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Newsline - December 19, 2001


RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER LOOKS AHEAD TO START-3...
Following his talks in Brussels with U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Sergei Ivanov said on 18 December that the START-2 treaty has lost its significance following the U.S. decision to withdraw from the ABM Treaty, ITAR-TASS reported. As a result, Russia considers it crucial to continue negotiations on a START-3 treaty, and to have a timetable for the further reduction of strategic arms under that treaty on paper when U.S. President George W. Bush visits Moscow next summer, Ivanov said. "Kommersant-Daily" commented the same day that, after being forced to retreat from his hard-line position on the ABM Treaty, Ivanov is now demanding negotiations on START-3 in a bid to reaffirm his earlier position. The newspaper said that, in particular, Ivanov would like to codify all further disarmament procedures, something the U.S. has considered as unwise and unnecessary in prior discussions. VY

...AS KARAGANOV WARNS THAT STRATEGIC ARMS REDUCTION HAS ITS LIMITS
Sergei Karaganov, the deputy director of the Institute of Europe and the head of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, told "Krasnaya zvezda" on 18 December that Russia should avoid "too deep" a reduction of its strategic nuclear arsenal, as such a move could undermine Russia's global political influence. "Those who are calling for a radical cut in the nuclear forces or preventing their modernization are putting in danger not only Russia's national security, but her political weight," he said. It is only powerful nuclear deterrence that has allowed Russia to maintain a "civilized dialogue" with the United States, he added. VY

RUSSIA OFFERS ASSISTANCE TO U.S. FOR FIGHTING ANTHRAX
Valentin Pokrovskii, the president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, told RIA-Novosti on 18 December that Russian scientists have developed a new advanced vaccine against anthrax that they are prepared to give to the United States. In contrast to current vaccines that require six sessions for injections, the new product requires only two sessions, which speeds up the process of strengthening the immune system, according to Pokrovskii. Meanwhile, Health Minister Yurii Shevchenko said that Russia is also ready to send both its vaccines and unique samples of anthrax spores to the United States. "If the terrorist origin of the anthrax cases in America is proved, all of us should be ready for a mass vaccination of the population," he said. VY

RAILWAYS MINISTER REPORTS FOR DUTY AS INVESTIGATION CONTINUES
At a meeting of the State Duma's Commission on Combating Corruption on 18 December, Deputy Prosecutor-General Valentin Semuchenkov said that his office has proof of "illegal activity" by Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko, Interfax reported. According to Semuchenkov, 17 railways were allowed not to pay taxes and Aksenenko illegally enlarged his ministry's staff, which cost the federal government an extra 87 million rubles ($2.87 million) in salaries. Also on 18 December, Aksenenko told reporters in Moscow that his official leave is over and that is ready to carry out his professional duties again, NTV reported. JAC

PASKO PROMISES NOT TO ACCEPT GUILTY PLEA
Accused spy and former military journalist Grigorii Pasko addressed the court on 18 December as his espionage trial comes to a close, Russian agencies reported. In a short speech, Pasko denied disclosing classified materials to Japanese media and charged that the Federal Security Service (FSB) falsified some materials in the case. He added that he will appeal a guilty verdict all the way to the Russian Supreme Court and if he fails there, he will then go the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The military court in Vladivostok is expected to deliver its verdict on 25 December, according to NTV. JAC

AEROFLOT CASE HEADING TO COURT
A spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Office told ITAR-TASS on 18 December that the office has transferred to court the Aeroflot case in which three men are accused of siphoning $252 million from the airline's assets. Nikolai Glushkov, a former first deputy director of Aeroflot; Aleksandr Krasnenker, the company's advertising director; and Roman Sheinin, the director of the United Financial Corporation, are all close associates of embattled magnate Boris Berezovsky, who controlled Aeroflot until 1999. The same day, the Prosecutor-General's Office indicted in absentia another of Berezovsky's associates: former TV-6 board Chairman Arkadii Patarkatsishvili. He is accused of attempting to organize escape plans to free Glushkov from custody. Berezovsky's status in the Aeroflot case is unclear. Although the Prosecutor-General's Office did not produce a direct indictment against him, it has issued an international arrest warrant against Berezovsky for ignoring a subpoena. VY

TV-6 JOURNALISTS MULL VARIOUS OFFERS
In an interview with "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 18 December, TV-6 General Director Yevgenii Kiselev confirmed that embattled media magnate Berezovsky intends to give his 75 percent stake in TV-6 to the journalists who work there. And relating to the same issue, TV-6 founder Eduard Sagalaev commented on the offer by the U.S.-owned investment fund TPG Aurora to buy the station. Sagalaev said he thinks completing a transaction with Aurora would probably be a "more complicated" option than others, but that it represents "one way out of the current situation." Writing in "The Moscow Times" the same day, commentator Aleksei Pankin charged that today TV-6 is "neutral or even loyal to authorities. However, everyone understands that it is a time bomb that Berezovsky will detonate when the time is right." Pankin suggested that currently the most critical TV programs are Vladimir Pozner's "Vremena" on ORT, Aleksei Pushkov's "Postscriptum" on TV-Tsentr, and "Segodnya" and "Namedni" on NTV. JAC

FINANCE MINISTER SAYS EUROPE ENDORSES QUICK RUSSIAN ACCESSION TO WTO
Speaking at the joint session of the Russian-Italian Economic Council in Moscow, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin announced on 18 December that Britain, Germany, and Italy have agreed in the name of the European Union to promote speeding up Russia's entrance into the World Trade Organization (WTO), which was initially expected in the first half of 2003. Meanwhile, "Vremya novostei" said the same day that the upcoming WTO session in Qatar will not ease, but make more difficult the conditions under which Russia will be allowed to join the WTO. If that turns out to be the case, the daily argued, all talk about earlier membership for Russia is only an illusion. VY

PUTIN DEFENDS SMALL BUSINESSES...
Addressing a State Council meeting devoted to the problems of small businesses, President Vladimir Putin said on 18 December that Russian entrepreneurs are defenseless against regional authorities who weed out small enterprises through "administrative hordes and excessive charges," ORT reported. According to Putin, in order for small businesses to develop, they must gain better access to Russia's funding for that sector, and be able to bypass bureaucracy. "Vremya novostei" said on 18 December that Putin's words should be viewed as a call for change to the government, which until recently has categorically refused to support small business through federal funds. Without such support, the daily opined, small businesses simply have no future in Russia. VY

...AS FINANCE MINISTRY PLANS TAX REDUCTIONS
Finance Minister Kudrin announced on 18 December that his government is planning to annul the highway use tax in 2003, and to cancel the 5 percent sales tax in 2004, RBK news agency reported. There are also plans in the works to cut rates for the top tier of the social security tax, and to lower the value added tax, Kudrin added. VY

