BASHKIR AIRLINES BLAMES SWISS AIR-TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS FOR CATASTROPHE
Bashkir Airlines head Nikolai Odegov on 3 July denied claims that the midair crash of a Bashkir Airlines Tu-154 passenger jet and a Boeing 757 cargo jet late on 1 July was caused by pilot error on the Bashkir jet, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported on 3 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2002). Swiss air-traffic control had claimed the crash over southern Germany that claimed 71 lives was a result of the Tu-154's failure to respond quickly enough to orders to change course. Odegov said data from the recovered black boxes confirm that the Tu-154 was given less than a minute to respond. While Swiss officials are insisting that warning should have been sufficient, AP quoted a German pilot representative as saying that pilots usually count on a warning of five to 10 minutes. Odegov also disputed claims that the pilots of the chartered Tu-154 were inexperienced and not sufficiently fluent in English. A travel agent who helped organize the trip said on 3 July that 45 of the 69 people on the passenger jet were known to be children or teenagers, fewer than the 52 reported earlier by officials, according to AP. VY
CIS COMMITTEE PROPOSED BAN ON CHARTER FLIGHTS DAYS BEFORE TRAGEDY
Regions.ru had reported on 26 June that the CIS Aviation Committee proposed banning all charter flights by CIS operators because of the high number of air accidents and low safety standards. The committee's statement, published by avia.ru on 26 June, said that nearly every second charter flight by CIS carriers results in an accident or other incident, and the number of aviation disasters for charter flights in the CIS is 10 times higher than that among airlines' regular routes. At the same time, the number of charter flights on long-distance routes is increasing steadily and is nearly 30 percent of the market today, according to the committee statement. VY
GOVERNMENT STARTS TO LOOK FOR MONEY TO REPAIR FLOOD DAMAGE
Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Ulyukaev has acknowledged that although the government has a reserve fund from which it can draw in the event of emergencies, there is not enough money in it to cover the damage caused by the recent flooding in the Southern Federal District, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 2 July. And this fall, the executive will have to amend the current federal budget to confirm the source of financial assistance to the afflicted regions, Ulyukaev added. Meanwhile, in interview with the bureau aired the same day, Yurii Rakhmaninov, vice president of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, reported that some Russian specialists have been warning for years that Russian dams are deteriorating. Rakhmaninov suggested that the population along the Volga River could also face a tragedy like that experienced in the Southern region and that the relevant authorities need to pay greater attention to the state of local dams. JAC
FEDERATION COUNCIL LEADERS DISCUSS JACKSON-VANIK AMENDMENT WITH U.S. DELEGATION
Federal Council speaker Sergei Mironov and Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov said they hope that the United States will lift the Jackson-Vanik amendment this year, ORT and other Russian news agencies reported. The leaders made the comments following a meeting in Moscow on 2 July with a U.S. Senate delegation headed by Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott. While some expressed hope that the amendment will be repealed before U.S. Congressional elections in November, ITAR-TASS quoted Margelov as saying that "we must be realists in this matter, and the Russian side hopes the amendment will be repealed before the end of this year." Margelov noted that members of the Federation Council and the U.S. Senate will meet in September to discuss repealing the amendment, according to ITAR-TASS. VY
ANOTHER RUSSIAN SCIENTIST ACCUSED OF ESPIONAGE
The Primorskii Krai court in Vladivostok began closed-door hearings on 3 July of the case of Vladimir Shchurov, the head of the scientific laboratory at the Pacific Ocean Oceanological Institute, who is accused of state treason, Russian news agencies reported. Shchurov was arrested by the local directorate of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in October and indicted for attempting to smuggle allegedly top-secret equipment into China. However, Shchurov claims he has dealt only with purely scientific research his whole career, and has never been exposed to state secrets. VY
STRONG EURO INCREASES RUSSIAN INDEBTEDNESS
