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Newsline - March 14, 2001




'UNITY' WON'T VOTE FOR NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION...

A meeting of the pro-Kremlin "Unity" party on 13 March decided not to support the Communist-proffered no-confidence motion on Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and his government scheduled to be taken up by the Duma on 14 March, Russian agencies reported. This reverses the position the group took a week ago, and party leaders attempted to explain themselves. Duma faction leader Boris Gryzlov said that "Unity" by its maneuvers has forced the Communists to expose themselves and has made the Russian political situation "predictable," Interfax reported. "If it hadn't been for our declarations, SPS [Union of Rightist Forces], Yabloko, and OVR [Fatherland-All Russia] would have used this situation for attacks on the government and for games designed to lower [its] authority," Gryzlov continued. But many observers continued to criticize Unity for making itself look ridiculous through its on-again, off-again position. Writing in "Parlamentskaya gazeta" on 13 March, OVR leader Yevgenii Primakov suggested that parts of Unity had been used to promote anti-Putin positions. But it was also reported by several other media outlets that the Kremlin's expression of opposition to the vote had led "Unity" to reverse course. PG

...MAKING ITS DEFEAT ALMOST CERTAIN...

"Unity"'s decision not to vote on the measure almost certainly guarantees that the no-confidence motion will fail to garner more than 130-150 votes, far fewer than the 226 needed to carry, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 March. Those planning to vote for the motion include the Communists (86 deputies, except for speaker Gennadii Seleznev), the Agrarian Industrial group (41), and 10 to 20 from other groups. Groups that have announced they will vote against the motion include SPS (33), Yabloko (19), and People's Deputy (62). Not planning to participate in the voting are Unity (84), Fatherland-All Russia (45), and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (14), according to the news service, although it added that some individual members of all of these groups might vote otherwise. Despite this, the Communists pledged to press ahead and to resubmit their motion should it not be taken up on 14 March, Interfax reported. PG

...BUT OPENING MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE FUTURE

As it became ever clearer that the no-confidence motion is likely to fail, ever more politicians and commentators began to look beyond the vote to the question of what it will mean. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted on 13 March that the vote did nothing to end what it called "the incompetence and helplessness" of the government. Many media outlets suggested that despite Unity's embarrassment, the vote may allow its members to get additional committee chairmanships in the Duma at the expense of the Communists. Other analysts, including Oleg Odnokolenko in the 13 March "Segodnya ," said that the no-confidence fiasco might lead President Vladimir Putin to decide to take more active control of the government, a step that might prove risky because of the responsibilities he would assume. And "Kommersant-Daily" noted on 13 March that once again at a key moment in the life of the country, President Putin has decided to go on vacation. PG

'FEDERATION' GROUP MAY URGE GOVERNORS TO WITHDRAW EARLY FROM FEDERATION COUNCIL

An unnamed member of the pro-Kremlin "Federation" group in the Federation Council told Interfax on 13 March that the group may ask governors whose terms run out only in January 2002 to give up their seats early in order to allow the Council to function fully in its new form. On 12 March, "Federation" had its first formal meeting and announced that 92 members of the upper house of the parliament have declared their allegiance to it, the news agency said. PG

GAZPROM PLANS TO CLOSE 'SEGODNYA'

Gazprom-Media and the Seven Days publishing house have said they will close the independent daily newspaper "Segodnya" by 1 May, Russian and Western agencies reported on 13 March. Dmitrii Ostalskii, a spokesman for embattled Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinsky, told AP that "the move against 'Segodnya' shows what would happen to NTV if Gazprom takes control," adding that "Gazprom wants its media to be either apolitical or loyal to the government." Ostalsky told Interfax the same day that he hopes for "a civilized divorce" which would allow Media-MOST to retain and keep open "Segodnya." In other media moves, NTV general director Yevgenii Kiselev said that his station is profitable and may earn $10-15 million in 2001, Interfax reported. That should make it attractive for investors, he said. PG

SECURITY COUNCIL SECRETARY SEEKS BUSH-PUTIN SUMMIT

Russian Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov departed on 13 March for a three-day visit to Washington to meet with senior American officials and also to press for a summit meeting between the leaders of the two countries, Russian agencies reported. Ivanov said before leaving that he will do "the maximum possible in order for Russian-American relations to be stable and pragmatic," Interfax reported. Meanwhile, however, a commentary in "Kontinent," No. 10, suggested that currently "frozen" relations with the United States are the main problem of Russian foreign policy and reflect Moscow's failure to "overcome the syndrome of a superpower." PG

U.S. SENATOR TARGETS LUKOIL

Senator Jesse Helms, chairman of the United States Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations, in a letter sent on 12 March to Arthur Levitt, Chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), asked the SEC to scrutinize closely the application of the Russian energy company LUKoil, which is seeking to sell shares in the form of ADRs (American Deposit Receipts) on the New York Stock Exchange. Helms voiced his concern over "reports of inappropriate and roguish conduct by LUKoil in Russia and other markets that have adversely and unjustly affected the interests of American firms." As an example, Helms letter cites LUKoil's conduct in Lithuania, where an oil refinery operated by the U.S.-based Williams International has suffered massive losses because of cutoffs in Russian crude oil supplies. The letter says, "In short, LUKoil is using its control over the pipeline to essentially blackmail the refinery and Lithuania itself." AB

MOSCOW REJECTS U.S. CRITICISM OF IRAN TIES

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 13 March that "relations between Russia and Iran are not directed against third countries," ITAR-TASS reported. "On the contrary," he said, "they are meant to stabilize the situation in the region where our countries cooperate." And he criticized what he said are deliberate attempts "to cast Iran and Russia in a bad light." Ivanov's comments came on the second day of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's visit to Russia, a visit that has already resulted in arms and nuclear equipment deals that have been criticized by the U.S. Department of State. PG

BORODIN HOSPITALIZATION SPARKS MOSCOW PROTEST

Russia-Belarus Union Secretary of State Pavel Borodin, now in detention in New York on a Swiss extradition request, has been hospitalized after suffering chest pains, Russian and Western agencies reported on 13 March. Doctors said, however, that he had not suffered a heart attack as first reported. But the Russian Foreign Ministry sharply criticized American officials for moving Borodin to a hospital without first informing them. Meanwhile, "Segodnya" reported on 13 March that Swiss prosecutors remain unsatisfied with the materials Moscow has provided them on the Borodin case. And in another Borodin-related development, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the same day that a new Borodin website has been set up at pavelborodin.ru. Visitors to the site see a photograph of the former Kremlin official and a quotation from him to the effect that "My friends will never betray me." PG

