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Newsline - December 28, 2001


JOURNALIST SENTENCED TO FOUR YEARS FOR ESPIONAGE...
Former military journalist Grigorii Pasko was found guilty of "high treason in the form of espionage" by the military court of the Pacific Fleet in Vladivostok on 25 December and sentenced to four years imprisonment, Russian and Western news agencies reported. The court also stripped Pasko of his military rank of captain (second class) and ruled that he should pay for the cost of the trial. Pasko's lawyer Anatolii Pushkin said, however, that the verdict was passed under open pressure from the Federal Security Service (FSB) and was based on false evidence fabricated by that agency, NTV reported. Pushkin said he will appeal the court decision. The trial was Pasko's second: in 1999 the same court found Pasko guilty of negligence for publishing materials on the contamination of the Sea of Japan by nuclear waste from Russia's Pacific Fleet, but the Russian Supreme Court granted him amnesty. However, prosecutors appealed the verdict and subsequently the Supreme Court reversed its decision and ordered another trial. VY

...RESEARCHER IS REMANDED IN CUSTODY PENDING NEW INVESTIGATION
The Kaluga Oblast Court has agreed to a request for a further investigation of the case of Igor Sutyagin, a researcher at the Institute of the USA and Canada who was arrested by the FSB in 2000 on suspicion of espionage on behalf of a "NATO member state," NTV reported on 27 December. Most importantly, the court ruled that Sutyagin must remain in custody during the new investigation. Earlier in the court proceedings, a state prosecutor demanded that Sutyagin be sentenced to 14 years in prison for divulging "state secrets." Sutyagin denied any wrongdoing, saying he shared with his Western colleagues only open-source materials and that he had never had security clearance to classified documents. VY

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT ABOLISHES PARDONS COMMISSION
Speaking to journalists in Moscow on 25 December, President Vladimir Putin announced that he has decided to disband the Presidential Pardons Commission headed by writer Anatolii Pristavkin and to delegate its functions to the governors and heads of regional administrations, polit.ru reported. Putin said he is disappointed that the commission adopted "too humane an approach toward hard-core criminals and murderers." Putin's decision is a victory for his former colleagues from the KGB, including the deputy chief of the presidential administration, Viktor Ivanov, who had advised Putin to "halt the nonprofessional activities of Pristavkin's commission," the website commented. Meanwhile, several Russian human rights bodies, including Moscow Helsinki Watch Group and Memorial, appealed to Putin to reverse his decision, arguing that the "purpose of any punishment lies in its inevitability, not cruelty." VY

PUTIN INAUGURATES TWO EXPORT TERMINALS
Speaking at the opening ceremony on 27 December for the new Russian oil terminal Primorsk on the Gulf of Finland, Putin said that the new port will allow Russia to control the distribution of Caspian and west Siberian oil, which also will be beneficial for the CIS states," Russian business wire services reported. Primorsk is the final link in the Baltic Pipeline System (BTS), and the $500 million Russia spent on that link will open a "window to the European energy market" circumventing the Baltic states, according to Putin. "The inauguration of the BTS does not mean Russia is severing economic ties with the Baltic states; Russia simply cares about its security and independence," Putin concluded. While in Primorsk, Putin also launched by remote control another newly built sea terminal, Ust-Luga, located in the southern part of Finland Gulf and designed for the export of Russian coal to world markets, "Izvestiya" reported on 27 December. LF

DUMA ADOPTS LEGISLATION ON MARTIAL LAW
On 27 December, the Duma adopted on final reading the constitutional legislation on the "Martial State" that was submitted by the presidential administration, RIA-Novosti reported on 27 December. The law empowers the president to declare martial law in case of aggression or the threat of aggression to part of or the entire territory of the Russian Federation. It also codifies the measures for limiting civil rights in the event of a military threat. Specifically, it allows the president to ban the activities of "political parties and organizations if they undermine the defense and security of the country." VY

PRIME MINISTER UPBEAT ABOUT RUSSIA'S ECONOMIC SITUATION
Addressing a cabinet session on the economic results of 2001 on 27 December, Mikhail Kasyanov said that GDP growth exceeded 5 percent, which he described as a very good figure in conditions of a world economic recession, Interfax reported. One of the most important factors contributing to this growth is the robust consumer demand that grew by 6 percent. Kasyanov also said that while the government sees good middle-term prospects for economic development, it is likely that growth in that sector will be slower than in 2001. VY

PUTIN CRITICIZES INTERIOR MINISTRY
Speaking to senior Interior Ministry officers on 25 December, President Putin expressed his displeasure with the agency's work, saying that it has failed to stem the criminal wave and that the number of crimes committed during the first 11 months of the year exceeded 2.7 million, of which more than half were serious crimes, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, a government probe revealed that the Interior Ministry failed to include some 68,000 crimes in its criminal statistics. In the future, any officer who fails to register a crime will be immediately sacked, Putin warned. He also called on the ministry to pay more attention to its duty to protect the security of citizens and society. The ministry's other vital tasks are to fight terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking, and illegal immigration, Putin added. VY

GAZPROM PLANS EXPANSION IN EUROPE AND ASIA
Gazprom's export revenues this year reached $14.5 billion, the highest figure in the company's history, RBK reported on 27 December, quoting the company's press service. Gazprom's profits also should reach a record high of $3 billion. Moreover, Gazprom already has a portfolio of contracts for the next 10-15 years worth $250 billion and covers over 25 percent of the European gas market. Moreover, Gazprom has no less ambitious projects for Asia, and will inaugurate its office in Beijing this week, RBK added. VY

OLIGARCH BECOMES SENATOR...
The Tuva Republic selected Mezhprombank head Sergei Pugachev as its representative to the Federation Council, Russian agencies reported on 25 December. Pugachev, who hails from St. Petersburg, has been touted by many sources as one of a new wave of oligarchs that are close to the presidential administration (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 3 December 2001). According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 26 December, Pugachev is also close to Tuva President Sherig-ool Oorzhak, whose interests he is tasked with representing in the upper legislative house. The daily said observers in Kyzyl believe that Pugachev has promised to fund Oorzhak's re-election campaign in the spring of next year. JAC

...AND IS JOINED BY FELLOW ST. PETERSBURGERS...
Other new senators selected included Chanmyr Udumbara, the head of the republic's FSB directorate, who will represent the Tuvan legislature. Aleksandr Kazakov, a former deputy head of the presidential administration and more recently a top Gazprom official, will represent Rostov Oblast's legislature. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 25 December, Kazakov is a longtime comrade in arms of Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais. Aleksandr Zelepukhin, the first deputy governor of Orenburg Oblast, and Viktor Nefedov, the deputy speaker of the oblast's legislature, will represent Orenburg. St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev tapped Deputy Governor Mikhail Mikhailovskii to represent his interests, and Tula Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev selected as his representative Anatolii Vaskov, who was most recently the deputy head of the Federation Council's administrative apparatus. Vaskov is a former aide to St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak. On 26 December, Valerii Goreglyad (Sakhalin) was elected deputy chairman of the Federation Council. Goreglyad is also the head of the pro-Kremlin Federation group. JAC

...AS SENATORS RUBBER-STAMP BUDGET, LABOR CODE
Senators approved on 26 December almost without discussion the new Labor Code with 104 votes in favor, four against, and four abstentions, RIA-Novosti reported. Also passed by a wide margin was the 2002 Budget with 132 votes in favor, two against, and four abstentions. The Administrative Code was also passed with little opposition. An unidentified federal-level politician told polit.ru on 26 December that the quick passage of the 2002 budget by the upper house despite the advantages that the document bestows on the center at the expense of the regions illustrates that Russia no longer has a legislature that represents the interests of the regions. JAC

TV-6 WINS RESPITE, THEN LOSES IT...
A Moscow arbitration court decided on 27 December to reschedule consideration of an appeal against the liquidation of TV-6 from 16 January to 29 December. According to polit.ru, no reason for the change was given, but "one thing is obvious -- such haste does not bode well for the television company." On 24 December, a federal arbitration court in the Moscow district had set the date of 16 January for a hearing of the appeal, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 25 December. And "Izvestiya" reported on 26 December, citing one of the station's lawyers, that the January court date worked in the station's favor, since certain laws governing the liquidation process for joint stock companies would go into effect from 1 January 2002. JAC

