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Newsline - March 4, 2002


RUSSIAN TAX MINISTRY MAY RAISE INCOME TAX
Russian government officials are once again discussing income taxes. Natalya Aristarkhova, a newly appointed secretary of the Tax Ministry, announced on 28 February that the maximum social tax rate for individuals, now at 35.6 percent, will be reduced, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 1 March. Parliamentarians have been pushing for this cut since the beginning of the year, but the government recommended that the tax cut not be rushed, RBK added on 4 March. Meanwhile, the Economy Ministry has also reviewed the initiative and offered to reduce the tax rate for employers while transferring this additional burden to individuals. Aristarkhova said the income tax might be raised by 1 or 2 percent. This would eventually destroy the main achievement of the tax reform -- a flat 13 percent income tax rate. VC

RUSSIANS BECOME MORE CRITICAL OF THEIR GOVERNMENT
A recent poll conducted by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTSIOM) shows that 49 percent of Russians believe the main flaw of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's cabinet is its inability to control inflation and the fall of the population's incomes, Interfax reported on 1 March. In February 2001, only 39 percent of Russians shared this perception. Other concerns are related to social security: 33 percent of Russians (as opposed to 27 percent in 2001) feel that the government does not care enough. A new trend concerns the war in Chechnya. This year, 24 percent of the respondents criticize the government for not being able to "solve the problem of Chechnya," as compared to 7 percent who were of that opinion last year. VC

KISELEV PREPARES FOR TV-6 TENDER
In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 2 March, TV-6 General Director Yevgenii Kiselev said founders of the new television company have agreed to limit the stake of each shareholder to 10 percent, to increase the number of investors from 12 to 30 in the first months following the creation of the new channel, and "to include Russian and foreign citizens." Kiselev said all the documents required for participation in the tender to broadcast on channel six, set for March 27, have been drawn up. As of 3 February, 12 investors have agreed to participate in the tender (See "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2002). VC

MOSCOW MAINTAINS AID TO AFGHANISTAN
During his visit to Moscow, Afghan Interior Minister Yunus Qanuni announced that the Russian Interior Ministry will assist in the training and equipping of Afghan police, Interfax reported on 2 March. In addition, Qanuni said he reached agreements with the Russian government to rebuild the Salang Pass tunnel, and to restore Afghanistan's freight service. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov expressed the city's readiness to take part in rebuilding a housing construction complex in Kabul, Interfax added. VC

OLIGARCHS HAVE BECOME EVEN WEALTHIER UNDER PUTIN
Releasing its annual list of the world's wealthiest individuals, "Forbes" magazine on 1 March included seven of the wealthiest Russian businessmen for the second-straight year, showing that Russian oligarchs have managed to either maintain or increase their wealth. Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii was named the richest man in Russia for the second consecutive year. He saw his personal wealth increase by $1.3 billion over the past year to $3.7 billion, earning him the No. 101 spot on the list of 497 billionaires, "The Moscow Times" pointed out on 4 March. Chukotka Governor Roman Abramovich was named the second-wealthiest man in Russia, with his $3 billion putting him in 127th place worldwide. Abramovich's fortune more than doubled in the last year, when Forbes ranked him No. 363 with $1.4 billion. LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov ranked No. 327 with $1.4 billion, and aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska made the list for the first time, with his $1.1 billion placing him 413th. VC

POPE INVADES RUSSIA VIRTUALLY
Pope John Paul II led prayers in six cities, including Moscow, via a satellite television link-up on 2 March, Reuters reported. Patriarch of All-Russia and Moscow Aleksii II told reporters in Moscow that the Russian Orthodox Church considers the pope's link-up an "invasion" of Russia, and promised that the virtual visit will negatively impact relations between the two churches, Interfax reported. The message was also beamed to Athens, Budapest, Strasbourg, Valencia, and Vienna. The message was broadcast in Moscow's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Moscow, but not a single Russian television channel rebroadcast the message, a Vatican representative confirmed, ntvru.com reported. JAC

NEW TATARSTAN CONSTITUTION MAKES SOME CONCESSIONS...
Tatarstan's legislature passed in its first reading on 28 February a bill amending the republic's constitution, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. There were 116 votes in favor, with one against and one abstention. The most heated disputes were devoted to the issues of the 1994 power-sharing treaty between Russia and Tatarstan, as well as citizenship in Tatarstan, which is separate from citizenship in Russia, according to the bureau. "Izvestiya" reported on 1 March that the new version still defines Tatarstan as a sovereign state. Tatarstan's president, Mintimer Shaimiev, said at the legislative session that "we realize that some will not like the mention of sovereignty in the Constitution of Tatarstan. However, the Russian Constitution recognizes republics as states. Consequently, it is impossible to reject the notion of sovereignty either hypothetically or practically." In addition, in the new version, Tatarstan also retains its own citizenship, but "citizens of the Republic of Tatarstan are at the same time citizens of the Russian Federation." According to Shaimiev, the notion of "citizenship of Tatarstan" is symbolic, linked with the fact that Tatarstan is acknowledged as a state, but regulates no relations in real life. A second reading is slated for late March or early April. JAC

...FOR WHICH MOSCOW HAD TO PAY DEARLY?
The amendments are intended to bring the republican constitution in harmony with the federal constitution. According to "Vek" on 22 February, the new constitution does not give Tatarstan the right to its own separate judicial system or the right to conclude international treaties. And Tatarstan also rephrased its sections regarding its "association" with the Russian Federation. In exchange for these concessions, according to the weekly, the republic won economic benefits, such as some 12.8 billion rubles ($420 million) earmarked in the federal budget for Tatarstan's socioeconomic development in 2002. In comparison, a development program for the entire Southern federal district of Russia was funded at the level of only 600 million rubles, according to the weekly. JAC

CONTRARY TO INITIAL REPORTS, TUVA CANDIDATE SURVIVES ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
Vyacheslav Darzha, a candidate for the head of the Tuva Republic, was not killed as some news sources reported initially, but survived after being fired upon by unknown assailants, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2002). In addition, Darzha was not hit in the back by a bullet but in the shoulder. He was discharged after two days in the hospital. JAC

MORE SOCIALIST PARTIES MERGE
A new party called the Unified Socialist Party was established at a founding congress near Moscow on 2 March, RIA-Novosti reported. Some 300 delegates, representing the Socialist Party, the Spiritual Heritage movement, and other organizations were in attendance. Socialist Party head Ivan Rybkin was elected chairman of the party, and Spiritual Heritage head Aleksei Podberezkin was chosen as its secretary-general. Podberezkin promised that the new party will have about 100,000 members in the near future. Rybkin and Podberezkin earlier attended the congress of the Social Democratic Party of Russia, led by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov, but decided not to join that party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November 2001). JAC

