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Newsline - March 30, 2001




FURTHER RISE FOR ST. PETERSBURG CLAN ENVISIONED...

An unidentified high-ranking aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin told Interfax on 29 March that another government reshuffle is unlikely before the end of April, despite a hint dropped by a government spokesman the previous day that more changes "are ahead that will attract the attention of society" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2001). In an article in "Segodnya" on 30 March, Andrei Ryabov of the Carnegie Moscow Center predicted that the next "victims" of Putin's cadre revolution will be in the presidential administration and government. He speculates that the president "might nominate for a key position [someone] from the 'second echelon' of his St. Petersburg team" such as deputy presidential administration head Dmitrii Kozak or the first deputy head of the presidential administration, Dmitrii Medvedev. With his recent changes, Putin brought forth two "St. Petersburgers," the new defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, and the new interior minister, Boris Gryzlov. JAC

...AS MORE CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS LODGED AGAINST VOLOSHIN

Ryabov also suggested that Putin might find it necessary to change the leadership of his administration, that is, presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin or first deputy administration head Vyacheslav Surkov. In its issue dated 26 March-1 April, "Novaya Gazeta" investigative journalist Oleg Lurie published another article detailing corruption allegations against presidential administration head Voloshin. Lurie, who was the subject of a severe beating last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2000), revealed that a website called corruption.ru displays a sample signature card for a bank account of an offshore company, Glynford Financial Services, of which Voloshin is reportedly the director. According to Lurie, millions of dollars were transferred through the account. He also implied that this money was likely the proceeds from the dodgy privatizations conducted by Voloshin when he headed the Federal Funding Corporation from 1995-97. JAC

MORE APPOINTMENTS MADE

Nikolai Bobrovskii was named deputy tax minister on 29 March, according to an order signed by Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. Sergei Verevkin-Rakhalskii was named deputy director of the Federal Tax Police the previous day. At the Defense Ministry, Colonel General Igor Puzanov, a former Moscow military district troops commander, was named deputy defense minister. Colonel General Nikolai Kormiltsev, formerly commander of the Siberian military district, was promoted to commander-in-chief of the Ground Forces, replacing Nikolai Kormiltsev, according to NTV. Colonel General Anatolii Perminov, formerly a senior commander with the Strategic Rocket Forces, will now head the Space Troops. JAC

GOVERNMENT CONSIDERS REVISING ITS INFLATION FORECAST...

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told reporters on 29 March that the government may revise its inflation target of 12-14 percent established in the 2001 budget. Kudrin would not specify in which direction the target would be revised, but most analysts have predicted that annual inflation will be higher than the budget figure (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 19 March 2001). Kudrin also revealed that March expenditures will exceed revenues by a "not large" amount. JAC

...AS GOLD RESERVES SWELL

On 29 March, Russia's gold reserves hit a historic high level of $30.1 billion in the post-Soviet period, according to "Segodnya" the next day. The previous peak of $29.638 billion had been recorded last month. Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko promises that reserves will rise even higher to $40-$45 billion, the daily reported. However, Oksana Osipova, an analyst at Development Center, predicted that reserves will not rise above $35 billion, because Russia will make debt payments to the Paris Club this year. JAC

IMF, RUSSIA TO FORGE NEW RELATIONSHIP?

Russia has refused to sign a program of cooperation with the IMF for 2001, Russian newspapers reported on 29 March. According to "Kommersant-Daily," Moscow has made it clear that the IMF will no longer "control structural reforms" in Russia. "Izvestiya" concluded that "interest in reaching an agreement with the IMF began to wane once the cabinet decided to resume debt payments to the Paris Club." According to the daily, Deputy Prime Minister Kudrin announced that biannual consultations with the fund will take place as is the custom with countries that "want to maintain active contact with the IMF" but "do not need its money." Meanwhile, the head of the IMF's Moscow office, Paul Thompson, told reporters the same day that Russia and the IMF do not have fundamental differences over the main avenues for implementing structural reforms; Russia simply thought that there was no need to have a formal program. JAC

UNITY MEMBERS VIE FOR TOP SPOT IN DUMA

A sharp struggle is now underway over the leadership of the State Duma's second largest faction, Unity, following President Putin's appointment of faction leader Gryzlov as Interior Minister, "Segodnya" reported on 30 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2001). Unity party leader Sergei Shoigu announced on 29 March that the party's political council will choose Gryzlov's replacement at a meeting on 3 April. He revealed that a number of candidates are being mulled over, including one woman, whom most sources believe must be Duma Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska. However, Sliska told reporters that day that if she is offered the post she will find a way to "tactfully turn it down." JAC

BIG CHANGES EXPECTED AT TV-6...

At a shareholders meeting on 29 March, former deputy head of the presidential administration Igor Shabdurasulov was elected chairman of the board of directors of TV-6, replacing TV-6 founder Eduard Sagalaev. Badri Patarkatsishvilii was elected the channel's general director, replacing Aleksandr Ponomarev, who became first deputy general director. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," the new leadership is not trying to hide the fact that "big changes" should be expected. Shabdurasulov told Interfax on 29 March that in 1.5 to two years, TV-6 could become the third nationwide channel. "Vedomosti" reported on 15 March, according to an unidentified source close to Boris Berezovsky, who owns 75 percent of the shares in TV-6, that the oligarch does not want to develop TV-6 into a network that opposes the government. However, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 March that Patarkatsishvilii has suggested that TV-6 will "influence the political situation in the country." "Kommersant-Daily" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" are both controlled by Berezovsky. JAC

...AND GUSINSKY LOSES COURT BATTLES

A Moscow court rejected a lawsuit on 29 March filed by NTV seeking to invalidate a decision to hold a NTV shareholders' meeting in Moscow on 3 April. On the same day, a London court ruled that it would not hear a challenge of Media-MOST Group head Vladimir Gusinsky over who controls a block of shares in NTV, Reuters reported. The shareholders' meeting was called by Gazprom-Media head Alfred Kokh. Media-MOST issued a statement that it is "powerless in the face of the arbitrariness of the Russian legal process." JAC

ITALIAN PREMIER, PUTIN DISCUSS G-7 SUMMIT, LATEST BALKAN CRISIS

Italian Prime Minister Guiliano Amato met on 29 March with President Putin, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and presidential adviser Andrei Illarionov, Interfax reported. Talks focused on preparations for the upcoming G-7/G-8 meeting in Genoa on 20-22 July. After the meeting, Amato told reporters that it is too soon to evaluate how the recent tensions between the U.S. and Russia will affect the latter's progress in joining the Group of Seven. Ivanov said that Putin and Amato had also exchanged views on the situation in the Balkans and had called the "crisis in the Macedonia a manifestation of terrorism spreading across Europe from its epicenter in Kosovo." Ivanov added that the European public is belatedly beginning to realize this danger and that European countries are joining Russia in the fight against terrorism on the continent. JAC

