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Newsline - August 8, 2001




RUSSIA, U.S. HOLD TALKS ON STRATEGIC STABILITY...

A delegation of Russian military experts headed by the first deputy chief of the armed forces General Staff, Colonel General Yurii Baluyevskii, began talks on 7 August in Washington with their U.S. Defense Department counterparts. High on the agenda was the topic of linkage between U.S. plans to deploy a national missile defense system and the reduction of the two countries' nuclear arsenals. The negotiations are the first in a series of three rounds of talks intended to implement an agreement presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin reached on 22 July in Genoa to merge military offense and defense issues into a joint agenda. Before beginning his discussions with U.S. Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, Baluyevskii told Interfax that he came to Washington "to determine what the American side means [when it speaks] about a limited but effective missile defense." VY

...AGAINST A BACKGROUND OF MIXED ATTITUDES IN MOSCOW...

The chief designer of the Russian combat aircraft company Sukhoi, Vladimir Babak, told reporters on 7 August that if the U.S. deploys a missile defense system, Russia will respond by creating new air defense and antiballistic missile systems, RIA-Novosti reported. These systems will be so sophisticated that "their foreign competitors have never even dreamt of them," he added. However, the website polit.ru argued on 7 August that the U.S. deployment of a missile defense system should not be seen as a threat to Russia, but as an effort by the United States to initiate a new military strategy for the new historical epoch. VY

...AND RUSSIAN DEAL TO MODERNIZE MIGS FOR GERMANY

On an official visit to St. Petersburg on 7 August, German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Ivanov. According to dpa, Scharping told Ivanov that Berlin welcomes the Russia-U.S. dialogue because it is "in the interests of military security in the changing world with its new challenges." The two officials also discussed the problems of NATO's eastward expansion and the situation in the Balkans. On the topic of increasing Russian-German military cooperation, Ivanov and Scharping told journalists that Russia and Germany have over 50 joint defense industry projects, including weapon sales as well as the development and modernization of ships, submarines, and fighters. According to Ivanov, the two countries have signed a large-scale agreement on the joint modernization of Mig-29 jet fighters, bringing them up to NATO standards, ITAR-TASS reported 7 August. According to Ivanov, the upgraded fighters will then be sold to the armies of the East European countries. VY

RUSSIA HOPES TO REPAY SOME OF ITS DEBT TO SOUTH KOREA WITH INVESTMENTS IN NORTH KOREA

As North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il visited St. Petersburg on 7 August, ITAR-TASS reported the same day that the Russia government has suggested to South Korea that it could invest money in North Korea's energy infrastructure instead of repaying a $1.5 billion Soviet-era debt it owes Seoul. The Russian investments in North Korea's energy infrastructure would enable the two countries to advance joint projects (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2001). According to this proposal, Russia would restore about 70 of North Korea's Soviet-era thermoelectric power plants. These power stations could in turn be utilized for North Korean "technoparks" that several South Korean business groups are seeking to establish. VY

PLANS FOR NEW SUPER MINISTRY REPORTEDLY MOVE FORWARD...

President Putin has approved the government's plans for establishing a single tariff agency, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 7 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 2001). The new agency will be based on the existing structure of the Federal Energy Commission (FEK), according to the daily, and a new presidential decree establishing the agency will be completed by 15 August. President Putin reportedly chose the FEK's proposal for the new agency over one prepared by German Gref's Ministry for Economic Development and Trade. "Kommersant-Daily" suggested that the new agency will be extremely powerful, constituting almost a "government within the government," since it will regulate Russia's many natural monopolies. "Izvestiya," on the other hand, put a different spin on the developments, saying that a new agency per se will not be created, and that the expected presidential decree will simply transfer all responsibilities for the regulating tariffs of natural monopolies to the FEK. JAC

...AS NEW FINANCIAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY IS CREATED

Deputy Finance Minister Yurii Lvov announced on 7 August that a unit for combating money laundering will be created within his ministry at the cost of $5 million, RIA-Novosti reported. The unit, named the "Center for Financial Monitoring," will be responsible for tracking any suspicious transactions exceeding 600,000 rubles ($20,000). Under current law, real estate transactions are excluded from such scrutiny, but in the future, an amendment will be considered to include them in deals that are monitored, Lvov said. He added that his ministry was selected as the base for financial intelligence since it is much better prepared for that task than "the power ministries." However, Lvov stressed that, according to the law adopted by the Duma in the spring session and signed by President Putin on 6 August, the financial intelligence agency will operate independently and will only be "functionally supervised" by the Finance Ministry. VY

U.S. EXPERTS SEE RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT ECONOMIC POLICY AS GAIDARESQUE

In an interview with "Moskovskii komsomolets" published on 7 August, Michael McFaul of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace declared that "Putin has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is a radical reformer in economic matters. Even the government of [former acting Prime Minister Yegor] Gaidar looks centrist in comparison." In an interview with "Tribuna" published on 2 August, New York University Professor Stephen F. Cohen expressed a similar point of view, saying that the economic program of Economic Development and Trade Minister Gref "is a carbon copy of the program of Gaidar and [former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii] Chubais's programs." According to Cohen, it should be considered "another round of shock therapy." JAC

LUZHKOV COMPLAINS ABOUT CHUBAIS...

Moscow Mayor and Fatherland leader Yurii Luzhkov sent an open letter to President Putin on 7 August, complaining about Unified Energy Systems's (EES) poor preparation for the upcoming winter, RosBiznesKonsalting reported. In addition, Aleksandr Vladislavlev, Duma deputy (Fatherland-All Russia) and secretary of Fatherland's political council, called on Russian authorities to reach a personnel decision about the leadership of the company, particularly EES head Chubais. JAC

...AS OTHER FATHERLAND FIGURE WARNS OF IMPENDING CRISIS THIS WINTER...

