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Newsline - December 12, 2001


DUMA CREATES WORKING GROUP FOR CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev said on 11 December that he has initiated the creation of a working group consisting of deputies of both chambers of parliament and members of the presidential administration to develop possible amendments to the Russian Constitution, RIA-Novosti reported. According to Seleznev, President Vladimir Putin has given his consent to the formation of the group, and agrees that "the constitution can and should be improved." Meanwhile, Yabloko deputy Sergei Mitrokhin said the same day that any amendments to the constitution must be prepared not by the working group, but by a constitutional assembly. However, a draft law on a constitutional assembly has not yet been approved by the State Duma. VY

TATARSTAN'S PRESIDENT SUPPORTS LONGER TERM FOR RUSSIAN PRESIDENCY...
Commenting on the current length of the presidential term under the Russian Constitution, Mintimer Shaimiev told Interfax on 11 December that, "in my view, four years for such a country as Russia is too little." Shaimiev's comments echo those of another influential regional leader, Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2001). Shaimiev said that a five-year term would be optimal "since [Russian citizens] are still living under the conditions of a transition period." JAC

...AS TOP ELECTION OFFICIAL NIXES IDEA
The same day, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said he is not in favor of changing the length of the presidential term. Veshnyakov said the head of state was elected to a four-year term according to the constitution, and that this specification should be observed. JAC

PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY DOES NOT RULE OUT FIRING GOVERNORS
Presidential envoy to the Central federal district Georgii Poltavchenko told reporters on 11 December that he does not exclude the possibility that the law under which a Russian president may dismiss governors in the event that they violate federal law will be used in practice, Interfax reported. When asked whether governors of "bankrupt" regions could be dismissed, Poltavchenko responded that the issue of bankruptcy of regions is "an exceptional one, and it is not easy to talk about." Such a situation "requires deep analysis," Poltavchenko said, and if the dire economic situation arose as a result of a governor's activities, then it is possible to speak of dismissal. On the separate issue of crime in his district, Poltavchenko commented that the situation over the past year is practically unchanged, although the number of criminal cases against various types of public officials did rise significantly in 2001. JAC

FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA HAS NO PLANS TO SEND TROOPS TO AFGHANISTAN
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov dismissed a report in "Kommersant-Daily" on 10 December that the Russian General Staff has prepared a contingency plan to send about 1,000 Russian peacekeepers to Kabul, ORT reported the next day. "There is no UN mandate for such an operation," Ivanov said. "True, several countries have already indicated their readiness to send their troops if there is a UN resolution, but not Russia." VY

RUSSIA REQUESTS DEADLINE EXTENSION FOR CHEMICAL WEAPONS DESTRUCTION
Deputy Security Council Secretary Oleg Chernov told journalists on 11 December that Russia has asked its international partners to postpone the completion date for the destruction of its 40,000-ton chemical weapons arsenal from 2007 to 2012, Russian news agencies reported. Chernov said the original deadline is unrealistic because of organizational and financial difficulties, and that in order to fulfill its obligations Russia needs an additional $3 billion, 30 percent of which it hopes to receive from the West, primarily the United States. He noted that the process will include not only the destruction of the arsenal, but also the dismantling or conversion of 24 chemical weapons production facilities. VY

ZYUGANOV SHARPLY CRITICIZES PUTIN FOR PURGING NORTHERN FLEET
Communist Party of the Russian Federation leader Gennadii Zyuganov has blasted President Putin's decision to reshuffle the command of Northern Fleet, "Trud" reported on 11 December. In a special statement, Zyuganov charged that the top commanders of the fleet were dismissed for their belief that NATO played a role in the sinking of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine last year. Zyuganov claimed Putin chose "friendship with Western leaders at the expense of Russian interests, and has dealt a blow to the naval officers that defend Russian national security." VY

DUMA WILL REVIEW REQUEST THAT PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S OFFICE INVESTIGATE VOLOSHIN
First deputy Duma speaker Lyubov Sliska announced on 11 December that the lower house included on its agenda a bill asking the Prosecutor-General's Office to investigate the activities of presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin, RIA-Novosti reported. Sliska said the request was initiated by the Communist and People's Deputy factions following mass media reports that Voloshin has appeared as a central figure in several corruption investigations. The parliamentarians will also request the investigation of former Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov, whom Voloshin allegedly offered $2 million to bow out of the city's mayoral race, according to Sliska. VY

RUSSIA TO RECEIVE DOCUMENTS ON BONY AFFAIR
Russian law enforcement authorities have been informed by the U.S. Justice Department that it is ready to transfer documents to them concerning the Russian side of the Bank of New York (BONY) scandal, "Vremya novostei" reported on 11 December. The documents pertain to the investigation of illegal transactions in 1994 worth some $2 million between BONY and the Russian company Nizhnegorodets. The transactions were allegedly authorized by then-governor of Nizhnii Novgorod Boris Nemtsov, and Anatolii Chubais, who headed the State Property Committee at that time. Several days after the transactions were made, "Nizhnegorodets" declared bankruptcy. The documents reportedly name Nataliya Gurfinkel-Kagalovskaya, a central figure in the BONY affair, as the person who executed the transaction. VY

FSB ARRESTS FUGITIVE ACCUSED OF STEALING FROM MILITARY
Federal Security Service agents arrested Russian national Georgii Miroshnik on 11 December, "Kommersant-Daily" and strana.ru reported. Miroshnik is accused of stealing materials from the former Soviet Army Western Forces Group in Germany worth 18 million German marks ($8.1 million), and has been sought on those charges since 1992. Miroshnik, who previously worked as an adviser to former Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi and has been living in Greece, was lured to Moscow in a sting operation and arrested, according to the daily. VY

INTERIOR MINISTRY CONFIRMS INTERNATIONAL WARRANT OUT FOR BEREZOVSKY
Viktor Prokopov, the deputy chief of the Interior Ministry's Main Directorate for Criminal Investigation, said that his agency has opened a criminal case against embattled entrepreneur Boris Berezovsky and issued an international warrant for his arrest, rosbalt.ru reported on 11 December. He added that the whereabouts of Berezovsky abroad is well known, and that it is up to the Prosecutor-General's Office to decide how to proceed. VY

RUSSIA STILL LOYAL TO DOLLAR BUT TREND GOES IN OPPOSITE DIRECTION
Speaking on 11 December at a Moscow conference devoted to the upcoming introduction of the euro, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said that, despite the high level of "dollarization" of the Russian economy, the euro's role in Russia will steadily increase, Ekho Moskvy radio reported. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" added the same day that trade with the EU currently makes up about 30 percent of Russia's foreign trade, but that most experts expect that amount to increase to 50 percent after EU expansion. VY

