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Newsline - May 14, 2002


PUTIN HAILS STRATEGIC-ARMS ACCORD...
President Vladimir Putin welcomed on 13 May the pending U.S.-Russia strategic-arms treaty, which is expected to be signed at a summit in Moscow and St. Petersburg later this month, Russian and Western news agencies reported on 14 May. Putin said that "without the interested, active position of the American administration and the attention of President [George W.] Bush, it would have been difficult to reach such agreements," ORT television reported on 13 May. The willingness of the United States to sign a treaty, rather than a less formal agreement, was seen as a victory for Putin. ITAR-TASS on 14 May quoted an unnamed member of the Russian negotiating team as saying that both the Foreign and Defense ministries approved the draft treaty. "The Washington Post" reported the same day that the key provision reducing each country's strategic nuclear arsenal to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads will have to be implemented by 2012. VY/RC

...BUT DEFENSE MINISTER IS STILL CONFUSED ABOUT DETAILS...
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said that the understanding reached regarding the treaty does not mean that Russia has dropped its objection concerning the issue of "reverse potential" -- the ultimate fate of the nuclear warheads to be removed from strategic missiles, smi.ru reported on 14 May. Russia has insisted that the warheads be destroyed, while the United States has suggested storing at least some of them. The website cnn.com cited an unnamed U.S. official as saying that under the terms of the treaty, some decommissioned warheads would be stored and others would be destroyed. "We have now identified a formula which allows us to do what we want to do and them to do what they want to do," the official said. "We don't have to destroy them." Interfax, citing an unnamed source involved in the negotiations, reported on 14 May that the United States intends to destroy approximately 1,600 warheads and to store about 2,400. VY/RC

...AS FOREIGN MINISTER IVANOV BEGINS TALKS WITH NATO...
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov arrived in Reykjavik, Iceland, on 14 May to participate in a meeting of Russian and NATO foreign ministers during which a new cooperation mechanism should be endorsed, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Ivanov and his counterparts are expected to prepare a document detailing the new mechanism that will be submitted for approval at the Russia-NATO summit in Rome on 28 May. Before departing for Iceland, Ivanov commented that the new Russia-NATO Joint Council must be an executive body empowered to make and implement decisions, rather than merely a consultative organ, the news agency reported. VY

...AND PAVLOVSKII BLASTS FOREIGN MINISTER'S PERFORMANCE
Meanwhile, Gleb Pavlovskii, an influential political consultant and the head of the Effective Policy Foundation, sharply criticized Ivanov's performance as foreign minister, smi.ru reported on 13 May. Referring to a 12 May joint appearance of Ivanov and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on Russian television (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2002), Pavlovskii said Powell presented Russian foreign policy to the audience more effectively than their own foreign minister did. Pavlovskii was also harshly critical of Ivanov's passivity in preparing for the upcoming Bush-Putin summit and of his position on the Middle East. Pavlovskii argued that Russia should more decisively support Israel in the conflict with the Palestinians. "The only thing that Ivanov has managed to do is to irritate [U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security] John Bolton, but is this enough to justify a person holding the title of minister?" Pavlovskii asked. VY

CIS PRESIDENTS FAIL TO ENDORSE 'CIS WARSAW PACT' INITIATIVE
President Putin and the heads of the five other members of the CIS Collective Security Treaty (DKB) -- Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan -- rejected on 14 May a proposal by member defense and foreign ministers to upgrade the DKB to the status of a regional military organization, Russian and Western news agencies reported. "Kommersant-Daily" on 14 May referred to the proposal, which would have created a single interstate military control organ within the Russian General Staff, as a "CIS Warsaw Pact." Despite the failure to adopt the proposal, Putin emphasized that members of the security pact "are cooperating not against someone, but against threats we are all facing," according to AP. LF/RC

MOSCOW HOSTS EURASIAN ECONOMIC COMMUNITY SUMMIT
The presidents of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, the five member states of the Eurasian Economic Community (EES) formalized a year ago on the basis of the CIS Customs Union, met in Moscow on 13 May, Russian media reported. Also present was Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, whose country was granted observer status in the EES, which it has applied to join. Ukraine also applied for, and will be granted, observer status in the EES, "Vremya-MN" reported. Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who was confirmed for a further term as EES chairman, singled out as the community's most pressing problems coordinating their respective trade policies once all five states have become members of the World Trade Organization and agreeing to suspend antidumping sanctions in trade between EES member states. It is not clear how many of the 10 documents that EES Secretary-General Grigorii Rapota told Interfax on 8 May were included in the agenda for discussion were actually signed. LF

RUSSIA REDUCES BALKAN PEACEKEEPING FORCE
Russia has begun withdrawing troops from Kosova, sending home the first train of soldiers and military equipment, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 May, citing a source within the General Staff. The reduction is being carried out within the framework of a General Staff decision to reduce Russian peacekeeping contingent in the Balkans, including Bosnia and Kosova. According to this decision, Russia will withdraw 1,200 soldiers and 400 units of military hardware from Kosova, leaving just 600 service personnel in the region. During April and the first week of May, Russia withdrew 300 troops and 100 units of military equipment from Bosnia, the news agency reported. The source in the General Staff stressed that the withdrawals are due to the improved security situation in both regions and conform to recent U.S.-Russian agreements. VY

NEW ANTI-CRUISE MISSILE WEAPON ON THE DRAWING BOARD
Russia is developing a new-generation, anti-cruise missile weapon, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 May, citing the journal "Voennyi parad." According to the news agency, the new weapon is a portable missile system called the Igla-S, which features a new guidance system that will significantly improve its accuracy. Chief Weapons Designer Nikolai Gushchin was cited by the news agency as saying that the Igla-S will pave the way for a new generation of ground-to-air weapons for use against airplanes and helicopters, as well as against cruise missiles. RC