NEW GOALS SET FOR RUSSIAN BANKS
Half of Russian commercial banks must either increase their capital, restructure, or face liquidation by 2004, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kudrin said on 18 December, Interfax reported. And as of 2007, the minimum level of capitalization for individual banks should be no less than 5 million euros ($4.51 million). Kudrin explained that goals for the banking sector were established under a joint strategy prepared by the government and the Central Bank. JAC

RUSSIA AND AUSTRALIA AGREE TO BUILD JOINT SPACE CENTER
Russian and Australia have agreed to jointly construct a space center on Australia's Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean, "Kommersant-Daily" quoted Rosaviakosmos space agency head Yurii Koptev as saying on 18 December. According to the contract, beginning in 2004 Russia will launch commercial satellites from the center using its Aurora booster rockets. As part of the deal, Australia will be allowed use of Auroras, but that right was not transferred to third parties. Koptev said the cost for constructing the space center will be about $500 million, and that both sides will contribute to its funding. VY

RUSSIA INKS NEW DIAMOND DEAL WITH DE BEERS
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kudrin announced that the world's largest diamond trader, De Beers, and the Russian national diamond producer Alrosa signed a five-year agreement in Yakutsk on 17 December regulating the new operational status of bilateral relations, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported the same day. According to the agreement, Alrosa will gradually scale down sales of diamonds to De Beers and increase its own supply to the domestic market. Moreover, Alrosa will gain the opportunity to develop its own distribution network abroad by utilizing the network established by De Beers. VY

FSB REPORTS ON SPY ACTIVITY
Addressing the Russian media on 18 December, FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev said his agency this year "exposed 130 officers of foreign intelligence services, prevented the spying activities of 30 of them, and caught 10 foreign citizens red-handed in acts of espionage," utro.ru reported. In addition, Patrushev said the FSB arrested seven Russian citizens for spying for Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iraq. VY

PUTIN SIGNS LAW ON PROCEDURE FOR ALTERING BORDERS
On 18 December, President Putin signed a federal constitutional law "on the order of adopting and establishing new federation subjects," Interfax reported. The bill was approved by the State Duma on 30 November and by the Federation Council on 5 December. Under the law, if two or more federation subjects would like to merge, then the issue must first be put to a referendum for citizens within the relevant regions. JAC

DIAMOND HEAD WINS UNITY-FATHERLAND ENDORSEMENT...
The All-Russian party of Unity and Fatherland, or Unified Russia, announced on 18 December that it will support Alrosa head Vyacheslav Shtyrov in 23 December presidential elections, RIA-Novosti reported. JAC

...AS HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS EXPRESS CONCERN OVER ARRESTS IN YAKUTSK
Lev Ponomarev, the head of the all-Russian Movement for Human Rights, told journalists in Moscow on 18 December that law enforcement officials and prosecutors in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) have openly violated elections law and have jailed Moscow-based journalist Irina Volkova and sociologist Pavel Stepanov, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Volkova and Stepanov were working for the campaign of one of the local presidential candidates. According to Ponomarev, neither Volkova nor Stepanov are represented by a lawyer. They are accused of inciting interethnic strife and slander -- charges which Ponomarev claims have no basis. JAC

PLAN TO OVERHAUL UPPER HOUSE ALREADY IN THE WORKS...
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 18 December that a number of senators have prepared plans to restructure the Federation Council even before the upper house has started working on its new basis. According to the daily, one common feature of the proposals is to create more leadership chairs, such as committee chairs, commission heads, and deputy speakers. Another proposal is to create a Council of Chambers in which the Federation Council Chairman, his deputies, the heads of regional committees, and the chairmen of permanent commissions would meet. JAC

...AS TWO MORE SENATORS SELECTED
As the deadline nears for regions to appoint their new representatives to the Federation Council, two more regions confirmed their choices. On 18 December, the legislature in Buryatia selected Vladimir Bavlov, the deputy chairman of Buryatia's committee on natural resources, as its representative, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Altai Krai Governor Aleksandr Surikov named as his representative Vladimir Germanenko, a deputy governor in the krai. JAC

MOSCOW DUMA REMAINS IN LUZHKOV'S POCKET
Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov has retained his control over the city's legislature, "Vremya novostei" reported on 18 December. According to the daily, 33 of the 35 seats up for grabs during the 16 December election were won by candidates favored by the mayoral administration. Twenty-two lawmakers were re-elected, while another 13 new members were selected. The Union of Rightist Forces and Yabloko held onto the seats they already had, but failed to win any new ones. JAC

OVR FACTION GROWS LARGER
The Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) faction in the State Duma added a new member on 18 December, Svetlana Smirnova, who was previously deputy chair of the People's Deputy group, Interfax reported. According to OVR head Vyacheslav Volodin, the faction now has 50 members and also has the highest percentage of female members with six. JAC

MOSCOW HAS A NEW MAN IN KABUL
Zamir Kabulov, deputy director of the Foreign Ministry's Third Department, has taken over as head of Russia's diplomatic mission in Kabul, Russian agencies reported on 18 December. Kabulov is only filling in until an ambassador is named in January or February, Interfax reported. JAC

HOW MANY FIGHTERS REMAIN IN CHECHNYA?
A total of 1,689 Chechen fighters and foreign mercenaries have been killed in Chechnya since 1 January 2001, FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev told journalists in Moscow on 18 December, according to Interfax. Meanwhile, Russian military spokesmen in Grozny estimated the number of Chechen fighters still offering active resistance at 1,500. In February, the Russian military in Chechnya estimated Chechen military strength at 1,500, while in late March the commander of the Russian Interior Ministry troops in Chechnya, Colonel General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, cited a figure of 3,000-5,000. LF

FORMER ACTING CHECHEN PRESIDENT ADMITS TO CONTACTS WITH TALIBAN, BUT NOT WITH BIN LADEN
In an interview published in "Vremya novostei" on 17 December and summarized by Interfax the same day, former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev admitted to having traveled twice to Afghanistan, in November 1999 and early in 2000, and to having established contacts there with Taliban representatives. But at the same time Yandarbiev denied that Saudi-born terrorist Osama bin Laden has provided financing for the Chechens, saying that he personally coordinates aid provided by Muslims for the Chechen cause. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov stripped Yandarbiev of all his official positions early last year. Yandarbiev has spent most of the past two years abroad. LF