Vladislavlev added, "According to our data, several regions could experience situations similar to the Primorskii Krai catastrophe of last year. For many, this situation is connected with the activities of the leadership of the Russian energy monopoly which is obviously more concerned with public policy than with its own direct obligation to provide public services." He concluded that in the event of "a failure to prepare for the winter, at the beginning of next year the country could experience a social explosion, which could wield a perceptible blow to the reputation of the head of the government." JAC

...BUT GOVERNMENT SAYS EVERYTHING GOING ACCORDING TO PLAN

In an interview in "Izvestiya" published on 7 August, Deputy Minister for Economic Development and Trade Mukhamed Tsikanov said that even though some regions are behind in their fuel purchases, he does not expect any regions to not have enough fuel this winter. He added that as of 1 August the federal government had transferred 73 percent of monies for the Northern delivery, and last week the government decided to raise the amount of money earmarked for such goods by 350 million rubles ($11.94 million). Last month, Valentina Pivnenko (People's Deputy), the chairwoman for the State Duma Committee on Problems of the North and Far East, said that the money allotted by the government was more than 13 billion rubles short of what is needed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2001). JAC

OFFICIAL UNEMPLOYED PREDICTED TO FALL BELOW 1 MILLION THIS FALL

The ranks of the registered unemployed dropped by 102,000 from March to June 2001, according a government economic research center on 7 August, Russian agencies reported. The number is expected to drop even further by late September of this year, declining by 17,000 to reach 985,000. Meanwhile, the number of official vacancies rose 50 percent during the first six months of the year, and supply and demand in the labor market is expected to be relatively balanced by this fall. However, Labor Minister Aleksandr Pochinok recently predicted that labor shortages will occur in the industrial sector (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2001). JAC

GUSINSKY TO OWN STAKE IN NEW PUBLICATIONS

"Kommersant-Daily" has provided more details about the Taburet company that will be publishing the new weekly publications of former "Itogi" Editor Sergei Parkhomenko and former "Segodnya" Editor Mikhail Berger. According to the daily, Parkhomenko and Berger, who are the founders of the new media holding Taburet, want to maintain strict secrecy about all the legal and financial details of their new project. But, according to unidentified sources, a few Western investors and a few Russians, including Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinsky, will hold shares in the new publishing company. According to the daily, Berger, whose new publication will be business-oriented, had asked for money from Gusinsky to start a new political newspaper, but Gusinsky declined. JAC

NEW BUYER EMERGES FOR EKHO MOSKVY SHARES?

The Russian Media Group, whose holdings include the radio stations Russian Radio, Dinamit FM, and Radio Monte-Carlo among others, has declared its intention to obtain a 9.5 percent package of shares in Ekho Moskvy from Gazprom-Media, "Vremya novostei" reported on 7 August. According to the daily, Ekho Moskvy General Director Yurii Fedutinov said his reaction to the news is extremely negative, and that the appearance of a new buyer could further complicate the already complicated negotiations taking place between the radio station and Gazprom-Media. Gazprom-Media, meanwhile, called the announcement "the latest PR action" and said that in the near future it will conclude an agreement to sell the 9.5 percent share package only to former Economy Minister Yevgenii Yasin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 2001). JAC

RUSSIAN BUSINESSMEN TURN TO U.S. COURT TO WAGE LEGAL BATTLE

A group of U.S.-based businessmen led by the president of the Russian company MIKOM, Mikhail Zhivilo, has filed suit in a New York court against Russian Aluminum, which is controlled by oligarchs Oleg Deripaska and Mikhail Chernoy and the Moscow-based MDM-bank headed by Aleksandr Mamut, according to RIA-Novosti and the "Financial Times" on 7 August. The plaintiffs accuse Russian Aluminum of unfair business practices and of having connections with organized crime, and are asking $3 billion as compensation. Among the evidence presented by Zhivilo and the others are documents accusing Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev of taking a bribe of $3 million and Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel of accepting a bribe of $800,000. Earlier this year, the Prosecutor-General's Office accused Zhivilo, who is seeking political asylum in France, of being involved in a plot to of murder Tuleev and asked France to extradite him. VY

RUSSIA READY TO SELL AFFORDABLE PLANES TO AFRICA

"Russia is ready to supply simple and reliable military planes to those African countries which need them," RIA-Novosti quoted Sukhoi aircraft company chief designer Vladimir Babak as saying on 7 August. Babak declared that as far as the African weapon market is concerned, U.S. companies are in a difficult situation because the cost of manufacturing aircraft in the United States, including new-generation planes, "makes them [too expensive and] noncompetitive." While a U.S. television-guided missile costs $400,000, a simple Russian high-explosive bomb of 250 or 500 kilograms costs only 300-400 rubles ($10-$14), Babak said. VY

NOVOSIBIRSK DEPUTY MAYOR ASSASSINATED

Novosibirsk Deputy Mayor Igor Belyaev was killed on 7 August on his way to the office in a manner typical of a "contract killing," RTR reported. Within the mayoral administration, Belyaev was in charge of the real estate as well as the city's flea markets. Interior Ministry investigators believe the murder is linked to his official activities. VY