ANOTHER MUSCOVITE SELECTED FOR FEDERATION COUNCIL

The legislative assembly of the Marii El republic confirmed on 29 March the nomination of Ilya Lomakin-Rumyantsev, the director of the Fund for Complex Applied Research, as one of its two representatives to the Federation Council, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Lomakin-Rumyantsev is a Muscovite, as is Marii El's other representative, Aleksandr Torshin. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 30 March, Lomakin-Rumyantsev is a former federal Finance Ministry official. Meanwhile, Mikhail Margelov, Pskov Oblast's representative to the Federation Council, told reporters on the same day that reports in the oblast's media that the Kremlin is planning to remove Pskov Oblast Governor Yevgenii Mikhailov and name Margelov in his place are likely a "premature April Fool's Day joke." JAC

LOWER COURT REFUSES TO RETRY ROKHLINA CASE

The presidium of a Moscow Oblast court rejected on 28 March a request by the Supreme Court to re-examine the case of Tamara Rokhlina, who was convicted last year of killing her husband, said State Duma Deputy-General Lev Rokhlin, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2000). The Supreme Court had ruled that "significant departures from legal procedure" had occurred both during the investigation and at the trial. It also called for releasing Rokhlina pending a new trial. However, the oblast court's presidium upheld the original ruling. According to "The Moscow Times" on 29 March, Rokhlina's lawyer said that they will appeal to the Supreme Court again. According to ITAR-TASS, Rokhlina had originally been sentenced to eight years in prison, but that sentence was later reduced to four years. Rokhlina initially confessed to killing her husband, but later recanted, saying that her family was being threatened. JAC

NUCLEAR SAFETY OFFICIAL DIES

Major General Vladimir Grigoriev, head of the nuclear security service for the Strategic Rocket Forces died from injuries sustained during a car crash last month, the website lenta-ru reported on 29 March. Following the accident, Grigoriev underwent 10 operations in a Kazan hospital. JAC

SECURITY COUNCIL DISCUSSES CHECHEN RECONSTRUCTION

Chairing a session of the Russian Security Council on 29 March, President Putin affirmed that the Russian leadership aims to create "a peaceful and happy life" for the population of Chechnya, Interfax reported. Putin noted the need for better coordination between federal and local authorities in planning and implementing reconstruction in Chechnya. He also called for "strict accountability" to ensure federal funds earmarked for that purpose are not misappropriated. Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko told the session that Chechen administrative structures will be identical to those of other federation subjects. He also noted that oil extraction in Chechnya has reached 1,000 tons per day and should rise to an annual total of one million tons next year. LF

PUTIN MEETS WITH CHECHEN ADMINISTRATION HEAD

Putin also met separately in Moscow on 29 March with Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, Interfax reported. Kadyrov said he succeeded in persuading Putin of the futility of any talks with elected Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov. (Putin aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii has repeatedly rejected talks with Maskhadov, but Duma deputies who belong to the Russian Committee for an End to the War in Chechnya on 29 March again appealed to Putin to announce a cease-fire in Chechnya and begin such talks.) Kadyrov also said Putin "listened attentively" to his argument that Russian Defense Ministry troops should be withdrawn from Chechnya, leaving Interior Ministry and federal Security Service forces to continue military operations there. Kadyrov also proposed that displaced persons who fled the fighting in Chechnya and now wish to return should be paid compensation for the loss of their property, and jobs should be created for them. Chechen Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov told RTR television on 29 March that the repatriation process will get underway on 15 April, according to ITAR-TASS. LF




NEW ARMENIAN ALLIANCE LISTS OBJECTIVES

At a press conference in Yerevan on 29 March, leaders of the recently formed National Accord Front (AHCh) which unites a dozen small left-wing parties and organizations, said that their primary objectives are to force the resignation of President Robert Kocharian and a realignment of the country's foreign policy that would again make relations with Russia the strategic priority, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. They said the campaign to force Kocharian's resignation will be peaceful, comprising of rallies and demonstrations, but that no such protests will be scheduled before the 3 April Armenian-Azerbaijani summit in Key West. Former presidential national security adviser and Union of Socialist Forces head Ashot Manucharian, who is believed to be the moving force behind the new alignment, said the AHCh may also try to launch impeachment proceedings against Kocharian in parliament. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH RUSSIAN COMMUNIST LEADER

President Kocharian met in Yerevan on 29 March with Gennadii Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, to discuss bilateral ties, boosting trade and economic relations, and the relations between political parties and the state, ITAR-TASS and Noyan Tapan reported. Zyuganov plans to attend a congress of the Communist Party of Armenia. LF

KARABAKH COURT UPHOLDS SENTENCE ON FORMER DEFENSE MINISTER

A three-member panel of the Supreme Court of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic on 29 March upheld the verdicts handed down one month earlier on former General Samvel Babayan and four other men charged in connection with the March 2000 attempt to assassinate the unrecognized enclave's president, Arkadii Ghukasian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2001). Lawyers for Babayan, who denies the charges, and for the four other defendants had argued earlier this month that the sentences are legally void. LF

EU TO PROVIDE MORE DROUGHT RELIEF AID TO ARMENIA, GEORGIA

The European Commission announced on 29 March that it will make available an additional 1.95 million euros ($1.72 million) to those areas of Armenia and Georgia most severely affected by last summer's severe drought, AP reported. The commission has already provided 3.15 million euros in drought relief for those two countries. LF

FRENCH OIL COMPANY EXPRESSES INTEREST IN BAKU-CEYHAN PROJECT

The Baku representative of TotalFinaElf has informed the Azerbaijan state oil company SOCAR of its interest in the planned Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil, Caucasus Press-MPA reported on 29 March. But TotalFinaElf will refrain from entering into negotiations on joining the consortium to build that pipeline until the size of the oil reserves in the three Azerbaijani fields in which it has a stake is determined. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SEEKS TO CURB CRIME

President Eduard Shevardnadze has issued a decree aimed at intensifying measures to crack down on violent crime, including violent reprisals against religious sects, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 March. He noted that the recent upsurge in violent crimes against foreigners, hostage-taking, and attacks on passenger buses has negatively affected Georgia's international image. LF

STALIN'S GRANDSON TO FOUND NEW GEORGIAN COMMUNIST PARTY

Yevgenii Dzhughashvili announced in Tbilisi on 28 March the formation of his New Communist Party, which aims to unite "all genuine patriots," Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. The party will join the "Patriots of Georgia" bloc, which also includes a Cossack organization and the Georgian Union of Officers. Dzhughashvili expressed the hope that the Justice Ministry will register his party despite what he termed its antipathy toward Communists. He said if his party is registered, it will propose Djumber Patiashvili, who in 1985 succeeded Shevardnadze as Georgian Communist Party first secretary, as its presidential candidate. Dzhughashvili criticized the two existing Georgian Communist Parties, accusing United Communist Party of Georgian Chairman Panteleimon Giorgadze of "manipulating people to achieve his personal goals." LF

GEORGIAN HOSPITALS USING PATIENTS AS GUINEA PIGS?

