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Newsline - October 26, 2001




TERRORISTS TWICE TRIED TO APPROACH RUSSIAN NUCLEAR STORAGE FACILITIES

Colonel General Igor Valynkin, the chief of the Defense Ministry's administration responsible for the Russian nuclear arsenal, said on 25 October that terrorist groups twice this year attempted to gain access to Russian nuclear munitions dumps, Russian news agencies reported. The first attempt took place eight months ago and the second two months later. Valynkin said his agency successfully repulsed the groups and is now putting additional security measures in place with the help of the United States. Valynkin said he does not exclude the possibility that terrorist groups may directly attack nuclear installations but does not believe they will succeed if they do. VY

ANTHRAX SCARE SAID TO TERRIFY RUSSIA, CIS

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 25 October said that ever more cases of white powder, none of which so far have carried anthrax bacilli, have terrified people across Russia and in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Other articles in "Novye izvestiya" and "Izvestiya" noted that some in the United States are identifying Russia and Iraq as possible sources of the weaponized anthrax, but Russian officials denied both charges. PG

RUSSIAN COMMANDER IN TAJIKISTAN HAS NO PLANS TO HELP U.S.

In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 25 October, Lieutenant General Vladimir Popov, the commander of the Russian Defense Ministry operational group in Tajikistan, said that the forces under his command -- including the 201st Motorized Rifle Division -- have no plans to help the United States in the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan. He also said "there is not a grain of truth in rumors" that the 201st MRD is now on high alert, but he added that the division "is one of the best formations in the Russian Armed Forces and is ready for all the tasks it is supposed to perform." PG

PAVLOVSKII BLASTS FOREIGN MINISTRY'S HANDLING OF CRISIS

In an interview published in strana.ru on 24 October, Gleb Pavlovskii, the head of the Effective Policies Foundation and a close adviser to the Kremlin, said Moscow has failed to respond quickly enough to changes in the world after the 11 September terrorist attacks on the United States. He noted that "in particular, the Russian Foreign Ministry is catastrophically lagging behind the swiftly changing international scene, and it is this that jeopardizes Russia's national interests." He said Russia must be ready for "a long war" and understand that what is happening now is just "the beginning of deployment for battle." He urged that Russian leaders work to convince the U.S. that in this battle Russia is "the natural European ally" of the United States. PG

U.S. PLANS TO DISPOSE OF SOVIET BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS BURIED ON ARAL SEA ISLAND SPARK CONCERNS

An article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 25 October said there are many unanswered questions about why the U.S. military is tackling "the purely environmental problem" of disposing of Soviet-era biological weapons buried on an island in the Aral Sea and why Washington has signed an accord to do so only with Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2001) even though part of the island belongs to Kazakhstan. Such questions, the paper suggested, point to the possibility that the United States believes it will gain much of intelligence value by digging up these Soviet-era weapons systems. PG

TALIBAN WEBSITE CARRIES THREAT TO RUSSIA

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 25 October that the Taliban website on 22 October carried a threat to attack Russia because of its support for the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan. PG

AFGHAN FIGHTING SEEN REDUCING FLOW OF ILLEGAL DRUGS TO RUSSIA

Viktor Ushakov, the chief of the Interior Ministry's Main Administration for the Struggle Against Illegal Drug Sales, said on 25 October that the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan has had the effect of reducing the influx of drugs from there to Russia, Interfax-Northwest reported. PG

ZHIRINOVSKY SAYS U.S. AFGHAN OPERATION 'A WAR' AGAINST RUSSIA

Duma deputy speaker and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky said on 25 October that the U.S. antiterrorist campaign in Afghanistan is a continuation of America's "war against Russia," Interfax reported. He said Moscow should only support the U.S. operation if Washington agrees "not to interfere in the affairs of states that are a zone of Russian interests -- the countries of the former USSR, India, Iran, and Iraq." Moreover, he said he fears that as the war in Afghanistan continues, "millions of refugees" from that country will flood into Russia, destabilizing the situation and thus allowing the U.S. to use "the hands of others" to pursue its attack on Russia. PG

RUSSIAN LIBERAL NEWSPAPERS INCREASINGLY ANTI-AMERICAN

Writing in the usually liberal "Obshchaya gazeta" on 25 October, Academician Sergei Alekseev said that in his judgment, "the so-called antiterrorist campaign led by the U.S. is in the final analysis directed against Russia." Moreover, Alekseev continued, by joining the antiterrorist coalition, Russia has put its own interests at risk. Meanwhile, Father Mikhail Ardov of the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church said in an interview published in "Novaya gazeta" the same day that the 11 September attacks were "an act of providence" to punish the U.S. for "its arrogance and betrayal of Christian civilization." VY

ANALYSTS ALSO WARN AGAINST ALLIANCE WITH U.S., SEE PROBLEMS AHEAD

Sergei Rogov, the director of the USA and Canada Institute, said on 25 October that Moscow must insist on serious economic concessions if it is to continue to support the American counterterrorist effort, strana.ru reported. He said Moscow must demand the writing off of all its debts. Institute staffer Andrei Gubkin went even further, saying that it is pointless to try to make a deal because Americans "have no notion of gratitude in their political culture." Gubkin's position was supported by other speakers -- including Kremlin media adviser Pavlovskii -- who said that the actions of the terrorists are more rational than are those of the American administration, which only seems able to react rather than pursue its own policy. Also on 25 October, "The Moscow Times," "Ekspert," "Novaya gazeta," and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" all carried articles suggesting that the American counterterrorist effort is going to encounter ever greater difficulties and generate more anti-Americanism among Muslims and other groups. VY/PG

ZYUGANOV SEES PUTIN RESTRAINING U.S.

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said on 25 October that President Putin is playing a useful role in restraining the American tendency to use force alone to counter terrorism, ITAR-TASS reported. He said Russia must stay out of the Afghan fighting as Putin has promised. Zyuganov also said he favors the unification of Unity, Fatherland, and All-Russia into a single centrist party. VY

IS THERE A U.S. PIPELINE IN AFGHANISTAN'S FUTURE?

According to an article in "Vremya novostei" on 25 October, the United States may revive earlier plans to build a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan once the Taliban are removed from power (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2001). But the paper said the U.S. may discover that it will have no Turkmen gas for such a route because Russia plans to purchase all of the gas Turkmenistan does not use domestically or export to Iran and India. As a result, the paper said, "Turkmenistan will not be able to export anything" through an Afghan pipeline. PG

PUTIN STEPS UP OFFENSIVE AGAINST YELTSIN HOLDOVERS

"Zhizn," No. 43, said President Putin and his Leningrad group are going on the offensive against Yeltsin-era officials and especially against those with connections to magnate Boris Berezovsky. Among the targets of the campaign, the weekly said, are Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko, Customs Committee Chairman Mikhail Vanin, and Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo. Prosecutors announced the same day that they plan to charge Aksenenko with additional crimes that could land him in prison for 10 years if he is convicted. VY

PUTIN, BERLUSCONI DISCUSS ANTITERROR EFFORT

President Putin on 25 October received Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to discuss the international campaign against terror and the situation in the Middle East, RIA-Novosti reported. Putin aide Sergei Prikhodko said the two also discussed economic ties, as Italy has become Russia's third largest trading partner in Europe. VY

