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Newsline - February 22, 2002


RUSSIA CRIES FOUL AT WINTER OLYMPICS...
Hours after Larisa Lazutina was disqualified from the 20-kilometer cross-country relay on 21 February, Russian Olympic Committee President Leonid Tyagachev gave the International Olympic Committee (IOC) a 24-hour window to remedy what he called bias and a "witch hunt" against Russian athletes, ITAR-TASS and AP reported. Lazutina was disqualified after high levels of hemoglobin were discovered in her pre-race blood test, forcing the four-time defending champions Russia to sit out the race. "If decisions are not made and issues we raised not resolved, the Russian team will not play hockey, will not run 30 kilometers, will look very negatively on other factors," AP quoted Tyagachev as saying. In addition, he said Russia is "greatly unappreciated" in the Olympics, and should it leave the Winter Olympics would probably not attend the next Summer Games in Athens either. "We can hold spectacular alternative competitions, where every single participant will be entitled to fair refereeing," he said. VY/MES

...PROTESTS SKATING RESULTS...
On 22 February, the Russian Figure Skating Federation lodged a protest against the results of the women's figure skating competition on 21 February, in which Russia's Irina Slutskaya took the silver medal behind Sarah Hughes of the United States, ITAR-TASS reported. In a letter forwarded to referee Britta Lindgren, Russia claimed that Slutskaya was unfairly judged for her performance in the short and free programs: "We regard it as a violation of the rules of the International Skating Union, as a manifestation of impartiality of most referees. We request to revise the results and to give the second gold medal to Slutskaya." Russian figure skaters were at the center of an earlier judging dispute after Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze won the pairs' competition, but later had to share the gold medal with Canada's Jamie Sale and David Pelletier after it was alleged that a French judge had been pressured to vote for the Russians, which she has since denied. MES

...AS IOC TRIES TO CALM PUTIN...
Following Tyagachev's threat to leave the Winter Olympics, IOC President Jacques Rogge sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin saying that while he sympathizes with Russia's disappointment, he regards all decisions made by judges in the games thus far as correct, ITAR-TASS quoted IOC General Director Francois Carrard as saying on 21 February. However, on 22 February, ITAR-TASS quoted Putin as saying that Russian sportsmen "are subjected to biased judging at the Winter Olympic Games," and claiming that "the process of extreme commercialization, which is at variance with the very principles of the Olympic movement" has also played a role in how athletes are being judged at Salt Lake City. MES

...AND RUSSIA RETREATS...
While IOC Deputy President Vitalii Smirnov initially warned the committee on 21 February not to take his country's complaints too lightly, saying, "without Russia, the Olympic Games will be lost," he retreated from his strong stance the next day, ITAR-TASS and AP reported. He said the Russian delegation at the Winter Games is not empowered to decide to leave the games" and that "the country has a president and a government" who would have to make such a decision, according to ITAR-TASS on 22 February. He went on to say that Russia harbors no ill will against the United States or the American people, as "biased refereeing is the core of the matter." MES

...TO CONSIDER SITUATION
Meanwhile in Moscow on 21 February, the State Duma decided to place discussion on the top of the agenda for the next day, ITAR-TASS reported. Presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii said on 21 February that Russian athletics authorities must more "decisively confront the efforts to squeeze Russia's best sportsmen from the current Winter Games," according to Interfax. And First Deputy Duma Speaker Lyubov Sliska said the Duma has called on Russia's athletics authorities to explain "their passive role in defending Russian sportsmen and national prestige in international competitions," RIA-Novosti reported. On 22 February, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Russia has called on the IOC to take necessary measures for normalizing the situation, ITAR-TASS reported. VY/MES

INTERIOR MINISTRY CLAIMS TO HAVE IDENTIFIED MURDERERS OF STAROVOITOVA AND LISTEV...
Speaking at a briefing in Moscow, Yurii Korolev, the deputy chief of the Interior Ministry's Main Criminal Police Department, said his agency has identified and issued international and federal arrest warrants for the alleged assassins of liberal politician Galina Starovoitova, who was murdered in 1999, and of ORT television General Director Vladimir Listev, who was slain in 1993, Russian news agencies reported. He noted that in both cases the perpetrators of the crimes are living abroad. Korolev also said that two Russian criminals recently extradited by the Czech Republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 19 February 2002) have nothing to do with death of Starovoitova. VY

...AND PROBES INVOLVEMENT OF RUSSIAN BUSINESSMAN IN ARM SALES TO AL-QAEDA
Deputy Interior Minister Nikolai Bobrovskii said on 21 February that his agency is investigating mass media reports that Russian businessman and former KGB officer Viktor Boot might be involved in supplying arms to the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2002), polit.ru reported. Bobrovskii cited an interview published in the "International Herald Tribune" on 18 February in which one of Boot's business partners claimed that Boot had connections with terrorist Osama bin Laden. VY

ROMANIAN PREMIER IN MOSCOW...
Visiting Romanian Premier Adrian Nastase and his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kasyanov said after talks in Moscow on 21 February that they forged the "foundations of a pragmatic partnership" between their countries, Romanian radio and ITAR-TASS reported. The two premiers said they agreed to boost mutual investments and trade. Several bilateral accords were signed, including one on early notification in case of a nuclear accident and one on cooperation in archival research. Nastase said that it is "strange" that Romania has in the past sought to "market in the West in order to pay our debts in the East," and that Bucharest will seek to regain its former lucrative exports to some Russian regions. The two premiers also said that they have "cleared" the "last residual aspects" in the pending bilateral treaty between the two countries, and expect the treaty to be signed during President Ion Iliescu's visit to Moscow in April. MS

...MEETS GAZPROM HEAD
At a meeting with Gazprom head Aleksei Miller, Nastase emphasized that Romania is interested in participating in the construction of oil and gas pipelines to Yugoslavia and Italy, which would transit its territory, AP reported. Miller welcomed the suggestion and said this would allow Gazprom to adhere to promised deliveries to third countries. MS

GAZPROM WARNS ABOUT POTENTIAL GAS SHORTAGE, ANNOUNCES COMPANY RESTRUCTURING
Aleksandr Ryazanov, Gazprom's deputy board chairman, told a press conference in Moscow on 21 February that his company plans to restructure the company to differentiate between production and gas-delivery departments, gazeta.ru and "Izvestiya" reported. Ryazanov also said that during the meeting he held with representatives of the regions of the Russian Federation in Moscow on 20 February, he cautioned them about increasing production, lest they accelerate the exhaustion of the country's gas fields and cause a shortage of gas on the domestic market as soon as next year. To help avoid such a crisis, Gazprom plans to liberalize the domestic gas market by opening it to new independent producers. He also said that domestic gas prices should be raised by some 45 percent. VY

GOVERNMENT ADOPTS CONCEPT ON FOREIGN DEBT MANAGEMENT
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin announced that the government has decided to create a State Debts Management Agency to administer foreign debts, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 21 February. Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Kolotukhin said the concept includes a provision intended to avoid incurring additional debts on the regional level and in the corporate sector to avoid uncontrollable debt, as was the case before the ruble devaluation in August 1998. Kolotukhin also said that, according to preliminary statistics, Russia's foreign debt decreased in 2001 by $13-$15 billion and currently does not exceed $134 billion. VY

CORRECTION:
The "RFE/RL Newsline" item of 21 February titled "Internal Debt Looms Over Russia" should have read that if Russia were to "fulfill all social responsibilities called for under the law, the government would need no less than 6 trillion rubles [$2 billion]."

