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Newsline - February 21, 2001




APPROVAL FOR AMENDED BUDGET LOOKS PROBABLE...

Now that the Russian government has withdrawn its proposed amendments to the 2001 budget and accepted a compromise adopted by the Duma Budget Committee on 16 February, the Duma is likely to pass the budget amendments in all three readings on 22 February, Interfax quoted Duma Vice Speaker (Fatherland-All Russia) Georgiy Boos as saying on 20 February. PG

...BUT NO CONFIDENCE EFFORT LIKELY TO FAIL

An effort by Communist and Agrarian deputies to oust Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov through a no-confidence vote is likely to fail, Russian and Western agencies reported. That bid appears certain to gain the 90 signatures it needs to be put on the agenda, but not the 226 votes it would take to pass. Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and "Unity" deputies are among those saying they would vote against the measure. Reacting to this, "Izvestiya" on 20 February suggested that Kasyanov is likely to remain in office for sometime to come. PG

NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL HAS TOUGH DAY IN MOSCOW

Lord George Robertson said he seeks to promote "a crisis- resistant" relationship between Moscow and the Russian alliance. He even suggested that Russia might some day become a member. But Russian officials from President Vladimir Putin on down criticized NATO for thinking about further enlargement when there is no threat, and for supporting American NMD proposals. They also indicated that they cannot imagine Russia as a member of NATO, although Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov suggested that one should "never say never." Russian defense officials offered -- and the Yabloko fraction announced its support for -- an alternative European defense initiative, one based on political consultations and the movement of anti-missile systems to areas near countries threatening Europe, but both Russian and Western observers suggested that this proposal is a non-starter. Robertson invited Putin to visit NATO headquarters. In addition to his meetings, Robertson formally opened the NATO information bureau in the Russian capital. The opening of that mission is one of the provisions of the 1997 agreement between Russia and the alliance. PG

MOSCOW HAS NO COMMENT ON SPIES IN U.S., SWEDEN

Russian officials on 20 February declined comment on the arrest of FBI officer Philip Hanssen in the United States and an engineer in Sweden on charges of spying for Moscow, Russian and Western agencies reported. PG

KASYANOV SAYS MOSCOW PAYING ITS DEBTS

Prime Minister Kasyanov objected on 20 February to accusations that Russia is in "technical default" because it has paid only 40 percent of the interest due on its international obligations, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that the delays reflect "temporary difficulties" and that creditors have been informed of that fact. Labor Minister Aleksandr Pochinok said that paying the debts will not have a negative impact on the rise of wages and social payments, Russian agencies said. PG

PUTIN REMEMBERS SOBCHAK

On the first anniversary of the death of St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak, President Putin on 19 February took part in one of many events devoted to Sobchak's memory, Russian agencies reported. Putin said that Sobchak, with whom he worked closely, "spoke about the law as about the foundation of freedom" and that although he "remained a political romantic, as we often called him," Sobchak was a "bright representative of the leaders who stood at the sources of the new Russia." PG

PUTIN SENDS MONEY-LAUNDERING CONVENTION TO DUMA

President Putin has sent to the Duma for ratification the 1990 international convention on money laundering signed by the Russian government on 7 May 1999, Interfax reported. PG

PUTIN'S PROBLEMS OUTLINED...

Writing in the 20 February "Nezavisimaya gazeta," political observer Aleksandr Tsipko said that "Putin's misfortune is not that he has created a 'corporation' of like-minded people but that he has not done so." He said that Putin's administration is afraid to break with its "democratic inheritance. But as a result of this apologetic relation to the reformers and to the 'family,' it is losing the trust of the population." According to Tsipko, "the Putin command did not consider that it is impossible to propagandize the truth about the state and Russian statehood while remaining a hostage to the former democratic lie of market reforms." Tsipko said that Putin's people remind him of the patriotic groups in the late 1980s who "lost all their ideological superiority because of a fear of touching the Soviet inheritance." PG

...AS POLITICAL FIGURES SEE RETURN TO PAST

"Moskovskii komsomolets" on 20 February said that Russia's politicians and political scientists see the Russian pendulum now swinging back to the past. One of them, Communist Duma deputy Vasilii Shandybin, said that "a return to Soviet values is possible," but only if there is an active campaign for the restoration of the Soviet Union. He added that "Yeltsin was a Herod whose daughter Tatiana asked for the head of the Russian people. He did not refuse his daughter." Others suggested that some people believed that Putin would restore order, but "people see that they have been tricked again, that order has not been restored." PG

ANOTHER RESTRICTION ON THE MEDIA?

According to "Segodnya" on 20 February, Deputy Media Minister Vladimir Grigorev has said that "the Russian advertising market is too small to support the current number of mass media outlets," and therefore the government plans to stop issuing licenses to new media outlets for at least a year. The paper said that officials it has questioned say that the Media Ministry does not have any legal basis for taking this step. The Media Ministry also said it does not consider it possible to extinguish a credit to ORT before the end of 2002, Interfax-AFI reported. The EBRD said on 20 February that it is not conducting any talks about the possible purchase of shares in NTV. PG

EBRD HEAD PRAISES RUSSIAN SMALL BUSINESS

Jean Lemierre, the president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, said in Moscow on 20 February that the growth of small businesses in Russia is a major success story and that he is proud that his bank has contributed to it, AP reported. He noted that the bank has made between 40,000 and 45,000 loans to small businesses in Russia. These loans are being paid back at a rate "certainly above 97 or 98 percent, which is extraordinary," he said. PG

REDUCING CAPITAL FLIGHT SEEN BOOSTING GDP

Yevgenii Gavrilenkov, the deputy director of the Bureau of Economic Analysis, told Interfax on 20 February that Russia's GDP growth could reach 5-6 percent if it could arrest capital flight out of the country. PG