TOP KRASNOYARSK OFFICIALS ACCUSED OF STRAYING OUTSIDE OF THEIR OFFICIAL DUTIES

The prosecutor for Krasnoyarsk Krai has launched criminal proceedings against the head of the krai administration for natural resources, Aleksandr Boichenko, and Kansk Mayor Sergei Gurov on suspicion of being engaged in illegal commercial activities while in government service, RIA-Novosti reported on 7 August. According to Federal Security Service investigators, the two officials transferred more than $1 million to foreign bank accounts, including an account belonging to the former deputy governor of the krai, Nikolai Verner, who now lives in Germany. Verner is leader of the all-Russian youth movement named Lebed. According to RFE/RL's Russian service, Boichenko and Gurov obtained shares in several companies, which is a violation of the law on state service. JAC

NEW MVD CHIEF TAPPED FOR SOUTHERN FEDERAL DISTRICT

Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov announced on 6 August that President Putin has appointed Lieutenant General Mikhail Rudchenko as senior Interior Ministry official for the Southern federal district, Interfax reported. Rudchenko is a professional police officer and until recently was the head of the MVD in Krasnoyarsk Krai. With this appointment, Putin has filled the last vacant position among the newly created MVD federal district offices. VY

RUSSIAN, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTERS DISCUSS CASPIAN CRISIS

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi telephoned his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov on 6 August to discuss the tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan over the precise boundaries of Iran's sector of the Caspian Sea, Russian agencies reported on 7 August. The two men agreed on the need for all littoral states to agree on the status of the sea in order to preserve "peace and calm" in the region. On 7 August, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Ahani arrived in Moscow for consultations on the Caspian and to discuss bilateral relations, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Groong cited the independent Azerbaijani TV station ANS TV as reporting on 7 August that Iranian military aircraft violated Azerbaijani airspace for the fourth and fifth times on 6 and 7 August. LF

POLICE CHIEFS MEET IN NORTH CAUCASUS

Senior Interior Ministry officials from Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia met in the North Caucasus resort of Yessentuki on 7 August to assess the success of their ongoing joint operation to prevent cross-border terrorism and the smuggling of arms and other commodities, "Izvestiya" reported on 8 August. They agreed to extend that action to encompass economic crime and harassment of small and medium businesses. They will also attempt to prevent the theft of oil from cross-border pipelines, a phenomenon that participants noted "is not confined to Chechnya." LF

PROSECUTOR-GENERAL DENIES EQUATING MUSLIMS WITH 'EXTREMISTS'

The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office issued a statement on 7 August denying that Russian police consider all Islamic organizations extremist, Interfax reported. That statement was issued in response to media comment on a meeting in Moscow last month at which, according to "Izvestiya" on 11 July, Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov criticized the heads of other law-enforcement agencies, including the Federal Security Service and the Interior Ministry, for failing to crack down on "extremist" Islamist groups. The paper added that participants at that meeting agreed on the need to infiltrate agents into Islamic organizations. Also on 7 August, the Council of Muftis of Russia, which is headed by Ravil Gainutdin, issued a statement dismissing media claims that the rights of Muslims in Russia are systematically violated, Interfax reported. On 19 June, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" published an article on Islam in Russia criticizing Gainutdin's role and accusing him of minimizing the threat posed to Russia by "Wahhabism." LF




STRIKE BY ARMENIAN NUCLEAR POWER PLANT WORKERS AVERTED

After receiving their April salaries on 7 August, the staff of the Medzamor nuclear power station withdrew its threat to strike, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. They had said last week they would do so unless they received four months' salary arrears by 7 August. The outstanding May salaries will be paid by 10 August and the remaining arrears by the end of the year. LF

AZERBAIJANI LEADERSHIP CONCERNED THAT FORMER PRESIDENT MAY ATTEMPT TO UNITE OPPOSITION

An article in the daily newspaper "Alternativ," which has close ties to the presidential administration, suggests with alarm that former Azerbaijani President Ayaz Mutalibov, together with Major General Vagif Huseinov, who served as Azerbaijan's KGB chief in the late 1980s, are planning to unite all opposition political forces in Azerbaijan in order to try to seize power there, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported on 7 August. Huseinov was identified by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" in 1999 as a member of Russia's Council for Foreign and Defense Policy. Meanwhile, prominent Azerbaijani political figures have rejected an offer by former presidential aide Eldar Namazov to act as mediator between the Azerbaijani leadership and opposition, according to "Yeni Musavat" on 6 August, as cited by Groong. LF

CONTRADICTORY REPORTS ABOUT MALARIA IN AZERBAIJAN

More than 50 families in a displaced persons' camp in Saatly Raion have contracted malaria, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported on 7 August, citing the independent daily "525-ji gazeti." But Turan on 7 August quoted a UN official in Baku as claiming that due to the Azerbaijani leadership's concern at the possibility of malaria spreading through displaced persons' camps, the incidence of malaria in those facilities is lower than elsewhere in the country. LF

GEORGIAN ARMY COMMANDER RESIGNS

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze on 7 August finally accepted the resignation of Georgian army commander Major General Djemal Chumburidze, Caucasus Press reported. Chumburidze asked to be relieved of that post in late May following the abortive protest action by national guardsmen, but Shevardnadze at that time refused to comply with that request (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2001). Koba Kaladze has been named to replace Chumburidze, who has been appointed head of the National Army Bureau. LF

OSCE DENIES REPORT OF INCIDENT OF GEORGIAN-CHECHEN BORDER

The OSCE mission in Georgia has rejected as untrue a report that members of its monitoring group on the Georgian-Chechen border shot and wounded two armed Georgians who attacked that post late on 6 August, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2001). The OSCE pointed out that its monitors on that border are unarmed. Meanwhile, members of the Georgian border guards have admitted responsibility for injuring the two Georgian assailants. LF