In a report that recalls John le Carre's most recent novel, "Rezonansi" on 29 March claimed that on the initiative of Labor, Health and Social Security Minister Avtandil Djorbenadze, six cardiology clinics in Tbilisi are testing on patients an unlicensed preparation named herodine that in some cases has caused brain hemorrhaging and even death. The paper quotes a Georgian graduate of a U.S. medical school as saying that the Georgian doctors are providing their U.S. sponsors with false data on the outcome of the clinical tests in order to continue receiving funding from them. LF

GEORGIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SAYS HIS PREDECESSOR WILL NOT BE PROSECUTED

Gia Meparishvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 29 March that no criminal proceedings will be brought against his predecessor, Djamlet Babilashvili, Caucasus Press reported. Babilashvili resigned last month following a campaign for his impeachment (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 6, 9 February 2001). An interim parliament commission had accused Babilashvili of appointing as local prosecutors 40 persons not qualified to hold such posts. But Meparishvili ruled that doing so was not a criminal offense. LF

MINGRELIA'S COMMUNISTS DEMAND AUTONOMY

At a meeting on 29 March in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi to mark the 102th anniversary of the birth of Stalin's henchman Lavrenti Beria, the head of a local Communist Party organization, Revaz Bulia, called for Mingrelia to be given the status of an autonomous republic within Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. LF

TRIAL OF OPPOSITION KAZAKH JOURNALISTS RESUMES

After a one-month postponement, the trial of Ermurat Bapi, editor-in-chief of the newspaper "SolDat," and of dissident historian Karishal Asanov resumed in an Almaty District Court on 29 March, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. The two men face charges of insulting the honor and dignity of President Nursultan Nazarbaev in an article by Asanov published in "SolDat" on the eve of Nazarbaev's 60th birthday last summer. The issue of the paper containing that article was printed in Russia and confiscated by Kazakh customs officers on the Russian-Kazakh border. Both defendants have pleaded not guilty. The prosecutor on 29 March demanded two years of imprisonment for Bapi and one for Asanov. Representatives of several opposition parties picketed the court building on 29 March demanding that the trial be halted. LF

KAZAKHSTAN ANTICIPATES ECONOMIC SLOWDOWN

In the wake of President Nazarbaev's announcement of 10 percent first quarter GDP growth (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2001), the Kazakh government warned on 29 March that GDP growth for this year is unlikely to exceed 4 percent, while industrial output is expected to grow by 8 percent, Interfax reported. The corresponding figures last year were 9.6 percent and 14.6 percent year-on-year. The cabinet's priorities for this year were identified as achieving stable economic growth with low inflation, improving the investment climate, reducing unemployment and raising the population's real income. The government will also seek to strengthen the nascent Eurasian Economic Community formed last year on the basis of the CIS Customs Union. LF

TURKISH PARLIAMENT DELEGATION VISITS KAZAKHSTAN

A Turkish parliament delegation headed by speaker Omer Izgi met in Astana on 29 March with President Nazarbaev, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Addressing the lower chamber of the Kazakh parliament the same day, Izgi proposed creating an interparliamentary union of Turkic nations that would comprise not only Turkey and Kazakhstan, but also other Central Asian states. Reviewing bilateral economic relations, Izgi noted that Turkish companies have invested $1.5 billion in Kazakhstan. He expressed the hope that bilateral trade can be increased from $450 million to $1 billion. LF

KAZAKHSTAN-CHINA OIL PIPELINE PROJECT ON HOLD

The planned 3,000 kilometer pipeline to export oil from Kazakhstan's Aqtobe Oblast to China is not expected to be built in the near future, Interfax reported on 29 March, quoting a senior China National Petroleum Company official. Implementation of that $3 billion project, on which Beijing and Almaty concluded an agreement in 1997, will depend on the size of hydrocarbon reserves found in Aqtobe. LF

KYRGYZ CABINET REJECTS INCREASE IN DEFENSE SPENDING

Finance Minister Temirbek AkmatAliyev proposed at a cabinet meeting on 29 March that budget spending for this year should be increased to allocate a further 116 million soms (about $2.4 million) for defense purposes and 95 million soms for administrative costs, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. But despite reports of an imminent incursion into Kyrgyzstan by Islamic militants now gathered in neighboring Tajikistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2001), the cabinet rejected that proposal. LF

RUSSIA, TURKMENISTAN DISCUSS PREPARATIONS FOR CASPIAN SUMMIT

Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov and Deputy Foreign Minister and special envoy for the Caspian Viktor Kalyuznyi held talks in Ashgabat on 29 March with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and Foreign Minister Batyr Berdyev, Russian agencies reported. The primary topic discussed was the planned summit of heads of Caspian littoral states, originally scheduled for early April, which Kalyuzhnyi told journalists will now take place in the Turkmen port town of Turkmenbashi on 14-15 April. Kalyuzhnyi also said that Niyazov showed "understanding" for the shared position of Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan that the Caspian Sea bed be divided into national sectors while the waters remain in common use. Niyazov argues that no decision on dividing the sea can be taken before its legal status is determined. The two sides were also scheduled to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and aspects of bilateral relations, according to Trubnikov, who told journalists that there is "huge potential" for bilateral cooperation. LF

WATCHDOG DETAILS UZBEK RESTRICTIONS ON RELIGIOUS LITERATURE

The Uzbek government controls the import, publication and dissemination of religious literature, which is subject to rigorous censorship, according to a study circulated on 27 March by Keston News Service. That study, based on interviews and fieldwork conducted in Tashkent earlier this month, describes the workings of the government's Committee for Religious Affairs that assumed exclusive responsibility for religious publishing and the dissemination of religious literature following the 1998 amendments to the law on religion. The study notes that religious literature is not on public sale in Tashkent, that Christian sects may import only very limited quantities of religious books, and that while permission may be granted to import Christian texts in Russian, the same text in Uzbek may be confiscated. LF




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER JAILED FOR 15 DAYS

A Minsk district court on 29 March sentenced Vintsuk Vyachorka, leader of the Belarusian Popular Front, to 15 days in jail for the organization of the unauthorized Freedom Day march last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2001), Belapan reported. Vyachorka denied that he was an organizer of the march, but the court took into account testimonies from two police officers who said Vyachorka incited the crowd through a megaphone. Belapan reported that participants of a similar Freedom Day rally in Hrodna will also go on trial. JM

MINSK TO IMPLEMENT RESTRICTIVE DECREE ON FOREIGN AID

Foreign Ministry spokesman Pavel Latushka on 29 March said the authorities will implement President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's decree introducing state control over foreign gratuitous aid to Belarus, Belapan reported. Latushka was commenting on the EU's call on Lukashenka to revoke this decree, which is seen by Brussels as a restrictive measure furthering Belarus's self-isolation and threatening the country's democratization. The OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk fears the decree will impair the preparation of observers for this year's presidential elections in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2001). JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT REFUSES TO DISCUSS RESIGNATION...