ARMENIA, RUSSIA DISCUSS ASSETS-FOR-DEBT DEAL
Armenian President Robert Kocharian arrived in Moscow on a working visit on 17 December and met with following day with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, and Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, Russian agencies and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Klebanov told journalists that the talks focused primarily on a deal that has been under discussion for several months whereby Moscow will write off much of Armenia's $94 million debt in return for substantial stakes in state-owned companies. Klebanov said "considerable progress" was made during the talks, but gave no details. The precise list of companies in which the Russian government will acquire a stake has not yet been made public, but Klebanov said the deal will be finalized by the end of this year. On 17 December, Kocharian met with the heads of Russia's Gazprom monopoly and its export division Itera, and pledged to repay next year Armenia's accumulated debts for supplies of Russian natural gas. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT MEETS WITH OPPOSITION JOURNALISTS
During an 18 December discussion lasting almost three hours with editors of opposition media outlets, Heidar Aliev dismissed as a mistake that should not be over dramatized the harsh criticism of opposition newspapers contained in a statement adopted by the second congress of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party last month, Turan reported. He also expressed regret at the police violence against participants in an unauthorized demonstration in Baku on 12 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 December 2001), saying the city authorities' refusal to sanction that protest was likewise "a mistake." Aliev said that the media are justified in criticizing perceived shortcomings, and should not be subjected to pressure for doing so. He instructed his administration to draw up measures to improve the working conditions for the media. Journalists who attended the meting said afterward they were "satisfied" with the outcome, but still plan to stage a further demonstration in Baku on 20 December to protest official harassment of the media. LF

DIVERGING REASONS CITED FOR POSTPONEMENT OF CASPIAN MEETING
The meeting of deputy foreign ministers of Caspian littoral states scheduled to take place in Moscow on 18-19 December was postponed at Russia's request, Interfax claimed on 18 December quoting unnamed Russian Foreign Ministry sources (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2001). The participants were to have coordinated the final draft of a document on the status of the Caspian to be formally adopted at a summit of the five countries' presidents. The Russian Foreign Ministry, however, said that Turkmenistan had announced on the eve of the meeting that it saw no need for such a gathering as Ashgabat has made clear its stance on the wording of the agreement and believes that the remaining disagreements can be resolved through bilateral talks. Iran then proposed that the meeting be postponed. LF

PRESSURE INCREASES ON UN ENVOY FOR ABKHAZIA
Two Georgian parliament deputies demanded on 18 December that Dieter Boden, the UN Secretary-General's special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, should be asked to appear before the parliament to answer allegations that he is doing nothing to expedite a solution to that conflict, and to comment on Georgian media criticism of the UN observers stationed in Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. Parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze endorsed that demand on 19 December. Meanwhile, Abkhaz Deputy Defense Minister Givi Agrba warned on 18 December that the Abkhaz authorities will use "all available means" to expel from the Kodori gorge the detachment of 350 Georgian troops recently deployed there in violation of the May 1994 cease-fire agreement. Boden has twice demanded that those troops be withdrawn (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November and 14 December 2001). LF

SOUTH OSSETIAN PRESIDENT INAUGURATED...
Former Moscow-based businessman Eduard Kokoev was formally sworn in as president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia on 18 December. Kokoev again affirmed his readiness for good neighborly relations with the central Georgian government, but warned that Tbilisi's policy of "confrontation with Russia" makes it difficult to establish such relations. He also said Tbilisi should apologize for the policy of "genocide" it implemented with regard to the Ossetian population in the early 1990s, and should stop referring to the region as "Samachablo" or "the Tskhinvali region," rather than as the Republic of South Ossetia. In a congratulatory telegram, the president of the neighboring Republic of North Ossetia-Alaniya, Aleksandr Dzasokhov, similarly said that both North and South Ossetia wish to establish lasting peace both between the peoples of the Caucasus and between Russia and Georgia, ITAR-TASS reported. Dzasokhov said he hopes for "realistic steps" by the Georgian leadership. LF

...OUTLINES PRIORITIES
Kokoev met on 18 December with Major General Vassilii Prizemlin, the Russian commander of the peacekeeping force deployed in the region, whose presence he termed a guarantee of stability. He also affirmed his readiness to protect the interests of fellow Russian businessmen interested in investing in the region, noting that economic reconstruction, which Georgia has done little if anything to finance, will prove impossible without such investment. Kokoev criticized the outgoing leadership of Lyudvig Chibirov for having done little to alleviate the economic hardship of much of the unrecognized republic's population. He also declared his intention of replacing the heads of all law enforcement agencies, one of which is controlled by Chibirov's son. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT LEAVES FOR U.S.
Nursultan Nazarbaev left on a working visit to the U.S. late on 17 December, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported the following day. Nazarbaev will visit Houston and New York before traveling to Washington for talks with President George W. Bush on 22 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2001). LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEPUTY UNDER PRESSURE
Seventeen Kyrgyz parliament deputies have written to President Askar Akaev demanding an end to pressure on their fellow deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Beknazarov has criticized both the 1999 amendments to a 1996 treaty under which Kyrgyzstan ceded territory to China, and the interstate treaty signed on 15 December by Akaev and Nazarbaev under which Kyrgyzstan cedes territory to Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 December 2001). The 17 deputies claim that the Prosecutor-General's Office and the National Security Service are reviewing Beknazarov's former career in the hope of finding compromising materials with which to discredit him. LF

FIRST U.S. TRANSPORT PLANES LAND IN KYRGYZSTAN...
Four U.S. transport planes landed at Bishkek's Manas airport late on 18 December bringing equipment, Interfax reported. Some 150 troops are already stationed at the airport in readiness for the arrival of a 2,000-troop contingent. LF

...BUT NOT YET IN TAJIKISTAN
The arrival of the first U.S. transport aircraft in Kulyab, originally scheduled for 20 December, has been delayed because that airfield is not yet in a fit condition for them to land there, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 December. Italian military specialists are currently working to render the airfield operational. LF

BRITAIN TO OPEN EMBASSY IN TAJIKISTAN
British diplomats will arrive in Dushanbe on 20 December to prepare for the opening of an embassy there, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 19 December. In a statement released in London on 18 December, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the move "is a further sign of our long-term commitment to building a stable and prosperous future for the whole of the Central Asian region," Reuters reported. LF

TAJIKISTAN, INDIA EXPAND COOPERATION
The first session of the Tajik-Insian commission on trade and economic cooperation ended with the signing in Delhi on 13 December of a protocol on cooperation, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 19 December. An agreement on cooperation in the field of tourism was also initialed. On 18 December, Tajik Defense Minister Colonel General Sherali Khairulloev left for India for talks on the military and political situation in Central Asia. He will reportedly also visit factories producing munitions. LF

BELARUSIAN LEGISLATURE PASSES 2002 BUDGET
The Chamber of Representatives passed a 2002 budget bill on 18 December, Belapan reported. The budget projects revenues at 3.9 trillion Belarusian rubles ($2.6 billion) and spending at 4.2 trillion Belarusian rubles. The expected 2002 budget deficit accounts for 1.5 percent of GDP. JM