GRAIN HARVEST PROJECTED AT MORE THAN 70 MILLION TONS

Moscow officials on 20 February predicted that Russian farmers will harvest not less than 70 million tons of grain in 2001, up from 65,4 million tons in 2000 and 54.7 million in 1999, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Kasyanov signed a decree on carrying out spring seeding. Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev told Interfax on 19 February that the state must regulate all aspects of agricultural production. PG

MOSCOW APPROVES DRAFT ACCORD ON TARIFF REGIMES WITH BELARUS

The Russian government has approved a draft agreement with Belarus on moving toward the unification of a single tariff system within the context of the union between the two countries, Interfax reported on 20 February. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Kasyanov told the State Customs Committee that it is working well but needs to tighten control over its officers and to get them to work harder to collect more tariffs due, Russian agencies reported. PG

NO DATE BEING DISCUSSED FOR PUTIN-BUSH MEETING

Foreign Minister Ivanov said on 20 February that there is no concrete discussion yet about the date of a possible meeting of Russian President Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush, Russian agencies reported. His comments came as a U.S. Congressional delegation led by Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) visited Moscow to meet Russian parliamentarians and executive branch officials. PG

MOSCOW STEPS UP PRESSURE ON IRAQ STRIKES

President Putin on 19 February spoke by telephone with French President Jacques Chirac on the "impermissibility" of U.S. and British airstrikes against Baghdad, ITAR-TASS reported. Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov reached a similar agreement with his Chinese counterpart Tang Jiaxuan by telephone on 20 February, DPA reported. Meanwhile, the Duma International Affairs Committee has called on the Duma as a whole to approve a resolution calling on President Putin to unilaterally drop all sanctions against Iraq, with left-wing deputies saying they will support it but right-wing deputies arguing that such a step would be dangerous and counterproductive, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

MOSCOW CRITICIZES EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT CHECHNYA RESOLUTION

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that the 15 February European Parliament resolution on Chechnya is "too sharp by its form and not very convincing by its content," ITAR-TASS reported on 20 February. The ministry said that many of the criticisms contained in that resolution "became outdated a long time ago." PG

MOSCOW CONCERNED BY NORWEGIAN MANEUVERS

Russian officials have expressed concerns about a military exercise at Norway's Halkavarre training range near the Russian border, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 February. Russian Defense Ministry officials said that they do not understand "why Norway has retreated from its unilateral commitments to restrict military activity in northern regions." PG

IS YASTRZHEMBSKII ABOUT TO BE PROMOTED?

"Segodnya" reported on 20 February that presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii may become the deputy director of the presidential administration and assume the role of chief Kremlin spokesman. Yastrzhembskii had no comment. But in an interview with that paper the same day, Yastrzhembskii did say that Russia should consider copying Britain's new anti-terrorist law as a means of eliminating groups supporting pro- independence Chechens. PG

YELTSIN REMAINS HOSPITALIZED

Three weeks after being admitted to the Central Clinical Hospital for flu, former Russian President Boris Yeltsin remains in the hospital, doctors told Russian news services on 20 February. They indicated that no date has been set for his release. PG

LISOVSKY EXTRADITED FROM GERMANY

Stanislav Lisovsky, 32, who was wanted on an Interpol warrant for involvement in especially violent crimes, was extradited from Germany to Russia on 20 February, ITAR-TASS reported. If he is convicted by a Russian court, he could face two years in jail. The news agency said that this is the fourth time a Russian citizen has been extradited this year. PG

DEFINING REGIONAL POWERS FROM ABOVE AND BELOW

Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaimiev told Interfax on 20 February that "without a precise delimitation of functions between the federal center and the regions, Russia will not be able to have an effective mechanism for the vertical of power." Shaimiev heads a working group in the State Council on federal power sharing. Meanwhile, Leonid Roketskii, a member of the State Council presidium and the former governor of Tyumen Oblast, told the Russian agency on the same day that some of the powers that regions now enjoy should be transferred to cities and other forms of local administration. PG

MIXED ECONOMIC STATISTICS REPORTED

More than one Russian in four received less than the government-established survival minimum during the last quarter of 2000, Interfax reported on 20 February citing the State Statistics Committee. But that figure was an improvement, with the number having fallen by 5 percent over the last year, Labor Minister Pochinok told Prime-TASS. Pochinok further predicted that unemployment will decline from 7.5 million at present to no more than 5 million by the end of 2002. PG

'NEGATIVE' DEMOGRAPHIC SITUATION IN KHABAROVSK

The Khabarovsk Krai Statistics Committee told Interfax-Eurasia on 20 February that the region lost almost 1 percent of its population in 2000, that the number of deaths exceeded births by 1.7 times, that the level of infant mortality remains at 17 deaths per 1,000 live births, and that the number of divorces relative to the number of marriages had increased. PG

RUSSIA NOW 'CHIEF EXPORTER' OF SCIENTISTS

Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi said on 20 February that Russia has become the main supplier of scientists and artists to the world market, Interfax reported. Every fifth worker in the production of stringed instruments in the United States is a graduate of Moscow schools, he said, adding that more than 70 percent of all circus performer in the world are from Russia. He said that recent increases in state spending on science and the arts have done little to reverse this trend. PG

15,000 ALTAI TEACHERS TO TAKE PART IN ALL-RUSSIA ACTION

More than 15,000 teachers in the schools of the Altai region have signed up to participate in an All-Russia action on 27 February in support of the state school system, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