Leonid Kuchma does not intend to discuss with the opposition his resignation or the transformation of Ukraine into a parliamentary-presidential republic with the opposition, Interfax reported on 29 March. "How can I sit at a negotiation table with those who demand my resignation by taking [only] 3,000 people to the streets? What, should I spit upon the 16 million people who voted for me during the elections?" Kuchma told journalists in Donetsk. Kuchma said the preparation of talks with the opposition is handled by Anatoliy Kinakh, head of the Ukrainian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs; former Premier Valeriy Pustovoytenko; and Yevhen Marchuk, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council. Marchuk told the agency that so far there have been no talks with the opposition, only consultations with "some representatives of the National Salvation Forum" on the possibility of such talks. JM

...CRITICIZES DRAFT OF POLITICAL ACCORD BETWEEN PARLIAMENT, GOVERNMENT...

Kuchma said he is unhappy with the draft of a political accord that is currently being prepared by the parliament and the government. "[The draft] speaks about the creation of a parliamentary republic. Should the president sanctify this? No," Interfax quoted Kuchma as saying. He also said it is necessary "to reregister" the parliamentary majority because it is unclear which parliamentary groups are supporting the government. Kuchma noted that now the majority formally includes the Fatherland Party and Reforms-Congress caucuses that support the opposition. He added that he would readily disband the current legislature if the results of last year's constitutional referendum had been reflected in the constitution. JM

...WARNS AGAINST 'CRIMINAL' FOREIGN CAPITAL IN PRIVATIZATION

Addressing a congress of the Ukrainian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs in Kyiv later the same day, Kuchma said he is concerned about "the strengthening of interclannish confrontation [and] the activation of shadow capital" in a "new stage" of privatization in Ukraine. According to Kuchma, the privatization process in Ukraine is increasingly threatened by "foreign financial capital of a criminal origin." He blamed "some homespun political associations" for promoting interests of that "criminal capital" in Ukraine. Kinakh told the congress that the union will support Kuchma's measures to prevent "illegal actions in order to change the constitutional system in the state." Kinakh appealed to Kuchma and Premier Viktor Yushchenko, who also attended the congress but made no speech, to find "mutual understanding" and work "in tandem." JM

YUSHCHENKO PLANS TO MEET WITH TYMOSHENKO

Premier Yushchenko has said he plans to meet with Fatherland Party leader Yuliya Tymoshenko in order to discuss ways to avoid social unrest in society, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported on 30 March. Tymoshenko, who was deputy premier in charge of the fuel and energy sector in Yushchenko's cabinet, was released from jail this week and is now recovering in a Kyiv clinic. Oleksandr Turchynov, head of the Fatherland Party parliamentary group, said Tymoshenko is working on a "serious, constructive program" that will address, among other issues, the problem of extending opposition activities beyond Kyiv and into the regions. JM

ESTONIAN AIR SIGNS LINE-SHARING AGREEMENT WITH AEROFLOT

The national carrier Estonian Air and Aeroflot Russian Airlines signed a line-sharing cooperation agreement on 29 March for the Tallinn-Moscow route, ETA reported. The flights will be carried by Estonian Air, but will now have the code and flight numbers of both airlines. There are currently five flights to Moscow a week, but this will increase to six beginning 18 May. SG

LATVIAN PRESIDENT MAKES OFFICIAL VISIT TO DENMARK

Vaira Vike-Freiberga began a three-day visit to Denmark on 28 March by meeting media representatives and giving an interview to Danish Television. The next day, the president discussed with Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen and Foreign Minister Mogens Lykketoft cooperation among Baltic Sea countries, Latvian-Danish bilateral relations, and NATO and EU enlargement, LETA reported. Lykketoft asserted that Denmark supports the simultaneous admission of the three Baltic states into NATO. Vike-Freiberga also spoke about the establishment of an information technologies college in Riga with Danish assistance. She then visited the new premises of the Latvian Embassy in Denmark, which will be officially opened soon. On 30 March, Vike-Freiberga met with Danish Queen Margrethe II and gave a lecture entitled "Integration and Security in Europe. Latvia's Prospects" at the Royal Library. SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT BEGINS VISIT TO MOSCOW

Accompanied by four ministers, three parliament committee chairmen, and numerous businessmen, Valdas Adamkus flew to Moscow on 29 March, BNS reported. He met with Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, who signed a cooperation agreement with Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas. Adamkus visited the international exposition "TransRossiya" where 14 Lithuanian companies are participating and read a speech at Moscow's International Relations Institute in which he repeated that Lithuania's stated foreign policy objectives are joining the European Union and NATO. He also appeared on Russian television channel NTV's program "Hero of the Day." The main purpose of his trip, however, is the 30 March meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. SG

LITHUANIA SUBMITS REPORT ON NATO ACCESSION PROGRESS

Defense and Foreign ministers Linas Linkevicius and Antanas Valionis on 29 March in Brussels presented a report to the 19-member NATO Council on their country's progress in implementing the NATO membership action plan, ELTA reported. Lithuania was the first of the nine candidates seeking NATO membership to submit its progress report, which was received favorably. Linkevicius said: "There was neither direct criticism nor sharp comments urging to revise our priorities, direction of reforms and change something. They rather emphasized things we have to pay heed to." NATO Secretary General George Robertson, with whom the ministers had met briefly before the council meeting, stressed the importance of public support for NATO membership. Other NATO officials praised positive developments in Lithuanian integration policy, such as good relations with neighbors and effective regional policy, but noted that the state must continue reforms and improve structural planning. SG

WARSAW OPPOSES EU TRANSITION PERIOD IN FREE LABOR MOVEMENT, BUT MORE SOFTLY

Jan Kulakowski, Poland's main negotiator for the EU membership, said in Brussels on 29 March that Warsaw does not agree with EU restrictions on the employment rights for Poles. Germany and Austria have previously demanded a seven-year transition period for employment rights for Poland. Kulakowski added, however, that Warsaw is ready to seek compromise solutions to the issue. PAP quoted unidentified "sources in Brussels" as saying that one of the considered solutions involves a so-called "protective clause," under which Polish employment rights in the EU could be temporarily restricted in case of a mass migration wave from Poland. JM