GEORGIAN OFFICIAL SAYS NO PROOF OF CLANDESTINE CHECHEN RADIO STATION EXISTS

Georgian National Communications Control Commission official Temur Dzagnidze told Caucasus Press on 8 August that his agency has been unable to trace the Chechen radio station that Russian officials claim is broadcasting to Chechnya from the Georgian village of Duisi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2001). Dzagnidze said either that radio station does not exist, or its signal is so weak that it could be traced only by local radio engineers in eastern Georgia. LF

KYRGYZ NGOS DEMAND RELEASE OF IMPRISONED OPPOSITION POLITICIAN

More than 10 NGOs and independent journalists in Kyrgyzstan on 7 August appealed to President Askar Akaev to release imprisoned opposition Erkindik party leader Topchubek TurgunAliyev in connection with his past services to the country, his deteriorating health, and the upcoming 10th anniversary of Kyrgyzstan's declaration of independence, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Turgunaliev, who turned 60 last month, is serving a six-year sentence on charges of having plotted to assassinate Akaev. He was recently hospitalized. LF

OPPOSITION PARTY BANNED IN TAJIKISTAN

Tajikistan's Supreme Court on 7 August complied with a request by the country's Justice Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2001) to ban the Adolatkhoh (Justice) Party, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The Supreme Court had suspended the party's activities late last year for a period of six months on the grounds that it had violated the Law on Political Parties by including in its membership lists persons with no connections with the party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2001). Under the Law on Political Parties, they must have no less than 1,000 members and regional organizations in most administrative districts. Vavorud on 8 August quoted Adolatkhoh Secretary-General Abdurahmon Karimov as saying that on 21 July he appealed to the Justice Ministry to postpone for six months a decision on banning the party in order to enable him to reregister members. He said the party had not yet succeeded in doing so because of financial constraints. Karimov claimed that Adolatkhoh has 1,200 members in Konibodom (northern Tajikistan) and a further 6,000 members elsewhere in the country. LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT LAUNCHES EXPERIMENT IN LOCAL SELF-GOVERNMENT

Two weeks after unveiling a new economic project in the environs of Ashgabat (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July 2001), President Saparmurat Niyazov on 6 August announced that in future the local councils of that region will be subordinate not to the national government but directly to the parliament and the president, Interfax reported. They will also be empowered to pass local regulations and laws, introduce taxes, and build roads. He added that if the experiment proves beneficial it will be extended to other regions of the country. But while the comparatively well-to-do districts near Ashgabat may be able to afford to finance their own highways from local taxes and thus ease the strain on the national budget, rural districts are likely to find it impossible to follow suit. Also on 6 August, Niyazov criticized senior government officials for nepotism and fined Deputy Prime Minister and Central Bank Director Seyitbai Gandymov one month's salary for engaging in that practice, Reuters reported. LF




BELARUSIAN PRISON WARDEN SAID TO HAVE CONFIRMED GOVERNMENT INVOLVEMENT IN DISAPPEARANCES

The former warden of a death-row prison in Minsk has confirmed recent allegations of state involvement in the disappearances of opposition figures Yury Zakharanka, Viktar Hanchar, and Anatol Krasouski, according to opposition presidential candidate Uladzimir Hancharyk, Belapan reported on 7 August. Hancharyk referred to a 6 August telephone conversation he had with Colonel Aleh Alkayev, who was deputy chief of Belarus's Penal Committee and was mentioned in documents made public by Hancharyk in mid-July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2001). The documents identified Alkayev as the one who issued a pistol used for prisoner executions to Interior Ministry officer Dzmitry Pavlyuchenko on orders from Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumau. Alkayev's current whereabouts are unknown, though his wife has said he has been staying with relatives in Russia for more than a month in the belief that his life is in danger. DW

LUKASHENKA BUYS THE FARM VOTE

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka shored up his popularity in one of his main areas of support -- workers of Soviet-style state farms -- by announcing on 7 August that he is providing them with 25,000 tons of free fuel for the coming harvest, AP and Reuters reported. "A month ago I asked the government to ask all structures dealing with oil...to make a contribution to the president's election campaign and deliver thousands of tons of fuel oil to my farmers, my voters," he said, quickly adding that the election campaign reference was a joke. However, he warned that companies that fail to comply will face trouble. Lukashenka's announcement came during a 2 1/2 hour intercom conference with local officials broadcast live on national television and radio. DW

IMF CALLS FOR REAL ECONOMIC REFORM IN BELARUS

The head of the IMF mission in Belarus and Lithuania, Mark Horton, said in Minsk on 7 August that he believes major economic growth could start in Belarus if the government undertook serious economic reforms now, ITAR-TASS reported. At a press conference to sum up the mission's two-week stay in Belarus, Horton said there have been positive changes in the credit and monetary spheres, but that the real economic situation has worsened. He added that favorable domestic and external conditions exist for embarking on economic transformation, but that if reforms were not begun the successes in the credit and monetary sphere would soon be reduced to nothing. DW

RUSSIAN MILITARY PROSECUTORS ISSUE WARRANT FOR TYMOSHENKO

Russian military prosecutors have opened a criminal case against former Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister and opposition figure Yulia Tymoshenko and her husband, and have sent an international warrant for her arrest to the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office, Reuters reported on 8 August. Yuri Yakovlev, Russia's interim military prosecutor-general, said Tymoshenko had been charged with "complicity in bribe-giving." He refused to identify who Tymoshenko might have helped to bribe, saying only that it was a Russian official, but he said the charges stemmed from a graft case against a senior Russian Defense Ministry official suspected of shady dealings with other officials in Kyiv. However, he said the ministry official is not the one Tymoshenko allegedly helped to bribe. Tymoshenko already faces bribery charges in Ukraine and was temporarily jailed, but later freed in a legal dispute that went to the Supreme Court. DW