Izvestia.ru reported on 3 July that Moscow currency-exchange outlets were selling euros on 2 July for 31.51 to the ruble, while the U.S. dollar was being sold for 31.01 to the ruble. The website stressed that although demand for the euro in Russia is currently not very high, demand will obviously increase if the euro sustains its strength against the dollar. Meanwhile, presidential economic adviser Andrei Illarionov said on 3 July that every increase of the euro's strength by one cent against the dollar increases Russia's foreign debt by $100 million. This is because most Russian debt is denominated in dollars but owed to European countries. VY
NEW CRIMINAL PROCEDURE CODE SPARKS CONTROVERSY
The new Criminal Procedure Code, which went into effect on 1 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2002), has already aroused controversy over its content and the mechanism for its implementation. The case of Colonel Yurii Budanov, who is charged with murdering an 18-year-old Chechen woman in March 2000, received much attention this week when a military judge failed to deliver a verdict and ordered further psychiatric examination in the case. The practice of returning to earlier stages of the legal process is permitted under the new code, which "Vremya MN" on 2 July suggested that the prosecutor purposefully "used the new code to serve his own interests" in order to delay the Budanov case. The daily also commented that the new law, which requires a court warrant in order to arrest suspects during the preliminary stage of investigations, is creating technical difficulties for law enforcement bodies. The daily noted that no such warrants were issued by courts in Moscow on 1 July, a city that averages roughly 50 such warrants a day. MD
COUNCIL DRAFTS SANCTIONS FOR POOR KNOWLEDGE OF RUSSIAN LANGUAGE
A special government council on the Russian language met on 1 July to craft amendments to a draft law that would make Russian the only official state language and would impose fines and other administrative sanctions for noncompliance, polit.ru reported the next day. The council intends to present its proposed amendments on 15 September to the State Duma, which has already passed the draft law in its first reading. Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko, one of the main advocates of the proposed reform, believes that the law demonstrates the government's readiness to defend the Russian language, polit.ru reported. MD
GAP BETWEEN HIGH AND LOW SALARIES GROWING
Labor Minister Aleksandr Pochinok told a seminar on the Russian labor market held in Moscow on 2 July that the top wage in Russia is 14.5 times greater than the lowest wage, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Pochinok, only in the budget sphere -- or state sector -- is the difference between the first and last tier less, with the top wage 4.5 times greater than the bottom. Speaking at the same seminar, Mansoora Rashid, a World Bank economist, noted that there has been an increase in the wage gap, and the main beneficiaries of this trend have been young qualified workers in cities. Those who are worst off are low-skilled rural residents. JAC
PRESIDENT PROMISES TO LOOK INTO KRASNODAR SITUATION
The group of Meskhetians in Krasnodar Krai suspended on 2 July a 10-day-old hunger strike amid pledges that President Vladimir Putin's office would appoint a commission to investigate what they say is discrimination against their group (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2002). Matvei Borsuk, a spokesman for the Novorossiisk Human Rights Committee, told RFE/RL that a total of 37 people had joined the strike since it began on June 22, and nine protesters were hospitalized on medical grounds. The Meskhetians are demanding that their rights to cultivate small acreages leased by private owners and to sell vegetables on local markets be restored. They say local authorities recently deprived them of this right, leaving them with virtually no source of income. JAC
JOURNALIST FIRED FOR ASKING PUTIN QUESTION ABOUT LOCAL POLITICIAN
A journalist from the Nenets Autonomous Okrug newspaper "Krasnyi tundrovik" who questioned President Putin at a recent press conference about okrug Governor Vladimir Butov's recent pattern of hiring and firing local prosecutors has been fired, ntvru.com reported on 2 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2002). The paper, which is the oldest in the region, has three founders -- the newspaper's workers' collective, the okrug legislature, and the city council of Naryan-Mara, the capital of the okrug. The latter two parties sought the ouster of the journalist, Olga Cheburina, while the workers' collective unsuccessfully tried to block their effort. Earlier this week, it was announced that an arrest warrant for Butov was canceled (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2002). JAC
YAKOVLEV GIVEN HIS WALKING PAPERS...
