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Newsline - February 23, 2001




DUMA PASSES MODIFIED BUDGET AFTER STORMY DEBATE

The Duma voted on 22 February overwhelmingly in favor of the compromise budget modification, having earlier rejected a communist demand that the vote be postponed (after which the communists walked out of the hall) and a clause that would have lifted a moratorium on privatizations without Duma approval, Russian and Western agencies reported. The Federation Council will now take up the amendments on 14 March. Presidential representative to the Duma Aleksandr Kotenkov told Interfax that he does not exclude that the communists' walkout might lead to a decision being taken to strip them of their chairmanships of major committees. In addition, the Duma rejected three measures: a resolution on strengthening the leadership of Unified Energy Systems, a communist-backed denunciation of the Labor Ministry, and a resolution proposed by the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) condemning Switzerland over the arrest of Russia-Belarus Union State Secretary Pavel Borodin. Approximately 2,000 people nonetheless staged a demonstration on 22 February in front of the American embassy in Moscow on Borodin's behalf, Interfax reported. PG

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER HOPES FOR DIALOGUE WITH U.S.

In the face of mounting evidence of a worsening of ties between Moscow and Washington, Igor Ivanov has said that he is ready for high-level, bilateral talks on all issues, Russian agencies reported on 22 February. Ivanov also said that he seeks improved ties with NATO But the same day, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" published an interview with U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice in which she said that "Russia poses a danger for the West in general and for our European allies in particular." Meanwhile, Interfax reported that 52 percent of all Russians consider the U.S. an unfriendly country, while only 32 percent see it as a friend of Russia. "Komsomolskaya pravda" suggested that the arrest of a Russian spy by the U.S. would strengthen President George W. Bush's hand in dealing with Moscow. Also on 22 February, the FSB resumed the espionage investigation of Professor Anatolii Babkin, Interfax reported. PG

MOSCOW MAY PUT MISSILES IN CUBA, SELL ADVANCED WEAPONS TO CHINA IF NO ACCORD ON NMD

Yevgenii Maslin, a retired general who supervised the Defense Ministry's nuclear program in the 1990s, said in Moscow on 22 February that if there is no agreement between Moscow and Washington on National Missile Defense, the Russian government may send missiles to Cuba, AP reported. Indeed, he said, that possibility is already under discussion in Moscow. Meanwhile, "Vremya MN" said the same day that the introduction of NMD by the U.S. could lead the Russian government to sell additional and more advanced weapons systems, including those "far beyond conventional weapons." PG

MOSCOW CONDEMNS U.S. FOR IRAQ RAIDS

The Duma on 22 February approved by a vote of 359 to two a resolution calling on President Vladimir Putin to seek a United Nations decision to lift the sanctions regime against Iraq, ITAR-TASS reported. The parliament took this step after rejecting (by a vote of 23 in favor and 226 against) an LDPR resolution calling for Russia to unilaterally end the restrictions on trade with Baghdad. Meanwhile, in response to new U.S. raids on Iraq on 22 February, Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, who heads the main international relations administration at the Defense Ministry, said there was "no military reason" for such strikes and that no state could feel safe now that George W. Bush was president. PG

MOSCOW SAYS BELGRADE SHOULD NOT BE FORCED TO HAND OVER MILOSEVIC TO TRIBUNAL

Foreign Minister Ivanov said on 22 February that Belgrade should not be forced to hand over former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, Interfax reported. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic arrived in Moscow the previous day on a two-day visit to seek Russian assistance and cooperation. PG

PUTIN PUSHES EXPORT CONTROLS TO PREVENT PROLIFERATION

President Putin told the Russian Security Council on 22 February that improving the country's export control system is "the most important issue of ensuring the country's security," ITAR-TASS reported. He added that it is especially important to deal with dual use items. Meanwhile, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" carried an interview with Iran's ambassador to Moscow, Mehdi Safari, who said Tehran will ignore U.S. restrictions and purchase approximately $7 billion in arms from Russia in the next few years. PG

PUTIN'S POPULARITY SAID GETTING IN THE WAY OF REFORM

An article in the 22 February "Moskovskii komsomolets" argued that President Putin's high popularity rating, rather than helping him push through changes, has become an obstacle to change as he and his staff make maintaining Putin's popularity "an end in itself." Because "the best way of preserving a high popularity rating is not to waste it on apparently unpopular measures," the paper said, Putin and his staff are avoiding the most difficult questions. Meanwhile, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported the same day that its Internet-based poll on Putin's popularity showed that his approval rating has slipped slightly in the last month. PG

PUTIN SAID LIKE STOLYPIN -- EXCEPT FOR ABSENCE OF TSAR

An article in the 22 February "Nezavisimaya gazeta" suggested that there are major similarities between pre-revolutionary Russian Prime Minister Petr Stolypin and current Russian President Putin. Both maintained close ties to the special services, focused on domestic affairs, opposed both the left and the right, both were "conservative liberals" and patriots, and both had few close confidants. But the paper said, there is one major difference: "Above Stolypin was the tsar; above Putin are only the will of the elites and the patience of the people." The paper concluded that this comparison suggests that "in our country, reformers never have enough time." PG

JOURNALIST'S DETENTION IN CHECHNYA PROTESTED

The Union of Journalists of Russia on 22 February issued a statement protesting the detention of "Novaya gazeta" journalist Anna Politkovskaya by Russian security forces in Chechnya, Russian agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2001). The Union said that prosecutors had found no basis for the detention of the prize-winning journalist. Noting that there have been 15 such detentions during the past year, it added that this action appeared to reflect a distrust of the press and a willingness to invoke "special rules" in order to avoid obeying the law. Meanwhile, a Japanese correspondent was attacked and robbed in Moscow on 21 February, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

PUSHKIN SQUARE DEMO AGAINST MOSCOW'S ACTIONS IN CHECHNYA

Approximately 100 Moscow residents assembled in Pushkin Square on 22 February to protest Russian actions in Chechnya, Interfax reported. Lev Ponomarev, the co-president of the For Human Rights movement, told the group that the actions of federal forces in the North Caucasus are "illegal and threaten democracy in our country." The demonstration came on the eve of the 57th anniversary of Stalin's deportation of the Chechens. Meanwhile, Moscow police announced the detention of a Chechen carrying grenades and explosive devices in the Russian capital, the Russian news service said. PG