TUG-OF-WAR BETWEEN MOSCOW AND SAKHA NEARS END
Sakha's Supreme Court again canceled on 11 December the registration of ALROSA President Vyacheslav Shtyrov as a candidate in 23 December presidential elections in the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic, Russian agencies reported. In response, Central Election Commission Chairman Veshnyakov again criticized the court, saying that its examination of candidates' registrations "discredits the judicial system." The court ruled that Shtyrov used financial and material resources from his company while collecting signatures for his candidacy. On 12 December, Vladimir Mikhailov, the chairman of Yakutia's Central Election Commission, told Interfax that incumbent President Mikhail Nikolaev has decided to end his presidential bid, and asked the commission to remove him from the list of presidential candidates. Nikolaev did not give any reasons for his decision, and did not encourage his voters to give their support to any candidate. Shtyrov is considered Nikolaev's protege; however, some analysts believe that some officials in the Kremlin back Shtyrov's candidacy (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 5 December 2001). JAC

ANOTHER RUSSIAN CITY ON VERGE OF BANKRUPTCY...
Regions.ru reported on 11 December that the city of Kurgan could be facing a repeat of the situation in Samara, where oblast authorities have taken control of the city's finances (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 7 November 2001). An unnamed source in the Kurgan city administration told Uralinformbyuro that the city does not have enough money to pay both teachers' wages and its electricity and heating bills in full. According to the website, in order to fully pay teachers' wages, the city would have to disburse about 30 percent of the city's budget; however, the city also owes money to Kurganenergo. The city has paid Kurganenergo only 64 percent of the cost of its current consumption, and the power supplier has limited heating supplies to consumers as a result. The mayoral administration has appealed to the oblast government for help so the city can avoid a teachers' strike on the eve of the new year. JAC

...AS SAMARA MAYOR GAINS SLIGHT EDGE IN BATTLE WITH GOVERNOR
Meanwhile in Samara, embattled Mayor Georgii Limanskii gained influence in the oblast's legislature following the outcome of 9 December legislative elections, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 11 December. According to the daily, the ranks of the oblast Duma's left-wing opposition, headed by Limanskii, tripled -- going from three deputies to nine. Five candidates supported jointly by Unity and Fatherland were also victorious in the race. JAC

COMRADES-IN-ARMS APPEAL ON BEHALF OF JAILED KARABAKH GENERAL
Comrades of General Samvel Babayan, the former Defense Minister and commander of the Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army, have appealed to Armenian parliament deputies to respond to the "public demand" for Babayan's release from jail, Noyan Tapan reported on 11 December. Babayan was sentenced in February 2001 to 14 years imprisonment on charges, which he denies, of masterminding the failed attempt to assassinate the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Arkadii Ghukasian, in March 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2001). Armenian President Robert Kocharian said late last month he has raised with Ghukasian the possibility of a pardon for Babayan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November 2001). LF

AZERBAIJANI POLICE FORCIBLY DISPERSE JOURNALISTS' PROTEST
Armed police in Baku forcibly broke up an unsanctioned demonstration by journalists on 12 December outside the headquarters of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, Turan reported. Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," and three other journalists were detained by police. The journalists were protesting official harassment of the staff of "Yeni Musavat" and two other newspapers, "Azadlyg" and "Hurriyet." LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT MEETS WITH IRAN'S CASPIAN ENVOY...
Heidar Aliev met in Baku on 11 December with Iran's envoy for Caspian issues, Mehdi Safari, to discuss bilateral relations and the legal status of the Caspian, Turan reported. Aliev reaffirmed Azerbaijan's willingness to participate in the North-South transport corridor project from Russia via the Transcaucasus to Iran. He also said that a group of Azerbaijani diplomats will travel to Tehran on 24 December to coordinate the text of the Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation and other bilateral documents that are to be signed during his planned official visit to Iran. In an apparent retreat from his reported statement six days earlier that he is ready to visit Iran immediately (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2001), Aliev said that only after those agreements have been finalized can the time frame for his visit be finalized. LF

...AS KAZAKH PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER MAKES DEBUT AS CASPIAN POLICY SPOKESPERSON
In an exclusive interview published on 11 December in the independent newspaper "Ekho," Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev's daughter Darigha said that Iran's insistence that the Caspian should be divided into equal-sized sectors (which would increase Iran's share from 14 percent to 20 percent) is "the main brake on the negotiating process" to determine the legal status of the sea, ITAR-TASS reported. She also criticized Turkmenistan for changing its negotiating position "too often" in recent years. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S RELIGIOUS WATCHDOG IMPOSES RESTRICTIONS ON TWO SECTS
Azerbaijan's recently created State Committee for Relations with Religious Organizations (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 30, 16 August 2001) has imposed unspecified restrictions on the activities of the Church of Love and the Jehovah's Witnesses, Turan on 11 December quoted the committee's chairman, Rafik Aliev, as saying. Aliev said the Church of Love has made derogatory statements about fasting and about Islam in general, while the Jehovah's Witnesses have issued a leaflet that preaches religious intolerance. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER VISITS ARMENIA...
Nino Burdjanadze traveled to Yerevan on 10 December on her first official visit in her capacity as Georgian parliament speaker. During talks with her Armenian counterpart Armen Khachatrian the following day, Burdjanadze suggested that Tbilisi could act as a "constructive mediator" in a bid to effect an improvement of Armenia's relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey. Other issues discussed included economic cooperation and the predicament of the largely Armenian population of Georgia's southern region of Djavakheti, many of whom will lose their livelihood if the Russian military base in the region is closed as Georgia demands. Burdjanadze said that the new law on local elections adopted by the Georgian parliament provides for the "full and equal self-administration" of the region by its Armenian population. That statement is an implicit rejection of the demands by some Armenians both in Djavakheti and Armenia that the region should be granted formal autonomous status within Georgia. LF

...AS ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES LOBBY FOR REOPENING OF RAIL LINK
Meeting with Burdjanadze on 11 December, Armenian parliament deputies including Defense and Security Committee Chairman Vahan Hovannisian (Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun) called for the reopening of the railway linking Russia and Armenia via Georgia's breakaway Black Sea province of Abkhazia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Hovannisian said doing so would not only boost Armenia's economy, but help to find a solution to the Abkhaz conflict. He said Yerevan understands Georgia's concerns that restoring rail traffic with Russia could strengthen Abkhazia's independence, and proposed a compromise whereby trains should not stop anywhere on Abkhaz territory. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze argued earlier this year in favor of restoring rail traffic between Russia and Armenia via Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2001). LF