State Duma Deputy Chairwoman Irina Khakamada (Union of Rightist Forces, or SPS) told reporters on 2 July that SPS, Yabloko, and Unity will create a joint election headquarters to prepare for December elections to the St. Petersburg's legislature, polit.ru reported. The goal of the association, according to Khakamada, will be the creation of an "anti-gubernatorial" list of candidates. Khakamada added that the St. Petersburg elections will be a launching pad for the upcoming State Duma and gubernatorial elections. According to Grigorii Tomchin, head of the SPS's St. Petersburg branch, if St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev decides to seek a third term, "right" forces will support a single candidate against him. JAC
...AS NEMTSOV PROMISES SINGLE CANDIDATE FROM THE RIGHT IN 2004
In an interview with "Gazeta" on 2 July, SPS leader Boris Nemtsov said that Russia's "democratic forces" will put forward a single candidate for presidential elections in 2004, despite Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii's opposition to such a plan. Nemtsov said that "10 days ago, Yavlinskii spoke against this idea, and so did his supporters"; however, "he has realized that his action spells political suicide and has changed his position." Nemtsov said, "We clearly understand that it will be difficult to reach an agreement with Yavlinskii," but added that "we are patient people." However, "Vremya novostei" reported on 24 June that according to its sources, SPS itself was internally divided on the future presidential candidate. JAC
REVERSAL OF ARMENIAN ELECTORAL REFORM PROPOSED...
The Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), which is headed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, has proposed reversing the electoral reform of December 2000 that increased the number of parliamentary mandates allocated on the basis of party lists, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 2 July. That reform changed the ratio of mandates allocated under the majoritarian and proportional systems from 75:56 to 37:94, effective on 1 January 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2000). The HHK included the proposal to reduce the number of seats allocated under the proportional system in a package of draft amendments to the electoral system passed in the first reading in May; the second reading is scheduled for later this week. It is not clear precisely how many seats the HHK now wants allocated in single-mandate constituencies. LF
...THEN CRITICIZED BY VETERAN OPPOSITION FIGURE
Soviet-era dissident Paruyr Hairikian, who heads the Self-Determination Union, on 2 July condemned the proposed reversal of the December 2000 reform as "a war against democracy," and a step toward the "criminalization" of the Armenian parliament, Noyan Tapan reported. The proposed amendment is likely to spark criticism from numerous other small parties, including the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun, which co-drafted earlier electoral law amendments together with the HHK. LF
WILL ARMENIAN OPPOSITION CONTEST KARABAKH PRESIDENTIAL POLL?
The alliance of 13 Armenian opposition parties is "seriously considering" whether to nominate a candidate in the presidential elections to be held on 11 August in the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, according to "Aravot" on 3 July. They have agreed that their optimal candidate is Union of Constitutional Rights Chairman Hrant Khachatrian. To date, two candidates -- former Karabakh parliament Chairman Artur Tovmassian and Christian-Democratic Party leader Albert Ghazrian -- have announced their intention to challenge incumbent President Arkadii Ghukasian, who is seeking a second term, Noyan Tapan reported on 2 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2002). LF
AZERBAIJAN APPOINTS OMBUDSMAN
By a vote of 111 in favor and one against, the Azerbaijani parliament on 2 July appointed Elmira Suleymanova, a 64-year-old senior scientist at the Institute of Oil and Chemistry who is also a member of the Presidential Pardons Commission, as the country's ombudsman, Turan reported. Suleymanova was one of three candidates proposed by President Heidar Aliev for the post. LF
GUAM FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET IN AZERBAIJAN...
