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Newsline - July 24, 2001




PUTIN SAYS 'NO BREAKTHROUGH' IN TALKS WITH BUSH...

President Vladimir Putin on 23 July told the Russian cabinet that "of course there was no principal breakthrough" in talks with U.S. President George W. Bush on questions of defensive arms, Russian and Western agencies reported. He said that he "confirmed" Moscow's adherence to the 1972 ABM Treaty. But Putin portrayed the talks as a positive step forward because of the agreement to have negotiations on both offensive and defensive strategic weapons and also because of Bush's push for greater economic cooperation with Russia. PG

...BUT RUSSIAN MEDIA DIVIDED IN ASSESSMENTS

On 23 July, most pro-Kremlin media, including ORT and RTR, described the Putin-Bush agreement as an American "retreat" that reflected Putin's demands for respect for the 1972 ABM Treaty. "Izvestiya" the same day described it as a "win-win" outcome in which both sides came out ahead. But "Kommersant-Daily" headlined its story on the talks "Russia Gives Up," arguing that Putin was forced to accept everything he had earlier refused. Political scientist Vyacheslav Nikonov, however, told strana.ru that the "Kommersant-Daily" argument was "an incompetent conclusion" based on "illiterate opinion." What Putin and Bush agreed to, he said, was that the two countries will explore how to maintain stability if the U.S. deploys NMD. VY

PUTIN SAYS PATH TO WTO NOW OPEN...

Putin said on 23 July that the leaders of the seven industrial countries in Genoa indicated that they are ready to support Russia's application for membership in the World Trade Organization "on conditions that are acceptable to us," Russian and Western agencies reported. That position was significantly more upbeat than the one given by Putin's foreign affairs adviser, Sergei Prikhodko, on 21 July. Prikhodko said that the international community has done too little to support Russia's bid and has insisted on overly strict compliance by Russia with the organization's regulations. PG

...AS ILLARIONOV ASSERTS RUSSIA'S STATUS AT G-8 'FUNDAMENTALLY NEW'

At a Moscow press conference on 23 July, presidential economic adviser Andrei Illarionov said that "Russia's participation at the G-8 has undergone an essential change," Russian and Western agencies reported. "It's no longer seven plus one, and we do not go there any more just to discuss our problems and to try to win funding." Instead, he said, "Russia now comes to meetings as a giver not a taker...to discuss world problems and to present its own solutions." As a result, the industrial countries "are treating us as we want to be treated. We now bring stability, solutions to world problems, and we're not trying to scare anyone." PG

FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS MOSCOW READY FOR ARMS TALKS

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 23 July that Russia is ready for consultations with the U.S. on strategic arms and stability, and that "we hope that our American partners will also be ready for them," ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, Vladimir Belous of the Academy of Military Sciences told that Russian news agency the same day that Russia can considerably reduce its nuclear stockpile without reducing its security. Former Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Vladimir Lukin, who is one of the leaders of Yabloko, told Interfax on 23 July that the two countries are now in a position to begin serious negotiations on security issues. PG

PUTIN SAYS SOLDIERS MUST ACT WITHIN THE LAW

In a speech to senior officers on 23 July, Putin said that "every military operation must take place exclusively within the framework of existing legislation and...every citizen of the Russian Federation must be certain" of that fact, Russian and Western agencies reported. Putin added that the military must improve cooperation among its various branches, and that he has told his Security Council to develop proposals for achieving such cooperation. He further noted that Russia currently is threatened by instability from the directions of the southwest and Central Asia. He added that officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) have been successful in preventing the distribution of falsified financial and credit documents in Russian markets. PG

PUTIN ORDERS MORE PROTECTION FOR SWIMMERS

Faced with a record number of drownings in Moscow this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2001), Putin on 23 July ordered the government to improve public safety at beaches and pools, Russian and Western agencies reported. He directed Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko to ensure that health and rescue services exist in all places where people go swimming. PG

MONEY-LAUNDERING CASE IN LIECHTENSTEIN POINTS TO PUTIN

Liechtenstein prosecutors have indicted two men for laundering money from a Colombian drug cartel and then investing it in a St. Petersburg real estate company linked to Putin and Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 July. The prosecutors said that one of the accused, Rudolf Ritter, said that he set up a company in St. Petersburg in 1992 and used both Putin and Gref as consultants. But so far, the prosecutors said, there is no proof that he actually paid them. VY

KASYANOV SAYS GOVERNMENT FINALIZING ANTIDRUG PROGRAM

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said on 23 July that the government is finalizing plans for a program to combat illegal drug use, Interfax reported. He said that the program will be adequately funded because the threat of drugs in Russia has become such a severe problem. PG

GOVERNMENT PREPARES AGRICULTURAL REFORMS

Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev said on 23 July that the government's Council for Agricultural Policy has prepared a package of some 30 bills to facilitate the implementation of the Land Code and other agricultural reforms, RIA-Novosti reported. The most important of these measures, Gordeev said, is one that will give regional administrations complete freedom to regulate land ownership. VY

GOVERNMENT TO INTEGRATE SCIENCE, EDUCATION

The Education Ministry announced on 23 July that the Russian government plans to spend 1.6 billion rubles ($34 million) over the next five years to integrate Russian higher educational institutions and the Academy of Sciences, Interfax reported. The government plans to use the money to form 150 joint academic-scientific centers on the basis of existing academic and higher educational institutions and also 12 collective centers for developing practical applications for scientific discoveries. PG

TWO VIEWS OF ANTIGLOBALIST MOVEMENT

Dmitrii Rogozin, the chairman of the Duma International Relations Committee, said on 23 July that the participants in the antiglobalist movement could grow into a potentially dangerous threat to governments and the international community, Interfax reported. He noted that Hitler too had begun his political career in beer halls, and that failure to pay attention to the threat he represented had the most serious consequences. Meanwhile, Sergei Fomichev, the director of the Moscow Institute of Social and Global Ecology and the coordinator of the radical "Preservers of the Rainbow" ecology group, told Interfax the same day that "we are radicals, but not hooligans." PG

'PSEUDO-DEMOCRATIC' REFORMS SAID TO UNDERCUT PUBLIC FAITH IN LIBERALISM

In an article published in "Vremya MN" on 21 July, Aleksandr Shishlov, a member of the Yabloko faction in the Duma, said that "the pseudo- democratic reforms" pursued by the Russian government have undermined popular confidence in and support for liberalism in general. That decline in popular support, he said, will make it ever more difficult to move in the direction of liberal reforms in all sectors of life. PG

