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Newsline - December 18, 2001


RUSSIA TO UPDATE MISSILE FORCES IN REACTION TO U.S. ABM WITHDRAWAL
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov arrived in Brussels on 17 December to attend a meeting of the Permanent Joint Council for cooperation between NATO and Russia, and met the same day with his U.S. counterpart Donald Rumsfeld, RIA-Novosti reported. Ivanov said that goal of his talks with Rumsfeld was to explore the new format of U.S.-Russian relations in the wake of Washington's decision to pull out of ABM Treaty. Early on 17 December, Ivanov told top commanders of the Strategic Missile Forces (RVSN) that the Russian leadership will proceed with plans to reduce and modernize those forces, according to RIA-Novosti. To this end, Russia has already deployed 30 new IBM SS-25 missiles ("Topol-M") and plans to deploy more. Although SS-25s constitute only a small fraction of Russia's RVSN, they are able to overcome any antimissile shield and can therefore guarantee Russian security for the next 25 years, according to Ivanov. VY

FORMER AMBASSADOR CALLS FOR 'MINI-MARSHALL PLAN' FOR AFGHANISTAN
In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 17 December, former Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan and the U.S. Yulii Vorontsov declared that Afghanistan needs a kind of "mini-Marshall plan" of a few billion dollars. Vorontsov suggested that the U.S. and Japan could provide the financing, while Russia "can provide the expertise and machinery." According to Vorontsov, "the Afghans do not need computers but instead could use the kind of mechanical plants that the Soviet Union once built." Vorontsov also declared that the Afghans do not need any foreign advice in forming their own government, and that "there is no democratic society in Afghanistan and never will be." However, he predicts that "slowly and with many complications" a balance between the warring ethnic groups will be found, but it will be a "long and torturous" process. The same day, Defense Minister Ivanov reiterated the Russian government's stance that no Russian soldiers will take part in any peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan. JAC

RUSSIAN ECONOMY TO END YEAR ON A HIGH NOTE, BUT POSSIBLE DOWNTURN LOOMS
Addressing the press club of the Russian Finance Academy on 17 December, presidential economic adviser Andrei Illarionov said the Russian economy is experiencing the best three-year performance since 1966-1969, ITAR-TASS reported. Illarionov noted that the statistical results for 2001 are quite favorable: GDP grew by 5.5 percent, industrial and agricultural production by 5-6 percent, and exports reached a record $108 million. At the same time, the population's real incomes grew 6 percent, as wages soared by 20 percent and pensions by 23 percent. However, Illarionov warned that there are clear signs of a slowdown in economic growth, and he expressed hope that the government will be able to stop the impending decline and extend the run of economic growth. JAC

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS LEGAL REFORM PACKAGE...
Speaking at a government session devoted to legal reform on 17 December, President Vladimir Putin said he will sign all bills and amendments adopted by the Duma this year that introduce liberal judiciary norms into Russian legal practice, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin particularly stressed, among other things, the importance of the bills on the introduction of jury trials and on defendants' access to lawyers during all stages of the legal process. Finally, Putin emphasized the role of the Constitutional Court, saying its primary task is "to eliminate the regional laws that contradict the federal constitution." VY

...SUPPORTS OIL-PRICE CORRIDOR
In an interview with the "Financial Times" published on 17 December, President Putin said Russia considers as a fair oil price for both producers and consumers a corridor ranging between $20 and $25 per barrel. However, although Russia is not happy with the present drop in oil prices, it has no special concerns about it, he said. Unlike some other oil-producing countries, "for us the oil sector is important, but it is not the only source of our profit," Putin added. VY

GAZPROM PUBLICIZES ITS STRATEGY
The annual meeting of the Gazprom board of directors made public the Russian gas monopoly's goals for 2002, Prime-TASS reported on 17 December. Those objectives include completing the major Yamal-Europe and Blue Stream pipeline projects, intensive exploration of the gas resources of Eastern Siberia and the Far East, and building the infrastructure to export gas to South Asian markets. VY

FSB CHALLENGES BEREZOVSKY TO APPEAR IN COURT...
Federal Security Service (FSB) spokesman Aleksandr Zdanovich said that the recent statement made by embattled oligarch Boris Berezovsky accusing the FSB of involvement in the explosions of apartment buildings in 1999 in Moscow and Volgodonsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2001) "is complete nonsense," ORT reported on 16 December. Zdanovich added that the FSB will not initiate legal proceedings against Berezovsky in a foreign court for his "absurd allegations," but will challenge him in a domestic court if he returns to Russia. VY

...AS CHUBAIS SAYS BEREZOVSKY HAS LOST SENSE OF REALITY
Meanwhile, one of the leaders of the Union of Rightist Forces, Anatolii Chubais, told RTR on 16 December that he is surprised by Berezovsky's behavior. "It is striking how such a smart person as Berezovsky can so completely lose his understanding what is going on at home after having spent a relatively short time abroad," Chubais commented. VY

YAVLINSKY CRITICIZES RUSSIAN 'QUASI-DEMOCRACY'
The political system existing in Russia is "quasi-democratic, as power in the country is still in the hands of the Soviet elite," "Izvestiya" quoted Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinsky as saying on 17 December. Many of Putin's actions are helping to preserve the Russian state, but at the same time they are creating an authoritarian "corporative" state, according to Yavlinsky. The best illustration of this theory is Putin's policy toward the mass media, and especially television, which transformed the latter into "a holding for manipulating public opinion." In that context, Putin's present line on an alliance with the West is no more than tactics, just as was the policy of the Soviet Union in the period of 1941-1945, Yavlinsky concluded. VY

MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS COMMANDER REPORTED
Major-General Vladimir Kazantsev, the former commander of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Kosova, has died after falling from the window of his apartment on the eighth floor of a Moscow apartment building, Russian news agencies reported on 17 December. A veteran of Afghanistan and the first Chechen war, Kazantsev led the Russian paratroopers in Kosova from 2000 to October 2001. A spokesman for the Airborne Troops said he has no information whether Kazantsev's death was an accident or suicide. VY

CHAVASH INCUMBENT HANGS ON FOR THIRD TERM...
As expected, Chavash Republic President Nikolai Fedorov was re-elected in presidential elections on 16 December. Fedorov collected 40.37 percent of the vote compared with 37.37 percent for his closest rival, State Duma deputy (Communist) Valentin Shurchanov. According to "Kommersant-Daily," urban voters favored Shurchanov, while the rural vote went to the incumbent. In the last presidential election, Fedorov also beat Shurchanov but by a much wider margin -- by over 21 percent compared to just 4 percent in this race. FSB Lieutenant General Stanislav Voronov came in third, polling some 11.8 percent of the votes. "Izvestiya" reported on 14 December that Voronov had tried to present himself as the Kremlin's candidate; however, in fact he did not look like one. JAC

...AS KOMI PRESIDENT IS UNSEATED...
Vladimir Torlopov, who chairs the Komi Republic's legislature, won the 16 December presidential elections in that republic, according to preliminary results. Incumbent President Yurii Spiridonov, who ran the republic for last 12 years, polled some 34.99 percent of the vote compared with Torlopov's 40.31 percent, Interfax-Northwest reported. Almost 10 percent of voters voted against all candidates. According to ntvru.com, the southern portion of the republic voted solidly in favor of Torlopov, while the northern region favored Spiridonov. State Duma deputy (Yabloko) Sergei Mitrokhin told Interfax that Yabloko was the only party in Russia that "openly" supported Torlopov, and that Yabloko leader Yavlinsky had traveled to the republic to campaign for Torlopov. Both the Unity and Fatherland parties recently expressed their support for Spiridonov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2001). JAC

...AND ALTAI LEADER MUST COMPETE IN SECOND ROUND
In presidential elections held on 16 December, Agrarian party leader and State Duma deputy Mikhail Lapshin won 22.98 percent of the votes, while incumbent Altai head Semen Zubakin polled only 15.20 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results, ITAR-TASS reported. Neither candidate won the more than 50 percent of the votes necessary to avoid a second round, which will be held on 6 January, the agency reported. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 18 December, observers were surprised at how poorly Altai Interior Minister Aleksandr Berdnikov fared, garnering only 9.6 percent of the vote. Berdnikov's campaign headquarters stressed in recent weeks that Berdnikov had the support not only of the presidential envoy to the Siberian federal district, Leonid Drachevskii, but also of President Putin himself. A top Unity party official, Aleksandr Karelin, came to the republic to campaign for Berdnikov. JAC

YELTSIN GETS CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH
The director of a Berlin-based cardiology center, Roland Hetzer, issued a statement on 17 December saying that former Russian President Boris Yeltsin is in very good health, Reuters reported. According to Hetzer, Yeltsin flew to Germany to seek a second opinion regarding the condition of his heart after consulting with doctors in Moscow. Yeltsin underwent bypass surgery five years ago. JAC

KOMMERSANT SLATED FOR CHANGE IN LEADERSHIP
"Vremya novostei" reported on 17 December that the leadership of the publishing house Kommersant is expected to be changed in the near future. Shareholders are reportedly considering replacing Kommersant General Director Leonid Miloslavskii, who has run the company since 1996, with Andrei Vasilev, who is editor in chief of "Kommersant-Daily." JAC

MORE NEW SENATORS SELECTED...
Legislators in Amur Oblast selected Galina Buslova, the general director of the aviation agency Aviatrast, to be their representative in the Federation Council, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 17 December. Also on 17 December, deputies in Khabarovsk Krai's legislature confirmed the selection of Viktor Ozerov as their representative to the Federation Council, according to the agency. Ozerov was former chairman of the krai legislature. Andrei Chirkin, first deputy governor of the krai, will represent the krai administration in the upper legislative house. Viktor Stepanov, former head of the Karelia Republic, was selected to represent that region's presidential administration, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 December. JAC

...AS ONE SENATOR PREDICTS EVENTUAL MERGER OF URALS REGIONS INTO ONE
Kurgan Oblast's representative to the Federation Council, Andrei Vikharev, told reporters in Moscow on 17 December that he believes the seven regions that comprise the Urals federal district are likely to merge eventually and form a single territorial entity, ITAR-TASS reported. Vikharev added that the unification process will be facilitated by the recently passed bill that amended the law on the order for adopting and establishing new federation subjects (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 16 December 2001). JAC

CHERNOMYRDIN'S SEAT FILLED
A by-election for the State Duma seat left vacant when Viktor Chernomyrdin became Russia's ambassador to Ukraine was held in Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug on 16 December. According to the preliminary results, Yamalo-Nenets First Deputy Governor Natalya Komarova won with some 73 percent of the votes, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Komarova competed against Yamal-region television and radio company chief engineer Eduard Ponasyuk, and the head of the information and programming service for the same company, Boris Pakhirko, who received 5 percent and 3 percent of the vote respectively, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 18 December. JAC