COMMISSIONER DEPLORES MURDER OF EU OFFICIAL IN GEORGIA
In a press released issued on 11 December, EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten expressed his profound concern at the murder in Tbilisi on 9 December of Guenter Beuchel, a member of the European Commission representation in Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2001). Noting that the murder was only "the most recent in a long series of attacks of expatriate staff," Patten warned that "Georgia cannot expect the solidarity it deserves if it cannot provide improved security." On 12 December, President Shevardnadze formally expressed his regret at the murder and criticized Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania for his delay in identifying and arresting the killer, Caucasus Press reported. LF

TOBACCO GIANT EXASPERATED OVER CIGARETTE SMUGGLING IN GEORGIA
A senior British American Tobacco official has warned that the company will leave Georgia unless the Georgian government cuts excise duties on cigarettes from 20 tetris ($0.43) to 12 tetris, and takes measures to cut down on smuggling and thereby ensure that the share of contraband cigarettes on the Georgian market is reduced from 60-70 percent to 20 percent, Caucasus Press reported on 11 December. LF

WATER SUPPLY TO GEORGIAN CAPITAL MAY BE CUT BECAUSE OF ELECTRICITY DEBTS...
Speaking at a government session on 12 December, President Shevardnadze expressed concern at the imminent danger that water supplies to Tbilisi and Kutaisi will be cut off in retaliation for the city authorities' failure to pay their electricity debts, Caucasus Press reported. LF

...WHICH FORMER RUSSIAN OLIGARCH WILL PARTLY COVER
A spokesman for Russian financier Badri Patarkatsishvili, who according to President Shevardnadze has acquired Georgian citizenship, told Georgian journalists on 11 December that Patarkatsishvili has made available to the Tbilisi municipal authorities a $1 million three-year credit at 5 percent interest to be used for paying off the city's debts for electricity, Caucasus Press reported. Patarkatsishvili also undertook to pay for all electricity used in the Georgian capital for the next three years on 7 January, the day on which the Georgian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas. LF

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY CONDEMNS SOUTH OSSETIAN PRESIDENTIAL POLL
Moscow does not consider the recent presidential elections in Georgia's unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia conducive to resolving the long-standing dispute between the region's leadership and the Georgian central government, an unnamed Russian Foreign Ministry official told Interfax on 11 December. He said that the conflict should be resolved by Russian-mediated talks between the two sides with the participation of the OSCE and officials from the Republic of North Ossetia-Alaniya, which is part of the Russian Federation. The newly elected president of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoev, has called for South Ossetia's merger with North Ossetia as a subject of the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 39, 29 November 2001). LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT FIRES SECURITY COUNCIL HEAD
President Nazarbaev has dismissed 39-year-old Altynbek Sarsenbaev from his post as Security Council secretary in connection with his transfer to another, unspecified post, Reuters and Interfax reported on 11 December. Nazarbaev simultaneously named Marat Tazhin to head the Security Council, the post he held until May 2001 when he was transferred to head the National Security Committee (KNB), the former KGB. Nartai Dutbaev, a career KBG official who was appointed KNB first deputy chairman last month, has been promoted to head that agency. LF

KAZAKH JUSTICE MINISTRY REFUSES TO REGISTER 'DEMOCRATIC CHOICE'
Citing "small flaws" in the documentation submitted, Kazakhstan's Justice Ministry has refused to register the new political movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan and returned the documentation to the movement's founders, Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov told journalists in Almaty on 11 December, Interfax reported. Zhaqiyanov cofounded Democratic Choice last month in the wake of a public dispute with President Nazarbaev's son-in-law. He was subsequently fired from his post as governor of Pavlodar Oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16, 19, and 26 November 2001). Zhaqiyanov said the Justice Ministry's decision was politically motivated, and that he will try again to register the movement. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT'S UPPER HOUSE APPROVES USE OF AIRPORT BY ANTITERRORIST COALITION
The People's Assembly, the upper chamber of Kyrgyzstan's bicameral legislature, voted by 36 to two on 11 December to approve last week's agreement between the U.S. and Kyrgyz governments making the country's main Manas airport near Bishkek and other military facilities available to the international antiterrorism coalition, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The lower chamber of parliament approved the agreement on 6 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2001). President Askar Akaev hailed the decision as "a wonderful chance for us...to receive a new air-control system, modernize our technology, and turn Manas into a first-class, safe airport," AP reported. LF

TEN JAILED IN TAJIKISTAN FOR 1998 INSURGENCY
A court in Khujand, Soghd Oblast has sentenced 10 men to prison terms ranging from eight to 25 years on charges of treason, terrorism, and sedition stemming from their participation in the November 1998 insurrection led by Colonel Mahmud Khudoiberdiev, Reuters reported. Some 200 people were killed in fighting over several days before Tajik army troops quelled the uprising. LF

TURKMENISTAN SIGNS GAS, OIL AGREEMENTS WITH RUSSIA
Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov and ITERA Chairman Igor Makarov signed an agreement in Ashgabat on 11 December under which ITERA will purchase 10 billion cubic meters of Turkmen natural gas in 2002, Russian agencies reported. The price ITERA will pay at the Turkmen-Uzbek border has not yet been fixed, but it is expected to be not less than $42 per thousand cubic meters, slightly more than this year's price of $40. Niyazov and Makarov also signed a three-way agreement with Zarubezhneft head Nikolai Tokarev under which ITERA and Zarubezhneft will jointly develop onshore and offshore Turkmen hydrocarbon deposits, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

UZBEK PRESIDENT REJECTS CRITICISM OVER DELAY IN OPENING BORDER BRIDGE
Speaking on 11 December in Vienna, where he is on an official visit, Uzbek President Islam Karimov denied that his government delayed the shipment of badly needed humanitarian aid to Afghanistan by its weeks-long refusal to open the border bridge at Termez, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that 15,600 tons of aid has been transported from Uzbekistan to northern Afghanistan since the Taliban retreated from the area, and that only 800 tons remains to be shipped from Termez. The border bridge at Termez was finally opened on 9 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2001). LF

FOREIGN MINISTER DECLARES BELARUS ON TRACK INTO EUROPE...
Belarusian Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou told journalists on 11 December that Belarus in 2001 has entered the path of "normalizing its relations with the OSCE and the Council of Europe," adding that "the foundation for that [process] has been actually laid by the presidential election and the assessment of this election by observers primarily from the CIS as well as by those from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights." The OSCE observers concluded that the 9 September presidential ballot in Belarus failed to meet democratic election standards, but advised against further international isolation of Belarus. JM