COAST GUARD SINKS RUSSIAN FISHING BOAT

The Russian coast guard on 22 February fired upon and sank a Russian fishing vessel that had attempted to elude the authorities, AP reported. The captain of the fleeing boat reportedly died, but all 28 sailors were rescued. Meanwhile, sailors on the Russian fishing boat which fled to Japan earlier this week refused to leave port, and the Japanese authorities said they would not force them to do so, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

USTINOV SAYS STAROVOITOVA MURDER NOT POLITICAL

In an interview published in the 22 February "Izvestiya," Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov said that the 1998 murder of liberal Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova was "no exception" to the pattern of "every murder committed in recent years" because it too had its roots in "money, profit, or plain old family matters." No one has yet been charged with her killing. PG

'KURSK' MOTHER SAYS SHE WAS DRUGGED TO KEEP HER QUIET

Nadezhda Tylik, the mother of a sailor who died in the "Kursk" submarine disaster in August 2000, said in Moscow on 22 February that the authorities had drugged her to keep her from telling her story to the media, AP reported. She said that her son had told her before his last voyage that the "Kursk" had serious problems. PG

A BUSY DAY IN THE FEDERATION COUNCIL

On 22 February, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament confirmed the authority of its new members and set their pay at 10,800 rubles ($390) a month, moved on a variety of laws and agreements already passed by the Duma, but rejected amendments to the law governing the handling of especially valuable metals, Russian agencies reported. The Federation Council also assigned to its constitutional and legal affairs committee the task of studying the current administrative-territorial arrangements of the Russian Federation. PG

MAJOR PERSONNEL CHANGES AT DEFENSE MINISTRY PREDICTED

On 22 February, "Komsomolskaya pravda" predicted that within the next few days, President Putin will appoint new commanders for the ground troops, space forces, and strategic rocket forces. The paper said that he is likely to appoint a new defense minister sometime this spring and that he is leaning toward Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, who will give up his current title but retain its responsibilities as part of the deal. PG

SOLDIERS FACE MAJOR HOUSING SHORTAGES

Some 170,000 Russian soldiers and 158,000 former soldiers have inadequate housing, Human Rights Commissioner Oleg Mironov said on 22 February, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, "Versty" reported the same day that 49.9 percent of contract servicemen have an income lower than the official subsistence minimum. Military cutbacks will only make these problem worse unless more funding is supplied for housing. Interior troops also suffer, as more than 18,000 of them do not have their own housing, the news service added. Meanwhile, a poll showed that 84 percent of Russians want to move toward the establishment of an all-volunteer professional army. PG

LESS THAN HALF OF RUSSIANS GIVE FSB A POSITIVE RATING

A poll conducted by monitoring.ru and summarized by Interfax on 22 February found that 42 percent of Russians positively assess the Federal Security Service (FSB), while only 19 percent gave it a negative evaluation. Some 39 percent found it difficult to express an opinion on this subject. At the same time, 77 percent of those polled said that Russia needs an institution like the FSB, and roughly half want it to work primarily against terrorism, corruption, and organized crime. PG

RUSSIANS OPPOSE IMPORTING NUCLEAR WASTE

Despite the money it might bring their country, 93.5 percent of Russians are against the import of nuclear wastes from other countries, according to a ROMIR poll reported by "Vremya MN" on 22 February. PG

AEROFLOT PLANS TO BUY FOREIGN PLANES SPARKS PROTEST

Approximately 1,000 Aeroflot and airplane company employees demonstrated outside Russian government headquarters on 22 February to protest Aeroflot's plans to purchase foreign-made jetliners, AP reported. Deputy Prime Minister Klebanov said that Russia plans to produce airplanes that correspond to international standards, Interfax reported. PG

MOSCOW WANTS COOPERATION WITH EU, FEARS LOSSES FROM ITS EXPANSION

Foreign Minister Ivanov said that Moscow wants to develop relations with the European Union "as with a strategic partner," Interfax reported on 22 February. But Maksim Medvedkov, the deputy minister of economic development and trade, told the news service the same day that the direct loss to Russia from the entrance into the EU of former Comecon countries would be $250-300 million a year and that the indirect losses would be much greater. PG

MOSCOW MAY DELAY WTO APPLICATION

Deputy Minister for Economic Development and Trade Medvedkov said on 22 February that Moscow will consider delaying its application to join the World Trade Organization for up to five years if current members are not prepared to make concessions to Russia's tariff requirements, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS MOSCOW WILLING TO REVISE VISA REGIME WITH GEORGIA

Foreign Minister Ivanov said on 22 February that the Russian government is prepared to discuss eliminating the visa regime it recently imposed on Georgia as soon as Tbilisi begins to cooperate with Russian forces to stop terrorism, Russian agencies reported. Also on 22 February, Georgian Foreign Ministry special envoy Avtandil Napetvaridze told Interfax that Tbilisi will raise question of lifting the visa requirement during talks with Russian officials next week. PG/LF

SHAIMIEV'S RIGHT TO RUN CHALLENGED

Duma deputy (Communist) Aleksandr Saliy, who serves as chairman of the permanent parliamentary commission for the study of elections, sent an official letter to Prosecutor General Ustinov challenging the right of Tatarstan President Mintimir Shaimiev to run for a third presidential term, Interfax reported. Saliy, who represents Tatarstan in the Duma, said that Shaimiev had announced his candidacy before the Duma passed the modifications of the election law that he is now seeking to take advantage of. PG

FEW RUSSIANS SEE PRESIDENTIAL ENVOYS AS USEFUL

A poll conducted by the National Public Opinion Research Center earlier this month shows that 62 percent of Russians do not see any positive results from the establishment of the system of presidential envoys to the federal districts, and that 20 percent believe that regional governments now think more about pleasing Moscow than about serving their citizens, "Izvestiya" reported on 22 February. Only 9 percent of the sample believe that the envoys are playing an effective role. PG

BLASTS FROM THE PAST

Former longtime Soviet Gosplan head Nikolai Baibakov said in an interview published in the 22 February "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that Russia needs an agency like the one he once headed. Meanwhile, "Segodnya" reported the same day that the Russian government on 21 February confirmed a state program for patriotic education over the next five years. And former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zaveryukha called for the restoration of the government land committee, Goskomzem, Interfax reported. PG

FSB TO GUARD MOSCOW MAYOR

Twelve members of the guard force for Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov have been transferred from the militia to the FSB, Interfax-Moscow reported on 22 February. Officials added that "this process will continue." Meanwhile, "Izvestiya" reported the same day that real prices for apartments in the Russian capital adjusted for inflation have fallen approximately 15 percent in the last year. PG

