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Newsline - June 5, 2001




PUTIN TELLS CABINET TO FIND MONEY FOR MILITARY PAY RAISES...

President Vladimir Putin on 4 June told his cabinet to find resources to raise military salaries to levels comparable to jobs in the civilian sector, Russian and Western agencies reported. "We are speaking about the fate of millions of people -- the military and their family members," he said. Putin also called for the 2002 budget to be balanced and "100 percent realizable." PG

...AS LABOR MINISTER POINTS TO HIGH COST OF SOCIAL REFORMS IN FORCE STRUCTURES

Labor Minister Aleksandr Pochinok said on Ekho Moskvy radio on 4 June that measures for the social reformation of the armed forces and other security agencies will cost more than 100 billion rubles ($3.3 billion), Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko was named to head a government commission on the social needs of uniformed soldiers and their families as well as military retirees, the news agency reported. PG

CALL FOR PUBLIC HANGINGS OF CHECHEN WARLORDS SPARKS UPROAR

Colonel General Gennadii Troshev, the commander of the North Caucasus military district, said in an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 4 June that he believes those Chechen field commanders responsible for the deaths of dozens or hundreds of people should be tried and sentenced to death. He added that he personally would sentence such criminals to be publicly hanged. Government officials and most parliamentarians, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) Chairman Vladimir Zhirinovsky being a notable exception, denounced the idea and said the general should stay out of politics. Meanwhile, the Justice Ministry confirmed Russia's moratorium on the use of the death penalty, Interfax reported. PG/LF

PUTIN SIGNS LAW LIBERALIZING HARD-CURRENCY TRANSACTIONS

President Putin on 4 June signed a new law that liberalizes rules about hard-currency transactions by Russian citizens, Interfax reported. The law was adopted by the Duma on 18 April and by the Federation Council on 16 May. PG

WHY DID BEREZOVSKY ATTACK PUTIN?

Oligarch Boris Berezovsky's interview on NTV on 31 May in which he said President Putin might not last until the end of his term (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 2001), has sparked speculation as to why the interview was aired and what resources Berezovsky might have to protect himself from Kremlin reprisals. "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 2 June suggested that the Kremlin may be afraid of Berezovsky for some unknown reason or that the program was broadcast as part of a Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) attack on the new head of Gazprom. Meanwhile, Russian prosecutors dropped one of their two arrest warrants for media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky when his lawyers pointed out that Russian law prohibits the issuing of more than one such warrant at time, Russian and Western agencies reported on 4 June. But prosecutors stressed that Gusinsky remains a wanted man on the outstanding warrant. PG

FOUR THREATS TO PUTIN'S STANDING

Writing in "Vek" on 1 June, commentator Aleksei Bogaturov argued that President Putin has created "a tripod of power" based on the cabinet, people from St. Petersburg, and officials in the presidential administration. But tripods, Bogaturov said, are "only relatively stable" and this one might be knocked over by any of four major problems: the war in Chechnya, state policy toward the media, relations with the United States, or international energy prices. PG

RUSSIANS UNCONCERNED BY UBIQUITY OF PUTIN PICTURES

Forty-four percent of Russians believe that the appearance of Putin's picture in an increasing number of places and on an increasing number of items will neither strengthen nor weaken his authority, according to a poll conducted by VTsIOM and reported by Interfax on 4 June. At the same time, 42 percent believe that most of the pictures show him in an unfavorable way, with only 8 percent saying that the president's picture is increasing his authority. PG

POTANIN SAYS BUSINESS, GOVERNMENT TIES MORE TRANSPARENT

Speaking in New York on 3 June, Interros Holding President Vladimir Potanin said that contacts between Russian business and the Russian government have become "much more open, concrete and useful and therefore more understandable for society," ITAR-TASS reported. He said that this allows the two sides to work with each other without people assuming there is a conspiracy directed at the population at large. PG

RUSSIANS INCREASINGLY LESS OPTIMISTIC ABOUT GOVERNMENT

Fewer Russians think that the economy is improving, while more think that their personal financial situation is deteriorating, according to an article in "Inostranets" on 29 May. At the same time, many fewer people believe that the situation in the Russian army will improve: 61 percent thought it would when polled a year ago; only 21 percent think so now. And the percentage of Russians who believe that Russia's national security capability will decline has increased from 5 percent last year to 27 percent today. PG

GRYZLOV SAYS RUSSIAN FBI UNLIKELY BEFORE END OF 2003

Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov said that President Putin will confirm reforms in the Interior Ministry in the next few days but that the creation of a single federal investigation service analogous to the American FBI may not occur earlier than the end of 2003, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 June. At the same time, Gryzlov said that changes so far have improved coordination among the security agencies. PG

FATHERLAND PLANS TO BECOME PARTY IN OCTOBER 2001

The Fatherland movement headed by Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov plans to become a party at a constituent congress in October, Interfax reported on 4 June. Fatherland is taking this step even as its leaders discuss with Unity officials a union between the two. PG

WHO IS BEHIND THE EURASIA MOVEMENT?

An article in "Obshchaya gazeta" on 31 May said either the secret services or the Kremlin may be behind the establishment of a political group that contains such a broad range of people and ideas. The secret services may have been interested in creating "a tame party of their own which they can use for various propaganda projects," the paper said. But the Kremlin may have created the group as "yet another attempt to unite various voter groups under the president's banner." PG

SHAIMIEV CALLS FOR DELIMITING POWERS OF CENTER, REGIONS

Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev, who heads the State Council working group on the division of powers between the federal government and the regions, said that a careful delimitation of powers is an essential precondition for "the normal interrelationship of different levels of government," Interfax reported on 4 June. He said that he has proposed to Putin that the president create "at the level of the State Council or attached to the chief of state" a commission that will work toward a precise delimitation of such powers. PG

MOVEMENTS IN NIZHNII NOVGOROD GUBERNATORIAL RACE

Election officials in Nizhnii Novgorod on 4 June refused to register National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov, arguing that more than two-thirds of the signatures on his petitions were fraudulent or made by ineligible people, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Meanwhile, Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Yurii Lebedev said that the decision of election commission officials to keep him off the ballot did not have any legal basis but was part of the "cold summer of 2001," Interfax reported. His attorney said that there was no pressure on people to sign Lebedev's petitions as the election officials have claimed. PG

CORRUPT JUDGES SAID 'LESSER EVIL' THAN STATE-CONTROLLED ONES

Tamara Morshchakova, the deputy head of the Constitutional Court, said in an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 2 June that corrupt judges are "a lesser evil" than state-controlled ones because the former will reflect at least part of the will of the population while the latter can lead to tyranny. PG

FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE FLIGHTS INCREASE NEAR RUSSIAN BORDER

Russian air force officials told Interfax on 4 June that foreign intelligence flights increased between 2000 and 2001 near most of the Russian border. The only exception, the officials said, was along the Russian-Chinese frontier. PG

MOSCOW'S CULTURAL TIES WITH CIS, BALTIC COUNTRIES VARY WIDELY

First Deputy Culture Minister Denis Molchanov told the Duma on 4 June that Moscow has become more active in promoting cultural ties with the CIS countries and the Baltic states, but he stressed that the level of ties varies widely, ITAR-TASS reported. Most active are exchanges with Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and the Baltic countries. Things are improving with Ukraine, but ties with Turkmenistan are virtually nonexistent, although Molchanov said that "this was not our fault." Ties with the remaining countries "are below the desired level" for a variety of reasons. PG

SELEZNEV SEES STRONG RESISTANCE TO RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION STATE

Speaking to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Russia-Belarus Union in Grodno on 4 June, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said that fusing the two countries together faces strong resistance and will take a long time to realize, Russian and Western agencies reported. But he said that the constitutions of the two countries could be harmonized as early as fall 2001 and said that he already considers the two countries to be military allies, Interfax-West reported. The meeting also saw the emergence of the interparliamentary association of deputies "For the Union of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia," whose members called for the support of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

UKRAINE SAID STILL STEALING RUSSIAN GAS

Yurii Komarov, a senior Gazprom official, said that Ukraine is illegally siphoning off Russian gas from pipelines passing through its territory, AP reported on 4 June. Komarov noted, however, that Gazprom is less disturbed by the theft than by the fact that Ukraine is then selling the gas abroad. PG

NATO SEEN DISPLACING RUSSIA IN THE CAUCASUS...

According to an article in "Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie" on 1 June, the departure of Russian troops from Georgia will create a void that NATO forces could fill. The article suggested that upcoming NATO exercises on the Black Sea, which it claims Russia has not been invited to participate in, point to that outcome. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has said repeatedly that his country will not host any foreign military bases after those of Russia are closed. PG/LF

...BUT RUSSIA TAKES PART IN NATO BALTOPS MANEUVERS

"Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie" on 1 June reported that Russia "for the first time" will participate in all stages of the Baltops naval exercises being conducted by NATO on 4-16 June. Russia will be represented at the exercises by the torpedo-boat destroyer "Bespokoinii" with a search-and-rescue helicopter on board, the paper said. PG

MOSCOW WILLING TO SHARE INFO ON FAST REACTORS

Russian Atomic Energy Ministry experts said that Moscow is ready to share its knowledge regarding fast reactors and closed-fuel cycle reactors with interested foreign countries, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 June. The experts made the comment after visiting Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil and said that any sharing would take place under the aegis of the International Atomic Energy Agency. PG

PUTIN CALLS FOR ACCELERATED DIALOGUE IN MIDDLE EAST

In a letter to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, President Putin called for the acceleration of the peace process in the Middle East, Interfax reported on 4 June. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on the same day telephoned leaders throughout the region and in Europe to try to promote a Middle East cease-fire, the news agency said. Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry's special representative for the Middle East, Andrei Vdovin, began his tour of Middle Eastern capitals, Russian agencies reported. PG

RUSSIAN JEWISH LEADER CALLS FOR MOSCOW TO DEFINE ITS POSITION ON MIDDLE EAST

Aleksandr Osovtsov, the executive vice president of the Russian Jewish Congress, told Interfax on 4 June that he believes Moscow must clearly define its position on Israel and the Arabs. In the past, he said, the Foreign Ministry has sided with the Arab countries while the Russian secret services "have been more involved with Israel, viewing it as a natural ally in the struggle against Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism." PG

SHOIGU HEADS TO IRAQ

Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu was to fly to Iraq on 5 June to meet with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and explore possibilities for Russian humanitarian assistance to his country, Interfax reported on 4 June. PG

PULIKOVSKII SEEKS INVESTMENT IN CHINA

Konstantin Pulikovskii, the presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district, is in Heilongjiang province in China to discuss investment and economic cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 June. PG

NAVY SAYS RAISING 'KURSK' WILL NOT HARM ENVIRONMENT

Captain Igor Dygalov, an aide to the commander in chief of the Russian navy, said on 4 June that raising the "Kursk" submarine will not entail any environmental hazards, Interfax reported. His comments came after Norway's Bellona environmental group asserted that raising the submarine, which sank in August 2000, might result in the leakage of various poisons and radiation into the sea. PG

NAZI VICTIMS' COMPENSATION PROGRAM BEGINS

Lyudmila Narusova, the head of the Fund for Mutual Understanding and Reconciliation, said in an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 4 June that Russian officials have distributed about 65-75 percent of the money slated to go to survivors of Nazi camps and those who were forced by the Nazis to work in Germany and Austria. Narusova said that the remaining funds, which have been supplied by Germany, will be paid out once the remaining applications for them have been checked. PG

CHUBAIS, ILLARIONOV DISAGREE ON INVESTMENTS

Speaking on ORT television, Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais said that Russia will not be able to improve the country's energy system without massive investments, Interfax reported on 4 June. But presidential economic adviser Andrei Illarionov urged Americans not to invest in Russia because Russia will then be forced to reform its economy to attract back capital that has fled abroad, "Izvestiya" reported on 4 June. Meanwhile, "Versty" in its issue this week said that all Russian efforts to promote foreign investment have gone for naught because the risks of investing in Russia remain too high for most investors. PG

END OF HOUSING SUBSIDIES WILL PLACE NEW BURDENS ON LOCAL GOVERNMENTS

According to "Tverskaya 13" on 30 May, the end of housing subsidies will place new burdens on the Moscow city government. At present, the newspaper said, the city budget pays approximately 360 million rubles ($12 million) annually to subsidize housing. After the introduction of the reform, according to which all but the poorest will pay the full cost of rents and services, the city budget will have to pay some 17.5 billion rubles every year for the 950,000 Muscovites who will qualify for subsidies. PG

AUTHORITIES PREVENT KRASNOYARSK WORKERS FROM BLOCKING TRANS-SIBERIAN RAILWAY

Police in Krasnoyarsk on 4 June thwarted an effort by 40 local workers to block the Trans-Siberian railroad, Interfax-Eurasia reported. The workers were seeking to call attention to the fact that their employers have not paid them regularly nor recently. There were scuffles between the workers and the police, the news service said, but no one was injured. PG

AMERICANS INSTALL RADIATION DETECTORS IN RUSSIAN FAR EAST CUSTOMS FACILITIES

Six officials of the U.S. Department of Energy are in the Russian Far East to install radiation detectors at customs points there, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 4 June. The devices are intended to prevent the smuggling of nuclear materials. PG