GOVERNMENT APPROVES REFORM OF VNESHEKONOMBANK

The government on 25 October approved a plan to divide Russia's Vneshekonombank into a commercial bank and a government agency for serving foreign debts and liabilities, ITAR-TASS reported. The plan will be finalized on 1 December and go into effect in the first quarter of 2002, the news service said. Also on 25 October, Yurii Ponomarev, the head of Vneshtorgbank, said he supports the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development's proposal to acquire a 20 percent stake in his institution, Interfax-AFI reported. PG

DUMA VOTES FOR PENSION REFORM ON FIRST READING

By a vote of 235 to 162, the Duma on 25 October approved on first reading the draft pension reform bill presented by President Putin, Russian and Western agencies reported. The bill provides for the transformation of the Pension Fund into a nonprofit organization and expands the functions of that body to include setting pension rates and establishing a single federal data bank on pensioners. PG

DUMA REJECTS ZHIRINOVSKY PLAN FOR BROADER AMNESTY

The Duma on 25 October rejected a proposal by Duma deputy speaker Zhirinovsky to broaden the planned amnesty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2001) to include veterans, men over 60, all women, and all youths, regardless of the crimes for which they are incarcerated, Interfax reported. Zhirinovsky's proposal attracted only 16 votes, far less than the 226 needed for passage. PG

SEVERAL DUMA DEPUTIES CALL FOR ABOLISHING HAGUE TRIBUNAL

A group of Duma deputies from the Communist Party, the Agro-Industrial group, and the Russian Regions group on 25 October appealed to the government to seek to have the United Nations abolish the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, Interfax reported. At the same time, the group said it backs President Putin's call for the creation of an international agency to prevent terrorism. PG

UNITY NOW LEADS COMMUNISTS IN POLLS

According to a poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation and reported by Interfax on 25 October, 25 percent of Russians say they would vote for Unity candidates were a parliamentary election to be held now, compared with 22 percent who said they would vote for Communist Party candidates. The support for Unity is largely unchanged from polls earlier this summer, but the Communists have seen their backing decline from 35 percent or more in the earlier opinion samplings. The same day, Unity faction leader Vladimir Pekhtin in "Izvestiya" and Fatherland party Secretary Aleksandr Vladislavlev in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" said they would like to see President Putin at the head of the combined centrist party. PG

SPS DISSOLVES ST. PETERSBURG UNIT

Duma deputy speaker and Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Irina Khakamada said on 25 October that the federal party has dissolved the St. Petersburg branch of the party because of conflicts between its membership and the new leadership, Interfax reported. She said the federal party will supervise the formation of a new branch in the northern capital and the holding of elections for a new leadership there. PG

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT STRIKES DOWN RESTRICTIONS ON LAWYER ACCESS

The Russian Constitutional Court on 25 October struck down provisions in federal legislation that it said violated the constitutional rights of accused by restricting the ability of their lawyers to meet with them, Interfax reported. PG

POLL SHOWS RUSSIANS MORE SYMPATHETIC TO ABKHAZIA THAN TO GEORGIA

A poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation and reported by Interfax on 25 October found that 38 percent of Russians are sympathetic to the position of the Abkhaz, while only 10 percent are supportive of Georgia in its conflict with Abkhazia. Thirty-six percent are neutral, the poll found. PG

PUTIN SIGNS DECREE LIFTING BAN ON WEAPONS SALES TO BELGRADE

President Putin on 25 October signed a decree lifting the ban on Russian weapons exports to Yugoslavia, ITAR-TASS reported. The ban has been lifted in correspondence with the UN Security Council Resolution 1367 of 10 September 2001. Meanwhile, another Russian peacekeeper was found dead near Prishtina, the 11th death of a Russian peacekeeper in Kosova since the arrival of Russian forces there, AP reported. The wire service reported that the man was killed for making advances toward a local woman. PG

RUSSIA SIGNS FIRST MILITARY-TECHNICAL ACCORD WITH NICARAGUA

ITAR-TASS reported on 25 October that Russia and Nicaragua have signed their first-ever intergovernmental agreement on military-technical cooperation. PG

CAPITAL FLIGHT FROM RUSSIA ESTIMATED AT $10 BILLION IN FIRST HALF OF 2001

World Bank experts have concluded that approximately $10 billion of capital flight occurred during the first six months of 2001, Interfax reported. Bank officials said the situation is "paradoxical" because Russia needs investments but lacks the financial arrangements that are needed for Russian firms to invest at home. The same day, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov warned customs officials that the country's currently favorable economic situation with regard to trade may worsen in the future as competition increases, Russian agencies reported. PG

UN PEACEKEEPERS PURCHASING RUSSIAN ARMS

"Vedomosti" reported on 25 October that the United Nations is now purchasing Russian armored personnel carriers and other military equipment for its units, thus allowing Moscow "to make money from the United Nations" for the first time. PG

GAZPROM-MEDIA CHOOSES NEW LEADERS

Aleksandr Dybal was elected president of the directors council of Gazprom-Media and Boris Jordan was appointed general director of the firm at a stockholders meeting on 25 October, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Gazprom announced that it has chosen a consultant to manage the sale of its media holdings, the news service said. PG

INFLATION FOR OCTOBER PROJECTED TO RISE SLIGHTLY

The State Statistics Committee on 25 October projected that the total increase in the consumer price index for the month of October 2001 will be 1.1-1.3 percent, Interfax reported. After slowing to near zero levels in September, prices have begun to rise slightly more rapidly, with consumer prices increasing 0.2 percent from 2 to 8 October, and 0.3 percent from 16 to 22 October, the committee's spokesman said. PG

NEW SATELLITE TO IMPROVE COMMUNICATIONS FOR RUSSIAN FORCES ABROAD

Russia launched a Molniya military communications satellite on 24 October to provide better communications for Russian troops in Tajikistan, the South Caucasus, and the Balkans, "Krasnaya zvezda" reported on 25 October. This is the seventh such launch in the last four months. VY

BODIES FROM 'KURSK' RECOVERED AS PROSECUTORS BEGIN PROBE

Three bodies of "Kursk" sailors were recovered on 25 October as prosecutors began their detailed study of the hull as well as inside the salvaged submarine, Russian agencies reported. The hull of the sunken submarine is now out of the water, and the water inside the hull is being pumped out, the agencies said. VY

THREE SENIOR CUSTOMS OFFICERS FIRED FOR CORRUPTION

Customs Committee chief Vanin announced that he has fired three senior customs officials in the Northwest Directorate because they falsified reports about the transit of nonexistent goods in order to pocket customs duties, the Interior Ministry website cry.ru reported on 24 October. VY

INTERIOR MINISTER TIGHTENS CONTROLS OVER GUNS IN PRIVATE HANDS

Interior Ministry officials said on 25 October that they are tightening controls over private gun ownership and especially over hunting and shooting clubs where guns are stored, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, the same day the Moscow city government announced it has allocated 20,000 rubles ($660) to compensate people who voluntarily turn in illegally owned weapons, Interfax-Moscow reported. But "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 25 October reported that some 22 militia officers are now facing trial for not only failing to control guns but for selling them from Interior Ministry stocks. PG

FOREIGNERS SAID TO DOMINATE SECTORS OF MOSCOW CRIME

Vladimir Sedykh, the deputy chief of the passport-visa service of the Moscow Internal Affairs administration, told Interfax-Moscow on 25 October that Africans and Asians dominate part of the drug business in the Russian capital and that gangs made up of Ukrainians, Moldovans, and Georgians dominate other sectors. He added that foreigners committed 1,844 crimes in Moscow during 2000 and that some 81 of them have been forcibly deported from Russia. PG

