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Newsline - June 19, 2002


PUTIN CALLS FOR CHANGES TO MEDIA LAW...
Addressing a national mass-media conference (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2002) on 18 June, President Vladimir Putin said that current legislation on the mass media must be changed because it contradicts the new Civil, Labor, and Administrative codes, Russian news agencies reported on 19 June. Putin also said the participation of foreign capital in Russian media must be "seriously reviewed, taking into account state interests." In many countries, the participation of foreign capital in economic activities that impact public opinion is restricted, Putin said. At the same time, however, he also called on Russian businesspeople to cooperate with the state in developing the information markets of the former Soviet republics. "This not only an economic but also a political question, as it involves Russia's relations with its former compatriots living abroad," he opined. VY

...AND FOR DELAY OF LAND SALES TO FOREIGNERS
Speaking in Moscow at a congress of the Russian Chamber of Commerce on 19 June, President Putin called for the indefinite suspension of the sale of farmland to foreign citizens, strana.ru reported the same day. Putin noted that the issue is currently on the agenda of the Duma, where it has provoked controversy. He added that many governors and legislators have informed him of their opposition to the measure. The president said that he understands their concerns and that the issue demands an "extremely gradual and cautious approach." He noted as well that, given the present economic situation in the agriculture sector, there is relatively little foreign interest in buying Russian farmland anyway. He said the government's position on the issue could be revised at a later date once the market for agricultural land is more developed. VY

PREMIER LAYS OUT VISION FOR SUSTAINED ECONOMIC GROWTH...
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said that, for first time in 30 years, Russia is entering a period of sustainable economic growth and now it must improve its competitiveness in international markets, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported. Kasyanov added that Russia should enhance the "quality of its economy." The country "does not efficiently use its intellectual potential and remains an intellectual donor of the whole world," Kasyanov said. He also noted that his government should do much more to remove bureaucratic barriers to private business activity and to reduce the large state involvement in the economy. VY

...AS OLIGARCHS ATTACK PREMIER FOR UNREALISTIC ECONOMIC FORECASTS...
Russian Aluminum head Oleg Deripaska, Interros head Vladimir Potanin, Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovskii, and other major business figures harshly criticized Prime Minister Kasyanov's government for its "utopian" prognosis of economic growth for 2003, recently made public by Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, "Vedomosti" and other Russian media reported on 18 June. Talking with Kasyanov at an 18 June meeting of the Entrepreneurship Council, the oligarchs said Gref's prognosis is inflated because it is based on budgetary guidelines instead of the real situation in the economy. None of the indicators for the 15 basic economic sectors that Gref presented coincide with the assessments of businessmen actually working in those sectors, Deripaska said. The same may be said for the inflation prognosis, which Gref predicted at from 12 to 14 percent for this year, but which in reality will be not less than 16 percent, Deripaska claimed. VY

...AND YUKOS TESTS U.S. OIL MARKET
Meanwhile, Yukos's Khodorkovskii told journalists on 18 June that his company will begin exporting oil to the United States on a trial basis early next month, polit.ru reported. Khodorkovskii said a tanker is already en route carrying 200,000 tons of oil. He declined to name the buyer, saying that the deal has not yet been sealed. He added that the U.S. market will be difficult to crack, but Yukos believes that by using supertankers, it will be able sufficiently to reduce transportation costs to make its products competitive (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 2002). VY

TORPEDO EXPLOSION SANK THE 'KURSK'
A government investigation into the August 2000 sinking of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine has concluded that the disaster was caused by the explosion of a faulty torpedo, Russian and Western news agencies reported on 19 June. Industry and Science Minister Ilya Klebanov told reporters in St. Petersburg that the commission "fully eliminated" the possibility that the tragedy was caused by a collision with another vessel or with a World War II-era mine. Klebanov added that the commission recommended that the salvage operation currently under way in the Barents Sea to recover parts of the first compartment of the "Kursk" be abandoned. RC

DEPUTY PROPOSES ALLOWING CONSCRIPTS TO BUY THEIR WAY OUT LEGALLY
Duma Deputy Vladimir Semenov (Union of Rightist Forces) has introduced a bill that would allow draftees to avoid compulsory military service by making a set payment to the state treasury, RIA-Novosti reported on 18 June. Semenov was quoted as saying that the bill is intended to reduce opportunities for corruption at military induction centers, where presently conscripts often pay bribes in order to be released from service. Semenov even claims that he calculated the fee -- which would be $3,000 in Moscow and $1,500 in the regions -- based on his estimate of the amounts of typical bribes. Meanwhile, the Duma on 19 June was scheduled to consider the second reading of a bill on alternative civilian service. VY

LEBED'S BROTHER THROWS HIS HAT INTO THE RING
Aleksei Lebed, the younger brother of deceased Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed, announced on 18 June that he will run in 8 September gubernatorial elections to succeed his brother, Russian news agencies reported. Lebed is currently serving his second term as head of the neighboring Republic of Khakasia. According to RFE/RL's Krasnoyarsk correspondent, Lebed becomes the 16th candidate so far, and still more candidates are expected to join the race. According to the correspondent, Lebed can count on the support of the Honor and Motherland Party as well as the youth movement, Lebed. But these groups are not considered strong locally, having managed to secure only four of 42 places in the krai's most recent legislative elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2002). Also on 18 June, the coordinating council of the People's Patriotic Union of Russia nominated Communist State Duma Deputy Sergei Glaziev as its candidate for the krai's top post, polit.ru reported. The union is a grouping of leftist parties and movements that include the Communist Party. JAC

BASHKORTOSTAN LOSES ANOTHER CASE IN FEDERAL COURT
The federal Supreme Court has ruled that 37 articles of Bashkortostan's constitution do not correspond with federal law, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 June, citing Deputy Prosecutor-General Aleksandr Zvyagintsev. According to polit.ru, the court upheld an appeal filed by Zvyagintsev in April after the republic's Supreme Court ruled in March that only 20 of the constitution's articles violated federal law and left articles such as one on the sovereignty of Bashkortostan in place. JAC

SITUATION FOR REFUGEES, MIGRANTS DESCRIBED AS WORSENING
An emergency congress in support of refugees and forced migrants will be held in Moscow on 20 June to address the worsening situation these groups face in Russia, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Svetlana Gannushkina, director of the legal network Migration and Rights, told the bureau that only about 500 people in Russia have legal status as refugees, which is a "laughably" small figure since there are likely no fewer than 1 million refugees currently within Russia's borders. According to Gannushkina, refugees from Baku who came to Russia legally in 1990 now are considered illegal. She added that the United States is launching a program to accept displaced Armenians, while "we are throwing them out." "These are people who speak Russian and teach the Russian language in Russian schools and work as doctors," Gannushkina said. "It is a shameful situation for us." JAC