The foreign ministers of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova met in Baku on 2 July to review the activities of the GUAM regional group since its inception in 1997, Turan reported (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 1997). Uzbekistan, which announced last month that it is "suspending" its participation in the group, which it joined in April 1999, did not send a representative to Baku (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 26 June 2002). Participants played down the significance of Uzbekistan's withdrawal, which they said does not presage the group's imminent demise, while Moldovan diplomat Andrei Stratan denied that his country also plans to quit GUAM. The four ministers issued a statement saying they would welcome Uzbekistan's continued participation in GUAM projects. LF
Addressing the gathering on 2 July, Azerbaijani Prime Minister Artur Rasi-Zade called for accelerating work on creating the long-planned GUAM free-trade zone, noting that the legal and economic preconditions for doing so have been established, Turan reported. A summit of GUAM member states was scheduled for 19-20 July in Yalta, to which representatives of the United States, Turkey, Russia, and several other states were invited, Interfax reported. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Quliev said the agreement on creating a free-trade zone, together with a declaration on regional stability and security, will be signed at that summit. LF
AZERBAIJANI POLITICAL PARTIES AT ODDS OVER COUNCIL OF EUROPE OFFICIAL'S CRITICISM
Pro-regime Azerbaijani parliament deputies and members of Azerbaijan's delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe have rejected as lacking objectivity criticisms expressed by Andreas Gross, vice president of the Council of Europe committee that monitors new members' compliance with their specific commitments to the council, Turan reported on 2 July. Gross specifically criticized the Azerbaijani leadership's failure to review convictions of political prisoners, its handling of the Nardaran protests, and President Heidar Aliev's plans to seek a third presidential term (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 2002). But human rights activists said on 3 July that such attacks on Gross reflect badly on Azerbaijan, Turan reported. Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mamedov said they show that the Azerbaijani leadership "cannot tolerate objective criticism." LF
GEORGIAN SUPREME COURT DECLINES TO ACKNOWLEDGE TBILISI CITY COUNCIL
After a lengthy discussion on 2 July, the Georgian Supreme Court rejected a request by the opposition National Movement (EMDP) to recognize the powers of the Tbilisi City Council elected on 2 June, Caucasus Press reported on 3 July. Responding to an earlier request by the EMDP that alleged irregularities in the vote count, a Tbilisi District Court ordered the Central Election Commission to undertake a recount and recalculation of the number of seats each party won (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June 2002). But before that process was completed, the same district court passed a second ruling voiding the powers of the city council. LF
OPPOSITION FACTION CAMPAIGNS FOR VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE IN GEORGIAN MINISTER OF STATE
The Union of Traditionalists announced on 2 July it will begin collecting signatures in support of calling a vote of no confidence in Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze, Caucasus Press reported. The Traditionalists argued that Djorbenadze has failed to deliver on his promise to increase budget revenues during the first four months of the year. Budget revenues over that period totaled 255.5 million laris ($115 million), 38 million laris short of the target figure of 293.9 million. LF
ABKHAZ PRESIDENT WANTS CIS PEACEKEEPERS' MANDATE PROLONGED UNTIL SETTLEMENT REACHED...
Vladislav Ardzinba has told journalists in Sukhum that the mandate of the Russian peacekeepers deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone since 1994 should be extended until a formal solution to the conflict is reached, Caucasus Press reported on 3 July. The mandate is currently extended every six months, and expired on 30 June. The Georgian government is pressing for the terms of the mandate to be amended to deploy the peacekeepers throughout Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion. LF
...AS GEORGIA'S SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE ADVOCATES ABOLISHING ABKHAZ GOVERNMENT-IN-EXILE
"Akhali taoba" on 2 July quoted Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze, who is Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, as proposing that the Abkhaz government-in-exile be abolished as it is opposed to a peaceful settlement of the Abkhaz conflict. But Abashidze added that he does not believe the Georgian leadership would agree to that proposal for fear of angering the Georgian displaced persons who fled Abkhazia in 1992-93. LF
KAZAKH OPPOSITION JOURNALIST'S DAUGHTER MURDERED?