U.S. DELEGATION SETS OFF TO DEFEND 'BUSH'S LEGS'
The Russian Veterinary Service on 1 March suspended the issue of licenses for imports of poultry from the U.S. and announced plans for a complete ban beginning on 10 March, ITAR-TASS reported. A Russian Agriculture Ministry spokesman explained that the measure was necessary because the U.S. did not answer repeated inquiries from the Veterinary Service regarding the use of preservatives and disinfectants in the poultry breeding process. On 2 March, Interfax reported that the U.S. will send a group of experts headed by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman to Moscow next week to resolve the problem. According to Ekho Moskvy, imported U.S. chicken legs, which are called "nozhki Busha" (Bush's legs) after former U.S. President George Bush, "are almost as much a symbol of Russia's new life as the Russian flag." According to the station, the ban "may be purely political," and linked to a possible U.S. ban on certain kinds of Russian steel. JAC

MARII CULTURE UNDER PRESSURE
Representatives of the Marii political opposition recently took part in a press conference organized in Kazan by the Tatar Public Center, Liberal Russia in Tatarstan, and the public political movement Idel-Ural, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 1 March, citing "Vostochnyi ekspress." Viktor Nikolaev, the chairman of the All-Marii Council and the former Marii El culture minister, said Marii opposition movements are preparing to protest against pressure being exerted on the Marii language and culture in the republic. They are appealing to Tatars and related Finno-Ugric peoples for support. Nikolaev said that since Leonid Markelov, who was supported by the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, took over as president of the republic, a government body in charge of ethnic issues has been abolished, and a major discussion on the necessity of teaching the Marii language has been initiated. In addition, the Education Ministry's National Education Department has also been closed, while its employees have been accused of "spreading the Marii language," he said. The opposition newspaper "Kudo-Kodu" is printed outside the republic with the support of George Soros's Open Society Fund. JAC

KARELIAN INCUMBENT TO SEEK SECOND TERM
The head of the Karelia Republic, Sergei Katanandov, told Interfax-Northwest on 2 March that he intends to seek a second term in office in elections scheduled for 28 April. State Duma deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) Artur Myaki also intends to run, according to the agency. The Karelian branch of Unified Russia announced on 1 March that it will support Katanandov in the elections. JAC

LEGISLATORS ADD A LITTLE EXTRA WHILE HARMONIZING LOCAL LAWS
Deputies in Tver Oblast's legislature voted on 1 March to approve amendments to the oblast's charter, bringing it into conformity with the federal legislation, strana.ru reported. In addition, the bill also lengthens the term in office of the governor, oblast legislators, and election commission members from four years to five. JAC

GOVERNMENT APPROVES INVESTMENT PROGRAM FOR ENERGY SECTOR
The government has approved a package of investments that would inject 103 billion rubles ($3.4 billion) into the national energy infrastructure, Prime-TASS reported on 28 February. The investments include 43.5 billion rubles ($1.4 billion) for the development of Unified Energy Systems, including the construction of eight new electrical power stations. Some 25.7 billion rubles ($856 million) will be used in the nuclear energy sphere. VY

STATISTICS COMMITTEE PREDICTS SIGNIFICANT DROP IN POPULATION
The State Statistics Committee has published a report in which it forecasts Russia's population in 2016, RIA-Novosti reported on 28 February. The forecast is broken down into three possible scenarios -- favorable, median, and negative. According to the first scenario the Russian population will drop to 138 million; in the second, to 134 million; and in the third, to just 128 million. Based on the median scenario, by 2016 only 11 out of 89 federation subjects will have a satisfactory demographic situation. The highest growth rates are expected to be found in Chechnya, Daghestan, Ingushetia, and Tuva. The biggest population drops are expected in the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg, and in the Ivanovo, Smolensk, Ryazan, Kaluga, and Novgorod Oblasts. VY

MOSCOW ACCUSED OF PLANNING TO LIQUIDATE CHECHEN PRESIDENT
Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Akhmed Zakaev told Prime News on 3 March that Moscow is looking for ways to assassinate Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov in the same way as it killed President Djokhar Dudaev in April 1996, according to chechenpress.com on 4 March. Zakaev also said it is "not appropriate" to blame the high crime rate in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge on the presence there of an estimated 8,000 refugees from Chechnya. LF

ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS U.S. TROOPS POSE NO THREAT TO CAUCASUS STABILITY
The dispatch of U.S. troops to Georgia's Pankisi Gorge is unlikely to destabilize the situation in the South Caucasus, Serzh Sarkisian told journalists in Yerevan on 1 March. But at the same time Sarkisian added that Yerevan is "in general against the emergence of new dividing lines and blocs" in the region. LF

IMF IMPOSES CONDITIONS FOR NEW ARMENIAN LOAN
An IMF delegation that visited Yerevan last month has set additional conditions for the release of two tranches, worth $26 million, of an $87 million Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility loan, Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian told journalists in Yerevan on 28 February, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 1 March. He did not specify what the new conditions entail. LF

ARMENIAN EDITOR AGAIN CHARGED WITH SLANDER
Nicol Pashinian, editor of the opposition daily "Haykakan zhamanak," was formally charged on 1 March with slandering Hovannes Yeritsian, who heads Armenia's civil aviation agency, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. In its 6 November 2001 issue, the paper printed a photograph of Yeritsian with the caption "Degenerate officials recruited for the civil service." Pashinian was found guilty of similar slander charges in September 1999 and sentenced to one year in jail; that term was subsequently suspended (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2000). LF

AZERBAIJAN'S PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON NEW KARABAKH PEACE PROPOSALS
Speaking to journalists at Baku airport on 28 February on his return from the U.S., Heidar Aliev said that during their 1 February talks in New York (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2002), the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group acquainted him with "specific" proposals to resolve the Karabakh conflict that do not constitute a follow-up to agreements reached during the talks in Key West in April 2001, Turan reported on March. He did not elaborate. On 2 March, the independent Azerbaijani newspaper "Sharg" condemned U.S. Minsk Group co-chair Rudolf Perina's statement that Nagorno-Karabakh has never been part of an independent Azerbaijani state, Turan reported. Also on 2 March, Azerbaijani parliament deputy Djamil Hasanli (Azerbaijan Popular Front Party) argued that President Aliev should refuse to hold any further talks with his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian because Kocharian was one of the organizers of the February 1992 massacre of Azerbaijani civilians in the Karabakh village of Khodjaly, Turan reported. LF