YABLOKO BACKS AWAY FROM MERGER WITH SPS...
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 17 June that the leadership of Yabloko no longer considers a "merger" with the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) to be a serious possibility. Deputy Yabloko faction leader Sergei Ivanenko said the two parties disagree on a number of issues, including "economic policy, Chechnya, environmental protections, and the oligarchs." While Yabloko has not yet abandoned the idea of forging a democratic coalition, it does not see any sense in making a joint list of candidates for the December 2003 State Duma elections. The daily also noted that Aleksandr Osovtsov, the former head of the executive committee for SPS's Moscow branch, was recently accepted into Yabloko's leadership ranks. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii declared that Osovtsov's switch to Yabloko "is an important signal for all members of the party." JAC

...AS LOCAL SPS LEADER WAGES CAMPAIGN AGAINST LOCAL NEWSPAPER
A local SPS leader in Sverdlovsk Oblast, Timur Goryaev, tried to shut down the local newspaper "Vechernie vedomosti," regions.ru reported on 18 June. A court awarded Goryaev 50,000 rubles ($1,500) in damages from the newspaper and sent court bailiffs to seize the publication's property. Goryaev, who is the general director of the company Kalina, reportedly was the main financial backer for the SPS during the oblast's recent legislative elections. The SPS's central leadership, especially Boris Nemtsov, has made numerous statements supporting the principle of freedom of the press (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February and 24 April 2002). Goryaev's actions in the "Vechernie vedomosti" case will be examined by the party's political council at its next meeting, according to the website. JAC

EES TO ASK FEDERAL AUTHORITIES TO TAKE OVER REGION
Unified Energy Systems (EES) intends to appeal to the federal government to establish direct federal rule in Ulyanovsk Oblast, Andrei Trapeznikov, a member of the EES administration, told reporters in Moscow on 18 June, according to Interfax. According to Trapeznikov, oblast authorities accepted responsibility for paying for energy in February but have not kept their promises. He added that EES is ready to re-examine the issue of restructuring the oblast's debt but that the debtors should pay for their current energy consumption. The oblast has amassed an energy debt of some 3.7 billion rubles ($118 million), according to the agency. JAC

FORMER PRESIDENTIAL STAFF OFFICIAL DETAINED FOR FRAUD
Officials of the Moscow Main Directorate for Criminal Investigations of the Interior Ministry have arrested Larisa Serebryakova, a former staff member of the presidential administration, izvestia.ru reported on 19 June. She is wanted in Lithuania on charges of massive fraud. Presidential Press Secretary Viktor Khrekov confirmed that Serebryakova had worked in his office and added that she was fired at the beginning of the year. Baltic News Service reported that same day that Serebryakova will likely be extradited to Lithuania because she was a citizen of that country at the time the alleged crimes were committed. She may also face additional charges in Russia of illegally obtaining Russian citizenship. VY

REVOLUTION FROM BELOW IN TULA...
At a Communist Party conference in Tula Oblast on 15 June, participants were treated to searing criticism of the oblast's Communist governor, Vasilii Starodubtsev, as the leadership of the oblast's party committee was transferred to younger party members who support a "sharp rejuvenation of the oblast's party organization," regions.ru and ntvru.com reported on 17 and 18 June. According to regions.ru, the first secretary of the oblast's committee, Ivan Khudyakov, charged that the party's local leadership is indifferent and lacks foresight. He argued that these shortcomings have contributed to a drop in the party's membership and its decreased influence in the oblast and municipal legislatures. Starodubtsev dismissed the criticism but failed to convince delegates to support his candidate for first party secretary. Instead, three relative newcomers, including two 25-year-olds, were tapped for the three top spots on the committee, according to ntvru.com. JAC

...AS COMMUNIST LEADERSHIP CONFLICT HAVING RIPPLE EFFECTS
Ntvru.com put the conflict into a broader context, noting that Starodubtsev is considered by local observers to be a loyal supporter of Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov. It concluded that the Tula communists have started "distancing themselves from the Zyuganovites in favor of the 'right-leftist' supporters of [State Duma Speaker] Gennadii Seleznev." Meanwhile, "Vremya novostei" reported on 18 June that the leader of the Movement to Support the Army, Communist Duma Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin, and the members of his group no longer consider Zyuganov the party's best candidate in the next presidential race. JAC

BUDANOV SET TO ESCAPE IMPRISONMENT...
The prosecutor at the trial in Rostov-na-Donu of Colonel Yurii Budanov, who is accused of strangling a Chechen woman whom he believed was a sniper in March 2000, called on 18 June for the murder charge against Budanov to be dropped on the grounds that psychiatrists have concluded that he was "temporarily insane" when he committed the killing, Russian agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 2002). The prosecutor proposed that Budanov receive a three-year sentence on charges of abuse of his official position but be amnestied immediately under a presidential decree pegged to the 55th anniversary of the allied victory in World War II. LF

...TO CHECHEN OFFICIALS' OUTRAGE
Retired police General Aslanbek Aslakhanov, who represents Chechnya in the Russian State Duma, expressed "complete outrage" on 18 June at the prosecutor's proposal to acquit Budanov of murder, Interfax reported. He added that the recommendation demonstrates the lack of independence and objectivity of the military court that heard the case. Aslakhanov said he will ask the prosecutor-general to open a new investigation into the killing. In Grozny, Chechen Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudaev said on 18 June he was not surprised by the prosecutor's proposal. But he noted that it runs counter to the position taken by the Chechen administration and its head, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, who believe that Budanov should receive the harshest possible punishment. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT WARNS OPPOSITION NOT TO DISRUPT PARLIAMENT...
Robert Kocharian warned on 18 June that opposition parliament deputies risk arrest if they again seek to disrupt parliament proceedings, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The opposition occupied the parliament podium on 10-12 June and prevented debate in protest of parliament speaker Armen Khachatrian's refusal to include in the agenda the question of Kocharian's impeachment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12, and 13 June 2002). Kocharian said he refrained on that occasion from sending police into the parliament to restore order only at the request of Khachatrian and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian has denied either that he secretly encouraged the opposition to press for Kocharian's impeachment or that he has any differences with the president. LF