RUSSIA TO ENGAGE IN MORE DIAMOND CUTTING

Valerii Rudakov, the chairman of Goskhran, the state committee responsible for handling gold and gems, said in an interview published in "Kompaniya" on 4 June that Moscow plans to export fewer unprocessed diamonds and to have its own jewelers process them. That will allow Russia to earn more money, he indicated, as processed gems bring a higher price than unprocessed ones. PG

TATAR OFFICERS OPPOSE MARKING KULIKOVO FIELD ANNIVERSARY

A group of ethnic Tatar generals and scholars has sent an open letter to President Putin asking him to postpone the planned celebration of the anniversary of the Kulikovo battle, Interfax reported on 4 June. The letter argues that the celebration of that Russian victory over the Mongols and Tatars would set one nation against another and presents the Tatars as "an internal enemy." PG

BOROVIK PLANE CRASH BLAMED ON PILOT ERROR

Officers of the Intergovernmental Aviation Committee on 4 June announced that they had completed their investigation of the 9 March 2000 plane crash that claimed the lives of "Sovershenno Sekretno" holding company President Artem Borovik and eight others and that they had concluded that the crash at a Moscow airport was the result of pilot error, Interfax reported. PG

SPACE FORCES IN BAD SHAPE

According to an article in "Novye Izvestiya" on 2 June, former Defense Minister Igor Sergeev stripped the space forces of most of their equipment and led many of the scientists who had been working there to leave. Sergeev, the article said, "cared only for the retention of control of launchings of heavy rockets with commercial payloads" because of the money his ministry could earn. Recovering from the Sergeev era, the article suggested, will be "a very difficult task." PG

RISING ENERGY PRICES WILL SLOW GROWTH, PUSH UP INFLATION

Mikhail Delyagin, the director of the Institute of the Problems of Globalization, said price increases for oil, gas, and energy this year will slow economic growth to 3-3.5 percent and increase inflation to 18-20 percent, Interfax reported on 4 June. PG

RUSSIAN FISH CATCHES DECLINING

Russian fisherman caught 12 percent less fish during the first five months of 2001 than they did during the same period in 2000, "Izvestiya" reported on 4 June. Overfishing, poaching, and a decline in the ability of the government to enforce fishing rules are to blame, the paper said. PG

KREMLIN, MOSCOW CITY TUSSLE OVER MONUMENTS

The federal government and the city of Moscow are fighting over who should control various cultural and historical monuments, who should have to pay rent, and who should have the right to collect rents and visitor fees, two articles in "Izvestiya" on 4 June reported. The federal authorities say they are only trying to enforce the law and to divide responsibility for the monuments. City officials counter that they are the ones who have been taking care of the monuments and should thus receive the benefits from having done so. PG

GOVERNMENT LOSING TAX REVENUES FROM VODKA PRODUCTION CUTBACK

Because many of Russia's 700 distilleries have stopped production as a result of the government's failure to provide the new official seals required as of 1 June, the Russian authorities are losing 135.6 million rubles ($4.7 million) in tax revenues every day, "Vedomosti" reported on 4 June. In addition, distributors warned that stores may soon run out of vodka and that drinkers may turn to homebrew. PG

VODKA MUSEUM OPENS IN ST. PETERSBURG

Three vodka aficionados -- a doctor, a philologist, and an engineer -- have opened a private museum devoted to the history of their favorite beverage, "Izvestiya" reported on 4 June. Located near the Senate and the Holy Synod, the museum is in the form of a Russian tavern and has displays about the history of drinking and of antialcohol efforts. PG

ZHIRINOVSKY URGES BUSH DAUGHTERS TO SHOW CONCERN FOR THEIR PARENTS

In an open letter to the two teenage daughters of U.S. President George W. Bush, Duma Deputy Speaker and LDPR leader Zhirinovsky called on Jenna and Barbara Bush, who have recently gotten into trouble for underage drinking, to act in ways that will not damage their parents' reputations. He said that he wants them to consider his advice as that of a relative, that he would like to have them visit Russia, and that he will "carefully follow their future actions" and "if necessary" send them additional letters. PG

RUSSIAN SPACE AGENCY WILL NOT GET INTO FUNERAL BUSINESS

Rosaviakosmos spokesman Vyacheslav Mkhailichenko told ITAR-TASS on 4 June that Russian rockets are "not a funeral parlor" and that his agency has no interest in carrying human ashes into space. PG

GERMANY SENDS RUSSIA PRISON UNIFORMS AND BUSES

Under a Council of Europe program to support the Russian prison system, Germany has sent 1.5 tons of uniforms for prisoners and four prison buses to the prison in Vladimir, dpa reported on 4 June. "These are wonderful gifts for our prisons," Valerii Morozov, the head of the legal institute there said. PG

CHECHNYA'S DUMA DEPUTY READY TO QUIT

Aslanbek Aslakhanov, who was elected last August to represent Chechnya in the State Duma, told Duma hearings on 4 June on missing persons in Chechnya that he will resign if the human rights situation in Chechnya does not improve, Interfax reported. Aslakhanov said the transfer of responsibility for the military operation in Chechnya from the Russian Defense Ministry to the Federal Security Service has not resulted in a decrease in the number of Chechen civilians detained and tortured or killed by the Russian military. He argued that journalists should have free access to Chechnya to report on conditions there. LF

SLAVNEFT ACQUIRES EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS TO DAGHESTAN'S OIL

Slavneft on 31 May signed an agreement with the government of Daghestan giving the company exclusive rights to oil exploration and extraction, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 2 June. The company will also provide oil products for the local market. Slavneft will invest some $70 million in Daghestan in 2000-2001, company President Mikhail Gutseriev pledged. LF




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT REVIEWS REGIONAL ECONOMIC, SECURITY TRENDS

In an extensive interview with Mediamax on 5 June, which was subsequently circulated by Groong, Robert Kocharian said that security and peace in the South Caucasus are crucial to European security as a whole. He also argued that regional economic cooperation could not only contribute to resolving political differences between the states of the region but also encourage a greater volume of foreign investment. In that context he expressed regret that Azerbaijan has repeatedly said such regional economic cooperation is contingent on a solution to the Karabakh conflict. He also stressed the progress Armenia has achieved in building democratic institutions, noting that "the political environment in Armenia is becoming stable and more predictable, which is very important for our business partners." Kocharian said that during his visit to Brussels on 5-9 June he will discuss with NATO and EU officials a future European role in establishing peace in the South Caucasus. LF