...EXPRESSES UNHAPPINESS WITH OSCE GROUP MANDATE...
Khvastou divulged that Minsk is not satisfied with the mandate of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Belarus. "The way this mandate has been and is being interpreted by the group's current head [Hans Georg Wieck] does not suit us. The OSCE working group should deal with assessment of the situation and should not be a political part of our society," Khvastou said. JM

...SAYS NO NEED TO SPEED UP INTEGRATION WITH RUSSIA
Khvastou also said that during their meeting in Moscow earlier this month, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin "decided not to speed up processes of a purely political character" in the development of the Belarus-Russia Union. "Now a Constitutional Act [of the Belarus-Russia Union] is being worked out, and I think that this work will be done competently [but] without haste," Khvastou noted. And he added: "As regards an election to a union parliament, I think there is also no need for us to hurry." JM

UKRAINE EXPECTS EXPLANATIONS FROM RUSSIA OVER ILLICIT ARMS TRADE ALLEGATIONS
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ihor Dolhov said on 11 December that Kyiv does not view the recent allegations by Russian State Duma deputy Viktor Ilyukhin of Ukraine's illicit arms trade with Afghanistan's Taliban and Chechen fighters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2001) as Russia's official stance. "We firmly repudiate accusations of this kind and anticipate explanations from official representatives of the Russian Federation in the near future," UNIAN quoted Dolhov as saying. Dolhov said that because Ilyukhin cited sources in Russia's Defense Ministry and secret services, "it is logical that the appropriate explanations should come from those departments." The same day, Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin dismissed Ilyukhin's charges as "nonsense," New Channel television reported. JM

U.S. TRAINS UKRAINIAN ELECTION OFFICIALS
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual told UNIAN on 11 December that the U.S. has provided technical experts for Ukraine's Central Election Commission to train and teach members of local election commissions "to understand their role and functions better." Pascual said the experts will hold training sessions for some 25,000 members of election commissions, adding that representatives of all the major parties in the Ukrainian parliament have already been taking part in such sessions. Pascual noted that this U.S. assistance provides for cooperation with the OSCE, which will coordinate the activity of foreign observers in the 31 March parliamentary election, as well as with Ukrainian NGOs, including the Committee of Voters of Ukraine. JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKERS REGROUP AHEAD OF ELECTION
The Labor Ukraine deputy group has reorganized itself into a parliamentary caucus of the Labor Ukraine Party, thus completing the process of transformation of deputy groups into party caucuses in the Ukrainian parliament, Interfax and UNIAN reported on 11 December. In accordance with the new law on parliamentary elections, political parties possessing their own caucuses in the parliament are entitled to have representatives on election commissions. The current array of caucuses in the Ukrainian parliament is as follows: Communist Party (113 deputies), Labor Ukraine (39), Social Democratic Party (United) (33), Fatherland (25), Ukraine's Regions (24), Ukrainian Popular Rukh (22), Solidarity (21), Socialists and Peasants (17), Popular Democratic Party (16), Unity (16), Democratic Union (15), Greens (15), Yabluko (15), Popular Rukh of Ukraine (14), and Reforms-Congress (14). There are also 48 nonaligned deputies. JM

BALTIC FOREIGN MINISTERS ATTEND CHARTER MEETING
Foreign Ministers Toomas Hendrik Ilves (Estonia), Indulis Berzins (Latvia), and Antanas Valionis (Lithuania) attended this year's meeting of the Baltic-U.S. Partnership Charter in Washington on 10 December, BNS reported. U.S. State Department Undersecretary for Political Affairs Marc Grossman told the session that the 11 September terrorist attacks in New York and Washington increased the need to expand NATO. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage praised the progress the Baltic states have made in their efforts to join NATO, and urged them to continue economic and military reforms. He emphasized that Russia will not be given a veto right on NATO enlargement. During a dinner organized by the U.S. NATO committee, Valionis and Berzins also spoke with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. SG

ESTONIA, BULGARIA SIGN FREE-TRADE AGREEMENT
Estonian Foreign Ministry Deputy Chancellor for Politics Vaino Reinart and Bulgarian Deputy Economy Minister Liubka Katsakova signed a bilateral free-trade agreement in Sofia on 11 December, ETA reported. The agreement must still be approved by the countries' parliaments, but is scheduled to come into force beginning on 1 January 2002. The agreement lifts restrictions on trade of manufactured goods, and liberalizes agricultural trade. Reinart also held talks with Deputy Foreign Minister Petko Draganov on economic cooperation, several draft agreements, and their countries' efforts to join the European Union and NATO. SG

LATVIAN PRESIDENT VISITS GENEVA
Vaira Vike-Freiberga held talks with World Trade Organization Director-General Mike Moore on 11 December in Geneva, LETA and BNS reported. During their discussions of Latvia's negotiations for entry into the EU, the Latvian president stressed the importance of the agricultural sector in many of Latvia's regions. UN Undersecretary-General Vladimir Petrovsky told Vike-Freiberga that the UN representation in Geneva is very satisfied with its cooperation with Latvia, and that the organization is viewing the development of the Baltic Sea region very favorably because it has resulted not only in the cooperation of states, but also of individual regions in them. Vike-Freiberga and Geneva canton Vice President Laurent Moutinot discussed possible cultural cooperation. On 12 December, the Latvian president was scheduled to meet UN Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson. SG

LITHUANIA'S LIGHT INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION JOINS EURATEX
The Lithuanian Association of Light Industry Enterprises was admitted as an associate member of the European textile and clothing organization Euratex at that organization's extraordinary general assembly in Brussels, ELTA reported on 11 December. Euratex is a 50-member umbrella organization for some 150,000 enterprises, which together employ around 2.2 million workers. The associate membership, while not granting a voting right, will allow Lithuanian light industry firms to present their products to EU entrepreneurs and associated structures, and to take part in international EU-funded projects. This is important because light industry accounts for about 20 percent of Lithuania's exports, with the bulk of those exports going to EU countries. In the first three quarters of this year, light industry exports increased by 4.5 percent over 2000 levels to 2.44 billion litas ($610 million). SG