TRADE UNION LEADER WANTS MINIMUM WAGE TO MATCH MINIMUM STANDARD OF LIVING

Mikhail Shmakov, the leader of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia, said on 25 October that the minimum wage should be raised so that those receiving it will be at least at the level of the minimum standard of living set by the government, Interfax reported. At present, he said, those earning the minimum wage receive a total of only 20 percent of the income needed to meet the minimum standard of living. PG

MIXED DEMOGRAPHIC NEWS IN MOSCOW

Vladimir Semenov, the health minister of the Moscow Oblast government, said on 25 October that mortality among working age people in the oblast is increasing as a result of both rising rates of illness and accidents, Interfax-Moscow reported. But at the same time, he said infant mortality has fallen from 15.7 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1999 to 13 per 1,000 in the first nine months in 2001. Perinatal mortality also declined from 47 per 100,000 births in 1999 to 38 per 100,000 in 2000. PG

AFGHANS IN ROSTOV ORGANIZE SCHOOL

Refugees from Afghanistan in Rostov-na-Donu have organized a school to teach their children Dari, Russian, and English in the hopes that the children will eventually be able to return to Afghanistan, "Izvestiya" reported on 25 October. The school works in the evenings until 2:00 a.m. The article also reported that there are some 3,000 Afghan orphans in Russia, most of whom were brought to the USSR during the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and have since lost all contact with their fellow Afghans and all knowledge of their native languages. PG

ABSENCE OF STABLE SOCIAL GROUPS MAKES POLLS UNRELIABLE

According to an article in "Profil," No. 38, "stable social groups have not yet formed in Russia yet," and consequently polltakers cannot create a representative sample. Indeed, the article suggested, individuals in Russia "can only be 'typical representatives' of themselves," a pattern that makes claims for the accuracy of Russian polling data suspect at best. PG

FEDERAL PRESSURE BUILDS ON SAKHA...

The chief federal inspector to the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic, Magadan, and Amur Oblasts, Ruslan Shipkov, told Interfax-Eurasia on 25 October that incumbent Sakha President Mikhail Nikolaev should withdraw his registration as a candidate in the republic's 23 December presidential elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2001). Shipkov also said he believes Nikolaev has not managed to organize work on bringing the republic's constitution in line with federal laws. Shipkov was himself registered as a candidate on 25 October in the election, according to the agency. Meanwhile, in Moscow, the Central Election Commission has announced that it will respond to a complaint filed against Nikolaev's registration no later than 30 October, and a member of the Supreme Court, Vladimir Strekovzov, said he does not exclude the possibility that the court will reconsider the issue of Nikolaev's candidacy in the near future (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 2001). JAC

...AS ANOTHER OLIGARCH VIES FOR CONTROL OVER DIAMOND-PRODUCING REPUBLIC...

Also on 25 October, around 200 people, most of them university students, gathered in a central square in Yakutsk to express their support for Nikolaev's candidacy. Meanwhile, "Novaya gazeta," No. 78, said Mezhprombank appears to be backing the candidacy of Deputy Prosecutor-General Vasilii Kolmogorov. According to the weekly, Sergei Veremeenko, the chairman of the administration at Mezhprombank, visited Sakha at the same time as President Putin's recent visit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2001). The weekly also noted that Mezhprombank head Sergei Pugachev is a close associate of former Kremlin facilities directorate head Pavel Borodin. Borodin was once mayor of Yakutsk, Sakha's capital. Pugachev is considered a member of the new wave of Russian oligarchs (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 16 April 2001). Among the other likely candidates in the presidential race is diamond-production company ALROSA head Vyacheslav Shtryov. JAC

...AND OREL GOVERNOR IS EXPECTED TO WIN HIS THIRD TERM

As Sakha President Nikolaev battles for the chance to win a third term, Orel Oblast Governor Yegor Stroev is expected to be easily re-elected for his third term in gubernatorial elections scheduled for 28 October, "Vremya MN" reported on 25 October. Stroev will vie against three other candidates -- Stanislav Mats, general director of a silicate brick factory; Vasilii Molokanov, head of the oblast's Statistics Committee; and Vladimir Zyabkin, a professor at Orel State University. Two candidates from the SPS were not able to register (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 10 October 2001). "Kommersant-Vlast," No. 42, noted that Orel residents are eager to see whether Stroev will beat the record he set during his 1997 election victory, when he received more than 97 percent of the vote. JAC

SHAIMIEV PLEDGES THAT HARMONIZATION PROCESS WON'T BE DRAGGED OUT...

Following a meeting with President Putin in Moscow on 24 October, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev told legislators in Kazan the next day that the process of bringing the republic's constitution into conformity with federal law will not be dragged out. Legislators had gathered to debate a list of amendments to the republic's constitution, including a controversial one on Tatarstan's sovereignty. The Tatar weekly "Zvezda Povolzhya" speculated that Putin offered Shaimiev the post of chairman of the Federation Council, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported, but Shaimiev said only that the 90-minute discussion between the two was "detailed," according to Interfax-Eurasia. JAC

...AS PROTESTORS DENOUNCE 'UNITARISM-FASCISM'

Also on 25 October, Shaimiev spoke to participants in a picket in Kazan organized by the moderate nationalist Tatar Public Center and the public association Creation. Shaimiev told the gathering of about 30 people that it is necessary to support normal, civilized relations with the federal center. The demonstrators, who were gathered in front of the building that houses Tatarstan's legislature, were carrying signs that read: "Deputies, defend Tatarstan's Sovereignty or Lose Your Authority," "No to Unitarism-Fascism," "Disobey Putin's Antipeople Policy," and "Defend Our Laws." JAC

TOMSK TO BE ONE NEW HOME FOR NUCLEAR WASTE IMPORTS

The government information department announced on 25 October that a plot of land in Tomsk Oblast has been allocated as a site for burying imported spent nuclear fuel, Interfax reported. The plot will be overseen by the Siberian Chemicals factory, which is a wholly state-owned enterprise. JAC

PRO-MOSCOW CHECHEN OFFICIALS SKEPTICAL ABOUT PLANNED TALKS...

Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov said on 25 October that the planned talks between presidential representative to the Southern federal district Viktor Kazantsev and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's representative, Akhmed Zakaev, should focus exclusively on the conditions under which the Chechen militants are prepared to disarm, ITAR-TASS reported. "Any political talks are out of the question," Kadyrov said. Former Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov, who is now one of Kazantsev's deputies, claimed that Maskhadov's apparent readiness for talks is a deliberate attempt to mislead Moscow and play for time while seeking "a political rostrum," Russian agencies reported. Gantemirov said the venue for talks should be not Moscow but the Russian military base at Khankala on the outskirts of Grozny. LF

...WHILE INGUSHETIAN PRESIDENT URGES COMPROMISE...