AZERBAIJAN OIL EXPORT PIPELINE COSTS MAY BE REVISED UPWARD

David Woodward, who is president of the Azerbaijan International Operating Company engaged in developing three Azerbaijani offshore oil fields, told journalists in Baku on 4 June that the planned Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil may cost up to 20 percent more than the original estimate of $2.4-$2.7 billion, AP reported. He said the original estimate was revised following the completion last month of preliminary engineering works, but that a final figure will only be calculated later. The Turkish government has pledged to meet any costs in excess of $2.5 billion. LF

TRIAL OF BORDER VIOLATORS OPENS IN AZERBAIJANI EXCLAVE

The trial opened in the Nakhichevan City Court on 4 June of one Kazakh, one Kyrgyz, and three Russian citizens identified by the Azerbaijan National Security Committee as members of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party, Turan and ANS TV reported. The five were apprehended last September crossing the border from Armenia into Nakhichevan. Local police forcibly prevented an ANS cameraman from entering the courtroom. LF

RUSSIAN OFFICIAL SAYS GEORGIA SHOULD BE 'MORE FLEXIBLE' OVER ABKHAZ SETTLEMENT

During talks in Moscow with a Georgian Socialist Party delegation, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov said the Georgian leadership should adopt a more flexible approach to resolving the Abkhaz conflict and embark on economic cooperation with the Abkhaz leadership, Caucasus Press reported on 4 June. Pastukhov, who for years was involved in the ongoing search for a political solution to the Abkhaz conflict, specifically proposed opening railway transportation between Russian and Georgia via Abkhazia, which Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has said is contingent to the repatriation to Abkhazia of Georgian displaced persons. Pastukhov also proposed building an oil export pipeline from Novorossiisk to the Georgian port of Supsa that would benefit Abkhazia (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 1, 3 March 1998). LF

GEORGIAN KIDNAPPERS LOWER RANSOM DEMAND

The abductors of Levan Kaladze, whose brother Kakha is a member of the Georgian national soccer team as well as Italy's AC Milan, have lowered from $600,000 to $450,000 the ransom they are demanding for his release, Caucasus Press reported on 4 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2001). But they have threatened to kill Levan Kaladze if that ransom is not paid. LF

GEORGIAN, TURKISH OFFICIALS SIGN DEFENSE GRANT PROTOCOL

Visiting Turkish General Staff official General Sherafetin Teliasan and Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili signed a protocol in Tbilisi on 4 June whereby Ankara will provide Georgia with a fourth grant, worth $2.5 million, for defense purposes, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2001). Two million dollars will be spent on vehicles and communications systems for the 11th motorized rifle brigade, and to develop the Marneuli military airfield and the Tbilisi military academy, and the remaining $500,000 on the Georgian border guards, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT TO DEMAND ANNULMENT OF BORDER AGREEMENT WITH CHINA...

Alisher Abdimomunov, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of Kyrgyzstan's bicameral legislature), told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 4 June that his committee will recommend that deputies call for the annulment of border agreements signed in 1996 and 1999 that cede Kyrgyz territory to China (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23, 25 and 29 May 2001). The Kyrgyz government claims that the previous legislature ratified the original 1997 agreement, but Abdimomunov said his committee cannot find either a transcript or a tape recording of the session at which this took place. LF

...APPROVE DUAL CITIZENSHIP WITH RUSSIA

Kyrgyz parliament deputy Omurbek Tekebaev told journalists in Bishkek on 4 June that some 70 of a total 105 legislators have approved a constitutional amendment that would provide for dual Kyrgyz-Russian citizenship, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. That amendment is intended to dissuade Kyrgyzstan's dwindling Russian minority from emigrating. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SUBMITS ELECTION LAW AMENDMENTS TO PARLIAMENT

Askar Akaev has submitted to the parliament some 50 amendments intended to render the election law more democratic, Interfax and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The amendments include lowering from 50,000 to 20,000 the number of signatures required to register as a presidential candidate. But the controversial requirement that all presidential candidates take oral and written Kyrgyz-language examinations remains unchanged. LF

TURKMEN DEPUTY PREMIER DISMISSED

Saparmurat Niyazov has fired Deputy Prime Minister and Economy and Finance Minister Orazmurad Bekmuradov, Interfax reported on 4 June. Speaking at a cabinet session on 4 June, Niyazov noted positive developments in most economic sectors, especially the oil and gas sector and agriculture. In contrast, he criticized poor specialist training and the misuse of resources within the power-engineering ministry and similar incompetence within the health service. LF

TURKMENISTAN CLOSES EMBASSY IN AZERBAIJAN

Citing temporary financial constraints, the Turkmen Foreign Ministry informed the Azerbaijani government on 4 June that it has closed its diplomatic representation in Baku, which was opened in 1999, ITAR-TASS reported. The two countries are at odds over ownership of several Caspian oil fields. Azerbaijan has no diplomatic representation in Ashgabat, but Deputy Foreign Minister Halaf Halafov told Turan on 5 June that Azerbaijan intends to open an embassy there. LF




BELARUSIAN, RUSSIAN, UKRAINIAN LEGISLATORS SET UP INTERPARLIAMENTARY GROUP

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Russia-Belarus Union on 4 June gathered for a two-day session in Hrodna, western Belarus. The session was attended by Ukrainian lawmakers. Belarusian, Russian, and Ukrainian lawmakers set up an interparliamentary deputy association called For the Union of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia (ZUBR). ZUBR's declared goals include "the restoration of the unity of the Russian, Belarusian, and Ukrainian people" and the consolidation of efforts toward the creation of a union of the three Slavic nations, Belapan reported. Meanwhile, Russian State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev told journalists in Hrodna that plans to merge Russia and Belarus into a single state face strong resistance from some "executive and political structures" and will take a long time to implement. Several dozen young people in Hrodna protested the Belarusian-Russian integration, shouting "Shame!" and "Independence!" at deputies leaving the session hall. JM

KUCHMA REAFFIRMS UKRAINE'S PRO-EUROPEAN COURSE...