MINISTER SAYS POLAND'S EU STRATEGY WELCOMED BUT LAND, LABOR ISSUES UNRESOLVED
Minister for European Affairs Danuta Huebner has announced that Poland has a chance to close at least three chapters in EU membership negotiations in the near future, Polish Radio reported on 12 December. Huebner said the negotiating strategy of Poland's new government has been well received in Brussels, but admitted that the talks are difficult on such issues as land sales to foreigners or the right of Poles to work in the EU. Next week, EU experts are to consider Poland's arguments on why access to foreigners to the Polish land market should be restricted for 12 years and not seven, as is the case with other EU candidates. JM

POLAND 'UNLIKELY' TO HAVE NATO-STANDARD JETS BY 2003
Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski said on 11 December that Poland is "unlikely" to have 16 multipurpose jet fighters ready for NATO operations by 2003, as is required by an agreement with the alliance, AP reported. Szmajdzinski also indicated that the country's budget crisis might make it difficult to meet other commitments to modernize its armed forces. Poland currently has only a dozen Soviet-built MiG-29 fighters that meet NATO standards. JM

POLISH OMBUDSMAN CONCERNED WITH CORRUPTION AT RUSSIAN BORDER CHECKPOINT
Ombudsman Andrzej Zoll has appealed to President Aleksander Kwasniewski to raise the issue of corruption among Russian border guards during the visit of Russian President Putin to Poland in January, PAP reported. Zoll said Russian border guards at the Bezledy-Bagratyonovsk border crossing direct all vehicles to a parking area near that crossing and then demand bribes for speedier departure from there. The sum of the bribe depends on the intensity of the border traffic and usually amounts to some $15 per vehicle. Those who do not pay have to wait at the parking space for up to three days. JM

FRESH FROM CZECH JAIL, SOLIH TELLS WEST IT HAS CHOICES TO MAKE...
Uzbek human rights activist Mohammad Solih said on 11 December that if the Czech Republic decides to extradite him to Uzbekistan, it would serve as a signal from Western countries that they side with Central Asia's dictators and not with the people in that region. Solih spoke at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague just hours after being released from detention in a Prague prison, pending the Czech authorities' decision on the Uzbek government's request for his extradition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2001). Solih said that as a Western country, the Czech Republic has a responsibility to show Uzbek President Islam Karimov that he cannot hide behind the slogan of antiterrorism to crush dissent at home. The same day, Czech President Vaclav Havel told journalists that Solih is "a genuine human rights fighter, a democrat, and a man unjustly accused." Havel added: "I am looking forward to receiving him at Prague Castle." MS

...AS RFE/RL PRESIDENT WELCOMES HIS RELEASE FROM CZECH PRISON
The same day, RFE/RL President Thomas Dine welcomed Solih's release from detention, saying he has "always believed Solih to be a fair, honest, and brave person promoting human rights and democratic institutions in his homeland." Dine said he is "sure that Solih will soon be able to return to his family in Norway." MS

KLAUS SAYS CZECH GOVERNMENT TRIES TO 'SHED RESPONSIBILITY' ON FIGHTER PURCHASE
Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Chairman and Chamber of Deputies speaker Vaclav Klaus told the BBC on 11 December that the government attempts to shed responsibility for the purchase of Gripen fighters by transferring it to the parliament, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2001). Klaus said the cabinet lacks the courage to make the decision by itself and is now posturing by saying, "We have decided, but the chamber might not allow us to do so. We did what we could." Klaus said this amounts to "playing games" with the voters, the media, and foreign partners, and "I don't like it." ODS Shadow Defense Minister Petr Necas said he will not support the government's decision to purchase the Gripen fighters. MS

CZECH GOVERNMENT PUBLISHES TIMETABLE FOR MEETING AUSTRIAN DEMANDS ON TEMELIN
On 11 December, the Czech government released the timetable agreed upon the previous day between Foreign Minister Jan Kavan and Austrian Environment Minister Wilhelm Molterer for implementing the agreement on the Temelin nuclear power plant reached last month in Brussels (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2001), CTK reported. The timetable provides for meeting all seven Austrian demands to meet nuclear safety requirements by the end of 2004. Also on 11 December, Austrian Foreign Ministry General Secretary Albert Rohan said in an interview with the daily "Der Standard" that is Austria's right to generally oppose nuclear power use, but that Vienna cannot dictate to its neighbors what source of energy they should choose. MS

'ASANACE' TRIAL ADJOURNED IN CZECH REPUBLIC
The trial of five former high-ranking members of the communist secret police charged with abuse of power in the so-called "Asanace Operation" was adjourned until February 2002, CTK reported on 11 December. The highest-ranking official on trial in the case is former Interior Minister Jaromir Obzina. Former dissident Ivan Medek, who headed Havel's presidential office after 1989, told the court on 10 December that he decided to leave communist Czechoslovakia after being beaten and left unconscious in a forest near Lany in 1978, following his interrogation by the secret police. Medek said that at the time he complained to the country's president, premier, and interior minister, but none of them bothered to reply. MS

HZDS PROTESTS DZURINDA'S BRUSSELS STATEMENT
The opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) protested on 11 December a statement made the previous day by Premier Mikulas Dzurinda at a meeting in Brussels with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, CTK reported. Dzurinda described the HZDS as a "nationalist and chauvinist formation that cannot be trusted, while NATO is based on trust among its members." Dzurinda also said he firmly believes it will be possible after the 2002 parliamentary elections to form a coalition without the HZDS. In response, HZDS spokeswoman Zaneta Pittnerova said that it is "both irresponsible and awkward" for the Slovak premier to consistently question the political credentials of the formation "with the largest backing." Pittnerova also said Dzurinda "denies basic democratic principles" by speaking abroad about coalition forming, whereas that process should reflect "the will of the Slovak electorate at home." The latest opinion poll conducted by the Focus polling institute shows that the HZDS's backing has grown even further, and is now estimated to be 29.6 percent, CTK reported. MS

SLOVAKIA CLOSES ENVIRONMENTAL CHAPTER IN EU NEGOTIATIONS
On 11 December, Slovakia closed negotiations with the EU on the environment protection chapter, which is considered to be one of the most difficult, CTK and Reuters reported. Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said the EU has agreed to grant Slovakia seven long transition periods for bringing its environmental standards into line with the EU. "Our environment was neglected for a very long time under the old [communist] regime," Kukan told journalists, adding that Slovakia will need some $3 billion to upgrade its environment to EU standards. Slovakia has now closed 21 of the 31 chapters of the acquis communautaire. MS