DETENTION CENTERS OVERCROWDED

The number of people being held in investigation detention centers is now twice the intended capacity of those institutions, prison officials told Interfax on 22 February. Many of those being held, the officials said, have been charged with relatively minor crimes, but they remain in detention pending an often long wait for trial. PG

RUSSIANS SAID UNINTERESTED IN INTERNET

A poll conducted by monitoring.ru and reported by Interfax on 22 February found that approximately 70 percent of Russian adults are not interested in the Internet. Some 78 percent said they do not visit and do not intend to visit the Internet at any time, the poll found. PG

'UNITY' BRANCH EXPELS A PUTIN -- BUT NOT THAT PUTIN

A branch of the pro-Kremlin "Unity" party in St. Petersburg recently expelled a certain Nikolai Vasilevich Putin for "immodesty" because he claimed to be a relative of the Russian president, "Izvestiya" reported on 22 February. PG

ONE PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY CONTRADICTS PROSECUTOR-GENERAL...

Presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district Konstantin Pulikovskii told Interfax on 21 February that he believes the resignation of the krai's chief prosecutor, Valerii Vasilenko, should be accepted. He added that he has informed Prosecutor-General Ustinov of his view. Ustinov said earlier that he will insist that Vasilenko retain his post (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 21 February 2001). Pulikovskii also commented that he has no plans to run for the governor's office in Primorskii Krai elections scheduled for 27 May. JAC

...AS ANOTHER APPEALS TO FINANCE MINISTRY FOR ADDITIONAL MONIES

Meanwhile, presidential envoy to the Siberian federal district Leonid Drachevskii has sent a letter Prime Minister Kasyanov asking that Siberian regions be granted more funds to cope with the severe frosts and avalanches plaguing the area this winter, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 21 February. Deputy presidential envoy Vladimir Goman told the agency that a survey of regions' needs indicated that 1.2 billion rubles ($42 million) is necessary to address such costs as buying new fuel to rebuild reserves that were diminished during the area's lower than usual temperatures. Earlier in the month, the Finance Ministry reported that financial assistance to the regions comprised the largest spending item in the federal budget in January, totaling 19.7 billion rubles (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 21 February 2001). JAC

SPRING COULD BRING SEVERE FLOODING TO SOME AREAS

Emergency Situation Minister Sergei Shoigu told reporters on 22 February that this year Russia could experience a complicated situation with flooding of rivers and other bodies of water, Interfax reported. He noted that in Siberia some rivers have formed a thick layer of ice. He cited as examples the Lena and Enisei rivers where the ice is more than two meters thick. He predicted the regions that will be the worst affected are the republics of Yakutia and Buryatia, Krasnoyarsk Krai and Amur, Chita, and Vologda oblasts. JAC

FORMER CHECHEN LEADER SAYS CHECHENO-INGUSHETIA SHOULD BE RESTORED

Speaking at a press conference at Interfax's Moscow headquarters on 22 February, former Chechen Prime Minister Doku Zavgaev argued that Chechnya and Ingushetia should again be merged to form a single federation subject, Interfax reported. He recalled that he had warned in the early 1990s that splitting the then Checheno-Ingush ASSR "would bring suffering to both the Chechen and the Ingush," adding that "it is impossible to divide these two peoples." Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev has rejected talks of re-emerging the two republics, saying that doing so would "exacerbate existing tensions" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2001). LF




ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SHOOTINGS TRIAL RESUMES

The trial resumed in Yerevan on 22 February after a seven-day interval of 13 men accused of perpetrating or abetting the shooting of eight senior officials in the Armenian parliament on 27 October 1999, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The leader of the five gunmen who committed the killings, Nairi Hunanian, and his brother Karen both pleaded not guilty on nine charges, including terrorism, high treason, and attempting a coup d'etat. Supporters of the assassinated officials again congregated outside the court house, demanding the death sentence for the gunmen. Meanwhile the leaders of four parliament factions (the Communist Party of Armenia, the National Democratic Union, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation -- Dashnaktsutiun and Orinats Yerkir) have all affirmed that the trial should be "impartial" and must not be "politicized," Noyan Tapan reported on 22 February. LF

ARMENIAN BUSINESSMAN RELEASED FROM PRE-TRIAL DETENTION

Armenian state prosecutors released ailing businessman Arkadii Vartanian from pre-trial detention on 22 February, two weeks after a Yerevan court complied with their demand that he be kept in custody for a further month, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2001). Vartanian was arrested last October and charged with calling for the overthrow of the Armenian leadership. He was hospitalized with heart problems last month, and his lawyer said on 22 February that Vartanian will not leave hospital for the time being. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT YIELDS TO RETAIL SECTOR OVER CASH REGISTERS

Parliament deputies voted unanimously at an emergency session on 20 February to annul a government ruling requiring small retail traders to introduce cash registers to record all transactions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2001). That ruling was met with cheers from thousands of traders who had surrounded the parliament building while the debate was in progress, according to "Haykakan zhamanak" on 21 February. But several participants in a 19 February demonstration by traders to protest the proposed installation of cash registers were fined 1,000 drams each ($1.80) for organizing and participating in an "unwarranted" demonstration, Noyan Tapan reported on 22 February. LF

GEORGIAN SUPREME COURT REVOKES REGISTRATION OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES

In a move that may not be appealed, the Georgian Supreme Court on 22 February revoked the registration of the Jehovah's Witnesses with the Georgian Ministry of Justice, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. The Jehovah's Witnesses had appealed to the Supreme Court to revoke a ruling by the Circuit Court upholding the abolition by a Tbilisi District Court of the sect's registration. The Supreme Court stressed that the annulment of the registration is not a repressive move. Interfax quoted unidentified Georgian "experts" as pointing out that no other religious organization in Georgia is formally registered with the Ministry of Justice as no law requiring such registration exists. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT BLAMES CURRENCY SLIDE ON TURKISH CRISIS

Eduard Shevardnadze said on 22 February that the loss in value of the Georgian lari over the past week was due in part to the financial crisis in Turkey, Georgia's main trade partner, AP reported. Shevardnadze said the lari-U.S. dollar exchange rate has stabilized and that "we hope this tendency will continue." Prices for some imported goods in Tbilisi shops, including cigarettes, rose by between 10-20 percent on 22 February. LF