...ACCUSES AZERBAIJANI COUNTERPART OF SEEKING TO DESTABILIZE ARMENIA
Kocharian also said on 18 June that he believes Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's 14 June statement accusing Armenia of reneging on an agreement about an exchange of territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan that was allegedly reached in March 2001 was intended to exacerbate political tensions in Armenia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 2002). Kocharian said he suspects Aliev made those allegations at a time when Kocharian was already under attack from the Armenian opposition in the hope that "the situation would explode." He accused the Azerbaijani leadership of seeking his ouster and replacement by a political figure who would agree to greater concessions in the Karabakh peace process. Kocharian also repeated earlier denials by senior Armenian officials that an agreement was reached in March 2001 on an exchange of territory with Azerbaijan. But he said he does not consider it appropriate to make public the content of the agreement that was reached in Paris in March 2001 just to demonstrate that Aliev was not telling the truth. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT ATTENDS NAKHICHEVAN PARLIAMENT SESSION
Addressing a session of the parliament of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic late on 18 June, President Aliev criticized Azerbaijani government officials -- particularly Finance Minister Avaz Alekperov -- for not devoting sufficient attention to the exclave's problems, Turan reported the following day. He also instructed local officials to cooperate with the central government and not to aspire to "a special status." He criticized the slow pace of privatization in the region. Aliev also reaffirmed his intention to run for a third term in the elections due in October 2003, which he said must be free and transparent. He rejected rumors that he planned to meet with Kocharian in Sadarak on the border between Nakhichevan and Armenia before returning to Baku. LF

AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT ADOPTS LAW ON HUMAN RIGHTS...
By a vote of 102 in favor, the Milli Mejlis adopted the constitutional law "On the Implementation of Human Rights and Freedoms" on 18 June in its third and final reading, Turan reported. The bill has been criticized by opposition deputies and human rights organizations, who point out that it imposes limitations on the right of assembly, the inviolability of the home, and other basic rights when state security or public order are endangered. Pro-government deputies say the Council of Europe's Venice Commission assessed the bill positively. LF

...AND LAW ON CABINET
Also on 18 June, the Milli Mejlis adopted by 107 votes in the final reading a law regulating relations between parliament and the cabinet of ministers, Turan reported. That law stipulates that the cabinet must deliver to parliament at the fifth sitting of each spring session a report on its activities for the previous year. The legislature may also request that individual ministers report at more frequent intervals. The law stipulates that parliament is empowered to raise the issue of a confidence vote in the government, provided it does so no less than six months prior to parliamentary or presidential elections. Parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov said that since Azerbaijan is a presidential, not a parliamentary republic, the cabinet of ministers is directly accountable to the president. The parliament may discuss budget policy, but does not have the right to "interfere" in the work of the government or to evaluate its performance, Alesqerov continued. LF

AZERBAIJANI POLICE BREAK UP UNSANCTIONED PICKET
Police in Baku forcibly dispersed a protest picket on 18 June by members of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, Turan reported. The picketers, several of whom were detained, were protesting the arrest of party Chairman Serdar Djajaloglu, who was released later on 18 June after five days' administrative arrest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2002). LF

BRITISH OFFICIAL ABDUCTED IN GEORGIA
A British official with the EU in Georgia was abducted in Tbilisi on 18 June by armed men wearing police and military uniforms, Caucasus Press reported the following day. David Shaw, 59, was planning to leave Tbilisi in the next few days after working there in various capacities for six years. LF

ARMS CONSIGNMENT INTERCEPTED IN GEORGIA
Georgian police apprehended Georgian Security Ministry official Simon Mchedlidze and a Russian national with a carload of armaments -- including antitank shells, rockets, and grenade launchers -- near Tbilisi late on 17 June, Caucasus Press reported the following day. Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania estimated the value of the weaponry at $300,000. But Davit Shengelia, leader of the Forest Brothers guerrilla group, said later on 18 June that he purchased the arms from Russian servicemen in Tskhinvali in order to fight against Abkhaz "separatists" and that they are worth no more than $7,000. On 19 June, Shengelia told Caucasus Press that Mchedlidze has transported arms for him on numerous previous occasions. He linked Mchedlidze's detention with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's 17 June warning to the chairman of the Abkhaz parliament-in-exile that he will not permit a new war in Abkhazia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2002). The Georgian leadership has for years denied it has any dealings with or influence over the Georgian guerrilla formations operating in southern Abkhazia. LF

GEORGIAN LABOR LEADER SAYS HE WILL RUN FOR PRESIDENT
In an interview with Interfax on 18 June, Shalva Natelashvili, whose Labor Party won the greatest number of seats on the Tbilisi city council in the 2 June local elections, said he will run in next year's Georgian presidential elections. He also predicted that his party will win the parliamentary elections in 2003. After doing so, Natelashvili said, the party will move to curb the powers of the president, establish a cabinet of ministers and a bicameral parliament, and seek to improve Georgia's relations with Russia. LF

DETAINED KAZAKH OPPOSITIONIST REFUSES TO REVIEW CHARGES AGAINST HIM
Former Pavlodar Oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, who was hospitalized last month after an interrogation, has refused to acquaint himself with the criminal case brought against him, which he claims is politically motivated, Interfax reported on 18 June. Zhaqiyanov, who is one of the founding members of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan, is charged with abuse of office. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENTARIAN'S APPEAL HEARING POSTPONED
A court in Toktogul postponed from 18 to 19 June the hearing of an appeal by parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov against the one-year suspended sentence handed down to him last month by the Djalalabad Oblast court after Beknazarov failed to appear, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2002). Beknazarov was not informed in due time that the hearing would be held in Toktogul rather than Djalalabad, where thousands of his supporters congregated on 18 June to demand that his sentence be annulled. The judge on 18 June ordered that police should escort Beknazarov to Toktogul for the hearing, and he said he would not resist that ruling even though it was illegal, AP reported. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT WARNS OF POSSIBLE NEW INTERNATIONAL TERRORIST ATTACKS
President Imomali Rakhmonov told a session of CIS Border Guard commanders in Dushanbe on 18 June that he has received from Tajik intelligence reports that Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters still in Afghanistan are preparing attacks similar to those in the U.S. on 11 September, Interfax and RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Rakhmonov said the terrorists may target those CIS states that support the international antiterrorism coalition. Rakhmonov noted that the interim Afghan government only controls Kabul but not the outlying provinces. LF

RUSSIAN BORDER GUARD CHIEF ASSESSES IMU THREAT
Colonel General Konstantin Totskii, who heads the Russian Federal Border Guard Service, told journalists in Dushanbe on 18 June that the remaining small isolated groups of militants from the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) are trying to cross from Afghanistan, where they fought alongside the Taliban, to Tajikistan, Russian agencies reported. Kyrgyz Deputy Defense Minister Toktokchuk Mamytov confirmed that Tajik and Kyrgyz security officials are working together to prevent any such incursions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 2002). LF

TURKMEN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER, DEFENSE OFFICIAL DISMISSED
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has dismissed Deputy Foreign Minister Batyr Khudaykuliev for unspecified "serious shortcomings" in his work, turkmenistan.ru reported on 19 June. Also fired, and stripped of his military rank, was the military commissar of Mary oblast, Akmukhammed Babaev, who was said to have abused his official position and to have inducted into the armed forces a young man who was not a citizen of Turkmenistan. LF