U.S. REMOVES UKRAINE'S SPECIAL TRADE STATUS

The U.S. on 7 August suspended Ukraine's duty-free trade status and will target other products for sanctions to punish Kyiv for its failure to crack down on electronic piracy, dpa reported. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said in a statement: "The United States has been urging Ukraine to take measures to stop the production of pirated optical media products for over two years. Yet the problem persists." The U.S. said it is losing $200 million annually in unauthorized reproduction by Ukrainian piraters of copyrighted material. Ukraine is the largest source of pirated CDs, DVDs and CD-ROMs in Europe. DW

ESTONIA'S CPI RISES IN JULY

The Statistics Office announced on 7 August that the consumer price index increased by 0.3 percent in July compared to June, and 6.3 percent compared to July 2000, ETA reported. The price of goods grew by 0.5 percent (food products by 0.8 percent and manufactured goods by 0.2 percent) in July, while the price of services remained unchanged. The most important price changes were due to a partly seasonal rise in food prices, an increase in the prices of tobacco and housing services, and a drop in public transportation fares. SG

LATVIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES CHANGES IN ITS EU ENVIRONMENT CHAPTER

The cabinet on 7 August approved a number of changes in the environment chapter of its ongoing membership negotiations with the European Union, LETA reported. The changes were prompted by requests for more information by European Commission experts before and during consultations. Latvia changed the requirements pertaining to the quality of gasoline and diesel fuel, hazardous waste, household batteries, automotive batteries, packaging, and waste-disposal sites. It also decided that the volume of investments in water maintenance will be specified in the national budget each year. Andris Kesteris, the head of the EU accession negotiations, was tasked with presenting the amended Latvian position to the EU. SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT, PREMIER DISCUSS ECONOMIC SITUATION

Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas held unscheduled talks about the state budgets for 2001 and 2002 as well as economic reforms for more than hour with President Valdas Adamkus on 7 August, ELTA reported. Brazauskas complained that the previous government of Rolandas Paksas had approved the 2001 budget with clearly over-optimistic anticipated revenues. It had planned to finance state investments from several sources: the budget, loans, and the privatization fund, but the funds from these sources were insufficient, which will require the current government to reduce expenditures or look for other sources of financing. Brazauskas said his priorities are preparing a realistic 2002 budget and estimating privatization funds. They also discussed pension reform, the establishment of a credit system to provide loans to students, and the privatization of Lietuvos Dujos (Lithuanian Gas), Lithuanian Agriculture Bank, and Lithuanian Airlines. SG

POLISH OPPOSITION FIGURE DROWNS

The spokesman for the opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and member of parliament Andrzej Urbanczyk, 54, drowned while on holiday on the Greek island of Corfu, Reuters reported on 7 August. Urbanczyk, formerly the editor of the daily "Trybuna," is credited with playing a key role in restoring the fortunes of the SLD after its general election defeat in 1997 due to his smooth presentation of policy. Opinion polls currently give the SLD support of close to 50 percent in the run-up to the 23 September legislative elections. DW

OPPOSITION LEADER SAYS POLAND'S BUDGET DEFICIT TOP PRIORITY IN 2002

Deputy speaker of the Sejm, Marek Borowski (SLD), said that the top priority for the next government will be to limit the budget deficit, not to improve benefits and social conditions, PAP reported on 7 August. He added that lower-than-expected growth and rapidly falling inflation this year led to a shortfall in budget revenue and a revision of the budget, and that a second revision of the budget this year cannot be ruled out. DW

CZECH ROMANY POPULATION LIVES IN FEAR...

Some 46 percent of Roma live in fear in the Czech Republic, while roughly one in four is considering requesting asylum abroad, asserts a survey conducted for "Mlada fronta Dnes," as cited by CTK on 8 August. The conclusions were published less than 24 hours after the Czech government announced the discontinuation of British checks on U.K.-bound flights from Prague, which were seen by many as an attempt to stem the flow of Romany asylum seekers from the Czech Republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2001). About 53 percent of Roma polled said they had been denied jobs in the Czech Republic because of skin color, 46 percent had been denied service in restaurants, and 5 percent said they had been denied contracts. AH

...WHILE ALL SIDES WELCOME HALT TO CZECH AIRPORT QUESTIONING

As Czech politicians of all stripes hailed the discontinuation of the British checks at Ruzyne airport, the daily "Pravda" opined that while Britain has "merely" tarnished its image with the maneuver, the Czech Republic has paid dearly for its cooperation, CTK reported on 8 August. A country that allows another to curb its citizens' right to travel, and indeed helps implement the measure, loses international prestige as well as pride and security in the minds of the citizenry, according to the daily. "The country renounced the rights of Romany citizens to avoid visa requirements, so whose rights will it renounce next?" "Pravda" asked. AH

CZECHS SHRUG OFF PLEAS, WILL LAUNCH NEW TEMELIN TESTS

Czech authorities said on 7 August that they will go ahead with a new series of tests at the Temelin nuclear power plant in south Bohemia before bringing it on line next week, AP reported. The newly constructed plant was shut down on 24 April after a series of malfunctions, and the German government last month openly called for its launch to be reconsidered. A representative of the Austrian Environment Ministry on 7 August was quoted by Austrian APA as saying that "a lot of safety questions" remain unanswered and urging the Czechs to hold off on new tests. AH

AUSTRIAN COMPENSATION ON THE WAY FOR THOUSANDS OF CZECHS

Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said on 7 August that the first letters have been sent informing victims of World War II forced labor of compensation levels, adding that Austrian payouts will reach roughly 4,900 Czechs in the days to come, CTK reported. Another 2,000 citizens should receive compensation by the end of August, Kavan added. He said that some 10 percent of the original 10,000 applicants for the Nazi-era compensation had died since submitting their requests. AH

WILL SLOVAKIA'S HUNGARIAN PARTY SPLIT?