The daughter of Lira Baysetova, an editor with the Kazakh opposition newspaper "Respublika," has died in suspicious circumstances after disappearing on 23 May, according to a Reporters Sans Frontieres press release of 2 July. Baysetova, who in May published an interview with Geneva prosecutor Bernard Bertossa about rumored secret Swiss bank accounts belonging to President Nursultan Nazarbaev and members of his family, was informed on 16 June that her daughter had been arrested for possession of drugs and hospitalized. She was not allowed to visit her daughter, of whose death she was informed on 21 June. Her daughter's body reportedly bore marks of torture. LF
KAZAKH GOVERNMENT DISCUSSES NEW DRAFT LEGAL POLICY
Deputy Justice Minister Rinat Shamsutdinov on 2 July briefed the Kazakh cabinet on the broad outlines of the country's concept for a new legal policy, Interfax reported. The draft was prepared on instructions from President Nazarbaev under the supervision of the presidential council for legal policy and the relevant government bodies. It aims to fill gaps in existing legislation and provide for compiling a standardized list of technical terms in Russian and Kazakh. The draft has been approved by several ministries but not the Interior Ministry, which is demanding that it be amended to formalize the ministry's right to conduct forensic examinations. LF
IMF TO RELEASE FURTHER LOAN TRANCHE FOR KYRGYZSTAN
After reviewing the Kyrgyz government's compliance with the conditions under which it was granted a three-year Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility Loan in December 2001, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced on 2 July in Washington that it will release a further loan tranche of approximately $16 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2001). IMF Deputy Managing Director and acting Chairman Eduardo Aninat told journalists that the Kyrgyz authorities should be commended for the country's "favorable performance." But he noted that political uncertainties have prevented broadening the narrow tax base, and that little progress has been made in reforming the banking sector. Aninat said the agreement reached in March with the Paris Club to reschedule part of Kyrgyzstan's foreign debt will improve the prospects for economic growth (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2002). LF
RUSSIAN EMBASSY IN TAJIKISTAN STOPS ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS FOR RUSSIAN CITIZENSHIP...
An official at the Russian Embassy in Dushanbe told ITAR-TASS on 2 July that the embassy has stopped accepting applications for Russian citizenship in connection with the new Russian legislation that came into effect on 1 July. But at the same time he denied that those Russian citizens living in Tajikistan who failed to apply for Russian passports prior to that date will no longer be able to do so. Under a bilateral treaty signed in 1995, Russians in Tajikistan and Tajiks living in Russia are entitled to dual citizenship. LF
...AS EXTENT OF EMIGRATION FROM UZBEKISTAN TO RUSSIA CALCULATED
A new outflow of Russian speakers from Uzbekistan is under way, according to ferghana.ru on 2 July. The Russian Embassy in Tashkent is currently accepting between 300-400 applications daily for Russian citizenship, and it will take until at least 2004 for all those applications to be processed. Some 14,000 people have submitted such applications since March of this year. They included Russians, Tatars, and Koreans, but very few Uzbeks. Over 300,000 people have left Uzbekistan for Russia over the decade since the demise of the USSR. LF
On the basis of an erroneous Asia-Plus Blitz report, "RFE/RL Newsline" on 1 July incorrectly identified Freimut Duve. He is OSCE representative on freedom of the media.
JUSTICE MINISTRY TO INVESTIGATE ACTIVITIES OF BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION PARTY
The Belarusian Justice Ministry has launched an investigation into the activities of the opposition United Civic Party, Belapan reported on 2 July. Investigators from the ministry were tasked with looking into 12 different areas of the party's activities, including its publications and the minutes of all party conventions and meetings of its Political Council, according to the party's press service. The press service also noted that the launching of the investigation comes in the wake of a case filed by the party against the Justice Ministry. The party appealed to the Belarusian Supreme Court, seeking the annulment of a warning from the ministry to party Chairman Anatol Lyabedzka in response to an article he published in the private newspaper "Narodnaya volya." CB
PROTESTANT LEADERS APPEAL TO BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT OVER RELIGION LAW...