MOSCOW BLASTS ISRAEL FOR BLOCKADING PALESTINIAN AREAS

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 13 March sharply criticized Israel for using blockades to control the movement of Palestinians, Russian agencies reported. "The intensifying isolation of the territories is leading to escalating tension in Palestinian-Israeli relations," the ministry said, "and is worsening an already difficult economic situation." It called for restraint on both sides. PG

MOSCOW WELCOMES NATO-YUGOSLAV BUFFER ACCORD

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 13 March praising a deal between NATO-led KFOR forces and Belgrade to allow Serb forces into portions of the security zone along the border with Kosova, Russian agencies reported. The ministry said that "the decision to admit Yugoslav army and police units into the security zone de facto acknowledges that ensuring solid regional security is impossible without the direct participation of the Yugoslav authorities -- something we have remarked on many occasions." PG

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT CHANGES BANKRUPTCY RULES

The Constitutional Court has declared two parts of the Russian bankruptcy law unconstitutional, "Vremya MN" reported on 13 March. The changes the court require will give additional protection to entrepreneurs who will be able to seek bankruptcy protection without the immediate threat that their companies will be liquidated and passed into the hands of others, "Izvestiya" said in a commentary on the decision published on the same day. Meanwhile, Interfax reported the same day that lawyer Mikhail Barshchevskii has been named as the presidential representative to the Constitutional Court. PG

CONFLICTING REPORTS ON INVESTMENT CLIMATE

A poll of 600 Russian business executives found that nine out of 10 of them rely on reinvested profits as the major source for financing expansion, "The Moscow Times" reported on 13 March. But most of those surveyed said that the investment climate is improving and that they expect to be able to attract additional resources for their firms. On the same day, Interfax reported that the Communications Ministry does not intend to place a percentage limit on the participation of foreign owners in companies in that sector. But London's "Financial Times" reported that Western investors are disappointed by the absence of progress in economic reforms in Russia. Most of the investors surveyed said that Russia has failed to take advantage of its earnings from oil sales to move ahead with reform. And the United Nations Development Program released a report saying that Russia has yet to develop an economy based on market relations, AFP reported on 12 March. PG

FIRST RUSSIAN CONVICTION FOR MONEY-LAUNDERING

Yurii Shevchenko, the director of the local branch of the Industrial Insurance company in Nizhnii Novgorod, became the first Russian citizen to be convicted for money-laundering, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 13 March. PG

AUDIT CHAMBER HEAD ENUMERATES ITS SUCCESSES

Even as he dismissed suggestions that he might be in line to serve as a future prime minister, Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin said that his organization has been able to return to the treasury 25 billion rubles ($900 million) over the past five years, Interfax reported on 13 March. He added that his officials identified 250 billion rubles of budget funds that had been used for purposes other than those for which they were intended over the same period. PG

WORLD BANK SAYS RUSSIA DOESN'T NEED A LOAN NOW

Johannes Linn, the World Bank vice president for Europe and Central Asia, told Reuters on 13 March that Russia does not now have any great need for a new international loan. "If the government is willing to move forward without a loan, so much the better," he said. "But if they ultimately ask for a loan," Linn said, "we would be ready to consider it provided the IMF program is on track and provided there is enough progress in terms of reforms." PG

MOSCOW READY TO LOAN MONEY TO BELARUS

First Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Ignatev told Prime-TASS on 13 March that in the next few weeks Moscow is prepared to offer a loan tranche to Minsk in the amount of $30 million as soon as Belarus meets Russian conditions for the money. Ignatev said that Minsk has some minor indebtedness to Moscow that must be cleared up. PG

RUSSIA PLANS FLOATING NUCLEAR POWER STATION

To provide power to isolated places in the Russian north, the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry plans to build a floating nuclear power plant, AP reported on 13 March. A ministry official said that the plant "may become a prototype for a series of this type of station," and he dismissed fears about a possible accident: "there are nuclear submarines and icebreakers. The Americans even have nuclear aircraft carriers." Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov was even more upbeat. In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" the same day, Adam said that "atomic energy can work securely for thousands of years." PG

MOSCOW MAY INTRODUCE IMMIGRATION QUOTAS

Arguing that in "all civilized countries" governments regulate immigration by quotas, Russia's Minister for Federation, Nationality and Migration Affairs Aleksandr Blokhin said on 13 March that Russia should introduce them as well, Interfax reported. Blokhin also said that the process of naturalizing those who seek permanent residence in the Russian Federation should be a gradual one, with citizenship being the "final stage" of inclusion. Blokhin also announced plans to create an immigration inspection service to increase control over illegal migrants not only at entry points but throughout the country. Meanwhile, Mikhail Dmitriev, the first deputy minister of economic development and trade, said the same day that Moscow should actively promote immigration to help meet imminent labor shortages, the Russian news service reported. PG

FISHING QUOTAS IDLE RUSSIAN SHIPS

Forty-eight fishing boats whose home ports are in Khabarovskii Krai are idle because their owners have not been able to purchase quotas now being sold at auction, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 13 March. Meanwhile, officials at the Economic Development and Trade Ministry which handles the auctions told Interfax the same day that foreign firms have now applied to bid on future fishing quotas not yet sold. PG

BYKOV'S FATE TO DECIDED BY HIS PEERS

Deputies in Krasnoyarsk Krai's legislative assembly will decide on 26 March whether former Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Company head Anatolii Bykov should face prosecution on criminal charges of conspiracy to commit murder, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 13 March. Bykov is still a legislator in the krai's legislature and is therefore eligible for immunity from criminal prosecution, unless his fellow legislators decide that immunity should be lifted. Originally, Bykov had been accused of murder, but then it was revealed that his alleged victims were still alive (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 2000). JAC

FAR NORTH LEADERS COMPLAIN ABOUT MIGRATION INTO REGION

Norilsk Nickel General Director Dzhonson Khagazheev and mayor of the city of Norilsk, Oleg Bugarin, have appealed to Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu to support an initiative to limit migration into the Norilsk industrial district and Taimyr Autonomous Okrug, Interfax reported on 13 March. The two men sent a letter to Shoigu in which they argue that it is necessary to control entry into the "frontier zones" in order to secure conditions for the survival of the people of the Far North. They explain that uncontrolled migration has led to a worsening of the criminal situation in cities as citizens have entered the territory who neither live nor work there. Also on 13 March "The Moscow Times" reported that Norilsk is one of the cities chosen to participate in a pilot project of the World Bank which, if approved, would issue vouchers to families to purchase housing in other parts of Russia (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 14 March 2001). JAC

PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY SAYS WORK UNDERWAY TO ENSURE ALL LAWS CONFORM WITH EACH OTHER

Presidential envoy to the Urals federal district, Petr Latyshev, told reporters in Moscow on 13 March that his district is paying more and more attention to creating mechanisms that will prevent the passage of local laws which contradict federal legislation, as the process of bringing local laws into compliance with federal law nears completion. According to Interfax, Latyshev said that work is underway in a number of different government agencies to establish such mechanisms, which would reconcile all laws on Russian territory, but he admitted that realization of such a mechanism is far from complete. JAC

KASYANOV WORRIED BY GROWTH IN NARCOTICS USE...

Prime Minister Kasyanov said on 13 March that over the last decade, the number of illegal drug users has increased by 2000 percent and that the rate of increase shows no sign of changing, Interfax reported. Indeed, he said, "Russia now is not only a transit country but a market for narcotics consumption." He added that the official figure of 450,000 drug users is almost certainly too low, and he predicted that as a result of this growth, there will be 1 million HIV-infected people in Russia by 2005. Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo said the same day that his agency scored major successes at drug interdiction in the last year, having seized large quantities of drugs and identified 244,000 crimes connected with the illegal sale of narcotics, Interfax reported. But Health Minister Yurii Shevchenko said that "a healthy way of life and harsh actions by law enforcement agencies" can further reduce the rate of growth of drug abuse, the Russian agency said. PG

...AS RISE IN ALCOHOL POISONING DEATHS REPORTED

Mortality from alcohol poisoning increased by 13.75 percent between 1999 and 2000, the National Alcohol Association told Interfax on 13 March. In the latter year, 33,979 Russians died from this cause. PG

2 MILLION REPRESSION VICTIMS REHABILITATED IN LAST DECADE

Aleksei Pavlov, the deputy head of the main information center of the Interior Ministry, said his ministry has reviewed 3,559,131 requests for rehabilitation of victims of political repression, Interfax reported on 13 March. He said that the ministry has issued 1.6 million rehabilitations and approximately 300,000 certifications of persons having suffered repression. Pavlov said that 48 percent of the requests came from people who had been subject to dekulakization or their families, with another 37 percent coming from those who were repressed on the basis of their nationality. He noted that 6 million people in all were in the first category, and that members of 11 nationalities had been deported while an additional 48 nationalities "were subjected to partial political repression." Pavlov noted that in 2000 alone, some 5,000 requests from Chechens were reviewed, and that the ministry granted rehabilitation to 300 of those for whom it was requested. He said that in addition to providing rehabilitation, his agency also pays cash compensation, including for property seized earlier. He added that the Interior Ministry has set up special structures both in Moscow and the regions to handle such requests. PG

SUPPORT BUILDS FOR TATAR PRESIDENT'S RE-ELECTION BID

Emergency Situations Minister Shoigu and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko have both endorsed Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev's candidacy in the 25 March presidential poll, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 14 March quoting Interfax-Eurasia. Shoigu characterized Shaimiev as "a politician on the federal scale, one of the most vivid personalities on the political stage of the Russian Federation." At a meeting in Kazan on 12 March, the Tatarstan-New Century party headed by Tatarstan State Council speaker Farit Mukhametshin and presidential adviser Rafael Khakimov similarly pledged its backing for Shaimiev, who faces four rival candidates in the ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2001). LF

RUSSIA BEGINS WITHDRAWING 'SUPERFLUOUS' TROOPS FROM CHECHNYA

The planned withdrawal from Chechnya of "excessive" forces and those that are not part of the North Caucasus Group of Forces began on 13 March, Russian agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 2001). Some 15,000 army troops and a brigade of 6,000-7,000 Interior Ministry troops will be permanently stationed in Chechnya, according to ITAR-TASS. The combined troop level is currently estimated at 80,000. LF




GREEK TELECOM FIRM DENIES PLANS TO SELL ARMENIAN ENTERPRISE TO TURKEY

The Hellenic Telecommunications Organization (OTE) issued a statement on 13 March denying a Greek newspaper report that it plans to sell its 90 percent stake in the Armenian telecom monopoly ArmenTel to Turkey's largest telecom firm, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The Greek report claimed that OTE is disappointed with the returns on its investment since its 1998 acquisition of the stake in ArmenTel. LF

KARABAKH AUTHORITIES CALL FOR SURRENDER OF WEAPONS

The Interior Ministry of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has appealed to the enclave's population to surrender all arms and ammunition they retained after the signing of the 1994 cease-fire, according to Snark on 12 March, as cited by Groong. At a cabinet session on 7 March, Karabakh President Arkadii Ghukasian severely criticized the work of the Karabakh law-enforcement organs. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT STRESSES 'STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP' WITH TURKEY...

Continuing his state visit to Turkey, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev met in Ankara on 13 March with deputy prime ministers Mesut Yilmaz and Devlet Bahceli, Foreign Minister Ismail Cem, and former President Suleyman Demirel, the "Turkish Daily News" reported. Aliyev also delivered a lengthy address to the Turkish parliament in which he underscored the Turks' and Azerbaijanis' close ethnic and linguistic ties, and their shared religion and values. Aliyev also appealed in that address for Turkish support in helping to resolve the Karabakh conflict, which he said poses a threat to Turkey. LF

...CONDEMNS ARMENIAN TERRITORIAL CLAIMS...

