual suspicion and tension over Slovakia's Hungarian minority, CTK and AP reported. Martonyi said he is "fully satisfied" with the level of cooperation with the cabinet headed by Mikulas Dzurinda and the fulfillment of the basic treaty between the two countries. He said this would have been "unthinkable" under the previous, Vladimir Meciar, cabinet. He also said apprehensions in Slovakia that members of the Hungarian minority are engaging in "irredentist actions" are "unsubstantiated" and "not worth dealing with." Kukan said the sole unsolved issue in bilateral relations remains that of the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros dam, but that he and Martonyi did not discuss it now, having earlier agreed to let experts deal with "legal and technical problems" stemming from the dispute. Martonyi also met with Dzurinda. MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER APPOINTS ACTING AGRICULTURE MINISTER

Prime Minister Viktor Orban on 15 February appointed Imre Boros, minister for EU affairs, as interim agriculture minister. Boros, who will replace Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) leader Joszef Torgyan in that post, is also a FKGP member, Hungarian media reported. Torgyan said he had recommended Boros after his original nominee, Geza Gyimothy, withdrew his candidacy in the face of opposition both within the party and outside its ranks. MS




SERBS KILLED IN KOSOVA BUS EXPLOSION

Unknown persons blew up a bus on 16 February near Podujeva using a remote control device. Ten Serbs died and 40 were injured in the blast, AP reported, citing local peacekeepers. The bus had just returned to Kosova from a trip to Nis when the explosion took place. An earlier Reuters report put the casualties at four dead and 23 injured. UN spokeswoman Susan Manuel said in Prishtina that seven people had died. This was the second attack on a Serbian convoy in less than a week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2001). PM

YUGOSLAV AMBASSADOR: BUSH UNDERSTANDS IMPORTANCE OF U.S. PRESENCE

Milan Protic has presented his letters of accreditation to President George W. Bush, "Vesti" reported on 16 February. Protic told Serbian reporters that Bush "understands very well" that the continued presence of U.S. forces in Kosova is most important for the continued security and stability of the region. Protic added that he does not expect any major breakthrough in Belgrade-Washington ties, but noted that the recent changes of government in both capitals have led to a marked improvement in the atmosphere in bilateral relations. Protic is a historian who attended graduate school in the U.S. and is very much at home with the idiom and culture of that country. PM

GUNMEN TRY TO KILL SERBIAN INTERIOR MINISTER

Unknown gunmen fired on early 16 February at a car carrying Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic in downtown Belgrade. No one was injured. Police are investigating what they regard as an assassination attempt. Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic told AP that the attack is a "clear warning to the new government not to interfere in corruption and criminal deals involving the former regime." Zivkovic added that "our efforts to establish a state based on the rule of law are a huge blow to all those who profited from rampant crime and corruption" under former President Slobodan Milosevic. "But no number of attacks and assassination attempts will deter us," he added. The attack on Mihajlovic is but the latest in a series of apparently politically motivated killings or assassination attempts in recent years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2001). PM

SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER: LEGAL PROCEEDINGS AGAINST MILOSEVIC A 'MATTER OF DAYS'

Zoran Djindjic told reporters on 15 February in Belgrade that the new government has made good progress in investigating one of those unexplained murders, namely that of journalist and publisher Slavko Curuvija, "Vesti" reported. Djindjic added, however, that little progress has been made finding out the truth about the disappearance in 2000 of former Serbian leader Ivan Stambolic, the one-time mentor of Milosevic. Djindjic told "Vesti" that he expects the launching of legal proceedings against Milosevic on unspecified charges to begin "in a matter of days." The prime minister promised to extradite all non-Yugoslav citizens on Yugoslav territory who have been indicted by The Hague. He also pledged that parliament will soon pass a law regarding unspecified cooperation with the tribunal. He added that these measures are "a package of actions that should satisfy -- at least by March 31 -- all well-meaning parties in the international community," AP reported. U.S. President George W. Bush will decide by that date whether to extend a $100 million aid package to Belgrade. PM

YUGOSLAV MINISTER: 'FINANCIAL COLLAPSE' IN THE OFFING

Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus said in Belgrade on 15 February that the government faces "financial collapse" soon if it does not launch cooperation with the Hague-based tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He added that Belgrade spends $30,000 daily on its security forces in southwestern Serbia, and that it will need just over $100 million for the economic revitalization of the three troubled communities there. PM

NATO CHIEF WARNS BELGRADE OF NEED FOR PATIENCE IN PRESEVO...

