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Newsline - March 6, 2001




'UNITY' SAYS IT WILL SUPPORT NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION

In an unexpected move, the leaders of the pro-Kremlin "Unity" party said that they would support a motion of no confidence against Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and his government in the hopes of forcing early elections in which they said they expect to win 35-40 percent of the vote, Russian and Western agencies reported on 5 March. But the Communists also expressed confidence: party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said that "we do not fear early elections." Other parties quickly lined up, with the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) saying it would also vote against the government, while Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) and "People's Deputy" said they oppose the move, and Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) indicated that they will decide which way to go later this week. Various Duma deputies and media analysts speculated as to whether President Vladimir Putin is using this move to intimidate the government or actually to replace it, with some analysts suggesting that he might not actually be forced to call elections even if such a no-confidence motion is passed. PG

MOSCOW DEMANDS EXPLANATION FROM U.S. ON TUNNEL REPORTS

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 5 March called in U.S. charge d'affaires George Krol to present him with a note requesting explanations from Washington about media reports that American intelligence agencies dug a tunnel under the Russian embassy in Washington, ITAR-TASS reported. "If this information is confirmed," unidentified Russian diplomats told the agency, "a question can be raised about the most flagrant violation of the universally recognized international law provisions that are in effect across the world concerning foreign diplomatic missions." PG

PUTIN SAYS PULL-OUT IN MACEDONIA LED TO VIOLENCE

In televised remarks to his government, President Putin on 5 March said that recent tension along the Macedonian border is the result of the withdrawal of the Yugoslav army, Russian and Western agencies reported. "What is happening is what we warned about," Putin said. "After the departure of the Yugoslav army, despite the presence of international forces, the well-known power vacuum took shape and was quickly filled by extremists." He drew a parallel to what happened in Chechnya after the 1996 Russian withdrawal. PG

LIGHTS OUT AGAIN IN FAR EAST, AS HEAVY SNOW BURIES REGION

A powerful snowstorm has paralyzed all sea and air transport between Sakhalin Island and the Russian mainland, and has resulted in four deaths, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 5 March. Three people died who were stranded in their cars buried in snow. According to RFE/RL's Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk correspondent, around 30 towns and villages are without electricity, and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 6 March that bread is being delivered only with great difficulty. President Putin discussed possible aid to the region with Prime Minister Kasyanov and other cabinet members on 5 March, according to ITAR-TASS. Meanwhile, parts of Primorskii Krai have also been hit by heavy snowfall, as one month's average snowfall fell in one night on the city of Partizansk, according to "Kommersant-Daily." As a result, many neighborhoods, including the city hospital and maternity ward, were without electricity. JAC

PUTIN AGAIN FOCUSES ON FAR EAST ENERGY PROBLEMS

President Putin met with Prime Minister Kasyanov to discuss a response to the continuing weather-driven energy crisis in the Russian Far East, Russian agencies reported on 5 March. Meanwhile, energy officials in the region's Dalenergo said that more blackouts may be ahead this week and that the energy crisis may be even worse next winter, Interfax-Eurasia reported. PG

PUTIN GREETS RUSSIA'S MUSLIMS ON KURBAN BAIRAM

President Putin on 5 March issued a message of greetings to Russia's estimated 20 million Muslims on the occasion of the Kurban Bairam holiday, Russian agencies reported. He said that he shares "the desire of Muslim spiritual leaders to pool the efforts of the state and the religious organizations as an important prerequisite for civil concord, good neighborship, and mutual understanding among all the peoples of the multinational state of Russia, a prerequisite for the prosperity of our Homeland." PG

PUTIN DIRECTS MFA TO PROMOTE CIS INTEGRATION

President Putin has issued a decree calling on the Russian Foreign Ministry to define the basic directions of state policy concerning relations with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and to promote the integration of these countries, Interfax reported on 5 March. PG

PUTIN'S FOREIGN POLICY SAID PR STUNT

Russian defense analyst Pavel Felgengauer said on "Ekho Moskvy" on 4 March that President Putin's recent visit to Asia was less than successful. He noted that advertisers have always insisted that "a brilliant promotion of a poor quality product is the best way of removing this product from the market. That is because more people will realize sooner that it is crap." PG

HAS PUTIN MADE ANOTHER GOVERNOR AN OFFER HE CAN'T REFUSE?

"The Moscow Times" reported on 5 March that St. Petersburg is abuzz with the rumor that its Governor Vladimir Yakovlev received a phone call from President Putin offering him Pavel Borodin's job as Secretary of State for the Union of Belarus and Russia. Borodin is currently incarcerated in a jail cell in New York, and a temporary replacement is currently serving in his position (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Report," 26 January 2001). Putin, who originally openly opposed Yakovlev's reelection as governor last May, is considered Yakovlev's implacable foe. Yakovlev's spokesman has denied rumors of an impending career shift for the governor. However, deputies in the city's legislative assembly told the daily that they see "a bit more substance to the latest rumors," adding that Putin likely wants his political enemy out of St. Petersburg before that city celebrates its 300th anniversary. JAC

PRESSURE FROM BELOW FOR SHAKE-UPS ABOVE

"Stabilization is all very well," an article in "Vek," no. 9, said, "but there's also the matter of career development." Under Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, on-the-job mobility was relatively high for people in the central government, but now under President Putin, it has slowed because the new leader has not made significant changes at the highest levels. Many of the more junior people have been supportive of Putin up to now, but their support is likely to waver unless they get a chance to move up soon, the paper said. PG

OPPOSITION ROLE HARDER UNDER PUTIN

In an interview published in "Itogi," no. 9, State Duma Deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) Viktor Pokhmelkin said that "being in opposition now is immeasurably more difficult than it was under Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin didn't have that kind of power and didn't aim to have it -- no matter what, freedom of speech was sacred to him." Because maintaining his approval rating is an end in itself for Putin, the current Russian president is "weaker" than his predecessor "at least for the time being," Pokhmelkin said. But he added that if Putin secures complete political power, he will almost certainly threaten the free market as well. PG

PROPOSED REFORMS COULD END RUSSIAN FEDERALLISM

"Russia will no longer be a federation in any meaningful sense," Andrei Ryabov argued in "Vek," no. 9, if Moscow gains the power to appoint regional leaders. Indeed, he said, that will be true even if some regional leaders back the idea as a way of enhancing their power. Consequently, Russia may soon face a clear choice between "a presidential hierarchy or a federal system. After all, there is no such thing as a federation with appointed leaders," Ryabov said. PG