U.S. OIL COMPANY EXECUTIVE, GEORGIAN PRESIDENT DISCUSS OIL EXPORT PIPELINE

During talks with President Shevardnadze in Tbilisi on 22 February, Chevron President Richard Matzke said his company may join the sponsor group to tackle the technical and engineering problems involved in construction of the planned Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. But Matzke stopped short of making a commitment to contributing to funding construction of the pipeline. Meanwhile in Baku, a senior official of the state oil company SOCAR said the $2.58 per barrel transit tariff agreed on last year for use of the pipeline could be raised or lowered depending on how much construction of the pipeline finally costs. Yielding to pressure from Tbilisi, Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev had agreed last March to cede to Georgia part of Azerbaijan's share of the transit tariffs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2000). LF

KAZAKH ARMS EXPORTER SENTENCED FOR MURDER

After a one-month trial, an Almaty court sentenced Ersa Qoshqarov on 22 February to 20 years imprisonment for ordering the assassination of Talghat Ibraev, his predecessor as head of Kazakhstan's arms export agency, Reuters reported. Ibraev was shot dead outside his Almaty home last April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2000 and 19 January 2001). Qoshqarov's lawyer Vladimir Kondratov told journalists after the trial that the accusations against his client were groundless and have not been proved, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. LF

KAZAKH AUTHORITIES BAN PLANNED MASS DEMONSTRATION

The municipal authorities in Shymkent, southern Kazakhstan, banned a planned 22 February demonstration in support of Temirtas Tleulesov, author of two books detailing corruption in the city, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Tleulesov was tried in absentia by the Shymkent City Court earlier this month and sentenced to two years' imprisonment for "hooliganism" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2001). His present whereabouts are unknown. LF

KAZAKH ECOLOGISTS URGE OIL CONSORTIUM TO COMPENSATE FOR DAMAGE TO CASPIAN ECOSYSTEM

The organization "Caspian XXI" has asked the OKIOC consortium engaged in exploiting off-shore Caspian oil to draft and implement a program to compensate for the damage that organization claims OKIOC is inflicting on the Caspian ecosystem around the town of Atyrau and the health of the region's population, Interfax quoted Caspian XXI's chairman Ibragim Kushenov as telling journalists in Almaty on 22 February. Kushenov said OKIOC is dumping tons of unfiltered sewage and other byproducts from its drilling in the sea each day, raising the level of toxic substances in the waters around its Sunkar rig to levels far above what is permitted. OKIOC rejected 18 months ago claims by the Atyrau Environmental Protection Agency that its drilling was polluting the sea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 1999). LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT FINALLY APPROVES AMNESTY LAW

The Legislative Assembly on 22 February approved by a two-thirds majority the amnesty law it first adopted on 26 December, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 22 February. The second vote was necessitated by the bill's rejection on 19 February by the People's Assembly, the upper chamber of the legislature. The law provides for the release from jail of some 3,000 of the 15,560 people currently serving prison sentences in Kyrgyzstan. LF

TAJIK DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS ARMY IS COMBAT-READY

In an interview with Asia Plus-Blitz on the eighth anniversary of the formation of Tajikistan's armed forces, Defense Minister Colonel General Sheraili Khairulloev said on 23 February those forces are able to protect Tajikistan's state sovereignty. He said that in determining the structure of the armed forces, particular attention was paid to combat readiness and discipline. (Last summer, Khairulloev had criticized lax discipline in the military, including cases of desertion and going AWOL.) Khairulloev denied that the joint military exercises conducted on 15-20 February together with Russian troops were prompted by an intensification of military activity by "extremists" close to Tajikistan's borders. LF

FURTHER REPRISALS AGAINST BAPTISTS IN TURKMENISTAN

Local authorities in Ashgabat's Niyazov district on 17 February sealed the last Baptist church still functioning in the country, Keston News Service reported on 22 February. Meanwhile the Turkmen authorities continue to ignore a request by the OSCE Center in Ashgabat to be allowed to visit imprisoned Baptist Shageldy Atakov, who is reported to have been forcibly treated with psychotropic drugs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 13 February 2001). LF




BELARUS'S SEAT IN OSCE PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY TO REMAIN VACANT...

The Credentials Committee of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly recommended in Vienna on 22 February that Belarus's seat in the assembly be kept vacant until the country meets the OSCE standards for democratic development. The Credentials Committee explained its position by saying the 15 October 2000 elections to the Chamber of Representatives fell short of OSCE standards, while the term of the opposition Supreme Soviet, which has represented Belarus in the assembly until now, expired last month. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Permanent Committee, however, did not accept the Credentials Committee's position because Russia and Armenia objected to the assessment of the Chamber of Representative in the proposed resolution. RFE/RL's Belarusian Service correspondent reported that "confused" OSCE Chairman Adrian Severin concluded the discussion by saying, "If our body cannot agree [on the issue], the seat of Belarus will remain vacant." JM

...BUT SOME HAVE DOUBTS

Gert Weisskirchen, a member of the OSCE working group for Belarus, told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service that Adrian Severin's statement is "only preliminary." According to Weisskirchen, the Supreme Soviet remains Belarus's "legitimate [legislature] from a normative point of view." Weisskirchen said the final decision on Belarus will be made by a session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Paris later this year, adding that in his opinion the Paris forum will confirm the membership of the Supreme Soviet in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Meanwhile, Belarusian Ambassador to the OSCE Viktar Haysyonak commented that Severin's decision in Vienna is a "step forward" because it terminates the membership of the Supreme Soviet in the assembly. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT RECEIVES U.S. AMBASSADOR'S CREDENTIALS

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 22 February received credentials from U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Michael Kozak, who arrived in Minsk on 20 October 2000. Lukashenka's refusal to meet Kozak for such a long time was widely seen as a snub to Washington for U.S. criticism of his regime and policies. "Let us today draw a line under all those [past] relations between Belarus and the U.S., let us take the very best [from them]... Let us draw a line below all our deeds [and] statements, and let us try to begin our relations on a much higher level," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying. JM

UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SURVIVES VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE...