CHERKESOV SAYS MILITARY WORKS WELL IN DISTRICT

Speaking to the coordination council of the organs of military administration in St. Petersburg on 20 February, presidential envoy to the North-West Federal District Viktor Cherkesov said that the military units there, including the Baltic Fleet and the Leningrad Military District, are working well. He said more work is needed, however, to improve rear support. PG

ST. PETERSBURG ANTHEM HARD TO SING

"Vremya MN" reported on 20 February that deputies in the St. Petersburg legislative assembly are having a hard time singing the city anthem they adopted. The lyrics are taken from Pushkin, while the music is by Glier, the paper said. PG

SCIENTISTS PICKET OVER 'MIR'S' DEMISE

Approximately 1,000 scientists and politicians picked Russia's space agency on 20 February on the 15th anniversary of the "Mir" space station to protest Russian plans to deorbit the station in March, AP reported. Meanwhile, the Russian government formally expressed its gratitude to all those who contributed to the Mir mission over that period, Interfax reported. PG

PROSECUTOR-GENERAL REJECTS IDEA OF COMPLETE CRIMINALIZATION OF RUSSIAN SOCIETY

Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov said on 20 February that he does not agree with recent assertions that there has been a complete criminalization of Russian society, Interfax reported. He said that "in terms of criminality, we are not that much worse than other countries, including the United States." He added that Russia is doing just as well as the U.S. in the struggle against corruption. PG

CRIMINALS DRESSED AS COPS STAGE HEIST

A Moscow gang dressed as militiamen stole 5 million rubles ($175,000), the authorities there told Interfax on 20 February. PG

MOSCOW DELAYS SETTING PLATINUM EXPORT QUOTAS

A Finance Ministry official told Interfax on 20 February that the assigning of quotas for the export of platinum, palladium and other related minerals has been postponed for an indefinite period. PG

RUSSIA INTRODUCES REGISTRATION OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS

The Ministry of Industry, Science and Technology plans to introduce a state registry of genetically modified products in order to product Russian consumers, Interfax reported on 20 February. PG

KRISTALL TO PRODUCE SMIRNOV VODKA

Kristall, the largest Russian producer of vodka, announced on 20 February that it will soon sign an agreement with the Smirnov company to produce approximately 1 million half liter bottles under the latter's name, Interfax reported. PG

PERM OBLAST TO MAKE BID TO MERGE WITH NEIGHBORING OKRUG

In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 20 February, Perm Oblast Governor Yurii Trutnev revealed that he would like to conduct a referendum on the question of formally merging his oblast and the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug. According to Trutnev, lawyers for the oblast are examining the legal issues involved in holding such a referendum and conducting such a merger. He added that it would be desirable to hold the referendum at the same time as some other election. In an interview with Interfax on the same day, deputy chairman of Komi-Permyak's legislative assembly Vladimir Startsev said that he thinks the majority of the okrug's voters would favor joining with Perm Oblast. He noted that the standard of living in the okrug currently ranks at the very bottom of all Russian regions, excepting Chechnya about which insufficient economic data is gathered. And, residents of the okrug see joining with Perm Oblast as the solution to their problems, according to Startsev. JAC

FAR EASTERN GUBERNATORIAL ELECTIONS SET FOR MAY

First deputy presidential envoy to the Far East federal district Pavel Apanasenko told Interfax-Eurasia on 20 February that he does not exclude the possibillity of participating in upcoming gubernatorial elections in Primorskii Krai. Local legislators selected 27 May as the date for new elections, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 February. Apanasenko explained that since he is currently in government service, it would not be correct for him to simultaneously participate in elections, adding that "The president appointed me to my current position, therefore the question of my participation [in the election] should be agreed upon with him." Candidates, such as Aleksandr Kirillchev, general director of Primorskii Sea Shipping, who participated in gubernatorial elections in December 1999 have not yet announced whether they will run again. JAC

FIVE CANDIDATES TO CONTEST TATARSTAN PRESIDENTIAL POLL

Five candidates have registered to contest the presidency of Tatarstan in the ballot to be held on 25 May, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 20 February. They are incumbent Mintimer Shaimiev, State Duma deputies Ivan Grachev and Sergei Shashurin (both Communists), Nikolai Federov, who is deputy administration head of Zelenodolsk Raion, and Communist Party of Tatarstan ideology secretary Robert Sadykov. Sadykov, who is also supported by Tatarstan's nationalist-oriented parties, is considered the most serious challenger to Shaimiev. The Central Electoral Commission excluded from the ballot a sixth potential candidate, Dmitrii Berdnikov, who is chairman of the All-Russian movement "Against Crime and Lawlessness," on the grounds that the number of disputed signatures among those he collected in support of his candidacy exceeded the 15 percent maximum. LF




EU DELEGATION VISITS ARMENIA

Three top EU officials -- chairwoman and Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, Foreign and Security Policy Commissioner Javiar Solana and External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten -- visited Yerevan on 20 February on the first leg of a tour of the South Caucasus. Lindh told journalists after talks with President Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian that she is aware of "a clear commitment and political will" on the part of the Armenian leadership to resolve the Karabakh conflict. She added that a peaceful and long-lasting solution to that conflict would facilitate closer cooperation between the EU and the states of the South Caucasus. Lindh said the EU intends to devote closer attention to the region in future. Patten for his part said the EU will continue to fund regional cooperation programs such as the TRACECA transport network and the INOGATE program. LF