RUSSIA TO SELL SMART WEAPONS TO VIETNAM AND INDIA
Arkadii Kobitskii, the general director of the St. Petersburg-based defense enterprise LOMO, said on 21 February that Russia will transfer technology to Vietnam for producing LOMO's "Igla" (SA-18) shoulder-fired antiaircraft missile, RIA-Novosti reported. Kobitskii said that the $64-million deal also includes provisions for the company to supply expertise as well as 50 assembled "Igla" units. Meanwhile, India's Defense Ministry is negotiating a contract with LOMO for the purchase of 8,000 laser-guided "Krasnopol" artillery shells for $80 million, the Military News Agency reported on 21 February. A spokesman for LOMO claimed that the 152-millimeter shell boasts an unprecedented on-target rate of nearly 100 percent. VY

DUMA ANTICORRUPTION COMMITTEE ASKS PUTIN TO INVESTIGATE TOP OFFICIALS
The State Duma's commission for combating corruption has appealed to Putin, as president and as a trained lawyer, to convince Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov to resume the investigations of several high-ranking officials suspected of corruption, "Zhizn" reported on 21 February. Among those named by the commission are Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, Transport Minister Sergei Frank, Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais, as well as former Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov and former Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko. VY

NEW RUSSIAN MAGAZINE DEVOTED TO WORLD'S ENERGY PROBLEMS LAUNCHED
Vitalii Tretyakov, the founder and former editor in chief of "Nezavisimaya gazeta," announced on 21 February that he will begin publication of the new magazine "Word Energy Policy" by the end of the month. The magazine will be devoted of the geopolitical aspects of the global competition for energy resources, strana.ru reported. Tretyakov also revealed that he plans to launch a new mass daily, an analytical weekly, and a magazine to be called "Religious Review." VY

ANOTHER ENVIRONMENTAL REFERENDUM STYMIED
Krasnoyarsk Krai's election commission rejected on 21 February a bid to hold a referendum on the question of banning imports of spent nuclear fuel to the region, RIA-Novosti reported. Environmental activists collected more than 40,000 signatures in support of holding a plebiscite, but the commission ruled that only 8,500 of the signatures were valid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2002). By law, 35,000 signatures were needed. Meanwhile, the initiators of the referendum, the local branch of the Union of Rightist Forces, plan to challenge the commission's decision in court. JAC

PUTIN MEETS WITH LEADERSHIP OF UPPER HOUSE...
Also on 21 February, Putin held a meeting with leaders of the upper house, such as Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov and leaders of the 16 committees and seven commissions. Putin asked the senators to cooperate more effectively with the State Duma, polit.ru reported. "Izvestiya" commented that should Mironov succeed in his stated goal of increasing the role of the upper house in forming laws, then the influence of the Federation Council will grow -- which will likely provoke conflict with the Duma. Currently, according to the daily, the situation is under control: "On all basic questions both chambers first consult with the Kremlin." But already, according to the daily, several unidentified high-level sources in the Kremlin have started to express concern regarding "too many initiatives [from] the [Federation Council's] speaker," and Mironov's orientation toward the so-called St. Petersburg group. JAC

...AS ANOTHER SENATOR JOINS UPPER HOUSE
Legislators in the Altai Republic have confirmed Boris Agapov, a lieutenant-general in the Border Troops, as the governor's representative in the Federation Council, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 21 February. Agapov was earlier a vice president of Ingushetia as well as a deputy secretary of the Security Council. Representing the republic's legislature will be Yurii Antarodonov, a former deputy prime minister in the republican government. JAC

DUMA TO TAKE UP KURILE ISLANDS ISSUE AGAIN
The legislature of Sakhalin Oblast has called on the State Duma to consider a legislative initiative to introduce changes to Article 67 of the Russian Constitution and to the Law on State Borders of the Russian Federation, Interfax reported on 21 February. Sakhalin legislators told reporters in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk that it has sent a proposal to Duma deputies to include discussion of the initiative at a 18 March parliamentary hearing titled "Southern Kurile Islands: Problems, Economics, Politics, and Security." JAC

MORE BUSINESSMEN TAKE TO THE STREETS
Around 1,500 local entrepreneurs and industrialists were expected to participate in a protest on 21 February in Khabarovsk against changes in tax law, particularly the introduction of a single social tax, nns.ru reported, citing "Tikhookeanskaya zvezda." The business people from a local krai association charge that the tax reform measure does not demonstrate support for small businesses, which government officials at all levels have called for. They were also planning to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Kasyanov's government. Meanwhile, businessmen in Ulyanovsk on 20 February picketed the office of the mayor prior to Kasyanov's visit to that city to draw his attention to what they feel are unnecessarily high leasing fees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2002). JAC

NEW OLIGARCHS JOIN GROUP TO BID FOR TV-6
Media Minister Mikhail Lesin reported on 21 February that the ministry still has not received a single application for participation in the tender for TV-6's broadcasting rights, despite the fact that a number of individuals have expressed their intention to take part, polit.ru reported. Meanwhile, in an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 20 February, Oleg Kiselev, former head of Metalloinvest, said that a number of oligarchs intend to participate in the tender together as a consortium. The consortium members will include EES head Chubais, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich, Russian Aluminum head Oleg Deripaska, MDM-bank head Aleksandr Mamut, Joint Machine Works head Kakha Bendukidze, Vympelkom's Dmitrii Zimin, MDM Group head Andrei Melnichenko, Sistema head Vladimir Yevtushenkov, and SUAL Holding head Viktor Vekselberg. According to the daily, former Gazprom Media head Alfred Koch had to drop out of the consortium at the insistence of TV-6's journalists. JAC

IMPOSTER SLASHES PRICES FOR OFFICIAL POSITIONS
Police have detained Aleksandr Shanunyants, who has been masquerading as an assistant to President Putin and offering to arrange government positions for a price, Interfax reported on 21 February. According to the agency, Shanunyants promised some clients that he could get them appointed as deputy finance ministers and economy ministers. He also sold special license plates for cars. In exchange, he was asking for fees of $20,000 to $50,000. JAC