The parliament on 22 February failed to pass any of the five proposed votes of no confidence in Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko. Potebenko's opponents failed to muster the 226 votes necessary to approve the no confidence motion and oust him. The no confidence resolutions were either boycotted or opposed by pro-presidential caucuses of the Labor Ukraine, the Revival of Regions, Solidarity, the Social Democratic Party (United), and the Popular Democratic Party, as well as by the Greens and Yabluko. The Communist Party caucus also refused to vote. Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko commented: "We do not intend to defend Potebenko, but we will also not participate in settling scores between clans." The opposition accuses Potebenko of dragging his feet in the investigation of the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. JM

...WHILE OPPOSITION LEADER WARNS AGAINST 'OLIGARCHIC MAJORITY'

Anatoliy Matviyenko, leader of the opposition Sobor Party, believes the failed attempts to pass a vote of no confidence in Potebenko testify to the fact that an "oligarchic majority" has been formed in the parliament. Addressing the parliament on 22 February, Matviyenko congratulated parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch on the formation of that majority. "I warn you against a threat of losing [our] independence. The hundred [lawmakers] who voted [for Potebenko's ouster] is part of the [real] opposition and pro-Ukrainian force," Matviyenko added. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER SEES NO CRISIS

Ivan Plyushch said on 22 February there is no crisis in the parliament, Interfax reported. According to Plyushch, even if the Fatherland Party caucus (32 deputies) quits the pro-government majority as it has suggested it may do (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2001), the majority will still have 253 deputies who are sufficient to pass "effective decisions." Commenting on the current anti-Kuchma protests, Plyushch said they are weak. "There is no need to think about some violent methods [to deal with those protests]," Plyushch added. JM

U.S. CONGRESSMEN GIVE HEART TO UKRAINIAN LEADERSHIP

Five members of the U.S. House of Representatives on 22 February met with Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yushchenko in Kyiv, Interfax reported. "We informed [Yushchenko] that the U.S. supports the Ukrainian leadership, and that we share the democratic principles on which Ukraine's Constitution is based," Pennsylvania Republican Curt Weldon told journalists. According to government spokeswoman Natalya Zarudna, Weldon told Yushchenko that political scandals are no news for the U.S. "We permanently experience scandals, and we permanently have problems [despite] the 200 years of democratic development," Zarudna quoted Weldon as saying. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SEEKS FBI HELP TO SOLVE CORPSE MYSTERY

Leonid Kuchma has urged investigators to seek the help of the FBI to identify the headless corpse that is at the center of the case of missing journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, Reuters reported on 23 February. "President Leonid Kuchma has called on the Prosecutor-General to work with Federal Bureau of Investigation experts who should use their expertise to identify the corpse," the president's office said in a statement. JM

PLANNED MERGER OF SWEDISH BANKS TO AFFECT BALTIC BANKS

The announced plans to merge Sweden's second and third-largest banks, Swedbank and Skandinavska Enskilda Banken (SEB), will seriously influence the banking systems of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, BNS and ETA reported on 22 February. SEB controls Uhispank in Estonia, Unibanka in Latvia, and Vilniaus Bankas in Lithuania, all of which are among the largest banks in these countries. Swedbank-controlled Hansapank in Estonia owns Hansabanka in Latvia and Hansabankas in Lithuania. Estonian Finance Minister Siim Kallas and Bank of Estonia officials reacted immediately by saying that Hansapank and Uhispank, which control more than 80 percent of the state's total banking market, will not be allowed to merge. The Lithuanian State Property Fund suspended on-going negotiations with the Estonian bank Hansapank for the sale of the Lithuanian Savings Bank (LTB), since Vilnius Bankas and LTB would have more than an 80 percent share of Lithuania's banking market. In Latvia, the merger of Unibanka and Hansabanka will not be opposed because they are only the second and third largest banks in the country and even after a merger would control only 31 percent of banking assets, 43 percent of loans, and 29 percent of deposits in Latvia. SG

NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE AGAINST TALLINN MAYOR FAILS

The efforts of the Center Party to oust Tallinn Mayor Juri Mois failed on 22 February when the no-confidence motion against him in the Tallinn city council received only 26 votes with one abstention, BNS reported. To pass the motion required a minimum of 33 votes in the 64-member council. An earlier no-confidence vote in November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2000) had gathered only 23 votes. Even before the vote, 17 members of the council signed another no-confidence measure against Mois accusing him of making scandalous ethnic remarks in Finland. RFE/RL and the tabloid "SL Ohtuleht" reported that Mois had drawn a comparison between Russians and black Americans when speaking at a meeting of the Tuglas Society in Finland. SG

KAUNAS TO BECOME SISTER CITY WITH CHINA'S XIAMEN

Kaunas Mayor Erikas Tamasauskas met with the Chinese Ambassador to Lithuania Guan Hengguan on 22 February and discussed the plans by a Kaunas city delegation to visit China in March, BNS reported. The head of the delegation, Kaunas deputy mayor Pranas Paskevicius, will sign a sister city agreement with the south-eastern China port city of Xiamen providing for cooperating in setting up economic zones and encouraging investment, tourism, sports, education, and culture. SG

POLAND WANTS U.S. MISSILE DEFENSE SYSTEM TO COVER NATO ALLIES

Marek Siwiec, head of the presidential National Security Council, said in Warsaw on 22 February that the U.S. planned national missile defense system should also cover Washington's NATO allies, PAP reported. Siwiec added that President Aleksander Kwasniewski will voice this proposal during his talks with the French and German leaders next week. And Defense Minister Bronislaw Komorowski told Polish Television the same day that Warsaw would support the American missile defense system proposal if it "indicated that the United States not only protect themselves with an anti-missile defense shield, but that some of the important elements of this system can be applied to defend the territory of other [NATO] member countries in Europe". JM

POLAND DENIES SUPPORT FOR U.S.-BRITISH ATTACK IN IRAQI NEWSPAPER

The Polish embassy in Baghdad on 23 February published a statement in the "Al-Iraq" newspaper, denying that Warsaw supported last week's U.S.-British attack on Iraqi air defense installations, Reuters reported. Iraq suspended trade contacts with Poland because of what was reported as Warsaw's official support for the airstrikes. The embassy's statement blames the "misunderstanding" on "unclear remarks" by Jerzy Marek Nowakowski, Premier Jerzy Buzek's adviser, who has already resigned (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2001). JM

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER WILL NOT RESIGN...