POLL SAYS RUSSIANS WANT MOSCOW TO TAKE INTO ACCOUNT PRESENCE OF RUSSIAN EMIGRES IN ISRAEL

According to a poll reported by "Profil" on 16 July, 54 percent of Russians believe that the Russian government should in its relations with Israel take into consideration the fact that there are a significant number of emigres from Russia living in that country. Thirty-one percent said Moscow should not pay attention to this fact, and 15 percent said they are uncertain whether the government should or not. PG

COLOMBIA SAYS NO EVIDENCE OF RUSSIAN MAFIA ROLE IN BUILDING OF DRUG SUBMARINE

Ernesto Uertas Escalon, Columbia's ambassador to Moscow, told Interfax on 23 July that his government has not uncovered any evidence that Russian criminal groups were in any way involved in the construction of a special submarine designed to carry drugs from Columbia to other countries. Escalon noted that there has been a great deal of speculation about this possibility since Colombian police discovered the submarine several months ago, but that no evidence substantiating that speculation has emerged. PG

RUSSIAN FIGHTER FORCES PAKISTANI PLANE TO LAND

A Russian MiG-27 forced a Pakistani Boeing 747 to land in Moscow after the plane strayed into Russian airspace without permission, ORT reported on 23 July. Interfax subsequently reported that Islamabad has apologized for the incident. VY

LUKOIL, ITERA SIGN OIL ACCORD WITH UZBEKISTAN

LUKoil and Gazprom's holding company Itera have signed an agreement with the Uzbek state oil company calling for joint development of oil and gas fields in that country, RIA- Novosti reported on 23 July. Each of the Russian firms will have a 45 percent share in the project while the national company, Uzbekneftegaz, will have only 10 percent. VY

RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS VISIT CHINA

Colonel General Aleksandr Golbakh, the head of the Far Eastern Regional Administration of the Federal Border Guards, on 23 July led a delegation of his colleagues on a visit to China, Interfax-Eurasia reported. The visit is scheduled to last for five days. PG

VIETNAM HAS NO PLANS TO LEASE CAM RANH BASE AFTER RUSSIANS LEAVE

Hanoi has no plans to lease the Cam Ranh Bay naval base to any other country after Russia's lease there runs out in 2004, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 July. PG

FUSION OF VOLGA AND URALS MILITARY DISTRICTS TO ENHANCE DEFENSE CAPABILITY

Colonel General Aleksandr Baranov, the commander of the newly merged Volga- Urals Military District, said on 23 July that the merger of the two districts has strengthened Russian control of its southern border regions, the Military News Agency reported on 23 July. He said that his officers and soldiers are seeking to meet "the tasks set by the president concerning the formation of a rapid deployment force in the Central Asian direction." VY

WITNESSES UNDERCUT CHARGES AGAINST PASKO

NTV reported on 23 July that witnesses in the closed military trial of journalist Grigorii Pasko have failed to prove that he is guilty of the treason charges against him. Pasko's lawyer, Anatolii Pushkov, said that one of the witnesses, the deputy commander of the Pacific Fleet, Vice Admiral Aleksandr Konev, told the court that he personally gave Pasko permission to visit secret sites and make video films there. Anther defense witness, Anatolii Fomin, who worked for the same military newspaper as Pasko, testified that he and Pasko secured FSB permission for all their activities. VY

POLL SHOWS HALF OF ALL BUSINESS OWNERS FAVOR PARTIAL NATIONALIZATION OF BANKS

According to a poll reported by "Novoye vremya" on 22 July, 50 percent of business owners favor partial nationalization of banks. Only 31 percent are opposed. PG

DELYAGIN SAYS INFLATION TO RISE SHARPLY AGAIN IN FALL

Mikhail Delyagin, the director of the Moscow Institute of Problems of Globalization, told Interfax on 23 July that inflation will continue to slow this summer but is likely to rise sharply in the fall. He said that his prediction reflects the difficulties the government faces in reining in the price policies of the energy monopolies. PG

KRESS RUMORED TO BE IN LINE TO REPLACE CHUBAIS

"Vek," No. 28, reported that Tomsk Governor Viktor Kress is being considered for the position of president of Unified Energy Systems in place of Anatolii Chubais. Kress's appointment would push Chubais out of a key position and might help to deflect criticism of Moscow if the regions fail to prepare adequately for heating this winter, the weekly said. PG

LUKOIL SEEKS WESTERN PARTNERS FOR CHINA PIPELINE

"Handelsblatt" reported on 23 July that LUKoil is actively seeking foreign partners, including Ruhrgas AG, to help it construct a new pipeline to China, dpa reported. The paper said that the Russian company has also approached Gaz de France and Italy's ENI. PG

AEROFLOT INVESTIGATION TO CONTINUE

Russian prosecutors have assembled more than 127 volumes of materials on the so-called Aeroflot case, and officials on 20 July said that the investigation phase of the case has been closed, Interfax reported. But "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 July reported that investigation into possible links between that case and embattled magnate Boris Berezovsky is continuing. PG

NAVY SAYS 'KURSK' SAFE FOR LIFTING

Navy spokesman Igor Dygalo said on Russian television on 23 July that the "Kursk" nuclear submarine that sank in the Barents Sea last August is entirely safe for lifting, Russian television reported, according to dpa. Dygalo said that "the reactors are shut down [and] the safety protection mechanisms are operating." PG

NAZI VICTIMS TO BE COMPENSATED SOON

Leaders of the Russian Fund for Understanding and Reconciliation said on 23 July that money from Germany to compensate some 16,000 survivors of concentration camps and ghettos will be distributed in about two weeks, AP reported. The remaining approximately 400,000 Russian citizens who have applied for compensation will receive money later, the fund spokesman said. PG

LUZHKOV RULES OUT 'LOVE PARADE'

The office of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov issued a statement on 23 July saying that "the city government will not allow holding [a Love Parade by members of sexual minorities] in Moscow on the Day of the City or on any other day, because such demonstrations outrage the majority of the capital's population, are in effect propaganda of dissipation, and force upon society unacceptable norms of behavior," AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2001). The statement added that homosexuality "goes against traditional moral values of most Russians, as well as the canons of the main religious confessions in the city." PG

BEAUTY CONTEST TO TAKE PLACE UNDER RUBRIC 'MOSCOW--THE THIRD ROME'