Lord George Robertson told visiting Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic and Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic in Brussels on 15 February that there is much of interest in the "Covic plan" for Presevo, but that a solution to the region's problems will not be quick or easy (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 February 2001). "The Belgrade proposals are complex and they will require a great deal of study. Nobody should underestimate the difficulties involved, and we must be realistic about how long it will take to reach a solution. The problems caused over 40 years cannot be solved in four months," RFE/RL quoted Robertson as saying. Robertson called on ethnic Albanians "to enter into a dialogue with Belgrade to build a balanced, long-term settlement." PM

...AND BUILDING CONFIDENCE OF ETHNIC ALBANIANS

Robertson added in Brussels on 15 February that NATO is ready to consider changes in the status of the demilitarized zone as long as this does not lead to a security vacuum or an increase in violence, warning that premature changes could prove counterproductive. Robertson said KFOR has strengthened its presence along the boundary and is cutting the supply links between Kosova and the Presevo Valley insurgents. He said more than 100 people have been arrested near the border this year. Robertson argued that the only basis for long-term peace and stability will be an agreement negotiated and agreed to by all sides. As a start, Robertson said the Yugoslav government should launch a series of confidence-building measures. He said Belgrade should remove the so-called Prishtina Corps from Presevo. That unit took part in the 1998-1999 ethnic cleansing operations in Kosova. Its presence in Presevo is greatly resented by the local Albanians. Belgrade has ruled out negotiating with insurgents, whom it calls "terrorists," "separatists," or "extremists," as it did during the Milosevic regime. NCA/PM

SERBIAN AUTHORITIES PRESS FOR REVISION OF KUMANOVO AGREEMENTS

The guests from Belgrade called for the abolition of the demilitarized zone set down in the 1999 Kumanovo agreements that ended the Kosova conflict, RFE/RL reported from Brussels on 15 February. Covic said that "as far as the plan...is concerned, we are open and ready to any additions...and we will certainly have in mind the proposals of the ethnic Albanian community. But what cannot be denied in this process is that [for] the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the Republic of Serbia, there will be no change of borders, no special status, no autonomy." Covic confirmed Serbia has asked NATO to sanction the gradual phasing out of the zone. He said Yugoslavia will guarantee that in dealing with the ethnic Albanian insurgents, its security forces will not resort to "brutal or massive" use of military force. Observers note that the head of the General Staff, General Nebojsa Pavkovic, commanded Serbian troops in Kosova during the 1999 ethnic cleansing campaign. The commander of the Serbian Interior Ministry special police and deputy interior minister, General Sreten Lukic, commanded Interior Ministry forces in Kosova at that time. PM/NCA

EU SIGNS ON TO SERBIAN PLAN

In their capacity as current EU chair, the Swedish authorities said in a statement in Stockholm on 15 February that they endorse the Covic plan and call on "Albanian extremists" to stop fighting, Reuters reported. "The EU supports the initiative of the Belgrade authorities to find a peaceful and durable solution to the current situation in Southern Serbia, which risks destabilizing the region... This implies an immediate cessation of violence by the armed extremist Albanian groups notably in the GSZ (Ground Safety Zone)." In Brussels, EU Commissioner Chris Patten pledged an additional $830,000 in aid for southwestern Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

DJUKANOVIC: INDEPENDENT MONTENEGRO WILL NEED NO ARMY

Milo Djukanovic said in Podgorica that a well-equipped police force will be sufficient to provide security for an independent Montenegro and that no army will be necessary, "Vesti" reported on 16 February. He added that relations with Serbia have "never been worse" than they are now. He hopes, however, that ties between Serbia and Montenegro can be established on the model of "two houses that can be in a common courtyard." Djukanovic argued that his opponents know that they are likely to lose a referendum on independence, and that that is why they want the vote to be extended to Montenegrin citizens living in Serbia. PM

