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Newsline - February 26, 2001




PUTIN ARGUES NEED FOR STRONG ARMY

In his speech to the nation on Defenders of the Fatherland day on 23 February, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the strength of Russia depends on the strength of the army, Russian and Western agencies reported. Putin said that "the developments of the past few years have demonstrated that our country has only two choices: either Russia will be strong, or it will not exist at all, at least in the form in which it exists now." He said that a strong Russian army would make peace "stronger and more stable" as well. PG

DEFENSE MINISTER OUTLINES MILITARY REFORM

In an interview published by "Vek" on 23 February, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said that the basic guidelines for military reform call for cutting the armed forces by 365,000 and defense ministry employees by 120,000 over the next five years. He said that the military will move to a three-armed structure -- with ground forces, sea forces, and air forces -- and that these moves, together with better legal arrangements for the military, will mean that Russia's armed forces will be able "to ensure the military security of Russia." PG

DRAFT FALLS SHORT, RESISTANCE UP

Major General Kozhusko of the Russian General Staff was quoted by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 20 February as saying that the Russian military is 10 percent understaffed, largely because only 13 percent of Russians registered for military service actually were drafted last fall. He said that the number of young people who refused to appear when they were called had gone up by almost 3,000 between the spring and fall draft cycles in 2000 to a total of 31,500 in the fall, 29,400 of whom avoided service deliberately. PG

SLAVERY SAID 'FLOURISHING' IN RUSSIAN ARMY

An article in the 21 February "Moskovskii komsomolets" said that "slavery in the Russian army has become a usual thing." The paper said that sometimes commanders sell soldiers to work for others or pocket money that is supposed to go to soldiers for the work the latter do. The article detailed a case in which about 60 Russian servicemen were sold as slaves in the Menchinovka settlement near Moscow. PG

PUTIN TO SOUTH KOREA, KASYANOV TO ITALY

President Putin will start his visit to Seoul on 26 February, one day earlier than originally planned, ITAR-TASS reported. South Korean officials said that the early start reflects Putin's interest in developing relations with Seoul. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov arrived in Italy on 25 February for a three-day visit designed to promote bilateral economic relations, the news service said. PG

BUDGET BATTLE SAID TO REFLECT CABINET'S WEAKNESS

Moscow media outlets, including "Rossiiskaya gazeta," "Komsomolskaya pravda," and "Vremya MN," suggested on 23 February that the Duma's actions on the budget changes reflect the weakness rather than the strength of Prime Minister Kasyanov's government. Such statements may be behind a comment by an otherwise unidentified Kremlin insider to Interfax on the same day, saying that if the Kremlin has to choose between the Duma and the government, it will "undoubtedly" choose to support the government. At the same time, this source said, the Kremlin has "no plans" to dissolve the Duma. PG

COMMUNISTS RALLY AGAINST GOVERNMENT...

Some 1,000 to 1,500 people rallied on Moscow's Revolution Square on 23 February to demand the dismissal of what speakers there called "a government of hunger and cold," condemn President Putin for his "unwillingness to make Russia a great power," and denounce the Duma for knuckling under to the president and prime minister, Interfax reported. Oleg Kuvaev, the head of the party's Moscow branch, said that "we don't consider [Kasyanov's cabinet] a government any longer." PG

...PLAN NO CONFIDENCE VOTE FOR 14 MARCH

Duma deputy (Communist) Sergei Reshulskii said that a vote of no confidence in the government will probably take place on 14 March, AP reported. He said that the vote is likely to fail but that "it's shameful not to fight." One unintended consequence of the vote, some Russian analysts said, is that President Putin is unlikely to dismiss Prime Minister Kasyanov if it appears he is doing so under pressure from the communists. PG

'FEDERATION GROUP' SET UP IN FEDERATION COUNCIL

Forty-seven members of the Federation Council have formed a new group called "Federation" which has pledged to support all proposals emanating from President Putin, "Segodnya" reported on 23 February. Federation Council regulations do not permit the formation of party factions. Council speaker Yegor Stroev was quoted by "Izvestiya" the same day as saying "the Federation Council has always supported the president," while St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev asked "why do we need a group?" PG

RUSSIAN GDP FALLS FROM DECEMBER TO JANUARY

For the first time in two years, Russia's gross domestic product fell from December 2000 to January 2001 by 1-1.2 percent, according to an economic and development ministry study as reported by Interfax on 23 February. Despite that decline, the ministry said, the country's GDP was 5.4 percent higher in January 2001 than in January 2000. PG

CENTRAL BANK INTERVENES TO SUPPORT RUBLE

After the ruble fell to a new low of 28.8 rubles to the dollar on 23 February, the Central Bank intervened to prevent its further decline, Interfax reported. If the bank does not continue to intervene, another banker said, the ruble is likely to decline to 28.9 to the dollar. PG

ILLARIONOV SAYS MARKET REFORMS NEEDED TO FORESTALL CRISIS

In an interview published in the 23 February "Trud," presidential economic advisor Andrei Illarionov said that Russia has "only one option" to prevent new economic problems, and that is to carry through thorough-going market reforms. He said that "significant inflation and a real strengthening of the ruble have halved the advantages of Russian producers over their foreign rivals" over the last year and that "the remnant of these advantages will disappear by the end of 2001 if these trends continue." In that event, Illarionov said, "the economic situation will resemble July 1998," the month before the August 1998 crisis. PG

DEMOGRAPHIC CRISIS HITS RUSSIAN SCHOOLS

Education Minister Vladimir Filippov said on 24 February that the number of students in Russian secondary schools will decline from 20 million to 13 million over the next eight years if the demographic situation does not improve, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that in six years, the number of secondary school graduates will be 1.3 million, approximately 400,000 less than the universities and advanced schools now plan to enroll as new students. Even now, Filippov said, some 40 percent of students in higher education need therapeutic physical training and medial treatment. He called for setting up a systematic propaganda effort of a healthy way of life. PG

MOSCOW SEEN ADMITTING PROLIFERATION PROBLEMS

An article in "Kommersant-Daily" on 23 February said that President Putin has acknowledged that some Russian agencies are not doing what they need to do to prevent proliferation. The paper suggested that the Security Council meeting on that subject on 22 February represented "an act of atonement" with a promise to do better. Meanwhile, Russian officials on 23 February complained that the United States is applying a double standard against Russia by complaining about Russian exports of nuclear fuel to India and by restricting the export of super-fast, high-end computer technology, Russian agencies reported. PG

SELEZNEV SAYS OSCE SHOULD FOCUS ON MORE THAN HUMAN RIGHTS

Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev told ITAR-TASS on 23 February that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe should deal with more than human rights issues. "Unfortunately," he said, "we are now observing a tilt towards the 'third basket' within our assembly and in the OSCE as a whole." As a result, "problems of security and cooperation in Europe are left in the background," Seleznev added. He further complained that the OSCE today is showing "interest only in the CIS countries and in the Balkans." PG