ARMENIA, UKRAINE PLAN TO EXPAND BILATERAL TRADE

Following a session in Yerevan on 20 February of the Armenian- Ukrainian inter-governmental economic cooperation commission, government delegations from the two countries finalized the text of a 10-year agreement outlining the main priorities for commercial ties, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That agreement, which is to be signed during Armenian President Robert Kocharian's visit to Kyiv next week, provides for expanding bilateral trade from the 2000 level of $15.5 million to $38 million by 2003. Vladimir Novytskii, who heads Ukraine's State Committee on Industrial Policy, reaffirmed Kyiv's interest in participating in the construction of a pipeline to export gas from Iran to Armenia. He said that pipeline could be extended to Georgia and further westwards, thereby enabling Ukraine to purchase Iranian gas and minimize its present dependence on deliveries from Russia and Turkmenistan. LF

OSCE KARABAKH PEACE PROPOSALS LEAKED

The Azerbaijani official press on 21 February published in Russian and Azerbaijani what it claims is the text of the three successive draft proposals for resolving the Karabakh conflict offered by the OSCE Minsk Group in July 1997, December 1997 and November 1998, RFE/RL's Baku bureau reported. Also on 21 February, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported that it and several other Armenian media outlets have received an Armenian translation of the five-page November 1998 OSCE proposal that Azerbaijan and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic form a "common state." Baku rejected that proposal. The leaked document confirms that the proposal gives the unrecognized republic de facto independent status, with the right to its own constitution and armed forces and to veto any legislation enacted by the central parliament in Baku. The document contains a separate provision on the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territories contiguous to Nagorno-Karabakh. A senior Armenian diplomatic source confirmed the authenticity of the document, while a Karabakh official noted that the Armenian translation contains minor inaccuracies. LF

AZERBAIJANI WAR INVALIDS VACATE HEADQUARTERS

Following further clashes on 20 February between police and supporters of the Karabakh war invalids, members of the Society that represents the invalids' interests on 21 February abandoned the hunger-strike they began last week to demand an increase in their pensions and allowances, Turan reported. An estimated 500 veterans and invalids vacated the society's headquarters on 21 February and handed the premises over to police in return for assurances that they will not be arrested. On 20 February, the Prosecutor-General's office and Interior Ministry had issued a joint statement accusing the invalids of "organizing mass disturbances," "incitement to illegal actions and violence," and the embezzlement of some 1 billion manats ($217,000). LF

IRATE AZERBAIJANI TRADERS DEMOLISH GEORGIAN BORDER POST

A convoy of some 30 vehicles carrying up to 300 Azerbaijani traders crossed into Georgia on 19 February and demolished a border post to protest the 420 lari ($200) customs tariffs they are routinely required to pay, Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIA RULES OUT RUSSIAN TROOP PRESENCE IN PANKISI GORGE

Georgian presidential spokesman Kakha Imnadze said on 20 February that Tbilisi will "in no circumstances" allow Russia to deploy troops in the Pankisi gorge in northern Georgia, bordering on Chechnya. Russian officials have repeatedly claimed that the estimated 7,000 Chechens who have fled the fighting in Chechnya to take refuge in Pankisi, which is home to Georgia's Chechen minority, include numerous armed fighters. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT REAFFIRMS INTEREST IN BAKU-CEYHAN PIPELINE

Nursultan Nazarbaev has written to his Georgian counterpart Eduard Shevardnadze to reaffirm Kazakhstan's interests in exporting oil via Georgia, Caucasus Press reported on 20 February. Nazarbaev noted that by signing the March 1999 Ankara and November 1999 Istanbul declarations, Kazakhstan affirmed its support for construction of the planned Baku-Ceyhan pipeline for Caspian oil. He said that the capacity of the Tengiz-Novorossiisk oil pipeline that is expected to become operational later this year is not sufficient to export the 67 million tons per year that Kazakhstan envisages producing. LF

KAZAKH PREMIER OUTLINES PREPARATIONS FOR SPRING SOWING

Addressing a cabinet session on 20 February, Qasymzhomart Toqaev said he has ordered oil companies and refineries to produce an additional 9 million tons of diesel for agricultural use during the spring sowing campaign, and that the export of diesel fuel will be banned during that period. He added that farmers will not be supplied with diesel at reduced prices this year, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Toqaev further expressed concern that 70 percent of the country's agricultural machinery is worn out. LF

KAZAKHSTAN REDUCES UNEMPLOYMENT

Labor and Social Insurance Minister Alikhan Baimenov told the cabinet session on 20 February that 264,000 new jobs were created last year, and registered unemployment fell as a result to 12.8 percent, ITAR-TASS reported. He also said that the population's cash incomes increased by 4-5 percent last year, while the average wage rose by 19.2 percent. Reuters last month gave the minimum wage in Kazakhstan as 3,484 tenges (about $42). LF

KYRGYZ PREMIER EXPLAINS UZBEK GAS SUPPLIES CHAOS

Addressing the upper chamber of parliament on 20 February, Kurmanbek Bakiev attributed Uzbekistan's failure to resume natural gas deliveries to Kyrgyzstan by the absence of any formal agreement between the two countries on gas supplies for this year, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Bakiev said that the only current agreement in force is one on gas supplies to the Bishkek heating plant. In December 2000 then Deputy Prime Minister Esengul OmurAliyev announced that he and his Uzbek counterpart Rustam Yunusov had signed an intergovernmental agreement on oil, gas and electricity supplies for 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2000). Uzbekistan halted gas supplies to Kyrgyzstan on 25 January. LF

KYRGYZ COURT POSTPONES APPEAL BY OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER

The Bishkek City Court on 20 February postponed indefinitely hearings on an appeal by the opposition newspaper "Asaba," RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. A Bishkek district court ordered the paper last fall to pay 5 million soms (about $105,000) in compensation to parliament deputy and former Communist Party of Kirghizia First Secretary Turdakun UsubAliyev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 26 October 2000). UsubAliyev had complained that "Asaba" has insulted him systematically over a period of eight years. LF