PUTIN SIGNS DECREE ON CHECHEN BUDGET
President Putin has signed a decree instructing the Russian government to draft a budget for Chechnya for the year 2002 within one month, Russian agencies reported. Chechen Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov hailed that move, which he said will enable Chechnya to use taxes collected on its territory to fund reconstruction and rebuild the economy. LF

RUSSIAN OFFICIAL HINTS AT CASPIAN REDIVISION TO BENEFIT IRAN, RUSSIA
Viktor Kalyuzhnyi, who is deputy Russian foreign minister and President Putin's special envoy for the Caspian, told strana.ru on 21 February that the existing division of the Caspian Sea into national sectors along the median line could be modified "to the benefit of those countries to whom nature was less generous," Turan and Interfax reported. At present, Russia's sector accounts for 16 percent of the sea, Iran's 14 percent, Azerbaijan's 20 percent, Turkmenistan's 21 percent, and Kazakhstan's 29 percent. Last October, Kalyuzhnyi rejected as "groundless" Iran's claim to a 20 percent share of the Caspian. LF

ARMENIAN POLITICAL PARTIES CRITICIZE VERDICT IN CAFE MURDER TRIAL
Representatives of both pro-government and opposition political parties on 21 February condemned the two-year suspended prison sentence handed down to Aghamal Harutiunian, a member of President Robert Kocharian's bodyguard, for the manslaughter of an Armenian from Georgia, Poghos Poghosian, in a Yerevan cafe last September, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2002). Aghvan Vartanian, who heads the parliament faction of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation -- Dashnaktsutiun (HHD), of which Poghosian was a member, said that "we are not pleased with the trial or the sentence," according to Noyan Tapan. But he added that his party does not blame Kocharian for the "unjust" verdict. Opposition National Unity Party leader Artashes Geghamian said the verdict was not against Harutiunian but on the current leadership. Galust Sahakian, who heads the pro-government Miasnutiun parliament faction, said he finds it "hard to understand" how such a verdict could be handed down in a murder case, while Frunze Kharatian of the Armenian Communist Party commented that "the whole thing resembled a court game, not a trial." LF

CORRECTION:
Harutiunian pleaded not guilty to Poghosian's murder, not guilty as was reported by RFE/RL's Armenian Service and reported in "RFE/RL Newsline" on 21 February.

OSCE TO PROPOSE NEW KARABAKH PEACE PLAN
On their visit to Armenia and Azerbaijan in early March, the three co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group will unveil new, revised peace proposals that build on agreements reached earlier, French co-chairman Philippe de Suremain told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 21 February. De Suremain said that the proposals have already been submitted to the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaderships who are "working on them," and expressed confidence that "we could get some results." LF

AZERBAIJAN, GAS CONSORTIUM SIGN EXPORT PIPELINE AGREEMENT
The Azerbaijani government and the members of the international consortium formed to develop the Shah Deniz offshore gas deposit signed four agreements in Baku on 21 February that form the legal basis for construction of a pipeline to export that gas via Georgia to Turkey, Turan and Caspian News Agency reported. Construction of the 685-kilometer pipeline will cost an estimated $2.9 billion. Work will begin early in 2003, and it is anticipated that the pipeline will go into operation by October 2005. LF

RUSSIAN SECURITY CHIEF VISITS GEORGIA
Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev visited Tbilisi on 21 February for talks with President Eduard Shevardnadze and senior security officials on the putative threat posed by the presence of Afghan mercenaries with links to Al-Qaeda in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge. Patrushev told journalists after those talks that his agency has no evidence to substantiate claims that Osama bin Laden has also fled to Pankisi, Interfax reported. He also said that the U.S. has not informed Moscow of any planned military action in Pankisi to apprehend the Afghans, according to ITAR-TASS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2002). In Moscow, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Chief of General Staff General Anatolii Kvashnin both said they cannot state with any certainty that bin Laden is in Pankisi. Both men also insisted that Georgia should take measures to clean up what Ivanov termed "a mini-Afghanistan on Russia's doorstep." But while Ivanov said doing so is Georgia's responsibility as a sovereign state, Reuters quoted Kvashnin as saying "Russia and Georgia should destroy this terrorist center in the Pankisi Gorge together," and there is no need for any U.S. involvement in the operation to do so. LF

GEORGIAN DISPLACED PERSONS DEMAND THAT UN ENFORCE PEACE IN ABKHAZIA
Meeting in Tbilisi on 21 February, the Abkhaz parliament in exile composed of the Georgian deputies to the Abkhaz parliament elected in 1991 invoked Chapter VII of the UN Charter that provides for the threat or use of force to restore peace and security in conflict regions, Caucasus Press reported. Parliament-in-exile Chairman Tamaz Nadareishvili argued that all possible means of resolving the conflict peacefully have been tried and proven useless. Nadareishvili first demanded a UN peace enforcement operation in Abkhazia in 1999 following the successful NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia and the subsequent deployment of an international peacekeeping force under UN auspices in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 26, 1 July 1999). Nadareishvili also made clear his opposition to the proposed joint Abkhaz-Georgian patrols of the Kodori Gorge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2002). LF

GEORGIA PROTESTS RUSSIAN OFFICIAL'S COMMENT ON TRANSPORT TARIFFS
Georgian Transport and Communications Ministry official Lado Chkheidze on 21 February criticized as "inadmissible interference by a third party" Russian Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin's comment in Yerevan the previous day that Armenia is constrained to pay inordinately high transit tariffs to ship goods via Georgia by rail, Caucasus Press reported. Stepashin said those tariffs constitute a burden on the Armenian budget, and suggested referring the issue to the CIS Ministers' Council, according to Prime News, as cited by Groong. LF

COURT SUSPENDS OPERATION OF LOCAL KAZAKH TV STATION
Pavlodar City Court on 20 February ordered the independent Irbis local TV station to suspend broadcasts for three months on the grounds that it allegedly violated the law on mass media by failing to broadcast at least 50 percent of its programs in the Kazakh language, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Irbis employees, however, denied this, telling RFE/RL that the decision was politically motivated. Irbis started facing problems last November after it reported on demonstrations by supporters of sacked Pavlodar Oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov and those supporting his successor, Danial Akhmetov. LF

NEW KAZAKH NGO AIMS TO PROTECT OIL-SECTOR WORKERS' RIGHTS
Representatives of the Orleu Movement and the Communist Party of Kazakhstan founded a new NGO named Social-Political Council in northwest Kazakhstan's Aqtobe Oblast on 21 February, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The organization's main goal will be to protect the rights of Kazakh citizens employed by the Chinese management of AqtobeMunayGaz Joint Stock Company. There have been repeated disputes in recent years between the Chinese management and the Kazakh workforce (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March, 27 April and 16 August 2000). LF

CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS BROUGHT AGAINST KYRGYZ POET WHO CONFIRMED ARRESTED PARLIAMENT DEPUTY WAS BEATEN
An official from the Djalalabad City Prosecutor's Office said on 21 February that a criminal case has been filed against poet Asanbai Jusupbekov for "spreading false information," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Jusupbekov told RFE/RL on 18 and 20 February that when he visited arrested parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov in detention last week, Beknazarov told him he has been beaten. Also on 21 February, three Kyrgyz parliament deputies told a press conference in Bishkek that they have written statements from persons who spoke to Beknazarov in detention confirming that he has been mistreated. LF

KYRGYZ JOURNALISTS PROTEST PERCEIVED THREAT TO MEDIA FREEDOM
Journalists and political activists adopted an appeal in Bishkek on 21 February to Kyrgyzstan's president, Askar Akaev, to annul a decree he issued last month that they fear could serve as the rationale for closing media outlets the government considers subversive, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The decree in question, which is aimed at preventing "subversive activities by extremist religious centers," empowers the Interior Ministry to make an inventory of printing presses in Kyrgyzstan. Experts argue that it violates the Kyrgyz Constitution. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT ASPIRES TO 'STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP' WITH TURKEY
Speaking in Ankara on 20 February at a state dinner hosted by Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, President Akaev said Kyrgyzstan wants to raise its relations with Turkey to the level of "a strategic partnership," the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 22 February. Sezer for his part expressed the desire to expand bilateral economic ties. During talks earlier on 20 February, Akaev and Sezer discussed the situation in Afghanistan and security issues in general, and signed an agreement on cooperation and trade for 2002-2010, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. On 21 February, Akaev attended a meeting in Istanbul of Kyrgyz and Turkish businessmen. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT SOUNDS ALARM OVER POPULATION EXPLOSION
Imomali Rakhmonov told a 20 February national conference on demographic developments that Tajikistan urgently needs a long-term demographic policy to slow down population growth, Russian media reported. Rakhmonov pointed out that the country's population has increased from 5.5 million to 6.2 million over the past 10 years, while at the same time GDP has fallen by 64 percent, resulting in soaring unemployment, poverty, crime, and drug addiction. Rakhmonov and his wife have eight children. LF

WINTER OLYMPICS MEDAL COUNT -- PART 1 COUNTRIES

Through 21 FEBRUARY

Country_________Gold___Silver___Bronze___Total


Russia_____________5_______6_______3_______14
Armenia____________0_______0_______0_______0
Azerbaijan_________0_______0_______0_______0
Georgia____________0_______0_______0_______0
Kazakhstan_________0_______0_______0_______0
Kyrgyzstan_________0_______0_______0_______0
Tajikistan_________0_______0_______0_______0
Uzbekistan_________0_______0_______0_______0

U.S. OFFICIAL SAYS BELARUS HAS MADE NO PROGRESS IN DEMOCRATIZATION
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Steven Pifer said in Minsk on 21 February that Belarus has made no progress in "key areas of democratization," adding that the human rights situation has even deteriorated since the September 2001 presidential election, AP reported. "We see no progress toward democratic election reform. We see no evidence of steps to empower an independent Belarusian parliament or encourage functioning independent media," Pifer added. Pifer met with Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou, Defense Minister Leanid Maltsau, presidential administration chief Ural Latypau, and with political leaders "not linked to the current government," Belapan reported. Pifer said he expressed concern about reports that Belarus has sold arms to terrorists states or groups and provided them military training. He added that the United States is ready to resume productive bilateral relations only if Belarus fulfills the conditions it agreed to in joining such international organizations as the UN and the OSCE. JM

OSCE PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE HEARS REPORT ON BELARUS
Uta Zapf of Germany, who visited Minsk earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2002), presented a report on the situation in Belarus at a sitting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Permanent Committee in Vienna on 21 February, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. According to Anatol Lyabedzka -- the head of the opposition United Civic Party, who attended the sitting as an observer -- the report does not register any positive developments toward democratization in Belarus apart from Minsk's consent to submit a draft media law to international expert assessment, and a written pledge by the leadership of Belarus's National Assembly to work toward expanding its powers. The Permanent Committee has not made any recommendations regarding Belarus, which is currently not represented in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is reportedly to discuss the Belarusian issue at a summer session in Berlin. JM

EU FOREIGN POLICY CHIEF MAKES PLEA FOR FAIR UKRAINIAN ELECTION
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana urged Ukrainians in Kyiv on 21 February to work together to ensure free and fair parliamentary elections next month, Reuters reported. "To have free, fair, and constructive elections, everyone has to contribute -- authorities, electoral officials, parties, and citizens. I hope after the elections the country will move forward to political stability and economic reforms that will help deepen cooperation with the European Union. That is our wish," Solana told a news conference held jointly with President Leonid Kuchma. JM

UKRAINE TO WITHDRAW PEACEKEEPERS FROM SIERRA LEONE
Defense Minister Volodymyr Shkidchenko said in a telephone interview at the Kyiv-based newspaper "Fakty i kommentarii" on 21 February that Ukraine intends to withdraw its peacekeepers from Sierra Leone. The schedule for the withdrawal has not been set yet. Shkidchenko said the UN has asked Ukraine to wait until May, after Sierra Leone's election. The minister said the Ukrainian peacekeepers have completed their mission, and that there is no reason to endanger their health for money. "The climate is far too bad for our servicemen: terrible humidity, an average temperature of 40 degrees Celsius, all those insects and snakes, and so on," New Channel Television quoted Shkidchenko as saying. JM

UKRAINIAN SOCIALISTS CAMPAIGN TO CHANGE GOVERNMENT SYSTEM
Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz said in an election spot on Ukrainian Television on 21 February that the main point of his party's election program is to change "the whole system of unfair government." Moroz noted that the authorities -- including President Kuchma, presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn, and Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko -- are afraid that "the truth about themselves" will be revealed on the secret tapes of former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko. Moroz accused the Communist Party, which placed Potebenko on its election list, of "playing the game directed by Kuchma." Melnychenko, who also appeared in the spot, said a recent U.S. expert examination confirmed that his tapes were not doctored. "Now the question is who must be held liable and when for the murder of a journalist, embezzlement, bribery, rigging the presidential election, and the April [2000] referendum. The materials that I recorded in Leonid Kuchma's office contain answers to all these questions," Melnychenko said. JM

UKRAINIAN COLONEL SENTENCED TO SEVEN YEARS FOR SPYING
"Fakty i kommentarii" reported on 21 February that Taras Bublyk, a former colonel in the Ukrainian army, has been sentenced to seven years in prison for spying for an undisclosed foreign agency. Bublyk's case was investigated in secret, and the court hearings were held behind closed doors except for the final announcement of the verdict. The report said Bublyk was accused of passing on secret information about the Ukrainian army as well as its armaments and equipment while he worked in an important military position in Transcarpathia after 1992. According to the daily, Bublyk was paid for his services with two used cars and money deposited in foreign banks. Bublyk denied the charges of espionage, saying his communication with a foreign agent was restricted to the agent's requests to buy cheap alcohol and cigarettes in a shop for Ukrainian servicemen. JM