IVANOV, POWELL MEET, REVIEW BILATERAL AGENDA

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on 24 February met in Cairo for 90 minutes with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Russian and Western agencies reported. It was their first meeting, and the two reviewed the entire range of bilateral issues, including arms control, the Middle East, Chechnya, detained Russia-Belarus Union State Secretary Pavel Borodin, and the state of media freedom in Russia. The two agreed to meet again, to promote a summit between their presidents, and to hold consultations within the context of existing bilateral groups. PG

MOSCOW CRITICIZES U.S., U.K. ON IRAQ RAIDS

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 23 February issued a statement criticizing recent American and British air raids on Baghdad and calling for a political settlement of all problems, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, members of the Duma began forming a Russian-Iraqi interparliamentary commission on bilateral cooperation. These moves came as Iraq sought to put pressure on Moscow to end the sanctions regime by threatening to cancel a contract with Lukoil for the development of Iraqi fields and pointing out that Baghdad can pay off its debts to Moscow more readily if the sanctions regime is dropped, Russian and Western agencies reported. PG

NO DETERIORATION IN RELATIONS WITH JAPAN SEEN

Foreign Minister Ivanov told Interfax on 22 February that Russian-Japanese relations are not going through any cooling-off period, the news service reported the following day. His ministry categorically denied reports in the Japanese media that President Putin has suggested that the occupation of the Kuriles had been a mistake. Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov said that "nothing even close to that was said," adding that such media reports "can only arouse sorrow." PG

ZHIVILO'S EXTRADITION FROM FRANCE EXPECTED

The Office of the Russian Prosecutor General said on 23 February that it expects to arrange for the extradition from France to Russia of Mikhail Zhivilo, who is wanted on charges of plotting to assassinate then-Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev, Russian agencies reported. Meanwhile, Zhivilo's lawyers said that their client is seeking asylum in France because he does not believe he can get a fair trial in Russia. PG

GREF WORKING ON DEVELOPMENT PLAN FOR NORTH CAUCASUS

"Izvestiya" reported on 23 February that Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref is supervising the preparation of an economic development plan for the North Caucasus region. That plan is to be presented to the cabinet in March, the paper said. PG

PUTIN MARKS ANNIVERSARY OF CHECHEN, INGUSH DEPORTATIONS

President Putin sent telegrams to Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev and to Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov on 23 February to mark the 57th anniversary of the Stalinist deportation of the Chechen and Ingush peoples, ITAR-TASS and dpa reported. Putin wrote to Aushev that "the crimes that harmed all peoples of our country cannot be justified," adding "may interethnic and civil accord and a worthy life for the peoples of the North Caucasus be the best remembrance of those who experienced the hardship and pain of banishment." Putin asked Kadyrov to convey "sincere sympathy with everyone who experienced the bitter road of exile," adding that "no one will ever separate us or sow the seeds of mistrust" between the various Russian ethnic groups. Some 5,000 Chechens and Ingush gathered in Nazran, the former capital of Ingushetia, to commemorate the deportations and call for the full rehabilitation of those involved. Also on 23 February, Federal Security Service (FSB) spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich said in Moscow that federal troops had thwarted attacks by Chechen fighters planned for that day in Grozny, Gudermes, and other locations in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

MASS GRAVE DISCOVERED IN CHECHNYA

A grave containing the bodies of several dozen people, most of whom had died of gunshot wounds, has been found near the Russian military base at Khankala, southeast of Grozny, Russian agencies reported on 24 February. Russian military officials said the bodies were those of Chechens killed during the defense of the city in January 2000, and that the bodies had been mined, but a spokesman for Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov told AFP that they were civilian residents of the capital who had been detained by Russian troops and then killed. The dead include women and children, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 25 February. LF

RUSSIAN OFFICIALS DENY ANY KNOWLEDGE OF CHECHEN FILTRATION CAMP

Vladimir Kalamanov, who is Russia's commissioner for human rights in Chechnya, told ITAR-TASS on 23 February he has no knowledge of a filtration center allegedly located on the territory of the 45th Russian Air borne troops regiment near Khatuni in Chechnya's Vedeno Raion. Lieutenant-General Ivan Babichev, who is Chechnya's chief military commandant, told Interfax the same day that no such filtration centers exist. Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was detained by Russian troops in the vicinity of Khatuni last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2001), had said on her release that she had been taken to the filtration center where she saw Chechen detainees being held in six-foot deep pits in freezing temperatures, the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" reported. Interfax quoted Politkovskaya as telling Ekho Moskvy that the Chechens in question were hostages whose relatives are required to pay $500 for their release. Kalamanov's spokesman Lema Khasuev told Interfax on 24 February that Kalamanov will travel to Chechnya this week to investigate Politkovskaya's allegations. Khasuev added that Kalamanov's office had earlier received complaints about prisoners being held in such pits but that their existence has not yet been confirmed. LF

RUSSIAN MILITARY COMMANDANT AGREES THAT CHECKPOINTS IN CHECHNYA SHOULD BE REDUCED

Lieutenant-General Babichev agreed on 24 February with Chechen arguments that the number of roadblocks in Chechnya should be reduced in order to facilitate traffic within the republic, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2001). But he said that for an unspecified period traffic police and FSB agents will continue to man those checkpoints. But Gudermes mayor Malika Gezimieva argued that it is premature to begin removing roadblocks until all "bandits" have been liquidated. LF

CHECHNYA AS 8TH FEDERAL DISTRICT WOULD REMAIN CORRUPT, UNSTABLE

An article in "Novaya gazeta," no. 12 (19-25 February), argues that rumored plans to make Chechnya the eighth federal district and to put Nikolai Koshman, the former Russian government envoy to Chechnya, in charge of it would mean that federal funds sent there would continue to be misappropriated and that Moscow might soon be forced to sign a Khasavurt-type accord with independence-minded Chechens to stabilize the situation. Koshman is widely believed to have embezzled state funds sent to Chechnya in early 2000. PG/LF

ROSTOV NUCLEAR PLANT GOES ON LINE

Officials on 23 February switched on a nuclear power plant at Rostov-on-Don more than 20 years after plans for such a plant were first drawn up, AP reported. Russian officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko and Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov, said that Moscow will not allow such delays in the future, given Russia's need for electrical power. But Aleksandr Filipenko, the head of the Rostov Chornobyl Union, said that his group, which unites 20,000 people, opposes the opening of the plant. "This is the last thing the Rostov province needs," he said. PG