COMMUNISTS, AGRARIANS MARK ANNIVERSARY OF STALIN'S DEATH

Communist leader Zyuganov, Agrarian Party leader Nikolai Kharitonov and other deputies on 5 March placed flowers on the grave of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin who died on that date in 1953, Interfax reported. Zyuganov told the news service that recent disasters in Russia show that "it is impossible to resolve any problems without a strong state, without a precise national policy as these were during the time of Stalin." He and other speakers called for the government to officially mark the day of Stalin's death every year. PG

MORE BLASTS FROM THE SOVIET PAST

On the 48th anniversary of Stalin's death, a Duma committee urged the approval of the Soviet hymn with new words as Russia's national anthem, Interfax reported on 5 March. Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev said the same day that the integration of former Soviet republics on the Russia-Belarus model is an inevitable and objective process even if it takes some time, the agency reported. PG

OVER 800,000 REFUGEES NOW IN RUSSIA

Even as the Russian government transferred the functions of the now defunct Federal Migration Service to the Federation Ministry, the State Statistical Committee reported on 5 March that on 1 January 2001 there were 808,280 refugees and forced resettlers in Russia, Interfax reported. Most came from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, but 17.4 percent came from unstable regions of Russia itself, but the number of such displaced persons may be falling. The committee said that in 2000, only 59,196 new resettlers were registered, down from 79,126 the year before. PG

OFFICIAL STATUS SOUGHT FOR KARELIAN IN KARELIA

For the third time -- the first two were in 1991 and 1994 -- officials in Karelia have called for giving Karelian the status of a state language in Karelia, Interfax North-West reported on 5 March. PG

MOSCOW SEEN WASTING MONEY ON U.S. AD CAMPAIGN

"Versty," no. 3, suggested that Media Minister Mikhail Lesin's plan to launch a propaganda campaign to improve Russia's image in the United States may be not only unnecessary but counterproductive, and at the very least will be extremely expensive. The journal noted that U.S. polls show that 52 percent of Americans currently have a positive attitude toward Russia and that 55 percent of Americans back continued U.S. assistance to Moscow. Consequently, the journal said, "it is not worth returning to reciprocal propaganda attacks. Instead, it is necessary to seek new mutual interests." Moreover, the Russian government is prepared to spend $50-100 million on this project. PG

MOSCOW DENIES ILLEGAL TESTS ON NOVAYA ZEMLYA

The Russian Nuclear Power Ministry on 5 March denied Western media reports that Moscow has conducted internationally banned nuclear tests on Novaya Zemlya, Interfax reported. The ministry said in a statement that only "subcritical" tests were conducted, as allowed by the 1996 international atomic test ban accords. PG

FOREIGN MINISTRY DISMISSES FT REPORT ON IRAQ

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 5 March saying that an article published in Britain's "Financial Times" last week saying that Baghdad still possesses weapons of mass destruction was instigated by those who want to continue military attacks on Iraq, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

RUSSIA ENTERING INTO OIL FOR TANKS DEAL WITH IRAN

According to "Obshchaya gazeta," no. 9, Russia's efforts to sell tanks and other military equipment to Iran will force it to accept oil in payment because "Iran doesn't have as much money as it is said to have." That could put Russia in a difficult position if oil prices fall. But the article by Viktor Litovkin argues that the geopolitical benefits of an alliance with Iran against Western efforts to expand influence in the Transcaucasus outweigh the risks. PG

SUTYAGIN DENIES HE HAD ACCESS TO SECRETS

Taking the stand in his own defense on 5 March, former Institute of USA and Canada researcher Igor Sutyagin told a Moscow court that he never had access to secret materials, his lawyer told AP. PG

RUSSIAN, POLISH AUDITORS TO EXAMINE KALININGRAD

Russian Audit Chamber chief Sergei Stepashin on 5 March signed an agreement with his Polish counterpart Janusz Wojciehofski to conduct a joint audit of the Kaliningrad enclave, ITAR-TASS reported. Stepashin also again told Russian agencies that he has not been approached about becoming prime minister. Meanwhile, in a parallel foreign policy move not undertaken by the Foreign Ministry, Sergei Shoigu, the Russian Minister for Emergency Situations, met with Portuguese officials in Lisbon to discuss expanding economic cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

RUSSIANS NOT PREPARED TO BACK UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT

According to a poll conducted by the National Public Opinion Research Center and published in "Profil," no. 7, only 6 percent of Russians favor supporting Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in the current Ukrainian political crisis. Forty-two percent said Moscow should keep out of the conflict, and 27 percent said that they have not heard anything about the political crisis in Ukraine. PG

MOSCOW TO HOST COMPATRIOTS SOON

Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev said on 5 March that Moscow will host a congress of compatriots abroad in the first half of 2001, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that the more than 20 million Russians cut off from Russia by state borders after 1991 need Moscow's support, especially since countries like Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and the Baltic states are pursuing what he called "the model of the mono-ethnic state." He said that Moscow has earmarked 100 million rubles ($3.8 million) in the 2001 budget to help ethnic Russians living abroad. PG

MOSCOW DETAILS SUBSIDIES AT WTO TALKS

During accession talks with the World Trade Organization last week, Russian representatives said that Moscow has reduced its total domestic subsidies from $16 billion a year to $2 billion, "Segodnya" reported on 3 March. But the Russian negotiators said that Moscow reserves the right to spend this money on agriculture in the future. In other comments, the Russian team said that Moscow plans to increase the share of foreign participation in Russia's banking sector to 20 percent and in the mobile telephone field to 25 percent. PG

QUESTIONS FOR PUTIN'S INTERNET INTERVIEW

More than 6,000 people have sent in questions in advance of President Putin's Internet interview scheduled for 1500 GMT on 6 March, Reuters reported. The questions range from "who is your favorite writer?" to how Putin thinks he would react if a former Gestapo officer were elected federal chancellor in Germany. PG

ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION UP

Russians consumed 5.6 percent more alcohol in January 2001 than they did in January 2000, Interfax reported, citing a State Statistics Committee report. PG

12,000 RUSSIAN WOMEN DIE EACH YEAR FROM DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Lyudmila Zavadskaya, the director of the Moscow program for the defense of the rights of women, said on 5 March that approximately 12,000 Russian women die as a result of domestic violence each year, Interfax reported. She said that such violence takes place in the homes of people who live in countries where violence is widespread, noting that "in the course of the entire 20th century, we have been fighting with someone, and from this comes the strong patriarchal family in [the country's] families." PG

WOMEN RISING THROUGH MILITARY RANKS

Colonel General Ilya Pani, the head of the Russian Defense Ministry Main Administration for Cadres, told Interfax on 5 March that some 100,000 women now serve in the Russian armed forces, with 3,500 of them officers. More than 150 of them are colonels, he added. PG