Ethnic Hungarian political leaders say new and more radical political parties could emerge in Slovakia as the current government crisis plays itself out (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July and 7 August 2001), TASR reported on 8 August. The vice chairman of the ruling Hungarian Coalition Party, Miklos Duray, was quoted by the agency as telling a district meeting that the country's ethnic Hungarian vote could split if the party does not make good on its threat to quit the government. The vice chairman of the Slovak National Committee of the World Congress of Hungarians, Jozsef Mihajlovic, meanwhile has confirmed his aim of founding a Hungarian Federalist Party in September. The new party will be a people's-nationalistic one, he added. AH

SLOVAK COURT TO WEIGH BRITISH EXTRADITION THIS WEEK

A Slovak regional court will offer its recommendation this week on the possible extradition of three suspected members of a Northern Irish Republican splinter group detained in western Slovakia on 5 July, TASR reported. Their lawyer, Jan Gereg, told the CTK news agency on 7 August that the British government had requested that the three Irish nationals be handed over for trial. The court's decision, which Slovak Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky can either accept or reject, will be based solely on the British request and not on whether they committed crimes in Slovakia. The men were detained on the basis of an international arrest warrant in Piestany, west Slovakia, and are suspected of supporting the Real IRA. AH

U.S. STEEL LAUDS INVESTMENT IN SLOVAKIA

Representatives of the Pittsburgh-based steel group USX Corp. told investors on 7 August that they are preparing for increased production and a new market for their Slovak holding in Kosice, AP reported. The purchase, made last October in a last-ditch effort to salvage the plant following its failed privatization in 1995, is widely seen as a test case for Western companies joining forces with Eastern European entities. John Goodish, the president of U.S. Steel in Kosice, said the plant's capacity should increase this year by 900,000 to 4.5 million metric tons and added that the company is considering a new galvanizing line to supply the region's automakers. AH

FORMER SLOVAK PRIVATIZATION HEAD ANNOUNCES RETURN TO POLITICS

A former privatization minister under Premier Vladimir Meciar has told the daily "Praca" that he is returning to politics to help a fledgling political party develop an economic program, CTK reported on 8 August. Lubomir Dolgos, who served briefly as privatization minister before leaving national politics in 1993, will be a member of Slovak media mogul Pavol Rusko's new ANO party. Dolgos says he is disappointed with the current state of Slovak public life. AH




NATO GIVES MACEDONIANS 'ASSURANCES' ON DISARMAMENT

Hansjoerg Eiff, who is NATO's ambassador to Macedonia, and Peter Feith, NATO's special envoy in the Balkans, met with President Boris Trajkovski in Ohrid on 7 August, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The two envoys gave the Macedonian leader "verbal guarantees" from NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson that peacekeepers will follow a clear timetable in collecting the weapons, uniforms, and ammunition of the ethnic Albanian fighters of the National Liberation Army (UCK) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2001). A rebel commander told Reuters, however, that "the percentage of implementation [of a political settlement] achieved will decide the percentage of disarmament." Vatican Radio suggested on 8 August that the demand for guarantees is an attempt by ethnic Macedonian political leaders "to undermine the peace process." In any event, talks resumed on 8 August, AP reported. PM

WHAT ROLE FOR AMNESTY IN MACEDONIA?

AP reported from Ohrid on 7 August that the ethnic Macedonian parties in the political talks agreed to an amnesty for UCK fighters, except for individuals who committed "crimes that the United Nations war crimes tribunal deals with" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2001). It is not clear whether the Macedonians intend to prosecute such individuals themselves or send them to The Hague. PM

REPORTS OF VIOLENCE IN MACEDONIA

Government spokesman Antonio Milosovski told AP on 8 August in Ohrid that the UCK ambushed an army convoy in northern Macedonia, killing 10 soldiers and wounding three. Dpa reported that nine soldiers died and that the attack took place near Karpalok between Skopje and Tetovo and that the highway linking the two cities is blocked. PM

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH SAYS MACEDONIAN KILLINGS WERE 'EXECUTION'

"The Washington Post" reported on 8 August that an investigator for Human Rights Watch has rejected the Macedonian Interior Ministry's statement that the recent killing of five ethnic Albanian rebels took place because the men resisted arrest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2001). The investigator and the daily likened the killings to a "summary execution." PM

UKRAINE TO 'SUSPEND' ARMS DELIVERIES TO MACEDONIA

Reuters reported from Kiev on 7 August that the Ukrainian authorities have agreed to "suspend" exports of heavy weapons to Macedonia. The U.S. asked Ukraine recently to end arms deliveries, but the cash-strapped state is not enthusiastic about losing a customer. PM

KFOR DETAINS MORE MACEDONIAN GUERRILLAS

U.S. peacekeepers detained five suspected ethnic Albanian guerrillas near the border with Macedonia, KFOR said in a statement from Camp Bondsteel on 8 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July and 6 August 2001). Peacekeepers also discovered a small arms cache. PM

SERBIAN MINISTER WANTS HAEKKERUP OUT

Echoing recent remarks by Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 2001), Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic wrote UN administrator Hans Haekkerup in an open letter that he has "openly sided with Albanian separatists," who have set up ethnically pure areas in Kosova, "Vecernje novosti" reported on 8 August. Batic called on Haekkerup to resign. Batic added: "Kosovo always has been, and will be, part of Serbia. Because you do not accept that, you should leave Kosovo, the sooner the better" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January, 23 February, and 1 May 2001). On 7 August, UN police and KFOR peacekeepers closed a Yugoslav and Serbian government "office" that opened in Gracanica, saying that the Serbs had not sought the UN's permission to open the office, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

SERBIA TO SACK AMBASSADOR TO U.S.?