OSCE ENVOYS WRAP UP FACT-FINDING MISSION TO MINSK

Urban Ahlin of Sweden and Gert Weisskirchen of Germany on 20 February concluded a series of meetings in Minsk with representatives of the Belarusian executive and legislative authorities as well as of the opposition, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The two envoys are to submit a report on their findings to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Credentials Committee in Vienna on 22 February. They will provide recommendations as to whether the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is to prolong the membership mandate of the opposition Supreme Soviet, which was disbanded by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in 1996, or to accept Belarus's Chamber of Representatives chosen in last year's undemocratic elections that the OSCE did not recognize. Ahlin and Weisskirchen did not comment on what they are going to say in Vienna. JM

BELARUSIAN NGO REPORTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN 2000

The Minsk-based Vyasna human rights group on 20 February presented a 170-page report on violations of human rights in Belarus last year, Belapan reported. Vyasna head Ales Byalyatski noted a further deterioration of the human rights situation in the country. The report mentions the criminal prosecution of political and public figures, disappearances of prominent people, persecution of political parties and trade unions, and discrimination based on religion, nationality, and language. Byalyatski said the Belarusian authorities repressed several thousand people last year. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VETOES PROPORTIONAL PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION LAW...

Leonid Kuchma has vetoed the parliamentary election bill that provided for abolishing the current mixed voting and introducing a proportional party-list electoral system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 2001), Interfax reported on 20 February. According to the presidential press service, the bill does not conform with the constitution and a number of laws. The service added that the bill limits citizens' constitutional right to elect their representatives to the parliament by shifting a majority of election process prerogatives to political parties. There are currently 110 political parties registered in Ukraine. JM

...SUGGEST SPONSORS OF CURRENT POLITICAL UNREST

Kuchma suggested the same day that the current anti- presidential protests in Ukraine are financed with money from former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko and former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko, Interfax reported. "Some grounds for this [conclusion] exist," Kuchma said. He added that "everything taking place [now in Ukraine] is based not on people's enthusiasm but on money." JM

OPPOSITION WANTS TALKS WITH KUCHMA ON HIS RESIGNATION

Anatoliy Matviyenko, a leader of the Forum for National Salvation, said on 20 February that the forum is ready for talks with Kuchma, but only about a "resignation formula" for the president, Interfax reported. A further condition stipulated by the forum for embarking on talks with Kuchma is the release of Yuliya Tymoshenko from jail. JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKERS DEMAND PROBE INTO KUCHMA-PUTIN 'ENERGY MEMORANDUM'

The parliamentary caucus of the Ukrainian Popular Rukh (led by Yuriy Kostenko) has demanded an investigation into how the so-called "energy memorandum" was prepared and signed during Kuchma's recent talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Dnipropetrovsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 February 2001). The Rukh lawmakers believe the memorandum constitutes "Russia's attempt to completely seize the Ukrainian energy market through its powerful lobby in the highest circles of Ukrainian authorities, drive our country out of the European energy export market, and drag Ukraine into a union with Russia and Belarus," the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported on 21 February, quoting UNIAN. The Rukh notes that the energy deal is Ukraine's "most shameful capitulation to the northern neighbor in the last 10 years" (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2001). JM

NEW ESTONIAN LEGAL CHANCELLOR APPROVED

By a vote of 72 to 13 with four abstentions, the Estonian parliament on 20 February approved Allar Joks as the country's new legal chancellor, ETA reported. The 35-year old Joks has been the Chairman of the Central Council of Judges Association since 1995. The legal chancellor is Estonia's highest independent authority and determines whether laws passed by the parliament or local municipalities conform with the constitution. The post has been vacant since June 2000 when Eerik-Juhan Truuvali's seven-year term expired. The parliament later rejected a number of candidates whom President Lennart Meri had proposed. SG

LATVIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES ECONOMIC COOPERATION MEMORANDUM WITH IMF

The Latvian Cabinet on 20 February approved the draft text of the memorandum on economic policy between Latvia and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), LETA reported. The draft memorandum stipulates that Latvia's national budget deficit should not exceed 1.75 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) this year. It predicts that in 2001 the GDP will increase by 5.5 percent, the annual inflation rate will be less than 3 percent, and the current account deficit will fall to 7 percent of GDP. The memorandum obliges Latvia to sell a 68 percent share of the state-owned shipping company "Latvijas kugnieciba" to a strategic investor. It must also sell its 43 percent share of "Ventspils nafta" and 8 percent share in "Latvijas gaze" by the end of June. SG

LITHUANIAN PRIME MINISTER GIVES ACCOUNT OF HIS CABINET'S FIRST 100 DAYS

Rolandas Paksas gave a report to the parliament on 20 February about what his cabinet has accomplished in its first 100 days and outlined its future plans, ELTA reported. He noted that the cabinet had inherited a total debt of 7 billion litas ($1.75 billion) in state guarantees, uncompleted construction projects worth 3 billion litas, and other state liabilities whose total might even exceed 21 billion litas. He mentioned as some of his government's major accomplishments reducing the value added tax on home heating from 18 to 9 percent, abolishing taxation on capital gains, providing 50 million litas to reimburse housing loans interest to eligible families, and balancing beer and wine excise duties. Paksas expressed regret that he cannot see any way to reduce quickly the growing unemployment rate, which is now 13 percent. The government has tightened the administration of foreign loans, is completing a simplification of the tax system, and plans partial reimbursement of diesel fuel costs to farmers. SG

POLISH PREMIER TO FIRE ADVISER OVER IRAQ'S TRADE BOYCOTT?