BELARUS'S ORTHODOX CHURCH LEADER 'REPORTS' TO PRESIDENT
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka met on 17 December with Metropolitan Filaret, the head of the Belarusian Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, and other Belarusian Orthodox bishops, Belarusian Television reported on 18 December. "Today we are very briefly reporting to you, dear Alyaksandr Ryhoravich, that the life of the Belarusian Orthodox Church is running in a normal way," Metropolitan Filaret told the president. Lukashenka said the authorities will soon consider amendments to laws on education and religions, adding that they should substantially expand the participation of the Orthodox Church in the "spiritual-patriotic education of younger generations." JM

MINSK TOUGH ON KYIV'S SOVIET-ERA DEBT
Ukrainian Premier Anatoliy Kinakh and his Belarusian counterpart Henadz Navitski met in Chernihiv, northern Ukraine, on 18 December to discuss trade and economic issues, Belarusian and Ukrainian media reported. The two premiers endorsed a plan of bilateral economic cooperation for 2002 calling for a rise in annual trade turnover to $1 billion from the current level of some $700 million. However, the sides did not address the contentious issue of Ukraine's Soviet-era debt to Belarus because an intergovernmental commission has failed to produce a relevant joint resolution. Navitski told Belapan that Minsk will not ratify the border agreement with Ukraine as long as Kyiv fails to repay its Soviet-era debt to Belarus. In 1997, Belarusian President Lukashenka said that debt amounted to $217 million. In a recent intergovernmental agreement, the figure shrank to $113 million, and Ukraine offered some property in Crimea to cover some of the debt. Navitski told Belapan that Ukraine is seeking to get rid of the clause for turning over the property, and wants the debt figure to be reduced to $51 million. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT HOPES FOR WORKABLE NEW PARLIAMENT...
Leonid Kuchma on 18 December expressed hopes that a new parliament elected in the 31 March ballot will be more efficient in contrast to the current one, Interfax reported. He criticized the current legislature for inefficiency and political rows. "It's impossible to advance in economy and politics if the government has no support in the parliament," Kuchma noted. "I extremely dislike when ultra-leftists unite with ultra-rightists [in the parliament]," Kuchma said, referring to the recent ouster of first deputy parliamentary speaker Viktor Medvedchuk. JM

...INSISTS ON IMPLEMENTATION OF CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENDUM...
Kuchma also said he is still hopeful that the results of the referendum held on 16 April 2000 will be implemented, UNIAN reported. The referendum approved proposals to grant the president the right to dissolve the parliament if lawmakers fail to create a stable parliamentary majority; cut the number of lawmakers from 450 to 300; abolish the lawmakers' immunity from prosecution; and introduce a second legislative chamber. "I will never sign another decree on holding a referendum, even if one is urgently needed, because I have no right to do so until the results of the previous referendum have been implemented," the president said. JM

...OPPOSES JOINT CHECKPOINTS WITH MOLDOVA ON BORDER WITH TRANSDNIESTER...
"We are ready to consider joint border checkpoints with Moldova. But we cannot accept this on the border with the Transdniester region," Kuchma told journalists the same day. Kuchma recalled that Moldova wants "to place Moldovan customs officers on Ukraine's territory," and added that such a possible move should be approved by the Ukrainian parliament. However, he added that "we don't want to fight with the Transdniester region or impose an economic blockade on it." In a bid to tighten control over what Chisinau calls smuggling from and to Transdniester, the Moldovan government asked Kyiv earlier this year to allow its customs officers access to checkpoints located on the Ukrainian side of the border. JM

...PREDICTS RISE IN ELECTRICITY TARIFFS
Kuchma said Ukraine will have to increase tariffs for electricity consumption. He added, however, that the increase will not be implemented as "spontaneously" as envisaged in the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development's loan offer for completing two nuclear reactors in Ukraine to compensate for the closure of Chornobyl. Kuchma also said the tariffs will not be raised this winter. The Ukrainian president revealed that the recently signed accord on Russia's assistance in completing the two Ukrainian reactors provides for a Russian credit of $150 million in 2002. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT WANTS PROBE OF PRESIDENTIAL STAFF CHIEF
The parliament on 18 December supported a motion that the Prosecutor-General's Office launch a criminal case against presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn, deputy Ihor Bakay, and others, UNIAN reported. The motion is called "On investigating the circumstances of illegal appropriation by Lytvyn, Bakay, and other officials of state intellectual property worth hundreds of millions of hryvni and gross tax evasion, bringing the guilty individuals to book, and taking action to recover the losses incurred by the state." JM

ESTONIA REJECTS VOLUNTARY IDENTIFICATION CARD
On 18 December, the parliament rejected by a vote of 14 to 46 a bill proposed by Reform Party deputies Ignar Fjuk and Neinar Seli to make the personal identification cards that will be introduced next year voluntary and not mandatory, BNS reported. The Reform Party had earlier supported the bill, but changed its position in order to show its desire to retain the ruling parliament coalition with the Pro Patria Union and the Moderates. The coalition was weakened by the Reform Party's decision to form a coalition with the opposition Center Party in the Tallinn City Council, but it still expects to pass the 2002 budget on 19 December. The Interior Ministry had originally proposed that the fees for obtaining the ID cards would be 100 kroons ($5.80) and 380 kroons for passports, but those amounts were amended to 150 kroons apiece and 250 kroons to purchase both. SG

OSCE DECIDES TO CLOSE ITS MISSION TO LATVIA
The Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) decided in Vienna on 18 December not to extend the mandate of its mission to Latvia, in effect ending its nine-year existence on 1 January 2002, BNS reported. Head of the OSCE Mission to Latvia Peter Semneby noted in his report to the council Latvia's achievements in building a democratic and integrated community, citing the smooth naturalization process, the successful implementation of the national program for Latvian-language teaching, the establishment of the Public Integration Fund, and the improved performance by the National Human Rights Office. Praising the initiative of President Vaira Vike-Freiberga to amend the election law by abolishing the language requirements for candidates to the parliament and local councils, he recommended closing the mission. Vike-Freiberga welcomed the decision as proof that Latvia is a democratic country. Russia opposed the closing of the mission, arguing that the Russian minority is still not suitably protected from discrimination. SG

YUKOS VICE PRESIDENT VISITS LITHUANIA
Mikhail Brudno told Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas in Vilnius on 18 December that the Russian oil company Yukos is still interested in finalizing the deal with Williams International signed in June, ELTA reported. Yukos agreed to pay $75 million, lend another $75 million, and supply 4.8 million tons of crude oil per year to the Mazeikiai refinery in exchange for a 26.85 percent share of Mazeikiai Nafta, which Williams operates. Economy Minister Petras Cesna and Finance Minister Dalia Grybauskaite also attended the meeting. Randy Majors, the board chairman of Mazeikiai Nafta, recently announced that Williams was canceling the agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2001), but expected negotiations to be continued next year. Brudno told reporters in Moscow on 17 December that Yukos is willing to continue the negotiations if someone was to replace Majors as the head Williams' negotiating team. Williams International President Randy Barnard responded by saying he did not see any reason to replace Majors. SG