In his address to the Turkish parliament, Aliyev also condemned what he termed Armenians' "insolent" claims on the Azerbaijani enclave of Nakhichevan, and on the Turkish regions of Kars and Ardahan. In a 9 March statement in Yerevan, Armenian presidential Commission for Human Rights Chairman and former dissident Paruyr Hairikian called for the annulment of the Treaty of Kars and the return of those regions to Armenian control (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2001). Speaking in Ankara on 13 March, Turkish State Minister Suayip Usenmez said that those Armenians who make such claims on Turkish territory "are living in a dream world," Anatolia News Agency reported. "We cannot give them even a single pebble," he added. LF

...AS DOES AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION

The Nakhichevan chapters of the Musavat, Democratic, and Azerbaijan National Independence parties and of the conservative wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party have issued a joint statement condemning Hairikian, Turan reported on 13 March. Hairikian's statement "demonstrates the Armenian aggressor's readiness to establish a new center of tension in the Caucasus," the four opposition groups claimed. LF

AZERBAIJAN CRITICIZES RUSSIAN-IRANIAN CASPIAN DECLARATION

The declaration on the Caspian Sea signed in Moscow on 12 March by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Khatami (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2001) is inconsistent with earlier agreements between Moscow, Astana, and Baku that the sea should be divided into national sectors, Interfax on 13 March quoted an unidentified Azerbaijani diplomat as saying. That source attributed Russian and Iranian objections to the laying of pipelines on the bed of the Caspian to those countries' shared desire to exclude Azerbaijan from the transportation of Caspian hydrocarbons to world markets. LF

FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS GEORGIA ASPIRES TO NATO MEMBERSHIP

In an interview with Japan's "Sankei shimbun," Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili disavowed President Eduard Shevardnadze's recent suggestion that Georgia might in 2005 opt for neutral status rather than NATO membership (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 6, 9 February 2001), ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported on 13 March. Menagharishvili said Georgia will endeavor to join both NATO and the EU as soon as the required degree of internal political stability is attained and economic development and the professional level of the armed forces permits. LF

GEORGIA HAILS AZERBAIJANI-TURKISH GAS DEAL

President Shevardnadze has written to his Azerbaijani and Turkish counterparts, Aliyev and Ahmet Necdet Sezer, to express his satisfaction over the signing of the 12 March agreement whereby Turkey will import natural gas from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz field, Caucasus Press reported on 14 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2001). Shevardnadze characterized the agreement as a victory for those forces which wish to see the states of the Caucasus strong, stable, and benevolently disposed to each other. Shevardnadze also met on 13 March with Sharik Taras, president of the Turkish company Enka, which has expressed interest in participating in the construction of the pipeline sector needed to implement the Azerbaijani-Turkish project. LF

GEORGIAN SECURITY OFFICIALS MONITOR FORMER BOSS'S MOVEMENTS

National Security Minister Vakhtang Kutateladze told journalists in Tbilisi on 13 March that his ministry is monitoring the activities of former Georgian Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, wanted for his suspected participation in the August 1995 attempt to assassinate Shevardnadze, Caucasus Press reported. Kutateladze said Giorgadze is intensifying his efforts to make contact with Georgian political parties. In two Russian press interviews in late 1999, Giorgadze claimed to have extensive contacts and support in Georgia. The weekly "Kviris palitra" reported on 13 March without naming its sources that Moscow is grooming Giorgadze to succeed Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba should the latter step down because of his allegedly deteriorating health. LF

GEORGIA TO INTENSIFY CONTROLS ON BORDER WITH CHECHNYA

The head of Georgia's Border Guard Service, Valeri Chkheidze, told journalists on 14 March that the number of Georgian border posts on the Georgian-Chechen sector of the Georgian border will shortly be increased from five to 15, and those on the border with Ingushetia from two to five, Caucasus Press reported. Chkheidze said increased control of the border is needed in light of an anticipated upsurge of activity by Chechen fighters as the spring snow in the Caucasus mountains melts. LF

KAZAKH OFFICIALS CRITICIZE CABINET'S DRAFT LEGISLATION

Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev criticized his cabinet at a 13 March session for the low quality of the draft legislation it prepares, Interfax reported. He noted that some 68 laws passed since 1995 have not been implemented because they lack the necessary auxiliary framework. Baurzhan Mukhamedzhanov, who is deputy head of the presidential staff, similarly expressed concern that plans to submit to parliament no fewer than 120 draft bills during the current session instead of the slated 48 will make it impossible to "plan the legislative process normally." First Deputy Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov noted that the government's draft guidelines on transport policy fail to include a section on pipelines, which handle up to half of the country's transportation of raw materials. LF

JAPAN ALLOCATES MORE GRANTS TO KYRGYZSTAN

Japanese Ambassador Kenji Tanaka and Kyrgyz Finance Minister Temirbek AkmatAliyev signed a memorandum in Bishkek on 13 March whereby Tokyo will give Kyrgyzstan two grants, worth 800 million and 330 million yen ($6.6 million and $2.7 million), for agricultural development, Interfax and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Tanaka also met the same day with Kyrgyz Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev to discuss bilateral cooperation. Japan has given Kyrgyzstan technical and financial help worth over $300 million since 1992. LF




OSCE DENIES TRAINING MONITORS FOR PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT IN BELARUS

The OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk on 13 March denied a Belarusian Television report saying the group has unlawfully begun to train observers for the country's upcoming presidential elections before an official announcement of the ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2001). According to the OSCE mission, its 9-12 March training course for this week's repeat parliamentary elections was wrongly associated by Belarusian Television with the presidential elections. A representative of the OSCE group in Minsk told Belapan that the mission is doing its best to keep its observer training programs going despite pressure from the Belarusian government. According to the representative, Belarus's Foreign Ministry has made the OSCE group give up on the idea of paying some expenses for observers of the repeat parliamentary elections. JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION STILL UNDECIDED ON SINGLE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE

The Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces has once again failed to agree on a single candidate to challenge President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in this year's presidential ballot, Belapan reported on 13 March. The council said it will decide on a single candidate "as soon as possible" but no later than 27 June, which is the last legal date for the authorities to announce the presidential elections. Regional opposition activists are urging the council to appoint Syamyon Domash, former governor of the Hrodna Oblast, as a single democratic candidate. Andrey Sannikau, who chaired the council's meeting on 13 March, told journalists that by postponing its decision the council wants to preserve the current harmonious cooperation between Domash and three others aspiring to run against Lukashenka: Mikhail Chyhir, Uladzimir Hancharyk, and Pavel Kazlouski. JM

UKRAINIAN STUDENTS DEMAND KUCHMA'S IMPRISONMENT, RELEASE OF PROTESTERS

Some 3,000 students marched in Lviv on 13 March, calling for the imprisonment of President Leonid Kuchma, the sacking of Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, and the release of protesters arrested during the 9 March antipresidential rally in Kyiv, Interfax reported. The march took place without any reported violence. Last week, agencies reported that the Kyiv police arrested some 100 students, primarily from Lviv and other western Ukrainian cities, while they were gathering at a railway station to return home from the anti-Kuchma rally and the founding congress of the All-Ukrainian Public Resistance Committee "For the Truth!" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2001). JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER BLAMES OLIGARCHS FOR PARLIAMENTARY CRISIS