POLAND'S CITIZENS' INITIATIVE PROPOSES FLAT INCOME TAX

The Citizens' Platform (PO), a group founded by Andrzej Olechowski, Donald Tusk, and Maciej Plazynski, has proposed the introduction of a 15 percent flat-rate income tax in 2003, PAP reported. Olechowski said the flat tax will boost job creation, speed up Poland's economic growth, radically simplify tax-return forms and tax-collection procedures, and help eliminate abuses and offences in the taxation spheres. According to the PO, the proposed rate of 15 percent will not jeopardize Poland's public finances. All major Polish political groups -- the Solidarity Electoral Action, the Freedom Union, the Democratic Left Alliance, and the Peasant Party -- oppose the tax-cut proposal, saying it is detrimental to the state budget and is primarily a PO political ploy designed to win votes in the forthcoming parliamentary elections. JM

POLAND INTRODUCES TOTAL BAN ON MEAT, MILK, FISH TRANSIT

Poland has introduced a total ban on the transit across its territory of livestock as well as meat, milk, and fish products from the EU, East Europe and the Baltic states, PAP reported on 29 March. Main Veterinary Inspectorate spokeswoman Agnieszka Prawdzic said the ban is connected with the threat of foot-and-mouth disease, and will remain in force until further notice. JM

CZECH SENATE REJECTS CONTROVERSIAL CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT...

The Senate on 29 March rejected by a vote of 38 to 19 a controversial constitutional amendment approved by the Chamber of Deputies 14 months earlier, CTK reported. The amendment would have curtailed presidential powers, obliging the head of state to appoint as premier the leader of the largest parliamentary group in the lower house, limiting his right to appoint members of the National Bank's Board, and curtailing the prerogative to grant presidential pardons. President Vaclav Havel commented that the Senate's vote shows that changing the constitution "requires broad consensus." Prime Minister Milos Zeman said he "regretted" the rejection of the amendment while the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) accused the Four Party Coalition of "misusing" its near-majority in the Senate. In turn, Four Party Coalition members emphasized that the amendment's initial approval by the Chamber of Deputies had been a misuse of the ODS-Social Democratic Party (CSSD) majority in that chamber. MS

...APPROVES AMENDMENT LIMITING PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY

With the support of the Four Party Coalition, the upper house approved a constitutional amendment that weakens the immunity from prosecution of deputies and senators, CTK reported. Most senators representing the CSSD and the ODS abstained. The Chamber of Deputies has yet to vote on the amendment, which stipulates that misdemeanors committed by parliamentarians are subject to the same sanctions as those by regular citizens. Senators and deputies would, however, have the right to ask their respective Mandate and Immunity Committees to deal with their case. The Senate also approved a bill on special protection for witnesses whose testimony in a criminal suit may endanger their safety. Such witnesses will be able to change their identities and residences, or move abroad. MS

HAVEL HAS 'NO DOUBT' ON PRAGUE NATO SUMMIT

Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek on 29 March said Havel "has no doubt" that the next NATO summit will be held in Prague, CTK reported. The daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" on the same day reported that the Prague summit is endangered by the Czech Republic-sponsored resolution on human rights infringements in Cuba, which also calls for ending sanctions against that country. "Mlada fronta Dnes" wrote that in retaliation the U.S. postponed making a decision on the summit's date and might initiate a "change of venues." Foreign Minister Jan Kavan told CTK in Vienna: "We have no such information from official U.S. sources, and I am deeply convinced the summit will take place in Prague in November 2002." Petr Necas of the ODS, who is chairman of the Chamber of Deputies' Defense and Security Committee, said that "if the threat is confirmed...this would show that Kavan's policies are irresponsible." MS

CZECH OPPOSITION ALLIANCE FACING DIFFICULTIES

Jiri Senkyr, leader of the Christian Democratic (KDU-CSL) parliamentary group in the Senate, on 29 March told CTK that Four Party Coalition members will not be able to set up a joint parliamentary group in the upper house by 1 April, as agreed last January. There were earlier reports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2001) that the coalition has encountered difficulties in agreeing on its "shadow cabinet" as well. Senkyr said the two groups representing the alliance in the Senate (KDU-CSL on one hand, and Freedom Union-Civic Democratic Alliance on the other hand) will try to solve differences again on 3 April. The Democratic Union, which is the fourth member of the alliance, is not represented in the Senate. MS

KAVAN, FERRERO-WALDNER CRITICIZE RENEWED THREAT OF BORDER BLOCKADES...

Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner and her Czech counterpart Kavan on 29 March criticized in Vienna the announcement on the same day by Austrian environmentalists that they no longer see themselves as being bound by the Austrian-Czech December 2000 Melk agreement and might reinstitute blockades at the two countries' border-crossing points, CTK and dpa reported. Opponents of the Temelin nuclear power plant said that the envisaged environmental impact assessment agreed on in Melk is turning out to be no more than a "whitewash" of the controversial nuclear power station. Ferrero-Waldner and Kavan met at an experts' conference in Vienna on Czech-Austrian relations. They also discussed the 1945 Benes decrees, and Kavan said it might be a good idea to approach this problem the way it has been dealt with between Czech-German contacts. Ferrero-Waldner said Austria will not link EU expansion to bilateral problems. MS

...AND KAVAN PLEDGES THAT CZECHS WILL ABIDE BY MELK AGREEMENTS

Kavan also told CTK that the agreement reached by Zeman and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel in Melk "is still valid" and that Prague will respect its pledge "not to put Temelin into commercial use unless we are 100 percent sure that the operation is safe, both in regard to nuclear safety and the environmental impact." Austrian Environment Minister Wilhelm Molterer praised the Czech fulfillment of that part of the Melk agreement, which obliges Prague to immediately inform Austria of any Temelin malfunction. Austrian President Thomas Klestil, with whom Kavan had an unscheduled meeting, told him he has "some understanding" for the concerns of the environmentalists, but that he "resolutely rejects any interruption of dialogue [through] border blockades." MS

PUTIN TO VISIT PRAGUE?

Presidential spokesman Spacek on 29 March said Russian President Vladimir Putin is interested in visiting the Czech Republic and the presidential office is "looking for a suitable date" for the visit. Havel extended an invitation to Putin during a visit to Prague by the chairman of the Russian upper house, Yegor Stroev, in early March. Meanwhile, Denis Grishchenko, Russian vice consul in Brno, on 29 March canceled his scheduled participation in a discussion with journalists at a meeting on the Chechen conflict. He told CTK he was "not entitled" to comment on political events in Chechnya. Also on 29 March, the Interior Ministry turned down a request for granting political asylum to Sergei Maximenko, a member of the Russian extreme-left Revolutionary Military Soviet (Revoyenosovet), who is charged with complicity in destroying a monument to Czar Nicholas II and other offenses. MS

SLOVAK SUPREME COURT ORDERS TRIAL OF FORMER STB CHIEF

The Supreme Court on 29 March heeded an appeal by the Chief Military Prosecutor's Office against earlier rulings of military courts in Trecin and Bratislava, and ordered the Bratislava Army District Court to resume the trial of former Czechoslovak Communist Secret Service (StB) chief Alojz Lorenc. Lorenc's prosecution was stopped on the grounds that his offenses had come under the statute of limitations. Lorenc had been sentenced to four years in prison by a court in Tabor, but managed to flee to his native Slovakia after the 1993 split between the Czech Republic and Slovakia. MS

MECIAR CLAIMS HE WAS OFFERED ASYLUM IN U.S.