...AS BANKRUPTCY PROCEEDINGS AGAINST NTV HALTED...
A Moscow arbitration court has closed the bankruptcy case against NTV, Interfax reported on 25 December, citing an NTV press release. According to the press release, the court did not find any evidence of the company's insolvency because it has fully paid its debts. JAC

...AND BEREZOVSKY NEWSPAPER LOSES SUIT TO FSB
The Russian Supreme Court ruled on 25 December that "Novye izvestiya" and its reporter, Valerii Yakov, must publish a retraction of previously published materials about FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev. The newspaper and Yakov also must pay Patrushev 4,000 rubles ($133) and 1,000 rubles respectively in moral damages. Yakov's article reportedly contained false information about Patrushev's handling of antiterrorist operations in the North Caucasus. JAC

DUMA DEPUTIES PASS LABOR CODE...
State Duma deputies adopted on 21 December on third and final reading a new Labor Code. The vote was 289 in favor, 131 against, and no abstentions. The bill had passed in its second reading just two days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2001). According to polit.ru, the government and Duma managed to forge a compromise on the required level of the minimum wage, which will reach the level that the deputies were insisting on in two years rather than immediately. On 27 December, deputies also approved on final reading a law on the all-Russia census. The vote was 338 in favor with one against, according to ITAR-TASS. The law stipulates what kinds of information will be gathered as well as how often. The next census will be conducted starting in October of next year. JAC

...AND GO ON VACATION
Legislators' winter vacation began following the 27 December plenary session. The next session will be held on 16 January. Presidential envoy to the Duma Aleksandr Kotenkov told ITAR-TASS that the fall 2001 legislative session was a particularly productive one. "The Duma managed to do more over the course of the past year than the two previous Dumas did in the six years of its existence," he commented. Four federal constitutional laws were passed along with four codes -- the Land Code, Labor Code, Criminal Procedure Code, and Administrative Code. JAC

DIAMOND CHIEF LEADS AS LOCAL ELECTION RACE HEADS FOR SECOND ROUND
In 23 December presidential elections in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia), Alrosa head Vyacheslav Shtyrov polled 45.39 percent of the vote compared with 17.73 percent of the vote for his closest competitor, Fedot Tumusov, president of the financial-industrial group SAPI. Shtyrov needed more than 50 percent of the vote in order to avoid a second round. That ballot will be held on 13 January. "Izvestiya" reported on 25 December that three of the four leading candidates to replace Shtyrov at the helm of the diamond production company are from St. Petersburg and include Vladimir Litvinenko, the rector of the St. Petersburg Mining Institute. JAC

YAVLINSKY RETAINS HELM OF YABLOKO
At its 10th congress held on 22-23 December, more than 600 Yabloko delegates from across Russia gathered to transform the group into a party in accordance with the recently enacted law on political parties, Russian agencies reported. On 23 December, Grigorii Yavlinsky was re-elected as leader with 472 votes in his favor and 33 against, according to RFE/RL's Moscow bureau. Yabloko now has 12,700 registered members. Also on 22 December, embattled magnate Boris Berezovsky was elected as a co-chairman of the new Liberal Russia movement, the bureau reported. Leaders of the new movement emphasized that despite their criticisms of other "democratic" groups, such as Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces, their programs have much in common and they do not rule out the formation of a joint election bloc. JAC

BASHKORTOSTAN'S VIOLATIONS OF FEDERAL LAWS TALLIED...
Some 72 percent of Bashkortostan's legislation, including 184 laws and 179 decrees issued by the Cabinet of Ministers, violates federal law, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported on 27 December, citing the independent "Otechestvo" newspaper of 26 December. JAC

...AS PRESSURE TO HARMONIZE CONTINUES
However, on 24 December, the chairman of Bashkortostan's union of advocates, Rafik Giybadetov, told RFE/RL in Ufa that 104 amendments have been added to the republic's constitution since Putin was elected Russian president. Giybadetov also said he is concerned that "there are still voices calling for more amendments and claiming that the republics of Bashkortostan and Tatarstan threaten Russia's integrity." He added that the term "unified legal space" in Russia -- touting the supremacy of federal laws over republican legislation -- is being used to reduce the powers of both republics. JAC

LOCAL HEAD ROLLS FOLLOWING PUTIN TELEPHONE CHAT
The mayor of Ust-Kut, Yevgenii Korneiko, resigned on 27 December, following complaints from a local youngster to President Putin, ntvru.com reported, citing the regional news agency "Sibirskie novosti." According to the site, the city started receiving attention and assistance from federal officials following President Putin's nationwide telephone chat on 24 December. A fifth-grader from the town telephoned Putin and complained that the cancellation of classes at his school because of a lack of heat might mean that he and his classmates will have to repeat a year of school. Putin promised that the Irkutsk governor would do something to address the situation and the following day, Irkutsk Oblast Deputy Governor Sergei Brilka announced that school No. 4 in Ust-Kut will have its heat restored by 7 January, when classes resume. JAC

CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER SENTENCED TO LIFE IMPRISONMENT
Daghestan's Supreme Court on 25 December sentenced Chechen field commander Salman Raduev to life imprisonment for his role in the January 1996 Kizlyar hostage taking, Russian agencies reported. Three of his accomplices received prison terms ranging from five to 15 years. Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov and the presidential envoy to the Southern federal district, Viktor Kazantsev, both said they consider those punishments just, according to Interfax. Raduev told the court before the verdict was pronounced that he has "no regrets," AP reported. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT VISITS JAPAN...
Armenian President Robert Kocharian, accompanied by a delegation that included Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and Trade and Industry Minister Karen Chshmaritian, visited Japan on 19-22 December. Kocharian met with Emperor Akihito and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on 20 December. Kocharian and Koizumi discussed bilateral relations, economic cooperation within the parameters of the Silk Road project, and cooperation in the struggle against international terrorism. The Japanese Foreign Ministry announced the same day that it will provide up to 544 million yen ($4.13 million) in grants to help Armenia improve its medical system and preserve historic manuscripts, according to Kyodo News Service, as cited by Groong. Meeting with his Japanese counterpart Makiko Tanaka, Oskanian expressed Yerevan's support for Japan's campaign for permanent membership of the UN Security Council. Chshmaritian signed on 20 December together with Takao Kawakami, the chairman of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, a two-year program under which Japanese experts will help to develop Armenia's mining industry. LF

...AND IRAN
On 25 December, Kocharian left on a three-day official visit to Iran accompanied by a government delegation, parliamentary officials, and the governor of a southern district bordering on Iran. Kocharian held talks in Tehran with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Khatami, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, and Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khatami characterized bilateral relations as "already very good," but in need of being strengthened. Kocharian told Armenian State Television on 27 December on his return to Yerevan that progress was made toward signing a major agreement on construction of a $124 million pipeline to supply Armenia with natural gas, but that unspecified technical details still need to be resolved, and work on the project is unlikely to begin before the end of 2002. The two sides did, however, sign up to one dozen other bilateral agreements. LF

DASHNAKTSUTIUN CRITICIZES ARMENIAN CAFE MURDER INVESTIGATION
Gegham Manukian, a spokesman for the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) described the investigation into the death on 25 September in a Yerevan cafe of HHD member Poghos Poghosian as "flawed," but said his party does not intend to "politicize" the affair, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 25 December. He noted that only one member of President Kocharian's bodyguard has been formally charged with the killing. Observers have cast doubts on the investigator's claims that Poghosian died of head injuries incurred as a result of a fall. Several members of the presidential guard beat Poghosian for allegedly insulting Kocharian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November and 14 December 2001). Manukian said the trial of bodyguard Aghamal Harutiunian will show "whether all Armenians are equal before the law or whether some persons are privileged." LF

FOUR ARMENIAN LEFT-WING PARTIES ALIGN
The Armenian Communist Party (HHK), the "Socialist Armenia" party headed by former presidential security adviser Ashot Manucharian, and two other small left-wing parties announced on 26 December that they will align in a new bloc named Socialist Armenia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. HHK leader Vladimir Darpinian said the four parties share the common aim of restoring state control over the economy and lobbying for Armenia's accession to the Russia-Belarus Union. He said the four parties have not yet decided whether to field a single candidate in the 2003 presidential elections. LF

FORMER KARABAKH OFFICIAL RELEASED
Former Stepanakert Mayor Karen Babayan was released on 19 December after the Supreme Court of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic revised the verdict handed down to him one month earlier, Noyan Tapan reported on 21 December. Babayan was sentenced in November to four years imprisonment on charges of abuse of power and illegal possession of weapons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2001). The Supreme Court changed the four-year prison term to a four-year suspended sentence. LF