Viktor Yushchenko on 13 March said the current crisis in the pro-government parliamentary majority has been provoked by some oligarchs whose "primitive interests" have been harmed by the introduction of government control over the flow of money in the economy, Interfax reported. According to Yushchenko, the government deprived those oligarchs of "[their] traditional methods of work on the energy market, from which hundreds of millions of hryvni were diverted to satisfy some political appetites." Yushchenko added that the current crisis in the parliamentary majority is a "serious test for the political consolidation of Ukrainian society" (see also "End Note"). JM

JAILED TYMOSHENKO WARNS AGAINST KUCHMA'S TOTALITARIANISM

Former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko, who is now in prison, published a letter in the 14 March "Financial Times," which said that President Kuchma is consciously building a totalitarian state in Ukraine. Tymoshenko said Kuchma has blocked all reforms and anticorruption efforts by the government in the energy sector. She noted that the president routinely ignored requests from her to investigate and prosecute individuals involved in stealing large amounts of money in the energy sector. She added that Kuchma also ignored the government's privatization efforts in the sector and is now preparing accords to hand energy enterprises over to Russia in exchange for political support for his regime. "My only 'crime' has been to fight the corruption, shadow economy, and totalitarianism that have been created by this president of Ukraine," Tymoshenko concluded in the letter. JM

U.S. THREATENS TRADE SANCTIONS AGAINST UKRAINE OVER COPYRIGHT PIRACY

The United States on 13 March threatened to impose trade sanctions against Ukraine unless its government makes a greater effort to control what U.S. companies claim is the widespread piracy of music, computer programs, and other copyrighted material, AP reported. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick announced that his office has begun an investigation into Ukraine's practices, which could result in trade sanctions if the matter is not resolved over the next three months. The U.S. recording industry estimates that Ukraine has produced and exported 60-80 million pirated compact discs over the past two years, costing U.S. recording companies over $200 million annually in lost revenue. JM

PROPOSAL TO PRESERVE RUSSIAN SCHOOLS IN ESTONIA REJECTED

The Estonian parliament on 13 March defeated by a vote of 32 to 46 a bill proposed by the Center Party that would have allowed Russian-language secondary schools to continue operating after 2007, BNS reported. Current laws require that the language of instruction in all basic and secondary schools be Estonian by the 2007/2008 school year at the latest. The Center Party proposal would have amended the laws to allow non-Estonian-language secondary schools to function side-by-side with Estonian-language schools. However, the law would have required Estonian to be a compulsory subject beginning in the first grade in all schools where the language of instruction is not Estonian. SG

DISCUSSIONS OVER RIGA CITY COUNCIL COALITIONS

The Latvian Social Democratic Workers' Party (LSDSP) (14 seats) and For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (TB/LNNK) (11 seats) are holding talks on forming a ruling coalition in the 60-member Riga City Council, LETA reported on 13 March. TB/LNNK reached an agreement with its partners in the ruling government coalition, the People's Party (six seats) and Latvia's Way (five seats), to act in unison in Riga. LSDSP Chairman Jurijs Bojars, however, would prefer to split the coalition by having only the TB/LNNK as its partner in Riga. A TB/LNNK and LSDSP partnership could then join forces with the newly formed Center Union (five seats), which consists of the Latvian Democratic Party, Latvia's Farmers Union, Labor Party, and the Russian Party, as well as deputies from other smaller parties to form a majority in the council. SG

PARLIAMENT AMENDS BANK OF LITHUANIA LAW

The parliament on 13 March amended the Bank of Lithuania Law to bring it in line with EU and European Central Bank standards, ELTA reported. The amendments more clearly define the principle of the Bank of Lithuania's independence and its relations with other state institutions by explicitly banning the bank from lending money to the government. Bank President Reinoldijus Sarkinas refuted as unfounded a complaint by Lithuanian Free Market Institute President Elena Leontjeva that the new amendments open the possibility of switching to an arbitrary regulated litas exchange rate because the bank's stated main objective was changed from the stability of the currency to the stability of prices. Sarkinas said the amendments clearly state that the Bank of Lithuania puts money into circulation or withdraws it in accordance with Lithuanian laws, and that the only law regulating this is the Law on the Credibility of the Litas, which has not been changed. SG

POLISH PRESIDENT AGAINST ISOLATING KUCHMA

"Isolation of [Ukrainian President] Kuchma and, generally, of Ukraine, is the worst imaginable thing," Andrzej Majkowski, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski's aide for international affairs, told PAP on 13 March. Majkowski was commenting on calls to cancel the Kwasniewski-Kuchma meeting scheduled for 15 March. Meanwhile, Kwasniewski said earlier the same day that he will discuss Ukraine's domestic situation with Kuchma and urge the Ukrainian president to hold talks with the opposition. Major Polish politicians have also spoken against canceling the two presidents' meeting. Sejm speaker Maciej Plazynski said the cancellation of Kuchma's visit would be an "unfriendly gesture." "I feel that it is in the interest of the entire region to pull Ukraine into the system of European institutions, from which there can of course be no isolation," noted Jerzy Rybicki, a leader of the Solidarity Electoral Action. JM

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER'S CUBA RESOLUTION 'VERY STUPID'...