Former Premier Vladimir Meciar, in an interview in the April issue of the Slovak edition of "Playboy," says that after police raided his villa in Trencianske Teplice last year, the U.S. offered him political asylum, but he turned down the offer, CTK reported on 29 March. Some members of Meciar's family live in the U.S. On 20 April 2000, police forcefully entered Meciar's villa and briefly detained him, after he repeatedly refused summons to testify on the 1995 abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son and on the illegal bonuses paid to members of his cabinet. MS

SLOVAK OPPOSITION FAILS IN BID TO DISMISS INTERIOR MINISTER

The motion submitted by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia and Slovak National Party to dismiss Deputy Premier Pal Csaky was rejected on 29 March by the parliament, CTK reported on the next day. The motion was supported by 41 deputies, while 50 voted against it. The motion was submitted after Csaky, an ethnic Hungarian and a member of the Hungarian Slovak Coalition, attended ceremonies in Budapest honoring Count Janos Esterhazy, the only deputy in the puppet Nazi Slovakia to have voted against the deportation of Jews to extermination camps. The opposition claimed that by participating in the ceremonies and accepting a commemorative medal issued on Esterhazy's 100th birthday, Csaky had subscribed to the count's alleged support for southern Slovakia's incorporation into Hungary and had thus violated his oath of allegiance to Slovakia. MS

HUNGARY PROTESTS AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL ADVERTISEMENT

The Hungarian Foreign Ministry on 29 March protested against an advertisement by Amnesty International, aired on Slovenian television, which implied that Hungarian police use torture against the detained. Hungary "was astonished to learn that after a regrettable newspaper campaign in the Netherlands, Amnesty again conducted an advertising campaign that is baseless and offensive," ministry spokesman Gabor Horvath said. However, Anne Burley, Amnesty International regional director, said she did not consider an apology necessary, as the advertisement's message "reflects the reality" and her organization has "specific information" on police brutality in Hungary. She admitted, however, that "there was no special reason to choose Hungary, examples could have been taken from other countries" as well. After the Hungarian protest, the Amnesty International Slovene branch pulled the advertisement off the air. Meanwhile, the Council of Europe has also criticized Hungary for police abuse. MSZ

HUNGARIAN JUSTICE MINISTRY SETS UP ANTIDISCRIMINATION COMMITTEE

Justice Minister Ibolya David on 29 March set up an Antidiscrimination Committee to examine whether a comprehensive bill against discrimination is necessary in Hungary, or if the existing legislation conforms to EU requirements, Hungarian radio reported. David held an informal meeting with Romany politicians, artists, and entrepreneurs to discuss how to improve the living conditions of Roma in Hungary. Meanwhile, "Nepszabadsag" reported that over 30 people from 10 Roma families in Komlo want to emigrate to Strasbourg, mainly because they cannot find jobs in Hungary. Another 150 Roma from the village of Jand intend to meet with Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Their spokesman, Otto Rezmuves, said the Roma "live under inhuman conditions," and unless those conditions change they also plan to go to Strasbourg. MSZ

HUNGARIAN GROUP CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANTI-SLOVAK GRAFFITI

A previously unknown group, calling itself the Radical Action Group, on 29 March issued a statement claiming responsibility for the spraying of anti-Slovak graffiti in Bekescsaba last week. In a letter sent to local dailies, the group said "we are not fascist" and claimed that it had reacted to similar anti-Hungarian acts in Slovakia. "We do not demand gallows for the Slovaks, but for those Nazis living in Slovakia who sprayed Hungarian institutions with racist, anti-Hungarian inscriptions," the letter said. Bekes County police have offered a reward of 100,000 forints ($340) to anyone providing clues about the group, Hungarian media reported. MSZ




SHELLING KILLS 3 IN KOSOVAR VILLAGE

Two ethnic-Albanian villagers and a British journalist were killed, and at least 10 others were injured on 29 March in the Kosovar border village of Krivenik by a shell reported to have been fired from Macedonia, dpa reported. Krivenik is just eight kilometers from the Macedonian village of Gracani, the scene of an offensive by Macedonian troops to root out ethnic Albanian insurgents. Both the Macedonian military and the insurgents denied responsibility for the shelling. KFOR spokesman Axel Jandsek said U.S. Army personnel are investigating to determine who may have fired the shells. Macedonian Defense Ministry spokesman Georgi Trendafilov said "the commander of operations in the Gracani area has said no Macedonian forces have used fire against targets inside Kosovo." A special Macedonian investigative team sent to the area after the incident returned to Skopje later in the day and said they found "no proof" that Macedonian soldiers were responsible for the incident. PB

KOSOVAR OFFICIALS, DAILIES BLAME MACEDONIA FOR DEATHS

The three main political parties in Kosova blamed the Macedonian government on 30 March for the shelling, AP reported. Kosova's largest political party, moderate Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova, said in a statement that: "despite all the warnings of the international community that Macedonia needs to act toward stopping the conflict and starting a dialogue with Albanians in Macedonia, they have continued their offensives and they have spread them into Kosova territory as well." It added that Macedonia was risking "not only destabilization of Macedonia but also of the whole region." Former Kosova Liberation Army leader Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosova said in a statement that "we won't allow Macedonia to vent their anti-Albanian anger." A third party, the Alliance for the Future of Kosova, blamed NATO for not protecting the citizens in the Serbian province. The Croatian agency Hina reported on 30 March that all of the main Kosovar Albanian dailies condemned the attack, which they unequivocally blamed on Macedonia. PB

KOSOVA'S UN ADMINISTRATOR TO DISCUSS ISSUE WITH MACEDONIA

Hans Haekkerup said on 29 March that he would discuss the Krivenik shelling incident during his meeting with Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski in Skopje, which was scheduled to take place on 30 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Trajkovski, for his part, said he had spoken about the general situation in Macedonia with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 29 March. He said Annan supports plans by Macedonia to begin a dialogue with ethnic Albanian officials in Macedonia. Trajkovski added that he is also in daily contact with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson and EU security and foreign policy chief Javier Solana. PB