The leaders of a number of Protestant organizations in Belarus have sent an open letter to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, asking him to meet with them to discuss proposals to prevent religious tension, Belapan reported on 2 July. The letter also contains a request for Lukashenka's personal intervention to settle a dispute over Belarus's recently enacted law on religion that gives the Russian Orthodox Church a dominant role in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2002). "We are surprised and bewildered that the bill was passed so hastily. In our opinion, the law...will harm the religious situation in the country," the letter said, adding that, "It is our impression that someone wants to enact a law that will lead only to confrontation and conflicts, without a serious and balanced discussion [of various points of view] and without considering the real religious situation in the republic." CB
...AS MUSLIM LEADER APPROVES OF BILL
Mufti Ismail Alyaksandrovich, head of the Muslim Religious Association in Belarus, said on 2 July that he approves of Belarus's new law on religion, Belapan reported the same day. The Muslim leader said his organization accepts the "provisions of the bill about the equality of all religions before the law." He also said that, although it's not completely positive that the Russian Orthodox Church is given predominance in religious affairs in the country, he understands the historical circumstances leading to this decision. "We are strangers here. Islam came here with us 600 years ago. We account for a paltry 0.3 percent of the population. There are many more Orthodox and Catholic believers in the country. That is why we cannot claim to have a social status similar to that of...the Russian Orthodox Church," the mufti said. CB
OFFICIAL SAYS BELARUS SHOULD FOLLOW RUSSIA'S LEAD IN WTO ACCESSION
The head of the upper house of the Belarusian parliament, Alyaksandr Vaytovich, said on 1 July that Belarus should synchronize its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) with Russia, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. He added that the Belarusian government should speed up its work on preparing the legislative basis necessary for WTO accession. "We cannot ignore the fact that today 91 percent of world trade is conducted by WTO rules," Vaytovich said. He added that Belarus should try to join Russia in its attempt to accede to the WTO by 2004. CB
LUKASHENKA APPROVES 'NEW' BELARUSIAN ANTHEM
President Lukashenka approved an edited version of the Soviet-era anthem "My Belarusy" ("We Belarusians") as Belarus's new national anthem on 2 July, Belapan reported the same day. The original version of the anthem, composed in 1955, praised the Communist Party, whereas the new edited version has eliminated all references to the party, Vladimir Lenin, and Russia, Belapan reported. The anthem was chosen by Belarusian citizens from a short list of five that were aired on national television in May. CB
GREEK PRIME MINISTER TO SUPPORT UKRAINIAN WTO BID
"We support Ukraine's entrance to the WTO and stand for the strengthening of Ukraine's relations with NATO," AP quoted Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis as saying at a press conference in Kyiv on 2 July. Simitis and Ukrainian Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh discussed ways to increase bilateral trade and to cooperate in joint projects such as shipbuilding and oil- and gas-transportation projects. Kinakh said on Ukraine's Novyy Kanal television that his government is interested in Greek participation in the Odessa-Brody oil pipeline. In 2001, trade volume between Greece and Ukraine totaled $226.8 million. Simitis mentioned that European Union leaders might grant Ukraine status as a market economy at an upcoming summit in Denmark on 4 July. RK
EU SEES NEED FOR UKRAINE TO DO 'MUCH WORK' FOR MARKET ECONOMY STATUS