Organizers of this year's Miss Moscow beauty contest told Interfax on 23 July that the competition, which will take place on 25 July, will be under the rubric "Moscow-- The Third Rome." PG

30 CELL PHONES FOR EVERY 100 MUSCOVITES

Communications Minister Leonid Reiman said that there are now 30 cell phones for every 100 residents of the Russian capital, but only two for every 100 residents of the rest of the country, Interfax reported on 21 July. PG

GREENPEACE RUSSIA BEGINS BAIKAL PROTEST

Activists of Greenpeace Russia on 23 July began a protest action against the pollution of Lake Baikal, Interfax reported from Irkutsk. The activists have set up an international ecological camp which over the course of the next month will seek to clean up part of the lake and call attention to those firms that are polluting it. PG

THIEVES BREAK INTO TAX OFFICE IN MOSCOW DISTRICT

Thieves over the weekend broke into an office of the Tax Inspectorate in the southwestern section of Moscow, Interfax reported on 22 July. They damaged the facility and made off with the money kept there. PG

MOSCOW EXPERIMENTS WITH VANDAL-PROOF PUBLIC TOILETS

Interfax-Moscow reported on 23 July that the city government of the Russian capital will begin experimenting with vandal-proof public toilets. Some 30 new such facilities are to be introduced over the next year, the news agency said. PG

CORRECTION:

The "RFE/RL Newsline" item of 23 July entitled "German Arrested by Russia Convicted of Spying for U.S. by Belarus Court" should have identified the German citizen sentenced to seven years in prison as Christopher Lenz.

IS PRIMORE'S NEW GOVERNOR CLEANING UP CITY GOVERNMENT?

Criminal proceedings on suspicion of abuse of office have been launched against seven top officials in the office of the mayor of Vladivostok, RFE/RL's Vladivostok correspondent reported on 23 July. The seven officials, which include two deputy mayors, have been charged following an audit of the financial activities of the committee for administering city property. Last year, the committee conducted a number of sales of city property, some of which were sold at below-market prices. Some buildings, for example, were sold at a "symbolic" price to relatives of city officials. The corresponding loss to the city budget is estimated to exceed some 27.5 million rubles ($940,000). According to "Kommersant- Daily," a store located in the center of the city was sold for $16,000, although its real market price is closer to $400,000. Local political analysts consider Vladivostok Mayor Yurii Kopylov's position to have been weakened by his earlier failure to back the winner of the recent gubernatorial elections, Sergei Darkin. JAC

ST. PETERSBURG REPORTS EXTRA BUDGET REVENUES

The city of St. Petersburg has bought more than half of the $300 million worth of Eurobonds it issued in 1997, Deputy Governor Viktor Krotov told reporters on 23 July, according to ITAR-TASS. According to the agency, the city has some $140 million worth of bonds still in circulation, which it must redeem in 2002. It purchased some $80 million worth of bonds in the first half of this year and $80 million last year. According to Krotov, the city will continue to buy up its Eurobonds as long as its economic situation remains favorable. Almost 50 percent of the funds used to purchase the bonds came out of the city's additional budget revenues for the first half of the year. The remainder came from internal borrowing. Meanwhile, Krotov reports that the city is negotiating with the World Bank on a new loan that would be used partly to finance reconstruction projects in the center of the city. JAC

FAR NORTHERN REGION MUST CHOOSE BETWEEN HEAT AND SOCIAL PROGRAMS

Kamchatka Oblast's Legislative Assembly will decide on 25 July whether to cut funding for 25 social programs in order to enable the oblast to buy enough fuel for winter, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 23 July. In a local radio broadcast, Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev announced that the proposed cuts would affect funding for medical and education programs as well as a program for constructing housing for families with many children. He added that the resources that the oblast has received from the federal center are inadequate to prepare for winter. Earlier in the month, the chairwoman for the State Duma Committee on Problems of the North and Far East, Valentina Pivnenko (People's Deputy), told reporters that the amount set aside in the 2001 budget for deliveries to the North is far less than the amount needed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2001). JAC

ANOTHER CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER KILLED

Chechen field commander Magomed Tsagaroev was shot dead by Chechen police in Grozny late on 22 July after a long and carefully planned operation by Russian Interior Ministry and army troops, and his body has been identified, the commander of the joint Russian forces in Chechnya, Lieutenant General Vladimir Moltenskoi, announced on 23 July. Tsagaroev was said to have been close to Saudi-born radical field commander Khattab, and to have controlled 90 percent of the guerrilla forces operating in Grozny and the lowland regions of Chechnya. LF

FIRST ISSUE OF CHECHEN OFFICIAL NEWSPAPER SCRAPPED

In response to a request to subscribe to "Vesti respubliki," the new newspaper published by the pro-Moscow Chechen administration, RFE/RL was informed on 23 July that the entire print run of the first issue of that paper, which was to have appeared in early July, was destroyed on orders from the Chechen government for reasons that remain unclear. LF

KABARDINO-BALKARIA ADOPTS NEW CONSTITUTION

The parliament of Kabardino-Balkaria adopted a new constitution on 19 July that excludes the republic's existence as an independent entity separate from the Russian Federation, Glasnost North Caucasus reported, citing ITAR-TASS. In addition, the legislation of the Russian Federation takes precedence over local laws. The rights and freedoms of citizens of the republic are now defined by federal, rather than by republic laws. In particular, the republic's leadership no longer has the right to ban meetings and rallies. LF




FOUR MORE PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES QUIT ARMENIAN PEOPLE'S PARTY...