Czech opposition parties continue to criticize Foreign Minister Jan Kavan's proposed UN resolution on human rights in Cuba, insisting that his inclusion of criticism of U.S. economic sanctions against the county has unnecessarily threatened Czech relations with the U.S. and other allies. Civic Democrat (ODS) deputy Petr Necas told CTK on 13 March that "the approach to the issue by the Foreign Ministry and the minister himself amounts to a gross mistake. I...cannot but label the approach very stupid." Freedom Union (US) Chairman Karel Kuehnl also described the preparation of the resolution as a mistake, with "an amount of unexpected amateurism." Communist Party Deputy Chairman Miloslav Ransdorf, on the other hand, said the resolution shows that Kavan is "open to a broad spectrum of opinions within the international community rather than the mere fan club of the U.S." DW

...BUT NO CALLS FOR HIS RESIGNATION

Despite the criticism of his ministry's proposed resolution, no opposition deputy has called on Kavan to resign. "I think...Minister Kavan has opportunities to remedy the situation," said Kuehnl, adding that he sees Kavan's resignation as an extreme solution. Christian Democrat deputy Vilem Holan told CTK that "the current government's tenure expires next year, and therefore I would not go to extreme lengths in challenging individuals." DW

CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS CALL FOR END TO EX-COMMUNIST SCREENING LAW

A group of 44 Social Democrat (CSSD) deputies has asked the Czech Constitutional Court to abolish the law preventing former high-ranking communists from holding top posts in government, CTK reported 13 March. "We believe these laws no longer have a place," said CSSD Deputy Chairwoman Jitka Kupcova. "International organizations and the Council of Europe continuously point out that these laws are discriminatory," she added. ODS deputy Marek Benda called the complaint "absurd" and "stupid," adding that the court has already made a decision on the screening laws -- that they were not at variance with the Czech Constitution -- so he sees no reason why it should rule differently now. DW

SLOVAK ROMA COMPLAIN OF ABUSE BY POLICE

Some 100 Roma from the village of Hermanovce in eastern Slovakia have signed a petition accusing police officers from nearby Jarovnice of years of "racist behavior" and physical and mental abuse, CTK and AP reported on 13 March. According to the petition, the Jarovnice police have been humiliating and terrorizing local Roma. In particular, police officers have allegedly exerted physical pressure to force Roma to confess crimes they have not committed. "There is nothing concrete in the petition," a police spokeswoman said, questioning how there could have been years of abuse since Hermanovce has only been under Jarovnice's supervision for one year. JM

HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT CONDEMNS REFUGEE STATUS FOR ROMA

The Hungarian Government regards the French Refugee Office's recent granting of refugee status to several Roma from the Hungarian village of Zamoly as "unfounded, inequitable and unjust," cabinet Spokesman Gabor Borokai said on 13 March. Borokai said the decision is "potentially dangerous" because it may intensify anti-Roma feeling in Hungary and prompt emigration. He added, however, that since Roma were not granted political refugee rights, and the ruling was not passed by a governmental body, there is no need for a diplomatic response. "The government will implement its Roma education and employment project by all means," Borokai concluded. MSZ

HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT DEMANDS COMPENSATION FROM 'AURUL'

A law firm representing the Hungarian government has demanded in a letter that the "Aurul" mining company in Romania transfer 29 billion forints ($100 million) to the Hungarian state treasury within 15 days as compensation for the damage caused by last year's Tisza River cyanide pollution. The firm threatened a lawsuit unless "Aurul" complies with the demand and installs safety equipment, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 14 March. MSZ




CEASE-FIRE BEGINS IN PRESEVO

Serbian forces and guerrillas of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB) observed a cease-fire on 13 March, London's the "Daily Telegraph" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2001). Men on both sides remained in their positions and did not venture into the open. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" quoted UCPMB commander Shefqet Musliu as saying that he takes "no responsibility" if any Albanian chooses to shoot at Serbian forces. The "New York Times" cited UCPMB commander Mohamed Rrebeli as saying that "the Serbs have broken cease-fires so often that I don't believe in...just a piece of paper." Belgrade's "Glas javnosti" wrote that "the Albanians" cannot be expected to keep the cease-fire. PM

SERBIAN FORCES ENTER SECURITY ZONE

Musliu added that his guerrillas will "fight to the last man" if Serbian forces enter the demilitarized zone, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 14 March. Under an agreement with NATO, Serbian troops began entering a small section of the zone that morning (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2001). Speaking to Vienna's "Die Presse" of 13 March, former Kosovar guerrilla leader Hashim Thaci said that readmitting Serbian forces to the zone will not help stability either in Presevo or in Kosova. He warned Serbian troops against approaching the border with Kosova. Thaci argued that the size of the zone should be enlarged rather than reduced. PM

SERBIAN DEPUTY PREMIER HAILS 'FIRST STEP TO RETURN'

Nebojsa Covic, who is Belgrade's point man for Presevo, said the Serbian-NATO agreement is the "first step toward the return of our country's sovereignty over the security zone," "Vesti" reported on 14 March. He also said that "Yugoslav forces will not take any measures against the local population, and we appeal to the local population to stay calm. We expect that extremist groups will respect the cease-fire agreement that has been guaranteed by NATO. We expect Macedonian security forces to undertake special defensive measures along the border to prevent any incidents," the "Daily Telegraph" reported. Official Belgrade still regularly refers to its opponents as "extremists," "terrorists," or "separatists." PM

MACEDONIAN ALBANIANS MARCH FOR PEACE

Some 10,000 people took part in a demonstration organized by the governing Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) in Skopje on 13 March, the "Daily Telegraph" reported. The motto of the protest was "we are not terrorists." Menduh Thaci, who is deputy chairman of the PDSH, said that "most Albanians support us." He added that the purpose of the march was to "show that the Albanians want stability" and impress upon the government the need to make more progress in guaranteeing rights to the Albanian minority, Reuters reported. There appears to be some confusion over the exact number of participants. Belgrade's "Danas" put the figure at 30,000, while the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote that only 5,000 people turned out. Militant nationalists held a march in Tetovo on 14 March under the motto "against Macedonian terrorism." The turnout was about 3,000, dpa reported. PM

FIGHTING REPORTED IN WESTERN MACEDONIA

Reporters in Tetovo heard heavy machine-gun and some mortar fire from nearby mountains in the direction of Kosova in the late morning of 14 March, Reuters reported. Macedonian police were heading into the Sar Planina area. AP said the clashes took place in the Tetovo neighborhood of Kale and in the nearby village of Selce. The extent of the fighting is not clear, although AP reported that at least 10 ambulances were sent to Kale. A police spokesman said "the situation is exceptionally serious in Tetovo." A Defense Ministry spokesman added that "police are being shot at, and they are responding." This is the first report of fighting in the heartland of western Macedonia, where most of the country's Albanians live. PM

KOSOVA'S THACI BACKS MACEDONIAN MODERATES

Hashim Thaci told "Die Presse" of 13 March that he and his followers support the mainstream Albanian parties in Macedonia. "We condemn any form of extremism. We do not support the people who have launched an armed conflict," he added. Thaci stressed that "one cannot draw any parallels between the situation in the Presevo Valley and that in Macedonia. The Presevo problem is the result of the violence that the regime of [former Yugoslavian President Slobodan] Milosevic carried out against the Albanians." PM