KALUZHNY SAYS BAKU-CEYHAN WILL NOT AFFECT RUSSIA'S INTERESTS

In an interview published in "Vremya novostei" on 23 February, Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Kalyuzhny, who serves as presidential envoy for Caspian Sea issues, said that the Western-backed Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline project will not affect Russian interests because it is intended to serve different markets. He said Russia wants to sell oil to Europe, China, Southeast Asia, and the Far East, while Baku-Ceyhan is intended to provide oil for the United States. He added that he does not believe that Kazakhstan will take part in Baku-Ceyhan because its interests lie elsewhere (see also below). PG

JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES WIN CASE

A Moscow court on 23 February rejected a government lawsuit seeking to prevent the Jehovah's Witnesses from registering as a religious group in the Russian capital, and ordered the government to pay for the work of five experts who had been enlisted to study the group during the last two years, Interfax reported. Prosecutors have two weeks to appeal the case, the court said. PG

RUSSIA'S BUDDHISTS MARK NEW YEAR

Buddhists in Buryatia began the 30-day New Year's celebration on 24 February, ITAR-TASS reported. That day has been a day off in Buryatia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. PG

LEGAL SQUABBLES OVER NTV MEETING

A Moscow district court on 23 February ruled illegal plans by the NTV board to hold a shareholders' meeting in Gibraltar on 12 March, Interfax reported. The court acted on the basis of a suit filed by Gazprom-Media subsidiary Leadville Investments. In response, an NTV statement said that "it looks like those in Gazprom-Media have decided to openly flaunt the law," using a court to pursue their own interests. The statement said that Gazprom-Media should have sent a letter to the NTV board, which would undoubtedly meet Gazprom-Media halfway." PG

FISHERMEN GO TO COURT OVER AUCTIONS

Fishermen in the Russian Far East plan to file suit in the Russian Supreme Court to block the selling of fishing quotas, Interfax reported on 23 February. The fishermen reportedly believe that foreigners purchased 99 percent of the quotas by proxy at the first auction earlier this month, even though the Russian government explicitly prohibited foreigners from taking part in the auctions up to now. PG

RECRUITER OF SPIES NOW PRIVATE EYE

KGB Colonel Viktor Cherkashin, the man who is said to have recruited both CIA officer Aldrich Ames and FBI officer Robert Philip Hanssen to spy for Moscow, now operates a private security company called Alpha-Puma and refuses to talk about his earlier life, "Vremya novostei" reported on 23 February. PG

ANONYMOUS CALLER SAYS BOMB AT OSTANKINO

Russian police officials received an anonymous call on 24 February saying that a bomb had been placed at the Ostankino television center, ITAR-TASS reported. But a thorough check by bomb-sniffing dogs found no explosive device. PG

IGLA MISSILES SEIZED FROM PRIVATE CITIZEN

Federal Security Service officers in Chita confiscated four surface-to-air Igla missiles from a private citizen there, Interfax reported on 23 February. The weapons, valued at $200,000 each on the black market, were stolen from an arms storage facility in the TransBaikal Military District "several years ago," the news agency said. PG

NAZDRATENKO LANDS ANOTHER JOB...

Former Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko has been appointed head of the State Fishing Commission, Russian agencies reported on 24 February citing the Russian government's information department. An unidentified government source told ITAR-TASS that Nazdratenko's main goal will be to make the auctions of fishing quotas successful--a policy which previously the governor has spoken out against (see http://www.nazdratenko.ru/news/news.html). Rumors of Nazdratenko's appointment had earlier sparked a number of critical articles in the central press. For example, "Moskovskii komsomolets" noted on 22 February that Nazdratenko's appointment is "simply tactless with regard to the nation which has watched Nazdratenko's escapades in the Russian Far East for years; it is even more a demonstration of weakness." And "Kommersant-Vlast" reported on 20 February that Putin had appointed Nazdratenko without consulting Prime Minister Kasyanov who had wanted to appoint the current acting chairman to the post. JAC

...AS ANOTHER ADMIRAL IS POISED TO RUN FOR GOVERNOR

Former Black Sea Fleet Commander Admiral Vladimir Kasatonov told NTV on 23 February that he plans to run for governor of Primorskii Krai, and claims that he has the Kremlin's support for his bid. The 62-year old Kasatonov was born in Vladivostok and says he plans to return there in March to prepare for his campaign, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 23 February. If Kasatonov proves successful in his bid, he will the second admiral to win a governorship in the past year. Kaliningrad Governor Vladimir Yegorov is a former Baltic Fleet Commander. Other potential candidates in Primorskii Krai include State Duma deputy (Communist) Vladimir Grishukov and pensioner Vladimir Murashov, who have filed applications with the krai election commission, ITAR-TASS reported. According to "Kommersant-Daily," Nazdratenko even without running may still call the shots in 27 May elections to a certain extent, because people loyal to him are located in the majority of the region's municipal organizations. JAC

FORMER GENERAL, NOW GOVERNOR, TO REVIEW PAST PRIVATIZATIONS

In an interview with "Vek" on 23 February, newly-elected Ulyanovsk Governor Vladimir Shamanov announced that he intends to conduct an investigation of the past privatizations of basic enterprises located in his oblast. Shamanov said that his administration does not yet have "100 percent objective information" about the participation of criminal organization in privatizations, and that the procedure in many cases has raised questions. In particular, he cited a "huge meat kombinat which was sold for $27,000, as if it were a two-bedroom apartment in Moscow." Shamanov, a former military commander in Chechnya, told the weekly that "in order to guarantee legality in the region it is not possible to stand to one side and passively report that government property is being stolen." JAC




ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS PRESIDENTS WILL NOT SIGN PEACE ACCORD AT NEXT MEETING

Vartan Oskanian told journalists in Yerevan on 23 February that no documents on resolving the Karabakh conflict have been prepared for signing at the talks in Paris on 4-5 March between Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliev, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. "There have been moments in the past when we thought that we were very close to a solution. But then things changed suddenly," Oskanian said, adding that a "final agreement" has not yet been reached. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT AFFIRMS THAT KARABAKH CONFLICT WILL BE SOLVED

President Aliyev told parliament deputies on 23 and 24 February that "we will definitely solve" the Karabakh conflict, but warned against underestimating the problems involved in doing so. He complained that "no force in the world" is prepared to force Armenian forces to retreat from the Azerbaijan territories they currently occupy, and that the draft peace proposals advanced by the OSCE Minsk Group over the past few years are "unacceptable for Azerbaijan." Aliyev said Azerbaijan should not reject further Minsk Group mediation "because there is no other instrument for settling the conflict," ITAR-TASS reported. Aliyev also argued against maintaining the status quo in the hope that Armenia's economy will collapse. He called on opposition political parties to present alternative suggestions for resolving the conflict. Aliyev said that the Azerbaijani army "is strong enough" to wage a new war to bring the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic back under the control of the Azerbaijani central authorities, but implied that public opinion would not endorse a new military campaign, according to ANS as cited by Groong on 23 February. LF

AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT CALLS FOR SOLUTION BASED ON COMPROMISE

At the end of the two-day debate on the Karabakh conflict, parliament deputies voted by 103 to one with one abstention in support of a statement giving a positive evaluations to President Aliev's efforts to negotiate a solution to the Karabakh conflict and calling for renewed efforts by the OSCE Minsk Group to that end, Turan reported. The statement further appealed to political parties and individuals to propose within 15 days new approaches to resolving the conflict. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S STATE OIL COMPANY OPPOSES KAZAKH USE OF BAKU-CEYHAN OIL PIPELINE?