CENSUS TO CONFIRM DISAPPEARANCE OF HUNDREDS OF VILLAGES?
As a result of the national census to be held in October, many villages and settlements may be removed from Russian maps, RTR reported on 13 May. According to the channel, some villages are effectively ghost towns, with nothing left but "dozens of derelict houses and tumble-down fences" and not a single person remaining. For example, in Kursk Oblast, there are reportedly more than 30 depopulated villages and settlements. However, RFE/RL's Karelia correspondent reported last year that local journalists had found people -- most of them elderly -- still living in some of the republic's villages that were marked for "liquidation" by local authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 2001). At issue in Karelia was the local government's responsibility for ensuring that basic living conditions, such as potable water, are provided. JAC

PUTIN'S REGIONAL REFORMS SUMMED UP
Analyst Sergei Mikheev, writing on the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies' website on 13 May, argues that the main tendency of Moscow's federal policy for the past two years has been "the formation of a legal basis for further limiting the political independence of regional leaders and finally ejecting them from federal policy." However, according to Mikheev, a radical dismantling of the current system of federal relations is impossible without revising the constitution, but that seems unlikely so close to State Duma and presidential elections. Mikheev concludes that Putin has not vested his presidential envoys to the seven federal districts with sufficient power to resolve their districts' problems independently. Instead, the envoys so far act primarily as the president's eyes, ears, and mouth -- in that they express the president's will verbally. Mikheev predicts that three of the seven presidential envoys to the federal districts -- Viktor Cherkesov, Sergei Kirienko and Konstantin Pulikovskii -- will soon find other work, although he did not explain his reasoning for making such a prediction. JAC

'AGAINST ALL CANDIDATES' BECOMING MOST POPULAR OPTION?
"Novaya gazeta," No. 33, argued that the most noticeable phenomenon of recent regional elections is the "unusually high percentage of votes cast against all candidates." By comparison, the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party has not performed well in a series of elections to regional legislatures, such as those that were held in Krasnoyarsk Krai, Pskov Oblast, and Sverdlovsk Oblast, according to the weekly. In Krasnoyarsk, Unified Russia finished fifth, and in Pskov and Sverdlovsk oblasts, the party came in second. In Pskov Oblast, Unity (the predecessor to Unified Russia) attracted 26.1 percent of the vote compared to 17 percent voting against all candidates. Another trend, according to the weekly, is that parties and candidates supported by the local executive organs receive more votes in rural districts than in urban areas. JAC

GOVERNORS SPEAK OUT AGAINST RESTORING DEATH PENALTY
In the wake of a call by Daghestan's parliament to reinstate the death penalty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2002), a number of governors in interviews with Interfax-Northwest on 13 May expressed their opposition to such a move. Pskov Oblast Governor Yevgenii Mikhailov said that historically the country has experienced less crime when there was no death penalty and, therefore, he does not think that there will be "any improvement in the situation if the moratorium is canceled." Vologda Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Pozgalev agreed with Mikhailov, noting that, in his opinion, the "optimal" punishment for especially serious crimes is life in prison. Novgorod Oblast Governor Mikhail Prusak said that he believed "there are a number of circumstances in which our country must observe general norms." However, he added that "in the area of military activities," the decision of whether to apply the death penalty should be made according to laws in effect during wartime. JAC

FEW REGIONS READY FOR WTO ACCESSION
Speaking at a session of the Federation Council, Vladimir Gusev, who represents Ivanovo Oblast and is deputy chairman of the Committee for Economic Policy, Entrepreneurship, and Property, said that only six regions of Russia are currently ready for membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), Ural-Press-Inform reported on 14 May. Gusev named Moscow, St. Petersburg, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Sverdlovsk Oblast, and Perm Oblast. Gusev also said that, of the rest, between 60 and 65 regions do not meet the WTO's socioeconomic standards. He added that some regions, such as Tyumen Oblast, form a "neutral zone." According to the news agency, Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel said two months ago that a number of major enterprises in his region -- primarily in the metals sector -- are not yet ready for WTO entry. "Accession to the WTO is inevitable. It is just a matter of time. Therefore, we must prepare a plan of initiatives that will raise the level of enterprises lagging behind," Rossel said, according to the news agency. RC

CHELYABINSK OBLAST OLIGARCHS, POLITICIANS DEFEND THEIR GOVERNOR
A group of local business, educational, and political leaders published an open letter defending Chelyabinsk Oblast Governor Petr Sumin following the earlier publication of "kompromat," or compromising material, about him. The letter, published in "Chelyabinskii rabochii" on 11 May, was signed by the general directors of Magnitostroi and MMK, the rectors of the Magnitogorsk State University and Magnitogorsk State Technical University, and State Duma deputies Pavel Krasheninnikov (Union of Rightist Forces) and Aleksandr Chershintsev (Russian Regions). The head of the Southern Urals Information-Analytical Administration, Salim Fatykhov, said on 13 May that the earlier publication of the kompromat about Sumin was "ordered" by one of Sumin's political opponents, State Duma Deputy (People's Deputy) Mikhail Yurevich, pravda.ru reported on 13 May. JAC

MILITARY BRIBERY TRIAL GETS UNDER WAY
The trial of Colonel Gennadii Chernenko, former head of the Arkhangelsk Military Garrison hospital, has begun in the Vologda Garrison Military Court, RIA-Novosti reported on 14 May. Chernenko was arrested on 30 April 2001 during a joint operation conducted by military counterintelligence, the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the Arkhangelsk Oblast Organized Crime Department. He was allegedly caught in the act of accepting a $1,000 bribe from a hospital employee in exchange for arranging for him a tour of duty with the Russian peacekeeping force in Bosnia. He has been charged with several counts of abusing his position, accepting bribes, and possessing illegal weapons. RC

LIBERAL RUSSIA CALLS FOR PATRUSHEV'S DISMISSAL
Two State Duma deputies with close links to self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky on 13 May called for the dismissal of Nikolai Patrushev, director of the FSB in connection with the 9 May terrorist explosion in Kaspiisk, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Deputies Sergei Yushenkov and Viktor Pokhmelkin, co-chairmen of the Liberal Russia faction, have prepared a draft resolution on the matter that they plan to submit to the Duma and to President Putin, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 May. The resolution also calls for the formation of a working group made up of representatives of the presidential administration, the government, and the legislature to come up with proposals for reforming the security services. Liberal Russia has been instrumental in promoting a documentary film entitled "Assault on Russia," which was financed by Berezovsky and alleges that the FSB was involved in the 1999 apartment-building bombings in Moscow and other Russian cities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2002), and the faction has called for a commission to investigate those incidents. RC