Deputy parliament speaker Gagik Aslanian and three parliament deputies quit the People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) on 23 July, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. As a result of those latest defections, the HZhK parliament faction has shrunk from 20 to 13 members over the past month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 July 2001). LF

...WHILE SECOND ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT FACTION REGROUPS UNDER NEW NAME

The Kayunutiun (Stability) parliament faction announced on 23 July its decision to rename the faction the "People's Agro-Industrial Union" (AAZhM), Noyan Tapan reported. Two former HZhK deputies who had left that party announced their decision the same day to join the new faction. Also on 23 July, President Robert Kocharian named Vartan Ayvazian, who headed Kayunutiun, as ecology minister, Noyan Tapan reported. Ayvazian must resign his parliamentary mandate to take up a ministerial post. The new AAZhM faction has 11 members, and one of the former HZhK deputies, Hmayak Hovannisian, was elected its chairman, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Hovannisian, who is a staunch Kocharian supporter, said the revamped faction will follow a "centrist" and "pragmatic" line. LF

TWO ARMENIAN OFFICIALS SAY THEY WERE SACKED FOR FIGHTING CORRUPTION

Outgoing Ecology Minister Murad Muradian told RFE/RL on 23 July that his dismissal, which President Kocharian announced on 21 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2001), was demanded by a criminal mafia that is plundering Armenia's natural resources, including scarce timber. He suggested that Kocharian acceded to that demand out of "political expediency." Also on 23 July, a second sacked official, former Deputy Minister for State Property Vanya Mkhitarian, similarly blamed his dismissal on his previous revelations of the plundering of natural resources. LF

ARMENIA REGISTERS GROWTH IN GDP, EXPORTS

Armenia's GDP increased by 6.4 percent during the first six months of 2001 compared with the same period last year, Noyan Tapan reported on 23 July. Exports during the first six months of 2001 grew by 9.3 percent and amounted to $155.8 million. LF

DATE SET FOR PAPAL VISITS TO ARMENIA, KAZAKHSTAN

Pope John Paul II will visit Armenia from 25-27 September at the invitation of President Kocharian and Catholicos Garegin II within the framework of the year-long celebrations to mark the 1700th anniversary of the adoption of Christianity as Armenia's state religion, Noyan Tapan reported on 23 July. The pontiff was originally scheduled to visit Armenia two years ago, but that trip was cancelled due to the terminal illness of Garegin's predecessor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 17 and 30 June 1999). Prior to his arrival in Armenia, the pope will visit Kazakhstan from 22-25 September at the invitation of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Interfax reported on 20 July, quoting the presidential press service. LF

IRAN WARNS AZERBAIJAN OVER CASPIAN OIL DEVELOPMENT

Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Ahani on 21 July lodged a formal protest with Azerbaijan's charge d'affaires in Tehran against plans by the Azerbaijan state oil company SOCAR and foreign oil companies, including BP and Exxon/Mobil, to develop the Araz-Alov-Sharg oil deposits that Iran considers lie within its section of the Caspian Sea, Turan and the "Financial Times" reported. Two Iranian air force planes overflew the Araz- Alov-Sharg deposit on the afternoon of 23 July, and later that evening an Iranian warship entered Azerbaijani territorial waters and threatened to open fire on an Azerbaijani oil exploration ship unless it left the area, AP reported. Azerbaijan's Prime Minister Artur Rasizade summoned Iranian Ambassador Ahad Gazai on 24 July to protest those actions, which he described as "a gross violation of international norms," according to Turan. LF

FOUR ABKHAZ KILLED IN AMBUSH

Two Abkhaz army servicemen and two civilians died on 22 July when unidentified attackers opened fire on their horse-drawn cart in the demilitarized zone between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. At an emergency cabinet session on 23 July, Abkhaz Prime Minister Anri Djergenia blamed the killings on Georgian guerillas operating with impunity in the demilitarized zone. An unnamed Georgian spokesman rejected Djergenia's claims, and attributed the killings to fighting between Abkhaz criminal factions. Speaking in New York on 23 July, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed concern that the total 21 killings in Abkhazia over the past three months have led to the suspension of talks between the Georgian and Abkhaz leaderships, RFE/RL's UN correspondent reported on 24 July. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTY IMPLICATED IN MAJOR CORRUPTION SCANDAL

Parliament deputy David Bezhuashvili of the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia faction on 23 July denied accusations against him made at a Georgian government session by Temur Shashiashvili, the governor of the west Georgian province of Imereti, Caucasus Press reported. Shashiashvili claimed that Bezhuashvili was involved in machinations intended to bring about the bankruptcy of Georgia's two largest industrial enterprises, the Chiatura Manganese Plant and the Zestafon Ferrous Alloys Works, and in the illegal export of silica-manganese from the former. Shashiashvili further alleged that Bezhuashvili has an influential protector in Justice Minister Mikhail Saakashvili. Shashiashvili produced documentation in support of his claims that has been passed to the State Security Ministry. LF

KYRGYZ DEFENSE OFFICIAL DENIES NEW INVASION IMMINENT

Defense Ministry spokesman Mirbek Koilubaev on 23 July rejected as inaccurate predictions made the previous day by Russia's RTR television that an incursion into Kyrgyzstan by Islamic militants is imminent, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Koilubaev said that separate small groups of militants have taken up positions on the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, but that Kyrgyz government troops are ready to repel any attempt by those groups to enter Kyrgyz territory. LF

KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT DETAILS PLANS FOR ENERGY SECTOR PRIVATIZATION

The Kyrgyz government decided on 23 July to form a special commission, to be chaired by First Deputy Premier Nikolai Tanaev, which will oversee the privatization of the Kyrgyzenergo energy giant, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. As decided in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 15 January 2001), Kyrgyzenergo has already been divided on paper into five separate joint-stock companies in preparation for privatization, despite objections from the parliamentary opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 July 2001). LF

KYRGYZ CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REJECTS DUAL CITIZENSHIP

Kyrgyzstan's Constitutional Court has rejected a proposal by some 70 parliament deputies to amend the constitution to allow for dual Kyrgyz-Russian citizenship (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 2001), parliament deputy Omurbek Tekebaev told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 23 July. LF

TAJIKISTAN APPLIES FOR OBSERVER MEMBERSHIP OF WTO

Tajikistan has formally applied for observer status with the World Trade Organization, Deputy Trade and Economy Minister Isroil Mahmudov told Asia Plus-Blitz on 23 July. LF




BELARUSIAN NGO WANTS DISMISSAL OF OFFICIALS OVER DEATH SQUAD ALLEGATIONS

The Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BKhK) has demanded the dismissal of Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman, deputy chief of the presidential administration Yury Sivakou, and Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumau, Belapan reported on 23 July. The BKhK says recently publicized documents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2001) implicate the three men in the organization of a death squad that allegedly killed opponents of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The statement also urges the National Assembly to call an emergency session in order to launch a parliamentary probe into Lukashenka's possible implication in the disappearances of opposition figures Yury Zakharanka, Viktar Hanchar, Anatol Krasouski, and Dzmitry Zavadski. More that 50 Belarusian politicians and public figures have addressed Premier Uladzimir Yarmoshyn, urging him to set up a commission with the participation of international experts to probe the death squad allegations. JM