Ingushetia's president, Ruslan Aushev, who has consistently called for talks between Moscow and Maskhadov on ending the war, predicted on 25 October that the upcoming meeting between Kazantsev and Zakaev will yield results only if both sides demonstrate a readiness to compromise and agree beforehand on the issues to be discussed, Russian agencies reported. He warned that neither side should issue ultimatums, and dismissed as "simplistic" Kazantsev's insistence that the Chechen fighters should disarm before embarking on peace talks. LF

...AND CHECHNYA'S DUMA DEPUTY PROPOSES MEMBERS OF MOSCOW'S NEGOTIATING TEAM

Aslanbek Aslakhanov, Chechnya's representative in the State Duma, advocated excluding from the Russian negotiating teams those individuals, whom he did not name, responsible for beginning the current war. He also called for including in the Chechen delegation unnamed representatives of the present pro-Moscow Chechen leadership, together with moderate Russian politicians such as former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, Tatarstan President Shaimiev, and Kabardino-Balkaria President Valerii Kokov, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

FSB SOLICITS INFORMATION ON SHOOTING DOWN OF RUSSIAN HELICOPTER IN GROZNY

The FSB broadcast an appeal on Chechen television on 19 October offering a cash reward for information on the shooting down of a Russian military helicopter in Grozny on 17 September in which several senior generals were killed, Russian agencies reported. "Novaya gazeta" journalist Anna Politkovskaya fled to the West earlier this month after receiving threats in connection with an article she wrote suggesting that the helicopter was shot down by a Russian serviceman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2001). Russian military spokesmen claimed that the helicopter was downed by a Chechen fighter who managed to escape, but Politkovskaya pointed out that Grozny was totally sealed off on 17 September due to the visit from Moscow of the Russian generals, who were collecting information about the conduct of the war. LF




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT HAILS ECONOMIC UPSWING...

Armenia's GDP grew by 9.9 percent during the first nine months of 2001, thanks primarily to the economy's strong performance during the third quarter, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 25 October. "Armenia has never had such an indicator during the entire period of its independence," President Robert Kocharian told reporters after chairing a cabinet meeting in the absence of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian. "In my opinion, the growth rate will remain at the current level until the end of the year," he added. But Kocharian nonetheless expressed concern at the 17 percent shortfall in tax revenues during the third quarter and told the government to take measures to rectify both that shortfall and problems in the energy sector. LF

...SAYS OPPOSITION CRITICISM FUELS AZERBAIJANI THREATS

Kocharian also told journalists on 25 October that he endorses Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian's 24 October warning that a new attack on Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan "would mark the beginning of Azerbaijan's final defeat," according to Mediamax, as cited by Groong. Sarkisian was responding to Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's 23 October statement to OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Chairman Adrian Severin that unless the OSCE takes a more principled stand against Armenian intransigence over Nagorno-Karabakh, Baku will have no choice but to opt for a "military solution" to the conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2001). Kocharian argued that the ongoing campaign by three prominent Armenian opposition parties for his impeachment and resignation destabilizes the political situation in Armenia and serves only to encourage Azerbaijan to issue such threats. LF

ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ENDS WORKING VISIT TO THE U.S.

Vartan Oskanian returned to Yerevan on 25 October after two days of talks in Washington with U.S. officials that focused on the U.S.-led antiterrorism campaign, the Karabakh conflict, the situation in the Caucasus, and the prospects for an improvement in Armenian-Turkish relations. Oskanian told journalists that Yerevan understands the reasons that led the U.S. Senate to allow President George W. Bush on 24 October to partially waiver Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act that bars direct U.S. government aid to Azerbaijan as long as that country maintains its blockade of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. "The Armenian government understands that the U.S. administration needs some flexibility in [dealing with] Azerbaijan for an effective fight against terrorism, just as the American government understands that Azerbaijan has not lifted the blockade and therefore cannot receive unlimited assistance from the U.S.," Oskanian said in a statement. He noted that Congress and the White House "did not cave in" to long-running Azerbaijani pressure to repeal Section 907 altogether. LF

AZERBAIJAN WELCOMES ANTICIPATED WAIVER OF SECTION 907

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage telephoned Azerbaijani President Aliyev on 25 October to inform him of the Senate decision to empower President Bush to waive Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, Turan and Interfax reported. Commenting on the Senate decision, Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Vilayat Quliev said it demonstrates Azerbaijan's importance to the international community and that Azerbaijan is "an equal ally of the U.S." in the antiterrorism coalition, Interfax reported. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT AGAIN CHIDES OSCE OVER KARABAKH

Meeting in Baku on 25 October with recently appointed OSCE Minsk Group U.S. co-chairman Rudolf Perina, President Aliyev again complained that the OSCE and the U.S. are not pursuing a settlement of the Karabakh conflict actively enough, Turan reported. Aliyev expressed the hope that the 11 September terrorist attacks on the U.S. have made the nature of terrorism clearer to Washington, adding that "separatism is a source of terrorism." LF

AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL BRANDS COUNCIL OF EUROPE STATEMENT ON POLITICAL PRISONERS 'SUBJECTIVE'

Presidential administration official Novruz Mamedov on 25 October rejected the conclusion of a Council of Europe team of experts that there are political prisoners in Azerbaijan, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2001). He argued that even within the Council of Europe there is no clearly accepted definition of what constitutes a political prisoner, but added that the Azerbaijani leadership is prepared to investigate the cases of specific prisoners if the Council of Europe makes such a request. Also on 25 October, Eldar Zeynalov, who is chairman of the unofficial Azerbaijani Center for Human Rights, estimated the total number of political prisoners in Azerbaijan at 700, Turan reported. LF

ABKHAZ PRESIDENT APPEALS TO PUTIN NOT TO WITHDRAW RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS...

Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba addressed a written appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin on 25 October not to agree to the withdrawal, which Georgia has demanded, of the Russian peacekeepers deployed under CIS aegis in the region of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Ardzinba argued that the recent fighting in the Kodori gorge testifies to Tbilisi's determination to resort to force to resolve the Abkhaz conflict. He characterized the Russian peacekeeping force as "the principle guarantee of the nonresumption of hostilities," and said their withdrawal or replacement by other forces is "inadmissible." He appealed to Putin to ensure that at the 30 November CIS summit participants vote to extend the peacekeepers' mandate and demand that Georgia comply with the conditions of the cease-fire agreement signed in Moscow in May 1994. LF

...AS CIS OFFICIAL DISCUSSES WITHDRAWAL WITH GEORGIAN PRESIDENT

CIS Executive Secretary Yurii Yarov met in Tbilisi on 25 October with Georgian Minister Without Portfolio Malkhaz Kakabadze and President Eduard Shevardnadze to discuss the CIS peacekeepers' withdrawal, Caucasus Press reported. Yarov told journalists that the CIS executive committee has not yet received from Tbilisi a formal request for the peacekeepers to be withdrawn. He said if such a request is received, the issue will be included in the agenda for the 30 November CIS summit, and predicted that participants would vote in favor. Yarov added, however, that he does not think the peacekeepers' departure would facilitate a solution to the conflict. Also on 25 October, Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Kakha Sikharulidze said his ministry has already drafted the procedure for the peacekeepers' withdrawal. LF

GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTER CLAIMS TO HAVE PREVENTED 'BLOODSHED'

Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on 24 October, Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze said that the Georgian police are so outraged at the constant allegations of corruption leveled against them that he was barely able to restrain his men from taking to the streets in protest, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. Targamadze said that had the police done so, "there would have been bloodshed." He did not elaborate, but commentators the following day condemned his statement. An NGO that fights for the rights of former political prisoners said that statement was inappropriate in a democratic civil society, while Elena Tevdoradze, the chairwoman of the parliament's Commission on Human Rights, termed it reminiscent of 1937, the year of one of Stalin's most egregious purges. Also on 25 October, the daily "Rezonansi" quoted the general director of the independent TV station Rustavi-2, Nika Tabatadze, as saying that Targamadze threatened in a telephone call to send his men to "destroy" the company. Targamadze later told a second Rustavi-2 journalist he intended that statement as "a joke." LF