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma told journalists in Dnipropetrovsk on 4 June that Ukraine's course to integrate into Europe remains unchanged, Interfax reported. Kuchma was commenting on media reports alleging that Ukraine is to change its political course following the dismissal of Premier Viktor Yushchenko (see End Note below). "According to the constitution, the government is a tool and a mechanism [for implementing] the president's program with which he won the elections," Kuchma noted. Kuchma also said the attitude of the EU to Ukraine has recently become "warmer." In his opinion, Pope John Paul II's visit to Ukraine this month will add to the country's stability. JM

...PLEDGES TO BRING CASPIAN OIL TO EUROPE THIS YEAR

Kuchma announced that this year Ukraine will complete the construction of the Odesa-Brody oil pipeline and an oil terminal near Odesa. The Ukrainian president made the statement while visiting the Pivdenmash plant along with his Polish counterpart Aleksander Kwasniewski. "Today we should join our efforts in seeking the possibility of filling [this pipeline] for Caspian oil to reach both Poland and, first and foremost, Europe. These tasks -- more political than economic in nature -- are facing the Polish and Ukrainian presidents," Ukrainian New Channel Television quoted Kuchma as saying. The 667-kilometer pipeline linking the Black Sea port of Odesa with Brody in Lviv Oblast is 80 percent ready, Interfax reported. JM

U.S. DEFENSE CHIEF MEETS UKRAINIAN LEADERSHIP

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met with Ukrainian President Kuchma and other top Ukrainian officials in Kyiv on 5 June, AP reported. Rumsfeld, the most senior member of President George W. Bush's administration to visit Ukraine, told journalists the previous day that the Pentagon and Bush wanted to show their support for a democratic Ukraine. Following his meeting with Kuchma, Rumsfeld said the former assured him that Ukraine will continue its transition from communism to a Western-oriented democracy. "He did personally assure us that this is his commitment and intention and asked me to convey that to the president of the United States," Rumsfeld noted. JM

POLISH PRESIDENT SAYS NO FINAL DECISION ON PIPELINE BYPASSING UKRAINE

Kwasniewski said in Dnipropetrovsk on 4 June that Warsaw has not yet agreed to the construction of a pipeline to take Russian gas to Europe while bypassing Ukraine. President Kwasniewski said the Polish government will explore the issue of the bypass pipeline in detail, adding that oil and gas export routes must not serve as "a means of political pressure." Kwasniewski was speaking to a Ukrainian-Polish economic forum in Dnipropetrovsk. Earlier the same day, Kuchma and Kwasniewski opened a Ukrainian-Polish center intended to promote the development of businesses and investments between the two countries. JM

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN BEGINS VISIT TO ESTONIA

Arturas Paulauskas began a three-day visit to Estonia on 4 June with talks with his Estonian counterpart Toomas Savi, BNS reported. The main issues discussed at their meeting were accession to the European Union and NATO. Paulauskas said that the declarations adopted at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly session in Vilnius the previous week should provide an impetus for the process of NATO enlargement. He emphasized the need for unanimous action by the Baltic states in their NATO membership efforts, noting: "I am convinced that we have to bolster each other and emphasize the unity of Baltic countries in our common interest." Paulauskas also met with parliament Deputy Chairman Tunne Kelam and visited the electronics company Elcoteg Tallinn AS, whose production accounts for a significant share of total Estonian exports. SG

LATVIAN TOP OFFICIALS PARTICIPATE IN JEWISH EVENT

During the opening of a Jewish community library in Riga on 4 June, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga participated in the presentation of Elie Wiesel's book "Night," and the opening of the third reunion of Jews residing outside Latvia, BNS reported. She expressed the hope that the library would help provide a deeper understanding of Judaism and the dramatic fate of its people. Vike-Freiberga noted that she had personally met Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wiesel, whose book is an autobiographical account of the experiences of his family during the Holocaust. She told the reunion members who had come from the U.S., Canada, Kuwait, Israel, Germany, Sweden, and other countries that "Latvia is your homeland." Prime Minister Andris Berzins expressed condolences over the deaths in last week's terrorist blast at a disco in Tel Aviv. He affirmed that Latvia will provide assistance to countries to bring war criminals to justice. SG

FINNISH PRIME MINISTER VISITS LITHUANIA

Paavo Lipponen on a one-day visit to Vilnius on 4 June held talks with his Lithuanian counterpart Rolandas Paksas, ELTA reported. The premiers discussed NATO and EU expansion with Lipponen providing valuable information about Finland's negotiations in Brussels on various chapters, including agriculture. Paksas expressed his dissatisfaction with EU plans to impose up to a seven-year transition period on the free movement of labor from new EU members. Lipponen suggested that Finnish nuclear safety consultants could provide useful advice on how to strengthen the safety of Lithuania's Ignalina nuclear power plant and to manage nuclear waste in an appropriate way. Paksas also invited Finnish businessmen to participate in the privatization of the state-owned companies Lithuanian Energy and Lithuanian Gas. Lipponen also met with parliament Deputy Chairman Arturas Skardzius and Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis. SG

POLAND EXHUMES SOME 200 VICTIMS OF 1941 MASSACRE OF JEWS

Polish prosecutors have found the remains of roughly 200 victims of the 1941 massacre of Jews in Jedwabne, Reuters and dpa reported on 4 June. The number of victims is far less than the 1,600 claimed by Polish-born New York-based scholar Jan Gross in his controversial book "Neighbors" published last year. The exhumation, criticized by Jewish groups as desecrating the dead, was initiated by Poland's National Remembrance Institute (IPN). IPN investigator Witold Kulesza said it is impossible to determine the exact number of Jews killed in Jedwabne since the IPN conducted only a partial exhumation. Kulesza said prosecutors also found some 100 shells from spent bullets at the massacre site, adding that further investigation will determine whether Nazi troops were involved in the killing of Jedwabne Jews. Gross wrote in his book that the massacre was perpetrated by Poles without any incitement from the Nazis. JM

CZECH INTERIOR, DEFENSE MINISTRIES ON SCREENING CERTIFICATES AFFAIR

Interior Minister Stanislav Gross and Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik told journalists on 4 June that their ministries are working together to investigate the falsified screening certificates affair (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 2001), CTK reported. Gross said there is no doubt that the responsibility for issuing those certificates rests with the Interior Ministry, but that this does not mean that former interior ministers must be considered responsible for it. He said that so far 114 forged certificates have been discovered, all of them issued to the staff of the former Czechoslovak Military Counterintelligence service in 1991 and 1992. Tvrdik said he intends to immediately contact his Slovak counterpart Jozef Stank and inform him about possible agents of the former communist counterintelligence in the Slovak Defense Ministry. At the time the certificates were issued, the defense minister was Miroslav Vacek of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. MS

WHAT CONSEQUENCES FOR NATO?