MEETING BETWEEN SENIOR ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI CLERICS POSTPONED
The meeting between Armenian Catholicos Garegin II and Azerbaijan's senior Muslim cleric Sheikh ul-Islam Allakhshukur Pashazade, which was tentatively scheduled to take place in Moscow in late December 2001 or early January 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 2001), has been postponed, Noyan Tapan reported on 24 December, quoting a spokesman for the catholicos. The meeting may take place in late January or February 2002. LF

AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT RAISES AGE LIMIT FOR MILITARY SERVICE...
Parliament approved on 25 December by a vote of 77 for and 18 against, with two abstentions, a proposal by President Heidar Aliev to raise from 27 to 35 the age until which men are eligible for military service, Turan reported. It also restricted the category of persons eligible for deferment of their military service. Parliament deputy speaker Ziyafet Askerov, who heads the parliament's Defense and Security Commission, stressed that military service is the "sacred duty" of every male citizen. But the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" on 26 December quoted former Defense Minister Tadjeddin Mehtiev as saying that there is no pressing military need to raise the age limit for military service. He described the parliament's decision as heralding "the politicization of the army." LF

...DRAFTS AMENDMENTS LIBERALIZING MEDIA LAW
On 26 December, parliament deputies discussed and approved amendments to the law on the mass media that remove restrictions on sources of funding and advertising revenue, and limit the powers of the authorities to close down newspapers or strip journalists of their accreditation, Turan reported. The amendments also abolish the previous requirement that a media outlet must register with the Justice Ministry before beginning publication. Most print publications on 27 December hailed the amendments, which some of them attributed to pressure from the Council of Europe. Council of Europe Secretary-General Walther Schwimmer issued a statement on 21 December describing as "a positive sign" President Aliev's 18 December admission that the suppression by police of a demonstration by journalists in Baku on 12 December was "a mistake," Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12, 13, and 19 December 2001). LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION STAGES NEW DEMONSTRATION...
Between 5,000-7,000 representatives of opposition parties aligned in the National Resistance Movement took part in a sanctioned demonstration in Baku on 21 December, Turan and Reuters reported. Participants criticized what they termed the international community's use of double standards with regard to the Karabakh conflict, and the Azerbaijani leadership's failure to secure an acceptable solution to the conflict. They demanded that President Aliev should resign, as he has failed to fulfill his constitutional obligation to restore Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. LF

...DISCUSSES CLOSER COOPERATION
Responding to an initiative launched in mid-October by opposition Musavat Party leader Isa Gambar (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 40, 6 December 2001), representatives of some 20 opposition parties met at the Baku Press Club on 26 December to discuss possible approaches to resolving the problems facing the country and how to ensure that the next elections are free and fair, Turan reported. They considered the prospects for closer cooperation and discussed, but failed to adopt, a draft appeal to the Azerbaijani people, a cooperation agreement, and a statement on the political situation in the country. The independent newspapers "Ekho," "Zerkalo," and "Azadlyg" noted, however, on 27 December that neither the influential Azerbaijan National Independence Party nor the reformist wing of the Azerbaijani Popular Front Party sent representatives to the meeting. Those two parties concluded their own cooperation agreement last month. LF

LUKOIL TO PARTICIPATE IN FINANCING OF BAKU-CEYHAN PIPELINE?
Visiting Baku on 24 December, LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov discussed with the leadership of Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR the possibility of LUKoil participation in the project to build the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil, Turan and Interfax reported. Alekperov told journalists after those discussions that LUKoil will decide within the next three months whether to join the sponsor group that will finance the pipeline, adding that he is thinking in terms of a 7.5 percent stake. At present SOCAR has a 50 percent stake in the project, British Petroleum 25.41 percent, Unocal 7.65 percent, Norway's Statoil 6.37 percent, Turkey's TPAO 5.02 percent, Japan's Itochu Oil 2.92 percent, Devon Energy 0.6 percent, and the U.S.-Saudi joint venture Delta Hess 2.03 percent. LF

GEORGIA, TURKEY SEEK TO ALLAY ARMENIAN FEARS OVER MILITARY COOPERATION
Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili and Foreign Ministry spokesman Kakha Sikharulidze both denied on 27 December media reports that Georgia and Turkey have signed an agreement giving Turkish military aircraft landing rights at a military airfield in southeast Georgia, Russian agencies reported. Earlier the same day, Armenian First Deputy Defense Minister Mikhail Harutiunian had expressed concern about those reports, noting that the deployment of Turkish aircraft in Georgia would pose a security threat to Armenia. In Baku, Turkish Ambassador Unal Cevikgoz similarly said that "Armenia should not be anxious" about Georgian-Turkish bilateral cooperation, Turan reported. LF

GEORGIA, RUSSIA END FIRST ROUND OF TALKS ON NEW FRAMEWORK TREATY
Russian and Georgian delegations headed respectively by Russian State Duma Commission for CIS Affairs Chairman Boris Pastukhov and Georgian Foreign Minister Menagharishvili held talks in Tbilisi on 20-21 December on a new draft bilateral treaty on friendship and cooperation, Caucasus Press reported. That accord, which Menagharishvili has said may be signed early next year, supercedes a treaty signed in 1994 but never ratified by the Georgian parliament. Pastukhov affirmed Moscow's readiness to participate in a joint investigation of the bombing of Georgian territory by Russian warplanes in late November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 December 2001), and hinted that he would support the abolition of the visa requirement for Georgian citizens wishing to travel to Russia. But he also warned that the withdrawal, which the Georgian parliament has demanded, of the Russian peacekeeping force currently stationed in the Abkhaz conflict zone could lead to new hostilities. LF

GEORGIA REJECTS RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER'S CRITICISM
The Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 24 December expressing surprise at criticisms expressed in Brussels and London by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov of Georgia's alleged passivity in the face of international terrorism, by which he clearly meant Tbilisi's failure to expel the Chechen militants ensconced in the Kodori gorge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2001), Caucasus Press reported. The Georgian statement claimed that the Russian government is fully informed of the measures Tbilisi has taken in this regard, adding that Ivanov's remarks on the eve of the bilateral talks on the new framework treaty were ill-timed and do not contribute to an improvement in bilateral relations. Speaking in Tbilisi two days earlier, Georgian Foreign Minister Menagharishvili dismissed Ivanov's criticisms as "groundless," Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW MINISTER OF STATE
Former Minister of Heath, Labor, and Social Welfare Avtandil Djorbenadze was approved as minister of state on 21 December by a unanimous vote by 183 deputies, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze proposed him for that post four days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2001). Addressing parliament on 26 December, Djorbenadze listed as his priorities cracking down on smuggling, and the shadow economy. He pledged to unveil a new tax code early in 2002, and to start raising the minimum wage to the level of the subsistence minimum. He said in the second half of 2002 he will present a 2-3 year program aimed at increasing living standards and overcoming poverty. On 27 December, parliament completed the process of approving the new government, Caucasus Press reported. Nino Chkhobadze was approved as minister for the environment, the post she held in the outgoing government, and Amiran Gamkrelidze to succeed Djorbenadze as minister of health, labor, and social welfare. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT, PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SAY APPOINTMENT OF PARLIAMENT SPEAKER'S HUSBAND IS LEGAL
President Shevardnadze told journalists on 24 December that the appointment of Badri Bitsadze, the husband of parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze, as deputy prosecutor-general does not constitute a violation of the law, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2001). Prosecutor-General Nugzar Gabrichidze told a session of the parliament's bureau the same day that he is empowered by the Georgian Constitution to select his own deputies, and that his choice of Bitsadze was motivated solely by the latter's professional qualities. LF

RIVAL TAKES CONTROL OF GEORGIAN PRESIDENT'S POWER BASE
At its fourth congress on 22 December, the Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK), created in late 1993 as Shevardnadze's power base, voted to abolish the post of party chairman that Shevardnadze had held until voluntarily resigning it in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 2001), Caucasus Press reported. Delegates then voted to establish a 13-member committee to head the party. Former parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania, one of the leaders of the anti-Shevardnadze opposition, was chosen to head that committee. LF

EXPLOSION AT GEORGIAN POWER PLANT PRECIPITATES NEW ENERGY CRISIS
An explosion late on 22 December seriously damaged the 10th generating unit of the Tbilisi thermal power plant that supplies electricity to almost half the city, Caucasus Press and Western agencies reported. Energy Minister David Mirtskhulava said on 24 December that repairs could take up to one year. Armenia and Russia have agreed to supply Georgia will additional power to make up for the shortfall. LF