The EU has said it will tell Ukraine at the summit in Denmark on 4 July that it still has much work to do before it can earn the status of "market economy," RFE/RL reported on 2 July. European Commission spokesperson Reijo Kemppinen said on 2 July that Ukraine intends to raise the issue of its economic status at the summit, but that the EU remains cautious and there is "not much chance of a breakthrough in this area." Kemppinen said the EU stresses the need for Ukraine to implement more reforms in the judiciary, media freedom, and market prices for industrial products. RK
ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT WARY OF ASKING FOR COMPENSATION FROM MOSCOW
The cabinet meeting on 2 July decided not to support the draft law proposed by Moderate parliament deputy Enn Tarto by which Estonia would ask for compensation from Russia for crimes committed by the Soviet regime, ETA reported. Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland said that the ministry "is not against raising the issue as such, yet believes that the issue deserves a more thorough discussion on the possible claims and other questions." Justice Minister Mart Rask suggested that a commission could be set up at the president's office for dealing with the issue, as the authority of the president's institution would help achieve a consensus between political parties. President Arnold Ruutel expressed doubts about this suggestion, saying it is a task of the government. SG
LATVIA'S CAPITAL ADOPTS RESTRICTIONS ON ALCOHOL SALES
The Riga City Council at an evening session on 2 July by a vote of 36 to six, with six abstentions, approved greater restrictions on the sale of alcoholic beverages in the city, LETA reported the next day. The regulations ban selling alcohol at public events specifically earmarked for persons 18 years old and younger, at Internet cafes, and on the premises and territory of educational, state, and municipal administrative institutions. In the center of the city, retail alcohol sales are banned within 50 meters of educational institutions and within 100 meters in other parts of the city except in restaurants, bars, and cafes. The regulations will go into effect at the beginning 2003. SG
LITHUANIA PASSES LAW ON PERSONAL INCOME TAX
By a vote of 68 to 18, with 21 abstentions, the parliament on 2 July adopted the Law on Personal Income Tax, which will go into effect beginning on 1 January 2003, BNS reported. The law introduces compulsory general declaration of income, with all residents required to declare their incomes for the year 2003 in early 2004. It reduces the number of tax rates applied to personal income from eight to two -- 15 percent and 33 percent. The law also raises the monthly tax exemption from the current 250 litas ($71) to 290 litas for all employees. Tax exemptions for families with children will also be increased. Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Algirdas Butkevicius estimates that exemption hikes will result in a loss of 280 million litas to the state budget. SG
POLISH FINANCE MINISTER RESIGNS, DENIES ROW OVER BUDGET DEFICIT
Finance Minister Marek Belka unexpectedly resigned on 2 July, saying that after eight months in office he was "burned out," Western and Polish media reported. However, his resignation comes after losing a battle within the government to keep the budget deficit under 40 billion zlotys ($9.8 billion), when the cabinet approved a deficit of 43 billion zlotys ($10.6 billion). But government sources said his resignation had less to do with the budget numbers than a struggle for supremacy between President Aleksander Kwasniewski, for whom Belka had been an adviser, and Prime Minister Leszek Miller, and that Belka was never quite accepted by Miller's faction. Deputy Finance Ministers Andrzej Raczko and Jacek Bartkiewicz submitted their resignations to Miller on 3 July. Possible replacements mentioned for Belka are Grzegorz Kolodko, a former finance minister; Sejm speaker Marek Borowski, another former finance minister; and Witold Orlowski, a liberal adviser to Kwasniewski. DW
CZECH PRESIDENT SAYS CABINET COULD BE APPOINTED BY 15 JULY...