"Blic" reported on 8 August that Yugoslav Ambassador to the U.S. Milan Protic is holding political consultations with other members of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition in Belgrade. Protic, a political figure in his own right, criticized Kostunica's recent visit to the U.S. as being poorly planned and hence ineffective (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 March and 15 May 2001). In response to a question as to whether the DOS or Kostunica plan to fire him, Protic said that he does not know if they want to do so or are willing to try. He added that "it won't be easy to remove me." Kostunica has publicly criticized the outspoken ambassador as being too Americanized. Protic, a professor of Balkan history by profession, studied and taught for years in California, and has a familiarity with the American idiom and culture that few in Belgrade can rival. PM

POLICE PROTESTS IN CROATIA

Many of the 3,100 police and other cashiered Interior Ministry employees demonstrated on 7 August to protest the government's plans to fire them outright or reassign them to other jobs, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2001). Demonstrations took place in Bjelovar, Pakrac, Okucani, Zadar, and Vinkovci. The union representing government employees promised to take legal action against the authorities. A police strike remains a possibility. Officials of the opposition Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) called for a special session of the parliament to discuss the sackings, saying that the government's decision will lead to reduced safety and security for citizens. On 8 August, a protest continued. PM

FORMER BOSNIAN SERB LEADER: KARADZIC'S BODYGUARDS PAID BY CROOKS IN CUSTOMS

Milorad Dodik, a former Republika Srpska prime minister and the leader of the Independent Social Democratic Party, said in Banja Luka on 7 August that unnamed "criminal organizations" provide the money to pay the bodyguards of Radovan Karadzic, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Dodik added that the criminals are former members of the secret police and current customs officials who engage in smuggling. PM

ROMANIAN MINE BLAST KILLS 14

A powerful blast at the Vulcan mine in the Petrosani area in western Romania killed 14 miners and injured three on 7 August, Romanian media reported. The blast was most likely caused by an electrical spark in one of the mine's galleries combined with a massive gas buildup. Premier Adrian Nastase interrupted his holiday and formed a governmental commission to investigate the incident. The commission is led by Interior Minister Ioan Rus and Labor and Social Solidarity Minister Marian Sirbu. The government will offer 75 million lei ($2,500) in aid to the victims' families, while children of the victims are to be helped with "scholarships or other aid," Nastase said. ZsM

ROMANIAN GENERALS' SENTENCES TO BE RESCINDED?

According to an appeal made on 7 August by Attorney General Tanase Joita, a court will reconsider the sentence delivered to Generals Victor Athanasie Stanculescu and Mihai Chitac for their roles in repressing the December 1989 revolt in Timisoara, Romanian media reported. The two were originally sentenced by the Supreme Court to 15 years in prison. The military intervention in Timisoara resulted in 72 dead and 253 wounded. Joita argued that formal and basic procedures were breached during hearings on the generals' cases. The Supreme Court is now to approve the attorney general's decision. Joita did not contest the sum of 37 billion lei (some $1.3 million) in damages that Stanculescu and Chitac were ordered to pay to the families of victims of the repression. ZsM

FORMER JUSTICE MINISTER QUESTIONED ON DUBIOUS PRIVATIZATION

Romanian police on 7 August questioned former Justice Minister and opposition National Liberal Party Chairman Valeriu Stoica on the selling of the Romtelecom state-owned telephone company, Mediafax reported. Police are investigating a $9 million consultancy fee paid by the former privatization agency to the Goldman-Sachs company. Stoica said that as a member of the privatization committee he had no right to approve such payments. Romanian Privatization Minister Ovidiu Musatescu said in June that the payment of the fee had no legal basis, and that "in the best situation," the fee should have been paid by Romtelecom and not the privatization agency. Police have already questioned several former high-ranking officials and are to conclude their investigation by questioning former Premier Radu Vasile. ZsM

BUSH SPEAKS ON MOLDOVA'S FUTURE

In a letter sent to Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, U.S. President George W. Bush said he "agrees that Moldova's future is Europe and the Trans-Atlantic Community," Flux reported. He added the U.S. looks forward to cooperating with the Moldovan government, as Chisinau works toward "important democratic reforms, oriented to a market economy and necessary for full integration into the international community." Bush said he understands Moldova's problems with the breakaway Transdniester region and with the presence of the Russian army there. He said the U.S. administration will continue to support the withdrawal of Russian troops in accordance with the provisions of the 1999 OSCE Istanbul summit agreement. ZsM

FORMER BULGARIAN PRESIDENT DECLARES WILLINGNESS TO RUN AGAIN

"If those who may wish to put up my candidacy [for the presidency] change the constitution, vesting more powers in the president, we can discuss it," former President Zhelyu Zhelev told the web magazine Mediapool in a recent interview, BTA reported on 8 August. Hristo Markov, a member of the Democratic Party, which is a partner in the ODS coalition, caused a stir following a separate recent interview with Mediapool in which he said that the National Movement Simeon II will not back Peter Stoyanov for re-election as president, and would likely throw its support behind Zhelev. According to an opinion piece in "Sega" on 7 August, a second term in office would make Stoyanov more independent, a scenario that would not please Premier Simeon Saxecoburggotski. In his comments to Mediapool, Zhelev went on to say that he is in favor of increasing the powers of the presidency, and that "I will even support Simeon if he wants to become president with broadened powers, because Bulgaria needs it." MES