LUKASHENKA SAYS RUSSIAN LEADERSHIP DOES NOT WANT UNION WITH BELARUS...
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 18 June gathered a special government session to vent his anger at Russian President Vladimir Putin's recent criticism of Minsk's approach to Belarusian-Russian integration (see "End Note"), Belarusian television reported. Lukashenka said he has long known that his Russian partners do not wish "to move toward union." "We have heard it before, but not from the top level," he said. "Now we have heard it from the top level.... Now we know the position of Russia's leadership." JM

...SAYS PUTIN INSULTED BELARUSIANS...
Referring to Putin's remark that the Belarusian economy amounts to only 3 percent of Russia's, Lukashenka said, "It is not nice...to make us freeloaders. It is an insult to the Belarusian people. Nobody has allowed himself [to voice such an insult] during the 10 years of Belarus's independence and sovereignty." JM

...PLEDGES TO PRESERVE BELARUS'S SOVEREIGNTY...
Lukashenka suggested that the Kremlin's real integration goal is to absorb Belarus into the Russian Federation. "We have been proposed a federation model for our union," Lukashenka said, adding that for Belarus this proposal is tantamount to becoming "a new, 90th subject of the Russian Federation." He stressed that Belarus is an independent state. "We're not going to be the northwestern or northeastern edge of any state," the Belarusian president emphasized. JM

...DENIES SEEKING RESTORATION OF SOVIET UNION
Lukashenka flatly denied Putin's implication that the Belarusian side has proposed resurrecting "something like the Soviet Union." He admitted, however, that he advised Putin to use the experience of the USSR rather than that of the European Union in modeling the Belarusian-Russian state. "We lived together in the Russian Empire for more than a century. Subsequently, we were together in the Soviet Union. Let us use our own experience, from our history. This was the only sense of my referring to the Soviet Union in our conversation. And am I not right? Why should we reject the experience of the Soviet Union?" Lukashenka asked. JM

UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT SUBMITS 2003 BUDGET GUIDELINES TO PARLIAMENT
Finance Minister Ihor Yushko told the Verkhovna Rada on 19 June that the government will draft a 2003 budget bill calling for a 0.5 percent deficit and an inflation rate below 10 percent, UNIAN reported. The parliament is currently viewing budgetary-policy guidelines for 2003. Meanwhile, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc has reportedly started collecting signatures in support of its motion to dismiss Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh's cabinet. Our Ukraine lawmaker Yevhen Zhovtyak told UNIAN that President Leonid Kuchma has decided to replace Kinakh with Donetsk Oblast Governor Viktor Yanukovych. According to Zhovtyak, by promoting Yanukovych, Kuchma wants to counterbalance the recent appointment of Viktor Medvedchuk (from the "Kyiv clan" of oligarchs) as presidential administration chief with a concession to the "Donetsk clan." JM

UNITED UKRAINE BEGINS SPLITTING INTO FACTIONS
The pro-presidential United Ukraine parliamentary group decided on 18 June to reorganize itself into "a bloc of caucuses, deputy groups, and individual deputies," UNIAN reported, quoting Labor Ukraine Party leader Serhiy Tihipko. Tihipko noted that groups and deputies within the restructured United Ukraine will continue to coordinate their parliamentary work. It is expected that United Ukraine will split into six groups. Five of them -- Labor Ukraine, Popular Democratic Party, Ukraine's Regions, Ukraine's Agrarians, and Industrialists and Entrepreneurs -- will reflect the party composition of Our Ukraine. The sixth group, called Power of the People (Narodovladdya), is to include Our Ukraine deputies with no party affiliation. UNIAN reported on 19 June that the People's Democracy group, consisting of 17 lawmakers, has already been registered by the Verkhovna Rada Secretariat. JM

UKRAINIAN MINERS HOLD PROTESTS OVER WAGE ARREARS
Some 90 coal miners from Luhansk Oblast launched a hunger strike on Independence Square in Kyiv on 18 June, demanding payment of overdue wages. "We are determined to stay here until the government pays our money. In some months, we get only one-third of our salaries -- and sometimes nothing. It is impossible to live like this," one of the protesters told Reuters. The same day, some 70 miners from Donetsk Oblast picketed the parliamentary and governmental headquarters in Kyiv with similar demands, AP reported. JM

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT CONDEMNS CRIMES OF NAZI, SOVIET OCCUPIERS
By a vote of 74 to one, parliament adopted a statement on 18 June condemning the crimes of the Soviet and German occupation forces in Estonia from 1940 to 1990, ETA reported. The initial draft of the statement, which only dealt with the crimes of the Communist parties of the USSR and Estonia, was submitted more than a year ago. Its adoption was delayed because of presidential elections in which two former Communist Party members were among the leading contenders. The draft was later amended to include Nazi crimes as well. The only dissenting vote came from the leader of the Estonian Social Democratic Labor Party, Tiit Toomsalu, who said the text was too soft on Nazi crimes and incorrectly "condemned 20-30 years of positive social development." The statement does not condemn individual former Communist Party members but rather the communist regime and its repressive organs, the KGB and NKVD. It stresses that the Soviet and Nazi occupation forces repressed or deported more than one-fifth of the total population of Estonia. SG

EU ONLY CHANCE FOR LATVIA TO JOIN DEVELOPED COUNTRIES
Latvian Finance Minister Gundars Berzins told the 48th conference of Latvia's intelligentsia that membership in the European Union is Latvia's only chance to join the family of prosperous and developed countries, LETA reported on 18 June. He said that entry into the EU is economically advantageous, as received funds will exceed expenditures The EU policy of investing more funds into less-developed regions in underdeveloped countries would clearly benefit Latvia's Latgale region. Berzins noted that it is the responsibility of the government to promote a good business climate and that plans to reduce corporate income tax from the current 25 percent to 15 percent in 2004 should improve the business environment. He called the closure of the taxation chapter in EU negotiations earlier in the month a very important step toward EU membership, noting that Latvia secured a longer transition period for raising the excise on tobacco than other candidates. SG

AGREEMENTS ON LITHUANIAN REFINERY SIGNED
Lithuanian Finance and Economy Ministers Dalia Grybauskaite and Petras Cesna, Williams International Managing Director Randy Majors, and Yukos Vice President Mikhail Brudno were among the signatories to 18 volumes of agreements in three languages -- Lithuanian, English, and Russian -- in Vilnius on 18 June, BNS reported. Yukos agreed to pay $75 million, lend another $75 million, and supply 4.8 million tons of crude oil per year to the refinery in exchange for a 26.85 percent stake in Mazeikiai Oil. Yukos made both payments to the company's account in London. The next day, Mazeikiai Oil began construction of a $50 million isomerization unit that will enable the refinery to improve the quality of its products and meet EU product specifications. SG