SERBS ATTACK MITROVICA POLICE STATION

On the morning of 14 March, French peacekeepers used tear gas to break up a crowd of some 50 Serbs who had surrounded the police station in northern Mitrovica and set fire to a UN police car, AP reported. Crowds then "rampaged" through the city. The protesters were angry over the recent arrest of three Serbs for assaulting two UN policemen. PM

YUGOSLAVIA HAS 'ABOUT 15' WAR CRIMES SUSPECTS

Federal Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic said in Belgrade on 13 March that "about 15" of the persons listed in the public indictments of The Hague-based war crimes tribunal are currently living in Yugoslavia. This is the first such revelation by a top Belgrade official, AP reported. It is not clear whether the former Bosnian Serb commander, General Ratko Mladic, is included on Zivkovic's list. Justice Minister Momcilo Grubac said a draft law on cooperating with the tribunal could be ready by the end of March, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

YUGOSLAV BANK CHIEF BUILDING UP EVIDENCE ON MILOSEVIC

Mladjan Dinkic, who is governor of the Yugoslav National Bank, said in Nicosia, Cyprus, that he has amassed considerable evidence that Milosevic abused his office to embezzle state funds and property, "Danas" reported on 14 March. The former president's assistants laundered or deposited money by using financial channels in Switzerland, Germany, the U.K., South Africa, China, and Lebanon, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

MONTENEGRIN CAMPAIGN BEGINS

The campaign for the 22 April parliamentary election has officially begun, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 13 March. Parties have until 27 March to file their respective lists of candidates with the government election commission. In practice, however, the campaign has been underway for some weeks. PM

BOSNIAN FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO CLEAN HOUSE

Social Democratic Prime Minister Alija Behmen told the federal parliament in Sarajevo that his government aims to promote Bosnia's integration into Europe, Reuters reported. In addition to promoting human rights, refugee return, and the development of state institutions, he intends to uproot corruption and encourage foreign investment. Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported on 14 March that one of the reasons nationalists in the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) refuse to have anything to do with the new government is that they fear it will expose some HDZ leaders' own corrupt practices, including their involvement in the smuggling of cars and cigarettes. PM

HERZEGOVINIANS TO SET UP OWN ARMY?

Controversy continues in Bosnia and Croatia following the publication of a story in "Jutarnji list" on 13 March to the effect that HDZ leader Ante Jelavic wants to set up an army as part of his proposed "Croatian self-administration, "Oslobodjenje" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 2001). General Stanko Sopta has allegedly been organizing such a force. Such a move would be an open breach of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement. Former Defense Minister Miroslav Prce told "Dnevni avaz" that he has no intention of serving in any Jelavic breakaway administration. PM

'FIRST SERIOUS BLOW' TO CROATIAN GOVERNMENT?

Prime Minister Ivica Racan said in Zagreb on 13 March that he hopes Deputy Prime Minister Slavko Linic will remain in the cabinet, where he is responsible for economic affairs, "Jutarnji list" reported. Racan added that Linic came to Zagreb out of a sense of duty and has said that he wants now to return to Rijeka and run for mayor. As the head of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Racan is theoretically in a position to make Linic's decision for him, the daily noted. If Linic does leave, his most likely replacement would be Finance Minister Mato Crkvenac, who could in turn be replaced by SDP economic expert Dragan Kovacevic. The year-old government has not made much progress in keeping its campaign promise to improve the standard of living of the population. PM

SLOVENIAN EX-DEPUTY MINISTER INDICTED

Officials in Ljubljana formally indicted Boris Sustar on 13 March on charges of blackmailing and bribe-taking (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 2000). Four of the former deputy economic minister's associates were also charged. AP reported that this is the first corruption charge against a top-level government official since Slovenia became independent in 1991. PM

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES MEDIATION REPORT ON LOCAL ADMINISTRATION LAW

The lower house of the Romanian parliament on 13 March approved the mediation report on the Local Public Administration Law, Mediafax reported. As the same report has already been approved by the Senate, the law now awaits President Ion Iliescu's signature. The law provides the right of ethnic minorities to use their native language in the local administrations of localities where they comprise at least 20 percent of the total population. It is this provision that the ultranationalist Greater Romania Party (PRM) considers "unconstitutional and antinational." PRM Chamber of Deputies group leader Lucian Augustin Bolca announced that his party will attack the law in the Constitutional Court. ZsM

PRM TO SUE PRESS OUTLETS

Corneliu Ciontu, PRM first deputy chairman, on 13 March announced that his party will sue all media outlets accusing the PRM of extremism, Romanian media reported. Ciontu said his party is the target of a misinformation campaign led by the press. He added that a party can only be accused of extremism if it propagates violence, racism, or xenophobia. PRM Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor gave xenophobic speeches primarily addressed against Hungarians, Jews, and Roma on many occasions. In 1998 he said "Romania should be ruled with a tommy gun," and promised "mass executions in stadiums." The PRM-sponsored "Greater Romania" weekly frequently uses derogatory language when referring to national minorities living in the country. The press increased its criticism of the PRM after the first round of the November 2000 presidential elections, in which Tudor tallied 30 percent of the vote. ZsM

GREEK OFFICIAL PROMISES SUPPORT FOR ROMANIA'S NATO, EU ACCESSION BIDS

Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Elisavet Papazoi on 13 March said Athens can provide "real support" for Romania's NATO and EU accession bids, Mediafax reported. Meeting in Bucharest with Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, who also serves as OSCE chairman, Papazoi said Greece wishes that all countries in its region belong to the same stability structures. Papazoi saw Romania's current role at the head of the OSCE as a great opportunity for the entire region, as Bucharest authorities have a thorough knowledge of the Balkans. ZsM

MOLDOVAN COMMUNIST SEEKS TIES WITH ROMANIA

Meeting with Victor Barsan on 12 March, the Romanian Ambassador to Chisinau, Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) Chairman Vladimir Voronin said his party is interested in developing multiple ties between the two countries, Flux reported on 13 March. Voronin said the PCM is primarily interested in developing economic and trade relations, as well as attracting Romanian investments to Moldova. Barsan said Bucharest is interested in deepening its "privileged" relations with Chisinau and in supporting Moldova in international organizations. Just two weeks earlier, Voronin had rejected the notion of "two Romanian states" favored by some Bucharest officials as being unacceptable to Moldova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2001). At the 13 March meeting Voronin added that the PCM will initiate modifying the constitution to allow Moldovan citizens to hold double citizenship. Many Moldovans studying or working in Romania have already obtained Romanian citizenship. ZsM