Jerzy Buzek is to decide on the fate of his foreign policy adviser Jerzy Marek Nowakowski because of the latter's "unfortunate" remarks about the U.S.-British air strikes against Iraq, AP reported on 21 February, quoting Buzek's aide Teresa Kaminska. Last week Nowakowski told PAP that the airstrikes were a "resolute gesture of the new U.S. administration" and that there is "no reason for us not to have understanding for the action." French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said on 19 February that only Poland and Canada expressed support for the strikes, apparently referring to Nowakowski's statement. Iraq's trade minister said on 20 February that his country will no longer buy goods from Canada or Poland because they supported the airstrikes. JM

NATO CHIEF TO CRITICIZE CZECH APPROACH TO ALLIANCE...

When he arrives on 21 February for a two-day visit to the Czech Republic, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson will voice his dissatisfaction with the way the country is fulfilling its obligations to the alliance, CTK reported on 20 February. The Czech ambassador to NATO, Karel Kovanda, admitted that problems exist and there are "a number of aspects, including...the building of its forces, in which NATO would like the Czech army to proceed faster." Sources inside NATO have pointed to certain commitments not being fulfilled. For example, the Czech paratrooper unit included in NATO's rapid deployment force does not have parachutes, since the ones it ordered are faulty. "If we accept something, it is assumed that we will fulfill it. There is no doubt that there are some problems," Kovanda said. DW

...QUESTIONS CZECH NEED FOR FIGHTER PLANES...

According to reports on Czech Television, Robertson will also question the need for the Czech Republic to purchase supersonic fighter planes, instead of focusing on more immediate issues. The Czech government announced a tender for up to 36 of the planes last fall, which could cost up to 100 billion Czech crowns ($2.7 billion). Robertson will not criticize the Defense Ministry's financial affairs, as it is considered a domestic issue, but he is likely to point to commitments the Czech armed forces have made and are not fulfilling, the report said. DW

...WILL MEET WITH HOSPITALIZED CZECH PRESIDENT

Vaclav Havel's condition has improved to the point that he will meet with NATO Secretary-General Robertson in the military hospital in Prague when Robertson arrives on 21 February, CTK reported. Havel, 64, has been in the hospital since 12 February with bronchitis and pneumonia after cutting short a trip to the Middle East. Havel's personal physician, Ilija Kotik, said that Havel will probably be in hospital for another week. DW

NOVA DIRECTOR AGREES TO OBEY COURT RULING

Nova TV Director Vladimir Zelezny has agreed to comply with a court ruling by the International Court of Arbitration in Paris to pay U.S. cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder $27 million, AP reported on 20 February. The court ordered Zelezny to pay Lauder's Bahamas-based company CME (Central European Media Enterprises) $23 million plus $4 million in interest for its 5.8 percent stake in CNTS, which managed Nova before Zelezny began broadcasting in new studios under the same name and hiring away the best talent. The Czech Foreign Ministry is also following the case, CTK reported. "We find the development...interesting in view of the fact that arbitration is expected between Lauder and the Czech Republic," Deputy Foreign Minister Hynek Kmonicek said. Lauder claims the Czech government's failure to protect his investment per a Czech- U.S. agreement has cost his company $500 million. DW

CZECH COURT OVERTURNS SENTENCING OF 'MEIN KAMPF' PUBLISHER

The Prague City Court on 20 February overturned a December 2000 sentence of the Prague District Court against the publisher of the Czech-language translation of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 12 December 2000) and sent the case back to the district court for re-examination, CTK reported. That court had convicted Michal Zitko to a suspended sentence of three years in prison and ordered him to pay a large fine. The City Court ruled with reference to Zitko's appeal that several "serious judicial mistakes" were made at that trial. Among other things, it said that witnesses on behalf of the prosecution were not heard in court and their police testimonies have been accepted as evidence. It also said that the court refused a request by the defense to call one of its main witnesses. MS

CZECHS TO COME UNDER SCHENGEN AGREEMENT NO SOONER THAN 2005

The European Commission has informed the Czech Republic that new EU members will be included in the Schengen agreement on the free movement of people no sooner than 2005, CTK reported. "It is basic and new information -- the first date which we have yet been informed of," said Blanka Rybonova, deputy director of the international cooperation section of the Czech Foreign Ministry. EU officials have said in the past that technical issues could delay the enlargement of the Schengen system and that it need not happen at the same time as new members join the EU, but this is the first indication of a specific date. Rybonova said the government will announce a plan in mid-March concerning the adoption of legislation connected with Schengen. DW

SLOVAKIA TO SPEND HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS FOR NATO MEMBERSHIP...

The Slovak Defense Ministry said on 20 February that it will need to spend some $393 million in order to meet all of the requirements for NATO membership, AP reported. The ministry said some $52 million is earmarked for that purpose in 2001, and added that it has outlined 64 different goals it has to meet to bring the country's defense forces up to NATO standards. PB

...WANTS TIME TO REPLACE ITS MIGS

Slovak Defense Ministry officials said on 20 February that due to financial reasons it is asking NATO to allow Slovakia more time to modernize its fleet of MiG-29 combat aircraft and Mi-24 and Mi-17 attack and transport helicopters, CTK reported. Ministry official Dusan Ptacek said Slovakia has plans to use the MiG plane and helicopter fleets until it is able to begin replacing them, which may not be until 2003. The Defense Ministry added that it is trying to increase defense spending from 1.74 percent of GDP to 1.89 percent. PB