HUNGARIAN SOCIALIST LEADER HOPES POLICE INVESTIGATION IS UNBIASED
Peter Medgyessy, the opposition Socialist Party's (MSZP) candidate for prime minister, on 11 December said he hopes that a police investigation launched against him in the so-called "Gresham case" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2001) will be unbiased and reveal that no unlawful acts were committed. Medgyessy said he expected to be attacked when he agreed to run as the Socialist candidate for prime minister, but that now he realizes how important he has become now that such methods are being used against him. He added that he cannot be intimidated or silenced through such methods. MSZP Chairman Laszlo Kovacs and other party leaders condemned the investigation as "tactics typical of a police state." In a joint statement they said such "base methods" have not been resorted to since the change of regime. Former Premier Gyula Horn canceled a scheduled meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and said he was "shocked" by the assault on Medgyessy. The MSZP Governing Board also announced that Medgyessy has its full confidence. Unidentified Socialist politicians told "Vilaggazdasag" that "demoting" Medgyessy would be tantamount to political suicide. MSZ

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT ABOLISHES CURRENCY RESTRICTIONS
The parliament on 11 December passed a bill that terminates foreign currency restrictions and allows contracts to be drawn up in foreign currency terms, Hungarian media reported. The bill also abolishes the notion of "foreign currency crime." In addition, the parliament approved a bill providing 6.37 billion forints ($23 million) from the budget of the Interior Ministry for organizing next year's elections, and providing for the distribution of 100 million forints as subsidies for election campaigns. The resolution was approved after FIDESZ and the Socialist Party failed to agree on amending the law on election procedures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November and 3 December 2001). In other news, by 325 to seven, deputies voted to elect Attila Peterfalvi to the post of Data Protection Ombudsman for a six-year term. He was supported by all parliamentary parties. MSZ

ROMANIAN PREMIER ENDS STATUS LAW LETTER EXCHANGE WITH ORBAN
Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said in Bucharest on 11 December that he does not intend to continue corresponding with his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban on the Hungarian Status Law, Hungarian media reported. The announcement came after Nastase received a letter that Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi presented to his Romanian counterpart Mircea Geoana in Brussels last week. Nastase said he prefers other channels of communication. Meanwhile, Slovak Foreign Ministry State Secretary Jaroslav Chlebo told "Nepszabadsag" that Slovak experts have concluded that 23 out of 30 provisions in the Status Law support activities that are performed outside Hungary's borders. They also found that nine benefits in the law raise concerns regarding their accordance with current European legislation, including the employment of Slovak citizens in Hungary. In other news, transmission of programming of the state satellite channel Duna TV has begun on http://www.vilagtv.hu. The Prime Minister's Office, which provided 150 million forints for the project, said the Hungarian government aims to support all initiatives that promote cultural and community ties between Hungarians abroad and the homeland. MSZ

SERBIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS KOSTUNICA'S DEMAND FOR EARLY ELECTIONS
On 11 December, officials of the Serbian parliament rejected a demand by Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) to hold a vote on calling early elections, Western news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2001). The officials said that the parliament's agenda specified a discussion on proposed labor legislation and not on elections. The DSS deputies walked out in protest. The 17 parties in the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition besides the DSS control 131 out of 250 seats and do not need Kostunica's party to govern. The next elections are due in three years. Speaking in Stockholm, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said that early elections would adversely affect the reform and transformation process. Observers note that Kostunica regularly refers to Serbia's internal situation as unstable when asked why Belgrade does not cooperate with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal. It is not clear whether the DSS feels that elections would contribute to stability. PM

FRESH CALLS FOR KOSTUNICA'S PARTY TO BE OUSTED FROM SERBIAN COALITION
Speaking in Belgrade on 11 December, Cedomir Jovanovic, who is an aide to Djindjic, repeated his recent call for the DSS to be expelled from the DOS and give up the legislative seats it won on the DOS ticket (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2001). He stressed that the DOS remains committed to a policy of reform, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic said: "The DSS has become part of the opposition by asking for early elections. Opposition parties asking for early elections is a regular occurrence -- [former President Slobodan] Milosevic's Socialist Party and the [ultranationalist] Radicals [of Vojislav Seselj] have done it several times," Reuters reported. PM

SERBIAN POLL SUGGESTS CLOSE RUN BETWEEN KOSTUNICA, DJINDJIC
The latest professionally conducted poll in Serbia suggests that Kostunica's formerly large lead over potential electoral rivals has narrowed recently, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 11 December. The poll gives the DOS 46 percent of the vote, which is a commanding lead over its opponents given that Serbian polls usually show large blocs of undecided voters. The DSS would take 21 percent, while Djindjic's Democratic Party (DS) is now close behind with 18 percent. The poll gives Milosevic's party 10 percent, and the Radicals and the Party of Serbian Unity 6 percent. Serbian parties, like many others in the region, owe their identities chiefly to their charismatic leaders rather than to differences in policies or programs. PM

YUGOSLAV BANK FILES CHARGES AGAINST KARIC
National Bank Governor Mladjan Dinkic said in Belgrade on 11 December that the bank has filed criminal charges against private banker and businessman Bogoljub Karic, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Dinkic declined to provide details of the suit. PM

HAGUE TO HOLD TWO TRIALS FOR MILOSEVIC
Presiding judge Richard May said in The Hague on 11 December that Milosevic's trial on charges relating to Kosova will begin on 12 February, Reuters reported. Milosevic will later face a second trial on charges stemming from war crimes in Croatia and Bosnia. The prosecution had hoped for a single trial. It is not clear why the judges ruled in favor of two trials. PM

IS SERBIAN LEADER SEEKING A DEAL WITH THE HAGUE?
AP reported from Belgrade on 11 December that Djindjic hopes to cut a deal with the war crimes tribunal to prevent a possible indictment of police chief General Sreten Lukic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2001). According to the report, Djindjic would offer to extradite one or more of the leading war criminals still at large in Serbia if the tribunal does not indict Lukic. In the run up to the overthrow of the Milosevic regime in October 2000, the police shifted their allegiance to Djindjic, while the army allied itself with Kostunica. PM

SERBIAN ARMY CHIEF TO GO TO THE HAGUE -- IF ORDERED
General Nebojsa Pavkovic, whom the tribunal is investigating along with Lukic, told Tanjug on 11 December that "If Yugoslav state bodies comply with the demands from the tribunal I will, as any other Yugoslav citizen, appear before that court... My conscience is clear. I don't feel guilty for anything I did...because I never ordered anything that could counter laws and regulations," AP reported. PM

SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER: WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR KARADZIC PROBLEM
Speaking in Stockholm on 11 December, Djindjic said that it is unfair to hold Serbia responsible for catching leading indicted war criminals Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Djindjic noted that "50,000 U.S. troops" were stationed in Bosnia when the two men lived there from 1995 to 2000, and that NATO peacekeepers failed to arrest the two men during that period. Meanwhile in Novi Sad, Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said that the government will "firmly" carry out its obligations to the international community, including cooperating with the war crimes tribunal. PM

BOSNIAN SERB PARTY BANS KARADZIC FROM MEMBERSHIP
Dragan Kalinic, who heads Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), said in Banja Luka on 11 December that his party will expel indicted war criminals from membership, Reuters reported. "This is not only an issue of excluding indictees Radovan Karadzic and Momcilo Krajisnik, but an issue of a general attitude of the SDS toward The Hague tribunal." Karadzic is a life member of the SDS, which he founded over a decade ago. The SDS is under frequent pressure from the international community for its alleged continuing links to war criminals and for its obstructionist policies regarding refugee returns and other issues related to the Dayton peace agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 6 November 2001). PM

KOSOVAR LEADER TO GOVERN ALONE
Ibrahim Rugova of the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) has dropped plans to form a coalition government following the collapse of talks with several other parties represented in the parliament, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported from Prishtina on 11 December. Rugova said on 12 December that he plans to form a minority government, but did not elaborate, Hina reported. The LDK has 47 seats, the largest bloc of votes in the 120-seat parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 December 2001). PM

EU WANTS SERBIA, MONTENEGRO TO REDEFINE RELATIONS BY END OF JANUARY
EU security policy chief Javier Solana said in Brussels that he will soon return to Belgrade and Podgorica to promote talks between Serbia and Montenegro on their future relations, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service and "Vesti" reported on 12 December. He added that he hopes that the process will be concluded by the end of January 2002 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 December 2001). In Podgorica, Zoran Zizic, who is vice president of the pro-Belgrade Socialist People's Party (SNP), said that "the EU is hostile toward Montenegrin separatism," and that Brussels will not recognize an independent Montenegro. Svetozar Marovic, the vice president of the pro-independence Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), said that no one can deny Montenegro the right to hold a referendum on independence because that would be tantamount to denying Montenegrins the right to determine their future. PM

MACEDONIA BRACES FOR 'BIGGEST TEST'
Reuters reported from Skopje on 11 December that "Macedonia's delicate peace deal faces its biggest test on [12 December] when police begin returning in earnest to the lawless heartland of demobilized ethnic Albanian guerrillas." The 15 villages include Ljuboten, where police allegedly killed ethnic Albanian civilians in July, and Nikustak, which was a major guerrilla center. Police patrols will include a "proportional" number of ethnic Albanians. The mixed government and international commission overseeing the police operation has launched a "media blitz" to reassure nervous villagers about the nature of the police return. Police began returning to "low-risk" areas in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 October 2001). PM

CHINESE AID FOR MACEDONIA
China has pledged $6 million in aid for Macedonia, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported from Skopje on 11 December. PM

SLOVENIAN PRIME MINISTER NOT TO QUIT
Janez Drnovsek said in Brdo on 11 December that he has reconsidered an announcement he made in October to resign as prime minister and as head of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDS) in the spring of 2002, Reuters reported. He declined to say whether he will run for the presidency in 2002, when Milan Kucan's term runs out. Drnovsek's original announcement was prompted by his declining health, which is reportedly affected by lung cancer. PM

ROMANIAN LEADERS REJECT 'REGIONALIZATION'...
President Ion Iliescu said on 12 December that the proposal by Transylvanian intellectuals to introduce "regionalization" in Romania's local administrative structure is "aberrant," Romanian Radio reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2001). Iliescu said this cannot be considered an important issue for Romania, whose "really important issues are relaunching economic development" and ensuring that that development is carried out throughout the country as a whole. Iliescu said he hopes "decision-making bodies" will not engage in polemics over this issue. On 11 December, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase described the intellectuals' memorandum as a "trap," and said Romanian society and political parties must not "transform an idea launched by some heads that went astray into a national debate," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Nastase also said "it is not by chance that the idea has been launched now, ahead of the expected clarifications from Budapest on the Status Law." With the exception of Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania Chairman Bela Marko, who said a debate over the proposal would be "sensible, like any other debate," all other Romanian party leaders have rejected it, and Cluj Mayor Gheorghe Funar went so far as to launch judicial proceedings against the memorandum's signatories on the grounds that they infringed upon constitutional provisions. MS

...WHILE SIGNATORIES DEFEND THE IDEA
Historian Gusztav Molnar, who is also editor in chief of the Transylvanian bilingual weekly "Provincia," told journalists in Cluj on 11 December that the "regionalization" proposal envisions the creation of a so-called "median governmental level" between the central government and local administrations, Mediafax reported. Molnar emphasized that regionalization by no means foresees the granting of "ethnic autonomy," and that the "unitary character of the state" would not be affected regarding foreign policy. However, other signatories of the memorandum said the constitutional stipulation providing for a "national unitary state" should be replaced by one describing Romania as "a federal state based on the civic unity of all its citizens." MS

NASTASE SAYS ROMANIA WILL APPLY FOR OECD MEMBERSHIP
Premier Nastase said on 11 December that Romania will apply in 2002 for membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN AGRICULTURE MINISTER TO BE INDICTED
On 1 December, Justice Minister Rodica Stanoiu ordered the beginning of criminal proceedings against former Agriculture Minister Ioan Muresan, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. A presidential commission last week concluded after an investigation that Muresan illegally transferred 5,000 tons of vegetable oil from the state reserves to a private company in 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2001). If convicted, Muresan faces 15 years in prison. MS

NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN ROMANIA'S LANDSCAPE OF EXTRAPARLIAMENTARY PARTIES
The National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) protested on 11 December against a decision by the Bucharest Municipal Tribunal one day earlier to declare the PNTCD's 2 June merger with the National Alliance Christian Democratic invalid, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The tribunal ruled on an appeal by the PNTCD against a prior decision of the same tribunal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2001). PNTCD Chairman Victor Ciorbea said in Brussels that the tribunal's ruling proves once again that the authorities intend to outlaw the PNTCD, and that he will inform leaders of the Christian Democratic parties later this week about his party's situation. The PNTCD dissidents who contested the merger have since set up a new party, the Popular Christian Party. Also on 11 December, three liberal extraparliamentary formations decided to merge and set up a joint Council for National-Liberal Unification. The three formations are the National Liberal Party-Campeanu, the National Liberal Party-Traditional, and the Liberal-Democratic Party. MS

MOLDOVA SAYS TRANSDNIESTER ELECTIONS CHANGED NOTHING...
Presidential spokesman Alexander Bejenari said on 11 December that the results of the recent Transdniester "presidential" elections will have no influence whatever on the position of Chisinau toward the negotiations with the separatists, Infotag reported. Bejenari said the elections were and remain "illegitimate and undemocratic." He also said the voting process "abounded with violations and falsifications," adding that separatist leader Igor Smirnov's opponents will challenge the outcome in court. The ballot, Bejenari said, "has not and could not change anything between Chisinau and Tiraspol," and that Moldova's stand remains that discussions are necessary on the special status of the region," but the negotiations should be conducted at expert level. "The president," he said in reference to Vladimir Voronin, "will not negotiate with Smirnov."