POLISH GOVERNMENT MODIFIES EU TRANSITION PERIOD ON LAND SALE
The government on 18 December decided that farmers from the EU will be able to purchase land for cultivation in the Warmia and Mazury, Pomerania, Lubusz, Lower Silesia, Opole, Wielkopolska, and Western Pomerania provinces after a seven-year lease period, PAP reported, quoting government spokesman Michal Tober. As for the rest of the country, the government decided to maintain the position announced last month in Brussels that envisages that EU farmers may purchase land for cultivation after three years of lease. The above-mentioned provinces, which constitute some half Poland's territory, overlap to a great extent with the areas that belonged to Germany before World War II. The government's move apparently addresses widespread fears in Poland that Germans may try to massively reclaim property and land plots in those provinces with irresistible cash offers to less-moneyed Poles. JM

POLISH PARLIAMENT AMENDS LAWS ON CABINET, STATE ADMINISTRATION
Following a heated debate, the Sejm narrowly approved amendments to the laws on the Council of Ministers and the Civil Service on 18 December, PAP reported. According to the amended law on the Council of Ministers, the governor of the Polish National Bank and the chairman of the Supreme Audit Chamber will not participate, as they have before, in the government's meetings. The Sejm also decided that the government may fill Civil Service vacancies with persons who are not members of the Civil Service corps, which is recruited through competition. Opposition lawmakers fiercely disagreed with this last amendment, accusing the government of an intention to fill some 40,000 top state administration posts with persons selected because of their party allegiance, rather than because of their professional competence. JM

STATE ATTORNEY CHARGES FORMER CZECHOSLOVAK LEADERS WITH TREASON
The Prague State Attorney's Office has filed treason and subversion charges against two senior figures in the communist-era Czechoslovak government in connection with the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion, CTK reported on 19 December. The charges targeting Milos Jakes and Jozef Lenart were filed earlier this month, the agency quoted an office spokesman as saying. Both men are accused of "preparation for treason and subversion," CTK reported. The two sought to legalize the invasion by Soviet-bloc troops through the "workers' and peasants' government," something the State Attorney's Office insists was an offense against the constitution at the time, CTK said. The charges are the latest in a spate of recent Czech cases aimed at prosecuting senior communist-era officials for their crimes. AH

CZECH LOWER HOUSE APPROVES 2002 STATE BUDGET
The ruling Social Democrats joined forces with the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) to pass a 46.2 billion crown ($1.3 billion) deficit budget for next year, CTK and other agencies reported. The budget bill received 133 votes in the 200-seat lower house, and must still be signed by the president before coming into law. Welcoming the bill's passage, Prime Minister Milos Zeman said last-minute amendments aimed at placating local constituencies ahead of mid-2002 national elections did not significantly affect the quality of the overall budget, "given their extent." The parties to the opposition Four Party Coalition -- the Freedom Union and the Christian Democrats -- opposed the bill, along with the generally obstructionist Communist Party. The budget envisages revenues of 690.4 billion crowns and expenditures of 736.6 billion crowns for next year. AH

CATHOLIC LEADERSHIP PROTESTS NEW CZECH LAW REGULATING CHURCH ACTIVITIES
Catholic Church representatives said they stridently object to legislation passed on 18 December by the Czech lower house and aimed at establishing controls on church activities, CTK reported. Critics say the bill would interfere with the church's right to set up its own institutions, particularly those traditionally aimed at social and charitable activities, the agency reported. A spokesman for the Czech Bishops' Conference said his group would consider the implementation of such a law discriminatory and in violation of constitutional and legislative guarantees on freedom. Czech Catholic Primate Cardinal Miloslav Vlk recently hinted that his church would challenge the law before the country's Constitutional Court via sympathetic members of parliament. Deputies overrode a veto by President Vaclav Havel, who argued that the legislation is at odds with the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms and would prevent churches from offering health and social facilities. The veto override was assured by legislators from the ruling Social Democrat and Civic Democratic parties. AH

U.S. SIGNALS DISAPPOINTMENT OVER CZECH JET DECISION
A U.S. State Department spokesman expressed disappointment on 18 December over the Czech government's plans to acquire supersonic fighters from a British-Swedish consortium, AP reported from Washington the same day. Spokesman Richard Boucher noted that U.S. manufacturers "make airplanes that have been deployed throughout the world, that have been proven in combat," the agency reported. He added that, "We make that clear to other countries when we talk to them." Both the Czech and Hungarian governments recently have turned to a BAE Systems-SAAB consortium to supply military aircraft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November and 11 December 2001). Czech legislators could block the purchase by rejecting financing on the deal. AH

SLOVAKIA TO PREVENT HUNGARY FROM IMPLEMENTING STATUS LAW
Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan told journalists on 18 December that Bratislava will not allow Budapest to apply its controversial Status Law on Slovak territory, CTK reported. "Some things [in the law] are unacceptable for us and therefore it will not be valid on our territory," Kukan said, adding that Bratislava mainly will not allow for paying financial benefits from Budapest to parents who will decide to place their children in Hungarian-language schools in Slovakia. JM

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES ON ELECTION COMMISSION, LEASE OF GRIPEN FIGHTERS
On the final day of its last session in 2001, the parliament elected five members to the National Election Commission on 18 December, Hungarian media reported. The members were selected by Interior Minister Sandor Pinter. Representatives of coalition parties and the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party disregarded proposals from the opposition Socialists and Free Democrats, who wanted parliament to elect in addition two "alternate" members to the commission. The Socialists criticized Pinter's choices for being linked "too closely to the right wing," and charged that under such conditions an unbiased handling of the elections cannot be guaranteed. Parliament also voted by 201 in favor and 109 against, with three abstentions, to upgrade the air force by leasing 14 NATO-compatible Gripen fighter aircraft from Sweden, thus authorizing Defense Minister Janos Szabo to sign a lease agreement with Sweden on 20 December. MSZ

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT SUSPENDS MIEP CHAIRMAN'S IMMUNITY
On 18 December, Parliament suspended the parliamentary immunity of Calvinist pastor Lorant Hegedus Jr., the deputy chairman of the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) whom Prosecutor-General Peter Polt suspects of inciting hatred against a community in an allegedly anti-Semitic article Hegedus wrote earlier this year in an MIEP magazine, Hungarian media reported. Hegedus told parliament that he committed no irregularities, and had merely made use of his right to freely express an opinion. As Hegedus spoke, members of the Free Democrats donned protective masks and brandished placards that read: "Hate Speech is Poisonous." MSZ