SLOVAK UNEMPLOYMENT RATE HITS RECORD HIGH

The percentage of jobless in Slovakia reached 19.79 percent in January, the highest it has been since the fall of communism in 1989, Reuters reported on 20 February. The Labor Office reported that this represents nearly a 2 percent increase on December's rate of 17.88 percent. Economic analysts said the increase is surprising and bad news for Premier Mikulas Dzurinda and his program of attracting foreign direct investment. The increase in unemployment could complicate Bratislava's concluding talks with the IMF on a $300 million Enterprise and Financial Sector Adjustment Loan. PB

SLOVAKIA SIGNS CHARTER ON MINORITY LANGUAGES

Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan signed the European Charter of Regional or Minority Languages in Strasbourg on 20 February, CTK reported. In signing the charter, which must be ratified by the Slovak parliament, the Slovak government pledges to support and protect the usage of minority languages in public life, including in schools, the judiciary, the media, and in local government. The Slovak government says it will apply the charter only to municipalities in which at least 20 percent of the population speak a minority language. PB

HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS HUNGARIAN ROMA EMIGRATION TO CANADA NOT A SOLUTION

Janos Martonyi on 20 February told his Canadian counterpart John Manley that Hungary does not regard the emigration of Romany to Canada as a solution. On the third day of his visit to Canada, Martonyi outlined the elements of the Hungarian government's medium- term program for the Roma minority, saying the cabinet wants to develop the education and support the economic advancement of Roma. Hungarian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Gabor Horvath said Canadian officials evaluated highly the manner in which Hungary has handled emigration issues, Hungarian media reported. MSZ




SERBIA OFFERING NEW TERMS TO PRESEVO ALBANIANS?

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic sent a letter on 20 February to elected Presevo Valley ethnic Albanian leaders Riza Halimi and Zekerija Fazliu. AP reported the message "is also clearly meant to include the armed guerrillas" operating in the region. Covic appealed to the Albanians to "take immediate measures" to "stop the terrorist actions" and appoint negotiators for talks as part of a "dialogue" between Belgrade and the local Albanian community. In an apparent break with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's position and in a clear concession to Albanian views, Covic said there can be "international mediation" but did not elaborate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2001). The Albanians want autonomy, disarmament, and international mediation. Covic recently outlined Belgrade's proposals aimed at defusing tensions in the region in a lengthy document (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 February 2001). In his latest letter, Covic stressed the government's commitment to "human rights" and pledged to withdraw security forces once "extremist" groups are disarmed and disbanded., Reuters reported. PM

SERBIA AND MACEDONIA TO COOPERATE AGAINST 'EXTREMISTS' IN REGION

Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic and his Macedonian counterpart Srdjan Kerim said in Belgrade on 20 February that there are no outstanding problems between their two countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 February 2001, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 February 2001). Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and Macedonian Premier Ljubco Georgievski said that their talks centered on the security situation in southern Serbia and the need to oppose "extremist" actions that can destabilize the region, "Vesti" reported. Georgievski reiterated his support for the Serbian plan for Presevo. Djindjic said that the two countries' cooperation is limited to "exchanging information" and that there is "no need" for coordinated efforts by their respective security forces. Asked to comment on recent "terrorist actions by extremists from Kosovo" on Macedonian territory, Georgievski said only that Skopje has not yet determined exactly who the recent intruders are (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2001). PM

MACEDONIA CALLS ON KFOR TO DO MORE FOR BORDER SECURITY

President Boris Trajkovski met in Skopje with KFOR representatives on 20 February, urging them to take steps to prevent further infiltration by uniformed, armed groups from Kosova into his country. The president also discussed security issues with top Macedonian Defense and Interior Ministry officials. In the latest incident, some 200 armed ethnic Albanian fighters crossed from Kosova into the area near Tanusevci on 20 February, dpa reported. Skopje has often complained to KFOR about lax security on the porous and in many places rugged border. PM

COVIC CALLS FOR SERBIAN ROLE IN KOSOVA SETTLEMENT

On a visit to the divided city of Mitrovica, Serbian Deputy Premier Covic said on 20 February that "anyone who believes that the Kosovo crisis can be resolved without Serbia and Yugoslavia is completely wrong." He added that Belgrade's "new democratic authorities have...the formula to achieve this with the help of the international community," AP reported. He did not elaborate. He may have been referring to the plan set down by Kostunica's foreign policy advisor to enable Serbia to reassert itself in Kosova with the help of the international community (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2001). It is not clear how Belgrade hopes to make such an eventuality palatable to the 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority, which wants only independence and nothing to do with Serbia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 and 22 December 2000 and 23 January 2001). PM

POWELL: U.S. TROOPS TO STAY IN BALKANS

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told visiting German Foreign Minster Joschka Fischer in Washington on 20 February that the U.S. remains committed to keeping its troops in NATO peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosova, Deutsche Welle reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2001). PM

MONTENEGRO SETS DATE FOR KEY VOTE

President Milo Djukanovic announced in Podgorica on 20 February that legislative elections will take place on 22 April. "I'm convinced that the elections are the most democratic step in the building of Montenegro as a free and open democratic society," AP quoted Djukanovic as saying. The elections are expected to be followed by a referendum on independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2001). Djukanovic stressed that independence "is more rational than trying to build a fourth Yugoslavia on the wreck of three Yugoslav failures," Reuters reported. PM

MONTENEGRO SAYS THAT BELGRADE DOES NOT REPRESENT IT ABROAD

Montenegrin Foreign Minister Branko Lukovac said in Sarajevo on 20 February that the Belgrade authorities do not have the right to represent Montenegro or its interests in Bosnia or anywhere else, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He said that the reason that he has come to Bosnia is to familiarize the authorities there with Montenegro's proposals on the future of Belgrade-Podgorica relations. His Bosnian counterpart, Jadranko Prlic, said that Bosnia will respect whatever decision Montenegro's people make about their future, Deutsche Welle reported. PM