EFFORTS TO REDUCE PLANNED PRICE HIKES FOR ELECTRICITY IN ESTONIA
Center Party Chairman Edgar Savisaar declared on 21 February that the offer of the supervisory council of the power utility Eesti Energia (Estonian Energy) to reduce the introduction from 1 April of a monthly electricity fee of 20 kroons ($1.11) to 5 kroons, while retaining the price hike for a kilowatt of electricity from the current 0.90 kroons to 1.10 kroons, is unacceptable, BNS reported. He said the company has enough internal resources to begin needed renovations of its power plants even after the planned privatization of the Narva Power Plants by the U.S. energy firm NRG Energy failed. It appears likely that the government will give Eesti Energia some funds to keep electricity costs lower. SG

NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL URGES LATVIA TO AMEND ELECTION LAWS
Lord George Robertson told the parliament in Riga on 21 February that NATO will decide on which countries to admit to the alliance on the basis of military, defense, and political achievements, including how they follow standards of democracy and human rights, LETA and BNS reported. He particularly mentioned the need to abolish the stringent Latvian-language requirements for candidates to the parliament and local councils. Robertson also met with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Prime Minister Andris Berzins, Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins, Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis, and parliament Chairman Janis Straume. He noted that the decision on which countries to join the alliance has not yet been made, but that no non-NATO country, such as Russia, will have a say in determining the matter. SG

SLOVENIA'S FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS LITHUANIA
During a one-day official visit to Vilnius on 21 February, Dimitrij Rupel held talks with Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, President Valdas Adamkus, Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis, and parliament Deputy Chairman Ceslovas Jursenas, BNS reported. The talks dealt primarily with EU and NATO membership as well as the upcoming Future of Europe Convention. Rupel told reporters that he expects that five to seven countries will be invited to join NATO in November and that he supports continued meetings of the "Vilnius 10" group of NATO applicants, as this will be very useful for the countries that do not receive membership invitations. He noted that all the EU applicant countries are dissatisfied with the agricultural subsidies proposed by the European Commission, but that the other benefits of EU membership are more important. Rupel also visited the Slavic Studies Department at Vilnius University, which offers a course in the Slovenian language. SG

POLISH PRESIDENT BACKS CABINET POLICIES
President Aleksander Kwasniewski told journalists on 21 February that he supports the government's economic and EU negotiation programs as well as its policy toward its eastern neighbors, Polish media reported. Kwasniewski was speaking after a meeting of the Cabinet Council; that is, a government session chaired by the president. JM

POLAND'S UNEMPLOYMENT REACHES RECORD 18 PERCENT
The Main Statistics Office (GUS) has reported that the unemployment rate at the end of January increased to 18 percent from 17.4 percent by the end of December, Polish media reported on 21 February. At the end of January, there were 3.25 million unemployed registered at job centers. JM

POLISH PUBLIC TELEVISION TO LAUNCH THIRD NATIONWIDE CHANNEL
The Polish Television Joint Stock Company (TVP SA) will inaugurate its third nationwide channel, TVP3, on 3 March. The new channel will pool efforts of journalists from 16 regional centers of public television, and will be oriented primarily toward regional affairs and news, Polish Television reported. The new channel is expected to reach more than 80 percent of Poles. At present, TVP SA has two countrywide channels: TVP1 and TVP2. JM

REPORT SAYS U.S. FEARS CZECHS MIGHT LEAK CLASSIFIED INFORMATION
The U.S. is pondering whether to provide the Czech Republic with access to top-secret information on its nuclear weapons, CTK reported on 22 February, citing the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes." According to the report, Premier Milos Zeman's close adviser Miroslav Slouf, who has a communist past, and several other people around Zeman jeopardize the credibility of the Czech Republic among its NATO allies (see the latest issue of "RFE/RL East European Perspectives" at http://www.rferl.org/eepreport/). Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said in response that if the report is true, "the government would have to deal with it immediately," but added that "so far I have neither official nor unofficial information on it." Czech Ambassador to the U.S. Martin Palous confirmed that he has met with U.S. officials several times recently, but answered "no comment" when asked whether the U.S. is considering denying Czech access to classified information. MS

CZECH PREMIER TO CANCEL TUNISIA VISIT
Foreign Minister Kavan told journalists on 21 February said there are "indications" that Premier Zeman's visit to Tunisia at the end of this month will be postponed, CTK reported. The visit was to be linked with one to Egypt, but Cairo postponed it to protest the Arafat-Hitler comparison recently made by Zeman in his interview with the Israeli daily "Ha'aretz." Kavan said he has received no protest from Tunisia, but "expects the visit to be postponed." According to a report published in the daily "Pravo" on 22 February, the Foreign Ministry is about to ask the Palestinian Authority to replace Ambassador Samih Ismail Fatah "for several reasons," among them public statements made by Fatah against the United States. Kavan declined comment on the report. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT OPPOSED TO CALLS FOR PREMIER'S RESIGNATION OVER ARAFAT COMPARISON...
In an interview with Frekvence 1 radio on 21 February, Vaclav Havel said he does not think Zeman should resign over the statement he made to "Ha'aretz," CTK reported. Havel said that if the Czech Republic were a "stable democracy, nothing would happen if the premier resigned four months ahead of the elections," but as this is not the case, the demand to have Zeman resign is "unreasonable." The president added that, nonetheless, Zeman should stop trying to "blame journalists for punctuation, verbs, or nouns," and "face the consequences" of his statements (Zeman has claimed that the journalist who interviewed him "missed a semicolon"). MS

...SAYS RETURN OF CONFISCATED PROPERTY IMPOSSIBLE
In his interview with Frekvence 1, Havel also said that although he does not rule out some "further [Czech] steps on the journey of self-reflection" regarding postwar developments, he does not "think it is possible to take into consideration property claims and restitutions," CTK reported. MS

HUNGARIAN AMBASSADOR TO PRAGUE SUMMONED OVER ORBAN STATEMENT...
On 21 February, Deputy Foreign Minister Rudolf Jindrak summoned Hungarian charge d'affaires Gabor Gogolak, telling him the Czech government was "surprised" over the statement made by Premier Viktor Orban on the need to abolish the Benes decrees and expects "an explanation" from Budapest, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2002). Foreign Minister Kavan the same day told the BBC that the government will discuss the Hungarian statement next week, adding that "we have already pointed out to our Hungarian colleagues that such demands are inappropriate." MS