BUDDING SONGWRITER MOCKED FOR PUTIN VERSES
Mikhail Anishchenko, a law student/songwriter from Chelyabinsk, is suing a journalist from the German newspaper "Tageszeitung," for writing on 7 May that a cult of personality exulting President Putin is emerging in Russia, ntvru.com reported on 17 December. In the article, the journalist cited a "Song About the President" written by Anishchenko. Anishchenko maintains that since the German article was republished on inopressa.ru, he has become known to "hundreds of thousands of citizens of not only in Russia, but also in Moldova, Germany, and other countries." And as a result, he has suffered significant moral damages and become a butt of constant jokes among his circle of friends. JAC

INVESTIGATION LAUNCHED INTO RUSSIAN TROOP BEHAVIOR IN ARGUN
Local prosecutor Rostislav Timshin admitted on 17 December that Russian troops were guilty of looting and "tactless behavior" during the five-day operation to neutralize a group of Chechen fighters who took refuge in the town of Argun on 12 December, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 17 December 2001). Sergei Babkin, who heads the local FSB branch in Chechnya, said an investigation has been launched on the basis of complaints by local residents. Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 17 December that one human rights activist was shot dead by Russian troops and a second wounded when they arrived in the town on 13 December to investigate reports of excesses committed by Russian forces during fighting two days earlier. That agency also said residents are picketing the local administration building to demand the release of some 50-60 of the town's residents detained in recent days. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION LEADER MULLS BRANCHES IN RUSSIA, U.S.
People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) Chairman Stepan Demirchian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 17 December that his recent trips to Russia and the U.S. served to convince him of the need to establish HZhK branches in both countries. He said doing so would not necessarily violate the law banning political parties in Armenia from receiving funding from abroad. Demirchian also claimed that many representatives of the Armenian diaspora in the U.S. are increasingly concerned both at the scale of corruption in Armenia and that no end is in sight to the trial of the five gunmen who shot dead eight prominent Armenian politicians, including Demirchian's father Karen, in the Armenian parliament in October 1999. LF

ARMENIAN DIASPORA ACQUIRES RIGHT TO RUN YEREVAN AIRPORT
An Argentinean businessman of Armenian origin, Eduardo Eurnekian, signed an agreement on 17 December with the Armenian government that grants him the right to administer Yerevan's Zvartnots airport for a period of 50 years, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Eurnekian's Aeropourtos Argentina group already runs 33 airports in South America, and will invest at least $50 million to modernize Zvartnots, building a new terminal and upgrading the runway and other facilities. LF

MEETING OF CASPIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTERS POSTPONED
A meeting of the deputy foreign ministers of the five Caspian littoral states scheduled to take place in Moscow on 18-19 December has been postponed for reasons unknown, Interfax reported on 17 December, quoting the Russian Foreign Ministry. The participants were to have focused on efforts to reach agreement on the legal status of the sea. LF

FORMER GEORGIAN JUSTICE MINISTER CREATES NEW PARLIAMENT FACTION
Mikhail Saakashvili and nine other former members of the now defunct Union of Citizens of Georgia parliament faction announced on 17 December the creation of a new faction named For Democratic Reforms, Caucasus Press reported. Another deputy, Shota Zandukhadze, immediately announced his intention of joining the new faction, the chairman of which is Kote Kemularia. Faction members also announced on 17 December that they will not support the candidacy of Avtandil Djorbenadze, whom President Eduard Shevardnadze nominated earlier that day as minister of state. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT DISCUSSES CASPIAN OIL, GAS TRANSIT
President Shevardnadze met in Tbilisi on 17 December with David Woodward, president of the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC), which currently exports its Caspian oil via the Baku-Supsa oil pipeline. The two discussed the construction schedule for the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum pipeline to export natural gas from the Shakh Deniz deposit that the AIOC will develop, Caucasus Press reported. Unlike its Azerbaijani counterpart, the Georgian parliament has not yet ratified the interstate agreement on the transit of gas from Shakh Deniz via Georgia, but Shevardnadze assured Woodward that it will do so shortly. Woodward told journalists after his talks with Shevardnadze that falling world oil prices will not affect plans to proceed with the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, and that if enough sponsors are found for that project, construction could begin in June 2002, and the pipeline could be operational in 2004. LF

GEORGIAN FINANCE MINISTER RULES OUT FURTHER BUDGET CUTS
Zurab Nogaideli told journalists on 17 December that the budget for 2001 will not be subjected to further cuts (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 37, 7 November 2001), although "minor amendments" may still prove necessary, Caucasus Press reported. He said he hopes that the talks currently underway with IMF representatives will result in the release of further credits worth $65 million. LF

OSCE TO HELP GEORGIA NEUTRALIZE TOXIC ROCKET FUEL
OSCE, Georgian government representatives and Georgian scientists signed an agreement in Tbilisi on 17 December under which the OSCE will fund a program to recycle and turn into fertilizer some 450 tons of toxic missile fuel abandoned in the west Georgian village of Meria by Soviet troops who pulled out of Georgia in the early 1990s, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT HAILS BORDER AGREEMENT WITH KYRGYZSTAN
Nursultan Nazarbaev told journalists in Astana on 15 December that the treaty he signed earlier that day with his visiting Kyrgyz counterpart Askar Akaev on delimiting the border between their respective countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2001) will help avoid any further disputes over that issue, Interfax reported. Together with the treaty, the two presidents also signed agreements on confidence-building in the border zone and on guarding the border. Meanwhile in Bishkek, government official Salamat Alamanov denied that the border treaty runs counter to Kyrgyzstan's interests. Parliament committee Chairman Azimbek Beknazarov had protested that the treaty requires Kyrgyzstan to cede to Kazakhstan a district in Talas Oblast where a gold deposit is located. LF