Czech Ambassador to NATO Karel Kovanda told the BBC on 4 June that he does not expect any "negative consequences" as a result of the screening certificates affair but "the relevant bodies in NATO will undoubtedly take note," CTK reported. He said NATO is not concerned about the Czech lustration law, but by the vetting of Czech military conducted by the National Security Office (NBU). NBU Chairman Tomas Kadlec told CTK that his organization has checked the records of more than 11,000 people for handling confidential data. He said "dozens" have been disqualified because of their former cooperation with, or work for, the communist secret services. Kadlec also said the checks applied by the NBU are far more thorough than those used for the purpose of "lustration vetting" and compare data from several databases. MS

CZECH NATO AMBASSADOR ON SUPERSONIC FIGHTER TENDER

Regarding the tender for the purchase of supersonic aircraft, Kovanda told the BBC on 4 June that in "informal and unofficial talks" NATO officials have told him they are opposed to Prague purchasing the aircraft because of the costs the purchase would impose on the budget and because it might leave no funds for other military modernization projects. MS

FORMER SLOVAK PREMIER ATTACKS HUNGARIAN MINORITY

In an interview with the Czech weekly "Tyden" on 5 June, former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar said the Hungarian minority in Hungary continues to pursue the objective of reannexing to Hungary those parts of Slovakia's territory lost by Budapest as a result of the 1920 Trianon Treaty, MTI reported. Meciar said the "most prominent representative of Hungarian irredentism" in Slovakia is Deputy Premier Pal Csaky, but there are "many others." Meciar also said that the law on local administration reform being considered by the cabinet headed by Premier Mikulas Dzurinda is "artificial" and aims at "modifying the ethnic balance" in the envisaged new administrative regions in favor of Hungarians. He said that at least half of those registered as members of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia are in fact Roma. MS

HUNGARY MARKS ANNIVERSARY OF TRIANON TREATY

Hungarian government and church officials on 4 June held a commemoration in the town of Zebegeny, marking the anniversary of the 1920 Trianon Treaty, in which Hungary's map was redrawn after World War I and Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory, Hungarian media reported. "Today we can unequivocally state that the Trianon Treaty was gravely unjust, inflicting a wound on the country's body by tearing up the nation," Social and Family Affairs Minister Peter Harrach said in his speech. "We do not seek revenge, nobody need fear us," he continued, adding that "we reserve the right to assume responsibility for the parts of the nation torn from us." Harrach also said that "everyone must respect" the "Status Bill," which would grant benefits to ethnic Hungarian abroad, as "it is not directed against anybody." At the ceremony, a "bell of national remembrance" was blessed by Apostolic Nuncio Karl Josef Rauber. The bell will ring every day at 4:30 p.m. in memory of the hour on 4 June 1920 when the Trianon Treaty was signed in Versailles. MSZ

HUNGARY CLOSES EU ACCESSION TALKS ON ENVIRONMENT, CUSTOMS

Hungary has closed EU accession talks regarding environmental protection and customs union with beneficial compromises, thus managing to close 19 of 31 chapters of talks, Hungary's Ambassador to the EU Endre Juhasz told journalists in Brussels on 1 June. Juhasz said Hungary had withdrawn five of its nine requests for transition periods in environmental protection, while the EU also made considerable concessions. The same day the EU also submitted its proposals concerning the free flow of labor, Hungarian media report. Juhasz said Hungary will "apply the principle of reciprocity" and will ask all EU member states to set a date from which the flow of labor will be free for both sides. Regarding foreign ownership of land, the EU appears willing to agree that Budapest restrict it for seven years, instead of the 10 years Hungary had requested as a transition period, Hungarian media reported. MSZ.




U.S. SAYS SERBIA MUST COOPERATE WITH THE HAGUE

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington on 4 June that the government has not yet decided whether to attend the EU's donors conference for Serbia, which is slated for 29 June. He stressed that the U.S. links its participation in the gathering to Serbia's willingness to cooperate seriously with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Boucher said: "The conference, I believe, is expected at the end of the month. So, as the time approaches, I am sure we would make our decisions, but at this moment there hasn't been one," RFE/RL reported. Some observers have suggested that the key Western role in Serbia might be played by the EU, given Brussels' desire to manage European problems by itself and the high level of anti-American feeling in Serbia, including that of President Vojislav Kostunica himself (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report,"17 October 2000, and 5 January and 15 May 2001). PM

EX-MILOSEVIC ALLIES BLOCK YUGOSLAV HAGUE LAW...

Members of Serbia's governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition failed once again on 4 June to secure the agreement of the Montenegrin Socialist People's Party (SNP) to a proposed law on cooperation with The Hague (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 2001). The SNP maintains that it should be possible to work together with the tribunal without extraditing Yugoslav citizens, namely former President Slobodan Milosevic, "Pobjeda" reported. The SNP has the backing of Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia and the United Yugoslav Left of Mira Markovic, the wife of Milosevic. The SNP was part of the last Milosevic government, but most of its leadership switched allegiances to the DOS last fall when it was clear that Milosevic and his party had lost the elections. PM

...AS GOVERNMENT'S FATE HANGS IN THE BALANCE

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said in Belgrade on 4 June that he believes that the lack of agreement between the DOS and SNP could lead to a collapse of the coalition of the two parties, which forms the federal government. Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service that he sees no purpose in holding further talks with the SNP unless it is willing to modify its stand. He added that Serbia has become a "hostage" of the small SNP, "Blic" reported. The current impasse could become a crisis and lead to new elections, "Politika" wrote. The Podgorica daily "Vijesti" reported from Belgrade, however, that the DOS is prepared to make one final offer to the SNP. PM

ARMY DENIES LINK TO SERBIAN MASS GRAVES

The General Staff said in a statement that neither the army leadership nor any member of the army are linked to any attempt to conceal evidence of war crimes, "Danas" reported on 5 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 2001). PM

MILOSEVIC AIDES FACE JUSTICE IN SERBIA

The trial began in Belgrade on 4 June of Radomir Markovic, Milosevic's former security chief. He and three of his assistants are charged with revealing state secrets, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Markovic also faces charges related to an apparent assassination attempt on opposition leader Vuk Draskovic with a truck in 1999. Details of the charges regarding state secrets have not been made public, but it is widely assumed that Markovic is suspected of sharing confidential information with other Milosevic allies and later destroying incriminating evidence. In related news, the Serbian Supreme Court ordered the rearrest of Dragoljub Milanovic, a former director of state-run television, on charges of abuse of office and "acts against public security." He had been released from preventive detention in April, but the latest court ruling overturned that decision. PM

PRESEVO ALBANIANS PROTEST SERBIAN POLICE MOVES

Riza Halimi, who heads the Presevo district council and the Party for Democratic Activity, said in Bujanovac on 4 June that the Serbian Interior Ministry has begun to recruit members of the multiethnic police force without consulting with representatives of the Albanian community, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Halimi added that the ministry's decision to move the police academy from ethnically mixed Bujanovac to the more Serbian community of Kraljevo is in contravention of the OSCE's plan for a multiethnic force. PM

MACEDONIA AND SERBIA TO FIGHT 'TERRORISM AND ORGANIZED CRIME'