ARMENIA, GEORGIA DISCUSS MILITARY COOPERATION

The defense ministers of Armenia and Georgia, Serzh Sarkisian and Davit Tevzadze, told journalists in Tbilisi on 25 October that the two countries will draft a plan for defense cooperation, beginning with an exchange of views on training and military reform, according to Prime News, as cited by Groong. Tevzadze pointed out that bilateral military cooperation between the two states will not be directed against any third country, and will contribute to regional security. LF

KAZAKHSTAN MARKS REPUBLIC DAY

The 11th anniversary of the Kazakh parliament's declaration of state sovereignty within the USSR was celebrated in the former and current capitals and in administrative centers on 25 October. Addressing a crowd on Astana's central square, President Nursultan Nazarbaev noted that the economy is flourishing, the political situation is stable, and the population is becoming increasingly prosperous, Interfax reported. But teachers and doctors in Almaty clearly do not agree with that latter assertion: on 24 October they submitted an appeal to the office of the Almaty mayor demanding a salary increase and amendments to the policy on social support for their professions, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. LF

KYRGYZ SECURITY COUNCIL FOCUSES ON ENERGY SECTOR

Addressing a session of the Security Council on 25 October, President Askar Akaev argued that the country should be in a position to increase annual hydroelectric output by approximately 1 billion kilowatt-hours, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He said Kyrgyzstan should be in a position to provide itself with electric power without relying on its neighbors, a clear allusion to the country's vulnerability to cutoffs of gas from neighboring Uzbekistan that have paralyzed gas-fuelled power stations. Akaev also criticized the government for failing to accumulate sufficient stocks of coal, oil, and other fuel in preparation for the coming winter. LF

KYRGYZ ISLAMISTS CALL FOR PROTESTS AGAINST U.S. BOMBING OF AFGHANISTAN

Members of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir party are distributing leaflets in Kyrgyzstan calling for protests against the U.S.-led antiterrorist campaign against Afghanistan, Interfax reported on 25 October, quoting Interior Ministry spokesman Omurbek Egemberdiev. LF

UZBEKISTAN, UN AGREE ON TRANSPORT OF HUMANITARIAN AID TO AFGHANISTAN

Following talks in Tashkent on 24 October with President Islam Karimov, UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Kenzo Oshima told journalists the following day that the Uzbek leadership has granted permission for the use of airport and port facilities in Termez on the Uzbek-Afghan border to facilitate the transport of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, Reuters and Interfax reported. The border bridge at Termez has been closed since 1997, and Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov said earlier this week it will not be reopened (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 2001). LF




BELARUS'S SUPREME COURT REJECTS APPEAL OVER PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by the Belarusian Helsinki Committee contesting the validity of the 9 September presidential elections, Belapan reported on 25 October. The committee cited a number of violations committed by the authorities during the election campaign in an effort to overturn the Central Election Commission's decision that the ballot was valid. The court dismissed the appeal, saying, "neither the Electoral Code nor other legislative acts envisage the right to a court appeal against decisions by the Central Electoral Commission regarding a refusal to recognize an election as invalid." JM

MINSK COURT ADJOURNS ORT CAMERAMAN ABDUCTION TRIAL

The Minsk District Court has adjourned the trial of four defendants who are accused of kidnapping ORT cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski and committing some 20 other grave crimes, Belarusian Television reported on 25 October. The trial, which started on 24 October, was adjourned due to the illness of the main suspect, Valery Ihnatovich, who denies his involvement in the kidnapping and has gone on hunger strike in protest. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES LAND CODE DESPITE COMMUNIST FURY

The parliament on 25 October voted by 232 to two to pass a Land Code with a controversial clause allowing the buying and selling of farmland after 2004. More than 160 communist and leftist deputies refused to vote, Reuters reported. Communist deputies blocked the debate for some time by occupying the tribune and preventing Agricultural Committee Chairwoman Kateryna Vashchuk from presenting the bill. When the bill came to a vote, communists yanked out wires to disable the parliament's electronic voting system. When the parliamentary leadership ordered a manual vote, some 15 communist lawmakers broke the ballot box and destroyed most of the ballots. JM

PROBE OPENED INTO DEATHS OF UKRAINIAN SPEAKER'S DRIVER, BODYGUARD

Prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation on suspicion of murder into the deaths of a driver and a bodyguard of parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2001), UNIAN reported on 25 October. The Interior Ministry said on 24 October that both deaths were caused by "an acute coronary deficiency and ischemic heart disease." However, the driver's sister told the New Channel television that the bodies of the two dead men revealed signs that they had been beaten. JM

ENVIRONMENTALISTS PROTEST SHIPMENT OF SPENT NUCLEAR FUEL ACROSS UKRAINE

Five Russian environmental groups on 25 October appealed to the Ukrainian parliament and President Leonid Kuchma to halt plans to transport some 40 tons of spent nuclear fuel in a train from Bulgaria's Kozlodui power plant to Russia through Ukraine, AP reported. The environmental organizations said in an open letter that half of all nuclear fuel accidents occur during transportation. "At present, the movement of nuclear materials outside nuclear power plants creates the possibility for terrorist attacks," they noted. The shipment was authorized by a 1997 agreement among Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, and Bulgaria. JM

UKRAINE TO PAY CRASH COMPENSATION ONLY AFTER FINAL REPORT

Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh said on 25 October that "all financial and legal issues" connected with the accidental downing of a Russian Tu-154 airliner with a Ukrainian missile will be solved only after the Ukrainian and Russian state commissions investigating the causes of the crash publish their final conclusions, UNIAN reported. JM

UKRAINIAN JOURNALIST FOUND DEAD

Yuriy Honchar, a part-time correspondent for the "Fakty i Kommentarii" newspaper, has been found dead in Kyiv, apparently as the result of violence, UNIAN reported on 25 October, quoting a police source. JM

ESTONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MAKES POLICY REPORT TO PARLIAMENT

The foreign policy report made by Toomas Hendrik Ilves to the parliament on 25 October primarily focused on relations with NATO and the European Union, BNS reported. It stated that Estonia will accede to the EU's new antiterrorist measures, including the planned joint European arrest and persecution permit system, as well as hindering the financing of terrorism and imposing more stringent control of exports to prevent the transfer of technology needed to produce arms of mass destruction. Ilves expressed satisfaction that NATO headquarters evaluated Estonia's third national annual program for achieving NATO membership as ambitious but realistic. He also said that the government plans to send relief aid through the Estonian Red Cross to Afghanistan. SG

LATVIAN-RUSSIAN BORDER AGREEMENT UNLIKELY TO BE SIGNED BEFORE NATO ENLARGEMENT

After returning from a visit to Moscow, the chairman of the parliament's Defense and Internal Affairs Commission, Dzintars Kudums, and deputy Aleksandrs Kirsteins declared on 25 October that the signing of the Latvian-Russian border agreement will probably not occur prior to the NATO summit in Prague next fall, BNS reported. Kudums said that the relations between the two countries are as cold as the weather, and that the work of the Latvian-Russian intergovernmental committee has been slowed by the recent removal of its Russian co-chairman, Aleksandr Blokhin. Kirsteins noted that although Russian President Vladimir Putin, as a "young generation" politician, has recognized that the border agreement should help the EU and Russia fight crime, he must take into account the opinions of the older generation, which sees the approach of NATO as a threat and takes the position that "the slower it happens the better." SG