AZERBAIJAN DEPORTS MORE TERRORIST SUSPECTS
Two more Egyptians suspected of links with international terrorism have been extradited from Azerbaijan, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 March. Baku has deported at least three suspected terrorists to Egypt since October 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 25 October, and 13 November 2001). LF

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT SAYS U.S. MILITARY AID TO GEORGIA 'NO TRAGEDY'
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Georgian counterpart Eduard Shevardnadze met on 1 March in Almaty after the informal CIS summit. Putin told journalists after those talks that the presence in Georgia of U.S. military personnel is not "a tragedy," according to the "Daily Telegraph" on 2 March, but expressed displeasure that the Georgian government had not informed Moscow of their arrival beforehand. Shevardnadze, for his part, rejected that accusation, saying that "there are no secrets" about the ongoing U.S. military cooperation with, and assistance to, Georgia. On 4 March, Georgian Minister for Special Assignments Malkhaz Kakabadze denied that any U.S. special forces are already in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. On 2 March, Shevardnadze again discussed the situation in the Pankisi Gorge with visiting Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo, who traveled to Tbilisi to attend the funeral of his late Georgian counterpart Nugzar Sadzhaya. LF

ABKHAZIA HOLDS PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
Deputies to a new Abkhaz parliament were elected in at least 30 of the unrecognized republic's 35 constituencies on 2 March in a ballot not recognized by the international community as legal, AP reported on 3 March, quoting Abkhaz Central Election Commission Chairman Sergei Smyr. He said repeated voting will take place in four constituencies, and no results were yet available from a fifth. A total of 63 candidates, including seven Russians, five Armenians, three Georgians, and one Pontic Greek, contested the ballot. The opposition movement Aytaira decided at the last minute to boycott the ballot after several of its potential candidates were refused registration (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 8, 28 February 2002). In Tbilisi, Londer Tsaava, the chairman of the Abkhaz Council of Ministers in Exile, rejected as untrue Abkhaz claims that the Georgian population of Abkhazia's Gali Raion participated in the poll. Voter turnout was estimated at 61.2 percent. LF

ABKHAZ OFFICIALS DENY AL-QAEDA GUERRILLAS IN KODORI...
Abkhaz Security Service head Zurab Agumava on 1 March rejected as untrue Georgian State Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania's allegation the previous day that terrorists with links to Al-Qaeda have taken refuge in the lower reaches of the Kodori Gorge, Caucasus Press reported. Agumava did not, however, exclude the possibility that such terrorists are in the upper, Georgian-controlled reaches of the gorge, from which Georgia refuses to withdraw the troops it sent there last October. He accused Georgia of trying to blacken Abkhazia's image in the eyes of the international community. LF

...AGAIN ASK FOR ASSOCIATED STATUS WITH RUSSIA
Abkhazia's president, Vladislav Ardzinba, has asked the Russian Federation to admit Abkhazia as an associate member out of concern over the possible repercussions of the increased Western military presence in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported on 2 March citing the Abkhaz representation in Moscow. The previous day, Abkhaz Prime Minister Anri Djergenia told ORT that Sukhum might again ask Russia to grant Abkhazia such status. Djergenia first raised the issue of Abkhazia's "associate membership" of the Russian Federation four months ago (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 36, 29 October 2001). On 4 March, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba expressed concern that the Georgian army units that are to be trained in antiterrorism measures by the U.S. military might be deployed in the future against the Abkhaz, according to Apsnipress, as cited by Caucasus Press. LF

KAZAKHSTAN HOSTS INFORMAL CIS SUMMIT
With the exception of Azerbaijan's Heidar Aliev, who is still convalescing after prostate surgery, the presidents of all CIS member states attended an informal summit on 1 March in the ski resort of Chimbulak near Almaty. Topics discussed included the antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan, the upcoming Ukrainian parliamentary election, and the proposal floated last November by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev that Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan should form a CIS counterpart to OPEC (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2001). No formal decisions were taken on the latter question, although Putin, Nazarbaev, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, and Uzbek President Islam Karimov met separately on the sideline of the summit, signed a joint statement on cooperation in energy policy and to protect the interests of those countries that export natural gas, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin also met separately with Armenian President Kocharian, and Kocharian discussed Turkmen gas supplies to Armenia with Niyazov, but reached no firm agreement, according to Mediamax, as cited by Groong. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEPUTY, JOURNALIST TRADE ACCUSATIONS
During a 2 March debate moderated by RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau, parliament deputy Adaham Madumarov accused Nyshanbek Kochkorov, a deputy with Kyrgyz National television, of unprofessional behavior. Two days earlier, Kyrgyz television aired a discussion between the two men of the case of arrested parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, in which Kochkorov edited statements by his opponent and accused him of spreading deliberately false information. Madumarov reported after meeting with Beknazarov in custody last month that Beknazarov had been beaten (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2002). On 1 March, Tursunbek Akunov, who is chairman of the public committee to support Beknazarov, met with presidential administration head Amanbek Karypkulov to discuss Beknazarov's case, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported, Karypkulov denied at that meeting that Beknazarov was beaten in custody, or that local officials were taken hostage in Djalalabad Oblast last month to protest Beknazarov's arrest and trial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 February 2002). LF

U.S. DELEGATION DISCUSSES MILITARY AID TO UZBEKISTAN
Uzbek Defense Minister Kadyr Gulyamov met in Tashkent on 2 March with a visiting U.S. congressional delegation to discuss Uzbekistan's defense needs, and the possible training of Uzbek officers in the United States, AP and the Uzbek National Information Agency reported. The U.S. has earmarked some $160 million in aid for Uzbekistan this year. The delegation also met with representatives of the U.S. military contingent currently deployed in Uzbekistan. LF

AFGHAN LEADER ARRIVES IN UZBEKISTAN
Interim Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai arrived in Tashkent late on 2 March and met the following day with Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov and Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Yunusov to discuss regional security issues and Uzbek assistance in restoring Afghan highways and irrigation systems, AP reported. Karzai is to meet on 4 March with Uzbek President Karimov. LF