Macedonian Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski and his visiting Yugoslav counterpart Slobodan Krapovic signed an agreement in Skopje on 4 June according to which Belgrade will supply Skopje with intelligence and arms. The Macedonian minister said that "it is no secret that our country needs weapons. Our teams of experts will consider possibilities for a broader cooperation between our defense ministries," AP reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report, 5 June 2001). Krapovic agreed with his hosts that ethnic Albanian rebels in Macedonia are using "human and minority rights...to hide the real goals of Albanian extremism and terrorism, their fight for territory." The weapons on offer include offensive as well as defensive ones, the BBC's Serbian Service reported. The two ministers agreed on the importance of fighting "terrorism and organized crime," which many Albanians regard as a hate-speech euphemism for "Albanians." PM

EARTHQUAKE IN NORTHERN MACEDONIA

An earthquake shook northern Macedonia on 3 June, the Skopje daily "Utrinski vesnik" reported. The earthquake registered as magnitude 5 on the Mercalli scale and its epicenter was about 20 kilometers northeast of Skopje, close to the provincial town of Kumanovo. The quake could also be felt in the capital, which was almost completely destroyed by an earthquake on 26 July 1963. UB

KOSOVA ELECTION RULES CLARIFIED

Daan Everts, the OSCE's chief of mission in Kosova, said in Prishtina on 4 June that the 17 November general elections will be held in one round according to a proportional system. All of Kosova will be treated as one electoral district, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Some 100 seats will be elected directly, while 10 seats will be reserved for Serbs (who make up about 7 percent of the population) and 10 for members of other minority groups (who make up a total of about 4 percent of the population). PM

BOSNIAN MUSLIM ATTACK ON CATHOLICS CONDEMNED

An attack by three Muslim youths on a group of Roman Catholic worshipers outside Sarajevo's cathedral on Pentecost Sunday has met with universal condemnation by Muslim leaders, "Oslobodjenje" reported on 5 June. The U.S. Embassy also criticized the perpetrators of the incident. The Interior Ministry has prepared indictments. PM

TRANSYLVANIAN NATIONALIST MAYOR FACES INVESTIGATION

Police on 4 June opened an investigation against Cluj nationalist Mayor Gheorghe Funar for having sealed the premises of the Town Hall to local councilors, Mediafax reported. Funar claimed the provisions of the Local Public Administration Law recently adopted by the parliament prohibit town councilors from holding office in state companies and that 16 out of 31 councilors hold positions on company boards. He said that as a consequence the council must be disbanded and new elections held. However, that provision of the law applies only from 2004 onward and the local prefect has refused to disband the council. Observers unanimously believe that Funar is in fact trying to avoid implementing those provisions of the law that would make it mandatory for his town to allow bilingual street signs. On 2 June, some 200 people demonstrated in front of the Hungarian Consulate in Cluj, chanting obscenities and "Hungarians out!" MS

ROMANIAN GENERAL RESIGNS TO AVOID DISCIPLINARY PROCEDURE...

General Mircea Chelaru on 4 June requested that he be placed on reserve, thereby avoiding disciplinary action for his participation in the ceremony marking the 55th anniversary of Marshal Ion Antonescu's execution, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The Defense Ministry approved the request. Chelaru said he did not wish to hinder his country's efforts to join NATO, but rejected as "malicious" the interpretation of his presence at the ceremony. Greater Romania Party (PRM) leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor threatened to make public compromising documents on Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu if Chelaru's request was rejected. Earlier, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said Chelaru's presence was "out of place" and that officers with high rank such as his should have been aware of the "sensitivity" in at least two countries -- Israel and the U.S -- toward the Antonescu issue. Chelaru "wondered" in reaction whether "sensitivity must be displayed only by Romania." MS

...AND ROMANIAN JEWS PROTEST HONORING ANTONESCU

The Federation of Romanian Jewish Communities (FCER) on 4 June said it is "firmly condemning" attempts to rehabilitate Antonescu, whom it described as a "controversial historic personality" who pushed Romania into a "war with huge human costs." The FCER said it had "learned with consternation" about the unveiling of Antonescu's bust on 1 June by "nationalist, chauvinist forces" and that the monument honors one guilty of having "nurtured" the 1941 Iasi pogroms in which thousands of Jews lost their lives. The FCER also says Antonescu ordered the mass deportations of Jews from Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina to Transnistria, resulting in the loss of "over 100,000 lives." It said it "hopes" that the democratic countries that fought the Axis powers during World War II will oppose the "attempts to rehabilitate Marshal Antonescu...who represents neither the Romanian people nor the country's new democratic forces." MS

PROMINENT ROMANIAN POLITICIAN RESIGNS AS HEAD OF PARLIAMENTARY GROUP

Senator Petre Roman, who last month lost the chairmanship of the Democratic Party to Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu, on 4 June officially resigned as leader of the party's parliamentary group in the Senate and was replaced by Viorel Pana, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He said that "the new road on which the Democratic Party is marching cannot convince me." Also on 4 June, the four deputies who recently resigned from the PRM participated in the meeting of the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) parliamentary group in the Chamber of Deputies. They said they have "unofficially" joined the PDSR but will "do so officially" only when the intended merger of their Party of Democratic Forces into the PDSR is approved. MS

ROMANIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT ANNULS GOVERNMENT ORDINANCE ON REFUGEE STATUS

The Constitutional Court ruled on 5 June that a 2000 government ordinance on the status of refugees is unconstitutional. The ordinance grants those whose requests for political asylum have been rejected the right to appeal to a higher court of justice, but at the same time gives the authorities the right to deport those people from Romania without waiting for the result of the appeal. The Constitutional Court ruled that the stipulation infringes on the constitutional provision for the right to judicial defense. MS

RUSSIAN DUMA COMMISSION CHAIRMAN MAKES INFLAMMATORY STATEMENTS IN TIRASPOL...