Defense Minister Vladimir Vetchy feels no pressure to resign, and blames the current state of the armed forces on ministers in previous governments, writes "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 23 February. Prime Minister Milos Zeman agreed, pointing to the "absolutely nonsensical projects which we inherited from previous governments." In particular, he mentioned the problems surrounding L-159 aircraft purchased from the Czech company Aero Vodochody and the modernization of the army's T-72 tanks. Criticism of the minister from various members of the opposition, both in the Civic Democratic Party and the Four-Party Coalition, came to a head with the visit of NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson 21-22 February and reports of the allegedly "catastrophic" state of the Czech armed forces. DW

...ADDS TO INSPECTORATE STAFF

Despite speculation about his possible dismissal, Defense Minister Vetchy has added to the staff of the inspection section of the ministry's economic department, CTK reported 22 February. "The department should check all important contracts before [they're signed]. I hope we will do away with things that used to appear in the past," Vetchy said. The Czech Republic has fulfilled its promises to NATO on defense spending -- 2.2 percent of GDP -- but on his visit to Prague this week, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said the country needs to allocate the army's funds more efficiently. Vetchy also said his ministry needs to get rid of many redundant assets, but that no one is interested in many of them. DW

INABILITY TO PROTECT CZECH AIRSPACE WOULD BE LOSS OF 'SOVEREIGNTY'

The deputy chairman of the opposition Christian Democrats and a former defense minister, Miroslav Kalousek, said 22 February that if the Czech Republic cannot defend its airspace with its own forces, it would be surrendering some of its sovereignty, CTK reported. Kalousek said this in response to questions about the tender announced by the government in January for the purchase of up to 36 fighters -- at a cost of up to 100 billion Czech crowns ($2.6 billion), or one-sixth of the state budget. He said the Russian fighters currently in use will become obsolete in the next two to six years. "If by then new ones have not been purchased, we will not be able to ensure the defense of our airspace by our own forces." He added that the only countries in NATO unable to do this are Iceland and Luxembourg. DW

CIVIC DEMOCRATS PLANNING TO OFFER EXPIRATION DATE TO OPPOSITION AGREEMENT

The Civic Democratic Party (ODS) will offer the ruling Social Democrats (CSSD) a specific date for the termination of the so-called opposition agreement, ODS Deputy Chairwoman Libuse Benesova said in the 23 February "Hospodarske noviny," CTK reported. Benesova said the ODS Executive Council preferred to agree with the CSSD on a date for the termination of the pact prior to the 2002 general elections rather than continuing it or withdrawing from it unilaterally. She added that differing opinions can be heard from the CSSD and "we need to know their official stand." DW

EU ENLARGEMENT OFFICIAL PRAISES SLOVAKIA FOR PROGRESS

Visiting the settlement of Levoca in Slovakia on 22 February, EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said he expects that the first candidate countries will join the EU between 2003 and 2004, but failed to specify whether Slovakia will be among them, AP reported. Verheugen said Slovakia has been able "to catch up in a remarkable way" with other front-runners for EU membership after the rule of Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. "Slovakia is now very close to the first wave of candidate countries," Verheugen said. He told Slovak Radio the same day that Slovakia's Roma issue will not stand in the country's way in its bid to join the EU, "provided that Slovakia has a political strategy to tackle the Roma problem." JM

TRADE UNION LEADER SAYS MOST SLOVAKS LIVE ON SUBSISTENCE MINIMUM

Confederation of Trade Unions President Ivan Saktor told the Czech daily "Pravo" on 23 February that more than 60 percent of Slovaks live on the subsistence minimum. "The difference between incomes and expenditures in a typical Slovak family is some 500 Slovak crowns ($10) per member. It means that the Slovak family does not save money, [but] lives from pay to pay -- if there is any," Saktor added. JM

FORMER PREMIER CRITICIZES HUNGARIAN SOCIALIST PARTY

Former Socialist Prime Minister Gyula Horn on 22 February told the party's steering board that while a sober European spirit is preserved in the policies pursued by the Socialist Party, serious changes are needed to elements of the policy that "lack character." Horn suggested that his party should present its stances in a more marked way and address individual sections of the society with concrete messages. Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs said Horn's proposals are in line with those of the steering board, admitting that there is room for improvement in the party's policies. MSZ

ROMANY LEADER GETS DEATH THREAT IN HUNGARY

Miklos Pusoma, the leader of the Romany minority authority in the village of Erdotelek, received a written death threat accompanied by racist remarks on 22 February, one day after he had filed a request with the local mayor for an investigation into classes given at the local primary school. Pusoma's complaint was made against a biology teacher who allegedly told pupils that one characteristic of Roma is their "particular smell." MSZ




BALKAN SUMMIT HEADED FOR CLASH?

Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski opened the Balkan summit's first full day of work on 23 February, dpa reported. Heads of state or government from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Turkey, and Yugoslavia are taking part, as well as an "observer" from Croatia. The EU's Chris Patten, Javier Solana, and Bodo Hombach are representing the international community. It is not clear whether Washington or Moscow are represented. Albanian President Rexhep Meidani canceled his plans to attend "at the last minute" but did not give a reason, Deutsche Welle reported. Prime Minister Ilir Meta is representing Albania. The state-run Serbian news agency Tanjug reported that Albania may not sign the final declaration, which condemns the activities of "Albanian terrorists in southern Serbia." Balkan summits usually put on a show of unanimity before the general public, issuing declarations that include only the lowest common denominator of agreement. PM

NATO MOVES TO ACCOMMODATE SERBIA...

After meeting with Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic in Belgrade on 22 February, Pieter Feith, who is the political director of NATO forces for the Balkans, urged Serbian authorities to withdraw some of the army's Prishtina corps from Presevo, because many Albanians associate that unit with the 1999 ethnic cleansing campaign.. Feith also suggested that the alliance is ready to yield to Serbian demands for a narrowing of the five-kilometer demilitarized zone on the Presevo Valley's border with Kosova. Feith said: "We are willing...to consider...readjusting parts of the ground safety zone because we share the assessment of the government in Belgrade that the ground safety zone should not become safe haven for people attacking Serb security forces," AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2001). It is not clear whether Serbian leaders will be satisfied with this revision of the 1999 Kumanovo agreements that ended the Kosova conflict, or whether they regard it as a first step toward undoing the entire settlement in favor of Serbia's "return to Kosovo," as Kostunica's foreign policy advisor put it in two articles in "NIN" in December. PM

...AS SERBIA CRITICIZES NATO

The Yugoslav government issued a statement on 22 February, in which it blasted the Kosova record of the UN civilian administration (UNMIK) and NATO. The government also promised to draft a "complete political plan for overcoming this situation." "The unsatisfactory situation in Kosovo, especially regarding security, is the result of the inefficient work of UNMIK and a failure to implement UN Security Council resolution 1244," Reuters quoted the statement as saying. The statement added that "KFOR and UNMIK have undertaken a series of acts without consulting the federal [Yugoslav] government, departing from the stand of the resolution on Yugoslavia's sovereignty and territorial integrity." The former regime of President Slobodan Milosevic also complained frequently about NATO and UNMIK in statements nearly identical to this one. It is not clear how Belgrade would try to control Kosova, where the population is 90 percent ethnic Albanian and strongly opposed to any ties to Serbia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 December 2000 and 23 February 2001). PM