CZECH RAPID DEPLOYMENT SOLDIER TO BE SANCTIONED FOR NAZI-LIKE ATTACK
On 21 February, a member of the elite rapid deployment brigade attacked a 17-year-old boy in Hlinsko, northern Bohemia, brutally beating him while shouting Nazi slogans, CTK reported, citing Nova television. Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik said he intends to deal with the incident using the "stiffest possible measures" at his disposal, namely demotion and discharge from the army. Police later said a quick investigation revealed that the soldier belongs to skinhead groups. In related news, a court of justice in Ostrava, northern Moravia, sentenced on 21 February to two years in prison a man from Krnov, who set fire to a flat inhabited by a Romany family in 1998, CTK reported. Radek Bedri, 21, threw a Molotov cocktail into the flat. Two other young people were acquitted for lack of sufficient evidence. Bedri appealed the verdict. MS

NEW SLOVAK PARTY SET UP
Former Finance Minister Brigita Schmognerova and Peter Weiss, the chairman of the parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission, officially set up their new political formation on 21 February, CTK and AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2002). The party is called the Social Democratic Alternative (SDA). After being forced to resign from the government by her own party, Schmognerova resigned from the Party of the Democratic Left together with Weiss. MS

SLOVAK OFFICIAL WARNS AGAINST CONSEQUENCES OF ORBAN STATEMENT
Foreign Ministry State Secretary Jaroslav Chlebo said on 21 February that the remarks made by Hungarian Premier Orban on the need to abolish the Benes decrees in the Czech Republic and Hungary could cause "long-term discord" in the relations between the two countries, Reuters reported. Chlebo said Bratislava is aware that the statement may have been caused by the "pre-electoral atmosphere in Budapest," but added that "it is hard to expect [the statement to] dissolve like foam on a beer after the polls. These shadows will stay here for some time." Chlebo, who is Slovakia's chief negotiator with Hungary in the dispute over the Status Law, also said Bratislava would welcome a "clarification by the EU" over the law's significance. He said that "Budapest...is creating its own [non-European] standards and trying to force others to accept them." MS

HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT'S CROSS-PARTY MEDIATION FAILS
A meeting hosted on 21 February by President Ferenc Madl in an attempt to soften the tone of the election campaign was considered "partly successful" by the coalition parties, but opposition parties called it a "fiasco," Hungarian media reported. After the meeting, Madl urged all political forces "to keep the common future in mind" during their election campaigns. FIDESZ Chairman Zoltan Pokorni said the opposition Socialist Party (MSZP) and the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) had not taken the opportunity to return to a consensus regarding ethnic Hungarians abroad or EU accession. MSZP Chairman Laszlo Kovacs and SZDSZ Chairman Gabor Kuncze objected that FIDESZ had not apologized to the opposition for calling them "traitors." Democratic Forum Chairwoman Ibolya David drafted a code of ethics for the election campaign, which was supported by FIDESZ and the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party. Other parties still must respond to the proposal. MSZ

CHRISTIAN GROUPS PROTEST OUTSIDE HUNGARIAN SOCIALISTS' HEADQUARTERS
Thousands of people attended a protest staged on 21 February by the Christian Intellectuals' Federation and the Right-Wing Youth Community outside the MSZP Budapest headquarters, denouncing alleged antichurch statements by former Prime Minister Gyula Horn and pro-Socialist university students, Hungarian media reported. "That which we believed could not happen in European democracies has happened. They are spying on us, our services are disrupted, and the faithful and pastors are intimidated," one organizer told the gathering. The Federation of Socialist University and College Students last week announced a plan to attend church services to ascertain which members of the clergy were advocating political views from the pulpit. Later they abandoned the plan after the data protection ombudsman said it would violate privacy rights. Organizers of the protest said they intend to stage similar demonstrations every Thursday until the MSZP apologizes to the offended religious faithful. The MSZP, however, has reserved the square in front of its headquarters for the remaining period up to the elections. MSZ

INTERNATIONAL PRESS INSTITUTE SEES PROBLEMS WITH FREEDOM OF PRESS IN HUNGARY
The Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) issued a report on 21 February on the situation of the media in Eastern and Central Europe, in which the organization said it plans to investigate links between Karoly Mendreczky, the head of Hungarian Television, and FIDESZ, as well as the line-up of the boards of trustees of state-run media. The IPI report also mentioned that "confrontations with the media and the state influence on public service institutions have prompted the EU to publicly state that it disagrees with several methods used by the government." The IPI earlier expressed its concerns in a letter to Premier Orban. MSZ

ALBANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW CABINET
After a long debate, a majority in the 140-seat legislature voted in the early hours of 22 February in favor of Prime Minister-designate Pandeli Majko's Socialist-led cabinet, AP reported from Tirana (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 21 February 2002). The discussion was often acrimonious, reflecting the divisions not only between the Socialists and the opposition, but within the Socialist Party (PS) itself. The vote was 81 in favor, 42 against, two abstentions, and three present but not voting. Twelve deputies were not present. Observers note that the naming of a relatively low-profile, noncontroversial cabinet is widely regarded as a stop-gap measure until the power struggle within the PS is resolved. PM

SOLANA'S TALKS WITH MONTENEGRIN AND SERBIAN LEADERS INCONCLUSIVE
Following his talks in Belgrade on 21 February with Serbian and Montenegrin leaders, EU security policy chief Javier Solana said that some progress has been made toward an agreement on future relations between the two republics, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2002). He added that he thinks that the talks will be concluded by the end of February or by mid-March. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said he expects that the text of a proposed agreement can be made public within 10 days. Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic stressed that each of the two republics must have its own seat in the UN. The Podgorica daily "Vijesti" confirmed in an article on 22 February the outlines of the settlement, which had appeared earlier in some Western media (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2002). PM

IS KOSTUNICA TRYING TO PREEMPT KOSOVA SETTLEMENT?
Kostunica appealed to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to "use his influence" on officials of KFOR and the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) to persuade them to recognize the 2001 Skopje-Belgrade border agreement, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from the Serbian capital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2002). An UNMIK spokesman said in Prishtina that the border agreement between the two states is not acceptable and that such issues must be solved through diplomatic channels. Some observers have suggested that Belgrade is encouraged by its support from the EU against Montenegro and is trying to enlist foreign support for its claims to Kosova. Critics of Belgrade's policy charge that the government should stop trying to recover lost territories and concentrate instead on ridding Serbia of poverty, crime, corruption, and the political culture that led to defeats and isolation. In related news, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic was scheduled to arrive in Moscow on 22 February for talks with Russian leaders regarding Kosova and related issues, Interfax reported. PM

END TO KOSOVA LOGJAM IN SIGHT?
Nexhat Daci, the speaker of the Kosovar parliament, said in Prishtina on 21 February that he expects that "all institutions" will be functioning in the province within two weeks, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He made the remarks after speaking with UNMIK head Michael Steiner. PM