Caucasus Press on 23 February quoted unidentified officials at Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR as saying that it would be unprofitable to use the planned Baku-Ceyhan pipeline for the export of oil from Kazakhstan, which has a high sulphur content. The Baku-Ceyhan pipeline will be used for the export of Azerbaijani light oil, while Kazakhstan's crude will be exported via the Baku-Supsa pipeline, rather than risk mixing Azerbaijani light and Kazakh heavy oil, those sources said. Experts say, however, that it is perfectly possible to avoid mixing different types of oil by pumping the separate sorts through the pipeline in batches. LF

GEORGIAN SECURITY MINISTRY DENIES PLANNING TO ASSASSINATE REGIONAL LEADER

Georgia's National Security Ministry issued a statement on 23 February rejecting as "groundless" claims made by Adjar Republic Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze in an interview with an independent Georgian TV station, Caucasus Press reported. Abashidze accused Georgian intelligence of having tried on 14 separate occasions to assassinate him. Abashidze also explained in his interview that the reason for his refusal to allow Georgian army units to enter Adjaria to participate in planned NATO exercises there in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2001) is that those forces could try to depose him. LF

RUSSIA THWARTS DELIVERY OF SWISS MILITARY EQUIPMENT TO GEORGIA

Russia's customs agency has concluded its investigation into two trainloads of Swiss military equipment bound for Georgia and intercepted last fall, Interfax reported on 23 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 November 2000). Both trainloads, one of which was impounded in Ukraine and the other on the Russian-Azerbaijani border, have been sent back to Switzerland. The equipment, which was a gift from the Swiss authorities to the Georgian border and prison guard services, was designated as "diplomatic cargo," and included 50 off-road vehicles and 27 tons of military uniforms and medical equipment. LF

KAZAKHSTAN IMPOSES NEW RESTRICTIONS ON RESIDENCE ABROAD

Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Erlan Idrisov has approved new regulations making it mandatory for any citizen of Kazakhstan abroad to register with the Kazakh diplomatic representation in whichever country they are currently living in, even if they intend to remain in that country for only a few days, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 24 February. The rationale for that ruling, as cited by the newspaper "Vremya," is "to monitor the compliance of citizens of Kazakhstan with the laws of Kazakhstan and the implementation of their duties." The regulation empowers Kazakhstan's embassies to order citizens of Kazakhstan who are liable for military service to return to Kazakhstan "in the event of a [military] emergency." LF

KAZAKH PREMIER MEETS WITH OIL CONSORTIUM OFFICIALS

Qasymzhomart Toqaev met in Almaty on 23 February with officials from the OKIOC consortium that is engaged in developing the huge Kashagan offshore oilfield, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. AGIP Caspian head Domenico Spada told journalists after that meeting that he hopes the Kazakh government "will render their every support" for the project, of which AGIP was recently chosen as the operator. Per Rettedal, who is chairman of OKIOC's operating committee, said that the consortium will invest some $20 billion in developing Kashagan over the next 14 years. LF

TATARSTAN OPENS REPRESENTATION IN KAZAKHSTAN

The Republic of Tatarstan has opened an official mission in Almaty to promote cooperation on the field of finance, economics, trade culture and education, Kazakhstan's Khabar TV reported on 23 February. Russia's Ambassador to Kazakhstan Yurii Merzlyakov said his presence at the official opening of the mission testifies to the Russian government's support for it. Merzlyakov said the opening of the Tatar representation does not violate the Russian Constitution. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT REJECTS ELECTRICITY PRICE HIKE

Following a two-day discussion, on 23 February the People's Assembly (the upper chamber of Kyrgyzstan's parliament) rejected a proposal by Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev to raise electricity tariffs several times over the next three years in order to raise the $900 million the government needs to replace old transformers and other equipment, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Deputies objected that increasing electricity tariffs would trigger an increase in the price of other commodities. LF




FORMER BELARUSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER DECLARES PRESIDENTIAL BID

Colonel General Pavel Kazlouski has announced that he will run as a candidate in this year's presidential race, Belapan reported on 23 February. Kazlouski said he can no longer tolerate the situation in the Armed Forces where, according to him, the needs of military personnel are completely ignored. Kazlouski was the first defense minister of independent Belarus and resigned in 1994, after Alyaksandr Lukashenka won the presidential elections. JM

'POPULAR TRIBUNAL' PRONOUNCES GUILTY SENTENCE ON UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT...

Some 7,000 people took part in an anti-presidential march in downtown Kyiv on 25 February and in a subsequent mock trial of President Leonid Kuchma, Interfax reported. In the trial called a "Popular Tribunal," protesters dressed as judges told the crowd that they found Kuchma guilty of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze's disappearance, harassment of politicians and the media, corruption, and abuse of power. Later the crowd carried Kuchma's effigy in a cage to Ukraine's Supreme Court where some protesters tried to hang it from a gallows. This was the largest protest in the recent series of "Ukraine Without Kuchma" demonstrations in Kyiv. Considerably smaller anti-presidential demonstrations were held the same day in Lviv (600 people), Odesa (200 people), and Dnipropetrovsk (300 people). JM

...WHILE FORMER BODYGUARD ACCUSES HIM OF GRABBING $1 BILLION

Mykola Melnychenko, who released secret recordings of conversations in the Ukrainian president's office, told the 26 February "New York Times" that Kuchma pocketed at least $1 billion for personal or political use. Melnychenko added that the full transcript of recordings made "since at least 1998" in Kuchma's office will establish that "there is no greater criminal in Ukraine than Kuchma." Prior to this disclosure, it was widely believed that Melnychenko bugged Kuchma only for an unspecified period in 2000. "My goal is to totally expose the level of corruption in Ukraine as an independent Don Quixote and ensure that thieves will never come to power again in Ukraine," Melnychenko told the newspaper. JM

ESTONIAN PRESIDENT'S INDEPENDENCE DAY SPEECH

In his 24 February address on the 83rd anniversary of Estonia's declaration of independence, Lennart Meri urged military and state officials to do everything in their power to ready Estonian defense forces for NATO membership, ETA reported the next day. He specifically called on the parliament to increase defense expenditures in the 2002 budget to 2 per cent of GDP. Meri criticized the parliament for not passing a national defense act as provided in the Constitution. He also expressed concern about growing unemployment, "accompanied by an equally rapid decrease in the size of the workforce." The number of unemployed in Estonia was equal to 13.9 percent of the total population in January. SG