INDEPENDENT NGOS CRITICIZE KYRGYZ LOCAL ELECTIONS
Tolekan Ismailova, who is president of the Coalitions of NGOs, said that the local elections held in Kyrgyzstan the previous day were unfair in that local government officials created privileged conditions for pro-government candidates, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. She accused the Central Election Commission of being unable to act independently of the government. Some 1,900 candidates contested a total of 460 posts as heads of local councils; 194 local officials were elected, and runoffs will take place on 23 December in the remaining 266 constituencies. LF

KYRGYZ COURT REJECTS APPEALS BY FORMER VICE PRESIDENT'S ASSOCIATES
Bishkek's Sverdlov district court rejected on 13 December an appeal by Janybek Bakchiev, who served as an aide to jailed former Vice President Feliks Kulov during the latter's tenure as national security minister in 1997-1998, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 16 December. Bakchiev was sentenced in August 2000 to seven years imprisonment in a trial in which Kulov was initially acquitted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2000), but the acquittal was subsequently overturned. Also rejected on 13 December was a similar appeal for clemency by former stuntman Usen Kudaibergenov, who was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on charges of receiving from Kulov large sums of money that the latter had allegedly embezzled. LF

KYRGYZSTAN'S COMMUNISTS CALL FOR REFERENDUM ON JOINING RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION STATE
Klara Adjybekova, who heads the Communist Party of Kyrgyzstan, told RFE/RL on 17 December that her party has appealed to the Central Election Commission for permission to begin collecting signatures in support of a nationwide referendum on acceding to the Russia-Belarus Union. LF

U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY VISITS UZBEKISTAN
Donald Rumsfeld met with his Uzbek counterpart Kadyr Gulyamov on 16 December at the Uzbek air force base at Khanabad that currently houses some 1,500 U.S. troops, Interfax reported on 17 December, quoting the Uzbek Defense Ministry. The two discussed security issues and the transport of humanitarian aid to neighboring Afghanistan. LF

UZBEKISTAN TO BUILD AIRCRAFT FOR INDIA
The Indian Defense Ministry has signed a $150 million agreement with Uzbekistan's Chkalov aviation plant to build six Il-78 refueling aircraft, AP reported on 17 December. The plant has stood idle for several years. LF

BELARUSIAN OFFICIALS TO GET SALARIES ONLY AFTER DISPENSING BACK WAGES
Belarusian Premier Henadz Navitski has announced that the government has issued a decree whereby state administration officials -- from raion-level executives up to the prime minister -- will not be paid their salaries until they see to repaying back wages in regions or economic sectors for which they are responsible, "Nasha svaboda" reported on 17 December. According to the newspaper, unpaid wages currently amount to 50 billion Belarusian rubles ($32 million), or more than 11 percent of the monthly wage fund in the country. JM

BELARUSIAN-RUSSIAN BREAD WAR BREAKS OUT IN BORDER REGION
Mahileu Oblast authorities recently lowered prices for bread in three raions bordering on Russia: Krychau, Klimavichy, and Kastsyukovichy, RFE/RL Belarusian Service reported on 17 December. The move was intended to drive traders with less expensive bread from Russia's Bransk and Smolensk Oblasts out of the local market. Russian bread traders have since disappeared from Mahileu Oblast, but now the oblast authorities must deal with long bread lines. The point is that the decrease in prices for bread in the three border raions was achieved at the expense of increased prices for bread in other raions of the oblast, and now people in Krychau, Klimavichy, and Kastsyukovichy buy more loaves than they previously required, and are selling the excess bread to those living further from the border. JM

BELARUSIAN TRADING HOUSES LIQUIDATED
Belarus's state concern Belresursy has ordered the liquidation of 11 trading houses in Russia in connection with their bankruptcies, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 December. The trading houses -- in particular, in Smolensk, St. Petersburg, Rostov, Yekaterinburg, and Kostroma -- went bankrupt because Belarusian goods have become noncompetitive in Russia. Following an order from Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Belresursy established 20 trading houses in Russia in 1997-98. JM

ITALY BACKS UKRAINE ON PATH TO EUROPE
Italian Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero told his Ukrainian counterpart Anatoliy Zlenko in Kyiv on 17 December that Italy will support Ukraine in its bids to integrate into Europe and join the world's leading economic and political alliances, AP reported. Ruggiero and Zlenko discussed bilateral cooperation on investments, energy, transport, tourism, and migration, as well as ways to increase the trade volume between their states. Italy is Ukraine's second-largest trade partner among Western European countries. Trade volume between the two states was $948.3 million in the first nine months of 2001. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VETOES BAN ON ALCOHOL, TOBACCO ADVERTISING
Leonid Kuchma has vetoed the bill passed by the parliament on 15 November that banned alcohol and tobacco advertising "on all information carriers," Ukrainian media reported on 17 December. JM