ELDERLY TRUST THE MEDIA, ENTREPRENEURS DON'T

According to polls conducted by monitoring.ru, "the highest level of trust in the media is found among the elderly while the lowest is among self-employed people, of whom only 16 percent believe media reports and 58 percent do not," "Novoye vremya," no. 8, reported. National television networks have the highest level of credibility, then national newspapers, and then local television channels. Other sources enjoy little or no credibility, the polls said. Only one quarter of the population now read a daily newspaper, the polls found, but 76 percent of adults say they watch television nearly every day. PG

PAPER PRINTS GOVERNMENT WARNING ON CHECHEN INTERVIEW

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 5 March printed a warning from the Media Ministry that it violated the law by publishing an interview with Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2001), but the paper said that it ran the interview because it believes that readers have the right to make up their own minds and also because the paper supports the "ideals of press freedom." PG

NEW INVENTION PROTECTS PEOPLE FROM TELEVISION, COMPUTER RADIATION

A new bioresonance pictographic modulator has been developed by Russian scientists at the Infotekh laboratory to protect people who watch televisions, operate computers or use cell phones from harmful radiation, Interfax reported on 4 March. PG

UNUSUAL ADS CONFUSE MUSCOVITES

Some Moscow residents have been made the mistake of assuming that giant poster ads for a male strip club somehow are connected with and point the way to the offices of the Office of the Russian Prosecutor General and the Federation Council, "The Moscow Times" reported on 5 March. Moscow Duma members are seeking to have them removed both to end this confusion and because people are "deeply offended" by the pictures. "Barebreasted ladies are a sight people have already gotten used to," deputy Mikhail Moskvin-Tarkhanov told the paper, "but guys in briefs are an outrage." PG

CHECHEN PREMIER SAYS MONEY FOR RECONSTRUCTION WILL NOT BE EMBEZZLED

Stanislav Ilyasov is confident that the stringent economic controls introduced by his cabinet preclude a repeat of the large-scale embezzlement of funds allocated by Moscow for reconstruction in Chechnya after the 1994-1996 war. In an interview published in "Vremya novostei" on 5 March, Ilyasov also said that he and Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov together deal with all economic questions. Ilyasov said he is confident that his cabinet will move to Grozny from its present temporary headquarters in Gudermes by 1 April, as Kadyrov has predicted. Vladimir Yelagin, who is the Russian Minister for Coordinating Socio-Economic Development in Chechnya, told Interfax on 22 February that he considers it "impossible for purely technical reasons" that the Chechen government will move to Grozny in the near future. LF

RUSSIAN TROOPS PREVENT ATTACK ON DAGHSTAN, ARREST ANOTHER FIELD COMMANDER

Russian forces thwarted an attempt by a "large" band of Chechen fighters to cross the border between Chechnya and Daghestan early on 3 March, Interfax reported. Eight Chechens were taken prisoner. Two days later, Russian paratroopers captured field commander Avadi Bashaev in the village of Starie Atagi, south of Grozny. LF




ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTS WRAP UP PARIS TALKS

Following a one-on-one meeting in Paris late on 4 March, Robert Kocharian and Heidar Aliyev met with French President Jacques Chirac on 5 March to discuss approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict. Chirac told journalists at a joint press conference after those talks that they had proceeded "in a warm and friendly atmosphere," but that no details could be divulged, the Paris correspondent of RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Chirac expressed satisfaction that the two presidents demonstrated willingness to find a peaceful solution to the conflict "that is equitable and in conformity with each party's interests," according to AP. He said "we discussed...problems and difficulties in the hope that the Minsk Group could, at a given time, make a proposal that would be acceptable to both parties." A Paris-based representative of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic told the independent Azerbaijan News Service that "some headway" had been made during the talks, and that they had focussed on possible representation of the unrecognized enclave during future negotiations, according to Groong. Baku has hitherto objected to Karabakh participation in the ongoing peace talks. LF

AZERBAIJAN WARNS TURKEY OVER DELAY IN GAS DEAL

President Aliev's son Ilham, who is first vice president of Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR, told journalists on 4 March that Ankara's delay in signing an agreement on importing 5 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz field may negatively affect relations between the two countries, AP and Turan reported on 5 March. That agreement was originally scheduled for signing in January but postponed because of disagreements over the price Turkey is prepared to pay. Ilham Aliyev said Turkey is not "imposing tough conditions" but is "holding back" from a firm commitment for "unknown reasons." He expressed the hope that the deal will be finalized during his father's visit to Turkey on 12-16 March, noting that failure to do so may delay the start of development of Shah Deniz, which is currently scheduled for late 2002 or early 2003. LF

AZERBAIJANIS ATTACK GEORGIAN BORDER POST AFTER SHOOTING

Some 300 Azerbaijanis attacked Georgian border guards and set fire to three buildings at the frontier between the two countries on 5 March after a Georgian border guard shot dead an Azerbaijani who tried to circumvent border controls, Caucasus Press and Reuters reported. The border guard tried to flee but was later apprehended. He said he had shot at the Azerbaijani after the latter and a companion failed to heed warnings not to try to bypass the border post. The angry Azerbaijanis dispersed following the arrival of Georgian Border Service Director Valerii Chkheidze. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT APPEALS TO PARIS CLUB TO WRITE OFF PART OF GEORGIA'S DEBTS

Eduard Shevardnadze has written to U.S. President George W. Bush, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other Western leaders requesting that at its 6 March meeting the Paris Club write off an unspecified part of Georgia's foreign debts to Paris Club members, Caucasus Press reported. Georgia's total foreign debts exceed $ 2 billion. LF

GEORGIAN COMMUNISTS PAY TRIBUTE TO STALIN

Several hundred Georgians, mostly members of the country's United Communist Party (SGKP) , congregated in the west Georgian town of Gori on 5 March to mark the anniversary of the death of Joseph Stalin, who was born there, Reuters reported. They also protested last week's call by Justice Minister Mikhail Saakashvili for banning the SGKP on the grounds that it had called for the overthrow of present the Georgian leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2001). President Shevardnadze said on 5 March that if it can be proved that the SGKP had indeed done so, then it should be banned in accordance with the Georgian constitution, Caucasus Press reported. LF

SOUTH OSSETIA PROTESTS GEORGIAN VISA DEMAND

Officials of Georgia's breakaway republic of South Ossetia have condemned as "unwarranted pressure" and "political blackmail" the demand by the Georgian central government that Moscow extend the visa requirement for citizens of Georgia to residents of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 March. Presidential advisor Vyacheslav Gobozov, who chairs the South Ossetian parliament committee for foreign policy, defense and security, warned that Moscow's compliance with that demand would result in breaking off the ongoing negotiations on a political solution of the conflict and in Russia's "final expulsion" from the region. LF