LATVIAN CELLULOSE PLANT TO BE BUILT IN JEKABPILS

Minister of Agriculture Atis Slakteris supports the decision by the board of the joint stock company "Baltic Pulp" to construct a cellulose plant in the Jekabpils district, LETA reported on 23 February. "Baltic Pulp," which was founded last year by the Finnish company "Metsaliitto", the Swedish firm "Sodra", and the state of Latvia, selected Jekabpils as the ideal site after evaluating economic conditions, transportation, logistics, and infrastructure, but the final decision will be made at the end of the year after evaluating the project's influence on the environment. The planned investment is estimated to be 900 million euro ($814 million) and the plant is projected to produce about 600,000 tons of paper a year and employ about 350 persons. SG

LITHUANIA, GERMANY SIGN CRIME COMBAT TREATY

Interior Ministers Vytautas Markevicius and Otto Schily signed an inter-governmental treaty in Vilnius on 23 February on cooperation in combating organized crime, terrorism, and other serious crimes, ELTA reported. The treaty will allow Lithuania's Police Department, Tax Inspectorate, and Border Police to cooperate directly with their counterparts in Germany on topical issues. Previously, such requests had to be channeled through the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry. The two officials also discussed the possibility of Germany providing training and technical assistance to Lithuanian officials, as well as the appointment of a police communications officer to Germany. Markevicius noted that the agreement will help to fight more effectively trafficking in people and ensure the safety in Germany of Lithuanian victims of such trafficking. SG

POLAND RESTRICTS DUTY-FREE IMPORT OF SLOVAK SHEET-METAL

The Polish government has imposed an annual limit of 10,000 tons for the duty-free import sheet-metal from Slovakia, TASR reported on 24 February. Deliveries in excess of that amount will be subject to a 12-percent import surcharge. Slovak Economy Ministry official Peter Brno commented that taking into account the principles of the Central European Free Trade Agreement, "Slovakia cannot agree with this resolution." The official added that Bratislava will seek talks with Warsaw on lifting the ban. JM

CZECH TEMELIN PLANT BACK ON LINE...

The Temelin nuclear power plant, located in the south of the Czech Republic just 50 km from the border with nuclear-free Austria, went back on line early in the morning of 25 February, plant spokesman Milan Nebesar told CTK. The plant had been shut down on 18 January because of problems with steam pipes in the power-generating section of the plant. The plant was first launched in October last year, but has experienced a number of minor technical problems and shutdowns since then. This latest shutdown has set the planned launch of full trial operations back one month, to June. DW

...IN 'CLEAR VIOLATION' OF AGREEMENT, SAY AUSTRIAN GREENS

The relaunch of the Temelin nuclear power plant is in "clear violation" of the agreement signed by the Czech and Austrian governments in Melk, Austria, in December, according to a spokeswoman for the Lower Austrian branch of the Greens, CTK reported on 24 February. The agreement signed by Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel called for a study of the probable environmental impact of Temelin, monitored by the European Commission, to be finished in May or early June. DW

BUZKOVA ELECTED TO HEAD PRAGUE SOCIAL DEMOCRATS

Petra Buzkova has been elected chairwoman of the Social Democratic Party's (CSSD) Prague branch, despite alleged attempts to discredit her from within her own party, CTK reported on 25 February. Often heading opinion polls as the CSSD's most popular politician, Buzkova resigned as deputy chairwoman of the party last year after voicing her disapproval of amendments to the "opposition agreement" with the Civic Democratic Party and the governing style of Premier and CSSD Chairman Zeman. She said afterward that she would not consider the post of CSSD deputy chair, but would accept a post in the party's Central Executive Committee. DW

KLAUS SAYS REPORTED END TO POWER-SHARING PACT 'NONSENSE'

The chairman of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), Vaclav Klaus, has rejected speculation that his party is preparing to set a specific date for the termination of the so-called "opposition agreement" that keeps the Social Democrats (CSSD) in power (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2001). "It is absolute nonsense," Klaus said, adding that he does not know where ODS Deputy Chairwoman Libuse Benesova got the idea, CTK reported 23 February. The head of the CSSD deputies' group, Zdenek Skromach, told CTK that Benesova had been present at talks between the parties on 22 February and that "nothing of the kind was said there." DW

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT APPROVES KEY CONSTITUTIONAL BILL

The parliament on 23 February voted by 90 to 57 with one abstention to pass a constitutional amendment that is regarded as a key condition for continuing the country's NATO- and EU-oriented transformations. The amendment was mainly devised to set into motion a reform of the civil service, allow the holding of regional elections, and divide the powers between the central and local governments. "This is one of the most important moments in Slovak history," Premier Mikulas Dzurinda commented after the vote. Former Premier Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, which labeled the vote as an "ominous day for Slovakia," failed to attract even one person for its announced protest in front of the parliamentary building, CTK reported. JM

YOUNG SLOVAK NATIONALISTS PROTEST HUNGARIAN FACULTY

Some 300 people from the Slovak National Youth Organization on 23 February demonstrated against the planned establishment of a Hungarian Pedagogical Faculty at Nitra University, CTK reported. The demonstrators chanted "Hungarians Get Back Over the Danube," and "Slovakia for Slovaks" during the rally. The establishment of the Hungarian faculty at Nitra University was recently approved by the Slovak government, in fulfillment of a promise to the country's 500,000-strong Hungarian minority contained in its policy statement. JM

HUNGARY REMEMBERS VICTIMS OF COMMUNISM

Parliament held a special session on 25 February to commemorate the victims of communist dictatorships, Hungarian media reported. The memorial will be held annually on 25 February, to recall the day in 1947 when Smallholder parliamentary member Bela Kovacs was dragged away by Soviet units. Parliamentary Speaker Janos Ader said "we do not expect an apology, as it appears we have awaited one in vain, nor do we wish to pass sentence, as the history has passed its verdict on the communist world order." In his speech, Hungarian President Ferenc Madl said strong democracies can resist the return of dictatorships and "commemoration can turn pain into peace." Madl also paid tribute to the millions of victims of the Holocaust, Hungarian Jews and Gypsies alike. MSZ

NEW CIVIL ORGANIZATION FOUNDED IN HUNGARY

A civil organization calling itself the Third Side for Hungary (HOM) was founded in the Hungarian town of Balatonfoldvar on 24 February, following 18 months of preparations. The group has declared itself independent of political parties, but has stated its intention to field candidates in the next parliamentary elections, which are due in 2002. Istvan Gyenesei, the elected chairman of HOM, said the nation needs a political center, as "Hungary is too small for 40-50 percent of its citizens to be shunted aside after each election." MSZ




BALKAN SUMMIT ADOPTS ECONOMIC PLAN...