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADERS SUBJECTED TO SIX-HOUR BORDER CHECK
Belarusian customs officers held a dozen Belarusian opposition figures and journalists for more than six hours on 1 March at the border with Lithuania, Belapan reported. The group was heading for Druskininkai to take part in an international conference on the prospects of cooperation with Belarus, which was organized by the Institute of International Relations and Political Sciences of Vilnius University. Belapan added that Anatol Lyabedzka, the chairman of the United Civic Party; Valyantsina Palevikova, the head of the Belarusian Women's Party "Nadzeya"; Tatsyana Protska, the chairwoman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee; Uladzimir Nistsyuk, the deputy chairman of the Social Democratic Party; Leanid Zaika, the president of the Strategiya analytical center; and others had to undergo a humiliating search at the checking point. Two women in the group were subject to a strip-search, AP reported, quoting Lyabedzka. Customs officials found nothing, and the group crossed the border after 10 p.m. The conference was postponed for a day in order to make it possible for the Belarusian group to attend. JM

UKRAINE CONFIRMS COURSE TOWARD EUROPE
Ukrainian Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh said at NATO headquarters in Brussels on 1 March that Ukraine confirms its strategic and irreversible course toward economic and political integration with European structures, Ukrainian and international media reported. Kinakh made this declaration at a joint press conference with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson. Speaking about the key priorities of Ukraine-NATO cooperation, Kinakh said both sides should work toward strengthening Ukraine's borders in order to erect a barrier to illegal immigration, arms and drug trafficking, and international terrorism. JM

PACE OFFICIAL APPALLED BY UKRAINIAN ELECTION CAMPAIGN, BUT SEES SOME HOPE
Summing up her visit to Ukraine, Hanne Severinsen, the head of a monitoring mission of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), told journalists in Kyiv on 1 March that the parliamentary election campaign has been marred by fear, harassment, and intimidation, Reuters reported. "Sixty percent of local electoral committees are controlled by pro-presidential parties... And [we are] very concerned over repeated statements about the misuse of power resulting from illegal usage of administrative resources by pro-presidential forces, particularly in the regions," Severinsen noted. "There is absolutely no political dialogue, there is just fear," she added. However, Severinsen also said the current campaign is more democratic than the 1999 presidential election, adding that candidates now have more freedom to declare their views and protest violations in courts. JM

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION ACTIVIST ATTACKED
Lawmaker Valentyn Zubov, the head of the opposition Fatherland Party's regional branch in Donetsk, was attacked in Slovyansk, Donetsk Oblast, on 2 March, UNIAN reported. The attack took place at the town's railway station in front of a wagon of the Kiev-Luhansk train just as Zubov was receiving a parcel containing the plan and route for Fatherland Party leader Yuliya Tymoshenko's tour of the region planned for 5-6 March. The attackers were three athletically built men who knocked Zubov over, beat him, and snatched the parcel from his hands. Zubov views the attack as designed to acquire information about the tour in order to disrupt Tymoshenko's visit to Donetsk Oblast. JM

ESTONIAN CENTER PARTY LEADERS APPROVE ACCORD WITH RUSSIAN PARTY
The extended board of the Center Party approved a cooperation agreement on 2 March with the Russian-dominated United People's Party, BNS reported. The agreement stipulates coordinated action in the handling of bills, and that the parties will not support votes of no-confidence against members of the cabinet or the chairmen and deputy chairmen of parliamentary committees. The two parties agreed to consider state support to be important for small and medium-size businesses, to support maintaining state control over key infrastructure branches, and to develop state programs for reducing poverty and alleviating social problems. They pledged to make efforts to settle the ongoing conflict between the two Estonian Orthodox churches with different canonical subordination. The Center Party board also endorsed the coalition agreement with the Reform Party. SG

BALTIC DEFENSE MINISTERS SIGN ACCORD ON JOINT CAMPAIGN FOR NATO MEMBERSHIP
At a meeting in Vilnius on 1 March, Defense Ministers Sven Mikser (Estonia), Girts Valdis Kristovskis (Latvia), and Linas Linkevicius (Lithuania) signed an agreement on cooperation in securing invitations to join NATO during the Atlantic alliance's summit in Prague in November, ELTA reported. They agreed to send a joint delegation for talks with U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in mid-March and with German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping in April. The ministers issued a statement that the Baltic states will do everything in their power to support the worldwide fight against terrorism, and will continue to participate in the SFOR and KFOR peacekeeping operations. They also signed the action plan of the joint Baltic naval squadron BALTRON for 2002, and agreed to the financing, operation, and administration of a Baltic Sea Marine Training Center in Liepaja, Latvia. Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus held a reception for the ministers, during which he noted that the leaders of NATO states pay attention when the Baltic states speak with a single voice. The next meeting of the Baltic defense ministers is scheduled to take place in Tallinn in May. SG

BALTIC PRIME MINISTERS ADOPT A COMMON STATEMENT ON EU ASSISTANCE PACKAGE
Premiers Algirdas Brazauskas (Lithuania), Andris Berzins (Latvia), and Siim Kallas (Estonia) agreed at the resort of Nida, Lithuania on 1 March that the aid model proposed by the European Commission is a good place to start negotiations, but that it needs revisions concerning direct subsidies to farmers, agriculture quotas, and transition periods, BNS reported. They said that the European Commission's proposal to offer farmers in new EU states in 2004 just 25 percent of the subsidies given to current union members is too low, and that having to wait until 2013 for the subsidies to fully match those of current EU members would delay the establishment of a unified market for agricultural goods and a common agricultural policy across the union. The premiers also agreed that the EC-proposed agricultural production quotas for the Baltic states should be raised, as they were much lower than output there over the past few years. The premiers also discussed NATO membership, setting up a common free market for electricity, and the Via Baltica highway project. SG

POLISH GOVERNMENT ADOPTS STANCE ON EU LAND ISSUE
Leszek Miller's cabinet on 1 March adopted its negotiating stance on the purchase of land by EU citizens, Polish media reported. The cabinet decided that EU farmers -- who are already cultivating leased land in Poland -- will be able to purchase it after three or seven years from the signing of the lease agreement. The three-year period applies to the eastern and southern territories of Poland, the seven-year period applies to those in the west and north (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2001). Companies will be able to buy land after an identical transition period of three or seven years, but only after Poland has entered the EU. The League of Polish Families and Andrzej Lepper's Self-Defense have criticized the decision. "The Germans now quite simply want to take over these western and northern territories... What Hitler was not able to take with planes and tanks and rifles, will today be taken by the euro," Polish Radio quoted Lepper as saying. JM