ARMENIAN DETAINED IN GEORGIA SMUGGLING URANIUM
Georgian police arrested an Armenian citizen in southern Georgia on 19 December in possession of 300 grams of uranium that he hoped to smuggle to Turkey and sell there, Caucasus Pres and Reuters reported on 22 December, quoting an unnamed Georgian security official. That official said he and his colleagues have "serious suspicions" that the uranium was stolen from Armenia's Medzamor nuclear power plant. LF

KAZAKH, U.S. PRESIDENTS PLEDGE BROADER COOPERATION
Nursultan Nazarbaev ended his working visit to the U.S. with talks in Washington on 21 December with his U.S. counterpart George W. Bush that focused primarily on Kazakhstan's engagement in the international antiterrorism coalition and energy issues. The two presidents issued a statement declaring their commitment to a "long-term strategic partnership," Reuters reported. The same day, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrisov signed an agreement in which Washington reaffirmed its support for construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which Kazakhstan may also make use of. Nazarbaev also met on 20 December with members of Congress to discuss bilateral relations, the antiterrorism coalition, and aspects of the domestic political situation in Kazakhstan, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

KAZAKHSTAN OFFERS TO SEND PEACEKEEPING FORCE TO AFGHANISTAN
Idrisov told a Reuters correspondent in Washington on 21 December, and a press conference on 24 December upon his return to Astana, that Kazakhstan is prepared to consider sending peacekeepers to serve in Afghanistan as part of an international force. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER ON TRIAL AGAIN
The trial on charges of embezzlement of former Vice President Feliks Kulov and former Bishkek municipal official Aleksandr Gasanov opened in Bishkek on 25 December, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Kulov, the chairman of the opposition Ar-Namys Party, was sentenced in January to seven years imprisonment on charges of abusing his official position while serving in 1997-1998 as national security minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001). LF

RUSSIAN FINALLY BECOMES AN OFFICIAL LANGUAGE IN KYRGYZSTAN
Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev on 24 December signed into law the amendments to the country's constitution approved by both chambers of parliament earlier this year that designate Russian as an official language, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. In an official message of thanks, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed the hope that the move will benefit Kyrgyzstan's dwindling Russian minority, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

KYRGYZSTAN'S CURRENCY RATING REVISED DOWNWARD
Fitch has lowered its long-term currency rating for Kyrgyzstan from B+ to CCC, and its short-term rating from B to C, Interfax reported on 21 December. The country's external debt amounts to $1.5 billion. LF

KYRGYZSTAN MAY OPEN DIPLOMATIC REPRESENTATION IN KABUL
In a 22 December interview with Interfax, Askar Aitmatov, who heads the foreign policy department of the Kyrgyz presidential office, pledged support for the newly created Afghan interim government, which he described as the first step toward peace and stability in that country. Noting that Bishkek never severed relations with Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, Aitmatov said the Kyrgyz government is currently considering opening a diplomatic mission in Kabul. LF

TAJIK, UZBEK PRESIDENTS PLEDGE TO STRENGTHEN COOPERATION
President Imomali Rakhmonov met in Tashkent on 27 December with his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and the prospects for improving bilateral relations. They also signed a joint statement pledging mutual respect for the territorial integrity of the neighboring state and noninterference in each other's internal affairs. Uzbekistan has written off some $12 million of the total $120 million it is owed by Dushanbe. Rakhmonov formally denied that his country hosts fighters from the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) who are widely believed to have launched attacks on Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan in 2000 from Tajik territory before moving this year to Afghanistan. Karimov for his part said he doubts whether those fighters are still in Afghanistan, Interfax reported. But Interfax also quoted an unidentified military source in Dushanbe as saying that the IMU still has four camps in Afghanistan, and that the new Afghan leadership has not yet taken measures to eliminate or expel IMU militants. LF

UZBEK DELEGATION ATTENDS KARZAI'S INAUGURATION
An Uzbek government delegation headed by Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov attended the ceremony in Kabul on 22 December at which Afghan President Rabbani formally relinquished power to Hamid Karzai, Interfax reported. Komilov also held talks with Karzai and with his Afghan counterpart Dr. Abdullah. LF

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT PUSHES FOR CLOSER RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION...
Speaking to reporters after closed-door talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on 26 December, Alyaksandr Lukashenka said, "The time has come to dot all the I's and decide whether we consistently implement the earlier agreements...or make serious changes and clearly say it," AP reported. Putin, who rejected Lukashenka's proposal to discuss the approval of the so-called Constitutional Act that would put the creation of a single state to a nationwide referendum in both countries, said, "Success of the Russian-Belarusian integration is in its stability and consistency... It is important not to lose the tempo and not to try to jump over objective steps." Lukashenka acknowledged that Putin was correct to point to the remaining obstacles to the states' integration, but said: "For Belarus, the strategic course for the union with Russia remains unchanged. It would be political death for me if it were otherwise." The leaders met prior to a meeting on 27 December of the Russian-Belarus Union's Supreme State Council and Council of Ministers, after which Lukashenka returned to Minsk. DW

...WHILE PREDICTIONS OF COMMON CURRENCY VARY
Following the meeting of the Russia-Belarus Union Council of Ministers, Union State Secretary Pavel Borodin said the two states may introduce a common currency as early as 2003, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 December. Previously signed agreements envisioned this step no earlier than 2005 and linked the measure to Belarus ending price controls, but Borodin said he is certain all necessary agreements will be made prior to 2003. Russian Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, said following the 26 December meeting between Putin and Lukashenka that the leaders discussed, among other topics, drawing up a plan for making the Russian ruble the common currency of the union starting in 2005. DW

DEPARTING BELARUS OSCE HEAD NOTES IMPROVEMENT, LISTS REMAINING PROBLEMS
Hans Georg Wieck, whose four years as head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Belarus comes to an end on 31 December, told AP on 21 December that he sees some changes for the better in the human rights situation in Belarus. "Society recognizes the necessity of forming a democratic alternative," he said. "Independent [electoral] observers at the lower level have formed a network, and a consultative council of opposition parties has been created that can act as a single political front." But Wieck then went on to list the many improvements remaining to be made: "Meaningful functions of parliament, avoiding the monopoly of state TV, radio, and other media. Respect of individual human rights, nondiscrimination toward political opponents. And, of course, a market economy." DW

BELARUSIAN YOUTH GROUP ACCUSES KGB OF DRIVING MEMBER TO SUICIDE
Seventeen members of the opposition youth group Zubr (Bison) picketed the headquarters of the Belarusian KGB in Minsk on 27 December, accusing the agency of being behind a Zubr member's suicide, Belapan reported. Andrei Zaitsev, 24, hung himself on 20 December, leaving a note to the effect that the KGB had tried to recruit him as an informer. Zaitsev was recently sentenced to three months in jail on a charge of raping a female minor, and the KGB allegedly offered him freedom in exchange for his cooperation. "Using threats and blackmail, [the KGB] tried to make the young man betray his friends," a Zubr press release said. According to Zubr, the charge against Zaitsev was in conflict with medical evidence. The activists demanded an official investigation, while the KGB denied sending an agent to recruit Zaitsev. DW

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT NAMES NEW FINANCE MINISTER
Leonid Kuchma moved quickly to replace beleaguered Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov, appointing Ihor Yushko to the post on 27 December, ITAR-TASS and AP reported. A former centrist lawmaker and senior member of parliament's Finance and Banking Committee, Yushko was promoted just three weeks after being named the Finance Ministry's state secretary on 7 December. Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh called the 40-year-old Yushko a "professional who knows the banking system of Ukraine in depth," ITAR-TASS reported from Kyiv. Mityukov, finance minister since February 1997, was sacked following criticism led by the president that he had failed to implement the 2001 budget. AH

EARLY CENSUS FIGURES SHOW 6 PERCENT DECLINE IN UKRAINIAN POPULATION
Preliminary results from Ukraine's census were released on 27 December, signaling a decline of 3 million people since the 1989 study to 48.86 million inhabitants, AP reported. The census put the population of Kyiv at 2.58 million, according to the government daily "Uriadoviy Kurier." Detailed statistics are expected in April, the paper added. AH