MONTENEGRIN PARLIAMENT AGREES TO DISSOLVE

The legislature voted on 15 February to dissolve after a session on 20 February in preparation for the 22 April elections. That ballot is widely seen as a setting of the stage for a subsequent referendum on independence. PM

HAGUE COURT PROSECUTOR PRAISES MONTENEGRIN COOPERATION

Carla Del Ponte said in Podgorica on 15 February that she "would like to use this opportunity to express my gratitude to President Djukanovic, Prime Minister [Filip] Vujanovic, and Interior Minister [Vukasin] Maras for their full and principled support of cooperation with the tribunal, not only today, when it is much easier and safer, but also through the years of Milosevic's rule," RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2001). PM

MACEDONIA, YUGOSLAVIA WRAP UP BORDER AGREEMENT

Yugoslav chief negotiator Radojko Bogojevic told a news conference in Skopje that his team and its Macedonian counterpart have concluded an agreement delineating their common border, Reuters reported. The documents will be signed at a Balkan summit in Skopje on 23 February. Macedonia's chief negotiator Viktor Dimovski said that his government rejects ethnic Albanian claims that Belgrade has no right to negotiate about the boundaries of Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2001). PM

CROATIAN PARLIAMENT PLEDGES PROSECUTION OF WAR CRIMINALS

The legislature passed a resolution on 16 February reaffirming the government's commitment to prosecuting war criminals despite the opposition of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) and some veterans' groups, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2001). PM

U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ROMANIA CANCELS CLUJ VISIT

Ambassador James Rosapepe on 16 February canceled a planned visit to Cluj in order to distance himself from a planned nationalist rally scheduled for the same day by nationalist Mayor Gheorghe Funar against the new Law on Local Public Administration. In a press release, Ambassador Rosapepe said he planned to go to Cluj and Iasi to distribute the "Simple and Rapid" award to local small businessmen. He said that "most people in Cluj...want jobs and decent lives, not political stunts and inflammatory rhetoric." He added that "as they yearn to join the EU and NATO, Romanians know they have more to fear from divisive language than from [a] foreign language." Rosapepe said that he will now distribute the prize only in Iasi, adding that "'Simple and Rapid' can bring jobs to Cluj" but "'Simple and Divisive' can destroy them." MS

NO SANCTIONS FOR ROMANIAN DEPUTIES WHO VISITED IRAQ

The Chamber of Deputies' Permanent Bureau decided that no sanctions will be imposed on the three deputies who recently visited Iraq, and the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) parliamentary group in the chamber decided not to debate the case of the two deputies from that party who went there, Mediafax reported. Ovidiu Petrescu, deputy chairman of the chamber, said the deputies will not follow the example set by the Senate, who "warned" the two senators who went to Baghdad. Petrescu also added that, as a result of the visit, a $5 million contract for Iraqi deliveries of oil to Romania has been concluded. MS

NEW ECOLOGICAL ACCIDENT IN ROMANIA

Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 16 February said all those responsible for an ecological accident the previous day must be "severely sanctioned," Mediafax reported. Nastase said the Dolj county prefect had informed the government of the accident "about noon time," although its occurrence had been known "at 9 o'clock in the morning." As a result of a leak from the Doljchim state chemical company, ammonia at ten times accepted levels was released into the Jiu River, causing the death of thousands of fish. Local authorities later said the company's managers have been dismissed and a criminal investigation has been launched. Romanian Radio says drinking water supplies for the nearby town of Craiova have not been affected. This is the second major spill in the past month in Romania, and the third since last year. MS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT ANNULS 'POPULIST MEASURES'

The cabinet on 15 February decided to "abolish a series of populist legislation" passed by the predecessor Mugur Isarescu government before the November 2000 parliamentary elections. Among the nullified legislation is a governmental ordinance that would have increased wages in the state sector by 80 percent as of 1 March. The cabinet said the measure was "economically untenable." MS