SERBIA STRESSES DANGERS IN PRESEVO

The Serbian government issued a statement on 22 February in which it claimed that Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic "was nearly kidnapped by Albanian terrorists...when Mr. Covic and his team approached village of Lucane." Nearby police reportedly prevented the abduction. "This provocation is yet another proof of seriousness of the situation and dangers present in the region," AP reported. There was no independent confirmation of the incident, as is the case with many reported incidents in the Presevo Valley. PM

YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT DENIES HELPING U.S., U.K. AGAINST IRAQ

President Vojislav Kostunica denied in a statement on 22 February British press reports that Belgrade recently provided information to Washington and London on Iraqi air defenses (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2001). The statement noted that "President Kostunica has strongly denied these reports. He also used the opportunity to condemn the air strikes on Iraq and pointed out our country's principle that not a single problem in the world can be solved through the policy of sanctions and military retaliation," Reuters reported. Kostunica's office issued the statement after he met with Iraqi Ambassador Samir Sadum at the envoy's request. The statement added that Belgrade does not intend to neglect its relations with Arab countries even though it has "turned towards European integration." PM

SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER ASKS RUSSIA FOR 'MAGNANIMITY' ON DEBT...

Speaking in Moscow on 22 February, Zoran Djindjic called on Russia "to display magnanimity" in settling debt problems between the two countries. Belgrade would like to link the question of its $300 million gas debt to Russia to that of the former USSR's debt to the former Yugoslavia, which, however, included other republics besides Serbia. Djindjic added that he expects that Serbia will come to need ever larger amounts of natural gas as its industry is rebuilt, Interfax reported. Djindjic also referred to "the high potential for the development of military-technical cooperation between Russia and Serbia, including our countries' jointly entering markets of third countries." PM

...HOPES FOR IMPROVEMENT IN POLITICAL TIES

Djindjic told Interfax in Moscow on 22 February that it is unfortunate that the Russian leadership delayed in developing ties to the Serbian opposition in 1999. He added, however, that "our strategy is to have good relations with Moscow, Brussels, and Washington. All of these centers are equally important for us. However, Yugoslavia, which is willing to become integrated with Europe, is aware that its economy has no chance in Europe, as the European market is quite closed. Therefore, the development of economic relations will give [Russia and Serbia] an opportunity and create conditions for active political contacts. Belgrade would like to reach such a level of trust in relations with the Russian leadership that will make it possible to settle many problems by telephone, the way we do in dealings with some other countries," Djindjic added. PM

HAGUE COURT SENTENCES SERBS FOR RAPE CRIMES

In a landmark decision that recognizes women's special vulnerability in conflict situations and the use of rape as a war crime, the Hague-based war crimes tribunal sentenced three Serbs to prison sentences for their abuse of women at a "rape camp" near Foca during the Bosnian war. Dragoljub Kunarac received 28 years, Radomir Kovac got 20, and Zoran Vukovic will spend 12 years behind bars. Judge Florence Mumba said: "What the evidence shows is that the rapes were used by members of the Bosnian Serb armed forces as an instrument of terror, an instrument they were given free rein to apply whenever and against whomsoever they wished," RFE/RL reported on 22 February. "The three accused were not just following orders, if there were such orders to rape Muslim women. The evidence shows free will on their part," Mumba added. PM

RUSSIA WANTS HAGUE TRIBUNAL ABOLISHED

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in Moscow on 22 February that the tribunal should be shut down in the interest of promoting "stability" in the Balkans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2001). Ivanov argued that "the tribunal was formed at a time when Bosnia and the Balkans were in a state of war, when there were no democratic institutions or institutions of justice. Today this is passing into history. Today Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Yugoslavia have democratic leaders," AP reported. PM

CROATIAN GENERAL PLEADS 'NOT GUILTY'

Cashiered General Mirko Norac entered a plea of "not guilty" in a Rijeka court on 22 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2001), "Republika" reported. He is charged with responsibility for the deaths of dozens of Serbian civilians in the Gospic area in 1991. PM

BOSNIAN NON-NATIONALIST GOVERNMENT APPROVED

Some 22 of the 42 members of the joint Bosnian legislature approved the government of Prime Minister Bozidar Matic on 22 February. In a clear snub to nationalists, Matic said: "I do not speak Serbian, Croatian, or Bosnian. I speak the language of competitive economic skills, because that's the only language that will help us survive," AP reported. The new foreign minister will be Zlatko Lagumdzija, the Muslim head of the Social Democratic Party. It is the first government of independent Bosnia not to be dominated by nationalists. The government has limited powers but enjoys the support of the international community. PM

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT LAUNCHES LARGE-SCALE PRIVATIZATION

Romanian Premier Adrian Nastase on February 22 announced the resumption of the large-scale privatization of state companies, Romanian Radio reported. The government singled out the first 17 state-owned companies out of 62 companies to be privatized according to a program agreed upon with the World Bank. Nastase warned, however, that the privatization is to be done "without harming the social equilibrium," by which he may have meant that redundancies should be kept to a minimum. In related news, the government also approved the creation of the privatization commission of the Galati Sidex factory, the country's largest steel mill. ZsM

DEMOCRATIC PARTY IN TURMOIL

Democratic Party (PD) Chairman Petre Roman on 22 February accused several party members of trying to destroy the party's unity, Romanian media reported. Roman said the setting-up of a group supporting PD vice chairman and Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu's candidacy for the party's chairmanship "polarizes the different factions" within the party. He also suggested that attempts to undermine party unity could lead to the PD being absorbed by the governing Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR). Basescu retorted that he is a candidate "not against Roman, but for the PD," and that he intends to lead the party to success in the 2004 parliamentary elections. He also denied plans to cooperate with the PDSR. The PD is to elect a new chairman in May. ZsM

GROUP OF SOCIAL DIALOGUE EXPELS FORMER CHAIRMAN

The non-governmental Group of Social Dialogue (GDS) on 22 February excluded prominent anti-Ceausescu dissident and former GDS chairman Gabriel Andreescu, following his "defamatory accusations" against former Foreign Minister Andrei Plesu, Mediafax reported. Andreescu on 20 February accused Plesu of having collaborated with the former Romanian secret police, the Securitate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2001). GDS argued Andreescu produced no evidence supporting his accusations but merely used suppositions and "pseudo-arguments" to prove his point. ZsM