GERMANY PLEDGES NOT TO DELAY POLAND'S EU ENTRY
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder assured Polish Premier Leszek Miller in Wroclaw on 18 June that Germany will not delay Poland's entry into the EU, Polish media reported. Schroeder said Polish farmers deserve to receive the same treatment within the EU as their Western counterparts, but added that farm subsidies will depend on reforms to the EU's Common Agricultural Policy. Schroeder last week in a newspaper contribution said farmers from EU newcomer countries should not get direct subsidies after the bloc's enlargement. Schroeder suggested in Wroclaw that his article was primarily targeted at current beneficiaries of the EU farm budget who, he argued, should be prepared to sacrifice some of the cash after EU enlargement. "Polish farmers must have equal chances in competing with others. The discussion on this subject cannot become a reason for delay for countries that are to enter the EU, and Poland cannot be a net contributor at the moment of entry into the EU," Miller summed up his cabinet's position on Poland's EU entry. JM

POLISH RADICAL AGRARIAN LEADER ANNOUNCES MORE PROTESTS
Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper told journalists in Lodz on 18 June that his organization has a complete plan of nationwide antigovernment protests, the first of which is scheduled for 25 June (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 18 June 2002), PAP reported. "[The protest] on 25 June will start off a series of large protest actions. We will organize surprise blockades in cities, but that's not all -- we have more protests planned after 25 June," Lepper said. He added that Self-Defense does not fear police intervention during the protests since "most of the police are on our side anyway." Lepper appealed to Prime Minister Miller for talks on "the state's social, economic, and fiscal policies" and added that if the talks prove "satisfactory," the protests may be called off. JM

HUNGER STRIKE OVER UNPAID WAGES LAUNCHED IN POLISH CITY
Ten workers from the Bison-Bial grips and instruments factory in Bialystok (northeastern Poland) embarked on a hunger strike on 18 June, demanding the payment of overdue wages. Some 1,300 Bison-Bial employees have not received their wages for the past six months. JM

CZECH PREMIER-DESIGNATE HOLDS FIRST ROUND OF COALITION NEGOTIATIONS...
Premier-designate Vladimir Spidla on 18 June began negotiations with the leaders of the Coalition on forging the country's new government, CTK and international media reported. Social Democratic leader Spidla said the sides are "ready and able" to form the government and that the cabinet's lineup should reflect the electoral outcome. He added, "We shall try to finalize the negotiations as soon as possible." Spidla's Social Democratic Party (CSSD) is to submit to the Coalition a draft on the government's program by the end of this week, and the document is to be discussed on 24 June. The Coalition is made up of the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union-Democratic Union parties. MS

...WHILE OUTGOING PREMIER OPPOSES COALITION CABINET
Outgoing Premier Milos Zeman said on 18 June that if he were entrusted with the formation of the government, he would not conduct negotiations with the Coalition, CTK reported, citing the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes." Zeman said that instead he would form a minority CSSD cabinet. Zeman said Spidla has yet to discover the true character of the Coalition, which Zeman described as "a Greek gift for Social Democracy." He also said he doubts a CSSD-Coalition cabinet can serve a full four-year term. MS

FREEDOM UNION-DEMOCRATIC UNION FORMS OWN PARLIAMENTARY GROUP
The eight deputies representing the Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU) in the newly elected Czech parliament on 18 June formed their own parliamentary group, CTK reported. Ten deputies are required to form a club and the US-DEU added to the group two independent deputies from the Coalition's election list. The other 21 deputies elected as representatives of the Coalition are members of the Christian Democratic Union (KDU-CSL). Karel Kuehnl will head the new parliamentary group. The daily "Pravo" reported on 19 June that the US-DEU is asking for the resignation of deputies representing the Christian Democrats to allow their replacement in the parliament by US-DEU members. The US-DEU says this will serve the general interests of the Coalition, adding that the alliance's representation in the legislature is currently "unbalanced." MS

ODS POLITICIAN RESIGNS FROM PARTY'S LEADERSHIP
Premysl Sobotka, deputy chairman of the Civic Democratic Party's (ODS) parliamentary group in the Senate, resigned on 18 June from the ODS Executive Committee, CTK reported. He attributed his decision to the committee's meeting one day earlier, which did not decide on any steps following the party's 14-15 June electoral defeat (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2002). Sobotka said that the Executive Committee's decision to set up a group to analyze the reasons for the defeat is "hesitant" and inadequate. He also said the ODS electoral campaign relied too much on the personality of its leader, Vaclav Klaus. MS

CZECH COMMUNIST LEADER INSISTS ON CSSD MINORITY GOVERNMENT
Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) Chairman Miroslav Grebenicek on 18 June said the KSCM continues to believe that the best solution for a stable government would be a minority CSSD government with Communist backing, CTK reported. He said the KSCM would demand in exchange for its support one of the deputy speakers' seats in parliament. Grebenicek said he has already talked to a "high-ranking" CSSD politician about his party's proposal, but he did not disclose who that person is. MS

AUSTRIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IS BACK TO SQUARE ONE ON TEMELIN, BENES DECREES
Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner said on 18 June that Vienna will start talks with the next Czech government on the Benes Decrees and on the Temelin nuclear power plant as soon as the new cabinet is formed, CTK reported. She said that Austria intends to propose again "the zero-option variant" for the controversial plant. She also said the Benes Decrees continue to have legal validity and were "a dead wrong" committed against the Sudeten German minority. "Prague must declare that from now on the Benes Decrees can have no legal validity," Ferrero-Waldner said, adding that the Czech parliament should declare that they amounted to an "inequity." Should the Czech legislature agree to do so, she said, the Austrian parliament should, in turn, approve a declaration describing the Benes Decrees as stemming from "the horrible acts" committed by the Nazis during World War II. She added that it would be "a nice gesture" if the Sudeten Germans were paid compensation for the confiscation of property by the Czechs. MS