BRAGHIS ALLIANCE PLEDGES NOT TO CHANGE PARLIAMENTARY SYSTEM

Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis on 14 February told journalists that his own Braghis Alliance will not seek to change the recently-introduced parliamentary system after the 25 February elections , RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. "If we decided that Moldova is a parliamentary republic, we must consistently work within this framework in the legislature," the head of the pro-presidential list stated. Braghis said his party will advocate changing the proportional system into a single-constituency system and reducing the number of parliamentary deputies, which "is too large for such a small republic as ours." MS

RUSSIAN FBS HEAD MEETS LUCINSCHI

Nikolai Patrushev, Federal Security Service (FBS) chief, on 15 February discussed with President Petru Lucinschi in Chisinau the agreement concluded one day earlier on cooperation between the two countries' security services, Flux reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2001). MS

NEW JUDGES APPOINTED TO MOLDOVAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT

The Supreme Magistracy Council on 15 February selected Victor Puscas, currently chairman of the Supreme Judicial Chamber, and Mircea Iuga, currently Prosecutor-General, to succeed outgoing Constitutional Court Chairman Pavel Barbalat and judge Nikolai Kiseyev as members of the Constitutional Court, Infotag reported. The parliament is to decide on 19 February on the remaining two vacancies on the court. MS

BULGARIA HOSTS TRILATERAL BALKAN MEETING

The presidents of Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey on 16 February ended in Plodviv a two-day meeting aimed at coordinating efforts to curb cross-border crime and ways to harmonize efforts to join the EU, Reuters and AP reported. Presidents Petar Stoyanov, Ion Iliescu and Ahmet Necdet Sezer also discussed measures to boost cooperation and enhance regional stability. Stoyanov said that "the idea that our three countries cannot do without the EU, whereas the EU can do without us, is absolutely wrong in respect to the struggle against organized crime." The three countries are on the main route of illegal traffic from Asia to Europe. Stoyanov also pledged that Bulgaria will never allow the Kurdistan Workers' Party to act on its territory. The three presidents also discussed how NATO member Turkey can support Bulgaria and Romania in their bid to join the alliance. MS

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT SURVIVES NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE

With a vote of 135 against and 74 for, the parliament on 16 February rejected the no-confidence motion moved against the cabinet headed by Premier Ivan Kostov by the opposition Socialist Party, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2001). The Socialists said the government is both incapable and unwilling to combat the raising tide of crime. Alluding to the parliamentary elections likely to take place in June, Kostov said that "some are trying to draw political dividends from the pain of the people, and this is very sad." He added that the Interior Ministry is undertaking urgent measures to combat crime. The ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms, which is the third-largest group in the parliament, backed the Socialists' motion. MS

BULGARIAN RADIO JOURNALISTS PLAN PROTEST MARCH

Journalists at the Bulgarian Radio, who have been staging protests since the appointment of a new director last week, are planning to march across central Sofia, Reuters reported on 15 February, citing one of the strike committee members. Silvia Velikova told the agency she doubts a formal strike can be launched, for which purpose the committee would need the endorsement of 51 percent of station staff. "People are afraid of losing [their] jobs and we do not blame them," she said. The striking journalists claim that the appointment of Ivan Borislavov as director is politically motivated. MS

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT TAKES LEGAL ACTION AGAINST ISRAELI INVESTOR

The government on 15 February ordered a tax audit of the Balkan Airlines national carrier and asked the Prosecutor General's Office to investigate Israeli owner Zeevi Holdings in connection with alleged breaches of the 1999 privatization contract. Transportation Minister Antoni Slavinski said "Bulgaria considers some of the steps of the Balkan Airlines' majority shareholder as aiming [at] a premeditated bankruptcy." In view of "the company's insolvency, the government has started consultations with all of its creditors to ascertain the extent of the liabilities and agree on joint action to overcome the crisis," he said. One day earlier, Zeevi Holdings grounded all Balkan Air flights, after filing a $230 million claim against Bulgaria at the International Court of Arbitration in Paris. MS




A DEMOGRAPHIC THREAT TO RUSSIAN SECURITY


by Paul Goble

A Russian government report says that the country's declining population now poses a serious threat to Russian national security. But the remedy Moscow has proposed -- promoting in-migration of ethnic Russians from other post-Soviet states -- is unlikely to make the contribution to solving the problem that some expect.