HUNGARIAN PREMIER RECEIVES MOSSAD CHIEF?
Complete secrecy has surrounded the visit to Hungary by Ephraim Halevi, the head of the Israeli secret service Mossad, Hungarian media reported on 18 December. Although the daily "Nepszabadsag" said Prime Minister Viktor Orban received Halevi in parliament on 18 December, official government sources would not confirm his presence in the country. The newspaper said Halevi conferred with the directors of Hungary's civil and military secret services, presumably about an exchange of information linked to the terror attacks on the U.S. and in Israel. MSZ

RUMSFELD SUGGESTS CUT IN NATO BOSNIAN FORCES...
Speaking in Brussels on 18 December, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggested that NATO troop levels in Bosnia be cut by one-third to free up strength for more pressing assignments in the war against terrorism, the "International Herald Tribune" reported. There are some 18,000 troops in SFOR, of whom 3,100 are Americans. NATO has a total of 57,000 peacekeepers in the Balkans, of whom 8,000 are Americans. Britain and France have suffered the most casualties in Kosova, while Germany heads the Macedonian mission. Britain has suggested creating a unified NATO Balkan command. Since 11 September, hopes have been expressed in Belgrade and elsewhere that Washington will reduce its role in the Balkans, but U.S. officials have repeatedly said that America is mindful of its strategic interests in the region (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 September 2001). PM

...AS PART OF OVERALL EXIT STRATEGY
In Brussels on 18 December, Rumsfeld stressed that the U.S. adheres to the principle of "in together, out together," the "International Herald Tribune" reported. The "Financial Times" noted that Washington feels the time has come for NATO to consider an exit strategy for Bosnia, including replacing troops with police. Many observers feel, however, that fighting could easily resume in Bosnia without the presence of NATO troops with a robust mandate. PM

BOSNIA 'NOT ALARMED' BY RUMSFELD STATEMENT
Foreign Ministry spokesman Amir Kapetanovic said in Sarajevo on 18 December that Rumsfeld's statement "is not alarming. In our contacts [with NATO governments] we have been assured that Bosnia will not be deserted. If it were, then everything that has been accomplished so far would be wasted," Reuters reported. Kapetanovic added that a reduction in troop strength "has to be accompanied by economic, political, and military stabilization. That is an ongoing process, evaluated on a monthly basis, and things can change quickly on the ground." PM

EUROPEAN COURT DROPS SERBIAN PUBLICITY CASE
In Strasbourg on 19 December, the European Court of Human Rights ruled as "inadmissible" a lawsuit by 17 Yugoslav citizens against NATO. The court ruled that it has jurisdiction only on violations committed within national borders. In what was widely seen as a propaganda stunt by the Serbian authorities, the 17 sued over the 1999 bombing campaign to stop the atrocities in Kosova, specifically over the attack on the headquarters of former President Slobodan Milosevic's Radio and Television Serbia (RTS). PM

NATO TROOPS COLLECT ILLEGAL WEAPONS IN BOSNIA
SFOR troops recently confiscated a large quantity of weapons and ammunition in the Bosanska Dubica region of the Republika Srpska near the Croatian border, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 18 December. Peacekeepers said local people were "extremely helpful" in pointing out where the illegal weaponry was hidden. PM

KOSTUNICA BACKS TIES WITH BOSNIA AND REPUBLIKA SRPSKA
Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said in Sarajevo on 18 December that Belgrade seeks improved ties with the Bosnian state and the Republika Srpska alike, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. The Dayton agreement provides for special links between Belgrade and Banja Luka as well as between Croatia and the Croat-Muslim federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2001). Since the change in government nearly two years ago, Croatia has stressed its relations with Bosnia as a state over those with the local Croats. Also on 18 December, Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic and Bosnian Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija signed several cooperation agreements, including on investments and customs. The Belgrade delegation came to Sarajevo to take part in the first session of the bilateral cooperation council that will deal with human rights issues as well as economic, transportation, and infrastructure matters. PM

KOSOVA SUPREME COURT ORDERS THREE FREED...
On 18 December, the three judges on the UN-supervised Supreme Court in Prishtina ordered the freeing of three ethnic Albanians detained on murder charges, AP reported. The three have been held since March in conjunction with a bombing of a bus the previous month, which left 11 Serbs dead (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 February 2001). The judges said that there is not enough evidence against the three to warrant their continued detention. PM

...OVER STRONG PROTESTS FROM BELGRADE
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who is Belgrade's point man for the Presevo region and Kosova, said on 18 December in the Serbian capital: "The Kosovo Supreme Court decision is not new or unexpected. That body previously made an incorrect and unlawful decision. The Kosovo judiciary system is nationally biased," dpa reported. Covic also suggested that a fourth suspect was previously allowed to "escape" from detention at the U.S. base at Camp Bondsteel. "I have been there and I have to say [that] there is no way anybody can escape from there. My experience tells me that one can only be let out," Covic added. PM

YUGOSLAV MINISTER HAILS SARAJEVO
Speaking in Sarajevo on 18 December, Svilanovic said: "When we talk about sufferings, about crimes that have been committed and responsibility for these crimes, it is normal to remember Sarajevo. Sarajevo is the city-symbol of the overall suffering [in former Yugoslavia] over the past 10 years," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2001 for his remarks in Croatia). Expressing a willingness to visit Srebrenica, Svilanovic added: "These are places that will long be remembered by people across Bosnia and Herzegovina as scenes of crimes." He did not mention who committed these crimes or is responsible for their legacy, however. PM

KOSOVAR LEADER RULES OUT COALITION WITH SERBS
Moderate political leader Ibrahim Rugova said in Prishtina on 18 December that conditions are not yet suitable for his Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) to consider entering a coalition with the Serbian Povratak (Return) coalition, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2001). PM

ATLANTIC CLUB TO PROMOTE TIES BETWEEN YUGOSLAVIA, NATO
Covic and visiting NATO officials inaugurated the Atlantic Club in Belgrade to develop links between NATO and Yugoslavia, "Vesti" reported on 19 December. Covic noted, however, that "our people cannot forget that some bad things" have taken place between Serbia and NATO in recent years. He did not specify what those things were or who caused them (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 and 30 November 2001). Among those invited who did not attend the Atlantic Club's opening were Kostunica, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, and Rugova. Belgrade hopes for admission to NATO's Partnership for Peace program in 2002, General Ninoslav Krstic said. PM

YUGOSLAVIA JOINS FIGHT AGAINST HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic told a meeting of Yugoslav and OSCE officials in Belgrade on 18 December that his country is joining the fight against human trafficking, "Vesti" reported. Much of the problem involves smuggling women from Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, and Russia into Kosova and Macedonia and then possibly onward. Zivkovic stressed that the issue must be dealt with on a regional basis, including with international agencies in Kosova. In fact, much of the business for the prostitutes comes from the legions of international aid workers, administrators, soldiers, police, and other foreigners in postconflict regions of the Balkans. PM