TALKS BETWEEN ETHNIC ALBANIANS AND SERBS IN PRESEVO CALLED OFF

A meeting between the Serbian government and ethnic Albanian insurgents aimed at reducing violence in southern Serbia's Presevo Valley was canceled on 29 March, AP reported. The meeting was called off because of a disagreement over an exchange of prisoners. Serbian official Milovan Coguric said talks can be held only after the rebels release four Serbian civilians and two Yugoslav soldiers kidnapped earlier this month. But the rebels said they will not do that until Serbian police release three ethnic Albanians arrested earlier this year on terrorism charges. Serbian Deputy Premier Nebojsa Covic said such an exchange is a nonstarter. Januz Musliu, a representative of the ethnic Albanian guerilla group fighting the Serbs in the Presevo Valley, said the Serbs had also violated terms of a cease-fire agreement calling for the withdrawal of heavy weaponry. NATO-mediated talks between the two sides have thus far resulted in a fragile cease-fire and one meeting. PB

U.S. TO DECIDE ON CONTINUING AID TO YUGOSLAVIA

"The New York Times" reported on 29 March that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush is going to acknowledge an acceptable degree of cooperation by Belgrade with the UN war crimes tribunal and will approve of the disbursement of more aid. The U.S. Congress has mandated a decision from the government by 31 March. A positive response from Washington will lead to the disbursement of the second half of a $100 million aid package to Yugoslavia. PB

15 GROUPS TO RUN IN MONTENEGRIN ELECTIONS

The Montenegrin Election Commission confirmed that 15 parties and factions have registered by the deadline to compete in parliamentary elections to be held in the Yugoslav republic next month, AP reported on 28 March. The main movements in the election will be a pro-independence alliance dominated by President Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists, and the opposition coalition called Together for Yugoslavia (TfY). Recent polls estimate Djukanovic's movement as having some 40 percent support, while TfY garners between 20 and 30 percent support from prospective voters. A strong victory by the pro-independence coalition will likely mean that a referendum on breaking away from Yugoslavia will be held. A recent poll showed nearly 60 percent support for an independent Montenegro. PB

HDZ: ALL CROAT TROOPS LEFT BOSNIAN ARMY

According to a statement issued on 29 March by the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ)-led Croat National Assembly, "no more than 50 members" of the Bosnian Croat element of the Muslim-Croat federation's defense forces remain in their barracks, and these will soon leave, Reuters reported. The nationalist HDZ has called on all Croat soldiers to leave the army in a bid to establish self-rule of Croat-dominated areas in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Federation sources refused to say how many troops had left -- the HDZ said as many as 8,000 -- but said hundreds in the northern town of Orasje had returned to their posts. A former commander from the area, Ivo Filipovic, disputed this on Bosnian Croat radio, saying only the newly appointed commanders had declared loyalty to the government. DW

CROATIAN MOB BOSS KILLED IN BROAD DAYLIGHT

The alleged boss of a Croatian criminal gang died of wounds suffered a week before in a mob-style shootout in broad daylight in Zagreb's second-largest square, AP reported. On 22 March, Vjeko Slisko was shot in the head by a Belgian citizen, who was then caught and shot in the forehead by Slisko's bodyguard. The Belgian man died 25 March and the bodyguard has been charged with murder. Interior Minister Sime Lucin faced pressure to resign, but a deputy police chief was fired instead and Lucin has vowed to crack down on crime. DW

ROMANIAN CONSTITUTION TO BE AMENDED

The ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) and the opposition National Liberal Party on 29 March agreed to amend the existing constitution, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Other political parties are to be also consulted and involved in the process. The amendments shall be discussed by a commission formed by constitutional experts, representatives of parties, the government, and the presidential office. Debates in the parliament on the commission's recommendations are to start in September 2001 and end by 30 March 2002, after which the amendments are to be submitted to a plebiscite. Among the envisaged changes are a differentiation between the prerogatives of the parliament's two chambers; introducing single mandate constituencies in the Senate elections; restricting the immunity of parliamentarians; guaranteeing property; and strengthening the prerogatives of the judiciary. The recent Democratic Party proposal to change the semipresidential system into a parliamentary system is not among the envisaged changes. MS

ETHNIC HUNGARIAN PARTY LEADER CRITICIZES 'NATIONALIST RHETORIC' IN PDSR

Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko on 29 March told the MTI Hungarian news agency that as of late "nationalist rhetoric" has re-emerged in the PDSR and this endangers the agreement under which the UDMR backs in the legislature the PDSR minority government, Mediafax reported. Marko said their agreement brought about some "positive results," counting among these the recently passed laws on local public administration and on the restitution of real estate. At the local government level, however, PDSR prefects and mayors had dismissed ethnic Hungarian experts from their posts and this is "unacceptable to us," Marko said. On 28 March, the PDSR and the UDMR leadership discussed the 2001 budget and the UDMR said its support of the budget in the parliament depends on meeting its demands on Hungarian-language universities and the restitution of church property. MS

THIRD PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY REGISTERED IN MOLDOVA

Sixteen deputies representing the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) in the parliament on 29 March submitted a second candidacy of a PCM member, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The third presidential candidate on the ballot scheduled for 4 April is Valerian Cristea, who served in the previous legislature as chairman of the parliament's Committee for Social Issues, Health and the Environment. PCM deputy Maria Postoico denied that the move was prompted by PCM apprehension that outgoing Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis might withdraw from the race against Vladimir Voronin at the last moment, thereby creating a legal deadlock, but provided no other explanation for Cristea's candidacy. The existing legislation makes no provision for single presidential candidacies. MS

LUCINSCHI WINS IN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT...

TOO LATE. The Constitutional Court on 29 March heeded the appeal of outgoing President Petru Lucinschi against the Electoral Code approved by the former legislature on 30 June 2000. In a bid to stop Lucinschi from organizing a referendum on Moldova's transformation to a presidential system, the code introduced a differentiation between "consultative" and "constitutional" plebiscites, with the former plebiscites being viewed as "non-binding." The court ruled that the decision to deprive citizens of the right to initiate a constitutional amendment amounts to infringing on the constitutional provision that "national sovereignty belongs to the people" and ordered the distinction between the two referenda struck out of the code, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS

BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS NATO MAY USE TERRITORY IN BALKAN CRISIS

Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova on 29 March said the memorandum recently signed with NATO would allow the alliance to use Bulgarian territory in the event of a Balkan crisis, Reuters reported. The text of the memorandum and an accompanying note from the government says Bulgaria will allow NATO forces taking part in operations to secure peace in the Balkans to use its land, air and sea space. A spokesman for the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) said the BSP will back the memorandum's ratification in the parliament, but the agreement was not likely to advance aspirations for NATO membership, as the ruling Union of Democratic Forces "is making people believe ahead of the [17 June] elections." MS