KYIV INITIALS GAS TRANSIT TERMS WITH MOSCOW
A Ukrainian delegation led by Fuel and Energy Minister Vitaliy Haiduk initialed an agreement with Russia on 26 December on terms for Russian natural gas deliveries through Ukraine in 2002, Infobank News Service reported. The preliminary agreement sets a 31.7 percent tariff hike for the second half of 2002, while Russia will increase the price of gas supplies to Ukraine by 34 percent, the agency quoted Prime Minister Kinakh as saying on 27 December. Kinakh added that the intergovernmental agreement envisages the introduction next year of an export duty on gas amounting to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters, which is less than the $140 duty initially sought by Russia, according to Infobank. Russia will pay for 10 percent of its transit gas in cash, the agency said. Supplies aimed at filling product-distribution agreements and destined for Germany, Slovakia, and other countries under the Yamburg Agreement are exempt from export duties, Infobank reported. AH

UKRAINE, RUSSIA AGREE ON JOINT MILITARY SALES STRATEGY
Representatives of state-owned defense trader Ukrspetseksport signed a deal on 21 December with their Russian counterparts from Rosoboroneksport on cooperation to boost arms sales from both countries, Infobank reported on 24 December. The companies will focus particularly on marketing in the sale of similar equipment, arms sales to third countries, and joint production. Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Yevgeniy Marchuk called the cooperation agreement important for his country, according to ITAR-TASS, adding that Ukrspetseksport will be reorganized under a plan to form a single defense trading company controlled by the state once a law on military and technical cooperation is adopted. AH

ESTONIAN PRESIDENT STARTS NEGOTIATIONS ON NEW CABINET
Arnold Ruutel held talks with Reform and Center Party Chairmen Siim Kallas and Edgar Savisaar on 27 December on the formation of a new government, ETA reported. Kallas declared for the first time that he sees no more chances of restoring the coalition with the Pro Patria Union and Moderates as they definitely refused to continue it. He admitted that not all members of his party favor forming a coalition with the Center Party, but hinted that this would be a better option than early elections. Savisaar said an alliance with the Reform Party is possible in principle, but that only a majority government would be practical. The Estonian dailies "Postimees" and "Eesti Paevaleht" predicted on 28 December that Kallas is the most likely new prime minister, and speculated that the United People's Party could be a third member of the coalition. SG

LATVIA CLOSES TRANSPORTATION CHAPTER IN EU NEGOTIATIONS
In a previously unplanned meeting in Brussels on 21 December, Latvian chief negotiator with the EU Andris Kesteris concluded the chapter on transport, BNS reported. An agreement was reached on the immediate opening of the EU trucking market for international road transport to and from Latvia as soon as it joins the EU. A two-year transition period for opening EU-member domestic trucking markets was negotiated. Latvia was granted two transition periods that will allow its carriers to better adapt to competition in the EU transport market. Latvia will have until the end of 2006 to reach the EU-required minimal financial standing level for involvement in domestic road transport operations, and until 1 January 2005 to require tachometers on transport vehicles involved in domestic road transport. Latvia has closed 23 of the 31 EU membership chapters. SG

LITHUANIA'S LARGEST OPPOSITION FACTION SPLITS
Former Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas and 10 other deputies announced on 21 December that they are leaving the Liberal Union faction, ELTA reported. He attacked his colleagues for failing to function as an effective opposition, and for plunging into "mutual squabbling and suspicions with respect to those who disapprove of party dictatorship and try to keep aloof." Paksas noted that he is unhappy with the faction's failure to present his nomination for the post of parliament deputy chairman. Liberal Union Chairman Eugenijus Gentvilas in a later press conference said that the departure of Paksas and his supporters is "a part of a scenario planned in advance." He suggested that Paksas has lately been working for his personal benefit rather than that of the party, and feared that he would not be chosen as the party's candidate for president. SG

POLISH JUSTICE MINISTRY REQUESTS LIFTING OF FORMER DEPUTY SPEAKER'S IMMUNITY
Justice Minister Barbara Piwnik asked parliament on 27 December to lift the immunity of former Deputy Speaker Andrzej Lepper to allow his prosecution for slandering the country's foreign minister and five other senior officials, Western and local agencies reported. The Sejm is widely expected to comply when it reconvenes on 9 January, AP added. A Justice Ministry spokesman said the move is "fully justified" in light of an investigation that suggests "a criminal offense has been committed," AP reported. Lepper, whose radical Self-Defense Party is the third-largest in the Polish parliament, faces at least three pending cases stemming from verbal attacks on public officials or organizing roadblocks by militant farmers. The slander charges carry a sentence of up to two years in prison. He has already been removed from his leadership post in the legislature in connection with late-November verbal attacks on top officials, which included charges of accepting bribes (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 27 November and 4 December 2001). AH

COLD SPELL HITS POLAND'S HOMELESS, BUT KEEPS TRAFFIC DEATHS DOWN
Polish police said on 27 December that 178 people have frozen to death since October, an increase of some 15 percent over the number of deaths through the winter of 1999-2000, PAP reported. Authorities said they believe one in four of the victims were homeless people, compared with one in five last year. They also said the heavy snow that blanketed Poland during the Christmas holiday drastically reduced the number of road fatalities, dpa reported on 23 December. A police spokesman called the inclement weather "a blessing in disguise," keeping travelers home or prompting them to travel by train instead of by car. Traffic between major cities moved at a snail's pace, they said, adding that an average of 17-20 people die in road accidents every day in the country. AH

POLISH UPSTART AIRLINE HOPES TO CHALLENGE NATIONAL CARRIER
A Katowice-based, no-frills regional carrier, Air Silesia, hopes to compete with state airline LOT after its launch in mid-2002, local media and dpa reported on 26 and 27 December. The company's fleet currently consists of a single aircraft, but dpa reported, citing daily "Zycie," that Air Silesia plans to lease additional planes and book a profit within two years. A representative of the parent company, Upper Silesian Flight Company (GTL), said the airline hopes to "fill an existing niche in flights to popular European cities and large cities in Poland," PAP reported, adding that destinations will include Paris, Brussels, Milan, and Turin. Cargo flights are slated to begin in the second quarter of 2002, with passenger routes to be added beginning in May. AH

CZECH PRESIDENT DISCHARGED FROM HOSPITAL
Vaclav Havel was discharged from Prague's military hospital on 25 December, CTK and international agencies reported. Havel was hospitalized on 17 December and diagnosed with pneumonia. He is recuperating at Lany Castle, the official presidential chateau near Prague. MS

CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRAT LEADER SAYS COALITION WITH ODS 'NOT IMPOSSIBLE'
Social Democratic Party (CSSD) Chairman Vladimir Spidla told the daily "Pravo" on 22 December that it "cannot be ruled out" that after the 2002 parliamentary elections the CSSD could enter into a coalition with the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS). Spidla added, however, that he would personally not agree to serve in a cabinet headed by ODS Chairman Vaclav Klaus, CTK reported. Spidla also said he can "well envisage" a situation in which Klaus would be premier and current Premier Milos Zeman would be president, calling such a scenario "politically productive." On 21 December, Spidla said an internal referendum carried out by the CSSD among members and sympathizers showed that a large majority support direct presidential elections, and added that consequently the CSSD will initiate amending the constitution to that end. MS

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTRY HAILS PROGRESS IN EU ACCESSION TALKS...
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil told CTK on 25 December that the greatest success of Czech foreign policy in 2001 was the progress made in accession talks with the EU. Pospisil said the Czech Republic now leads the field among candidate countries, having closed 24 out of the 31 chapters of the acquis communautaire. However, on 21 December the chief Czech negotiator with the EU, Pavel Telick, rejected the EU offer to close the transport chapter in the negotiations, saying Prague wants better conditions from the EU. The EU has asked for a transition period of between two to five years during which Czech transport firms would have only limited access to the EU transport market. MS

...ISSUES TENDER FOR RENT OF CZECH HOUSE IN MOSCOW
The Foreign Ministry on 27 December issued a tender for the renting of the Czech House in Moscow, CTK reported. The tender was issued after media reports in the first half of 2001 that the Czech House was rented under dubious conditions and that the state lost millions of crowns in renting the premises to the Hotel Cesky Dum company. The ministry signed an addendum to the lease contract in the summer that did away with some controversial provisions, but the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported that the addendum preserved most of the advantages granted to Hotel Cesky Dum. The contract with that company expires at the end of 2001 and reports in the media have said it will be extended to March 2002. The tender issued by the ministry stipulates that the company to which the Czech House is rented must be Czech-owned, registered in Russia, experienced in hotel management, and debt-free. MS