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT PARDONS MORE ALBANIANS
On 18 December, Boris Trajkovski pardoned a further 11 former guerrillas, Reuters reported from Tetovo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2001). This brings the total number pardoned to 55, leaving an additional 33 awaiting his decision. Albanians still want a formal amnesty law to be passed by the parliament as part of the overall peace settlement. In related news, ethnically mixed Macedonian police patrols briefly entered the villages of Dobroste, Neraste, and Odri. Local opposition to the police eased after the Macedonian authorities dismantled some of the detested road checkpoints in the area (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2001). PM

SLOVENIA WARNS AGAINST CHILDREN'S VIRUS
The Health Ministry called on parents and nursery schools to take precautions against the spread of rotavirus diarrhea, which has already affected 600 small children, AP reported from Ljubljana on 19 December. The disease attacks the lining of the small intestine, leaves children dehydrated, and is potentially fatal. PM

CROATIA'S BEST-KNOWN WIDOW LOSES COURT CASE
Judge Mladen Zeravica ruled in Zagreb on 18 December that Ankica Tudjman, the widow of former President Franjo Tudjman, has no grounds for a $12,000 lawsuit against five top editors at state-run Croatian television, Hina reported. She said that they defamed her husband's memory by airing a British documentary suggesting that President Tudjman committed war crimes and stole money. Zeravica ruled that "the public is mature enough to judge whether such reports are truthful or not." PM

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT ASKS FOR VOTE OF CONFIDENCE IN YEAR'S ACTIVITIES...
At the first anniversary of its establishment, the Romanian government on 18 December assumed responsibility in parliament over a general political declaration lauding the year's achievements, Romanian media reported. Premier Adrian Nastase said his cabinet has by-and-large achieved all of its goals over the past year. Blaming his cabinet's failures on the situation that previous governments left behind, Nastase said Romania's 4.9 percent economic growth rate was the largest in Central and Eastern Europe. The premier highlighted other successes such as reducing the inflation rate to 30 percent, raising investments by 6 percent, and lifting budgetary revenues by over 4,000 billion Lei (some $130 million). He also argued that Romania is a strong candidate for NATO accession at the Atlantic alliance's 2002 Prague summit. ZsM

...AS OPPOSITION PARTIES INITIATE NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION
Immediately following Nastase's speech asking for a confidence vote, the Romanian parliamentary opposition parties put forward a no-confidence motion called "Cold and Hunger," Romania media reported. The motion was signed by 190 opposition representatives from the National Liberal Party, the Democratic Party, and the Greater Romania Party (PRM). PRM Senator Constantin Gaucan said the Nastase cabinet is incapable of defending national interests as the country faces "the most serious economic and social crisis since 1989." Nastase questioned the seriousness of the opposition's effort, as the motion was prepared before he presented the government's political declaration. The motion is to be discussed on 21 December. Analysts note the motion has little chances of success, as the ruling Social-Democratic Party has the support of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania and ethnic minority deputies. ZsM

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY
On 18 December, the Romanian parliament approved the country's national security strategy put forward by President Ion Iliescu, Mediafax reported. Presidential adviser Octavian Stireanu presented a message from the president that said the document creates a "uniform and flexible frame" for elaborating policies related to national security issues. According to Iliescu, the strategy's vision is based on protecting national values and identities, as well as ensuring resources needed for launching economic, cultural, and social programs intended to improve ties with Europe. Stireanu added that the national security strategy must be followed by [meaning the other strategies must follow the national security guidelines? Or that they should be reworked too?] the White Book of national security and the country's military strategy, which, together, will form a "solid and enduring" structure. ZsM

ROMANIAN EXTREMIST LEADER FOUND GUILTY OF LIBEL
The Romanian Supreme Court found extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM) Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor guilty of libel on 18 December, Mediafax reported. Tudor must pay 500 million Lei (some $15,800) for moral damages. Three years ago, Tudor said then-Interior Minister Gavril Dejeu had denounced his brother to communist authorities and Alexandru Dejeu was subsequently arrested and executed. Tudor also characterized Dejeu as a "mean" person. Tudor can appeal against the decision. In related news, prosecutors questioned Tudor on 17 December for the first time over his allegations that Hamas terrorists were trained in Romania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 2001). The Senate recently lifted Tudor's parliamentary immunity to allow prosecution. ZsM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT, ITALIAN PREMIER DISCUSS BILATERAL RELATIONS
During their 18 December meeting in Rome, Ion Iliescu and Silvio Berlusconi discussed bilateral relations, and Iliescu thanked the Italian premier for Italy's support for Romania's efforts to join the EU and NATO, Mediafax reported. Berlusconi said he sincerely hopes Romania will be accepted into the EU in 2004. He added, however, that Romania still has to overcome bureaucratic obstacles blocking the full functioning of the market economy. Meeting with Italian businessmen, Iliescu invited them to invest in Romania, and said they "will not be disappointed." On 17 December, Pope John II met with President Iliescu in the Vatican. Iliescu said the Christmas tree that Romania, an Orthodox country, presented to the Vatican as a gift, is proof of the unity between the Catholic and Orthodox churches. ZsM

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT-ELECT PLANS COUNCIL ON ETHNIC PROBLEMS...
At the opening of a roundtable discussion on "The Bulgarian Ethnic Model," President-elect Georgi Purvanov said: "Ethnic groups should be represented in the diplomatic corps, among the army officers, the police, and the security services," BTA reported. To this aim, Purvanov plans to set up a Council on Ethnic Affairs as soon as he assumes his post as head of state. Since a National Council on Ethnic and Population Affairs already exists, Purvanov said the two institutions' prerogatives will not overlap. "The key to understanding the Bulgarian model [of interethnic coexistence] lies in the integration of ethnic groups and the preservation of their identity," Purvanov said. "We should develop this model further, as it remains confined to the level of everyday life and declarative rhetoric, unsubstantiated by active state politics." Earlier attempts to set up an advisory council on ethnic problems with the presidential office failed. Human rights groups have often criticized the existing National Council on Ethnic and Population Affairs for not doing enough. UB

...AND CALLS FOR A NEW UNDERSTANDING OF THE BULGARIAN NATION
During the roundtable discussion, which was organized by the chiefly ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom (DPS), Purvanov called for a "new understanding of the nation as civic-political [as opposed to an ethnically defined nation]," the Sofia daily "Dnevnik" reported. He also promised to give a new impetus to the European Framework Convention on Ethnic Minorities, saying, "[The convention] has to be filled with real projects." Purvanov, who until recently headed the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2001), invited the DPS to participate in state institutions. Asked whether the BSP should be included in the governing coalition after it won the presidential elections, DPS leader Ahmed Dogan said it is currently not necessary. He added, however, that the administration will need broad public support, which in the end could make the BSP's participation in the government necessary. UB