POLISH CENTRAL BANK GOVERNOR RESISTS PRESSURE TO REDUCE INTEREST RATES
Speaking to the Sejm on 1 March, National Bank Chairman Leszek Balcerowicz explained why the Monetary Policy Council did not cut key interests rates last week as demanded by the government, which sees such cuts as a major measure to boost the economy, PAP reported. Balcerowicz said the economy cannot be saturated with money since this leads to inflation. According to Balcerowicz, the monetary policy cannot replace structural moves by the government, which include the removal of barriers to creating new jobs. JM

POLISH PROSECUTORS WANT TO REPORT TO PARLIAMENT
A congress of Polish prosecutors on 2 March demanded that a new legislative act be passed to make the country's prosecutors accountable to the parliament rather than the justice minister as they are now, Polish Radio reported. The congress submitted its proposal to Justice Minister and Prosecutor-General Barbara Piwnik. JM

WILL CZECH FIELD HOSPITAL BE DEPLOYED IN AFGHANISTAN?
A group of Czech army experts has left for Afghanistan to assess the possibility of deploying a military hospital with the ISAF international peacekeeping forces in that country, Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik told CTK on 3 March. Tvrdik said he expects British Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon to ask him to dispatch the hospital when they meet on 4 March. The ISAF forces are now under British command. The deployment of the hospital must be approved by the government and the parliament. The hospital is one of three units offered by Prague to contribute to the struggle against terrorism. An antichemical unit is to leave for Kuwait this month to join the Enduring Freedom operations. The Czech Republic has also offered a paratroops unit to act with the ISAF forces in Kabul, but thus far the unit has not been deployed. MS

EU URGES CZECHS, HUNGARIANS NOT TO OPEN OLD WOUNDS...
"My strong advise would be not to try to make the Benes Decrees an issue for today's Europe," EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen was quoted by Reuters as saying after a meeting in Brussels with Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan on 1 March. Verheugen said that dwelling in the past, however painful that past might be, is not in the spirit of the EU. He reiterated that the decrees will not affect the expansion process. "How many laws, decrees, and even illegal acts did we see in EU states before the establishment of the EU that do not meet today's human rights standards?" he asked. MS

...WHILE CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER CRITICIZES KLAUS...
Foreign Minister Kavan said after the meeting that the proposal by Civic Democratic Party Chairman Vaclav Klaus to include guarantees in the Czech accession treaty that the postwar order will not be changed is "absurd and counterproductive," CTK reported on 1 March. "It is not necessary," he said, to indicate that the Benes Decrees are "in any way extraordinary [or] different from similar laws on confiscation of the enemy's property [passed elsewhere] after 1945." MS

...AND REJECTS SCHUESSEL'S PROPOSAL
Speaking in Algiers on 3 March, Kavan also rejected a "recommendation" made by Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel the day before that the Czech Republic should "terminate" the validity of the Benes Decrees and consider "voluntary compensation" to those expelled. Kavan said it would be "practically impossible" to abolish only those decrees issued by Benes in 1945 that dealt with the confiscation of property and the expulsion of Germans and Hungarians. Government spokesman Libor Roucek said on 3 March that Vienna and Prague signed an agreement in 1974 in which Austria pledged not to raise any property restitution claims in the future, and the Czech cabinet expects Schuessel to abide by that agreement. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT REJECTS JUSTICE MINISTER'S OBJECTIONS OVER APPOINTMENT OF JUDGE
On 1 March, Vaclav Havel refused to change his mind over the nomination of Iva Brozova to chair the Supreme Court, replacing Eliska Wagnerova, who was nominated by Havel to the Constitutional Court, CTK reported. Havel received Justice Minister Jaroslav Bures, who objected to Brozova's appointment. If the Senate does not approve Havel's nomination of Wagnerova to the Constitutional Court, however, Wagnerova will continue to chair the Supreme Court. Brozova's nomination does not require approval by the upper house. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT READY TO 'REASSESS' BENES DECREES...
President Rudolf Schuster, in an interview with the Czech daily "Pravo" on 1 March, said he is against abolishing the Benes Decrees, but added that the decrees should be "reassessed," CTK reported. "Collective punishment is never good because it always affects innocent people too," he said, adding that the "implementation of the decrees was never controlled." Since such a long time has passed, he said, "it would be in order not to abolish them, but to reassess the decrees and to apologize to those who were deported, many of whom had opposed fascism and fought against it with arms in hand," he said. MS

...'REASSESSES' MECIAR IN THE MEANTIME
Schuster said in the same interview that he and former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar were always rivals and "at times, even fierce enemies." However, he added, he has changed his opinion since becoming president, because in his new position he has to be "impartial." Unlike the current coalition's opinion of Meciar, Schuster said, he appreciates his evolution and the fact that the former premier has changed his opinions -- for example, regarding NATO membership. This is important, he added, because Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) is a party that has "strong influence." In the interview, Schuster also criticized the current coalition, saying that it should have implemented painful reforms soon after it won the 1998 elections. By now, he said, people would have understood and appreciated their necessity. Instead, Schuster said, the coalition parties fought against each other and Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda undermined the coalition by setting up his own formation. MS

MECIAR TELLS U.S. AMBASSADOR NOT TO INTERFERE IN SLOVAK AFFAIRS...
On 1 March, opposition HZDS Chairman Meciar described as "improper" last week's comments by NATO Ambassador Nicholas Burns on the danger that Slovakia may again fail to join NATO if the HZDS wins the fall parliamentary elections, CTK reported. "I am glad our guest reminded us of the rules of democracy, and I would like to ask him to respect those rules himself," he said. Meciar said on 3 March that in light of such statements, it is conceivable that Slovakia will not be invited to join NATO in 2002, but that he still believes these declarations are aimed more at enlisting electoral support for the current coalition than a reflection of what would happen in case of an HZDS electoral victory. MS

...AND SUPPORTS CZECH POSITION ON BENES DECREES
"The Benes Decrees have been popping up annually ever since 1990. The only question is who brings up the issue, when, and how," CTK quoted Meciar as saying on 3 March. He added that "Slovakia will do nothing that would damage Czech interests." Meciar also said the decrees are "a joint legal legacy of the former Czechoslovakia," and must not be taken out of the historical context in which they had been issued. The argument that the decrees would run counter to current European values and that expropriation due to ethnicity would be unthinkable now is correct, he said, but those who demand their abolition in fact call for a revision of property issues and "this is not where our [joint European] future lies." MS