FIRST LOCAL OFFICIAL ELECTED IN KYRGYZSTAN

Residents in the village of Lebedinovka in Kyrgyzstan's Chu Oblast elected Omurbek BeishenAliyev as new district administrator on 4 March, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Voter turnout among the 11,000 electors was 68 percent. It was the first time that a local district administrator was elected, rather than appointed by the oblast governor. Further pilot elections will be held in one village or town in each of Kyrgyzstan's remaining seven oblasts before country-wide local elections scheduled for this fall. LF

COURT SUSPENDS PUBLICATION OF KYRGYZ OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER

Bishkek's Lenin District court has issued orders to the Uchkun publishing house not to print any further issues of the biweekly newspaper "Asaba" until it pays a total of 8 million soms (about $160,000) in three separate fines, the paper's editor Melis Eshimkanov told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 6 March. The fines were imposed on charges of tax evasion, failure to repay a loan, and insulting former Communist Party of Kirghizia First Secretary Turdakun Usubaliev. LF

COMMANDER DENIES RUSSIAN PARATROOPERS TO BE SENT TO TAJIKISTAN

Colonel General Georgii Shpak, who commands Russia's airborne forces, told Interfax on 5 March that there is no truth to Russian media reports that some 3,000 paratroopers are to be sent to Tajikistan to help counter an anticipated incursion into Central Asia by Islamic militants currently based in Afghanistan. LF

RUSSIAN BORDER GUARD COMMANDER VISITS TAJIKISTAN

Colonel General Konstantin Totskii held talks in Dushanbe on 1-2 March with his Tajik counterpart Saidanwar Kamolov, Tajik Security Council Secretary Amirkul Azimov and President Imomali Rakhmonov, ITAR-TASS reported. Totskii told journalists after his talks with Rakhmonov that they had focussed on the "extremely alarming" situation in Afghanistan, noting that fighting between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance has reached "the very borders of the CIS." Acknowledging that "we have few instruments to influence internal developments in Afghanistan," Totskii said he and Rakhmonov agreed that the international community must take more active measures to mediate an end to the Afghan civil war. LF




EUROPEAN PARLIAMENTARY TROIKA IN MINSK TO URGE DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT

A delegation of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the European Parliament, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe arrived in Minsk on 5 March to encourage Belarusian authorities to adhere to democratic norms during upcoming presidential elections. The delegation, led by OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Chairman Adrian Severin, met with representatives of Belarus' upper house, the Council of the Republic, and discussed the extension of the Belarusian legislature's powers. The European parliamentarians are also scheduled to meet with representatives of the government and the opposition. JM

UKRAINIAN STUDENTS SET UP NEW PROTEST CAMP IN KYIV

Some 20 Ukrainian students from Kyiv and Lviv set up a camp of five tents in the capital's central park to continue protests demanding President Leonid Kuchma's resignation. Last week police tore down a camp of 50 tents on Khreshchatyk Street in downtown Kyiv (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2001). Kuchma is due to visit the park on 9 March to lay flowers at the monument to national poet Taras Shevchenko in commemoration of poet's birthday. Yuriy Lutsenko, a leader of the "Ukraine Without Kuchma" protests, said some 1,000 people will come to the park on 9 March to prevent Kuchma from approaching the monument. "Shevchenko is a sacred person for our nation, and it is amoral for President Kuchma to come here," Reuters quoted one student as saying. JM

INTERNATIONAL SLEUTHS TO LOOK FOR UKRAINIAN DEFECTOR?

President Kuchma told reporters from Poland's PAP news agency in Kyiv on 5 March that Ukraine has requested help from Western private detective agencies in investigating the bugging scandal provoked by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko, Interfax reported. Kuchma added that international detectives are working independently from Ukrainian investigators. Referring to Melnychenko, Kuchma said: "Some say he is a hero, but the majority of people say he is a traitor, and I agree with them. For me, he is not a human at all." JM

KUCHMA UNWILLING TO SPEAK WITH OPPOSITION...

The Ukrainian president told Polish journalists on 5 March that he will not talk with the opposition that wants his dismissal. "I was elected by 16 million people, not by 3,000 or 5,000," Interfax quoted him as saying. Kuchma claimed that there is no crisis in Ukraine, adding that the authorities should show that "they are the authorities" and prevent Ukraine from sliding into anarchy. According to Kuchma, people in the provinces do not understand what is currently taking place in Kyiv. JM

...AND TO OUST YUSHCHENKO'S CABINET

Kuchma also said he is not going to dismiss the cabinet of Viktor Yushchenko. He noted, however, that the government should be efficient and depend more on the parliamentary majority. According to Kuchma, current relations between the government and the parliamentary majority are not developing well. Kuchma said Yushchenko should cooperate with all caucuses in the majority, not only with those Yushchenko "likes." JM

UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL, LAWMAKERS TRADE CORRUPTION CHARGES

Greens Party leader Vitaliy Kononov on 5 March said after his meeting with Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko that the latter will shortly publicize a list of lawmakers who "took money" from former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported. The same day, lawmaker Oleksandr Turchynov from the Fatherland Party parliamentary caucus accused the Prosecutor-General's Office of cooperation with "international swindlers" and of creating a "criminal system [to run] an international racket," Interfax reported. Turchynov said the parliamentary Budgetary Committee he heads has materials proving "the leadership" of the Prosecutor-General's Office was involved in "corruption, abuse of power, and actions inflicting damage on the national economy and security." JM

ESTONIAN SUPREME COURT RULES PROVISION OF ALIENS ACT UNCONSTITUTIONAL

The court declared on 5 March that the article of the Aliens Act that limits the granting of residence permits to former KGB officials is unconstitutional, BNS reported. The section of the law allowing no exemptions to the ban of issuing or extending residence permits to aliens suspected of having acted, or acting against, the Estonian state or its security contradicted the constitution. The Supreme Court pointed out that the convention on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms bans collective forced expulsion of foreigners. Refusal to issue a residence permit, which results in an obligation to leave the country, may infringe on some of the fundamental rights and freedoms that the constitution protects. The amendments to the Aliens Act, which went into force on 1 October 1999, deprived the executive power of the possibility to take into account individual cases. The court noted the 13 September 2000 recommendations of the Council of Europe's Ministers Committee that decisions on expelling an immigrant should take into account an evaluation of their danger to the state, the duration of their stay in the country, and the effects of the expulsion on their family members. SG

LARGE TURNOUT EXPECTED FOR LATVIAN LOCAL ELECTIONS

A poll of 1,037 residents aged 18 to 74 by the SKDS sociological research center in February indicated that 43.5 percent of respondents "will definitely" and 36.8 percent "will most likely" take part in municipal elections on 11 March, LETA reported on 5 March. Some 7.1 percent are not sure if they will participate, 6.9 percent said that "they may skip the elections," and 5.6 percent had decided not to participate. Citizens aged 18-24 indicated the least interest in voting, with 11.7 percent saying that they will definitely not do so. Almost one-third of respondents (31.5 percent) said that they had not spent any time analyzing the campaign promises of the parties and candidates, while 42.5 percent spent only a little time doing so. SG