U.S. DEFENSE EXPERTS TO STUDY BULGARIAN ARMS INDUSTRY

Former NATO Supreme Commander Europe, General Wesley Clark, is to arrive in Bulgaria on 9 April to head a delegation of U.S. defense experts who will study Bulgaria's military industries slated for privatization, the English-language daily "Monitor" reported on 28 March. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a government source said U.S. arms makers are showing a keen interest in the Sopot-based VZM plant, which produces munitions and artillery equipment. The U.S. weapons manufacturers are also interested in the Arsenal small-arms maker in the town of Kazanlak, the source aid. Clark is to meet with Prime Minister Ivan Kostov and Defense Minister Boiko Noev, and will prepare a report about Bulgaria's military industry that will be made available to potential U.S. investors in this sector. MS

BULGARIA POSTPONES VISA REQUIREMENT FOR SOME EASTERN TOURISTS

The government on 28 March decided to postpone until 1 October the introduction of visa requirements for tourists traveling to Bulgaria on organized package tours from Russia, Ukraine, and Georgia, Reuters reported. An official statement said the government "expects substantial revenues from tourism this year and the introduction of the requirement at the beginning of the summer season could have hindered bookings." The requirement remains in place for citizens of the three countries traveling to Bulgaria privately and will come into force as of 14 June. MS

AUSTRIAN BANK DENIES BULGARIAN OPPOSITION LEADER'S STATEMENT

A spokeswoman for Bank Austria denied that the bank has reached an agreement with BSP leader Georgi Parvanov to manage the country's foreign debt should the BSP win the June parliamentary elections, the daily "Demokratsiya," cited by "Monitor" reported on 29 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 29 March 2001). The spokeswoman said the bank "would never engage in interfering in Bulgaria's domestic affairs, such as managing its foreign debt." She said the talks Parvanov conducted with the Austrian bank's officials concerned the possibility of Bank Austria consulting in privatization projects and were "informative in nature." MS

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT RAISES WAGES AHEAD OF ELECTIONS

The government on 29 March decided to raise by 10 percent wages in sectors funded by the state, "Monitor" reported. Earlier on 29 March, President Petar Stoyanov set 17 June as the date for parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2001). MS

BULGARIAN ENVIRONMENT MINISTER RESTRICTS USE OF WATER FOR INDUSTRY

Due to the danger of a renewed drought, Environment Minister Evdokia Maneva on 29 March banned industrial use of water from state-owned reservoirs, "Monitor" reported. The ban was imposed without any time limit. Water from state-owned reservoirs is to be used only for household purposes. Under the ordinance issued by Maneva, industrial use of reservoir water for purposes such as power generation or irrigation requires special ministerial permission, which will be issued only in case of "proven urgent necessity." MS




DOES KREMLIN RESHUFFLE AUGUR REAL CHANGE?


By Jeremy Bransten and Sophie Lambroschini

On 28 March, Russian President Vladimir Putin made substantial changes in the Russian government, replacing the interior and defense ministers -- among other cabinet officials -- with close personal associates. Putin said those moves would advance plans for military reform and what he called the "demilitarization" of Russian public life.

Analysts say the government reshuffle further consolidates Putin's grip on power, promoting people closely associated with Putin while downgrading officials associated with former President Boris Yeltsin. But at the same time they point out that, in contrast to Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov, who resigned in the wake of a conflict-of-interest scandal, dismissed former Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and former Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo have been reassigned to still prestigious, although less influential, positions. Moreover, those analysts are uncertain whether Putin's new appointments will translate into significant changes in government policies.

Putin himself emphasized that the two top people at the Defense Ministry, as well as the head of the Interior Ministry, will now be civilians, a move he termed "a step toward the demilitarization of Russian society." But although new Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov is now a civilian, he had previously served for 20 years in the Soviet and Russian security services -- where he was a colleague of Putin -- rising to the rank of general in the KGB. Ivanov is seen as Putin's most-trusted ally, precisely because of bonds formed during their joint KGB work.

Michael McFaul, a senior analyst at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment, notes that Rushailo's replacement as interior minister by Boris Gryzlov -- who heads the pro-Kremlin Unity faction in the Duma -- is also important.

"It's a further consolidation of Putin's power over ministries where he previously did not have his people in place. Both the interior appointment and the appointments at the ministry of defense -- these are now loyalists to Mr. Putin. Rushailo, especially, was a holdover from [businessman Boris] Berezovsky's clan, so that's a big change and important in terms of Putin's consolidation," McFaul explained.

Speaking to RFE/RL late on 28 March, opposition Duma deputy (Yabloko) Sergei Ivanenko pointed to another sign that Putin is succeeding in imposing his own team. Ivanenko noted that despite the major changes, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who is regarded as a Yeltsin-man, was left completely out of the picture. Ivanenko said: "In essence, this is a government of Putin, who is in reality the government's head. He directly controls all of his ministers and in this sense the fact Kasyanov was not mentioned once today is very revealing."

But will the change in government personnel mean a change in policy? Putin clearly implied sweeping changes. He said on 28 March that the reshuffle was prompted by the situation in the North Caucasus and the need to get on with a long-awaited military reform. Yet all the officials responsible for waging Russia's latest war in Chechnya are still in place, albeit in different posts.

Moscow-based defense analyst Francoise Deauce sees some hope that new Defense Minister Ivanov can shake up the military. "He is someone who is outside the armed forces, who has a lot of authority -- notably from his [earlier] posts inside the security services -- and so maybe he can impose decisions on the army that it might see as going against its interests. In other words, he may be capable of fighting the corporatism of the military institutions that until now was largely responsible for braking successive attempts at military reforms since 1991."

Stephan De Spiegeleire, a senior policy analyst at the RAND Europe policy think tank, is more pessimistic. He said the equation is very simple: until the war in Chechnya is ended, no significant reforms can be expected, no matter what appointments Putin makes from his inner circle.

New Defense Minister Ivanov indicated on 28 March that there would be no "revolution" in military reforms, adding that any changes would be gradual. Military reforms such as streamlining and reorganizing the army, strict reduction of personnel, and the introduction of a professional, rather than conscript, army have been announced for the past decade as indispensable to cut costs and adapt to new realities. But they have never been implemented.

Analysts further note that the reshuffling of a few key cabinet members will not in itself guarantee meaningful reforms. Divisive factions that existed in the upper echelons of the Russian government and the military before Putin came to power still exist. Analyst De Spiegeleire argues that Putin may have a harder time imposing his authority on the machinery of government than his predecessors, as he still lacks their political power base.

"The infighting that's going on -- that has been going on for a very long time -- hasn't stopped just because Putin came in. There may be some different interest groups that are involved right now but the main fact that -- also within the military -- there are some clans that keep fighting is not going to change by the mere appointment of Ivanov. Unlike previous leaders of Russia, or the Soviet Union, who grew up as first [Communist Party] secretaries and had a huge cadre of people around them, Putin doesn't have it," he commented. Sophie Lambroschini is a Moscow-based RFE/RL correspondent and Jeremy Bransten is an RFE/RL senior editor based in Prague.


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