Georgii Tikhonov, head of the Russian Duma's commission on the Transdniester, said in Tiraspol at the end on a three-day visit on 3 June that the OSCE 1999 summit resolutions are "only recommendations" without a binding character, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported the next day. Tikhonov also said he is confident the Duma will not ratify the OSCE resolution and that the commission he heads "believes Russia's military presence in the Transdniester must be preserved and consolidated, it being practically Russia's western line of defense." Tikhonov also said he is sure the Transdniester will "one way or another" join the Russia-Belarus Union, whether alone or concomitantly with Chisinau. He also said the Duma will not ratify the basic treaty with Chisinau and that separate treaties between Russia on the one hand, and Moldova and the Transdniester on the other, ought to be signed. MS

...TRIGGERING ANGER IN CHISINAU

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin refused to receive Tikhonov on 4 June, saying the exact nature of his visit has not been clarified, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Moldovan Parliamentary Deputy Speaker Vadim Mishin criticized at a meeting with the Duma's delegation Tikhonov's Tiraspol statements, saying no one can argue about the judicial validity of the OSCE summit's resolution. Vasile Sturza, Moldova's chief negotiator with Tiraspol, said Tikhonov's statements will work against the search for a solution to the conflict. Tikhonov's deputy head of the commission, Pavel Burdukov, said in Chisinau that Russia will not be able to meet the OSCE deadline for the withdrawal of its arsenal from the Transdniester. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS SMIRNOV HAS 'EXOTIC IDEAS'

Voronin, in an interview with Infotag on 4 June, said Transdniester separatist leader Igor Smirnov "can always be counted on to produce exotic ideas." Voronin was responding to the interviewer's question on whether Smirnov had proposed at their 16 May meeting that Moldova "quit the Istanbul OSCE summit agreements." MS

BULGARIAN, MACEDONIAN PRESIDENTS CALL ON ALBANIA TO JOIN COMMON PROJECTS

Visiting Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski and his Bulgarian counterpart Petar Stoyanov, meeting in Sofia on 4 June, invited Albanian President Rexhep Mejdani to join them in new discussions on common projects meant to link their part of the Balkans to the rest of Europe, AP reported. One of the main projects is the construction of a trans-Balkan artery linking the Black Sea port of Burgas with the Adriatic port of Vlora in Albania. It would include a highway, a railroad, telecommunication facilities, and an oil pipeline. Stoyanov said a joint approach would send "a strong signal to the people of the three countries and to the international community that we are looking for a common European perspective." MS




UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT REASSERTS CONTROL


By Jan Maksymiuk

Last week's appointments made by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to the new cabinet of Premier Anatoliy Kinakh seemed to fully confirm the opinions of those observers of the Ukrainian political scene who have asserted that the ousting of Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko was orchestrated by Kuchma solely to defuse the president's own political problems.

Kuchma made Kinakh's cabinet almost a copy of Yushchenko's by reappointing 11 cabinet members who served under Yushchenko. "Only the premier was changed, while the government remained [the same]," Kuchma commented on the recent government reshuffle in Ukraine, speaking to journalists at last week's CIS summit in Minsk.

The issue of Yushchenko's ouster emerged some two months ago when the Ukrainian opposition -- most notably the National Salvation Forum and the For the Truth groups -- were staging regular and vigorous demonstrations in Kyiv, demanding the ouster of Kuchma and top state officials over their alleged role in the murder of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Those allegations seemed to be confirmed by secret audio recordings made by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko in Kuchma's office and subsequently made public in Ukraine by Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz.

Even though not impressively large, those anti-Kuchma protests brought Ukraine's "tape scandal" into the spotlight of Ukrainian and world public opinion and did much damage to Kuchma's political stature.

Those who suspect Kuchma and his administration of political plots assert that Kuchma ordered the arrest of former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko and orchestrated the dismissal of Yushchenko in an attempt to gradually change the direction of opposition protest actions. And indeed, following Tymoshenko's arrest in mid-February and the inauguration of Yushchenko's dismissal process in the parliament, opposition groups became involved in organizing actions in defense of these two politicians. The opposition's drive to oust Kuchma, though not dropped altogether, had already become less energetic before 26 April, when Yushchenko was voted out of his post. That drive subsided almost completely in May, when different opposition factions engaged in disputes over the expediency of holding an anti-Kuchma referendum.

Apparently, the Communists and the so-called oligarchic parties helped Kuchma get rid of Yushchenko in exchange for some promised concessions. Many Ukrainian commentators maintained that Kuchma had agreed to introduce some "oligarchic" ministers in the new government. If this theory holds water, then Kuchma must have immensely disappointed the oligarchs. There are only several vacancies left in Kinakh's cabinet, and all of them are in relatively less important ministries. It is also not clear what the Communists have gained by contributing to Yushchenko's ouster. Neither Kuchma nor Kinakh have promised to make an about-face change in Ukraine's economic or political course, as postulated in the Communist Party's program.

Kuchma has managed to tighten his grip on the government following the "tape scandal" and Yushchenko's dismissal. Last week the Ukrainian president issued a decree introducing the posts of state secretaries and deputy state secretaries for the Cabinet of Ministers and individual ministries. The state secretaries are to be appointed for five-year terms. Kuchma's spokesman, Volodymyr Lytvyn, explained that the decree was necessitated by frequent cabinet reshuffles which, he argued, threaten to "disorganize the executive branch" in the country's "period of transition and political restructuring." The state secretaries, not subordinated to the prime minister, are to deal with the day-to-day running of the government and provide continuity between consecutive cabinets.

Many opposition politicians have voiced fears that Kuchma's move indicates a further assault on democracy on his part. Tymoshenko said the introduction of state secretaries is "the logical transformation of the authoritarian [power] system into dictatorship." Reforms and Order Party leader Viktor Pynzenyk said the decree is politically tantamount to "the liquidation of the institute of the Cabinet of Ministers, which is now becoming a window-dressing [body] since the entire power has been focused on the president." And Kyiv-based political scientist Mykola Tomenko commented that many ministers from the previous cabinet of Yushchenko retained their posts in that of Kinakh, but "significantly lost their powers" to state secretaries. "Kinakh is becoming a sort of presidential representative or adviser to deal only with managing the regional system of power, some economic branches, and individual enterprises," Tomenko added.

With summer vacations close at hand, the Ukrainian opposition may face additional difficulties in mobilizing its adherents for anti-Kuchma protests on the scale they did in February and March. And when a new period of political activity starts in September, most politicians and parties will probably be much more interested in ensuring their own political future in next year's legislative elections than in trying to threaten that of the president. Thus, even if morally damaged, Kuchma seems to be politically secure at least until a new legislature is formed.

Perhaps the most bitter pill for the National Salvation Forum in its anti-Kuchma campaign was how Yushchenko behaved following his ouster. Yushchenko declined offers to join or even head the anti-Kuchma opposition and announced that he is going to form a "broad democratic coalition" to win in next year's parliamentary elections. But the first persons he consulted on the creation of such a coalition were parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch and -- Kuchma. Some Ukrainian commentators are convinced that only one move by the opposition -- a political alliance of Yushchenko (as candidate for the post of president), Tymoshenko (would-be premier), and Moroz (would-be parliamentary speaker) -- could radically revamp the Ukrainian political scene and give democrats a fair chance to defeat both "the party of power" grouped around Kuchma and several oligarchic parties. But at present, such an alliance seems to be the least likely political development of all.


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