NATO GENERAL OPENS CHORNOBYL VICTIMS CENTER IN BELARUS

U.S. General Joseph Ralston, the commander in chief of NATO forces in Europe, inaugurated a U.S.- funded blood transfusion center in Homel, southeastern Belarus, on 23 July, Western and Belarusian agencies reported. The U.S. armed forces donated $400,000 for the center, which is to treat people affected by the Chornobyl nuclear disaster. "Let this hospital be a symbol of what we can achieve when we work together as partners towards a common cause and common good," Reuters quoted Ralston as saying in Homel. Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Michael Kozak said in Homel that the U.S. is ready to normalize relations with Belarus if Minsk honors its commitments to the OSCE, Belapan reported. Kozak said that U.S. assistance to Belarus is directly dependent on the country's human rights record and compliance with international standards for free and fair elections. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT AGREES TO CHANGE CRIMEAN PREMIER

Leonid Kuchma has approved the recent dismissal of Crimean Autonomous Republic Premier Serhiy Kunitsyn (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 23 July 2001) and agreed to the proposal by Crimea's Supreme Council to appoint Valeriy Horbatov as the new head of the Crimean cabinet, Interfax reported on 23 July. Presidential spokesman Oleksandr Martynenko said Kuchma made his decision in order to harmonize cooperation between the legislative and executive branches on the peninsula. The feuding between Kunitsyn and Crimean parliamentary speaker Leonid Hrach has gone on for two years. Horbatov is a deputy of the Ukrainian parliament. In 1994-96, he was Kuchma's permanent representative in Crimea. JM

UKRAINIAN EX-PREMIER HIT BY MORE U.S. CHARGES

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California has said a federal grand jury has added a wire fraud charge to a 53-count indictment against former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, AP and Reuters reported on 23 July. Lazarenko -- who has been charged with embezzlement in Ukraine, money laundering in Switzerland, and conspiracy in the United States -- is now being held in a federal prison outside San Francisco. Last year, a Swiss court convicted Lazarenko in absentia of money laundering, handing down an 18-month suspended sentence and confiscating nearly $6.6 million from his Swiss bank accounts. Lazarenko is suspected of illegally transferring a total of $320 million from Ukraine to the U.S. JM

RUSSIA'S ALEKSII II NOT INVITED TO RELIGIOUS CELEBRATION IN KYIV?

Metropolitan Kirill, a high official in the Russian Orthodox Church, told journalists in Kyiv on 23 July that Russian Orthodox Church head Aleksii II has not obtained an official invitation to attend the 950th anniversary of the Kyiv- Pechersk Monastery on 28 August, Interfax reported. Last week the agency quoted Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko as saying that Patriarch Aleksii II will be invited by Metropolitan Volodymyr, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). JM

ESTONIAN, LATVIAN FINANCE MINISTERS FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT ON TAX CONVENTION

Siim Kallas and Gundars Berzins, at a meeting on 23 July in the border town of Valka, were unable to reach an agreement on how to settle the dispute on the 1993 bilateral agreement on the avoidance of double taxation, BNS reported. Arguing that Estonia changed its income tax laws significantly in 2000 when it began to require companies registered in Estonia to pay taxes on profits only when those profits are distributed in dividends, Latvia on 31 May unilaterally suspended the implementation of the double taxation avoidance agreement as of 1 June of this year. The ministers agreed at the 23 July meeting that Latvia will present by September the changes it would like to see in the agreement, in order to allow experts from both countries to discuss the proposed changes in the second half of the month and reach an agreement before the end of the year. SG

BALTIC STATES, KALININGRAD TO EXCHANGE EXPERIENCE IN UNEMPLOYMENT REDUCTION

National employment authorities of the Baltic states and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad signed a protocol on the exchange of experience in unemployment reduction on 23 July in Riga, BNS reported. The protocol provides for the exchange of information regarding regional labor market legislation and employment documents, methodological materials, as well as the implementation through mutual cooperation of various information projects. The officials noted that the specific characteristics of unemployment are somewhat different in each of the countries, but they could utilize similar methods for reducing unemployment. A major problem in the Baltic states is their unemployment rates among youths aged 15-25. While the overall unemployment rates stand at 8.7 percent in Latvia, 12.6 percent in Lithuania, and 13.9 percent in Estonia, the same rates for youths are 14.2, 13, and 24 percent, respectively. The lower unemployment rate for Lithuanian youths is primarily due to the country's implementation of the First Step Program, thanks to which 90 percent of participants have found permanent employment. SG

NAZI HUNTER URGES SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT TO HAND OVER WAR CRIMES SUSPECT TO LITHUANIA

Well-known Nazi-hunter Efraim Zuroff, the head of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, sent a letter on 23 July to Scottish Justice Minister Jim Wallace urging him to take steps to speed up the deportation of suspected Nazi war criminal Antanas Gecevicius (Gecas) to Lithuania, BNS reported. The 85-year-old Gecas is accused of participating in the genocide of Jews and other nationalities in Lithuania and Belarus during World War II when he commanded a squad in the Lithuanian Auxiliary Police Battalion under the Nazis. The Lithuanian Justice Ministry sent a request for his extradition in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2001). Noting that four months have passed since the extradition request was made, Zuroff wrote: "every day that passes without Gecas being extradited brings this Nazi collaborator a day closer to eluding justice, a fate which he, frankly, does not deserve by any means." SG

POLAND NOTIFIES TURKISH EMBASSY OVER ALLEGED RAPE

The Foreign Ministry on 24 July sent a diplomatic note to the Turkish Embassy in Warsaw in connection with an alleged rape on the embassy's premises, dpa reported, quoting Polish Radio. The ministry wants an official response from Turkish diplomats to police questions listed in the note. An unidentified woman accused an employee of the Turkish Embassy of abducting and raping her inside the Turkish Embassy compound on 21 July. The alleged rape sparked a protest in front of the embassy on 23 July, with representatives of women's rights organizations demanding that official action be taken to punish the offender. JM

CZECH ROM KILLED IN RACIAL ATTACK

A 22-year-old man with ties to the extreme-right skinhead movement has been arrested in the fatal stabbing of a 30-year-old Romany man on 21 July in a bar in Svitavy, east Bohemia, CTK reported on 23 July. A police spokeswoman, Iva Markova, said the assailant first shouted racist insults, then stabbed the Rom repeatedly in the stomach. He has been charged with racially motivated murder and faces up to 15 years in prison if found guilty. Romany leaders called on the government to take action in the case. Czech President of the International Roma Union Emil Scuka said the incident "scared" him, as he had begun to be optimistic that racially motivated crime was a thing of the past in the Czech Republic. DW

BRITAIN DENIES BIAS AGAINST CZECH ROMANY PASSENGERS...