SLOVAKIA ADVANCES IN EU ACCESSION TALKS
Slovakia closed the financial controls chapter in its accession talks with the EU on 21 December, an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels reported. The closure means that the EU is generally satisfied with Slovakia's efforts to combat financial crime. Bratislava has now closed 22 of the 31 chapters in the acquis communautaire. The same day, CTK reported that Slovakia refused the EU's proposed conditions for closing the transport chapter. The EU asked for a transition period of between two to five years. Slovak chief negotiator Jan Figel said Bratislava wishes to coordinate its response with other candidate countries. MS

HUNGARY'S FIDESZ SIGNS ELECTION AGREEMENT WITH ROMANY ORGANIZATION
The major coalition party FIDESZ and the Romany association Lungo Drom signed an election cooperation pact on 21 December under which the senior governing party will provide three seats to Romany candidates on the FIDESZ-Democratic Forum national list and seven seats on regional lists. Lungo Drom President Florian Farkas described the cooperation alliance as "historic," Hungarian media reported. However, Jeno Zsigo, the president of another Romany organization, the Roma Parliament, said the agreement means "FIDESZ has declared war on Roma," as the coalition pact will politically divide Hungary's Roma. MSZ

HUNGARIAN, ROMANIAN PREMIERS SIGN AGREEMENT ON STATUS LAW
Viktor Orban and his visiting Romanian counterpart Adrian Nastase signed an agreement on Hungary's Status Law in Budapest on 22 December. According to the agreement, not only ethnic Hungarians, but also Romanian nationals will be allowed to perform seasonal work in Hungary for up to three months. The two premiers also agreed that Romanian nationals who are married to ethnic Hungarians will not be eligible for travel and educational benefits in Hungary. The opposition Socialist Party sharply criticized the extension of employment benefits to Romanian nationals, saying that the more than 500,000 Hungarians who live off seasonal work will now have to face competition from Romanians. FIDESZ Chairman Zoltan Pokorni told Hungarian television that the concession made to Romania is not significant, since Romania has not even exploited half of the 8,000 quota on seasonal work that was in force. For his part, opposition Free Democrat parliamentary group leader Istvan Szent-Ivanyi said the cabinet chose the worst possible solution and accepted the extension of job benefits to Romanians without first analyzing its impact (see also Romanian item in "Southeastern Europe"). MSZ

HUNGARY ENDS SCREENING OF ELECTRONIC MEDIA
A panel of judges has completed its investigation of members of the electronic media and found that 44 of 430 radio and television executives and 1,400 staff members had connections to the communist-era internal secret service, panel chairman Frigyes Bruendl told "Nepszabadsag" on 26 December. Bruendl said the panel will now begin screening some 2,800-3,000 members of the print media who are believed to have the ability to influence political public life. MSZ

YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT HAILS MILOSEVIC'S GENERAL
Despite recent warnings from Washington that financial help for Belgrade will be closely linked to Yugoslavia's cooperation with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said in Belgrade on 27 December that General Nebojsa Pavkovic led a "successful defense" as commander in Kosova in 1999 and "devotedly defended the country," AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2001, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 November 2001). Pavkovic, who is now head of the General Staff, is under investigation by The Hague. Kostunica noted that the general offered to resign but added: "I have told him to stay on for now." Kostunica said that U.S. pressure for Pavkovic to go is "blackmail." The president charged that Washington is behaving as though "nothing has happened here, as if [former President] Slobodan Milosevic is still in power." Observers note that at the time of Milosevic's ouster in October 2000, the army is widely believed to have shifted its allegiance to Kostunica, while the police teamed up with Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. PM

YUGOSLAV FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS GENERAL SHOULD GO
Goran Svilanovic said in Belgrade on 27 December that Pavkovic should resign because NATO will not admit Yugoslavia to its Partnership For Peace program as long as he is in command, AP reported. Svilanovic added: "The army reform has started, but it must include its top brass" (see below). PM

SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER: EXTRADITIONS TO THE HAGUE IN 2002
Djindjic has made it clear in recent days in Belgrade that he expects that most if not all of the indicted war criminals living in Serbia will be extradited to The Hague as early as January 2002, "Vesti" reported on 23 and 27 December. Djindjic argued that "if the accused think that there is no evidence against them, I see no reason why they should not surrender and relieve both themselves and the government from the enormous pressure [from the U.S.]. On the other hand, if there is evidence against them, why should anybody protect them?" PM

WHAT FUTURE FOR SERBIAN PRESIDENT MILUTINOVIC?
Djindjic also raised the possibility that one of the indicted men, Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, might be "taken off the [Hague] list" by cooperating with the tribunal, "Vesti" reported from Belgrade on 27 December. Milutinovic said in Belgrade that he will not seek another term in office. He added that his conscience is clean, and that if the tribunal has indicted him, it is because The Hague misunderstands the political role of the Serbian presidency, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Milutinovic was once part of Milosevic's inner circle but later broke with him. After Milosevic's fall, Milutinovic cooperated with the new authorities -- and has remained in office ever since. PM

YUGOSLAVIA CUTS MILITARY SERVICE TIME
On 26 December, the Yugoslav parliament adopted a $900 million budget, of which 70 percent is assigned to the army, AP reported. The legislature also approved a long-awaited package of measures aimed at modernizing and slimming down the military. The term of compulsory military service will now be nine months instead of the previous 12 months, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. There has been strong popular pressure since the fall of Milosevic to shorten the length of time of military service. PM

YUGOSLAV ARMY OFFICERS ARRESTED FOR CIGARETTE SMUGGLING
An unnamed Belgrade court official told AP on 27 December that four army officers and three civilians were arrested near the border between Serbia and Montenegro. Police made the arrests after two army trucks failed to stop at a Serbian customs checkpoint. The police found the trucks full of Western-made cigarettes with a value of $500,000. The arrested men said that the smuggling ring has been in operation for a long time. PM

KOSTUNICA'S 'VEILED THREAT' TO KOSOVAR LEADER
Kostunica has appealed to Kosovar Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova for a "dialogue about the future" of Kosova, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 28 December. In his message, the Yugoslav president told Rugova that foreign peacekeepers will not remain in Kosova indefinitely. The German daily said that this constitutes a "veiled threat" to the Kosovars, who want only independence and nothing to do with Serbia. Observers note that the Kostunica leadership has sought to talk its way back into international respectability and influence without accepting the responsibility or consequences for Milosevic's four lost wars. PM

HAEKKERUP REPORTEDLY QUITS AS ADMINISTRATOR IN KOSOVA
Hans Haekkerup, the UN's chief civilian administrator in Kosova, has resigned his position "to spend more time with his family," AP reported from Prishtina on 28 December, quoting a "top UN official." There has been no official confirmation of the resignation. Haekkerup's wife is expecting a child in February. Some observers suggest, however, that there may be political reasons for his departure. Haekkerup came in for widespread criticism for signing an agreement with the Belgrade authorities in November, which confirmed a role in Kosova for Serbia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 and 30 November 2001). Belgrade has subsequently sought to exploit this opening, much to the irritation of the 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority. More recently, the Kosova parliament has met but failed to elect a president or government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2001). PM

BOSNIAN SERB INDICTEES EXPELLED FROM NATIONALIST PARTY
Under strong pressure from the international community to disassociate their party from war criminals, 300 delegates to a convention of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) voted in Banja Luka on 24 December to expel any member who has been indicted for war crimes by The Hague-based tribunal, Reuters reported. Chairman Dragan Kalinic said: "The Republika Srpska must shake off its burden as an apartheid state and strive to offer other peoples and national minorities as much freedom as we demand for ourselves." He added that the vote to expel veteran party leaders Radovan Karadzic, General Ratko Mladic, and others shows that the SDS is serious about working "on restoring confidence and promoting reconciliation together with the other two peoples" of Bosnia, the Muslims and the Croats. But in Sarajevo, Senad Avdic, who is editor of the weekly "Slobodna Bosna," said the changes are only cosmetic. PM

BOSNIAN MUSLIM POLITICIAN SLAMS NATO, SERBS OVER WAR CRIMINALS...
Sejfudin Tokic, the speaker of the House of Peoples of Bosnia's parliament, said in Sarajevo on 26 December that NATO and the Bosnian Serb authorities are responsible for the fact that Karadzic, Mladic, and more than two dozen additional indictees remain free, AP reported from Sarajevo. Tokic said: "I think that the international institutions charged with the implementation of the peace agreement are fully responsible for this situation, and by this I mean SFOR." Referring to the Bosnian Serb authorities, Tokic added that "the fact that they are not able to hand over those publicly indicted" indicates that they do not control all of their own territory. Tokic added that it is well known that Mladic is in Yugoslavia and Karadzic in the Republika Srpska, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