MOLDOVAN ELECTORAL CAMPAIGN ENDS

The electoral campaign for early parliamentary elections set for this weekend ends on 23 February, RFE/RL correspondents reported. A Council of Europe delegation that is due to monitor the 25 February ballot discussed with Central Electoral Commission chairman Dumitru Nidelcu details of the legal framework for the process. According to electoral polls, the communists have the best prospects for gaining a majority in the legislature, which was the case in the previous parliament. Some 1,963 polling stations will be open around the country for the vote, as well as 20 abroad. President Petru Lucinschi dissolved parliament in mid-January after it failed to elect the country's new president. ZsM

IMMIGRANTS COMPLAIN ABOUT DISCRIMINATION IN MOLDOVA

Stefan Uratu, chairman of the Chisinau-based Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, said on 22 February that the rights of immigrants in Moldova are often violated, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Participating at a seminar on immigrant problems, Uratu said there are no well-defined laws for immigrants and that gaps in the legislation lead to them violating the law. Official data show that last year there were nearly 8,000 immigrants in Moldova, many of whom reported racial discrimination. Moldovan emigrants often found themselves in the same position, as some 600,000 Moldovan citizens are said to be working abroad, mostly illegally. ZsM

BULGARIAN JOURNALISTS IN PROTEST MARCH AGAINST RADIO CHIEF

Some 600 media employees marched in central Sofia on 22 February to publicize their call for the resignation of Ivan Borislavov, the director-general of Bulgarian national radio, BTA reported. Bulgarian Radio journalists stressed that their problems with Borislavov are "not political but professional," and they criticized the process used to select the poet, translator, and literary critic. One of the protest's leaders, Silvija Welikova, said the protests will continue until "the National Media Council revises its decision and carries out a normal selection procedure for the post of director-general." Borislavov, 54, was recently hospitalized after suffering a heart attack (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2001). PB

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT TO VISIT BULGARIA

The office of Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov announced on 23 February that Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski will visit Bulgaria in May, BTA reported from Skopje. Stoyanov and Trajkovski held talks in Skopje on the sidelines of the Southeast European Cooperation Process on the same day. The two leaders expressed concern over the delay in the construction projects needed for Transport Corridor VIII, and said they will propose a meeting of officials from Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Albania to discuss the matter. PB

BULGARIA AND TURKEY TO TEAM UP AGAINST CRIME, TERRORISM

Bulgarian Interior Minister Emanuil Yordanov and his Turkish counterpart Saadettin Tantan signed a protocol on 22 February in Sofia pledging to jointly combat terrorism and organized crime in the region, Reuters reported. Yordanov said the protocol will bring cooperation in the "fight against organized crime, which includes trafficking of people, drugs, and contraband." Bulgaria and Turkey want to join the EU and are under pressure from Brussels to tighten their borders, prevent illegal activities and reduce the Balkans' role as a transit point for illegal immigration from Asia and Africa into Western Europe. PB




REDEFINING THE CHECHEN CHALLENGE


By Paul Goble

On the 57th anniversary of Stalin's mass deportation of the Chechen and Ingush peoples in 1944, a Russian general has suggested that the current fighting in Chechnya more closely resembles the fighting that took place between Soviet forces and Baltic nationalists following Moscow's occupation of the Baltic states in 1945 than it does a guerilla war.

In an interview published in last week's "Obshchaya gazeta," Major General Vladimir Dudnik says that the ongoing conflict in Chechnya is not a guerilla war as most Moscow officials and commentators now suggest. Instead, he suggested, it is very much like the kind of conflict that took place between Baltic nationalists who retreated into the woods at the end of World War II to resist Soviet occupation of their countries.

That conflict, although little commented upon at the time, lasted more than a decade, Dudnik points out, and "the Baltic region was conquered only in 1956." But despite Soviet victories in that battle, Dudnik notes, Moscow ultimately lost that contest because Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian nationalists never gave up their desire for independence, and Moscow "let them go in 1991."

On the one hand, Dudnik's comments may appear to be little more than the complaint of an army officer who feels that his political masters have made a terrible mistake. After all, the greater part of the interview consists of Dudnik's criticisms of President Vladimir Putin's decision last month to put the internal security forces rather than the army in charge of operations in Chechnya. Dudnik suggests that the military "will never obey the Chekists."

But on the other hand, the general's remarks call attention to a broader effort among some Russian analysts to rethink the Chechen conflict both militarily and politically. In some ways, that discussion has been prompted by shifts in the way the fighting there has been discussed by Russian government officials.

At various times, Russian officials have described their efforts in Chechnya as combatting a guerilla war, conducting a counterinsurgency operation, and fighting international terrorism on Russian soil. Each of these terms reflects some of how the Russian government views the situation, but the use of so many terms suggests that Moscow is neither able nor willing to define the Chechen problem more precisely.

That in turn has provided an opening for the kind of analysis General Dudnik has made, an analysis that suggests that the roots of the Chechen challenge are inherently political and that Moscow will only be able to resolve that challenge through political rather than military means.

By drawing an analogy with the Baltic countries, Dudnik is implicitly warning Russian officials not to assume that victories on the battlefield or the arrest of Chechen leaders will end the Chechen yearning for freedom and independence. Such victories will only buy the Russian authorities a little time until the Chechens are able to resume their challenge to Moscow.

Chechen history would seem to provide ample support for Dudnik's analysis. In the 18th century, the Chechens under Mansur resisted Russian encroachment. In the 19th century, they supported Shamil in his fight against the Russian empire. In the early Soviet period, they resisted Soviet Russian reoccupation. And in 1933-34, they participated in a North Caucasus revolt against Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

When Stalin ordered their mass deportation to Central Asia on 23 February 1944, the Chechens' fortunes appeared to be exhausted. Almost half of the Chechen men, women and children sent in boxcars from their ancestral homeland died either on the way or upon arrival.

But after Stalin's death, the Chechens were rehabilitated and allowed to return. And as the Soviet Union collapsed, they declared their independence from the USSR. In the decade since, Russian forces have twice tried to break the Chechens to their will. Most recently, Russian President Putin has been claiming a kind of victory there as part of an effort to build his own authority.

But on this anniversary, Dudnik's words serve as a reminder of how far from defeating the Chechens Moscow still is. As the general points out, Putin may "need this war, but Russia does not." The price of continuing to pursue a political conflict by military means, Dudnik suggests, is simply "too high."


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