Speaking on Czech Television on 23 July, British Ambassador to the Czech Republic David Broucher denied that the checks of London-bound passengers at Prague's airport by British customs officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 July 2001) discriminate against Roma, CTK reported. He said British consular officers are forbidden to make judgements on the basis of race, color, or ethnicity, and that the officers ask passengers the same questions they would ask them upon their arrival in Britain. Some 50 passengers, mostly Roma, have been turned back since the program was initiated last week. DW

...OPPOSITION PROTESTS CHECKS ON CZECH SOIL

Freedom Union Chairwoman Hana Marvanova called on Foreign Minister Jan Kavan to inform the public on the details of the February agreement with Great Britain that enables British officials to check passengers at Ruzyne airport in Prague, CTK reported on 23 July. "We consider it extremely undignified for Czech travelers bound for Britain to undergo the checks by foreign officials on our territory," she said, adding that it's debatable "whether this solution is more humiliating than the possible introduction of visa requirements." Freedom Union deputy Monika Horakova, a Rom, said that a public appeal by the government would be more useful than "restrictive measures only provoking distrust and having a discriminatory effect." DW

CZECH POLL SHOWS COALITION IN LEAD

The results of a poll conducted by the CVVM polling agency that was released on 23 July revealed that the opposition Four Party Coalition, which includes the Freedom Union and the Christian Democrats, would have won elections held at the beginning of July, CTK reported. The center-right coalition would have received 23 percent of the vote, followed by the ruling Social Democrats with 20 percent, the Civic Democrats with 18 percent, and the Communists with 13 percent. The poll also showed greater interest in election participation, with 68 percent of those polled intending to vote, up from 50 percent at the beginning of the year. DW

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT APPOINTS NEW OFFICIAL TO MANAGE EU FUNDS

The government has named Vladimir Rigas to deal with EU funding, AP reported on 24 July. Rigas, who worked for the IMF in Washington, D.C., for seven years, will replace Roland Toth. Toth was fired earlier this year amid allegations of financial mismanagement involving EU funding. The exact nature of the suspected fraud has not been disclosed, but Toth is alleged to have taken bribes in exchange for lucrative contracts. In May, the EU briefly suspended funding to Slovakia, and Slovak President Rudolf Schuster dismissed Pavol Hamzik, who was deputy prime minister for EU integration at the time. JM

SLOVAKIA'S ETHNIC HUNGARIAN PARTY ANTICIPATES EARLY ELECTIONS

Arpad Duka-Zolyomi, the deputy chairman of the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), has said the SMK will be prepared in the event that early general elections are held, TASR reported on 23 July. The SMK is expected to leave Mikulas Dzurinda's government in August, although it has promised to continue its support for the ruling coalition in the parliament. Duka-Zolyomi said recent developments in the government indicate that it is impossible to fulfill the cabinet's manifesto. A recent poll found that the SMK is supported by 10.9 percent of voters, meaning that the SMK is the most popular party of the ruling coalition. JM

HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER EXPECTS EU MEMBERSHIP BY 2004

Janos Martonyi predicted on 22 July that Hungary will join the EU in three years, dpa reported. In an interview with the Vienna-based daily "Kurier," Martonyi said he sees no reason "why we shouldn't be able to conclude the [membership] negotiations by the end of 2002." He added that even the more difficult chapters in EU negotiations should not pose problems because Budapest is not "demanding exception clauses. We only insist on equal treatment." Martonyi said he expects Poland to enter the EU at the same time as Hungary and that he "would insist that we joined together." Martonyi said he is "absolutely certain" that Hungarian voters would vote overwhelmingly for EU membership in a referendum and said that an upbeat feeling about the EU "is the general mood." PB

HUNGARIAN PREMIER SUPPORTS NATO MEMBERSHIP FOR BALTIC STATES

Victor Orban said on 23 July in Budapest that Hungary strongly supports the admission of the Baltic states into NATO, AP reported. Orban, speaking to an annual meeting of Hungarian ambassadors on home leave, said he wants "Hungarian foreign policy to put special emphasis on the Baltic republics, especially Estonia." In other comments to the ambassadors, Orban said there is no reason to continue stressing that Hungary is the best- prepared candidate for EU membership. He argued that "everybody already knows this to be true," and said that continually emphasizing this "makes cooperation with the other Visegrad countries more difficult." PB

FAMOUS HUNGARIAN WRITER DIES

Miklos Meszoely, the well-known author and dissident movement leader, died on 21 July at the age of 80. Meszoely wrote numerous plays, poems, novels, short stories, essays, and children's stories and was blacklisted by the communists soon after his first book was published in 1948. He was involved in the revolt against Soviet control in 1956 and protested the Warsaw Pact countries' invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Meszoely was an active member of the dissident movement in the 1970s and 80s. PB




BUSH VISITS KOSOVA...

U.S. President George W. Bush arrived in Kosova on 24 July from Rome for a brief visit with U.S. KFOR troops at Camp Bondsteel, AP reported. He will also meet with Hans Haekkerup, who heads the UN's civilian administration, and Norwegian General Thorstein Skiaker, who commands NATO peacekeepers. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice said that "the president wants to thank our troops for their service there," Reuters reported. The previous day, Bush said that "Americans came into the Balkans with our friends and we will leave with our friends." An unnamed "senior aide" added that "we will go out together, but the other part of that point, which sometimes gets forgotten here in Europe, is that we want to hasten the day when we'll go out together by building democratic institutions by deploying civil police and so forth." PM

...TO A ROUSING WELCOME FROM U.S. TROOPS

Many of the 6,000 U.S. KFOR troops based at Camp Bondsteel turned out to welcome Bush on 24 July, BBC Television reported. Bush drew loud cheers when he signed a military benefits and spending package on the spot. Bush praised the troops for their "sacrifices for our freedom." He also held up the U.S. military as an example of how people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds can work together. He noted the role played by KFOR in Kosova and indirectly in Macedonia, recalling his recent measures to cut off aid and support for the guerrillas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2001). PM