SLOVAK PREMIER TO HEAD SDKU LISTS
Premier Dzurinda was endorsed by two-thirds of the members of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) to head the party's lists in the September parliamentary elections, CTK reported. As party chairman, Dzurinda could have headed the lists without submitting his candidacy to vote, but did so nevertheless. The candidacy of SDKU Secretary-General Ivan Simko was endorsed by 34 percent of the members. MS

HUNGARIAN SMALLHOLDERS BALK AT IDEA OF COALITION WITH SOCIALISTS
Some 30-40 Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) candidates for parliament are considering withdrawing their candidacies if FKGP Chairman Jozsef Torgyan and the party leadership do not unequivocally rule out the possibility of the party entering into election cooperation and a postelectoral coalition with the Socialists, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 4 March. FKGP General Secretary Geza Gyimothy stressed that a resolution of the party's National Council prohibits any coalition with the Socialists. However, in a recent radio interview, FKGP Deputy Chairwoman Agnes Maczo Nagy gave an evasive answer when asked whether such cooperation can be ruled out. Meanwhile, Miklos Reti, the chairman of the Pest County FKGP local branch, said "the Smallholders always were and remain a national and right-wing party." Reti said his branch is initiating the expulsion of its deputy chairman, Jozsef Csatari, from the party's leadership for issuing a statement in favor of a Smallholder-Socialist coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2002). MSZ

EXTREMIST LEADER SAYS HUNGARIAN ELECTIONS WILL 'UNMASK' PLOT
"Forces acting against the nation will be unmasked by the elections," Istvan Csurka, the chairman of the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party, told reporters on 1 March. Csurka said he has learned that the Socialists and the Smallholders are jointly collecting election recommendation slips in Budapest's 4th district. Such slips are needed before a candidate can be registered. Csurka also blamed "anti-European forces" for whipping up the current diplomatic row over the Benes Decrees, an issue which, he said, jeopardizes not only cooperation amongst Visegrad countries, but their accession to the EU as well. MSZ

FRENCH OFFICER SAID TO HAVE TIPPED OFF AUTHORITIES TO KARADZIC DRAGNET...
A report in the German daily "Hamburger Abendblatt" blames the failure of a NATO effort to capture indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic on a French officer, saying he warned Bosnian Serb police of the operation, dpa reported on the eve of the story's publication on 4 March. The paper quotes a special U.S. ambassador to the region, Shaun Byrnes, as making the allegation. Byrnes cites mobile phone communications monitored by an SFOR participating country as evidence, saying a French captain telephoned a senior Bosnian Serb policeman early on the morning of 28 February, dpa reported. The subsequent efforts to nab former Bosnian Serb leader Karadzic near Celebici failed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2002). AH

...AS KARADZIC SUPPORTER SAYS 'PERIPHERAL SECURITY' WORKED...
The daily Podgorica-based "Dan" newspaper on 4 March quoted Karadzic-sympathizer Miroslav Toholj as saying the former Bosnian Serb leader is "completely safe" following last week's attempts by "occupation forces" to detain him, dpa reported. Toholj, who is active in the self-styled "international committee for truth on Radovan Karadzic," said the latter's "peripheral security apparently received hints" that an effort was underway to catch him. AH

...BOSNIAN SERB PRESIDENT SAYS NATO ASPIRES TO 'POLICE ROLE'...
Mirko Sarovic criticized the sweeps aimed at catching Karadzic as "extremely compromising" and an indication that the international defense alliance has assumed police powers in Bosnia-Herzegovina, dpa reported on 2 March, citing local media. "Such demonstration of power as SFOR showed in the last two days was extremely compromising for NATO, which obviously took upon itself the role of the police in the country," Sarovic was quoted as saying. AH

...AND SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH PROTESTS RAID ON CHURCH IN HUNT FOR KARADZIC
The main seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Bosnia-Herzegovina issued a statement protesting the search of a Celebici church during SFOR's failed attempt to capture Karadzic, SRNA reported on 3 March. The church criticized "everything that happened to the holy church and its believers," calling the extension of the dragnet to the building a violation of the church, SRNA said. The agency reported that SFOR troops "shuffled carpets in search of alleged secret passages," and "even desecrated the church altar by breaking a chalice." AH

MOBILE PHONE COMPANY OWNED BY SERBIAN TYCOON RAIDED
Serbian police and court-appointed officials on 1 March raided the offices of 063 Mobtel Srbija, the country's largest mobile telephone operator that is majority-owned by one of Serbia's richest men, AP and Reuters reported. The acting head of Belgrade's Trade Court, Goran Kljajevic, said the firm was taken over due to "unpaid taxes." The business empire headed by Bogoljub Karic, which prospered under the rule of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, has been targeted by the reformist authorities since Milosevic was removed from power in October 2000. Karic denied on 3 March that he had ties to Milosevic. "I was never a friend with Milosevic, I never benefited from him," he said. "We never financed Yugoslav wars, nor we were involved in any shady deals." DW

UN CLAIMS TO BE AHEAD OF U.S. IN COMPLETING WAR CRIME TRIBUNALS' WORK
Responding to comments made by the U.S. ambassador at large for war crimes, Pierre-Richard Prosper, on 28 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 1 March 2002), UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe said on 1 March that the UN is actually ahead of the U.S. in wrapping up the work of the war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Reuters reported. "It is the presidents of the two international tribunals -- Judges Claude Jorda and Navanethem Pillay -- who have taken the lead in outlining the process by which the tribunals will complete their work," she said. She added that Jorda informed the UN Security Council more than a year ago that he hoped The Hague tribunal could wrap up its work by 2007, a more ambitious schedule than that put forward by Prosper. DW

KOSOVAR PARLIAMENT ELECTS PRESIDENT, CABINET
As expected, Kosova's assembly on 4 March elected Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) leader Ibrahim Rugova as president, and former Mitrovica Mayor Bajram Rexhepi of the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK) as prime minister, AP and Reuters reported. The assembly also elected a 10-member cabinet. The LDK received four posts, including finance and education, while the PDK receives two posts as well as the premiership. The coalition of Kosovar Serb parties will receive the agricultural portfolio, and the Alliance for the Future of Kosova will receive two posts. DW

POLITICAL LEADERS MAKE LITTLE HEADWAY OVER CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS
The leaders of eight of Bosnia-Herzegovina's strongest parties failed on 3 March in their fourth attempt to hammer out a compromise aimed at making Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats constituent peoples throughout the territory, Hina reported the following day. The chairman of the Council of Ministers, Zlatko Lagumdzija, said after the meeting that there is "a strategic difference with regard to some issues" including the powers of the House of Peoples in Republika Srpska and the Bosnian-Croat federation, according to federal television. AH