LITHUANIA, SPAIN SIGN DEFENSE COOPERATION PROTOCOL

Defense Ministers Linas Linkevicius and Frederico Trillo signed a protocol on cooperation in the defense sphere on 25 October in Madrid, BNS reported. Lithuania had made similar agreements with 14 other NATO countries, but not with Portugal, Greece, Luxembourg, or Iceland. President Valdas Adamkus, who began an official four-day visit to Spain the previous day by attending an official reception marking the 10th anniversary of the restoration of Lithuanian-Spanish diplomatic relations, attended the signing ceremony. Adamkus also held talks with the chairwoman of Spain's Senate, Esperanza Aquirre de Biedma, and in the evening attended a reception hosted by the Madrid region's president, Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon. The main purpose of the president's visit is to participate in the international Conference on Democratic Transition and Consolidation, which the leaders of 18 countries, including Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, are scheduled to attend. SG

POLAND'S SECRET SERVICE CHIEF QUITS

State Protection Office (UOP) chief Zbigniew Nowek resigned his post on 25 October, warning the government that its plan to reform Poland's special services may threaten their effectiveness. "The prime minister is taking responsibility for a very risky move in a situation where our country is in real danger," PAP quoted Nowek as saying. Nowek's resignation follows that of Military Intelligence Services (WSI) chief Tadeusz Rusek (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2001). Premier Leszek Miller appointed legislator Zbigniew Siemiatkowski as acting head of the UOP and designated Marek Dukaczewski to run the WSI. JM

POLISH CENTRAL BANK CUTS KEY INTEREST RATES

The Monetary Policy Council on 25 October decided that the National Bank will cut its three key interest rates by 1.5 percent as of 26 October, Polish media reported. The decision trims the 28-day intervention rate to 13 percent, the discount rate to 15.5 percent, and the Lombard rate to 17 percent. It was the bank's fifth rate cut this year. National Bank Governor Leszek Balcerowicz said the cut is a sign of confidence in the new government's plan to tighten fiscal policies in 2001 and 2002. Leszek Miller's cabinet has declared to cut this year's spending by some $2 billion, and not to extend the 2002 budget gap beyond $10 billion. JM

MEDIA SAYS BIN LADEN OBTAINED ANTHRAX FROM CZECH REPUBLIC, EGYPT

The daily "Lidove noviny" on 26 October wrote that Osama bin Laden obtained samples of anthrax, as well as salmonella and E. coli bacteria, from the Czech Republic and Egypt, CTK reported. The daily cited the recent testimony at a trial in Egypt of Islamic extremist Ahmad Ibrahim Najar, which was printed in the "New York Post." Najar said factories in the Czech Republic supplied the deadly bacteria by mail, without checking the identity of the purchasers, "as long as bin Laden paid $7,500 up front." Czech authorities have denied the allegation. MS

MORE INTERNATIONAL REACTIONS TO CZECH GOVERNMENT'S SUIT AGAINST WEEKLY...

Timothy Balding, general director of the World Association of Newspapers, on 25 October denounced Czech Premier Milos Zeman's intention to have each member of the cabinet launch legal action against the weekly "Respekt," CTK reported. He called the intended multiple lawsuits "a totally unacceptable threat to the freedom of the press," and said the action was "completely out of place in a democracy." CTK on 25 October quoted Transparency International representative Brady Clough as saying governments and journalists should struggle together against corruption rather than fight one another. MS

...SEEMS TO BEAR FRUIT

Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik said on Czech Radio on 25 October that he will not launch a personal lawsuit against "Respekt" but would join one launched by the government collectively, CTK reported. Tvrdik said he did not attend the cabinet meeting that made the decision to launch individual lawsuits by ministers and that if he had been present he would have voted against it. Justice Minister Jaroslav Bures earlier said he will only demand an apology from "Respekt," while Culture Minister Pavel Dostal and Industry and Trade Minister Miroslav Gregr said they support launching a "criminal lawsuit" by the government, but will not file individual suits. Also on 25 October, "Respekt" editor in chief Petr Holub said he is considering appealing to the Constitutional Court, as he believes the government's decision amounts to an infringement on the freedom of the press. MS

CZECH LOWER CHAMBER REJECTS SAME-SEX PARTNERSHIP BILL

The Chamber of Deputies on 25 October rejected a government-sponsored draft law that would have legalized same-sex partnerships, AP reported. The vote was 86 to 60, with 21 abstentions. This is the third time that a bill on same-sex partnership has been rejected. The chamber decided to return the draft to the government for revision. MS

CZECH SENATE AMENDS CONSTITUTION TO INCREASE OWN PREROGATIVES

The Senate on 24 October approved by a majority of 53 to 12 an amendment to the constitution that increases its own prerogatives as compared to those of the Chamber of Deputies, CTK reported. The amendment must now be debated by the latter chamber. The amendment stipulates that in the event that the country's president is unable to fulfill his or her duties, the presidential powers will be transferred to the Senate chairman, rather than to the head of the Chamber of Deputies as is now specified in the basic document. The amendment also increases the number of laws that require the consent of both chambers and says that if a bill is rejected by a two-thirds majority of senators, it can be overturned by the Chamber of Deputies only by a three-fifths majority, instead of a simple majority as now stipulated. MS

CZECH POLITICAL LANDSCAPE UNDERGOING CHANGE

A draft agreement on the merger of the Freedom Union and the extraparliamentary Democratic Union (DEU) has been agreed upon by the two formations' leaders, Hana Marvanova and Ratibor Majzlik, CTK reported on 24 October. The agreement is to be submitted in December for the approval of the two parties' national conferences. Both the Freedom Union and the DEU are members of the Four Party Coalition. Also on 24 October, the Interior Ministry registered the New Path of Change political party. The party intends to change Czech politics by fostering direct communication between politicians and electors and to fight corruption and bureaucracy. New Path said it will not admit in its ranks former Communist Party members or members of movements promoting violence or intolerance. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT SAYS EU ENLARGEMENT 'CANNOT WAIT FOR POLAND'...

In an interview with the Austrian APA agency on 24 October, Slovak President Rudolf Schuster said he can imagine the first wave of EU enlargement taking place without Poland, CTK reported on the next day. "We cannot wait for Poland, if we are ready for accession and Poland is not. It would be a false solidarity," Schuster said. He also said that if former Premier Vladimir Meciar wins the 2002 Slovak parliamentary elections, he will personally, as president, borrow from the experience of his Austrian counterpart Thomas Klestil and require the Movement for Democratic Slovakia to sign a pledge to observe European values, as Klestil did with the Freedom Party. MS

...SAYS SLOVAK ARMS MAY HAVE REACHED TALIBAN

In the same interview, Schuster confirmed that there are suspicions that Slovak arms dealers might have been involved in arms deliveries to Afghanistan's Taliban. "It is a sad affair, but there are certain indications [that this is so], which are being checked," he said. MS

SLOVAK ROMA TO RUN FOR REGIONAL LEADERSHIP POSTS, REGIONAL PARLIAMENTS

The Romany Coalition Party (SRK) will have two candidates running for the position of regional heads in the first regional elections scheduled for 1 December, and 150 Roma will be candidates for the new regional parliaments, SRK Chairman Ladislav Fizik said on 25 October, CTK reported. Fizik said entrepreneur Karol Lakatos from Velke Kapusany will run for regional head of the Kosice region and he himself will run for head of the Banska Bystrica region. Fizik deplored the fact that "no white party" has sought cooperation with the SRK in the upcoming elections, and said he would consider it a success if two or three Roma candidates are elected to the regional parliaments. "Now the task consists of explaining to Roma that they should go to the polls and vote for their own candidates," Fizik concluded. MS