BUSH CALLS FOR SETTLEMENT IN MACEDONIA

In a statement issued to the media at Camp Bondsteel on 24 July, Bush said: "I call on the parties [in the Macedonian conflict] to maintain the cease-fire. And I call on the elected leaders to work...to overcome the remaining differences to achieving a settlement that will keep Macedonia at peace and on the road to Europe," Reuters reported. Referring to the Kosovars, Bush added: "Those here in Kosovo who support the insurgency in Macedonia are hurting the interests of ethnic Albanians throughout the region. The people of Kosovo should focus on Kosovo." Bush stressed that "our goal is to hasten the day when peace is self-sustaining" in Bosnia and Kosova. PM

MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT THREATENS OFFENSIVE

Occasional gunfire could be heard in the vicinity of Tetovo on 24 July, following more serious exchanges over the previous two days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2001). The fighting on 23 July left one girl dead, 19 civilians injured, and five Macedonian soldiers wounded, Reuters reported. The U.S. appealed for calm and criticized any breach of the cease-fire. But Macedonian Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski said that government forces might launch an all-out offensive against the National Liberation Army (UCK) unless the guerrillas pull back from Tetovo. "If the terrorists do not retreat to their previous positions...we will have no other option but to dislodge them with our offensive," AP reported. The minister added: "We demand that NATO secure the cease-fire, because NATO and the international community provided us with guarantees for the cease-fire. We expect NATO to ensure that the terrorists withdraw to their previous positions." PM

MACEDONIAN-ALBANIAN GUERRILLAS DENY RESPONSIBILITY

In a signed statement in Tetovo, UCK commander Nazmi Beqiri blamed government forces for the fighting: "The UCK has no reason for military operations at a time when we are expecting a political agreement to be signed," Reuters quoted him as saying on 24 July. An unnamed "senior diplomat" said that "the violence absolutely damages the talks because it hardens the positions of both sides." U.S. mediator James Pardew and his EU counterpart Francois Leotard said in a joint statement: "We urge those responsible for these actions to respect the cease-fire. Violence is unacceptable and does nothing to further the cause of the people in this region. It could only undermine the peace process while the political talks are still ongoing." PM

UNHCR CONCERNED OVER RENEWED MACEDONIAN FIGHTING

UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said in Geneva on 24 July that "despite the renewed fighting, there was no perceptible movement of people out of Tetovo" on 23 July, AP reported. He added that, nonetheless, the "UNHCR is deeply concerned at the latest cease-fire violations." Redmond stressed: "We fear that the longer this uncertainty and displacement goes on, the deeper the rift between ethnic communities." A total of 76,000 persons have fled Macedonia to Kosova since the fighting began in the spring. Some 15,000 have since returned home. PM

MONTENEGRIN MARIJUANA HAUL

Police officials said in Podgorica on 24 July that they have found 200 kilograms of marijuana on the shores of Lake Shkoder, which forms part of the border between Albania and Montenegro, dpa reported. In recent years, both countries have acquired the reputation of being centers of smuggling activities. The large lake accounts for much of the illicit traffic. PM

DETAILS OF CROATIAN-SLOVENIAN AGREEMENT...

Information about the recent text agreed to by the Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan and Slovenia's Janez Drnovsek is beginning to leak out to the media, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2001). The pact stipulates that Slovenia will have access to the open sea through a corridor 3,600 meters wide and 11 kilometers deep. The corridor will be flanked by Croatian territorial waters and will not impinge on Croatia's maritime frontier with Italy. "Novi List" published what it called a precise map on 24 July. PM

...WHICH TOOK A LONG TIME TO PRODUCE

Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said in Ljubljana on 22 July that the agreement took a decade to work out, Hina reported. He noted that Slovenia and Croatia came very close to an agreement under former Croatian Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa, but that, otherwise, relations have oscillated between very cordial and "very cold." He noted that "some people," whom he did not name, would have preferred to construct a "Berlin Wall" between the two countries. Other individuals, he added, preferred the former Yugoslavia and refused to accept that Slovenia and Croatia are now sovereign countries that need to regulate their mutual relations. PM

CROATIAN WAR CRIMES SUSPECT TO TURN SELF IN

General Rahim Ademi plans to fly to The Hague on 25 July to face charges of war crimes, dpa reported on 23 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 18 July 2001). Elsewhere, a Zagreb court put an unnamed general on its wanted list in conjunction with a similar indictment by The Hague-based tribunal, Hina reported. He is believed to be General Ante Gotovina, who was indicted at the same time as Ademi. Media reports have suggested that Gotovina is defiant and in hiding, possibly in Herzegovina. PM

ROMANIA, FRANCE BOOST COOPERATION

Visiting French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin said in Bucharest on 23 July that Romania can rely on France's support for EU and NATO integration, but it should first rely on its own efforts to facilitate that integration process, Romanian media reported. France is the main foreign investor in Romania, with some $800 million. Jospin is the first important European leader to visit Romania since the November 2000 elections there. Serban Mihailescu, the Romanian Government's general-secretary, and French Minister for European Affairs Pierre Moscovici signed a cooperation agreement on child protection. The French Eurocopter company signed a cooperation agreement with the IAR Ghimbav helicopter factory near Brasov aimed at establishing the Eurocopter Romania company, with a French majority stake. ZsM

RAIFFEISEN TAKES OVER ROMANIA'S BANCA AGRICOLA

Romanian Privatization Minister Ovidiu Musetescu on 23 July signed the protocol concerning the sale of Banca Agricola, Mediafax reported. The government approved the privatization contract by which control of the bank would be handed over to a partnership between the Romanian-American Investment Fund and Raiffeisen Zentralbank Austria. The bank is to be called Raiffeisen Banca Agricola. The new owners paid $15 million for 98 percent of the state-owned shares and are to raise the bank's capital by $37 million. ZsM

NEW ILLEGAL CHILD ADOPTION SCANDAL IN BUCHAREST

The former director of Bucharest's fifth precinct Child Protection Office was arrested on 23 July, Mediafax reported. Sorin Diaconescu is charged with assisting in the illegal adoption of eight children from foster homes. Four children were selected for adoption by families from abroad through a Constanta-based foundation. The Romanian police are also investigating the allegedly illegal adoptions of 62 Romanian children by families in Greece, Great Britain, Italy, Israel, and the U.S. ZsM