TROOPS LAUNCH NEW SWEEP OF GROZNY
Russian troops began a systematic district-by-district search of Grozny on 12 May in a bid to apprehend fighters loyal to President Aslan Maskhadov, AP and chechenpress.com reported. Some 150 suspects have been detained to date. LF

ELECTION BAN ON FUGITIVE ARMENIAN EX-MINISTER UPHELD
The Review Court on 13 May expressed its support for an appeal by the Interior Ministry against a district court's verdict that required the ministry to certify that fugitive former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian was resident in Armenia until his disappearance in April 2000, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The Review Court's ruling effectively bars Siradeghian's registration as a candidate to contest a 19 May by-election, as the election law stipulates that candidates must have been permanently resident in Armenia for a minimum of five years prior to the ballot. Siradeghian disappeared in April 2000 after fellow parliament deputies voted to strip him of his immunity; in November 2001, they stripped him of his deputy's mandate for absenteeism. Siradeghian applied by fax in March to register as a candidate in the by-election in his former constituency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March and 29 April 2002). Members of the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) of which Siradeghian was chairman at the time of his disappearance argue that the Interior Ministry should have been required to prove that Siradeghian has not spent the past two years in Armenia. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT, RUSSIAN PREMIER DISCUSS DEBTS
Robert Kocharian met in Moscow on 13 May with Mikhail Kasyanov to discuss details of the "enterprises-for-debts" agreement under which Armenia will cede to Russia a stake in five major enterprises in repayment of its $94 million debt to Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2002). On 10 May, "Haykakan zhamanak," which is sympathetic to the HHSh and critical of the present Armenian leadership, claimed without disclosing its source that Moscow recently informed the Armenian leadership that it wants Armenia to pay its debts in cash. LF

FORMER AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT NAMED TO HEAD COMMUNITY IN RUSSIA
Ayaz Mutalibov, who has lived in exile in Moscow since his abortive attempt in May 1992 to return to power, was unanimously elected on 12 May to head a new organization uniting Azerbaijani communities in the Russian Federation at that body's constituent congress, Turan reported on 13 May. The new umbrella organization is named the Brotherhood of Azerbaijanis in Russia. Russian State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev and the former chairman of the Duma Committee for Nationalities Affairs, Valentin Nikitin, were among the Russian political figures who sent greetings to the founding congress, at which it was announced that Mutalibov has been awarded this year's V.I. Vernadskii prize in acknowledgment of his contribution to Russian-Azerbaijani relations. LF

NEW DATE SET FOR AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT'S VISIT TO IRAN
Heidar Aliev will leave Baku on 18 May for his long-anticipated official visit to Tehran, Turan reported on 14 May, citing the presidential press service. That visit was originally scheduled for 1999 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 41, 15 October 1999). In September 2001, the visit was postponed by mutual consent two days before Aliev's anticipated arrival to allow for further work on the agreements that Aliev and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Khatami were to sign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 September 2001). Iranian officials anticipated earlier this year that the visit would take place in late February or March. LF

FORMER GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN TO CREATE NEW POLITICAL PARTY
Following the Georgian Supreme Court's rejection of his appeal against a district court ruling effectively banning the Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK) from contesting the 2 June local elections (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 16, 10 May 2002), former parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania plans to establish a new political party, according to "Qovelkvireuli khronika" on 13 May, as cited by Caucasus Press. The SMK is split into two rival factions: one continues to support President Eduard Shevardnadze, while the second, headed by Zhvania, has affirmed its opposition to the policies of the present Georgian leadership. A member of the pro-Shevardnadze faction filed a suit with the Tbilisi district court to prevent Zhvania's supporters from participating in the 2 June election in the name of the entire party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2002 and "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 16, 10 May 2002). The pro-Shevardnadze SMK faction has meanwhile also been barred from registering for the 2 June elections, Caucasus Press reported on 13 May. LF

ABKHAZIA REJECTS GEORGIA'S PROPOSED CHANGES TO CIS PEACEKEEPERS' MANDATE
The proposed changes to the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone suggested by Georgia at a 7-8 May meeting in Tbilisi are unacceptable to the Abkhaz side, Abkhaz First Deputy Defense Minister Givi Agrba told Caucasus Press on 13 May. Those changes include expanding the present security zone along the Inguri River to include the entire territory of Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion and moving the heavy military equipment of the CIS peacekeeping force northward out of the present security zone. In addition, the Georgian side proposed specific measures to expedite the return to Abkhazia of Georgians who fled the region during the 1992-1993 war, and creating a temporary joint Abkhaz-Georgian administration for Gali Raion under the aegis of the UN and the OSCE. In an interview published on 5 May in "Ryazanskie vedomosti," Igor Morozov, who is a member of the Federation Council's Defense and Security Committee, argued against moving the CIS peacekeepers' heavy equipment out of the existing security zone on the grounds that doing so would facilitate a new attack on Abkhazia by Georgian guerrillas. LF

GEORGIAN INTELLIGENCE CHIEF DOUBTS KASPIISK BOMBER IN PANKISI...
Avtandil Ioseliani said in Tbilisi on 13 May that his agency cannot confirm Russian State Duma deputy Dmitrii Rogozin's allegation that Rappani Khalilov, who is suspected of having masterminded the 9 May explosion in Kaspiisk that killed 41 people and injured over 100 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 May 2002), has taken refuge in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge. Ioseliani said it is up to Rogozin to provide evidence substantiating that claim. LF

...WHILE DAGHESTAN OFFICIAL SAYS HE MAY BE IN CHECHNYA
Also on 13 May, Daghestan's Interior Minister Adilgirei Magomedtagirov said in Makhachkala that he has no information that would substantiate Rogozin's allegation that Khalilov is in Georgia, Interfax reported. Magomedtagirov added that Khalilov is believed to be hiding in Chechnya's Nozhai-Yurt district. He said it is "a matter of honor" for his ministry to track down and apprehend Khalilov, who is believed to be wounded. LF