Heads of state or government from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Turkey, and Yugoslavia, as well as an "observer" from Croatia, approved a plan for economic cooperation at the fourth summit of the Southeast European Cooperation Process (SEECP) in Skopje on 23 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2001). The document stresses cooperation in energy and in cross-border transportation links, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. The EU's Bodo Hombach appealed to regional leaders to "help yourself so that we can help you," Reuters reported. PM

...ADDRESSES SECURITY ISSUES

Although the main purpose of the SEECP summit in Skopje on 22-23 February was to discuss economic cooperation, the meeting was overshadowed by security issues in Kosova and the Presevo Valley. The final document did not specify concrete measures to end the violence, but it condemned the "use of violence, terrorism, and extremism" in Kosova. It also slammed unspecified "violent and illegal terrorist actions by the ethnically-motivated extremist armed groups in South Serbia, which could have the effect of destabilizing the situation in the region," Reuters reported. The EU's Chris Patten and Javier Solana warned the Kosovar Albanians that international patience with the violence in Kosova is wearing thin. Patten called on "every Kosovar to make a stand" on the issue. PM

BALKAN LEADERS STRESS SECURITY CONCERNS

Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski said in Skopje on 23 February that one "should not underestimate" the danger of regional destabilization, dpa reported. Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta noted that the ouster of President Slobodan Milosevic makes easier the "struggle against extremism in the Presevo Valley, Mitrovica, and other places." He appealed to Kosovar Albanians to improve "cooperation and their common life with the Serbs and other peoples," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Meta also called on Kosovar Serbs to take part in the development of "democratic institutions." Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica demanded unspecified "energetic steps" to "support Yugoslavia's political efforts" in the region. He stressed that "terrorism" undermines the role of KFOR and the UN civilian administration in Kosova. He added that the Presevo security zone has become a "base for terrorist activity," AP reported. PM

PRISHTINA CORPS LIKELY TO STAY IN PRESEVO?

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said in Belgrade on 23 February that Belgrade alone will decide which units of the security forces will remain in southwest Serbia. This is an apparent reference to NATO's reported suggestion that the Atlantic alliance might agree to a partial revision of the Kumanovo agreements as part of a package including Belgrade's withdrawing the Prishtina Corps from the Presevo area (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2001). "The wish to replace a certain number of both army and police troops, those considered to have had a high profile in the war in Kosovo, has been around for some time. That is something we can talk about. But we cannot talk about the level of the presence of our forces there to anyone abroad. No outsider can determine what level of our military and police presence will be enough to guarantee our safety," Reuters quoted Djindjic as saying. He did not say whether Belgrade plans to take the views of local ethnic Albanians into account. Yugoslav Defense Minister Slobodan Krapovic has ruled out the withdrawal of the Prishtina Corps. PM

YUGOSLAV GENERAL GIVING NOD TO PARAMILITARIES?

The shadowy ultra-nationalist Serbian Liberation Army (OSA) said in a statement in Krusevac on 25 February that army chief-of-staff General Nebojsa Pavkovic "gives full support" to the OSA's proposal for setting up "volunteer units" under the General Staff's command, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The statement quoted Pavkovic as saying that there is currently no need for such units in southern Serbia. He added, however, that "organizational preparations" should be made in case the need for such units arises. He did not elaborate. There is no independent confirmation of the OSA's statement. Paramilitaries played a key role in ethnic cleansing campaigns during Milosevic's wars in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova. Pavkovic commanded army forces in Kosova during the 1999 conflict. PM

NATO SAYS 'NOTHING NEW' ON SERBIAN TROOPS FOR KOSOVA

A KFOR spokesman said in Prishtina on 24 February that there is "nothing new" in Kostunica's call at the Balkan summit for Serbian forces to return to Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The Milosevic regime frequently called for the re-admission of Serbian forces to the province, ostensibly to improve the security situation. Some observers have noted that the return of any Serbian forces would most likely aggravate the security situation by acting as a provocation to Kosova's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority. One of Kostunica's advisors wrote two articles in "NIN" in December, in which he called for gaining the support of the international community for Serbia's "return" to Kosova. In recent months, Belgrade has kept up virtually incessant political pressure to portray itself as the victim of Albanian "terrorists and extremists." PM

UN POLICE RAISE KOSOVA GUN PENALTIES

Christopher Albiston, who heads the UN police in Kosova, said in Prishtina on 23 February that people in Kosova have until 5 June to hand in "weapons of war" or risk fines of up to $9,300 and jail sentences of up to 10 years. He stressed that a "gun culture is a culture of fear and intimidation," Reuters reported. PM

SERBIAN EX-HEAD OF SECRET POLICE ARRESTED

Police officials in Belgrade announced on 24 February the arrest of Rade Markovic, who headed Milosevic's secret police from 1998 until January 2001. Belgrade dailies suggest that up to 15 other top Milosevic-era police officials may have been arrested at the same time, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 25 February. Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic said in Kragujevac that Markovic is a link in a chain of officials that could lead to Milosevic himself. At issue are "several cases involving mysterious deaths" of prominent people. Under Milosevic, the worlds of politics, the security forces, organized crime, and business often merged together in a shadowy realm of power and influence that remains greatly resented by ordinary Serbs. Serbian Renewal Movement leader Vuk Draskovic told the BBC that he wonders why Belgrade's new leaders did not arrest Markovic in October and instead gave him over three months in which to destroy or manipulate evidence. PM

MILOSEVIC, SOCIALIST PARTY CONDEMN ARREST

Milosevic spoke at a meeting of his Socialist Party of Serbia on 25 February in Belgrade, in which he criticized the arrest of Markovic. The party subsequently issued a statement slamming the arrest as a "shameful act" leading to "staged political trials," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The next day, police officials said that they will keep Markovic in investigative custody for 30 days in connection with a 1999 attempt on Draskovic's life, in which four people died, AP reported. PM

CALL FOR VOJVODINA AUTONOMY

Nenad Canak, who heads Vojvodina's provincial parliament, said in Belgrade on 23 February that he will soon begin talks with fellow members of the governing coalition aimed at restoring the autonomy of Vojvodina, which Milosevic revoked, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Canak stressed that autonomy is Vojvodina's right because, as he put it, the province accounts for "a third of Serbia's population and half of its money." PM

SERBIAN MAYOR WANTS END TO PARTY ROLE IN STATE FIRMS

Mayor Velimir Ilic of Cacak said in Arandjelovac on 25 February that the practice must end of appointing officials to top posts in state-run companies on the basis of their party affiliations, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