LITHUANIAN ARMY COMMANDER PRESENTS DEFENSE CONCEPT TO NATO

Brigade-General Jonas Kronkaitis told the NATO Political-Military Steering Committee in Brussels on 5 March that Lithuania's defense policy objective is to prepare the public for universal defense and to integrate the country with Western security and defense structures, BNS reported. He declared that if dangers arose, Lithuania would defend itself "with or without the help of our friends." Kronkaitis asserted that Lithuania will allocate the funds required to become a member of NATO, pledging that its defense spending will be increased to 2 percent of GDP in 2002, and will share in the Alliance's responsibilities and obligations in the future. The commander reviewed the country's self-defense capabilities, contribution to NATO's collective security, the strength of national volunteer forces and the active reserves, as well as national defense priorities. He also noted that a defense infrastructure is being created, the living conditions of the soldiers have been improved greatly, and the armaments modernized. SG

POLISH AUTHORITIES TO APOLOGIZE FOR KILLING OF JEWS...

President Aleksander Kwasniewski told Polish Television on 5 March he will apologize for the killing of Jews in Jedwabne in 1941 by their Christian neighbors. "This should be done by the authorities of the Polish Republic. The anniversary, on 10 July, is a good day, and Jedwabne, because of the tragedy that took place there, is a proper place for that," Kwasniewski said. A recent book by New York researcher Jan Gross, quoting the account of an eyewitness, blames Poles from the town of Jedwabne, in northeastern Poland, for herding some 1,600 local Jews into a barn and burning them shortly after Nazi Germany's aggression against the USSR (see also "RFE/RL's Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 6 March 2001). JM

...WHILE TOWNSPEOPLE FEEL UNJUSTLY WRONGED

Meanwhile, residents of Jedwabne have prepared an open letter to authorities of the Polish Republic with a protest against what they describe as besmirching the reputation of the town, Polish Radio reported the same day. The authors of the letter write that they strongly condemn those of their compatriots who took part in the incident, but protest against extending the guilt to all the residents of Jedwabne. Last week, following a suggestion of Solidarity Electoral Action lawmaker Michal Tomasz Kaminski, some Jedwabne residents formed a group to defend the reputation of the town. "The situation calls for self-defense. The Germans killed Jedwabne Jews and unquestionably some Poles participated. But all of Jedwabne is being spat on and the entire country is being put on trial," Reuters quoted Kaminski as saying. JM

CZECH PREMIER IN SPAIN

Spanish Premier Jose Maria Aznar on 5 March told journalists after talks with his Czech counterpart Milos Zeman that his country "unconditionally supports EU enlargement" and will act to ensure that the Czech Republic "is among the first new EU members" when the enlargement takes place. In an interview with the daily "El Pais," Zeman said Prague intends to complete accession talks in 2002 and hopes to close all chapters in the negotiations now under way during Spain's EU presidency in the first half of next year, CTK reported. Zeman also called on Spanish companies to participate in the privatization process in his country, and met with King Juan Carlos, who expressed support for Czech EU membership. MS

CZECH FAR-RIGHT HEADING TOWARD UNIFICATION...

Jan Kopal, secretary of the far-right Patriotic Republican Party (VSR) was elected leader of the emerging National Social Bloc (NSB) on 3 March at a meeting in Prague of far-right formations, CTK reported on 6 March. The meeting was marred by clashes between members of parties heading toward unification and anarchists protesting against it. Apart from the VSR, the NSB also includes the National Alliance, the National Resistance and other extremist organizations. CTK cited Kopal as saying members of the Czech ethnic majority are discriminated against in the Czech Republic, and that the NSB opposes EU and NATO membership. According to Kopal, the NSB has 2,000 members. Among its founders is Vladimir Skoupy, leader of the National Alliance, who in June 2000 received a one-year suspended sentence for support of a movement aimed at racial defamation, Holocaust denial, and suppressing democratic rights. MS

...BENEFITING FROM OWN PUBLICATION

The NSB will also be able to disseminate its views in the media, as Kopal was named editor in chief of the tabloid "Spigl" by the daily's new owners, the Brisk Company, according to a report published by "Pravo" on 6 March. Kopal said "Spigl" will "by no means be a party paper" but "an independent publication that will [not only] inform public opinion about our party's views, but also about the views of other political formations, if those formations are interested in doing so." MS

STRUGGLE AHEAD FOR FREEDOM UNION LEADERSHIP?

In an interview with the daily "Pravo" on 5 March, Freedom Union Deputy Chairman Vladimir Mlynar said it is "still an open question" whether he will challenge Karel Kuehnl for the post of party chairman at the national conference scheduled for autumn. Mlynar, who was once defeated by Kuehnl for the post, added that deputy "Ivan Pilip is a man with strong authority in the party." Pilip has recently been released from a three-week detention in Cuba. Speculation about the possibility of Kuehnl's replacement emerged after his failure to be elected leader of the Four Party Coalition. Mlynar also said he favors a "gradual integration" of the four coalition members into a single formation, but a merger would be "premature." He said the coalition's members should strive to "form a Czech version of the German CDU/CSU" alliance in the next two years. MS

CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS TO END BOYCOTT OF COMMUNISTS?

According to a "Pravo" report on 5 March, the ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) is considering repealing a 1995 decision to ban any ties with the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM), dpa reported. The move is likely to be supported by Foreign Minister Jan Kavan and was prompted by growing doubts concerning the continuation of the CSSD-Civic Democratic Party "opposition agreement." Other CSSD leaders, among them Interior Minister Stanislav Gross, oppose ending the boycott of the KSCM. Also opposed, according to the weekly "Respekt," is popular CSSD politician Petra Buzkova, who describes her own moderate center-left views and anti-communist orientation as being for the CSSD left-wing "what a red rag is to a bull." Buzkova, who resigned in 2000 as CSSD deputy chairwoman in protest against the "opposition agreement," was elected last week chairwoman of the CSSD Prague local branch. MS

VERHEUGEN SEES CHANCES FOR SLOVAKIA TO CLOSE GAP

Guenter Verheugen, EU commissioner in charge of enlargement, said in Brussels on 5 March that Slovakia "has a considerable chance" to catch up with the other three members of the Visegrad Four group and be among the first to be admitted to an enlarged EU, CTK reported. At a meeting of the EU-Slovak parliamentary group, Verheugen said the principles approved at the Nice EU summit last year allow for closing the gap on the basis of "individual performance." He refused to set a precise date for accession of new members, saying only that the EU had decided admissions would occur "between 1 January 2003 and the beginning of 2004." At this particular point in time, he said, "not a single candidate fulfills the admission criteria" established in Copenhagen in 1993. MS