ESTONIAN PREMIER SEES PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN AS BIGGEST FAILURE OF 2001
Mart Laar told the Year 2001 in Estonian Politics forum in Tallinn on 17 December that the presidential campaign, during which, he claims, politicians sacrificed administrative-territorial reforms, was the most negative event of the year, ETA reported. He also expressed regret that during the election campaign the parliament gave up on the plan to condemn communism as an ideology. Tartu Mayor Andrus Ansip of the Reform Party responded by saying that there was no need for administrative-territorial reform, and that the merging of local administrative units in Belgium and Germany resulted not in savings, but higher administrative costs. Villu Reiljan, the chairman of the opposition People's Union, said Laar is a hypocrite on the issue of condemning communism. "If he really wanted to adopt this decision, he ought to have arranged a roundtable of political parties to discuss the matter," since there is no political force in Estonia that opposes the move, Reiljan said. SG

LATVIA'S NEW ERA PARTY TO BE FOUNDED ON 2 FEBRUARY
Former Bank of Latvia President Einars Repse announced on 17 December that the official founding congress of the new party Jaunais laiks (New Era) will take place on 2 February 2002, ELTA reported. He said the preamble of the new party and its positions on education, health, and science are being prepared. SG

LATVIA BANS ANIMAL IMPORTS FROM AUSTRIA
The Latvian Food and Veterinary Service issued orders on 17 December banning animal imports from Austria following a recently registered case of BSE ("mad-cow disease") in that country, BNS reported. The ban applies to imports of live sheep, goats, and cattle; their meat and meat products; and imports of any animal fodder containing animal protein. As a result of BSE incidences in Europe, Latvia has already banned imports of animals from 20 countries. SG

LITHUANIA SIGNS DEAL FOR PURCHASING U.S. ANTITANK WEAPONRY
Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius and Major General Bruce Scott from the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command signed an agreement on 17 December for Lithuania to purchase Javelin medium-range antitank weapons systems for 38.5 million litas ($9.63 million), BNS reported. They noted that Lithuania is the first country in Europe to purchase the weapons. U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania John Tefft declared that among the current NATO candidate countries, Lithuania has earned a reputation as a country that is making progress in developing its armed forces to meet modern Western standards, and that the weapons purchase is another indication of Lithuania's desire to join NATO. According to the agreement, the weaponry should reach Lithuania by 2004, but the U.S. agreed to look into possibilities of supplying Javelin systems by October 2002, the date by which Lithuania has made a commitment to establish a mechanized infantry battalion at Rukla. The Javelin is a portable weapon with a range of some 2,500 meters, and weighs 25 kilograms. SG

POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE DISCUSS SECURITY ISSUES
Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz discussed combating terrorism, European security, and NATO enlargement with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington on 17 December, Polish media reported. "Together with the secretary of state we expect that NATO enlargement will take place and that the only criteria deciding about the acceptance of further countries will be their capability of meeting membership obligations," PAP quoted Cimoszewicz as saying. Cimoszewicz made an offer to Powell that, as part of the antiterrorist coalition, Poland could organize training for police from Central European countries to help fight terrorist organizations. JM

WARSAW HAS NOT CHANGED ITS COURSE TOWARD MINSK
Foreign Ministry official Stefan Meller said in the Sejm on 17 December that there has been no change in Poland's policy toward Belarus, PAP reported. Meller made the statement in answering a question from deputy Michal Kaminski (Law and Justice) as to why Foreign Minister Cimoszewicz met with his Belarusian counterpart Mikhail Khvastou during the last OSCE summit in Bucharest and thus, according to Kaminski, broke the international boycott of the Belarusian regime. Meller explained that Cimoszewicz's meeting with Khvastou took place under informal circumstances, and added that Khvastou also held informal meetings in Bucharest with other European foreign ministers. "We cannot officially treat Alyaksandr Lukashenka as a democratically elected president... But our problem is that we also cannot ignore the fact that he has real power and support of a significant portion of Belarusian society," Meller said. JM

CZECH GOVERNMENT SELLS TWO MAJOR UTILITIES, POSTPONES SALE OF ANOTHER
The Czech cabinet approved the sale of the state natural gas monopoly Transgas to Germany's RWE Gas A.G. on 17 December, but asked two bidders to submit higher offers in their efforts to purchase the Czech Republic's massive stakes in the electricity industry, agencies reported. RWE offered 4.1 billion euros ($3.6 billion) for control of Transgas, which is the monopoly gas importer, and eight local distributors. In the electricity sector, ministers said they are disappointed in the level of bids, and have asked Italy's Enel and French Electricite de France to enter competitive negotiations on 7 January. Prime Minister Milos Zeman has said his government will accept no less than 200 billion crowns ($5.62 billion) for the electricity holdings, which include combined stakes in power generation, transmission, and local distribution. The government also decided to sell a 63 percent stake in oil and chemicals blue chip Unipetrol to a locally based upstart, Agrofert Holding A.S. Analysts believe the Czech utilities sales, if completed, will set new benchmarks for the region. AH

CZECH, POLISH PRESIDENTS TALK NATO EXPANSION, RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA...
Vaclav Havel and his Polish counterpart Aleksandr Kwasniewski agree that "[NATO] membership should be offered to the three Baltic states, to Slovenia, and to Slovakia," Havel said after their meeting at his chateau near Prague on 17 December, AP reported. Both presidents emerged with a call for greater transparency and participation among NATO members in the ongoing dialogue with Russia, news agencies reported. Havel said some "basic" questions should "not be the subject of dialogue between the United States and Russia only," AP added. Havel has long been a vocal opponent of Russian membership in NATO. AH