KAZAKHSTAN, RUSSIA AGREE ON CASPIAN SEABED DIVISION
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Kazakh counterpart Nursultan Nazarbaev signed a protocol in Moscow on 13 May on the equal division of three oil fields in the northern Caspian, Reuters and Interfax reported. Under that protocol, Russia and Kazakhstan will each have a 50 percent stake in developing the Kurmangazy, Tsentralnoe, and Khvalynskoe deposits. The protocol also defines the median line dividing the two countries' respective sectors of the Caspian Sea, and thus augments a bilateral agreement signed in July 1998 on dividing the north Caspian seabed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 1998). LF

MASS PROTESTS IN KYRGYZSTAN
Thousands of people participated in demonstrations across Kyrgyzstan on 13 May to protest the ratification by the country's parliament three days earlier of a 1999 border accord under which Kyrgyzstan cedes some 95,000 hectares of territory to China, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2002). Participants also demanded the closure of the criminal case against parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov; the release from prison of opposition Ar-Namys Party leader Feliks Kulov; publication of the findings of the official investigation into the shootings of demonstrators in southern Kyrgyzstan on 17-18 March; and the resignation of President Askar Akaev. In Bishkek, protesters picketed the parliament building and marched along the central boulevard, and in Osh Oblast thousands blocked the main Osh-Bishkek highway. Also on 13 May, Beknazarov, who is chairman of the parliament Committee on Legal Issues and Judicial Reform, told RFE/RL that the committee has appealed to the Constitutional Court to declare the ratification illegal. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT REJECTS PREMIER'S RESIGNATION
In the wake of sharp criticism from the president, Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev has submitted his resignation to President Akaev but the latter refused on 13 May to accept it, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 14 May. Bakiev then departed on an unscheduled vacation. LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT NAMES NEW INTERIOR MINISTER
At a government session on 13 May, President Saparmurat Niyazov signed a decree appointing Colonel Annaberdy Kakabaev as interior minister, turkmenistan.ru reported. Like all government ministers, he must serve a six-month probation period. Kakabaev was named deputy interior minister in early April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2002). He previously headed the National Security Committee department in Lebap Oblast. LF

UKRAINE'S NEW PARLIAMENT STARTS WORK
The newly elected Verkhovna Rada of the fourth convocation opened its first session on 14 May, UNIAN reported. The Central Electoral Commission registered 447 deputies elected on 31 March and ordered repeat elections in three single-mandate constituencies to take place on 14 July. JM

UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY DENIES ALLEGATIONS OF ARMS SALES TO BOSNIA
Defense Ministry spokesman Kostyantyn Khivrenko on 13 May denied that Ukrainian peacekeepers in Bosnia sold weapons to Bosnian Muslims in 1994, Interfax and New Channel Television reported. A Dutch military expert told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service earlier the same day that Ukraine was the biggest illegal-weapons supplier to the Balkans after Greece and Turkey. The expert said German and Dutch security services have information that Ukraine closely cooperated with Iran in illegal arms supplies to the Balkans. According to the expert, Iranian aircraft took off in Teheran, stopped in Ukraine to load weapons, and then flew onward to airfields near Zagreb. The expert also alleged that the Ukrainian peacekeeping battalion, prior to leaving Bosnia, sold its armored personnel carriers and other weapons to Bosnians. Meanwhile, former Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Oleksandr Stetsenko, who is the current chief of armament of Ukraine's armed forces, told journalists on 13 May that Ukraine did not grant permission to any Iranian aircraft to enter its airspace in 1994. JM

FAMOUS UKRAINIAN SOCCER COACH DIES
Valeriy Lobanovskyy died in Zaporizhzhya on 13 May at the age of 63, following surgery after a brain hemorrhage, Ukrainian and world media reported. The Dynamo Kyiv soccer team coached by Lobanovskyy won the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1974 and 1986. Lobanovskyy also coached the national soccer teams of the Soviet Union, Kuwait, and Ukraine. JM

ESTONIAN EMBASSY IN RUSSIA PROTESTS VANDALISM
The Estonian Embassy in Moscow sent a note to the Russian Foreign Ministry on 13 May protesting an attack the previous night by Russian extremists and expressing deep concern about the security of the embassy, BNS reported. The embassy claimed in the note that six bottles containing dark paint were smashed against the embassy's walls, hitting Estonia's flag and coat of arms that adorn the embassy's facade. The Russian National Bolshevik Party took responsibility for the attack, saying it was a protest against the actions of the Estonian authorities who the party claims harasses and jails chekists and Soviet veterans of World War II, as well as against the discriminatory policies of Estonia against Russians and the country's efforts to join NATO. There is a Russian police post near the embassy, but it is usually unmanned, ETA reported on 14 May. SG

BALTIC ECONOMIC FORUM OPENS IN LATVIAN CAPITAL
The two-day "Fourth Baltic Economic Forum on Economic and Social Development in the Baltic States" was officially opened in Riga on 13 May with about 250 high-ranking politicians, businessmen, investors, and economists from the Baltic countries, Russia, and Western Europe in attendance, LETA and BNS reported. President Vaira Vike-Freiberga opened the forum with a speech that stressed the role that NATO and EU membership for Poland and the Baltic states can play in the region's development. Latvian Prime Minister Andris Berzins and former Estonian and Lithuanian Prime Ministers Mart Laar and Kazimiera Prunskiene also addressed the forum. Berzins noted that Latvia's economic situation is improving and that the country plans to further develop computer technologies and wants to improve the computer education of young people. Laar noted that Baltic cooperation is needed more in defense than in the economic sphere, as the Baltic states now boast some of the highest economic growth rates in Europe. Prunskiene said that problem issues include increasing the competitiveness of businesses and creating good preconditions for investment. SG

LITHUANIA HOSTS NATO NAVAL EXERCISES
Ten ships from Great Britain, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, France, Sweden, and Finland gathered on 13 May near Klaipeda to participate in the international naval exercises Cooperative Ocean 2002 under NATO's Partnership for Peace program, BNS reported. They will last until 16 May and be the first NATO Partnership for Peace exercises held within the framework of the alliance's operational capabilities concept and interoperability assessment program. A group of 25-30 specialists will evaluate the preparedness of the vessels of Partnership for Peace program countries for conducting naval operations with NATO ships, particularly their minesweepers. SG