INDONESIAN PRESIDENT IN CZECH REPUBLIC
Visiting Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri said after talks with President Vaclav Havel in Prague that her country wants to purchase Czech-made equipment for its military forces and for police, CTK and AP reported. She said she also discussed with Havel "the problem of terrorism." Sukarnoputri met on 17 June with outgoing Premier Zeman and with Czech businessmen. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER SAYS RAILWAYS SCANDAL IS AIMED AT HIS POLITICAL LIQUIDATION
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda told journalists on 18 June that the affair over a Slovak Railways tender is in fact aimed at liquidating him politically, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 June 2002). Dzurinda, whose brother is an official at Slovak Railways and a member of the commission that selected the winner, said it is untrue that at least one other bidder offered a lower price for the delivery of 35 locomotives, adding that the offers were approximately the same. The side that lost, Dzurinda said, then set up "a lobby" with the aim of destroying his political career. MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER ADMITS TO COMMUNIST SECRET SERVICE PAST...
Speaking in the parliament on 19 June, Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy admitted that he served as a Communist secret service counterintelligence officer from 1977 to 1982, Reuters and AP reported. Medgyessy is attempting to avert a political crisis over a report in the pro-government "Magyar Nemzet" that he was an informer for the Interior Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2002). In his initial reaction to the parliament on 18 June, Medgyessy neither admitted nor fully denied the report. On 19 June, he told lawmakers: "For five years I helped ensure that foreign informers did not get a hold of Hungarian secrets so as to prevent Hungary from being admitted to the IMF [International Monetary Fund]." In its report, Reuters says that the period 1977-82 was a delicate one for Hungary, during which Budapest was trying to edge away from the Soviet Union and open up to the West, including joining the IMF in 1982 and sounding out the EU on membership. Medgyessy said on 19 June that "a spy-catcher is not an agent, not an informant. Counterintelligence and intelligence...serve the protection of the country." He also said he will submit an emergency bill to release all classified secret-service data relating to political figures. MS

...BUT WILL COALITION CRISIS BE AVOIDED?
Following a joint meeting of their parliamentary groups on 18 June, the two coalition partners seemed to have taken different positions on the affair. Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs said the Socialist caucus continues to back Medgyessy. But 17 of 20 members of the Free Democrat's caucus said they now lack confidence in the premier, "Vilaggazdasag" and international media reported. According to dpa, the Free Democrats have actually withdrawn confidence from Medgyessy, though Reuters cites Kovacs as saying: "I do not consider this [to be] a coalition crisis. This is a debate between two parties, and I trust it will be settled fairly." The two sides are to meet again on 19 June. Reuters cited Medgyessy as saying on Hungarian television that he will resign if he feels he is losing the confidence of either of the two coalition partners. Hungarian media reported that the Free Democrats want Kovacs to replace Medgyessy as premier. MS

HUNGARIAN EXTREMIST LEADER WINS SUIT AGAINST 'NEPSZABADSAG'
The Budapest Metropolitan Court on 18 June ruled in favor of Hungarian Justice and Life Deputy Chairman Laszlo Bognar in a libel suit Bognar launched against the daily "Nepszabadsag," Hungarian media reported. The court ordered the daily to pay Bognar 250,000 forints ($974) in damages and to publish the ruling within 15 days. On 26 July 2001, "Nepszabadsag" described Bognar as "a figure stemming from the lowest specimen of [the] human race" who finds happiness in "tearing down, destroying, and humiliating the other party." MS

CROATIA CANCELS DEALS WITH IRAN
Croatia has dropped $12 million worth of economic projects with Iran as a result of U.S. pressure, "Vecernji list" reported from Zagreb on 19 June. Foreign Minister Tonino Picula told the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee that "the Americans asked that we cancel the deals with one country that is not doing enough to fight against terrorism." He added that Croatia wants to show that it is an active partner in the war on terror. The most important deal involved an Iranian contract to build several small patrol vessels in Croatia's ailing shipyards on the Adriatic. Washington reportedly offered its own deal as compensation. Croatia's decision to rebuff Iran comes amid EU efforts to negotiate a trade and cooperation pact and otherwise improve relations with a country that President George W. Bush says is part of an "axis of evil" that supports terrorism. PM

CROATIAN SERB OFFICIAL CHALLENGES CENSUS RESULTS
Milorad Pupovac, who is a leader of Croatia's Serbian minority, said in Zagreb on 18 June that the government's new census figures underestimate the size of the Serbian population and must be corrected, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2002). Pupovac said that new figures must be prepared that will include Serbs who have returned to Croatia since the census was taken in 2001, as well as individuals who refused to declare their nationality to census takers. Pupovac argued that many Serbs fear discrimination and do not openly reveal that they are Serbs. If his demands are not met, he said he will file a formal complaint against Croatia with the UN, Council of Europe, European Commission, and OSCE. PM

HAGUE TRIBUNAL OFFICIALS IN REPUBLIKA SRPSKA
Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor of the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, said in Sarajevo on 18 June that some 50 war crimes cases can be tried in Bosnia instead of the Netherlands once Bosnia sets up its own war crimes court, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2002). She added, however, that Bosnia is not yet ready to take on war crimes trials. She noted that the 50 cases are from a list of 108 individuals whom the tribunal plans to indict. Claude Jorda, who is president of the tribunal, said that any Bosnian war crimes court would have to include international judges and meet the highest judicial standards. On 19 June, Del Ponte and Jorda arrived in Banja Luka to meet with top political and judicial officials of the Republika Srpska, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

YUGOSLAV COMMISSION WANTS DOCUMENTS TO GO TO THE HAGUE
The National Council for Cooperation with the International Court, which is headed by Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic, decided on 19 June to call on the Serbian government to give the tribunal documents the government recently acquired from former state security chief Jovica Stanisic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 2002). The documents reportedly pertain to the direct personal role of former President Slobodan Milosevic with regard to security forces and paramilitaries. PM

FLURRY OF DIPLOMATIC ACTIVITY IN BELGRADE
On 18 June, Yugoslav Foreign Minister Svilanovic and his Albanian counterpart, Arte Dada, agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level soon after a break of several years, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Elsewhere, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek signed agreements on tourism, the environment, and posts and telecommunications with Yugoslav Prime Minister Dragisa Pesic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2002). On 19 June, Svilanovic presided over a one-day meeting of foreign ministers from the countries belonging to the Southeastern European Cooperation Process (SEECP), of which he currently holds the rotating chair. Members are Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Turkey, and Yugoslavia, with Croatia as an observer. Topics on the agenda include promoting free trade, combating terrorism and organized crime, and improving links in infrastructure and telecommunications. Svilanovic and his Bosnian counterpart, Zlatko Lagumdzija, said they hope to reach a series of bilateral agreements soon, including one on dual citizenship. PM

SERBIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES CABINET CHANGES
Meeting on 19 June, 133 legislators in the 250-seat parliament endorsed the changes in the government that Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic made the previous day, AP reported. Some 37 legislators voted against, one abstained, and the rest were absent. The Democratic Party of Serbia of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica is boycotting the parliament and has named a shadow cabinet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 13 June 2002). The appointments Djindjic announced are: Kori Udovicki as energy minister, Dr. Tomica Milosavljevic as health minister, Rodoljub Sabic for the new post of local government minister, Andjelka Mihajlov for the new post of environment minister, and Miodrag Isakov for an additional deputy prime minister's post, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2002). PM