CROATIAN GOVERNMENT CRISIS DEEPENS AFTER TALKS FAIL...
Leaders from Croatia's five ruling parties emerged from talks on 1 March with no end in sight to the dispute that threatens to break apart the governing coalition, Western and local agencies reported. Social Democratic Prime Minister Ivica Racan reiterated after the six-hour meeting that "the situation is serious," AP reported. He said that "options for coming out of the crisis seem to be narrowed," adding that the parties plan to continue negotiations on 5 March to resolve the current impasse (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2002). AH

...AND SOCIAL LIBERAL LEADER ASSERTS CONTROL OVER FATE OF CABINET
Social Liberal Party (HSLS) leader Drazen Budisa on 3 March insisted that his party's cabinet members will abide by an HSLS Executive Council decision to replace three ministers, Hina reported. Budisa was speaking after a several-hour meeting at party headquarters with five HSLS ministers who tendered resignations following the decision to oust three cabinet colleagues. He declined to say whether ministers who were not asked by the party to step down would be left in place. Budisa added that he will be in charge of "operational" matters for the HSLS, referring to ongoing talks between governing parties ostensibly aimed at keeping the coalition in place. AH

CROATIAN POLICE ARREST SLOVAK FUGITIVES
Police near the Adriatic town of Split on 1 March arrested two Slovak nationals suspected of a combined $200-300 million in fraud and wanted by Interpol, Hina reported the next day. The two are also wanted for organizing an apparent pyramid scheme to defraud individuals of their investments, dpa added. Local authorities added that they confiscated two yachts and two vehicles along with the arrests. A Split County Court judge ordered that they be held for 30 days as proceedings continue over their possible extradition to Slovakia, Hina said. AH

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT BEGINS CONSULTATIONS WITH POLITICAL PARTIES...
Ion Iliescu met on 1 March with the leadership of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) in the first of a new round of consultations between the president and political formations, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. On the agenda were economic policies and the envisaged amendments to the constitution. The sides agreed that the amendments should be finalized by the parliament by the end of 2002. The promotion of constitutional amendments requires a two-thirds majority in each of the parliament's two chambers. Among the proposals presented by the PSD is cutting the number of deputies and senators, narrowing parliamentary immunity, giving the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate different attributions in the legislative process, and the election of the president by the parliament. Iliescu again said he favors maintaining the election of the head of state by popular vote. MS

MACEDONIAN POLICE KILL SEVEN 'FOREIGN TERRORISTS'
Police on 2 March killed seven men in a shootout in a suburb of Skopje, Western news agencies reported. After initially stating that some of the group were foreigners and some ethnic Albanians, the Interior Ministry said on 4 March that all seven were definitely foreigners, and at least two were Pakistanis with experience fighting in Afghanistan and the Balkans. The armed men were reportedly spotted getting out of a van and opened fire when called on by police to surrender. No police were reported injured. Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski said the "group planned attacks on important buildings and foreign diplomats most probably from the U.S., Germany, and the U.K. -- those that were involved in the fight against global terrorism." But officials from NATO, the OSCE, and the U.S. all said they had no prior knowledge of any threats to diplomatic missions in Skopje. DW

...AS PRM SAYS IT WILL NOT ATTEND, THREATENS 'PARLIAMENTARY BOYCOTT'
Reacting to an announcement by the presidency that PRM Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor will not be invited to participate in the new round of consultations, the PRM said on 1 March that under these circumstances no other member of the party will participate in the talks. Tudor also said that the PRM "welcomes" the fact that the PSD has accepted into its ranks the "political adventurers" that recently left or were expelled from his formation. But he added that if the PSD persists in the refusal to replace deputies Ilie Neacsu as chairman of the Chamber of Deputies' Agricultural Commission and Sever Mesca as chamber quaestor, the PRM will consider boycotting the chamber's deliberations, "which will trigger early parliamentary elections." MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT MAKES OVERTURES TO TRANSDNIESTRIANS...
In a message marking the 10th anniversary of the outbreak of the armed conflict with the Transdniester, Vladimir Voronin said on 1 March that as a result of the conflict everybody in Moldova save for "a handful of profiteers" has become poorer, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Voronin said the chances of making Russian the country's second official language are "quite realistic," even if it is necessary to conduct a plebiscite for this purpose. He said that if Transdniestrians take part in the referendum "as citizens of Moldova with full rights," the chances for a positive result "are even better." He also said that only some 10 percent or less back the current protests and "unification with Romania," and that the percentage would drop even further if the Transdniestrians were to "join the social and political life of unified Moldova." MS

...AND MEETS RUSSIAN PRESIDENT
On 1 March, Voronin met at the informal CIS Almaty summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin thanked him for the efforts of his administration to solve "the problems related to the Russian language." He also lauded the Moldovan government for its efforts to "solve internal problems in a democratic way," and counseled Voronin to "listen to everybody, even to the opposition." Putin also promised Russian help in solving Moldova's economic problems in general and those generated by imports of Russian electricity and gas in particular. Voronin said he hopes to transform Moldova into a "genuinely bilingual country" in which all minorities will speak "Moldovan," and said that already "100 percent of Moldovans speak Russian." MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER ANGRY WITH HIS OWN PARLIAMENTARY GROUP MEMBERS
Simeon Saxecoburggotski on 1 March sent letters to each of the signatories of a letter he received one day earlier from a group of his National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) parliamentary deputies, BTA reported. He said he was "surprised" by their "ill-considered act of making public the letter before presenting it to me," and emphasized that such practices "diverge from the normal and legal order of formulating and defending political positions." In their letter, 21 NDSV deputies called for an immediate change of the government's economic and social policies, for a "fully transparent government," and for" guaranteeing the democratic process." They also demanded the dismissal of two deputy premiers -- Social Policy Minister Lidia Shuleva and Economy Minister Nikolai Vasiliev, and for the replacement of NDSV parliamentary group leader Plamen Panayotov. MS

RUSSIAN STATE DUMA SPEAKER IN BULGARIA
Gennadii Seleznev said in Sofia on 1 March that "Russia does not favor NATO enlargement," but that "every nation has the right to determine its own life and choose what alliances to join, and Bulgaria has apparently made its choice," BTA reported. Seleznev spoke after meeting with his Bulgarian counterpart Ognyan Gerdzhikov. Gerdzhikov praised the "rapprochement" in the two countries' relations as of late, emphasizing that Bulgaria and Russia are linked by "strong historical and economic bonds." Seleznev also met with President Georgi Parvanov, who assured him that Bulgaria's quest for EU integration "is not an alternative to our good relations with Russia." He also met Premier Saxecoburggotski and Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi. MS