CROATIAN PRESIDENT CALLS ON SERBIA TO 'CHANGE MILOSEVIC'S COURSE'

Speaking in Vienna on 20 February, Stipe Mesic called on the Belgrade leadership to make it clear to the Serbian public that the government has indeed broken with the nationalistic Milosevic era (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 February 2001, and "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 15 February 2001). Austrian President Thomas Klestil praised the Croatian government for setting a new course over the past year by promoting democracy, media freedom, refugee return, and cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, dpa reported. PM

HAGUE NOT TO SEEK CROATIAN GENERAL

The office of war crimes chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said in a statement on 21 February that "the prosecution of Mirko Norac -- for events in Gospic in 1991 and for any other alleged crime committed between 1991 and 1995 on the territory of the Republic of Croatia -- is the responsibility of the relevant authorities of Croatia," AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2001). PM

SLOVENIA TO CLOSE DUTY FREE SHOPS

The parliament voted on 21 February to close duty free shops on EU borders in June. The government is under pressure from Rome and Vienna to shut down the shops but is reluctant to approve a measure that will cost some 1,000 jobs, Reuters reported. Minister for European Affairs Igor Bavcar argues that any delay in the closure will slow down EU membership negotiations. PM

FORMER ROMANIAN DISSIDENT TO SUE SECURITATE ARCHIVES COLLEGE...

Gabriel Andreescu, a prominent anti-Ceausescu dissident, on 20 February told journalists he is suing the National College for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS), Mediafax reported. Andreescu said the college "infringes the legal right of citizens to have access to their own [Securitate] file." He said he has several times applied to the CNSAS to see his file but has never received a reply. Andreescu also said he is suing the CNSAS for having refused his request to make public information on the collaboration of Romanian Orthodox Church Synod members with the former secret police. Andreescu said CNSAS members are "defying Romania's citizens through their impertinence and lack of competence." MS

...SUSPECTS FORMER FOREIGN MINISTER OF HAVING BEEN SECURITATE AGENT

Andreescu also said he suspects CNSAS member and former Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu was a Securitate collaborator, but cannot prove his suspicion. The Group of Social Dialogue (GDS), at whose seat Andreescu met journalists, distanced itself from his declarations and said that Andreescu, a former GDS chairman, "ceased to be an active GDS member" more than one year ago. MS

IMF PROLONGS ROMANIAN VISIT

The IMF delegation headed by Neven Mates, chief negotiator for Romania, has decided to extend its stay in Romania to 25 February, Mediafax reported on 20 February, citing Finance Ministry sources. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said earlier on 20 February that the delegation will end its visit on 22 February and might return for further discussions at the end of March. Also on 20 February, Ziad Alhadad, head of the World Bank mission to Romania, said Romania needs to improve economic stability and continue structural reforms in order to be better positioned to attract foreign investment. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT AGAINST 'BABY EXPORTS'

Ion Iliescu said in Bucharest on 20 February that he opposes the "export of babies" from Romania, Mediafax reported. Iliescu made his comments at a foreign investment forum in response to a question about the situation of the thousands of homeless or institutionalized children in Romania. Iliescu pledged that the state will establish "appropriate new living conditions" for all such children and that legislation on this issue will be drafted before the end of the current parliamentary session. He said the bill will include an action program for the central and local governments. A lack of contraceptives and Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's policy forbidding abortions led to thousands of children being abandoned by their parents, making Romania the locale for thousands of legal and illegal adoptions -- mostly by Westerners -- after Ceausescu was executed on Christmas Day 1989 and the communist regime fell. PB

MOLDOVAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT ANNULS PARLIAMENTARY DECISION

Moldova's Constitutional Court has declared unconstitutional essential provisions in the law on restructuring agricultural enterprises undergoing privatization, Infotag reported 20 February. Last April, parliament amended the law in such a way that the property of such enterprises was not subject to confiscation by court decisions. Moreover, even property confiscated or seized previously was supposed to be returned to the owners. The Constitutional Court decided that parliament had exceeded its authority by amending the law in such a way, because in effect it overruled court decisions, which only a higher court may do. DW

RUSSIAN MINISTER TO VISIT MOLDOVA

Russian Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu will visit Moldova on 21 February to discuss technical issues, Infotag reported. Part of these discussions will include Russian assistance to Moldova in setting up an emergencies ministry of its own, as well as providing training and equipment for rescue teams. DW

BULGARIAN OFFICIAL CLAIMS EU NOT PROVIDING FUNDS FOR NUCLEAR REACTORS

Kiril Ermenkov, the chairman of the National Assembly's Energy Committee, said on 20 February that the EU has not kept its pledge to provide Bulgaria with money needed for the early closure of two reactors at the controversial Kozloduy nuclear power plant, BTA reported. According to an agreement signed with Sofia, the EU was to have already provided 200 million euros ($182.5 million) as compensation for early decommissioning of the two 880 MW reactors. Ermenkov said the EU is planning on giving Bulgaria some 100 million euros next year, but that the country needs the money now in order to shut down the reactors on time. PB

BULGARIAN AIRLINES PERSONNEL GIVEN PAID LEAVE OF ABSENCE

The Israeli owner of Bulgaria's financially-troubled Balkan Air company announced on 20 February that most of the company's employees have been given a one-month paid leave of absence, AP reported. Balkan Air spokesman Victor Melamed said 70 percent of the some 2,100 employees received the paid leave. Balkan Air has been grounded since 14 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2001). The Zeevi Holdings Group, which owns the airline, is suing Bulgaria for $230 million for breaching the sale contract. Balkan Air is also facing bankruptcy proceedings for unpaid debts. PB




There is no End Note today.





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