FOUR KOSOVAR PROTECTION FORCE MEMBERS ARRESTED
The UN police force arrested three men in Prishtina and one in Peja for atrocities committed against fellow ethnic Albanians following the entry of NATO forces into Kosova in mid-1999, Reuters reported on 18 June. Officials of the Kosova Protection Force (TMK), which is a civilian body made up primarily of former members of the Kosova Liberation Army, said the four belong to the TMK. Three of the four are officers, including one colonel and two majors. The fourth was described as a TMK member. The TMK said in a statement: "How can we trust the police, which arrests people without any notice or warrant, especially when the memory of the behavior of its predecessors [under Milosevic] is still alive?" PM

MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT OFFERS REWARD FOR INFORMATION ABOUT KIDNAPPED PERSONS
The government on 18 June approved a proposal by the Interior Ministry to offer a reward of $475,000 for information on the whereabouts of 12 missing ethnic Macedonians from the Tetovo region, Macedonian media reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 and 16 November 2001). The 12 have been missing since the conflict in 2001 and are believed to have been kidnapped by ethnic Albanian rebels. The reward also applies to those providing information about the whereabouts of six missing ethnic Albanians. Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski denied accusations by the relatives of the ethnic Albanians that his ministry was involved in their disappearance, "Nova Makedonija" reported. UB

BRITISH DEFENSE SECRETARY IN ROMANIA
Visiting British Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon said in Bucharest on 18 June that his government supports the Romanian and Bulgarian bids for NATO membership, AP reported. Hoon said the two countries' strategic location would be an asset for NATO, and added that Romania and Bulgaria have proven their ability to contribute militarily to the alliance and to participate in stability efforts on the Balkan peninsula. However, Hoon stressed that British support does not guarantee that Bucharest and Sofia will receive invitations to join NATO at the organization's Prague summit in November. NATO will only issue invitations to "those countries that show determination to continue reforms." He said the Romanian government "accepts there is more work to be done...in key areas." Hoon was speaking after talks with President Ion Iliescu, Defense Minister Ion Mircea Pascu, and Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana. MS

STOLOJAN TURNS DOWN OFFER TO TAKE OVER ROMANIAN LIBERAL PARTY
Former Premier Theodor Stolojan on 18 June turned down the offer made to him by National Liberal Party (PNL) Chairman Valeriu Stoica to take over the PNL chairmanship, as expected, Romanian radio reported the next day. In the wake of Stolojan's decision, the PNL Standing Bureau decided to convoke the party's Permanent Delegation for 5 July. The PNL county organizations are to decide by 25 June whether they back the demand of "Patriciu wing" that opposes Stoica to call an extraordinary PNL congress. If at least 24 organizations back the demand, the Standing Bureau is to convoke the congress in the fall to decide on Stoica's replacement. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER 'EXPECTS HUNGARY TO FULFILL OBLIGATIONS'
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said in Arad on 18 June that Romania expects the new Hungarian government to implement the agreement reached by himself and former Prime Minister Viktor Orban on the implementation of the Hungarian "status law" in Romania, Mediafax reported. "We do not interfere in the affairs of the Hungarian parliament, which is duty-bound to find the best possible solutions for Hungarians," Nastase said, but added: "It is only us who determine what happens on Romanian territory." Nastase also said, "Romania's minorities are the responsibility of the Romanian government, which reflects the current situation in any other European country." Mediafax also reported on 18 June that the Romanian national flag has "disappeared" from the building in Sfantu-Gheorghe serving as seat of the Covasna County Council. This follows the fining of Sfantu-Gheorghe Mayor Albert Almos for having taken down the national flag from the mayoralty's building. MS

CHISINAU, TIRASPOL TO RESUME NEGOTIATIONS
Negotiations between Moldova and the breakaway Transdniester region will be resumed in Kyiv on 26-27 June, Infotag reported on 18 June, citing Transdniester "Foreign Minister" Valerii Litskay. The meeting will be the first following a nine-month break and will be attended by the mediators in the conflict: Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The sides are to resume talks on a special status for the region. MS

OSCE OFFICIAL SAYS RUSSIA WILL FULFILL WITHDRAWAL OBLIGATION
Oswald Shneidratus, deputy OSCE mission chief in Moldova, on 18 June said in an interview with RFE/RL's Romanian and Moldovan Service that he is confident Russia will fulfill its obligations and withdraw its arsenal and troops from the Transdniester by the end of the year, in line with the decisions of the OSCE 1999 Istanbul summit. MS

GAGAUZ-YERI GOVERNOR INITIATES REFERENDUM
Gagauz-Yeri Governor Dumitru Croitor on 18 June submitted to the autonomous region's Popular Assembly an initiative for organizing a referendum to overcome the current stalemate between himself and the assembly, Infotag and Flux reported. Croitor justified the initiative by saying the situation has already damaged the region's image both in Moldova and abroad and may lead to the suspension of important international investment projects. He proposes that the region's inhabitants be asked the following three questions: Do you trust Governor Dumitru Croitor?; Are you in favor of dissolving the Popular Assembly and holding new elections?; and Are you in favor of nullifying the parliamentary immunity of the assembly's deputies?" MS

MOLDOVA'S ROMA DEMAND STATUS OF NATIONAL MINORITY
Ecaterina Drosu, chairwoman of the Juvilia Romany [Roma Women] organization, on 18 June said the country's 20,400-strong Romany community is demanding that it be extended official recognition as a national minority, Flux and Infotag reported. The Romany community is currently recognized as a separate "ethnic group." She said the six nongovernmental organizations representing Moldova's Roma have already worked out a "strategy" for obtaining that status. She added that the Romany minority is the "most-neglected population category" which suffers "total discrimination by local authorities." Drosu also said that three-quarters of Moldova's Romany population is unemployed, and 25 percent of Roma are illiterate. MS

BULGARIAN RULING-MAJORITY LEADER DENIES CORRUPTION CHARGES
Plamen Panayotov, the leader of the parliamentary group of the ruling National Movement Simeon II (NDSV), on 18 June denied allegations that members of his party are involved in corruption, mediapool.bg reported. Panayotov was reacting to accusations leveled by members of the NDSV parliamentary faction against NDSV and the administrator of the Plovdiv district. Panayotov speculated that the accusations were launched by people who are themselves involved in organized crime and large-scale corruption and who can buy influence in the media. UB

BULGARIA, ROMANIA SIGN PROTOCOL ON CUSTOMS COOPERATION
National Customs Agency Director Asen Asenov and his Romanian counterpart, Gheorghe Dinu, on 18 June signed a protocol on the exchange of information between customs authorities at the ferryboat border crossing between Vidin and Calafat on the Danube, BTA reported. The protocol helps realize a project financed by the U.S. government and administered by the World Bank that is part of the Facilitation of Trade and Transport in Southeastern Europe Regional Program. Dinu stressed the good cooperation between Romanian and Bulgarian authorities in their fight against organized crime, especially drug trafficking. UB

BULGARIAN SOCIAL MINISTER PRESENTS EMPLOYMENT PROGRAM FOR WELFARE RECIPIENTS
Minister for Social Affairs Lidia Shuleva on 18 June presented an employment program called "From Welfare to Guaranteed Employment," the daily "Sega" reported. According to Shuleva, in 2001 there were 167,000 unemployed persons receiving social assistance from the state, more than twice as many as in 1999. A large portion of these people are Roma. Beginning on 1 January 2003, unemployed persons who are fit to work will get state benefits only if they accept public-service jobs, such as gardening or construction. UB

A UNION FRACTURED
Following his meeting with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in St. Petersburg two days earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin on 13 June voiced some of the harshest criticism yet of plans for the creation of a Russia-Belarus union, an idea promoted by Lukashenka throughout his eight years in power.