...CALLS FOR REDUCING ROLE OF TWO ENTITIES
Speaking in Sarajevo on 26 December, Tokic also called on the Constitutional Court to suspend parts of the Bosnian Constitution or the entire constitution of each of the two entities unless they implement key reforms soon, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. One important change would be to make the Serbs, Croats, and Muslims completely equal in legal status throughout Bosnia as "constituent peoples." PM

UN DENIES BOSNIAN SEX RACKET CHARGES
In a statement in New York on 27 December, the UN rejected charges in "The Washington Post" that some members of the UN's police force (IPTF) are themselves actively involved in running prostitution rackets, Reuters reported. The statement said that the charges "have no substance... No UN international police officers have been found to be involved in the trafficking of women in Bosnia." Critics charge that in one instance, two Romanian police officers recruited Romanian women by using false documents and then sold the women to Bosnian brothel owners, dpa reported from Sarajevo. Other Romanian police officers allegedly tipped off brothel owners about impending raids. The newspaper report suggested that investigators were bullied by UN police authorities, including a Ukrainian senior officer, who eventually stopped the investigation. PM

STILL NO BREAKTHROUGH ON MACEDONIAN AUTONOMY LAW
EU envoy Alain Leroy failed in attempts on 25 December to persuade Macedonian and ethnic Albanian politicians to accept compromises aimed at launching greater home rule for ethnic Albanian communities, dpa reported from Skopje. No international donors conference is likely to take place before the local autonomy legislation is in place (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 10 December 2001, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 7 December 2001). PM

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT UPBEAT ON FUTURE
Boris Trajkovski said in Skopje on 21 December that "we can conclude that the climax of the crises is behind us," AP reported. He added that "we still need to re-establish law and order in all of our territory, to bring back home the displaced." Trajkovski thanked the U.S., EU, Russia, and Ukraine for their help during the past year. He called for "understanding and confidence" between the ethnic groups, adding: "We have to learn to forgive and to strive to live together." He noted that Macedonia's "long-term strategic goal remains the same: full membership for Macedonia in the Euro-Atlantic family, in the European Union, and in NATO as the safest way out of instability and toward prosperity." PM

MACEDONIA WANTS NATO TO STAY ON
Foreign Minister Slobodan Casule said in Skopje on 27 December that NATO troops should remain in Macedonia when the current term of Operation Amber Fox ends on 26 March, dpa reported. He hailed NATO's role in preventing internal conflicts in the past, adding that this should continue. But an unnamed NATO diplomat told AP on 21 December that "NATO is not eager to stay here any longer than necessary. NATO wants to see this mission completed, successfully of course... NATO nations are actually under strain, [and] we also have other operations" that require the alliance's time and attention. PM

MACEDONIAN ELITE POLICE BATTLE -- SNOW
The elite Tiger and Lion units have been deployed to various locations in Macedonia to clear meter-high snow in the country's worst winter weather in decades, AP reported from Skopje on 27 December. At least 28 deaths have been attributed to the cold in December. PM

ALBANIAN GOVERNING PARTY CRISIS DEEPENS
On 24 December, the parliament failed to approve the appointment of four new ministers to the government of Socialist Prime Minister Ilir Meta, AP reported. The Socialists and their allies have a comfortable majority in the 140-seat legislature, but 25 Socialists support party Chairman Fatos Nano in his opposition to Meta (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 7 December 2001). Following the 24 December vote, Meta said that only a party congress can end the imbroglio. He added: "This is an unprecedented situation in the last 10 years of Albania's democracy, in which a party leader attacks the cabinet of his own party." The dispute has grown increasingly complex in recent months, but at the heart of it is whether the government or the party determines state policies. Opposition leader Sali Berisha wants a transitional government and early elections, but the international community rejects that option. PM

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT LAUNCHES ANTICORRUPTION MEASURES
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase announced on 27 December that his cabinet will initiate a series of measures intended to combat corruption, Mediafax reported. The government is to focus on the elimination of corruption in the justice and financial-banking systems. Nastase argued that corruption will be reduced with the end of the property restitution and privatization processes. He called on parliamentary parties to assist with the government's efforts, and to present data on corruption in their own parties. Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu replied that Nastase is the chairman of the "most corrupt party," the ruling Social Democratic Party. President Ion Iliescu on 27 December said eliminating corruption is "a vital problem" for Romanian society, as corruption "undermines the foundations of the economy and social life." ZsM

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT SURVIVES NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION
The Romanian parliament rejected a no-confidence motion on 21 December that was put forward by three opposition parties after the government "assumed responsibility" for a political declaration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2001), Mediafax reported. By a vote of 283 to 178, the parliament rejected the "Cold and Hunger" motion. Defending his cabinet's achievements, Premier Nastase called the opposition's motion a "cynical," demagogical, and propagandistic gesture. He blamed all of his cabinet's unfulfilled promises on the legacy left behind by the former coalition government. National Liberal Party Senator Paul Pacuraru said the cabinet should be dismissed and new elections should be organized. ZsM

ROMANIAN-HUNGARIAN MEMORANDUM ON STATUS LAW GETS MIXED REACTION
Most political parties in Romania hailed the 22 December signing in Budapest of a Romanian-Hungarian memorandum on the application of the Hungarian Status Law, Romanian media reported (see also Hungarian item in "Central and Eastern Europe"). Hungarian Democratic Federation Chairman Bela Marko said his party made an "essential contribution" in reaching this "compromise." However, Democratic Party Deputy Chairman Emil Boc said the memorandum will not prevent the "masked Magyarization" of Transylvania, Mediafax reported on 22 December. And extremist Greater Romania Party Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor on 23 December warned about the alleged "duplicity and hypocrisy" of the Hungarian policies, and called for "prudence and maximum firmness," Romanian public television reported. The Romanian media interpreted the memorandum as a complete victory of Romanian diplomacy over that of Hungary, and the "Adevarul" daily argued on 24 December that the memorandum rendered the law meaningless. ZsM

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES BASIC TREATY WITH RUSSIA
On 27 December in Chisinau, the parliament ratified the basic treaty with Russia signed on 19 November in Moscow, Flux reported. All 11 Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) deputies opposed the treaty, arguing that it "officializes the Russification of Moldova." PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca said the treaty favors Russia's interests over Moldova's. The Russian State Duma must still ratify the treaty. The Duma did not ratify the previous basic treaty signed in 1991, as it did not offer enough advantages to the Transdniester region. ZsM

COMMUNISTS INITIATE INTRODUCTION OF RUSSIAN AS OFFICIAL LANGUAGE
Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) parliamentary group leader Victor Stepaniuc on 27 December announced that his party, together with some deputies from the Braghis Alliance, have put forward an initiative at the Constitutional Court to introduce Russian as the country's second official language, Flux reported. Stepaniuc said Moldova is a "polyethnic state," and there is a need to introduce a second official language understood by all ethnic minorities. He added that Russian will not have "identical" status with the Moldovan language, but all civil servants will have to speak both languages. ZsM

MOLDOVAN INFORMATION AND SECURITY SERVICE DIRECTOR SACKED
The Moldovan parliament unanimously sacked Moldovan Information and Security Service (SIS) Director Valeriu Pasat on 21 December, Flux reported. President Vladimir Voronin proposed the dismissal of Pasat "without naming the reasons" for his action. Parliament subsequently named former Deputy Director Ion Rusu as SIS Director. PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca said his party did not take part in the session that decided on Pasat's dismissal and Rusu's appointment, as the SIS is "controlled by Moscow." ZsM

LIBYAN COURT POSTPONES VERDICT ON BULGARIANS ONCE AGAIN...
On 22 December, the Tripoli People's Court for the second time postponed a verdict on the six Bulgarians accused of deliberately infecting children in a Benghazi hospital with the HIV virus, BTA and AP reported. The presiding judge said the court needs to "further review the evidence," and will announce its verdict on 17 February. Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi and Justice Minister Anton Stankov, who were visiting Libya at the time of the postponement, both said it should be viewed as a positive indication of the trial's eventual outcome. Pasi said the visit he paid to Libya enabled him to "view the trial from the different, Libyan perspective." Pasi was allowed on 22 December to meet with the six defendants outside the prison where they are being detained. MS