SLOVAK CIVIL SERVICE TO UNDERGO REFORM

The government on 5 March approved draft bills on civic and public services, along with a new labor code. The bills must be approved by parliament and are part of the package of reforms Slovakia is working to implement in preparation for EU accession, CTK reported. The bill on the civic service stipulates that those currently employed will have to undergo training and take tests to establish whether they are suited to serve in those positions. Civil servants will also be assessed once a year, and promotions and demotions based on performance evaluations will be made possible. Under the bill, employees who receive two negative evaluations could be dismissed. MS

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT RECOGNIZES NEW SMALLHOLDER GROUP LEADER

Parliamentary speaker Janos Ader on 5 March announced he has decided to recognize Peter Szentgyorgyvolgyi as the new leader of the Independent Smallholders' Party's (FKGP) parliamentary group. Szentgyorgyvolgyi was elected to the post following a controversial meeting convened by FKGP Chairman Jozsef Torgyan, in which he removed Attila Bank, one of Torgyan's opponents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2001), from that position. Bank said he "acknowledges Ader's decision" but "does not agree with it." MSZ

BRITISH EDITOR EXPLAINS REPORT ON HUNGARIAN ROMA EMIGRATION

Alex Standish, editor of the British "Jane's Intelligence Digest" on 5 March insisted that Russia's secret service is attempting to manipulate countries in the Soviet Union's former sphere of influence. The periodical claimed the emigration of Roma from the Hungarian village of Zamoly to France was supported by the Russian secret service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2001). Standish told "Magyar Hirlap" that the periodical's staff members base their reports on "intelligence and counterintelligence sources," and ruled out any connection between the article and a recent visit to the U.K. by Hungarian Secret Services Minister Ervin Demeter. Standish said the timing of the Roma's departure, as well their behavior drew attention to "many ambiguous circumstances." MSZ




FIGHTING ON KOSOVAR BORDER SUBSIDES AS NATO, MACEDONIAN TROOPS CLAMP DOWN

Many ethnic Albanian rebels fighting Macedonian security forces reportedly retreated from their stronghold in the town of Tanusevci on 5 March as Macedonian troops surrounded the area and NATO-led KFOR troops increased their presence in the adjoining region in Kosova, Reuters reported. U.S. Major James Marshal, a spokesman for KFOR, said: "we saw a lot of men in black uniforms crossing into Kosovo, entering buildings, changing out of their uniforms, leaving their weapons, and coming to Kosovo in civilian clothes." Marshal said there are some 70-150 men involved in the fighting group, but did not say how many had withdrawn. He said KFOR troops will "disarm them and detain them and investigate each case individually." Marshal said the men had machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and light weapons. He added that KFOR suspects that there are "caches of weapons and uniforms inside Kosovo." No casualties were reported on 5 March. PB

NATO REASSURES MACEDONIA ON MEASURES TO END CONFLICT

Daniel Speckhard, deputy assistant to NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, held talks in Skopje on 5 March with Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski and other government officials, AP reported. Speckhard said he gave assurances to Trajkovski that NATO will search for arm caches in the area around the Kosovar town of Debelde. Speckhard said U.S. peacekeepers in KFOR sent armored vehicles, two Apache helicopters, and two dozen humvees to the Debelde area on 5 March. The border town is only a few hundred meters from the rebel held town of Tanusevci, scene of most of the fighting. Trajkovski's foreign policy adviser was quoted as saying: "Finally KFOR [has] started to function as we asked, and we got a promise that they will intensify their activity." PB

ALBANIA CONDEMNS INSURGENTS, SUPPORTS TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY

Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta on 6 March condemned attacks by ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, saying that "they will become isolated and lose everyone's support," Reuters reported. Meta, on a visit to France, told the daily "Le Figaro" that "we are not in favor of any border changes and we are absolutely against a resumption of violence." In Brussels, Javier Solana, the EU's foreign and security policy chief, said the rebel fighters "should realize that they are doing serious damage to the image and interests of ethnic Albanians in the whole of Southeastern Europe." He called on ethnic Albanian leaders to "clearly distance themselves from these acts of violence." The U.S. State Department said it "supports the Macedonian government's measured response to these criminal acts, and we will continue to watch the situation very carefully." PB

KOSTUNICA WANTS WEST TO END FOCUS ON EXTRADITION OF SUSPECTED WAR CRIMINALS...

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica on 5 March criticized the West for focusing on the extradition of former President Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague instead of stopping violence by ethnic Albanians in Kosovar border areas, AP reported. Kostunica said in Banja Luka that KFOR "did not pay enough attention to its basic task...to bring prosperity and peace to the people living in Kosovo." He said that KFOR's failure to bring security within Kosova has led to allowing "terrorism to spill over from Kosovo to Macedonia and the south of Serbia." Kostunica added that having Milosevic stand trial in Holland is "not a matter of life and death for us." PB

...WHILE SERBIAN JUSTICE MINISTER SAYS WAR CRIMES SUSPECT MAY SURRENDER

Vladan Batic said on 5 March that he expects at least one indictee for war crimes to surrender to the The Hague tribunal in order to relieve pressure by the international community on Serbia, Reuters reported. Batic said that Yugoslavia "cannot ignore demands by the international community...I am afraid that continuing to ignore [the tribunal] would cost us dearly." Citing the example of former Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic -- who voluntarily flew to The Hague in January -- Batic said that he expects "one of those indicted by the tribunal will realize that citizens of Serbia should not be their hostages and...will voluntarily go there." Batic said he blames Montenegro's Socialist People's Party, an ally of former President Milosevic, for delaying the adoption of key legislation that would allow Belgrade to extradite its citizens to The Hague. PB

KOSTUNICA: YUGOSLAVIA, REPUBLIKA SRPSKA AGREEMENT 'VALID'

Yugoslav President Kostunica said the agreement on special relations signed between Yugoslavia and the Bosnian-Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina will help regional stability, dpa reported 6 March. The two signed the accord in Banja Luka the previous day. He added that the agreement was prepared in cooperation with High Representative for Bosnia Wolfgang Petritsch. "I stress that because there were speculations that the document is invalid. But it is valid throughout," he said. DW

MESIC CALLS YUGO-SRPSKA AGREEMENT A CONTINUATION OF GREATER SERBIA

Croatian President Stipe Mesic said the agreement on special relations signed between Yugoslavia and Srpska Republika on 5 March is a continuation of the idea of a Greater Serbia, dpa reported. Speaking on Croatian radio, Mesic said: "with the latest move, Yugoslav President Kostunica has only additionally complicated the situation in Bosnia." He added that the agreement is a continuation of a similar agreement signed between Croatia and the Croat-Muslim Federation in Bosnia under the rule of former Croatian President Franjo Tudjman. DW