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS OSCE HIGH COMMISSIONER ON NATIONAL MINORITIES

Romanian Foreign Minister and acting OSCE Chairman Mircea Geoana met OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus on 23 July in Bucharest, Mediafax reported. The two discussed national minorities in the Balkans as well as the Hungarian Status Law. Ekeus said that both the issue of the Status Law and problems relating to the Romany population should receive "European" responses. They also discussed the current situation in Macedonia and Kosova. According to Geoana, the situation of the Roma will be analyzed by an OSCE-sponsored conference to be convened in Romania in October. ZsM

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES SIMEON AND HIS GOVERNMENT

Simeon Saxecoburggotski, the former king of Bulgaria, was approved by parliament as the country's premier on 24 July, AP reported. The vote was 141 to 50, with 46 abstentions. Saxecoburggotski said after the vote that "this choice is a turning point in my life and I will do all I can for the country and for every Bulgarian." In a second vote, Saxecoburggotski's cabinet was approved by a 147 to 50 vote, with 41 abstentions. The new premier said: "I dedicate my taking the office of prime minister to the forces of youth and creativity," perhaps a reference to the inclusion of several young members in his cabinet, whose average age is 45. He added: "Today we stand a real chance to usher Bulgaria into the new 21st century and take the place we deserve in a united Europe." Nadezhda Mihailova, the parliamentary leader of the opposition United Democratic Forces, said her party voted against Saxecoburggotski and his government because it includes two members of the Socialist party, the former communist party. Mihailova said their inclusion in the government "distorts" the voters' will. Most members of the Socialist party abstained from the votes. PB

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT CONCERNED ABOUT MACEDONIA

Petar Stoyanov said on 24 July that he spoke with Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski the previous night about the fighting there, BTA reported. Stoyanov said the situation in Macedonia amid the renewed fighting in Tetovo is "very alarming" and that he will be discussing it with members of the new government. Stoyanov said he is confident that "common sense" will prevail in the talks aimed at resolving the situation. PB




YUSHCHENKO INITIATES PRO-REFORM ELECTION BLOC.


By Jan Maksymiuk

On 15 July, from atop Ukraine's highest peak, Hoverlya in the Carpathian Mountains, former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko announced the formation of an electoral bloc named Nasha Ukrayina (Our Ukraine) and called on pro-reformist, democratically minded, and nationally conscious forces to join it. Some 2,000 members of Ukraine's two Rukh parties and the Reform and Order Party as well as journalists climbed Hoverlya to mark the 11th anniversary of Ukraine's sovereignty and listen to Yushchenko's announcement.

Yushchenko's announcement had been impatiently awaited in Ukraine since 26 April, when he was voted out of his post as prime minister jointly by the Communists and oligarchical groups in the parliament. Shortly after the vote of no confidence, Yushchenko addressed his supporters outside the parliamentary building, pledging to return to politics soon.

Yushchenko said on 15 July that he wants Our Ukraine to win next year's parliamentary elections and form a government. The bloc and its manifesto are to be forged this fall. Yushchenko named no specific forces during his 15 July pronouncement, but it is already clear that Our Ukraine will include the Popular Rukh of Ukraine (Hennadiy Udovenko's wing), the Ukrainian Popular Rukh (Yuriy Kostenko's wing), and the Reform and Order Party of Viktor Pynzenyk. Most likely, the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists will also join Our Ukraine.

Yushchenko is Ukraine's most popular and most trusted politician. A recent poll by the GfK-USM polling center found that if a presidential election had been held in July, Yushchenko would have obtained 32.4 percent of the vote. The same poll found that Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko would have been backed by 17.4 percent of voters, and incumbent President Leonid Kuchma by 10.2 percent. It is no wonder that the bloc headed by the former premier is tipped by most Ukrainian commentators to win a significant parliamentary representation.

It is difficult to make any predictions regarding Our Ukraine's election chances some eight months before the election date, but it is already clear that Yushchenko must look for more allies in order to build a force that would be able to control the future parliament. As of now, he may be sure of voters' support in western Ukraine, where both Rukhs have most of their adherents. But in Ukraine the political climate is defined not by the traditionally nationalist western areas of the country, but by the heavily populated and industrialized east. As of now, Yushchenko appears to have little leverage, if any, in the east. There is a danger that his personal popularity may not help Our Ukraine's candidate in eastern constituencies.

Yushchenko has apparently decided not to confront President Kuchma directly, therefore he rejected invitations to join and head the anti-Kuchma opposition grouped in the National Salvation Forum (FNP) and the Ukraine Without Kuchma movement. Therefore, the recently created FNP election committee -- the Fatherland Party, the Sobor Party, the Social-Democratic Party, the Republican Party, the Conservative Republican Party, and the Republican Party -- will most likely compete for parliamentary seats with Yushchenko's people. True, Yuliya Tymoshenko, a former close associate of Yushchenko in his cabinet and currently the head of the NFP election committee, said her bloc is going to propose "peaceful coexistence or cooperation" to Yushchenko. But it is difficult to see how such a goal can be achieved in practice, especially as both Our Ukraine and the FNP heavily rely on voting support in western Ukraine.

Following in Yushchenko's and Tymoshenko's footsteps, other groups have also announced their political alliances for the 2002 ballot. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz said his party will forge an election alliance with the All-Ukrainian Party of Working People, the Social Democratic Party, the Party for the Protection of Farmers' Interests, and the Greens of the 21st Century Party. The pro-Kuchma parties -- the Agrarian Party, the Popular Democratic Party, the Party of Regions, and the Labor Ukraine Party -- signed a declaration to create a joint election bloc. Ivan Chyzh, the leader of the All-Ukrainian Association of Leftist "Justice" (and a former associate of Moroz), announced that he is currently negotiating the creation of a "very original and very powerful" election bloc. And two pro-Russian parties are working to create a separate coalition named the Russian Bloc for the 2002 parliamentary elections.

One should also remember just how powerful the Communist Party is in Ukraine, with voter approval not below 20 percent. And there are two influential oligarchical parties, the Social Democratic Party (United) and the Democratic Union, which, according to popular opinion, possess considerable administrative, financial, and media leverage in Ukrainian politics. Thus, Yushchenko faces an uphill task in promoting his bloc in Ukraine's political arena. The initial conditions for his initiative are auspicious. According to some analysts, Our Ukraine can count on some 25 percent support among the electorate as of now, which means that the bloc is the country's most popular political force. But the election campaign has not yet started. And this also means that Yushchenko's rivals have not yet started to work toward undermining his political clout.


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