...AND WELCOME EU CONVENTION ON FUTURE STRUCTURE OF EU
The Czech and Polish presidents also said after their meeting that the EU Convention recently called for by member states would provide a good opportunity for discussion of the future form of the European community, CTK reported. Kwasniewski called last weekend's meeting in Laeken "successful" and "a step forward," adding that the organizing of the conference in March 2002 would contribute to a more open relationship between the EU and aspiring members. AH

PRAGUE WANTS CLEAN SLATE AHEAD OF EU AGRICULTURE TALKS...
Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said on 17 December following a Czech government committee meeting to discuss European integration that his country will accelerate its statistical work for the EU in order to be well-prepared for "negotiating the sensitive question of direct payments" in the agriculture sector, CTK reported. Ministers agreed to provide data on the sector to the European Council by 10 January in connection with ongoing accession talks. Kavan added that the German position on limiting access to EU markets for new members' freight haulers is unacceptable to Prague in the transport chapter of the talks. AH

...AND STRIVES TO CLOSE MORE CHAPTERS BEFORE MID-2002 ELECTIONS
In the first quarter of 2002, the Czech Republic wants to close chapters of the acquis communautaire in the transport, economic competition, agriculture, regional policy, and financial and budgetary rules chapters, Foreign Minister Kavan said on 17 December, according to CTK. He conceded that some bills, including those that would help to harmonize Czech tax legislation with the EU's, may only be submitted by the government that will emerge from the mid-2002 elections, CTK added. AH

MINISTER, AUTHORITIES INSIST SUSPECTED SEPTEMBER TERRORIST MET IRAQI AGENT IN PRAGUE
Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross responded to recent media reports questioning whether suspected terrorist ringleader Mohammad Atta met in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence agent on 17 December, saying through a spokeswoman that he stands by his original account of events. Atta and the agent in question met at least once in the Czech capital, Gross said, based on a credible account provided by the Czech Security Information Service. In Washington, AP reported that U.S. officials also still believe the meeting occurred, despite a leading Czech daily's assertion that the government lacks evidence of such an encounter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2001). AH

CZECH COURT ADJOURNS TRIAL OF COMMUNIST-ERA FUNCTIONARY UNTIL END OF JANUARY
A Prague court adjourned the trial of former Czechoslovak Interior Minister and Premier Lubomir Strougal on 18 December after at least three witnesses failed to show up to testify, CTK reported. Two witnesses cited illness while a third gave no reason for not appearing before the court, which is examining abuse of power charges in connection with the deaths of three dissidents and an alleged cover-up in 1965. AH

CZECH PRESIDENT HOSPITALIZED WITH PNEUMONIA
President Havel checked into a Prague hospital on 17 December with pneumonia, his personal physician was quoted as saying by CTK. The physician added that the president was feeling better on 18 December. Havel is taking antibiotics to fight a high temperature stemming from complications in his right lung, half of which was removed during cancer surgery five years ago. AH

RULING PARTY CHAIRMAN SAYS MOST CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS FAVOR DIRECT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
Social Democratic Chairman and Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla told the BBC on 17 December that most of his party supports the direct election of the country's president. On 4 December, lawmakers rejected a draft constitutional amendment prescribing direct presidential elections and limiting the immunity of parliamentarians to their terms in office. The draft was proposed by the opposition Freedom Union and Christian Democrat parties. Social Democratic Deputy Chairman Zdenek Skromach added that a poll inside the party indicated that up to 80 percent of members support the move, adding that direct presidential elections could come "constitutionally and technically" in 2008, at the earliest, CTK reported. A recent STEM poll suggested that about four in five Czechs favor direct elections, the agency added. AH

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT ANNULS GOVERNMENT'S RIGHT TO OVERRULE REGIONS...
The parliament on 18 December voted by 59 to 30, with 19 abstentions, to amend the law on regional administrations that was passed in July, TASR reported. The amendment revokes the provision allowing the government to refer back to regional parliaments all regional administration decisions deemed to be in conflict with interests of the state or those of other regions. JM

...WHILE PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE COUNTERS HUNGARY'S STATUS LAW
The parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution on 18 December expressing its unanimous opposition to Hungary's Status Law, which provides for extending benefits to ethnic Hungarian citizens of neighboring states, including financial support for Hungarian-language education and employment rights in Hungary, TASR reported. The resolution said the Status Law interferes with Slovakia's exclusive territorial and civil jurisdiction, and is a violation of both international law and Slovakia's legislative integrity. The committee's resolution will now be submitted to the entire house in order to become part of an appeal to the Hungarian parliament to amend the Status Law in line with basic principles of international law and European standards for protecting ethnic minorities. JM

HUNGARY'S FIDESZ BACKS ANTI-TORGYAN SMALLHOLDERS
The major coalition party FIDESZ has asked one of its elderly members, Karoly Horvath, to launch a new initiative, called the Smallholder Movement, against Jozsef Torgyan's Independent Smallholder's Party (FKGP), "Magyar Hirlap" reported FIDESZ Chairman Zoltan Pokorni as saying on 17 December. Pokorni added, however, that he no longer has faith in the new group's ability to achieve success against Torgyan's party before the April 2002 general elections. The founders of the movement include former FKGP parliamentary group leader Attila Bank. Bela Horvath, a former FKGP deputy parliamentary group leader and a key figure in the Smallholders' anti-Torgyan campaign, said he also supports the new group. MSZ