BULGARIAN ORTHODOX SYNOD AGAINST HARRY POTTER
The Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church is "fully backing" the positions of Father Stefan Stefanov, from the St. Nikolai church in Russe, a synod official told Reuters on 1 March. Father Stefanov has referred to the immensely popular "Harry Potter" books by British author J. K. Rowling as "spiritual AIDS" that diminishes the readers' "immune systems against black magic" and makes them "open to evil." Stefanov himself explained to Reuters that the books "make children believe witchcraft is something innocent, existing only in literature, which is not the case." MS

STRONG AND WEAK 'PARTIES OF POWER' IN RUSSIA AND UKRAINE


In mid-1999 the Russian authorities were concerned that Our Home is Russia (NDR) only had a popularity rating of several percent and thus set about creating a completely new "party of power" -- the Interregional Movement of Yedinstvo (Unity). In the Russian parliamentary elections on 19 December 1999, Yedintsvo captured 23.3 percent of the vote and 82 seats, only 1 percent and eight seats fewer than the Communist Party (KPRF).

The Ukrainian "party of power" -- For a United Ukraine (ZYU) election bloc -- was also created four months prior to the March 31, 2002 parliamentary elections. President Leonid Kuchma ordered all state officials from the raion level upward to ensure that ZYU obtain 30 percent in the elections. In sharp contrast to its Russian equivalent, ZYU has only received an average of 4 percent popularity ratings in most opinion polls. Its main base of support is the Donbas, the same as that of the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU), while it is unpopular in western and central Ukraine, including Kyiv.

Why did Unity do well in Russia in 1999, while Ukraine's ZYU appears to be faring badly today?

Unity was created as a completely new political formation backed by then-acting President Vladimir Putin as his vehicle to help him secure an election win in March 2000. Yedintsvo was a completely new political formation, whereas ZYU is a union of five regionally based mini "parties of power," some of which had to be cajoled into supporting ZYU. Both Unity and ZYU aim to create pro-presidential majorities in the newly elected parliaments. ZYU aims to implement Kuchma's long-term goal of changing Ukraine into a Russian-style presidential republic by implementing the results of the flawed April 2000 referendum.

Unity carefully chose leaders such as then-acting Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, who was constantly on television due to his ministry's involvement in the Chechen conflict, and Aleksandr Karelin, a Greco-Roman wrestler of international fame. The two Unity leaders both stressed their abilities to act decisively. Putin, who endorsed Unity, was also seen in a similar light. In contrast, ZYU's leader is the uncharismatic head of the presidential administration, Volodymyr Lytvyn, who is not a confident public speaker and is seen as an academic rather than a "man of action." While Yedintsvo's image helped it attract young voters, ZYU struggles to do so.

Another difference between Unity and ZYU is the high popularity of Putin and the low popularity of Kuchma. Some 43.5 percent of Ukrainians have a negative impression of Kuchma, according to a February poll by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology. Kuchma has attempted to revive ZYU's fortunes by issuing a presidential decree on 28 January ordering 300,000 state officials to back ZYU, and by proposing that he would be prepared to head the ZYU after it is transformed into a party. But while Kuchma's presidency will come to an end in two years' time, Putin was an seen as an up-and-coming candidate to fill the political vacuum left by the retirement of President Boris Yeltsin. In addition, Putin never stated his intention to lead Unity.

According to Article 103 of the Ukrainian Constitution, the president cannot head any party, and Kuchma's suggestion that he would head ZYU flew in the face of the president's well-known negative attitude toward the role of parties. This trial balloon was therefore more a product of internal problems and panic in the presidential administration than of the low popularity of ZYU. This became clear after a January poll by the Center for Economic and Political Studies gave it only 3.9 percent, meaning it would not get through the 4 percent barrier in the half of seats elected proportionately. Lytvyn explained away these low ratings for ZYU by saying that "sociology, just like academia, prostitutes itself (in Ukraine)."

Another major difference between the situations of Russia in 1999 and Ukraine today is that in Ukraine there is a strong alternative to the "party of power." Our Ukraine occupies the same space on the political spectrum as both Russia's liberal Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) -- which includes Russia's Choice, the country's first "party of power." Our Ukraine is also different because it can be more clearly understood as "Rukh-2" with an economic platform and a charismatic and popular leader, Viktor Yushchenko.

The combination of national and democratic ideologies within one program was peculiar to the non-Russian republics of the former USSR, but not to Russia. The Winter Crop Generation bloc, a Ukrainian attempt to emulate the SPS funded by oligarch and Kuchma's son-in-law Viktor Pinchuk, has failed to attract popularity. Pure reformist blocs (in contrast to those combining national and democratic agendas, such as Our Ukraine) have little public support.

Unity and ZYU both had/have unrivalled access to "administrative resources," privileged access to the media, and the support of regional state administrations controlled by the executive. Both aim to transform their election blocs into political parties after the elections, and both had vague "centrist" programs that emphasized "stability" and stood for a corporatist status quo.

This similarity in ideology ends there. Appealing to Russia as a "great power," Unity lamented the demise of the Soviet Union, something ZYU or any Ukrainian oligarch group would never do. The largest group of voters to switch to Yedintsvo was therefore from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), a party whose ideology links Russian nationalism and Marxism. The KPU is hostile to Ukrainian independence and any defectors would go to other left-wing parties, not to ZYU. Yedintsvo manipulated Russian state and ethnic nationalism at a time when Russia felt affronted by NATO's unilateral military action in Kosova and a new Chechen conflict had begun. It is impossible for ZYU to manipulate state nationalism in Ukraine.

ZYU therefore more closely resembles an earlier Russian "party of power" -- NDR -- rather than Russia's Choice, which preceded NDR, or Unity, which succeeded it. NDR received only 10.3 per cent in the 1995 elections. Polls commissioned by ZYU have also given it an inflated popularity of 10 percent, although its true popularity is only some 4 percent according to other polls. ZYU may obtain as much as NDR did in 1995 because of Kuchma's backing and election malpractice, but this would still be far less than the 30 percent that ZYU leaders optimistically predicted the bloc would obtain when it was formed.Nigel Pemberton is a Toronto-based specialist on post-Soviet affairs.

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