POLAND REJECTS IDEA OF CORRIDOR TO KALININGRAD...
Poland's Premier Leszek Miller and Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz on 13 May ruled out any possibility of a special Russian transit corridor through Poland linking the Kaliningrad Oblast exclave with the rest of the Russian Federation. The politicians were responding to a recent report in Germany's "Der Spiegel" claiming that Russia is lobbying the European Union to influence Poland and Lithuania to agree to special Russian transit corridors within their borders. "At a meeting in Kaliningrad between the Russian, Lithuanian, and Polish prime ministers I heard similar demands," Miller told Polish Radio. "But at the same time there is an unequivocal answer from the neighbors sharing their borders with the Kaliningrad Oblast -- i.e., Poland, Lithuania -- and the EU countries: there aren't going to be any exceptions in applying the union law and the Schengen criteria are going to be applied. Hence, all corridors or similar ideas are out of the question," Miller added. JM

...EXPECTS UKRAINE TO TAKE 'WISE' STANCE ON MILITARY CEMETERY
Foreign Minister Cimoszewicz told journalists on 13 May that Poland is waiting for Ukraine's "wise" position regarding the opening of the Polish Eaglets military cemetery in Lviv, PAP reported. The presidents of Poland and Ukraine, Aleksander Kwasniewski and Leonid Kuchma, are scheduled to open the cemetery on 21 May. The renovated necropolis, which houses Polish soldiers and volunteers who died in fighting against Ukrainians in 1918-19, has been a contentious issue in Polish-Ukrainian relations for several years. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko said last week that the opening will take place on 21 May but added that some questions concerning the appearance of the cemetery have not yet been coordinated with the Lviv city authorities. JM

CZECH EU NEGOTIATOR HINTS THAT ACCESSION NEGOTIATIONS COULD BE SUSPENDED
Pavel Telicka, the chief Czech negotiator with the European Union, told the BBC on 13 May that he does not rule out that Prague will discontinue negotiations over accession if Brussels does not change its position over agricultural subsidies, CTK reported. Telicka said the EU's proposal to pay out to new member states just 25 percent of the agricultural subsidies granted to current members is discriminatory. He also said that the Foreign Ministry has prepared a comprehensive report and recommendations pertaining to the negotiations for the government that will take over after the June parliamentary elections. MS

CZECH HELSINKI COMMITTEE SAYS ROMA'S PROBLEMS PERSIST...
In a report on human rights in the Czech Republic in 2001, the Czech Helsinki Committee (CHV) said the situation of the Romany minority has not improved, despite efforts by the government to cope with the problem, CTK reported (the full text of the report is available at http://www.helcom.cz). The committee estimates that between 70,000 and 100,000 Roma have emigrated from the Czech Republic, the equivalent of about half of the members of that minority in Bohemia and Moravia. CHV official Petra Tomaskova said the country's Romany population does not believe that Czech society is interested in improving the Roma's plight, and that nearly every Rom has experienced a situation in which they were denied service in a restaurant. Tomaskova also described the case of a Romany child who attended school in Britain with success, but upon the family's return to the Czech Republic was placed in a so-called "special school" for children with educational difficulties. MS

...AND CRITICIZES OTHER HUMAN RIGHTS INFRINGEMENTS...
CHV Deputy Director Petr Bilek said the Czech Republic does not have a law on police and that corruption is still widespread among police members, CTK reported. Bilek also said there are not enough civil servants to tackle the influx of asylum seekers, whose number doubled in 2001. The CHV said that only 83 out of 18,082 requests for asylum were approved. The committee also criticized the lengthy procedures for asylum, which can take several years to process, and the fact that civil servants often reject applications by people who meet the legal requirements. The report said that asylum seekers from nondemocratic countries are told to submit documentation attesting to their persecution by the authorities in their countries of origin. The CHV's report also criticized discrimination against women and the elderly, and infringements of the freedom of expression and the media. MS

...AS OFFICIALS REACT
Labor and Social Affairs Minister Vladimir Spidla, who is also chairman of the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) and CSSD prime-ministerial candidate, said in response to the report that he considers the estimated number of Roma who have left the Czech Republic unrealistic, CTK reported. Jan Jarab, the governmental commissioner for human rights, said the actual number of Czech Roma who live abroad is probably one-quarter of that given. Spidla also said that the number of asylum applicants who were admitted to the Czech Republic is not as important as whether the process is handled well socially and politically. He said the number of asylum applications has risen because the Czech Republic has become a stable democratic country and thus has turned into "a country of destination." MS

CZECH ROMA CONTINUE TO LOBBY FOR HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL IN LETY
Cenek Ruzicka, the chairman of the Committee for the Compensation of Romany Holocaust Victims, told CTK on 13 May that the Czech Roma will not renounce their demand that a memorial be set up in Lety for the victims of the concentration camp there during World War II. Under the communist regime, a pig farm was established on the south Bohemian settlement where more than 320 Czech Roma perished in the camp. Ruzicka said that organizations representing the Roma want a wall inscribed with the names of those who perished erected at Lety, as well as a chapel. Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky laid a wreath at Lety on 13 May and said the demand for removing the pig farm from the site is still under consideration. Rychetsky added that the cabinet currently lacks funds because of the military mission in Afghanistan and other priorities, but Ruzicka dismissed the claim, saying it was destined for foreign consumption. MS

CZECH TELEVISION DIRECTOR CHARGED WITH ABUSE OF OFFICE
Police have charged Czech Television Director Jiri Balvin with abuse of office in managing company assets and with the infringement of economic regulations, CTK reported on 13 May. Balvin is suspected of acting unlawfully in a transaction for the purchase of mobile digital-transmission equipment from Czech Independent Television (CNTS), where he previously worked. Police said the transaction was negotiated with CNTS before a tender was published, which was advantageous to one of the bidders and resulted in damages of more than 2.5 million crowns (nearly $74,500) to Czech Television. Balvin denies having negotiated with CNTS before publishing the tender, and said the charges are unsubstantiated. If convicted, he faces up to five years in jail. Czech Television Council Chairman Jan Mrzena said the charges do not endanger the normal functioning of Czech Television. MS