BULGARIAN-U.S. TEAM TO SEARCH FOR ORIGINS OF NOAH'S FLOOD

Acting on the basis of a new theory that Noah's Flood was the result of an ancient Black Sea deluge, an underwater expedition team has assembled in Varna to begin searching for evidence. The expedition is being led by Dr. Robert Ballard, best known for finding the wreckage of the Titanic in the North Atlantic, along with marine geologist Dwight Coleman and the Bulgarian Academy of Science's Professor Petko Kimitrov. Should the team uncover any evidence that the great flood originated in the Black Sea, the team will return in 2003 to begin underwater archeological excavations. MES




RUSSIAN PRESENCE IN FORMER REPUBLICS DECLINES


By Paul Goble

The number of ethnic Russians in the 11 former non-Russian Soviet republics and the Baltic states has declined from 24.8 million in 1989 to fewer than 19 million today, an absolute decline that has reduced their percentage of the population in every one of these countries. That trend reflects the more general Russian demographic collapse, as well as the assimilation and outmigration from these countries to the Russian Federation. And it seems certain both to continue and to have important consequences for these countries and their relationships with Moscow.

A recent article published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" surveyed census results from six of these countries (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Estonia, and Turkmenistan) as well as population estimates prepared by the governments of the other countries in the region. And it reported on the number of ethnic Russians found in all these countries in 1989 by the last Soviet census and the number reported in more recent censuses and in estimates for 1999.

In the Baltic region, there were 474,800 ethnic Russians in Estonia in 1989 and 353,000 a decade later. In Latvia, the equivalent figures were 905,500 and 710,00 and in Lithuania, the numbers were 344,500 in 1989 and 280,000 in 1999. In the former Soviet West, there were 1,342,100 ethnic Russians in Belarus in 1989, and 1,141,700 there in 1999. In Ukraine, the numbers were 11,355,600 and 9,100,000; and in Moldova, the figures were 562,100 and 501,000 respectively.

In the southern Caucasus, there were 51,600 ethnic Russians in Armenia in 1989 and 8,000 there a decade later. In Azerbaijan the equivalent numbers were 392,300 and 141,700; in Georgia, 341,200 and 140,000. As for Central Asia, there were 6,062,000 ethnic Russians in Kazakhstan in 1989 and 4,479,600 a decade later. In Kyrgyzstan, the figures were 916,600 and 603,200; in Tajikistan, 388,500 and 145,000; in Turkmenistan 333,900 and 240,000; and in Uzbekistan, 1,653,500 and 1,150,000.

According to the Moscow newspaper, the current situation is even more "catastrophic" with respect to the overall number of ethnic Russians and their number in each of the countries involved. But even these figures for the 1989-1999 period point to three important conclusions:

First, the absolute number and percentage of Russians in the population are declining in every country. On the one hand, this pattern resembles the end of empire elsewhere and the almost inevitable sorting out of populations that takes place when an empire dies. But on the other hand, it calls into question the assertions of some Russians and others about the supposed special nature of the territory of the former Soviet Union and the future role of Russia and Russians in these countries.

Second, the numbers suggest that ethnic Russians are leaving those countries which face the greatest amount of social instability and even open conflict rather than those about whom Moscow has complained most regularly. Russians are not "fleeing" from what Russian officials often describe as "oppressive" government actions in Estonia and Latvia at greater rates than from "fraternal" countries like Ukraine, Armenia, or even Belarus. Instead, individual ethnic Russians appear to be making choices on the basis of economic opportunity and cultural affinity rather than on the basis of the Kremlin's political calculations.

And third, the declining number and percentage of ethnic Russians in these countries mean that Russians seem certain over the coming years to play a smaller role in the social, economic, and political lives of these countries and that Moscow may not be able to count on a stratum of ethnic Russians who will for cultural and other reasons be especially prepared to advance the interests of the Russian Federation.

Whatever their current difficulties, these countries are likely as a result of this demographic shift to become ever more the expression of the dominant nationality in them rather than of a survival of the past like the Soviet mindset. In some of them, that may lead to a new nationalism and heightened ethnic tensions, but in others, the exit from the scene of the ethnic Russian community may reduce ethnic tensions and open the way to a more genuinely civil society.

But perhaps the most important consequence of this demographic trend is likely to be felt not in these 14 countries but in Russia itself. Many Russians, themselves facing a demographic decline widely predicted to reduce the population of their country by more than a third over the next half century, may view the decline in the numbers of Russians in neighboring states as a harbinger of things to come, a development that could help power Russian nationalist or perhaps Eurasianist parties in the future. At the very least, they are likely to see this trend as reducing still further Russia's role in the world, even if Moscow continues to promote the return of ethnic Russians from these countries to address economic needs in the Russian Federation.

And the Russian government itself almost certainly will have to revise its approach to these countries as a result. In some cases, that may lead Moscow to step up criticism of the governments involved, just as it has done of late with regard to the treatment of ethnic Russians in Ukraine. But in others, it may mean that the Russian authorities will be forced to deal with these countries ever more as countries rather than as remnants of a former Russian empire.

In that event, this demographic development will certainly have fateful consequences even if, as always, demography is not destiny except in the very long run.


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