CROATIAN PRIME MINISTER CONDEMNS BOSNIAN CROAT DECLARATION

Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan condemned the declaration of self-rule made by Bosnian Croats at the National Assembly held on 3 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2001), Reuters reported. "I voice my regret and condemnation of the decisions taken in Mostar. They will only make any future talks much harder," he said. He added that, while the Croatian government no longer makes political decisions for the Bosnian Croats, "stability in Bosnia is [in] our national interest." DW

CROATIAN COURT INDICTS NORAC FOR WAR CRIMES

Retired General Mirko Norac was formally charged in Croatia of war crimes in connection with killings of Serb civilians in Gospic in 1991, news services reported on 5 March. Norac, his war-time aide, and three others face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Mirko Condic, head of the largest veterans' association, condemned the charges as "shameful and humiliating" and said veterans have collected almost 300,000 signatures on a petition for amnestying Croatian fighters in the war, as Serbs were recently amnestied. DW

STANDARD&POOR'S IMPROVES ROMANIA'S RATING

The government on 5 March welcomed the decision of the Standard&Poor's international rating agency to improve Romania's rating for servicing its external and internal debt and said the decision reflects "the growing confidence" of financial circles in the Romanian reform program, Mediafax reported. Standard&Poor's modified Romania's rating from "stable" to "positive" while maintaining Romania's ratings of "B-minus" for servicing its long-term hard currency external debt; "B" for servicing internal debt in national currency; "C" for short-term hard currency external debt; and "C" for servicing short-term debt in national currency. Standard&Poor's said Romania still needs to improve relations with the IMF and the World Bank, for which purpose it must make progress in privatization, restructuring, reducing the inflation rate, and collecting budget arrears. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER ADAMANT ON HUNGARIAN VISITS

Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 5 March said Romania welcomes visits by Hungarian officials, but the practice established under the previous Romanian government, whereby officials visited Transylvania without prior coordination with Romanian authorities, "must be immediately ended." He said Hungarian officials visiting Transylvania must "strictly respect protocol rules" and understand that "they are not visiting no-man's-land." Nastase acknowledged that Hungarian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth visited Romania officially last month, but remarked that the official visit was followed by one to the Harghita and Covasna counties that the government was not informed about. In addition, the government was not informed about Justice Minister Ibolya David's recent visit to Arad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2001). MS

FLOODS HIT TRANSYLVANIA

Flooding continues in several Transylvanian regions, Romanian Radio reported on 6 March. No victims have been reported, but hundreds had to be rescued by civil defense services and many households are without electricity and water. The flooding began one day earlier, triggered by melting snow and heavy rains. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN POLITICAL PRISONERS PROTEST SECURITATE-LINKED APPOINTMENT

In an open letter addressed to President Ion Iliescu, the Association of Former Political Prisoners (AFDRP) on 5 March protested the recent appointment of Ristea Priboi as chairman of the parliamentary commission overseeing the activity of the Foreign Intelligence Service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2001). The AFDRP demands in the letter that an inquiry be launched into Priboi's activity as a high official in the Securitate's Foreign Intelligence Directorate. It also demands "clarification" of the role played by Priboi in activities directed against the then-Munich-based RFE and "the elucidation of the suspicious deaths" of RFE Romanian Service directors Noel Bernard and Vlad Georgescu in the 1980s. General Ion Mihai Pacepa, who defected to the United States, wrote that Bernard and Georgescu, who died of cancer, had been irradiated by agents of the communist secret police. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER 'TAKES NOTE' OF MOLDOVA'S MOSCOW ORIENTATION

In an interview with the private Pro TV channel on 5 March, Premier Nastase said that in the wake of the recent elections in Moldova, Romania "takes note of the geopolitical change on its Eastern border and the creation there of a Moscow-oriented entity," Mediafax reported on the next day. The new Moldovan rulers, Nastase said, are known for their "clear anti-Romanian positions" and the pro-Romanian forces in Moldova have been transformed by the electoral outcome into "strictly decorative" formations in the parliament (see also End Note). MS

PUTIN CONGRATULATES VORONIN ON MOLDOVAN ELECTORAL VICTORY

Russian President Vladimir Putin phoned Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) leader Vladimir Voronin on 3 March to congratulate him on the PCM victory in the 25 February parliamentary elections, Flux reported. The PCM parliamentary group's press service said Putin "reconfirmed his readiness to enlarge Russian-Moldovan cooperation based on mutual respect and mutual interest." MS

VORONIN TO 'HURRY SLOWLY' ON ECONOMIC REFORMS

Voronin on 5 March told German Ambassador Michael Zickerick that he sees "no serious obstacles" hindering the "continuation of reforms," but added that the PCM, which won the recent elections, will "act in line with the Latin recommendation to 'hurry slowly,'" Flux reported. Voronin discussed the composition of the envisaged new cabinet with Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis on 3 March but, according to Flux, no agreement has been reached. "Unofficial sources" cited by the agency say the most likely candidates for the premiership are Moldovan Ambassador to Moscow Valeriu Bobutac, and outgoing Foreign Minister Nicolae Cernomaz. Voronin discussed with leaders on 5 March the possibility of participation by extraparliamentary center-left formations in the cabinet, and later said he will also meet with leaders of extraparliamentary center-right parties for the same purpose. MS

STURZA RESIGNS AS MOLDOVAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY DEPUTY CHAIRMAN

Former Premier Ion Sturza, who headed the Democratic Party lists in the February elections, on 5 March resigned as deputy chairman of that party at a meeting of its National Board, Infotag reported. Sturza severely criticized the performance of party leader Dumitru Diacov and said the leadership is responsible for the party's "miserable performance" and its failure to pass the 6 percent electoral hurdle. He proposed that the party hold an extraordinary congress in April to discuss the reasons for the debacle, but the proposal was rejected. Also on 5 March, Diacov refuted rumors that he is negotiating with Voronin over his own appointment as foreign minister in the new cabinet. MS

GAZPROM TO CONTINUE DELIVERIES TO MOLDOVA

Premier Braghis on 5 March said Russian gas giant Gazprom has agreed to cancel a recent threat to stop gas deliveries and is willing to discuss a rescheduling of Moldovan debt payments, ITAR-TASS reported. Braghis said the Russian concern warned in late February it would stop deliveries because Moldova has covered only 40 percent of its $12 million debt for deliveries in 2001. He said he will submit his rescheduling proposals later this week. According to Gazprom, the total Moldovan gas debt to Russia since the country became independent is $800 million, including the costs for deliveries to the Transdniester region. MS

BULGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS 'NO' TO TROOPS FOR MACEDONIA...