HUNGARY TO INTRODUCE VISA REQUIREMENT FOR CANADIANS
Hungary will introduce visa requirements for Canadians in early 2002, cabinet spokesman Gabor Borokai told "Vilaggazdasag" on 17 December. The government's decision came after Canada reintroduced visa requirements on 5 December for Hungarians because of the large number of unjustified Hungarian applications for asylum in Canada (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2001). In other news, Hungary opened a new consular office in Berehove, Ukraine, on 17 December. Tibor Szabo, the president of the Office for Hungarians Abroad, said the consulate's opening is part of an effort to facilitate and strengthen links between Hungary and ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine. MSZ

EXPERT COMMITTEES TO EXAMINE SERBIAN-MONTENEGRIN RELATIONS
Top leaders from Belgrade and Podgorica met with EU mediator Javier Solana in the Serbian capital on 17 December to discuss future relations between Serbia and Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2001). Participants agreed to set up expert committees that will begin work at once to examine the Serbian and Montenegrin proposals on bilateral relations to see how much common ground there is. The experts will draft a report before the end of February, at which time the top leaders will meet again to examine the possibilities for joint institutions and a continued dialogue on the basis of the committees' findings. Solana said that he was pleased with the talks, and repeated Brussels' view that Serbia and Montenegro should continue together as a single state (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 December 2001). PM

MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT SEEKS 'EUROPEAN-STYLE UNION'
Djukanovic said in Belgrade on 16 December that Serbia and Montenegro should aspire to a "European-style union" that will serve as a model for interstate relations in the Balkans, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. He added that there is no need for a "mediator" in the talks between Belgrade and Podgorica. Observers note that his remarks suggest a change in at least the packaging of long-standing Montenegrin positions. It appears that he is calling for a relationship between Podgorica and Belgrade on the model of the links between EU-member countries rather than stressing independence outright. As to the reference to mediation, he is probably trying to rule out binding arbitration by Solana because of Brussels' firm support for Belgrade's position. The Montenegrins have long sought a role by foreigners in the talks in the hope that the presence of Westerners would discourage the Serbs from bullying their smaller neighbor. PM

BULGARIA TO DESTROY SS-23 MISSILES BY OCTOBER 2002
The Bulgarian parliament will decide on 18 December that the country's SS-23 missiles are to be destroyed by 30 October 2002, the Sofia daily "Dnevnik" reported. The draft decision on the missile destruction has been worked out by the parliamentary commission on foreign policy, defense, and security. "The deadline for the destruction of the missiles is desirable, but not binding," the head of the commission, Stanimir Ilchev, was reported as saying by the daily. Ilchev underscored that the destruction of the missiles will not be damaging to the Bulgarian budget, as it will be supported financially by the U.S. State Department. He also dismissed any speculation that the SS-23 missiles will be replaced by another missile system. UB

TWO MORE SEATS FOR DJINDJIC IN SERBIAN PARLIAMENT
The small Movement for a Democratic Serbia of Deputy Prime Minister Momcilo Perisic has given two of its legislative seats to Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic's Democratic Party (DS) following the defection of two of Perisic's deputies to another party, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 17 December. This means that the DS now has 47 deputies, as opposed to 45 for the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. In related news, the Serbian parliament voted to remove an unspecified number of judges and other judicial officials appointed under the regime of former President Slobodan Milosevic. PM

VOJVODINA PARLIAMENT SEEKS RETURN OF POWERS
The legislature in Novi Sad voted to ask the Serbian parliament to return a number of prerogatives in the social, economic, and cultural spheres that Milosevic took away in 1990, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 17 December. The Belgrade parliament has not yet voted on the request. PM

MACEDONIAN YOUTHS CLEARED IN KILLING OF BRITISH SOLDIER
The state attorney's office stopped legal proceedings against eight youths from the village of Indzikovo near Skopje, who were accused of having killed a British soldier on 27 August, the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" reported on 15 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 August, and 21 September 2001). British serviceman Ian Collins died in a Skopje hospital after his car was allegedly attacked by stone-throwing youths on the Skopje-Veles highway. Collins suffered serious head injuries in the incident. The youths were released after the key witness did not identify them as the attackers. The Macedonian authorities said there was no evidence that an attack had taken place at all. Medical personnel who treated Collins said his injuries could not have come from a stone. UB

MACEDONIAN DEFENSE MINISTER ANNOUNCES ARMY REFORM
In an interview with a local radio station, Defense Minister Vlado Popovski announced that the army will be "reformed" within the following two to three months, Macedonian dailies reported on 15 December. The main reason for the move is that the army failed to resolve the crisis at an early stage when the international community still supported the Macedonian government's fight against the "terrorists," Popovski said, referring to ethnic Albanian insurgents. The reform envisages setting up two special brigades that can react swiftly to any threat to national security. They will use the recently acquired four Sukhoi Su-25 ground attack aircraft, 10 Mil Mi-24D helicopter gunships, and 31 T-72 main battle tanks, dpa reported. The reorganization also aims to improve professionalism within the army. Asked about the high number of ethnic Albanian army members who deserted, Popovski answered that there have been problems with desertion among ethnic Macedonian soldiers as well. He especially criticized the state of affairs in a special unit called the Scorpions, who literally "overslept" the crisis by frequently calling in sick. UB

MOLDOVAN AUTHORITIES INTRODUCE MANDATORY RUSSIAN-LANGUAGE CLASSES IN SCHOOLS
The Moldovan Education Ministry announced on 17 December the introduction of mandatory Russian-language classes in schools beginning next year, Flux reported. Education Minister Ilie Vancea said the decision came as the result of parental requests and the lack of teachers of other modern languages. However, according to Flux, Vancea issued a decision on the issue in August 2001, but canceled it due to parental protests. Opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic representatives said this new measure is merely a new step in the Communist administration's ongoing Russification process. ZsM