MONTENEGRIN PARTY PICKS NEW CHIEF

The pro-Belgrade Socialist People's Party (SNP) met in Bijela on 24 February and elected Predrag Bulatovic as its chairman. He will try to form a broad coalition of anti-independence forces under the slogan "For Yugoslavia," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Bulatovic promised that the SNP will be an "authentic Montenegrin party" that will not take orders from "outside," "Vijesti" reported. Some 50 supporters of Momir Bulatovic, the pro-Milosevic former chairman, walked out of the meeting. It is not clear whether they will form a new political party. PM

DEL PONTE BLASTS NATO BOSNIAN FORCES

Carla Del Ponte, who is the Hague tribunal's chief prosecutor, told "Welt am Sonntag" of 25 February that she does not understand how and why NATO troops have been unable to arrest more Bosnian war criminals, including former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. She added that she is "not far" from feeling abandoned by NATO countries. PM

LITTLE TO SHOW FROM EX-YUGOSLAV ASSETS CONFERENCE

The latest round of talks aimed at dividing the assets of the former Yugoslavia ended in Ljubljana on 23 February without any concrete agreement, dpa reported. The next meeting will take place in Brussels from 9-11 April. PM

PETRITSCH SACKS MUSLIM EX-PREMIER

High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch fired Edhem Bicakcic on 23 February as director of the state power company Elektroprivreda BiH, where he has worked since mid-January. Petritsch called Bicakcic a "symbol of corruption" who diverted millions of dollars in state funds to his Party of Democratic Action through intermediate channels, including Muslim veterans' organizations, "Dnevni avaz" reported. PM

IMF DELEGATION ENDS TALKS IN BUCHAREST WITH NO RESULTS...

Ending two-weeks of talks with the Romanian government, Neven Mates, the IMF's chief negotiator for Romania, said on 23 February that the IMF will grant no further loans until Bucharest has solved some of the main problems identified by the delegation, Mediafax reported. Mates said the government should concentrate on keeping inflation down and on maintaining a stable and transparent fiscal system. Premier Adrian Nastase replied that his government's relations with the IMF will help it avoid mistakes. He added, however, that the IMF should also understand that "after 10 years of complicated transition, Romania's problems are not only economical, but also social and political." ZsM

...GIVES RECIPE FOR ECONOMIC GROWTH IN ROMANIA

The IMF said, however, that the Romanian economy could achieve "sustainable growth" if the government privatizes state-owned companies and reduces inflation, AP reported. In a statement released at the end of his visit to the country, Mates said the country is "well-positioned to establish a solid basis for rapid and sustainable economic growth." It added that Bucharest must achieve "a determined reduction in inflation," and that for a lasting recovery it must accelerate and broaden economic structural reforms and take "swift actions on privatization." Inflation reached 40 percent last year. Premier Nastase said last week that the government will sell-off five state-owned companies in the coming weeks. PB

WORLD BANK TO SUPPORT RURAL DEVELOPMENT

The World Bank in Washington on 24 February announced the start of a program aimed at supporting private rural initiatives in Romania, Romanian media reported. World Bank Director for Romania Andrew Vorkink and visiting Romanian Agriculture Minister Ilie Sarbu said the $220 million program will start this fall and will run for seven years. The program's aim is to reduce rural unemployment by granting loans to rural private companies. ZsM

ROMANIAN ULTRANATIONALIST REFUSES TO PAY DAMAGES IN LIBEL SUITS...

Ultranationalist leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor said in Bucharest on 23 February that he will not pay damages from two libel cases against him because the courts are "manipulated" by the government, AP reported. Tudor, who finished second in the December presidential elections, accused Prime Minister Nastase of interfering in Romania's justice system. Tudor often writes scandalous articles about Nastase and other government officials in his xenophobic weekly "Greater Romania." He has been ordered to pay 400 million lei ($14,000) to journalist Rodica Chelaru, whom Tudor said had sex with a presidential spokesman, and 90 million lei to Constantin Ticu Dumitrescu, whom Tudor branded a Securitate collaborator. If he doesn't pay the fines, Tudor's personal assets could be seized. PB

...ACCUSES NASTASE OF SECURITATE COLLABORATION

Tudor, who also heads the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM), on 23 February accused Prime Minister Nastase of having collaborated with the Securitate, Romanian media reported. Admitting he has no evidence to support these allegations, he said confirmation may come from a former Securitate officer who is now a Romanian diplomat. Nastase replied saying that the National College for the Study of the Securitate Archives had already checked his and all government members' Securitate files. Tudor alleged that Nastase's file may have been destroyed during the Ceausescu regime. ZsM

ROMANIAN POLICE MAKE ARRESTS, SACK OFFICIALS IN EFFORT TO HALT ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION

Romanian border police said they detained 27 people on 24 February for alleged involvement in the smuggling of illegal aliens through the country en route to Western Europe, AFP reported. Those arrested seem to be both people involved in the smuggling and illegal aliens themselves. Fifteen Moldovans and two Romanians were stopped while trying to cross illegally from the southwest Timis region into Serbia. In other news, Romanian border chief General Aurel Neagu sacked six senior officers and 15 subordinates for incompetence, AFP reported on 23 February. Neagu said several of the officials had turned border posts into "little businesses." PB

ROMANIAN COMMUNISTS PROTEST AIR RAIDS ON IRAQ

On 24 February some 150 persons participated in a "solidarity meeting with the Iraqi people" in central Bucharest to protest the recent U.S. and British air bombardments of Iraq, Mediafax reported. Some 20 Iraqis resident in Romania participated in the protest, organized by the extraparliamentary Romanian Workers' Party (PMR), which considers itself the successor organization to the former Romanian Communist Party. PMR chairman Ion Cristian Niculae said the bombings were "criminal actions" that proved "state-sponsored terrorism [on the part] of the U.S. and Britain." ZsM

MOLDOVAN COMMUNISTS WIN ABSOLUTE MAJORITY

The Moldovan Communist Party (MCP) received just over 50 percent of the votes in the elections held 25 February and will have a substantial majority in parliament, Infotag and RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Central Electoral Commission Chairman Dumitru Nidelcu told a news conference early on 26 February that, with returns from 100 percent of the polling stations counted, the Communist Party received 50.2 percent of the votes, the Braghis Alliance (headed by Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis) 13.45 percent, and the right-wing Christian Democratic People's Party (formerly Popular Front) 8.18 percent. Voter turnout was unexpectedly high, at 69 percent. Two prominent political parties failed to clear the 6 percent barrier for representation in parliament: the Party of Revival and Accord, led by former President Mircea Snegur, polled 5.69 percent, and the Democratic Party led by outgoing speaker Dumitru Diakov and former Premier Ion Sturza 4.92 percent. DW/ZsM

...SAY THEY WILL NOT 'MONOPOLIZE' POWER...