SLOVAK JUSTICE MINISTER REJECTS ABOLITION OF BENES DECREES
Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky said in Prague on 13 May after talks with his Czech counterpart Jaroslav Bures that Slovakia rejects any steps aimed at bringing about the abolition of the Benes Decrees. He said the decrees were a reaction to the atrocities committed by Germany during World War II and that "similar legal measures were issued in Poland, the Netherlands, and other countries," CTK reported. Carnogursky said that in those countries the measures have not been abolished and there are no demands that they be nullified there. "The Benes Decrees have lost their applicability but have not lost their validity," Carnogursky said, explaining that the decrees are not currently used against Czech or Slovak citizens and that "their validity is now only historical." MS

REPORT SAYS FORMER SLOVAK PREMIER UNDER INVESTIGATION FOR TAX IRREGULARITIES
The Slovak Tax Directorate has launched an investigation into the financing of reconstruction works at a villa owned by former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar in Trencianske Teplice, CTK reported on 13 May, citing the daily "Sme." The daily reported that Meciar is suspected of having spent as much as 41 million crowns ($879,168 ) on the reconstruction, including payments for building a special wall and a new swimming pool, but reported expenses of only 5 million crowns. "Sme" also quoted Meciar as saying after the 1998 elections that he owns nothing but a three-room flat in Bratislava and a car. In order to buy the villa, Meciar reportedly took out a loan of tens of millions of crowns that should be paid by 2007, according to the daily. MS

HUNGARY'S PANNON RADIO BROADCASTING FROM NEW AND OLD STUDIOS
The telecommunications supervisory body attempted to put an end to the apparent rift at Hungary's Pannon Radio on 13 May by ordering Gido Media, the company that operates the radio station, to shut down broadcasts from the station's former location at the Calvinist Church headquarters building in downtown Budapest. Gido Media executive manager Attila Gidofalvy announced last week that the radio station will move to a new venue, and its format will be changed. Gidofalvy said, "We do not want to pursue politics. We want a station that airs Hungarian music and unbiased news," to which "Nepszabadsag" commented by saying that "Gidofalvy has had enough of the Hungarian Justice and Life Party's influence on the station." The station began broadcasting music from the new site on 10 May. The telecommunications supervisory body said the provisional broadcasting license will expire on 18 May, adding that if no action is taken by that time, both transmitters will have to be switched off. MSZ

HUNGARY SIGNS RUSSIAN DEBT-CANCELLATION AGREEMENT
The State Privatization and Holding Company (APV) on 13 May confirmed earlier press reports that the government and the Vienna-based Meinl Bank have reached an agreement on the sale of $250 million in debt owed to Hungary by the former Soviet Union. According to the agreement, the bank will pay 31 percent, or $77.5 million, of the canceled amount. Observers have expressed their surprise at the speed of the sale and the extremely low price at which the government agreed to cancel the $250 million debt, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Russia had previously indicated its willingness to settle the debt in cash by the end of this year as part of a wider debt-repayment package. The APV denied that the government rushed into a speedy sale, saying that the cabinet decided to make some progress on the issue because debt-repayment conditions were becoming increasingly unfavorable. MSZ

CROATIA AND U.S. HOLD JOINT MILITARY EXERCISES
U.S. and Croatian fighter pilots began a four-day exercise in the airspace over Istria on 13 May, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2002). The U.S. pilots are flying F-16 aircraft, while the Croats have MiG-21s. The pilots will also fly the aircraft of the other country, dpa reported. It is the first such joint exercise between pilots from the two countries. PM

SERBIAN PERIODICALS RETURN TO CROATIAN NEWSSTANDS
The Belgrade dailies "Politika" and "Borba," as well as several weeklies, are scheduled to go on sale at Croatian newsstands on 14 May, Reuters reported. This will be the first time that Serbian periodicals are freely available in Croatia since 1991. Branko Gretic, who heads the Tisak newspaper distribution agency, said that he expects that only "insignificant quantities" of the Serbian periodicals will be sold. Belgrade weeklies have long been available in much of the rest of Europe, but not the dailies. The independent daily "Danas," for example, cannot be bought at international newsstands in Germany, which is home to a large number of people from former Yugoslavia. The only Serbian daily readily available throughout Western and Central Europe is "Vesti," which is published near Frankfurt. PM

BOSNIAN POLICE ON THE TRAIL IN ARMS CASE
Police are investigating six unnamed businessmen in connection with the large quantity of arms recently found by SFOR on the premises of two factories near Mostar, dpa reported on 13 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2002). The men work for the companies on whose premises the caches were stored. Goran Bilic, who is interior minister of Mostar Canton, said that some unnamed "high-ranking politicians" might also be investigated soon. PM

ALBANIAN SENTENCED IN KOSOVA FOR KILLING A SERB
A UN district court in Prizren found Artan Hasani, 23, guilty of the murder of 70-year-old Stana Srdic in March 2000, AP reported on 14 May. The court sentenced the ethnic Albanian to 15 years' imprisonment. Hasani had repeatedly threatened to kill Srdic if she refused to leave Kosova and give him her house in her will. In recent weeks, courts have sentenced two ethnic Albanians in the drive-by slaying of a Serbian teenager, and one German citizen, Roland Bartetzko, for the murder of a Yugoslav government official. Bartetzko fought on the side of the ethnic Albanian guerrillas in the 1998-1999 conflict and is married to a local woman. PM

DEL PONTE SAYS INVESTIGATIONS OF KOSOVARS GOING AHEAD
Carla Del Ponte, who is chief prosecutor of the war crimes tribunal, said on Serbian Television on 13 May that she has launched investigations of three unnamed ethnic Albanians from the former National Liberation Army (UCK) for their possible roles in war crimes against Serbs. She added that she expects the first indictment to be ready by the end of 2002. PM