SAUDI TERROR EVIDENCE FOUND IN BOSNIA
AP reported from Sarajevo on 21 February that photos of the World Trade Center and maps of Washington D.C. with government offices marked have been found in a computer that NATO confiscated from a Saudi charity organization in the Bosnian capital last October. Unnamed senior U.S. and Bosnian officials have confirmed the report, which "The Boston Globe" published on 17 February. Among the other materials found at the Sarajevo office of the Saudi High Commissioner for Aid to Bosnia were "a program explaining how to use crop duster aircraft and templates for making fake U.S. State Department identification badges." Anti-Semitic and anti-American "computer materials for children" also turned up, as well as evidence that "millions of dollars" belonging to the charity were not accounted for. One of the six Algerians arrested in October by Bosnian authorities and now in U.S. custody in Guantanamo worked for the agency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2002). His father-in-law worked for the U.S. Embassy. PM

NATO SACKS BOSNIAN MUSLIM GENERAL
Mijo Anic, who is defense minister for the Croat-Muslim federation, told reporters in Sarajevo on 21 February that SFOR commander General John Sylvester has removed federal General Sulejman Vranj from "any military service," dpa reported. Anic added that he does not have much information on the sacking. The news agency reported that Sylvester removed Vranj on 9 February because he took part in demonstrations to protest the extradition of the six Algerian terror suspects to the United States. Sylvester wrote to Anic's ministry that "such activities were counterproductive for the peace process here in Bosnia-Herzegovina." PM

INDICTMENTS ARRIVE IN BOSNIA FROM THE HAGUE
Bosnian federal Deputy Justice Minister Sahbaz Dzihanovic told Hina in Sarajevo on 21 February that 62 indictments arrived from The Hague recently and have been sent to prosecutor's offices in Sarajevo, Mostar, Zenica, Travnik, and Bihac. Each indicted person was charged solely on the basis of individual responsibility for war crimes. Serbs, Muslims, and Croats alike are among those indicted. Dzihanovic added that he expects that additional indictments will arrive from The Hague later. PM

...WHILE RUSSIAN PREMIER SAYS PROTESTS REFLECT LACK OF INFORMATION
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said after talks with his Romanian counterpart Nastase in Moscow on 21 February that the ongoing protests in the Moldovan capital are "a consequence of a lack of information," Mediafax reported. Kasyanov said that the decision of the authorities in Chisinau does not reflect "an attempt to Russify" Moldova, but merely constitutes "granting the status of official language to Russian, which de facto is [already] Moldova's official language, as well as a language of international circulation." Kasyanov also said that he "hopes" the protests in Chisinau are not being financed from outside the country, ITAR-TASS reported. MS

CONTROVERSY IN SLOVENIA OVER TRANSVESTITE SINGERS
A controversy has emerged in Slovenia over the victory by a transvestite trio called Sisters in a contest to represent Slovenia in the Eurovision song competition, AP reported from Ljubljana on 21 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2002). The dispute has centered over the voting procedure, which critics charged was biased in favor of the trio. But social psychologist Vlado Miheljak told the news agency that "it's a well known phenomenon that if one is unable to face the real source of his trauma, he concentrates on anything surrounding it. So, everyone talks now about the vote, while clearly they're disturbed by the transvestitism." Observers note that gay and lesbian rights groups played an important role in the formation of the civil society in Slovenia in the 1980s, which helped the country make a smooth transition to democracy during the collapse of communism. PM

ROMANIAN EXTREMIST PARTY EXPELS DEPUTY
The Greater Romania Party's (PRM) Steering Committee decided on 21 February to expel parliamentary deputy Ilie Neacsu from its ranks, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 February 2002). The committee also discussed the cases of deputies Sever Mesca and Anghel Stanciu, but no sanctions were taken against them. However, on 22 February, Mesca resigned from the PRM, and parliamentary deputy Stefan Pascu said he is considering a similar step. Neacsu said in response that the decision reflects "the dictatorship imposed on the party" by Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor, and promised that "PRM sympathizers will soon learn some shattering news about the Fuehrer-like attitude of Vadim." MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER SAYS 'NO CLASH OF INTERESTS' WITH RUSSIA IN MOLDOVA...
Adrian Nastase said in Moscow on 21 February that there is "no clash of interests" between Moscow and Bucharest in Moldova, Mediafax reported. He spoke after meeting State Duma deputy Chairman Vladimir Lukin. Both politicians said the current crisis in Moldova is "an internal problem" of that country. In an interview with "Rossiiskaya gazeta" cited by Flux, Nastase said that Romania is "concerned" about the "anti-Romanian atmosphere" promoted by Moldova's leadership, which is mirrored in "the resurrection of Soviet ideology." That ideology, he said, used to speak about a "so-called Moldovan language," and about an "alleged invasion" of Romania and "conquest of the Moldovan people." Nastase also said that there are "no territorial problems" between Romania and Moldova, and that Bucharest has "always recognized and respected the Moldovan Republic's territorial integrity." MS

MOLDOVAN PPCD LEADERS FINED IN COURT
On 21 February, a court of justice in Chisinau levied fines on Rosca, his deputy Vlad Cubreacov, and PPCD parliamentary group leader Stefan Secareanu for "organizing unauthorized protests against the Russification of schools," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Also on 21 February, the government appealed to the Supreme Court of Justice to rule whether the PPCD-organized demonstrations are legal. The court must pronounce a verdict within five days. In an interview with RFE/RL, Justice Minister Ion Morei said on 21 February that the cabinet wants the court to forbid the protest rallies. MS

MOLDOVAN PROTESTERS BREAK INTO PARLIAMENT BUILDING
The protesting demonstrators broke into but withdrew from the parliament building on 21 February, and popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca told the crowd: "We shall get into the parliament, but not today. We shall move in if no one listens to our demands." Earlier on 21 February, Rosca called on the protesters to "march on the television [station]" to demand that "the truth" be broadcast about their protests. He said he does not believe police would intervene, and that "at the end they will also join the protests." MS

TRANSDNIESTER HAS NEW 'GOVERNMENT'
A "presidential" press release from Tiraspol cited by ITAR-TASS announced on 21 February that the formation of the new Transdniester cabinet has been completed. Eleven former "ministers" are members in the new 13-member body. Former Deputy Interior Minister Aleksander Koroliov and Former Information Minister Vladimir Belyayev have now full ministerial rank. MS

CALM RETURNS TO PLODVIV DISTRICT AFTER RIOTS
Calm returned on 21 February to the Plodviv district of Stolipinovo, after three nights of riots during which the inhabitants, who are mainly Roma, demanded that the power supply to their neighborhood be restored, AP and dpa reported. In a compromise with community leaders, the local authorities agreed to restore the power supply for the Muslim holiday of Kurban Bayram, which began on 22 February. The holiday lasts three days. MS