SLOVAKIA TO MARK END OF COMMUNIST REGIME AS NATIONAL HOLIDAY

The parliament on 25 October passed an amendment to the law on national holidays, marking 17 November, the day of the demise of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia, as one of the country's holidays, CTK reported. The day will be called "Day of the Struggle for Freedom and Democracy." MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER CLAIMS TRIUMPH OVER STATUS LAW

In a speech to leaders of Hungary's parliamentary parties and those of ethnic Hungarian organizations abroad attending the Hungarian Standing Conference in Budapest, Viktor Orban said on 25 October that the recent recommendations by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe vindicate the Hungarian position on the Status Law. "It was a victory for Hungarian foreign policy that the commission recognized the protection of ethnic minorities by the mother country as a positive trend in European law," he said. Orban also said he sees no obstacles to making the Hungarian Status Law a joint success of Hungary and its neighboring countries, and said Budapest wants to continue consultations on implementing the law. Economy Minister Gyorgy Matolcsy discussed ways of extending the government's economic investment and development program, the Szechenyi Plan, across its borders, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. MSZ




ROBERTSON HAILS ACTION AGAINST TERRORISTS IN BOSNIA

NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson said in Brussels on 26 October that action by SFOR troops in Bosnia has helped uncover part of the Al-Qaeda network, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2001). He noted that "there have been a number of arrests and detentions and deportations in Bosnia-Herzegovina carried out by the NATO-led Stabilization Force, SFOR. The action taken by SFOR has disrupted a number of terrorist networks, not all of them Al-Qaeda networks. They show the effectiveness of our operation in seeking out and cracking down on terrorism." He added that NATO's successes were "achieved through excellent cooperation with other agencies. We also welcome and have been impressed by the actions of the government authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The threat, however, has not gone. These networks have been disrupted, not eliminated. Investigations are continuing. Our work is therefore not finished." PM

PARLIAMENTARY DELAYS CONTINUE IN MACEDONIA

Parliamentary speaker Stojan Andov, whom critics consider a master of legalistic delay tactics, postponed a session of parliament scheduled for 26 October, saying that "there will be no session before Monday," dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2001, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 7 September and 23 October 2001). The previous evening, EU security policy chief Javier Solana met in Skopje with leading ethnic Albanian politicians. He is expected to meet with Macedonian leaders on 26 October, which Andov suggested prompted him to postpone the legislative session. Reuters reported that ethnic Albanians fear that Andov is preparing further delay tactics to prevent the full approval of the reform package included in the 13 August Ohrid agreement. PM

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT APPEALS TO BUSH

Boris Trajkovski wrote on 25 October to his U.S. counterpart George W. Bush requesting unspecified support in Trajkovski's efforts to rewrite the proposed changes to the preamble to the constitution as set down in the Ohrid agreement, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 August 2001). Trajkovski said that "if we don't apply this [revision], all of our hard work may fail and we would enter into an uncertain future. We cannot allow that to happen." Trajkovski wants to change the reference in the preamble to Macedonia being a state of "citizens" to being one "of the citizens of Macedonia, who pertain to the Macedonian people, Albanians, Turks, Roma, Vlachs, Serbs, Bosnians, and others." The president feels that Macedonians, whose national identity has been questioned by some of their neighbors, will not accept the preamble without a specific reference to their nationhood. Albanians say, however, that the new formulation will imply that non-Macedonians are second-class citizens. Former Yugoslav legislation distinguished between "nations" or "peoples" on one hand and "nationalities" or "minorities" on the other. PM

MACEDONIAN ARMY DEMOBILIZING RESERVISTS

The Defense Ministry said in Skopje on 25 October that it is in the process of demobilizing 1,200 reservists, dpa reported. The ministry cited "improvements in the security situation" as the reason for its decision. PM

MONTENEGRO TO TAKE PART IN BELGRADE TALKS AFTER ALL

Montenegro's governing Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) decided in Podgorica on 25 October that President Milo Djukanovic and an unspecified delegation will take part in talks in Belgrade on 26 October with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and the Serbian leadership, despite earlier suggestions that Djukanovic would not participate, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2001). A DPS spokesman said that the Montenegrins will use the opportunity to again make their case for redefining the Yugoslav federation as a loose confederation of two independent states. Predrag Bulatovic, who heads Montenegro's pro-Belgrade Socialist People's Party (SNP) hailed the decision, but added that he does not think the talks will lead anywhere. In Belgrade, officials of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia welcomed the DPS's decision. PM

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: SERBIAN WAR CRIMES IN KOSOVA WERE 'SYSTEMATIC'

The NGO Human Rights Watch said in a statement on 25 October that Serbian war crimes in Kosova in 1999 were "directed from the top" and that some of those responsible "still hold important positions today," Reuters reported from Belgrade. They include Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, who has been indicted by The Hague-based tribunal, as well as army Chief of Staff General Nebojsa Pavkovic and police head Sreten Lukic. Both men were commanders in Kosova during the war. The NGO's report also referred to attacks on Serbs and other minorities by "elements" of the ethnic Albanian guerrillas. PM

STILL NO DECISION ON SERB PARTICIPATION IN KOSOVA VOTE

On 25 October in Belgrade, Hans Haekkerup, who heads the UN's civilian administration in Kosova, discussed the possible participation of Serbs in the 17 November Kosova elections with Kostunica and other officials, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2001). Kostunica's office said in a statement that there are considerable differences between Haekkerup and his interlocutors, but that efforts will be made in the coming days to overcome the problems. After Haekkerup arrived in Belgrade, dozens of relatives of Serbs missing in Kosova attacked his car, but no one was hurt. Meanwhile, in Prishtina, German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping and his French counterpart Alain Richard called on all citizens to take part in the vote, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

HAGUE AGAIN QUESTIONS CROATIAN GENERAL

In Zagreb on 25 October, officials of The Hague-based war crimes tribunal questioned General Petar Stipetic, who heads the General Staff, about the Croatian army's offensives in 1995, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Hague officials questioned him in March and have made clear that they regard him as a witness, not as a defendant. PM

CROATIA PLEDGES SUPPORT FOR BOSNIAN TV

The government agreed to provide funds to construct transmitters on Croatian territory to relay programs of Bosnian federal television to areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina with a predominantly Croatian population, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Zagreb on 25 October. PM

CROATIA CANCELS TALKS WITH ITALY

Deputy Foreign Minister Vesna Cvjetkovic-Kurelec said in Zagreb on 26 October that there will be no more talks with Italy about a partnership agreement following the Italian government's decision to grant a medal to the last World War II Italian government in what was then the Italian town of Zara, now Croatia's Zadar, dpa reported. The agreement has been under negotiation for nine years. Many Croats and Slovenes are suspicious of possible Italian irredentism toward Istria and the Dalmatian coast. Italians from those territories constitute a well-organized lobby in Italian politics. PM

BALKAN STABILITY PACT CONFERENCE TO END IN BUCHAREST

International donors pledged $2.2 billion in funds primarily intended for mainly infrastructure projects at the Balkan Stability Pact conference in Bucharest on 25 October, international agencies reported. The conference was to end on 26 October. Bodo Hombach, the coordinator of the Balkan Stability Pact, said that in order for Europe to avoid being "Balkanized," the Balkans must be "Europeanized." He was echoed by EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten, who said, "Either we export stability to the Balkans and Southeast Europe, or it exports instability to the rest of Europe." MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS TREATY WITH RUSSIA IN OFFING