Speaking at the Bakulev Cardiological Surgery Center in Moscow, Putin accused the Belarusian leadership of wanting to make the union on the model of the defunct Soviet Union and flatly refused to follow such a path. "You cannot try to resurrect the USSR at the expense of the Russia's economic interests, since this will strengthen centrifugal forces within the country and weaken Russia economically," Russian media quoted Putin as saying.

According to Russian and Belarusian media reports, the Lukashenka-Putin meeting on 11 June dealt fairly smoothly with economic issues. In particular, the two countries signed a plan for joint actions to introduce a union currency, a move that enabled the Russian Central Bank to disburse a $50 million tranche of its $150 million stabilization loan to Belarus. But not all economic controversies were worked out. Lukashenka reportedly handed Putin a memorandum outlining a number of problems that require the Russian leader's personal intervention. These problems, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," chiefly concern the collection of value-added tax on Russian exports to Belarus, supplies of Russian uncut diamonds to Belarus, Belarusian exports of sugar to Russia, and the creation of a common market for transport services that would allow the lifting of restrictions on Belarusian shippers.

However, the strategic issue of the meeting -- the creation of a legal basis for the union and, in particular, the drafting of a constitutional act -- seems to have foundered. "The good, or bad, luck of answering the question of what our union is to be like in the future has fallen to us," Lukashenka was quoted as saying. Russia reportedly proposed an option that Lukashenka called an "interesting suggestion," although he added that, "Belarus has a somewhat different ideology on this matter." Lukashenka reportedly intends to present on 25 June his official point of view about "when to elect a [union] parliament, how it is to be structured, and on the basis of what document it is to act," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported.

Putin was not as vague in his 13 June remarks about what Minsk had proposed as "the legislative basis" for any future union. Russia television quoted Putin as saying: "Our partners should make up their minds and decide what they want. We often hear that something along the lines of the Soviet Union would be desirable. But if it is to be along the lines of the Soviet Union, then why write in the draft constitutional act that the states will be sovereign, have territorial integrity, and the right of veto on all decisions? Let us not forget that the Belarusian economy amounts to 3 percent of the Russian economy. OK, there could be the right of veto, if that is what the public wants and what the leadership has decided. OK, then no other solution can be forced upon them. But in that case we should also have the right of veto. What is inadmissible is that one side should have the right of veto for everything and also make all the demands. We too should have the right of veto in that case. But then it is not something along the lines of the Soviet Union but something quite different. We have to understand what we want and what our partners want."

Putin stressed that he is against any "supranational body with unclear functions" in the union and added, in an apparent reference to the former Soviet Union, that, "We had this in our history already." In what seemed to be his strongest term of censure, Putin called the Belarusian proposal of a constitutional act "legalistic nonsense."

Commenting on Putin's remarks, Belarusian Social Democratic Party leader Mikalay Statkevich told Belapan that Putin will not agree to the creation of supranational power structures in the union or the introduction of the post of union vice president that Lukashenka reportedly is seeking. "Lukashenka has exploited Russia's help according to the pattern: '[Russian] oil for [Belarusian] kisses.' But now comes the end to [Lukashenka's] economic bluff," Statkevich predicted.

Another Belarusian opposition figure, former Supreme Soviet speaker Stanislau Shushkevich, was of a similar opinion. "Putin has most likely had enough of pandering to the Belarusian president's fancies," Shushkevich said. According to United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka, Putin's pronouncements should be no surprise. "Putin has made a strategic choice in favor of democracy and a market economy...while Lukashenka, as before, is in favor of the Soviet Union and against the market and democracy," Lyabedzka added.

"Kommersant-Daily" opined that Putin's statement on integration with Belarus finally cleared up the Kremlin's stance on its relations with the Lukashenka regime. According to the newspaper, the Kremlin's top priority is maintaining good relations with the West. Pursuing integration with Belarus is also a priority, "Kommersant-Daily" noted, but only on Moscow's terms.

Russian State Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) was quick to offer a hint at what those terms might be. Speaking on Ekho Moskvy radio on 14 June, Zhirinovskii said Putin is no longer satisfied with pursuing "Yeltsin-type" integration with Belarus, which allegedly implied the restoration of a "pink version" of the Soviet Union. According to Zhirinovskii, there is no need to create any more unions in the post-Soviet space, since there is already a union called the Russian Federation. In his opinion, Belarus could be divided into two "gubernias" -- Minsk and Mahileu -- each comprising some 5 million people, and join the Russian Federation as two new subjects.

Putin's acerbic remarks seemingly took Lukashenka by surprise. He needed nearly a week to respond, which he finally did at a special government session on 18 June. Lukashenka's reaction to Putin's criticism was aired by Belarusian television.

Lukashenka said he has been aware for some time that the Kremlin does not regard Belarus as an equal partner. However, Putin's comments were the first time, Lukashenka claimed, that this attitude was openly voiced by Russia's leader. Lukashenka also said Putin deeply insulted the Belarusian people by suggesting with his comment that Belarus's economy amounts to just 3 percent of Russia's that Belarus is a "freeloader" living at Russia's expense.

According to the Belarusian president, the Kremlin is proposing a federal model for Belarusian-Russian integration -- which is tantamount to the absorption of Belarus by the Russian Federation as its "90th subject." Lukashenka pledged to preserve Belarus's independence in the union with Russia, which, he asserted, "is necessary for common people, not for presidents."

While stressing the importance of the experience of the former USSR in Belarusian-Russian integration, Lukashenka denied that he seeks to restore "something like the USSR." He said he prefers a confederation model for the union. In concluding his emotional and somewhat incoherent speech, Lukashenka said Belarusians "should seek their happiness" in Belarus rather than Russia, adding that there is no reason for them "to tremble because someone said something somewhere."

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