Despite winning a clear majority in the 25 February parliamentary elections, Moldovan Communist Party (MCP) leader Vladimir Voronin told Infotag that "We are not going to monopolize power in the country," and that his party will form a "government of technocrats manned on the principle of professionalism, not party affiliation." With 70 or 71 seats in the 101-seat parliament, the MCP will have a large enough majority not only to elect the president, but also to make changes to the constitution. Voronin said his party will not seek to change the political system. The parliamentary republic is "a European model which we are striving for. This is a democratic variant. We reject as unfit the Central Asiatic models of the personality cult being developed in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and some other countries," said Voronin. DW

...WANT MOLDOVA TO JOIN RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION

Voronin also said that the Communists will do their best to keep their electoral promise to declare Russian a second state language and to join the Russian-Belarus Union. Moldova is the first CIS country where Communists have returned to power after the collapse of the Soviet Union. ZsM

GAZPROM TO STOP GAS SUPPLIES TO MOLDOVA?

Moldovan Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis announced on 24 February that from 1 March Russia's Gazprom might halt gas supplies to Moldova, should the country fail to pay its debts for gas delivered in January, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Moldova has paid less than half of its debt for the gas delivered since the beginning of the year. The government applies tough measures on debtors: more than 450 companies and 22,000 apartments have already had their gas supplies cut off for not paying their debts. ZsM

BULGARIA ANTICIPATES FOREIGN INVESTMENT

Bulgaria's Foreign Investment Agency said on 25 February that it expects the country to receive some $1.36 billion in foreign investment in 2001, BTA reported. The president of the agency, Georgi Tabakov, said in an interview on national radio that the results of the parliamentary elections will probably have little impact on the level of foreign investment. Among some positive economic indicators from last year, Tabakov said exports rose 24 percent over 1999, and that revenues from tourism increased by 20 percent. PB




RESPONSIBILITY AND DEMOCRACY


By Patrick Moore

That the West bears much of the responsibility for the tensions in Kosova is the theme of an article by Matthias Rueb in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of 20 February. Rueb says that the West failed over the course of a decade to give the peaceful democrats in Ibrahim Rugova's shadow state any serious hope for success, so that in the end the fighters of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) were able to take the political center stage. The journalist argues that violence is likely to carry the day again unless the Kosovars and Albanians of Presevo gain a clear perspective for their respective political futures.

Rueb, who recently debunked an attempt by some German journalists to misrepresent the history of the Recak massacre in Kosova, dismantles two more myths in his latest article . First, he points out that the bogey of a greater Albania is a fiction. No mainstream party in Albania, Kosova, Macedonia, Presevo, or Montenegro advocates a greater Albania as a serious political goal for the foreseeable future. Rueb might have added that Belgrade's propagandists under the Milosevic regime and under the current leadership have carefully cultivated the myth of an aggressive greater Albania for their own purposes. Their efforts have not been without success in some Western journalistic and policy-making circles.

The second myth that Rueb deals with is the idea that an independent Kosova will lead to political instability. Instead, he argues that it is precisely the lack of a clear political perspective that has led Kosova to instability in recent years. He notes that virtually all of the province's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority wants independence and an end to a common statehood with Serbia. That goal, he argues, is what the West should now act upon.

The article raises serious questions of responsibility for the current tensions in Kosova and Presevo. Rueb argues that the West can remove much of the discontent upon which advocates of violence feed by showing that peaceful policies by democratic Albanian politicians can bring concrete dividends. This means independence, which is what the majority in Kosova has said at the ballot box that it wants. If the West delays or tries to force the Kosovars into a relationship with Belgrade that they plainly do not want, then the successors to the UCK will be the ones to profit. Once again, the perception in Kosova will be that the West has turned a deaf ear to the Rugovas, and that only the guerrillas can get the foreigners' attention, Rueb concludes.

He might have added that Russia, which enjoys a powerful attraction for many Serbs, has a constructive role to play in defusing tensions. Its reversion in the Putin era to an almost Soviet-type blustering over Western policies in the Balkans has not necessarily been helpful to those who want an end to the violence.

As to the Serbs' role, time and the progress of the Presevo talks will show whether the Covic plan is a serious first step toward reversing dangerous trends and breaking with the Milosevic era's policies toward ethnic minorities, or whether the plan is a propaganda ploy aimed at enlisting foreign support for the Serbian nationalist agenda in Kosova. (Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's foreign policy advisor wrote two articles in "NIN" in December, in which he argued that Serbia should cleverly cultivate the support of foreigners for a "return to Kosovo.")

The Macedonian leadership also has a special responsibility in steering the region toward a peaceful, democratic future, as many observers have long pointed out. Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski will need to tread carefully, since ethnic tensions in his republic are rarely far beneath the surface. Macedonia has a 23 percent Albanian population, one of whose two main political parties, the Democratic Party of the Albanians, is represented in the government. (The other large party, the Party of Democratic Prosperity, was in the previous government.) If Georgievski alienates the Albanians as a group, he risks -- at a minimum -- destroying the foundations of his own coalition. His recent remarks in Belgrade about cooperating with Serbia against "extremism" may have been designed to assuage ethnic Macedonian fears about the spread of violence to their republic, but such statements could have a less than reassuring effect on the Albanians. In any event, it should be noted that the Albanians and their parties are clearly integrated into the republic's political life. The political alienation or even serious indigenous violence found in Milosevic's Kosova are thus unlikely to appear there --as long as democratic rules continue to operate. Given the fact that there is no great mutual trust between the Macedonian and Albanian communities as a whole, the successful integration of the Albanians into the republic's political life is doubly striking. It serves as testimony to the role of democracy in managing interethnic relations.

This calls attention to the responsibility of the region's Albanians in promoting a peaceful future for the area. If the West ignores the views of democratically elected Albanians or tries to strong-arm them into a political relationship with Serbia that the voters do not want, it will again be the West that bears heavy responsibility if the Kosovars resort to violence as a last resort.

But in the meantime, the traditional and clannish Albanian societies of the region have a responsibility to keep their own violent elements under control. These are conservative communities in which everyone knows everyone else and everyone else's business. To say that the community does not know or cannot control them is no more credible than when some residents of similarly provincial East German villages and towns claim that they have no knowledge of or social control over gangs of young neo-Nazi hooligans in their midst. There is no excuse for political violence in today's Europe when democratic channels are open to all who care to use them.

Finally, it might be noted that all political forces both inside and outside the Balkans have a responsibility for helping move the agenda away from 19th-century nationalist issues toward 21st-century questions of economic and social progress, and of European integration. It is worth recalling that Milosevic was able to rise to power, destroy former Yugoslavia, start and lose four wars, and create the political environment in which countless other demagogues thrived -- only after more than a decade of economic downturn.


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