Defense Minister Boiko Noev on 5 March said there is "no reason to send Bulgarian armed forces to Macedonia," and added that such troops can be sent there only as part of an international force authorized by the UN, Reuters and AP reported. Noev said President Petar Stoyanov's initiative (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2001) must be interpreted as "a declaration of moral and political support for the Macedonian government" but "should not be interpreted as an official proposal." Only the government, Noev said, can propose dispatching Bulgarian troops abroad and the cabinet "has no such intention, because for the moment there is no need for that." Speaking in Brussels, Stoyanov said his initiative came at the request of Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski. MS

...WHILE NATO SAYS THE MATTER IS A 'BILATERAL ISSUE'

NATO Deputy Secretary General Sergio Balanzino said after talks with Stoyanov that the Bulgarian offer is "a matter for the two countries to decide -- one proposing it and one accepting the proposal." As far as NATO is concerned, he said "whatever can strengthen the position of the FYROM [Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia] is welcome," an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels reported. MS

BULGARIA REVOKES NATIONAL CARRIER LICENSE

The Bulgarian government on 5 March revoked the aviation license of national carrier Balkan Airlines ahead of a Sofia court decision on whether to declare the debt-ridden company bankrupt, BTA and AP reported. Deputy Transport Minister Apik Garabedyan said the move should have been made three weeks earlier, when the Israeli-owned company suspended flights, but was delayed to reroute passengers who had been stranded to other airlines. MS




MOLDOVA'S ELECTIONS REDRAWING REGIONAL MAP?


By Michael Shafir

Instead of erecting statues of Marshal Ion Antonescu, Romania should perhaps consider erecting a statue to Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) leader Vladimir Voronin. For while celebrating the memory of the man who led Romania into its World War II debacle and was executed as a war criminal can only diminish Bucharest's (anyhow meager) chances of being admitted to an expanded NATO in 2002, nobody has contributed more than Voronin to the sudden improvement of those prospects. With the stroke of a ballot, the PCM's victory in the 25 February Moldovan elections may be redrawing the map of the region.

First, the elections may bring Russia back to Romania's eastern border, and this may be a powerful argument for NATO to conclude that it should contain Russia at that very edge. Voronin has repeatedly declared that he wants Moldova to join the Russia-Belarus Union and there is no reason to doubt his word. He would, of course, do it "democratically" -- that is to say, submitting the proposal to a referendum. In a similarly democratic manner, the PCM leader apparently intends to ask voters to back granting the Russian language the official status of a second state language, alongside "Moldovan." The electoral outcome, in fact, allows Voronin to do as he pleases in the parliament, and passing a referendum law should be the least of his worries. His PMC, which won the backing of 50.7 percent of the electorate and consequently controls 71 out of the 101 seats in the parliament, is not only able to dictate the composition of the cabinet or have the required three-fifths majority (61 seats) needed to elect outgoing President Petru Lucinschi's successor, but may even amend the constitution as it pleases. To do so, the PCM needs 68 votes, three less than it commands after the parliamentary poll.

Viewed from this perspective, the PCM's Central Committee decision of 3 March to nominate Voronin as its presidential candidate must be food for thought. True, the PCM leader said on several occasions that he does not intend to change the recently adopted parliamentary system and criticized some former Soviet Central Asian republics for allowing their presidential system to develop into a "personality cult." But it is more than significant that Belarus, whose rather morganatic marriage with Russia Voronin wants to become the third partner in, was never among those countries he saw fit to criticize. It would be rather surprising if the former KGB head in Moldova would opt for a ceremonial presidential role after his astounding victory. Alyaksander Lukashenka, in any case, said he would accept Moldova in the union "with heart and soul."

Second, the electoral impact will redraw the regional map with regard to the Transdniester conflict. Voronin has clearly stated that relations with Russia are "strategic" for his party and that the Russian troops stationed in the breakaway republic cannot, and should not, leave before their arsenal has been evacuated. Those troops, he said, do nothing there but guard munitions. This shows that Voronin has a short memory at best. Some Moldovan and foreign observers are wary that Voronin might well invite the Russians to guard, and guard, and endlessly guard, perhaps by officially offering Moscow a military base on "sovereign" Moldovan territory. Should this supposition materialize, there is reason to believe, as Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev apparently does, that the PCM victory will indeed bring a solution to the conflict. After all, the separatist authorities in Tiraspol would no longer be needed by Moscow if the invitation comes from the Moldovan president himself. This explains why the Supreme Soviet chairman in Tiraspol, Grigorii Marakutsa, was obviously less than thrilled with the electoral results, whereas the head of the Russian state commission on the Transdniester region conflict, Yevgenii Primakov, was hardly able to conceal his satisfaction. Seleznev, in any case, went one step further, seeing in the Moldovan electoral outcome a prelude to Ukraine's rejoining the former Soviet family.

A third reason for worry, and this time around not only for NATO but for the EU as well, is the course of the reforms in Moldova, which never made much progress anyhow. Voronin is closer in his view of reform to his Russian Communist counterpart than he is to any other leader. Like Gennadii Zyuganov, Voronin considers the economic reforms to have been "genocidal" and to have served only the interests of the West and its "Moldovan lackeys." Needless to say, it was not the reforms but their absence which led Moldova to where it stands today. As in neighboring Romania, an unsophisticated electorate and a corrupt political leadership paved the way for the PCM's victory. This is what made some Russians (for example the daily "Segodnya" on 27 February) wonder whether Moldova's inclusion into the Russia-Belarus Union would not compound Russia's own debt problems, while "Izvestiya" on the same day wrote that the union would bring a "beggar-country" into an alliance of "two states that are even poorer."

Finally, whether Voronin, a reputed anti-Romanian, can find a common language with Bucharest just on the grounds of opposition to reforms, is, again, doubtful. First, despite Romanian President Ion Iliescu's rather ambiguous views on what reforms are all about, Bucharest is likely to be forced into pursuing that course. While Iliescu's reaction to the Moldovan electoral outcome was restrained, he still spoke of "special and privileged relations" based on the two states' "identity of language, culture, traditions, and historic roots." But unlike his predecessors, Mircea Snegur and Lucinschi, a future President Vladimir Voronin is likely to reject this approach. One of his first electoral pronouncements was to attack "the idea of two Romanian states."

Maps are obviously being redrawn, and there is as yet no way to tell whether the Moldovan electoral outcome is a prelude to a drastic rethinking of both ideological and actual boundaries. It is also too early to tell who, besides those directly affected, will become entangled. Some may say this is hardly novel for the region. And they may be right.


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