BULGARIAN PYRAMID SCHEME OWNER GETS PRISON SENTENCE

The Sofia city court sentenced Michael Kapustin on 13 March to 23 years in jail for embezzling some $4 million from some 2,800 investors, BTA reported. Kapustin, a Ukrainian-born Canadian, was the owner of Life Choice International, a pyramid scheme that stopped paying returns to investors in 1995. The trial against him began in 1999 but was repeatedly adjourned as Kapustin changed defense lawyers and interpreters. Some 30,000 Bulgarians are estimated to have lost money in get-rich pyramid schemes, Reuters reported. PB

BALKAN AIRLINES TICKETHOLDERS NOT TO GET REFUNDS SOON

Passengers holding tickets to fly with the bankrupt Balkan Airlines will not be eligible to receive refunds until the company has repaid its debts to creditors, a trustee in the bankruptcy said on 13 March, BTA reported citing "24 Chasa." Trustee Vladimir Petkov said that process will take some time but will begin at a court hearing on 3 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2001). "24 Chasa" also announced that Hemus Air will take over domestic services previously run by Balkan Airlines. It said Hemus will operate three flights per day between Sofia and Varna beginning on 26 March. PB




AN OLIGARCHIC TAKEOVER IN UKRAINE?


By Jan Maksymiuk

Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yushchenko met on 10 March with the leadership of the parliamentary majority to discuss a "political accord" between the cabinet and the legislative majority in order to define the mutual obligations and responsibilities of the government and its legislative support group. Interfax reported that the meeting resulted in a decision to set up a working group to draft such an accord.

Oleksandr Turchynov, leader of the Fatherland Party parliamentary caucus, commented after the meeting that he fully shares Yushchenko's conviction that his cabinet works in a businesslike manner. Turchynov said the recently voiced alarms about a crisis in Yushchenko's cabinet are only an attempt by some political forces to divert public attention from the political crisis in the country and transform it into a cabinet problem. Turchynov added that no lawmaker proposed any personnel changes in the cabinet during the meeting with Yushchenko. The Fatherland Party parliamentary caucus is against the signing of a joint accord by the government and the parliamentary majority, and is opting for a series of accords between the cabinet and each separate pro-government parliamentary group.

Yuriy Kostenko, leader of the Ukrainian Popular Rukh, told Interfax that the only possible non-leftist pro-government majority is the one presently existing. Kostenko added that any attempt at changing the current lineup of the parliamentary majority will put an end to the reformatory effort of the Ukrainian legislature.

Kostenko seemed to be commenting on last month's ultimatum by first deputy parliamentary speaker and a major oligarch, Viktor Medvedchuk, who said that unless Yushchenko forms a coalition cabinet, "the reformist parliamentary majority will create a new coalition government with a new premier." For some political observers of the Ukrainian political scene, Medvedchuk's statement clearly signaled the beginning of a crucial campaign by Ukrainian oligarchs to rearrange the country's top echelons of power.

The testing day for Yushchenko will be on 10 April, when he is expected to deliver a report to the parliament on the performance of his cabinet. Some political analysts say the parliament is very likely to dismiss Yushchenko under the pretext of his alleged failure to deliver on a government program that was approved by lawmakers a year ago. Yushchenko may be voted out jointly by the Communists -- whose representative will subsequently head the legislature -- and some oligarchic caucuses that want Medvedchuk (or some other oligarch) to head the government.

There are three major oligarchic parties in Ukraine, each of which has its own parliamentary representation: the Social Democratic Party (United) (led by oligarchs Medvedchuk and Hryhoriy Surkis); the Democratic Union (Oleksandr Volkov); and the Labor Ukraine Party (Serhiy Tyhypko, Viktor Pynchuk, and Andriy Derkach). The parties may have a keen interest in unseating Yushchenko for at least two reasons.

Firstly, Yushchenko, assisted by courageous Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko, has managed to shift the majority of payments in Ukraine's economy from shady barter schemes to transparent cash settlements, thus depriving Ukrainian oligarchs of considerable profits. Secondly, Ukraine is to hold parliamentary elections next year, and the oligarchs may simply want to have their own people in the government to grasp administrative levers of control over the situation in the country, which would better position their parties for the upcoming election campaign.

As of now, President Leonid Kuchma seems to be in full control of the situation in the country, but it is also obvious to everyone that he is currently more concerned about what takes place on Kyiv's streets and squares than about developments in parliamentary lobbies and government offices. Taking advantage of the president's political troubles, the oligarchs -- who have thus far influenced developments in Ukraine from behind Kuchma's back -- now appear to be prepared to take the reins of power directly in their hands.

Yushchenko's immediate and defiant reaction to the oligarchs' move indicated that he is aware of the looming political takeover in Ukraine. On 28 February he commented on Medvedchuk's threat that "the government will never participate in a dialogue of ultimatums with any political force." Yushchenko added that Medvedchuk's statement is "a prologue for destabilizing the situation in Ukraine" and "an attempt to change Ukraine's future." Speaking on behalf of his cabinet, which discussed the domestic political situation during a closed-door session, he noted: "We are convinced that this is a purely clannish approach toward organizing Ukrainian politics."

Last week, however, Yushchenko proposed that talks be held between the government and the parliamentary majority on signing a political accord that could regulate mutual relations. Some see this proposal as an indication that in the meantime the premier unsuccessfully tried to get support from Kuchma to strengthen the cabinet's stand against oligarchs. True, Kuchma publicly declared he is not going to dismiss Yushchenko's cabinet. But he added, however, that the government should be efficient and depend more on the parliamentary majority. Yushchenko apparently treated this pronouncement as less than comforting, and made an attempt at concluding a separate peace agreement with the oligarchs.

It may sound paradoxical to many, but the question of whether Kuchma survives the current political unrest in Ukraine seems to be of secondary importance in comparison with the question of Yushchenko's survival. Yushchenko's possible ouster in April may not only disrupt the current positive economic trends in the country, along with the government's reformist course, but also make a much more gloomy prospect a reality. Ukraine may soon find itself left to the full discretion of those who contributed enormously over the past 10 years to the plunging of the country into all-encompassing corruption, economic inefficiency, and abject poverty.


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