According to the report, released on 15 February, Russia's population declined by 768,000 in 1999 and may fall by another 2.8 million over the next three years. Such declines, the report suggests, reflect a low standard of living, inadequate health care, and rising rates of alcohol and drug abuse, trends that have already reduced male life expectancy and the birthrate and increased mortality rates of many age groups.

Speaking to a cabinet meeting at which the report was discussed, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said that Russia's economic and political future depends on finding a way out. "The decrease of the able-bodied population of the Russian Federation is not just a social problem," he said. "It is a problem of whether our state will develop successfully or not." And he said Russia would be "stuck" if what he called "decisive measures" are not taken now.

Russia has been suffering from these demographic problems for more than a decade, and as they have grown worse, they have made it more difficult to provide workers for factories and soldiers for the military. Moreover, because they have hit some regions more than others, they have had a political impact as well. And they have contributed to a sense of foreboding about the future that has often overshadowed positive developments.

Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin raised this issue several times during his tenure and ultimately sought to address it by naming Valentina Matvienko to the position of deputy prime minister with responsibility for social affairs. And last summer, President Vladimir Putin spoke about the problem in apocalyptic terms, telling his government that "we are facing the serious threat of turning into a decaying nation."

So far, the Russian authorities have not had much success in trying to reverse the situation, lacking either programs or funding to address the underlying problems. Now, Kasyanov and his government are pinning their hopes on something Russian scholars and officials have talked about in the past but have done relatively little to promote: persuading ethnic Russians currently living in other post-Soviet states to emigrate to Russia.

Kasyanov himself admitted that doing this would not be easy. One report in the Russian press this week noted that Russia has a less than impressive track record in dealing with people the government often calls "compatriots." Not only are Russian authorities now spending less than one cent per ethnic Russian abroad each year, but Moscow has been unable to keep its promises to those who have returned.

But at its 15 February session, the Russian government called for the federal and ethnic policy ministry to develop a program for 2001 by April 1, and for a larger group of agencies to draw up a new migration policy for 2002-2005 by May 15. Both documents, Russian media reports suggest, will devote particular attention to providing support for displaced persons.

Russian officials have suggested this week that such new programs could attract as many as three to five million people a year back to the Russian Federation. But analysts and experts have expressed doubts that Moscow will be able to find the funds needed for such an effort unless and until the economy begins to boom and provide jobs for such people.

Anatolii Vishnevsky, the director of Moscow's Center for Demography and Human Ecology, said this week that "in order to compensate for the natural population decline, which will continue for many years, the volume of immigration to Russia would have to be very large." The country "is not ready for that," he said, "either economically or even psychologically."

Arguing that only a dramatic increase in the birthrate could address the country's demographic decline, Vishnevsky said the government's talk about a quick fix through the promotion of immigration "sows illusions that will not turn into reality in the future." Instead, he and other demographers argue, Russia must turn the corner economically both to help its current residents and possibly to attract new ones.

Consequently, Russia is likely to face many of the security problems rooted in demography for sometime to come. But by suggesting that immigration from the post-Soviet states is the answer, the Russian government may have unintentionally created for itself yet another and more immediate security problem as well.

Russian government calls for ethnic Russians to come back to the Russian Federation from the former Soviet republics and Baltic states appear likely to prompt some ethnic Russians in these countries to hold back from fully integrating into those societies. And such shifts in attitude could in turn create problems in Moscow's relationships with the countries it has declared its primary foreign policy focus.

In that event, Russia could easily become the exception to the rule that demography is destiny only in the very long term, and find, as Kasyanov suggests, that Russia's demographic situation really is the key security question for his government and country at present.


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