Ion Iliescu said on 25 October that there are no issues that cannot be solved relating to the negotiations on the basic treaty with Russia, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Iliescu also said the issue of the return of the Romanian state treasury that was sent to Moscow during World War I should not be addressed by this treaty. He said there are "more delicate problems" relating to the basic treaty signed with Ukraine as a result of the haste with which that document was signed, and that reopening a "dialogue" on the matter has been discussed with his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma. "We must find a way to jointly exploit resources in the Black Sea, cooperating for that purpose rather than competing with one another," Iliescu concluded. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER SAYS HE WILL PROPOSE TO BUDAPEST A 'PACKAGE DEAL' ON STATUS LAW

Adrian Nastase said on 26 October that the Venice Commission recommendations "by and large" confirmed that the Romanian positions on the Hungarian Status Law are just, and he emphasized that the commission concluded that the preservation of rights safeguarding national minorities' culture and identity can by no means be extended to the economic realm, Romanian radio reported. He said that he intends to propose to Hungary a "package formula" that will take into account "the basic philosophy" of the recommendations. The previous day, Nastase detailed his plan: the elimination from the Hungarian-Romanian accord of the stipulation limiting the number of Romanians who can work in Hungary to 8,000; involving Hungarian consulates in Romania in the issuance of ID cards attesting to membership of the Hungarian national minority on the basis of a recommendation from the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania; and allowing any Romanian citizen who wishes to study in Hungary at the state's expense to do so. MS

MOLDOVAN COMMUNIST IDEOLOGUE ATTACKS PREMIER

Mark Tkachuk, a member of the parliament's Permanent Bureau, who is considered to be one of the chief ideologists of the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM), on 25 October demanded the dismissal of Vasile Tarlev as premier, Infotag reported. In an interview on the pro.md website, Tkachuk accused the cabinet of "sabotage" and of "deliberately flubbing negotiations with the Russian and Ukrainian premiers." He said the government is being manipulated by former President Petru Lucinschi, and is "a strong and clever enemy" of the PCM. He said Lucinschi built a "pyramid of power" over the years, and it would be "naive" to believe that structure could be dismantled in the eight months following the elections. MS

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT AMENDS MEDIA LAW

The parliament on 25 October amended the Media Law, replacing the current National Council on Radio and Television with an Electronic Media Council, BTA reported. The members of the new council are to be appointed within two weeks by the parliament and by President Petar Stoyanov. The council's prerogatives include the licensing of all radio and television stations broadcasting in Bulgaria and calling tenders for licensing of new broadcasting operations. MS




CAUCASUS CONFLICTS ECLIPSED BY WORLD FOCUS ON AFGHANISTAN


By Richard Giragosian

Overshadowed by ongoing U.S.-led military antiterrorism strikes against Afghanistan and the intense diplomatic consultations on cooperation between world powers to counter global terrorism, rising tensions in the South Caucasus threaten to create yet another front of instability where a new outbreak of hostilities would have significant implications extending beyond the regional borders. A new war in the Caucasus would not only threaten to destabilize the broader Caspian Basin, but could present a challenge to the emerging U.S.-Russian strategic partnership.

Demonstrating the linkage of the conflicts in the Caucasus, the recent clashes in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia reportedly involve a force of several hundred made up of ethnic Georgians allied with Chechen rebels. Although geographically limited to the Kodori gorge of Abkhazia, the fighting has already claimed the lives of more than fifty ethnic Greek, Armenian, and Abkhaz villagers, as well as five United Nations observers.

Although serious questions over the Russian and/or Georgian roles in this crisis remain unanswered, it seems evident that the situation may very well lead to a clash of interests among the various regional powers. One possible analysis points to an attempt by the Georgian leadership to utilize Chechen fighters and guerrillas recruited from the ranks of Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia as part of a broad campaign to retake control over much of the breakaway region. However, such a scenario is a dangerous gambit for Georgia, as it already seems evident that the conflict has spiraled beyond the ability of the Georgian military to effectively contain the situation. The key question remains as to how these fighters were able to travel undetected for nearly 500 kilometers from their base in the Pankisi gorge, infiltrating Georgian territory prior to launching raids on Abkhaz villages.

The Georgian government has long been criticized by Russia for being unwilling or unable to halt Chechen operations from its territory and this new outbreak may offer Russian hard-liners a fresh justification for intervening. In perhaps the most serious confrontation between Moscow and Tbilisi in several years, this Abkhaz crisis poses a serious test of the firmness of the newly revised Russian foreign policy and may test the very survival of the Georgian government. Although as of 18 October the fighting appeared to have abated, a Georgian military contingent remains in the upper reaches of the Kodori gorge and the Abkhaz anticipate that that force may launch a new attack. Meanwhile, further complicating the situation, Abkhaz leaders have added a new dimension to the conflict by calling for an association agreement with the Russian Federation.

Responding to the Abkhaz crisis, on 12 October Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a backing-off policy, pledging noninterference in Georgia's "internal affairs" and offering to withdraw the 2,000 Russian troops deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia as part of the Commonwealth of Independent States' (CIS) peacekeeping mandate. Although seemingly a reflection of the overall new westward orientation of Russian foreign policy, it seems more likely to be central to a strategy exploiting the increasing vulnerability of the Georgian state. That interpretation is reinforced by the recent deployment of Russian troops along the Russian border with Georgia, a move cloaked in the veil of a defensive response, yet undoubtedly seen by Tbilisi as an exercise in intimidation.

Meanwhile, the chances of a political settlement of the Karabakh conflict appear to be receding, while a resumption of hostilities appears increasingly possible. Driven by a series of aggressive statements by Azerbaijani officials and politicians threatening to retake Nagorno-Karabakh by force, tension has escalated in recent weeks as Armenia and Azerbaijan traded diplomatic barbs, with each branding the other as a terrorist state.

Azerbaijan has sought to utilize the shifting geopolitical landscape by arguing that it has a right to embark on an "antiterror" campaign of its own directed at retaking control of Nagorno-Karabakh. For its part, Armenia has branded Azerbaijan as a haven for operatives for Osama Bin Laden, exaggerating the putative Azerbaijani connection to international terrorism. Such diplomacy, to the detriment of these states, has only tended to contribute to a "culture of conflict."

Possibly the most disturbing factor of the developments of the last few weeks is that the geopolitical status quo in the South Caucasus is so tenuous that it can be destabilized by a mere handful of freebooters in the case of Georgia, and incautious militant rhetoric in Azerbaijan.

That dangerous momentum toward conflict demonstrates the need for the new U.S.-Russian cooperative relationship to initiate a coordinated response to stabilize the Caucasus, at least by trying to kick start the stalled mediation efforts of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). As two of the three co-chairs of the OSCE's Minsk Group mediating the Karabakh conflict, Moscow and Washington should recognize the interrelationship and interdependence of instability on both sides of the Caspian Sea. Similarly, as members of the "Friends of Georgia" group, the U.S. and Russia could, and should, induce the UN Security Council to place Abkhazia higher on its list of priorities. Richard Giragosian is a Washington-based regional analyst and publisher of the monthly newsletter "TransCaucasus: A Chronology." (giragosi@email.msn.com)


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