NO HURRY ON YUGOSLAV AIRLINES FLIGHTS TO KOSOVA
Officials of the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) said in Prishtina on 13 May that they have held talks with Yugoslav officials about aviation matters but denied recent claims by a Yugoslav airlines (JAT) official that JAT will soon resume flights to Prishtina, Reuters reported on 13 May. UN spokeswoman Susan Manuel told the news agency: "No agreement was reached with Yugoslav airlines. There are discussions going on the issue of aviation, which includes flying space and landing rights." JAT last flew to Kosova's capital on 21 March 1999, just three days before NATO launched air strikes to stop Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown there. PM

YUGOSLAV AND NATO OFFICIALS MEET IN SECRET...
Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic said in Belgrade on 13 May that officials from the Yugoslav government and the Atlantic alliance held a secret meeting on 9 and 10 May at a Yugoslav army hunting lodge in Morovic, AP reported. He said that the session "was very productive...as it built confidence between NATO and our country." Yugoslavia has recently asked about joining NATO's Partnership for Peace program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 2000 and 26 April 2002, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January 2001). Major obstacles are a lack of civilian control over the military, the presence of possible war criminals in the officer corps, and outdated weaponry. PM

...WITH HIGH-POWERED DELEGATIONS
Participants on the Yugoslav side at the meeting in Morovic were: Svilanovic, Deputy Defense Minister Svetislav Ristic, Assistant Defense Minister Dobrosav Radovanovic, and Boris Tadic from the parliament's defense committee, "Vesti" reported on 14 May. Other members of the Yugoslav delegation were Rade Bulatovic and Predrag Simic from President Vojislav Kostunica's office, General Branko Krga from the General Staff, and General Blagoje Grahovac from Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic's office. The NATO delegation included the director of the crisis management sector, Robert Serry, and Chris Donnelly, who is a special adviser to Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, Hina reported. The White House was represented by Bruce Jackson. PM

EU CALLS ON YUGOSLAVIA TO MEET OBLIGATIONS
Meeting in Brussels on 13 May, EU foreign ministers called on Serbia and Montenegro to implement their agreement with the EU that outlines the future course of Belgrade's relation with that body, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The ministers called on Yugoslavia to carry out its international obligations -- including cooperating with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague and implementing the Dayton agreement in Bosnia -- and to establish civilian control over the military. The ministers also urged Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Yugoslavia, and Macedonia to "focus more on justice and home affairs issues, strengthening the rule of law and the judicial system, the fight against corruption, illegal migration, and organized crime," Reuters reported. The ministers warned that "if unresolved, these problems would undermine the creation of a sustainable economy and might become a destabilizing factor in the countries concerned and in the region as a whole." PM

IMF APPROVES $825 MILLION FOR YUGOSLAVIA
The International Monetary Fund agreed in Washington on 13 May on a three-year stand-by package for Belgrade worth $825 million, Hina reported. The agreement covers a 10-year period with a 4 1/2 year grace period and annual interest of 3 percent. PM

MORE MINISTRIES FOR THE SERBIAN CABINET
Members of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition agreed in Belgrade on 13 May to establish a ministry of local government and one of environmental issues, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. There will also be two additional posts of deputy prime minister, one for the Nova Srbija party and the other for Vojvodina's Reformists. PM

MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT TO PASS ELECTION BILLS SOON?
Parliamentary speaker Stojan Andov said in Skopje on 13 May that "16 laws are to be ratified by the end of May, including a set of electoral laws," dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2002). Observers recall, however, that Macedonian legislators have frequently delayed approving legislation that has already been endorsed by the leaderships of the leading parties. PM

NEW LEADER FOR MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN PARTY
Members of the main governing body of the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) elected Abdurahman Aliti as new chairman in Kumanovo on 11 May, "Nova Makedonija" reported. Aliti replaces Imer Imeri, who had to give up his office because of health problems. The new chairman will lead the party until the next regular party congress due in February or March 2003. Aliti's election was overshadowed by the walkout of a dozen delegates led by PPD Secretary-General Muhammed Halili and the legislator Azis Pollozhani, who protested against the election procedure. After his victory, Aliti told journalists that he plans to form a pre-election coalition with the disbanded ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK) and the National Democratic Party (PDK) led by Kastriot Haxhirexha. UB

ROMANIAN PREMIER SAYS NATO CANDIDATES SHOULD SUBSCRIBE TO PRAGUE SUMMIT DECISIONS
In a statement released on 13 May ahead of the meeting in Reykjavik between the "Vilnius Group" of NATO candidate countries' foreign ministers with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase proposed that the group's members pledge to implement all the decisions of the Prague summit of the alliance, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Nastase said his cabinet has prepared an outline on his country's contributions to the alliance so far and a set of proposals for future contributions. In addition, Bucharest "reaffirms its strategic interest" to develop its trans-Atlantic ties in line with Romania's Intensified Strategic Partnership with the United States and to strengthen ties with the European Union. He said the meeting is "certain to take note" of "the substantial progress registered by our country" in implementing military and economic reforms. MS

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION POLITICIANS CRITICIZE PERCEIVED THREAT AGAINST JOURNALISTS
Politicians representing the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL), Democratic Party, and Greater Romania Party (PRM), as well as journalists and prominent human rights activists on 13 May harshly criticized what they said was a threat by the Defense Ministry against journalists, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Reacting to an article published in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2002) about NATO's apprehensions about the continued presence of Securitate officers in the secret services and the military, the Defense Ministry said in its statement, in an apparent attempt to be ironic, that it wishes to "thank" those Romanian journalists who sounded the alarm, and at the same time "remind them that their life is short and their health has too high a price to be endangered by debating highly emotional subjects." MS

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS OPPOSITION MOTION
The Chamber of Deputies rejected a motion submitted on 13 May by the opposition Democratic Party and PNL to debate what the motion defined as "institutionalized corruption," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Forty-three deputies voted in favor, 189 against, and there was one abstention. The PRM deputies left the chamber before the vote. The motion said the ruling Social Democratic Party has diverted funds from state-owned companies to set up a television channel serving its interests in Constanta. And then it demanded the dismissal of Transportation Minister Miron Mitrea, who is considered to be responsible for the move. MS