...AND BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER WRAPS UP LIBYAN VISIT
Pasi was received on 22 December by Libyan leader Muammar Ghadaffi, who told him he is "amazed" that Bulgarians could have harmed Libyan children, BTA reported. Ghadaffi said "clouds" produced by the trial have affected the traditionally good relations between the two countries. Pasi replied that "the clouds must be dispersed." They also discussed bilateral relations, Bulgaria's bid to become a NATO member, and the situation in the Middle East. MS

BULGARIAN OPPOSITION PARTY DISMISSES GOVERNMENT'S 'WHITE PAPER'
The Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) dismissed on 21 December the recently published "White Paper" dealing with its governance, saying the document is "rife with dubious assertions that cannot be verified" and lacks a "comprehensive assessment of the legacy" received by the cabinet headed by Simeon Saxecoburggotski, BTA reported. SDS Chairwoman Ekaterina Mihailova said the "White Paper" cannot be considered a "legitimate document," as it has not been approved by the cabinet as a "special ministerial act." MS

BULGARIA-BASED U.S. AIR FORCE MISSION ENDED
A U.S. Air Force refueling mission for support of humanitarian operations in Afghanistan has been concluded, AP reported on 27 December, citing a statement by the U.S. Embassy in Sofia. The operation was carried out by six KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft based in the Black Sea port of Burgas. Some 150 U.S. military personnel were based there to maintain the operation, which included airdrops of food and other items in Afghanistan. The U.S. Embassy statement said humanitarian ground transport has now become possible and relief agencies are able to provide aid on a continual basis. MS

ELECTION CAMPAIGN STARTS IN UKRAINE


On 31 March 2002, Ukraine will elect a new parliament. The outcome of that ballot will determine the country's domestic and foreign orientation for the first decade of the 21st century. How the elections are conducted will determine if Ukraine's international image will improve following the death in the fall of 2000 of journalist Hryhoriy Gongadze and the ensuing "Kuchmagate" scandal. The 1994 and 1998 parliamentary elections were deemed free and fair by the OSCE and the Council of Europe.

Ukraine's revised parliamentary election law came into force on 30 October 2001, and the 90-day election campaign officially begins on 1 January 2002. Ukrainian voters have a six-cornered choice between two pro-presidential blocs (For a United Ukraine and the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine united [SDPUo]); two antipresidential blocs (Socialists and Yulia Tymoshenko); one that bridges these two hostile camps and is antioligarch but is not hostile to President Leonid Kuchma (Our Ukraine); and one that rejects just about every aspect of the present political system and Ukraine's independence (Communists).

The hard-line Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) will more than likely again garner its steady 15-20 percent of the vote, mostly from pensioners, according to two December polls by Sotsis and Democratic Initiatives. That party's main support base is in the industrialized Russified and sovietised regions of Eastern Ukraine and the Crimea.

The Socialist Party of Ukraine (SPU), once an ally of the KPU, took part in the 1998 elections with the now defunct Peasant Party. Peasant Party leader Oleksandr Tkachenko, who served briefly as Rada Chairman in 1998-1999 until Ukraine's "velvet revolution" in early 2000 that removed the Rada's left-wing leadership, has now returned to the KPU. Throughout the 1990s, the SPU moved cautiously to the right to position itself on the left of the Social Democrats and toward a pro-statehood position. This move was reinforced by the key role played by SPU leader Oleksandr Moroz during the Kuchmagate affair that erupted in November 2000. The SPU's allies will be four small parties representing rural interests, dissident Greens, the former Soviet-era Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine, and Social Democrats. The SPU's main base of support is in the Ukrainophone regions of Western and Central Ukraine outside of Galicia. Mykola Melnychenko, the former Security Service officer at the heart of Kuchmagate who is now in exile in the United States may run on the SPU list.

Moroz's SPU is tactically allied with the former Forum for National Salvation (FNS) created in February 2001 at the height of Kuchmagate because both blocs support moves to radically reform Ukraine's political system, including abolishing the presidency and impeaching President Kuchma. The FNS has been renamed the "Yulia Tymoshenko" bloc to capitalize on the former deputy premier's popularity as a female politician and most voters' preference for personalities rather than blocs or parties. The Tymoshenko bloc includes her own Fatherland, two center-left parties (Social Democrats and the Patriotic Party), and four national democratic ones (Sobor, Republicans, Conservative Republicans, and Christian Democrats).

The SDPUo, which is headed by former first deputy parliament speaker Viktor Medvedchuk, has long considered former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko as its main protagonist, and he has felt the same about the SDPUo. Both the SDPUo and Yushchenko's Our Ukraine have their main base of support in western-central Ukraine and Medvedchuk orchestrated the 26 April no-confidence vote in Yushchenko's government. In the 1998 elections, the SDPUo only managed to gain seats in the Rada because the party's result was "topped" up by votes from the Agrarians to push it over the threshold to the suspiciously close 4.01 percent. While Medvedchuk has attempted to use the language card to obtain eastern Ukrainian votes, he has also sought to increase his profile among western Ukrainians by openly talking of the arrest in 1944 on charges of being a member of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) of his father, who was then deported to Siberia, where Medvedchuk was born.

The loss of support from the executive for the SDPUo, as reflected in Medvedchuk's ouster on 13 December from the post of deputy chairman of the Rada, means that the party will not have access to "administrative resources" during the campaign. It is also not coincidental that the National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting, headed by former Rukh Chairman Ivan Drach, withdrew the license from Inter television -- which is controlled by the SDPUo and is highly popular in Eastern Ukraine where the rival pro-Kuchma For a United Ukraine has its main support base -- on the same day that Medvedchuk was removed as Rada deputy chairman. The SDPUo leadership must be wondering if they will suffer the same fate as former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko's Hromada, which was destroyed in 1998-1999 after he quarreled with the executive. SDPUo votes may be needed by For a United Ukraine to counter Yushchenko's popularity.

Successive opinion polls conducted since summer 2001 show Yushchenko's popularity rating at 30 percent, a figure far higher than any other politician in Ukraine, and that of Our Ukraine at 15-20 percent, according to the same two polls. The popularity of his bloc is only low in southern-eastern Ukraine (2-5 percent) and the Crimea (1 percent). This means that for the first time in Ukraine's history, the KPU is not the most popular party. The "Yushchenko phenomenon" makes it likely that the KPU will only attract hard-core supporters, while those who formerly voted for the Communists as a sign of protest against the status quo will this time vote for Our Ukraine, Tymoshenko, or the SPU. Yushchenko's bloc includes his longtime national democratic allies from the two main wings of Rukh; Reform and Order, led by old-time colleague Viktor Pynzenyk; the Liberals (the former Donbas Party of Power); the "mini oligarch" Solidarity party, whose leader Petro Poroshenko heads the bloc's headquarters; and other smaller Christian and national democratic parties.

Yushchenko has attempted to bridge the pro- and anti-Kuchma camps by making clear his opposition to the oligarchs but not to Kuchma personally. This has, however, not prevented Kuchma from openly accusing Yushchenko earlier this month of being behind "Kuchmagate." Yushchenko is the godfather to Poroshenko's daughters and has been criticized by Tymoshenko for including both him and Roman Besmertnyi, until recently Kuchma's representative in the Rada and a former member of the pro-Kuchma Peoples Democratic Party of Ukraine (NDPU), as his election campaign manager. Kuchma is also utilizing the recently formed anti-Yushchenko Rukh for Unity led by Bohdan Boyko to draw away some Rukh supporters from Our Ukraine.

For a United Ukraine is Kuchma's open favorite and the nucleus of Ukraine's future presidential party. At a meeting with the regional media on 18 December, Kuchma openly admitted having instructed all levels of the state, from the heads of village councils to the prime minister, to vote for that bloc. During his two-hour meeting he never once mentioned Medvedchuk or the SDPUo. The five parties belonging to the bloc (NDPU, Agrarians, Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, Party of Regions, Labor Ukraine) seemed earlier this fall in danger of falling apart, a factor that led Kuchma to delegate Volodymyr Lytvyn, head of the presidential administration, to lead the bloc. Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh is second on the list of top names of For a United Ukraine. Lytvyn sees the main supporters of his bloc as voters tied to the authorities and pro-presidential supporters.

Taras Kuzio is a research associate at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.

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