COURT RETURNS BULGARIAN AIRLINE CONSOLIDATION PROGRAM
A Sofia court has returned the proposed consolidation program for the bankrupt national air carrier Balkan Air (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2001), "Dnevnik" reported on 18 December. Two lawyers submitted the consolidation program on 13 December. Judge Kamelya Efremova, who is in charge of the legal process, said the proposal did not meet the formal requirements of such a process. Judge Efremova advised the airline's lawyers to revise their proposal. UB

NEW APPOINTMENT MAY PRESAGE CHANGES IN RUSSIA'S NATIONALITIES POLICY


The recent appointment of Vladimir Zorin as minister without portfolio in charge of coordinating government institutions with responsibility for nationalities issues reflects Moscow's ongoing efforts to tighten control over migration and foreign trade between Russia, on the one hand, and the Caucasus and Central Asia on the other.

It is significant that the Kremlin decided to maintain a nationalities ministry, even in a new form. The position of a minister-coordinator for nationalities was created in mid-October 2001, after the Ministry for Federation Affairs, Nationalities, and Migration Policies was abolished and its minister, Aleksandr Blokhin, was dismissed for having botched the job of organizing the Russian Diaspora Congress. After that ministry was abolished, its functions were divided between three different institutions. The Interior Ministry was made responsible for migration policy; the Trade and Economic Development Ministry took control over relations between Russia's 89 regions and autonomous republics; and the Foreign Ministry was given supervision over issues pertaining to the Russian diaspora in the former Soviet republics, as well as over migration in the CIS countries. Coordinating the activities of the three above-mentioned ministries on minorities and religious issues may be of key importance today, as the Kremlin works to improve ties with the United States, seeks more intelligence information on Islamic religious groups, launches fresh attacks against Chechen fighters, and attempts to expand its economic and political influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia while promising to work closely with Orthodox and Muslim clergy authorities.

True, Ramazan Abdulatipov, a member of the Federation Council's Committee for the Federation, the Federation Treaty, and Regional Politics, and himself a former minister without portfolio with responsibility for nationalities affairs, said Zorin will unlikely be able to implement a state nationalities policy, precisely because of the lack of financial and organizational resources inherited from what Abdulatipov describes as an "old portfolio that was created under Stalin." In addition, in its 7 December issue "Kommersant-Daily" expressed concerns that Zorin may find himself with very limited powers, since nationalities issues are now being dealt with by three different ministries. The paper further suggested that Zorin's appointment means nothing more than an additional level of bureaucracy within the Russian government and, as rumor has it, a way for Sergei Kirienko, the presidential envoy to the Volga federal district, to offer comfortable positions to his deputies pending his replacement by the commander of Russia's ground forces, General Georgii Shpak.

However, more and more voices in Moscow are stressing that President Vladimir Putin's administration is currently in the process of creating a giant database of the most creative and active civil society representatives in all areas and all regions. In this context, coordination of information related to minorities and religious issues may be used as a tool for centralizing information on migration and foreign trade between Russia and CIS countries.

Zorin's career path gives grounds for moderate optimism. He is a Communist Party bureaucrat who has always been close to federal authorities, first to the CPSU Central Committee, then to the Russian government, but in recent years has consistently expressed democratic views. Zorin started his political career in the Communist Party of Uzbekistan (1987-1991) before being appointed first secretary of the Uzbek Embassy in Moscow (1992-1993). He then became vice president of the Interos tradeholding company (1993-1994). Later, Zorin worked as first deputy to Russia's envoy to Chechnya (1995-1996) and, during the first Chechen war, acquired a reputation as a moderate. Before taking an active part in the peace talks that ended with the signature of the 1996 Khasavyurt agreement, Zorin had persistently said that negotiations should counterbalance military action in the breakaway republic. However, whether his appointment signals a new phase in the Chechen conflict -- less than a month after Putin's envoy Viktor Kazantsev first met with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's representative Akhmed Zakayev in Moscow -- remains unclear. After his experience in Chechnya, Zorin chaired the State Duma Nationalities Committee (1996-2000). In May 2000, he joined the presidium of the pro-Putin Unity Party and, in June of that year, was appointed as a deputy to presidential envoy Kirienko, in charge of interethnic and religious issues.

Zorin's statements on nationalities issues can be interpreted in various ways. On the one hand, he says interconfessional relations are essential to guarantee cohesiveness within the multiethnic and multireligious Russian Federation. During his tenure as deputy presidential envoy to the Volga federal district, Zorin organized several roundtable discussions with Orthodox and Muslim regional religious leaders to examine how religious minorities can contribute to strengthening Russia's social and political stability. In an interview with polit.ru on 12 April 2001, Zorin said nationalities policy in today's Russia should rely on respect of cultural and religious identities, rather than on ethnic territorial entities -- a statement that contradicts the Concept of a State Nationalities Policy adopted in 1996. To illustrate his theory, Zorin referred to a research project he conducted in the Volga federal district to analyze how the local populations generally perceive themselves. His conclusions are that self-identity in the Volga region is based more on religion than on ethnicity, notably in rural areas, and that such a tendency will increase in the near future to the detriment of what he describes as "ethnic mobilization." It is quite symptomatic that Zorin prefers to highlight self-identity issues among the rural population, rather than within the Kazan intelligentsia who are now strongly resisting the census proposals from federal authorities. In his opinion, these conclusions demonstrate the necessity for the state to maintain good relationships with all confessions and to encourage religious education.

But on the other hand, Zorin says another reason for the state to pay more attention to religion is to counter the influence of foreign missionaries. At a conference on minorities that took place in Orenburg on 23 November, Zorin said Russia needs to create more "Orthodox and Muslim religious schools." For Zorin, encouraging a deeper knowledge of Islam among Russian Muslims is a way to avoid "infiltration" of Russia's Muslims by people educated abroad and "susceptible to developing nontraditional aspects of Islam in Russia," strana.ru reported without elaborating on Zorin's understanding of "traditional aspects of the Russian Islam." In that respect, strengthening Russia's social and political stability means maintaining a relatively close society while developing levers of control and centralization of information.

In a way, Zorin's statements reflect the dichotomy between official statements and Kremlin policy. In parallel to the official discourse that emphasizes dialogue and better understanding of interethnic relations, bureaucratic institutions tend to systematically increase control over information. Maintaining a nationalities ministry, even in its current shape, is no exception. Behind a genuine search for dialogue between minorities and for interconfessional relations, there is a willingness to tighten control over migration, the Russian diaspora, and foreign trade with the Caucasus and Central Asia.

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