ROMANIAN SENATE REJECTS MOTION ON ETHNIC HUNGARIAN COUNTIES
The Romanian Senate rejected a simple motion put forward on 17 December by opposition parties by a vote of 72 to 50, Mediafax reported. Representatives from the Democratic Party, National Liberal Party, and extremist Greater Romania Party argued in initiating the motion that the government has lost authority over the Harghita and Covasna counties, which have ethnic Hungarian majorities. Premier Nastase previously dismissed those allegations as a "false alarm." Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania Senator Zoltan Puskas said the motion was "an attempt to destabilize the political situation in Romania." ZsM

COOLING OFF PERIOD FOR KOSOVAR PARLIAMENT
Nexhat Daci, the speaker of the Kosovar parliament, said in Prishtina on 17 December that the next session will take place at an unspecified date in January, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The delay is aimed at enabling legislators and party leaders to have time to reach an agreement on cooperation in the parliament or on forming a coalition government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2001). PM

KOSOVAR SERBS LEAVE DOOR OPEN TO COALITION
Oliver Ivanovic, one of the two Serbian members of the presidium of Kosova's parliament, told the private Beta news agency on 15 December that he does not rule out the Serbian Povratak (Return) deputies entering into a coalition with an Albanian party provided that those Albanians drop demands for independence. He added that the Serbs "cannot imagine themselves in such a situation" as an independent Kosova. PM

ROMANIAN-HUNGARIAN NEGOTIATIONS ON STATUS LAW
Visiting Hungarian Foreign Ministry Secretary of State Zsolt Nemeth announced in Bucharest on 17 December that by the end of the year Romanian Premier Nastase and his Hungarian Counterpart Viktor Orban will sign a memorandum on the Hungarian Status Law, Mediafax reported. Nemeth discussed the issue with his Romanian counterpart Cristian Diaconescu and said he sees "the exit from the tunnel." He added that the memorandum will show that between the two countries "there are no tensions, just different points of view" on the issue. ZsM

TWO MORE BORDER CROSSINGS OPENED BETWEEN BOSNIA AND CROATIA
Two additional crossings to Herzegovina have been opened in southern Croatia's Dubrovacko-Neretvanska county, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 17 December. That same day in Zagreb, Croatian parliament speaker Zlatko Tomcic told visiting legislators from Bosnia's joint parliament that Croatia is interested in improving ties with Bosnia as a state rather than with the two entities. PM

REFUGEES RETURN TO CROATIA
The Ministry for Reconstruction said in a statement on 17 December that 53,144 refugees have returned to Croatia since the beginning of 2000, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Among them were 28,281 Serbs. Local Serbian leaders nonetheless frequently charge that Serbs remain subject to various forms of discrimination. PM

ETHNIC HUNGARIANS TO BE PROSECUTED FOR SINGING HUNGARIAN ANTHEM
On 17 December, Romanian Prosecutor-General Joita Tanase announced the beginning of the prosecution process against members of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) for singing the Hungarian anthem, Romanian media reported. Participants at UDMR's Council of Representatives meeting in Targu-Mures on 15 December sang a religious Hungarian song that is also the Hungarian anthem in protest against a recent Romanian government ordinance that bans unauthorized singing of other states' anthems or the exhibition of foreign symbols. Premier Nastase said the UDMR members will be punished if it is found that they breached on the law, but that it "shouldn't be turned into a big problem." UDMR Chairman Bela Marko said the prosecutor-general's measure is "a political action" against the UDMR. UDMR previously announced it would ask for the ordinance's restrictive provisions to be changed. ZsM

EU COMMISSIONER SAYS ROMANIA HAS TO FIGHT TO JOIN EU
Visiting EU commissioner for enlargement Guenther Verheugen said in Timisoara on 17 December that Romania has to fight for integration into the EU just as it did for liberty and democracy back in 1989, Mediafax reported. Together with Romanian Premier Adrian Nastase, Verheugen attended a mass in memory of victims of the Timisoara uprising in December 1989. Verheugen said he sought to demonstrate Europe's understanding of the importance of the Romanian Revolution, arguing that without it, "we couldn't have built in Europe a space of liberty and dignity." The commissioner said Romania still has many unresolved issues, but that its socioeconomic policies are evolving "in the right direction." ZsM

BANKRUPT BULGARIAN AIRLINE TO BE REVIVED
Balkan Air Commercial Director Christo Todorov told a press conference on 14 December that a business plan has been adopted to revive the bankrupt national air carrier, BTA reported. The plan was described as a "minimum plan, which can certainly be fulfilled and attests to the airline's potential to survive and develop." The plan includes services to 15 destinations and is based on the assumption that the summer season can generate enough revenue to offset winter losses. The airline also signed charter flight agreements with three tour operators. For 2002, the airline is expected to yield some $7 million in revenues and a $500,000 profit. UB

WORLD BANK CREDIT FOR BULGARIAN AGRICULTURE PROJECTS
The World Bank is ready to provide some $80 to $100 million for two agriculture projects, BTA reported. The credit is to be used to assist agricultural producers, as well as to mitigate damages caused by forest fires. It will also be used to set up a fire control and protection system. The implementation of the project will begin in January 2002. UB

There is no End Note today.


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