ROMANIAN NATIONAL BANK INITIATES BANKRUPTCY PROCEDURES AGAINST TURKISH ROMANIAN BANK
The National Bank on 13 May withdrew the permit of the Turkish Romanian Bank and asked the courts to declare the bank bankrupt, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau and AP reported. The bank, in which the Turkish Bayindir Holding has a majority stake, collapsed in late 2000 when hundreds of depositors withdrew their money following rumors of its imminent collapse, which was linked to the late-2000/early-2001 financial crisis in Turkey. MS

MOLDOVAN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS EXCHANGE BASIC TREATY DOCUMENTS
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin exchanged documents in Moscow on 13 May on the ratification of the basic treaties between their countries, ITAR-TASS reported. In his speech, Putin said Russia will "strictly abide" by the treaty's provisions and hailed recent improvements in economic and cultural ties. Voronin assured Putin that the Russian language is, as ITAR-TASS put it, "alive in Moldova" and that "malicious attempts" to curb that status are doomed to fail. MS

BULGARIAN, ROMANIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS ADOPT JOINT DECLARATION ON NATO ACCESSION
The foreign policy committees of both the Bulgarian parliament and the two chambers of the Romanian parliament adopted a joint declaration on 13 May confirming the two countries' commitment to further cooperation on the road to NATO membership, BTA reported. The declaration was issued after a joint meeting of the committees in the Danube River port of Ruse. "We are convinced that today, when global security conditions are changing, Bulgaria's and Romania's accession to NATO will be exceptionally important for stability and security in Europe," the legislators stressed in their declaration. They underscored the importance of the so-called 2+2 initiative -- under which two member countries (in this case Greece and Turkey) support two candidate countries (Bulgaria and Romania). The foreign ministers of the four countries are to hold talks at the NATO ministerial meetings in Reykjavik on 14-15 May. UB

BULGARIANS EXPECT INVITATION TO NATO IN NOVEMBER
A majority of Bulgaria's citizens expect Bulgaria to be invited to join NATO at the Prague summit in November, BTA reported on 13 May. According to the results of an opinion poll conducted by the National Public Opinion Center at the end of April, 52.2 percent of the respondents replied that they are optimistic about Bulgaria's chances for NATO accession, while 24.2 percent do not believe Bulgaria will be invited to join the Atlantic alliance. The results show a significant increase in the positive public assessment of Bulgaria's chances to become a NATO member. UB

THE QUESTION OF JUSTICE IN UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT
Ukraine's newly elected Verkhovna Rada convenes for its first session on 14 May. The main issue on the agenda is, of course, the election of parliamentary leaders (speaker, first deputy speaker, and deputy speaker) and the heads of two dozen parliamentary committees. A special group of deputies preparing the new parliament's first session has agreed on a great number of procedural matters but failed to adopt a clear stance on how to distribute parliamentary posts among the six blocs represented in the Verkhovna Rada: For a United Ukraine, Our Ukraine, the Communist Party, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Socialist Party, and the Social Democratic Party.

It is known that the distribution of parliamentary posts will be made in two separate stages (or, as deputies themselves refer to this process, in two "packages"): first, the voting for the three leading positions; second, the voting for the posts of committee heads. It is also known that the leaders of the six parliamentary blocs -- who met together for the first time on 10 May -- that is, more than a month after the election day -- agreed to share parliamentary posts "justly," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. But justice seems to mean different things for different parties.

For a United Ukraine and the Social Democrats (the pro-presidential forces) want the parliamentary positions to be distributed proportionally to the number of deputies in the parliamentary caucuses, as they were formed after the process of recruiting some of those deputies who run on an independent ticket in single-mandate constituencies. The other four forces want these positions to be distributed proportionally to the number of seats won by individual blocs only in the nationwide constituency. They argue that the authorities resorted to unfair methods in making For a United Ukraine -- which finished third in the nationwide constituency -- the largest parliamentary caucus, therefore its current composition does not reflect the people's will expressed on 31 March.

From a theoretical point of view, since Our Ukraine, the Communist Party, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and the Socialist Party reportedly control 226 votes, they may distribute all parliamentary posts solely between themselves, without conceding anything to the pro-Kuchma blocs. But it appears that such a development would be too "unjust" when viewed from any side; therefore, as regards the election of the heads of parliamentary committees, a compromise involving some notion of proportional representation will be adopted by the six blocs.

It is quite a puzzle as to who will get the top three posts in the Verkhovna Rada of the fourth convocation. Three alliances seem to be possible for dealing with this "package" of postelection gains: a) For a United Ukraine, the Social Democrats, and the Communist Party; b) Our Ukraine, the Communist Party, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and the Socialist Party; c) For a United Ukraine and Our Ukraine. Thus, the election of the Verkhovna Rada speaker and his/her two deputies will be of paramount importance to further political developments in Ukraine, since it will determine to a considerable extent the distribution of political sympathies and antipathies in the parliament. Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko signaled on 13 May that his comrades may support a speaker from another party. "We will vote for the package that will create the most advantageous prerequisites for productive work of our caucus in the parliament," Symonenko said in what seems to be an overt bargaining proposal directed to both Volodymyr Lytvyn's For a United Ukraine and Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine.

Many Ukrainian commentators tend to agree that a stable, permanent majority based on consistent ideology is not possible in the current Verkhovna Rada, and that there will be many "situational majorities" depending on issues submitted to voting. But the upcoming election of the parliamentary leadership is widely expected to politically structure the current legislature to a greater extent than the preceding one and show the dividing line between the pro-government forces and the opposition more clearly.

Commentators also expect that the issue of the government will not be tackled by the Verkhovna Rada earlier than during the autumn legislative session. Current Premier Anatoliy Kinakh gave up his parliamentary mandate and preferred to remain in the government. Thus, Kinakh has several more months to prepare and submit a government program of actions to the parliament -- a task he has not yet fulfilled because of the parliamentary election. President Leonid Kuchma decided that Lytvyn, the chief of the presidential administration, will continue to lead the For a United Ukraine bloc and oversee the ongoing political maneuvering in the Verkhovna Rada. Kinakh's test will come a bit later after lawmakers take all that is up for grabs in the legislature and ask for more elsewhere.

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