...WHILE NEIGHBORS REFUSE TO RECOGNIZE RESULTS
The Russian Foreign Ministry on 11 December said Moscow considers the Transdniester elections to have been "illegitimate" and "reconfirms" its support of Moldova's territorial integrity and sovereignty, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. In almost identical words, the Romanian Foreign Ministry said Bucharest continues to regard the separatist regime as "illegitimate" and fully backs Moldova's "territorial integrity and sovereignty." Also on 11 December, Vladimir Kuraev, counselor at the Russian Embassy in Chisinau, said that the Russian Duma deputies who participated as observers in the elections did so "at their private initiative," and that neither the Duma nor any other Russian institution delegated any observers. MS

BULGARIA MOVES EU TARGET DATE FROM 2006 TO 2003
Bulgaria surprised the EU on 11 December by saying it intends to wrap up negotiations for joining the union in 2003 rather than 2006, Reuters reported. Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi told journalists in Brussels that the new target date "is not a political statement or wishful thinking, but a realistic formula." He did not explain why the target date has changed, but said he was encouraged by the recent statement made by French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine that Bulgaria and Romania should not be excluded from the first wave of enlargement. Pasi denied that other candidates will have to wait for Bulgaria, and added that Sofia "firmly believes in the principle of catch-up and evaluation of each country according to its merits." European Commission spokesman Jean-Christophe Filori said that "we understand Bulgaria is very ambitious," but added that it seems unlikely the country will be capable of meeting its new self-imposed target. MS

KALASHNIKOV VERSUS THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION


Russia's first chicken came home to roost at the European Court of Human Rights in late November, when the court decided the country must answer for its treatment of a detainee.

The prisoner in question was Valerii Kalashnikov, the former president of the Northeast Commercial Bank in Magadan (no relation to the famous Soviet arms manufacturer). He was arrested on embezzlement charges in June 1995 and spent nearly five years waiting for his case to be heard. During that time he lived with 23 other prisoners in a cell designed for eight. In his complaint, Kalashnikov said that three people shared one bed and slept in shifts, 16 prisoners sitting on the floor, or on cardboard boxes, waiting for their turn. There was an open toilet situated next to the eating space and the cell was full of cigarette smoke.

Kalashnikov contracted numerous fungal infections and lost almost 30 kilograms in weight. These conditions and the indeterminate length of his time on remand amounted to torture, his lawyer said.

In its defense, the Russian government argued that since Russia became party to the European Convention on Human Rights only in May 1998, it was not responsible to Strasbourg for what happened before then. Seen from that dateline, Kalashnikov's detention could not be regarded as very long. The fact that he did not appeal against his conviction in 1999 meant he had not exhausted every avenue open to him before writing to Strasbourg and should disqualify his complaint, Russia said. The government's decision to amnesty Kalashnikov in 2000 showed it had no intention of ill treatment toward him.

The European Court of Human Rights decided that Kalashnikov's complaints about his conditions, the length of his detention, and the length of his trial proceedings are admissible, and will rule on their merits in the summer of 2002. Its judgment is likely to be in two parts. First, it will consider whether financial compensation should be awarded to Kalashnikov himself for any damages he may have suffered, and secondly, if it decides his complaints are justified, it will consider whether the Russian government should implement "general measures" to prevent similar situations from arising in the future.

The "general measures" required by Strasbourg can have far-reaching effects. In a case against the United Kingdom, for instance, they provoked a legal revolution and the introduction of a system of duty solicitors on call 24 hours a day to give free legal advice to detainees. More recently, Italy has been obliged to recruit thousands of judges following a negative judgment in Strasbourg about the length of its trial proceedings.

The striking thing about the Kalashnikov case is that situations such as his are so commonplace in Russia. Traditionally, the state prosecution service has had wide powers to remand suspects in custody and prolong their detention for long periods without recourse to Russian courts. Enormous numbers of people are in Russian jails waiting for their trial date to be set, and the authorities freely admit that the remand prisons are the most overcrowded part of the penitentiary system. Since most remand prisons were built in Tsarist times, stories of filthy and disgusting conditions abound. A ruling from the European Court of Human Rights in this area could therefore have far-reaching impact -- but what are the chances that it would be implemented? Nearly half of the rulings of domestic courts in Russia are ignored, according to surveys by the Justice Ministry. Can an international court 11 time zones away from Magadan expect to have more bite?

So far, the Russian Federation has given every indication that it will abide by Strasbourg's decisions. When it became a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, it undertook to do so, and it has since put aside money in the federal budget for financial compensation to successful claimants. Russia has every incentive to implement Strasbourg judgments because if it fails to do so, it will face a steep bill when similar complaints appear before the court. The government has also made it clear that it will reclaim compensation awards from the budget of any of the 89 regions whose laws or practices are found to be at the root of a negative judgment by Strasbourg. This, if nothing else, should concentrate minds powerfully in regions like Magadan. Strasbourg is also used to dealing with reluctant governments and pursues the implementation of its court judgments -- sometimes over several years -- until they are carried out.

Russia, like the Soviet Union before it, is party to various human rights treaties, some of which are worth little more than the paper they are written on. Its commitments under the European Convention on Human Rights are the only ones that can be tested in an international court -- and the only ones that carry legal and financial penalties if they are not respected. Kalashnikov vs. the Russian Federation could open the floodgates. Around 2,000 complaints have been registered against the Russian Federation at the Court -- including from the North Caucasus -- and 50 have been transmitted to the government for investigation. In the not too distant future, decisions taken in a quiet Rhineland courtroom could supply much-needed voltage to the meandering process of legal reform in the Russian Federation, as they have already done in other parts of Europe.

Marjorie Farquharson writes on human rights issues and travels frequently to the Russian Federation.

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