LEADERS OF EVANGELICAL CHURCHES WARN AGAINST ANTI-SEMITISM IN BULGARIA
The leaders of five Evangelical churches in Bulgaria are warning against a wave of anti-Semitism spreading in the country, according to a Tolerance Foundation press release dated 21 February. They said on 16 February that publications with a manifestly anti-Semitic character have recently been published and that Holocaust-denying literature is also being circulated. They particularly pointed out a book by Volen Siderov, who is deputy editor in chief of "Monitor," one of Bulgaria's largest dailies. The book, they said, is nothing but a collection of classic anti-Semitic stereotypes, but also targets Roma and other minorities. "If there are now people in Bulgaria who want to see the Jews dead," they said, "our answers as Bulgarians can only be: we are Jews as well." MS

WINTER OLYMPICS MEDAL COUNT -- PART 2 COUNTRIES

Through 21 FEBRUARY

Country_________Gold___Silver___Bronze___Total


Croatia____________2_______1_______0_______3
Bulgaria___________0_______1_______2_______3
Estonia____________1_______0_______1_______2
Czech Rep._________1_______0_______1_______2
Poland_____________0_______1_______1_______2
Belarus____________0_______0_______1_______1
Slovenia___________0_______0_______1_______1
Bosnia-Herzeg.______0_______0_______0_______0
Hungary___________0_______0_______0_______0
Latvia_____________0_______0_______0_______0
Lithuania__________0_______0_______0_______0
Macedonia_________0_______0_______0_______0
Moldova___________0_______0_______0_______0
Romania___________0_______0_______0_______0
Slovakia___________0_______0_______0_______0
Ukraine____________0_______0_______0_______0
Yugoslavia_________0_______0_______0_______0

U.S. STEPS UP PRESSURE ON UKRAINE TO HOLD FREE ELECTIONS
The visits to Ukraine this month by Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who now chairs the U.S. National Democratic Institute (NDI), coupled with the NDI report that emerged from Albright's mission and two new resolutions introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate reflect increasing U.S. concern at the direction in which Ukraine is heading.

Orest Deychakiwsky, an adviser at the United States Helsinki Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, said, "They all point to strong manifestations of U.S. concerns about the upcoming elections, as these will be an important indication of whether Ukraine moves forward in its democratic development and integration into Europe."

There are four main reasons for the present U.S. concern over Ukraine. First, both U.S. and Russian leaders believe that Ukraine's independence is now secured, and support for the "Belarusian option" is confined to only the extreme left. A January report by the Polish Eastern Studies Center concurred, concluding that no "serious political groups" are likely to emerge in Ukraine to clamor for union with Russia.

Ukraine's leaders therefore can no longer blackmail the West by talking of the threat of "Russian imperialism." Consequently, the West has more leverage over Ukraine in criticizing its domestic policies when those policies are incompatible with its declared goals of "returning to Europe." At the same time, the Ukrainian leadership has less room to maneuver by playing off the West against Russia to extract the maximum advantage from both sides, as it repeatedly did in the 1990s.

U.S. criticism of Ukrainian domestic policies does not signify, as Ukrainian leaders mistakenly believe, that the U.S. no longer sees Ukraine as strategically important. Nevertheless, the U.S.-Ukrainian "strategic partnership" remains more declaratory than real and of more importance to Ukraine than the United States. In 2000, the U.S. only accounted for 5.8 percent of Ukrainian exports and 2.5 percent of imports.

Secondly, Western views on human rights, press freedom, and corruption in Ukraine have changed for the worse since the late 1990s. A major irritant is the Soviet-style discrepancy between official rhetoric and actual policies. This view has gone so far that, in private, U.S. officials sometimes describe Ukraine as "Kuchmastan." The Center for Peace, Conversion, and Foreign Policy, a Kyiv think tank, concluded in a January paper that the new U.S. administration "has no more faith in the assurances and declarations of Ukrainian officials about their commitment to democratic values and European integration."

U.S. assistance to Ukraine this year requires that the State Department submit to Congress within 60 days of the enactment of the aid a report on murdered journalists, including the unresolved case of murdered opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. The Ukrainian parliamentary commission headed by Oleksandr Zhyr, a member of Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine election bloc, have begun submitting the "Kuchmagate" tapes to FBI experts. The experts have concluded that the tapes studied so far have not been doctored, thereby undermining one of the main arguments used by the Ukrainian authorities to deflect guilt away from Kuchma.

The FBI experts offered to act as expert witnesses in any subsequent trial and their reports on the tapes would be accepted as credible evidence in U.S. and Western European courts. The Ukrainian parliamentary commission is now proposing to internationalize evidence found on the tapes, as it is unlikely that any trial resulting from them would take place in Ukraine. International law takes precedence over Ukrainian, including the UN Convention Against Torture signed by 118 states. Ukrainian officials implicated in the evidence on the tapes in misdeeds could theoretically be arrested in any of these countries.

Thirdly, Ukraine is being left out of the geopolitical changes that are affecting Central and Eastern Europe. Ukraine is not among the 10 countries seeking NATO membership at the alliance's November summit in Prague. Of the 10 countries, five (the three Baltic states, Slovakia, and Slovenia) will likely be asked to join NATO this year, with Romania and Bulgaria also possible candidates (Macedonia, Croatia, and Albania are generally believed to be out of the running). On 6 February, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell refused to disclose how many of the applicants would be invited to join; nevertheless, he said, "I think its going to be a pretty good-sized addition to the membership." If Slovakia and Romania were to join NATO this year, Ukraine would then share borders with four NATO members.

Ukraine has narrowed its foreign policy goals to only joining the EU as an Associate Member in 2004 and full membership by 2011, but even these goals are unrealistic as Ukraine is a member of neither the "fast" nor the "slow track" groups of future members. Poland recently submitted a 92-page report to the EU detailing how it will tighten its Eastern border with Ukraine beginning next year through visas, additional border troops, and modern equipment. In 2001, 15 million Ukrainians, Russians, and Belarusians entered Poland. As of 2004, Poland's Eastern border will be the external frontier of the EU, leaving Ukraine de facto left outside "Europe."

Fourthly, during a visit on 11-13 February to Russia's Tyumen Oblast, the main producer of Russian oil and gas, President Kuchma repeatedly complained about Russian plans to lay a gas pipeline bypassing Ukraine, as a result of which Ukraine would lose its control over Russian energy exports. Last month, Western European consumers of Russian gas pressured Poland to drop its objections to the new pipeline that will run through Belarus, Poland, and Slovakia.

Because of these four factors, Kuchma faces a fundamental dilemma. He can save himself from prosecution and obtain immunity by ensuring a pliant parliament is elected through less-than-free elections, something that would end Ukraine's chances of "returning to Europe." Or, he could allow free elections that would rebuild Western confidence in Ukraine but would threaten his own plans for a peaceful retirement after his term ends in 2004, and make it difficult for him to again travel securely to the West, now or in the future.

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

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