After talks with Prime Minister-designate Vladimir Spidla on 2 July, President Vaclav Havel said a new government could be formally named as soon as 15 July, CTK reported. Talks aimed at forming a majority government of Spidla's Social Democratic Party (CSSD) and the two-party Coalition are meanwhile to continue on 3 July. Havel and Spidla said the main obstacle to forming a government is the Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU), the junior partner in the Coalition electoral bloc. Spidla's party is pressuring the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL) to abandon its pre-election agreement with the US-DEU to evenly divide cabinet posts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2002). Spidla claimed that some US-DEU members do not want to join the coalition agreement. "If the Freedom Union does not accede to the agreement, and there are such signals, we will have to search for another solution," Spidla said. One day earlier, Spidla noted that "most of the controversial points" of a potential government program had been resolved, CTK reported. BW
...AND PARLIAMENTARY LEADER SAYS SPEAKER TO BE ELECTED ON 11 JULY
The chairman and deputy chairmen of the newly elected Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Czech Parliament, might be elected on 11 July, CTK reported on 2 July, citing outgoing parliamentary speaker and Civic Democratic Party (ODS) leader Vaclav Klaus. The Chamber of Deputies will begin an organizational session on 9 July to swear in lawmakers, start the process of forming parliamentary committees, and electing the lower house's leadership. It will then go into recess and reconvene on 11 July. BW
RFE/RL TO END FUNDING FOR CZECH BROADCAST SERVICE
RFE/RL President Thomas Dine announced at a press conference on 2 July that funding for Radio Svobodna Evropa will end on 30 September, meaning the Czech-language service will stop broadcasting. Dine said that by mutual agreement RFE/RL will dissolve its partnership with Czech Radio, which provides a frequency for the Czech-language broadcasts. RFE/RL's oversight body, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) in Washington, decided not to renew financing for Radio Svobodna Evropa for the new fiscal year that begins on 1 October. "It was an extremely difficult decision because Radio Svobodna Evropa has been a most-important component of RFE/RL since it was founded more than half a century ago," Dine said. "But we have new priorities and new financial burdens we have to carry in our budget that did not exist before 11 September." RFE/RL ended broadcasting to Hungary in 1993 and to Poland in 1997, Dine said. BW
EU ENLARGEMENT COMMISSIONER SAYS CZECHS SHOULD MAKE SYMBOLIC GESTURE ON BENES DECREES
European Union Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said he hopes the Czech Republic will make a symbolic political gesture by recognizing that the expulsion of ethnic Germans after World War II was unjust, Czech media reported on 2 July, citing the German daily "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung." Right-wing politicians in Germany and Austria have demanded that Prague revoke the postwar Benes Decrees, which ordered the expulsion of ethnic Germans and Hungarians suspected of supporting the Third Reich, before the Czech Republic is allowed to join the EU. Verheugen has repeatedly said the issue is a bilateral one and will not prevent the Czechs from joining the EU. BW
FIRST SLOVAK PEACEKEEPERS TO LEAVE FOR AFGHANISTAN SOON
A group of Slovak soldiers will depart in the coming days for Afghanistan to serve in a NATO-led mission and pave the way for further participation in peacekeeping efforts there, SITA reported on 2 July, citing Chief of Staff of the Slovak Army Milan Cerovsky. The reconnaissance group will examine deployment conditions for Slovak peacekeepers. Cerovsky noted that soldiers' participation in the peacekeeping mission is voluntary, adding that the number of applicants far exceeds the number of positions. Some 714 Slovak soldiers are currently serving in 12 international peacekeeping missions around the world. The Czech daily "Hospodarske noviny" on 3 July wrote that, given Slovakia's population of roughly 5 million, its foreign peacekeeping contingent is among the "largest" in the world. AS
SLOVAK PARLIAMENT TO REVISIT DEBATE ON SACKING PRIME MINISTER
Parliamentary deputies will meet in extraordinary session on 3 July to vote on a no-confidence motion in Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, SITA reported the same day. The proposal was brought by the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and stems from allegations of impropriety in a tender for 35 locomotives for the national railways ("RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June 2002). The Slovak National Party (SNS), Direction (Smer) leader Robert Fico, and Civic Understanding Party (SOP) Chairman Pavol Hamzik have signaled possible support for the measure. Hamzik, who was forced to resign as deputy prime minister in the wake of an EU funds scandal, denied he would use such a vote to extract revenge against Dzurinda. HZDS has also sought support for the no-confidence motion from the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL), which has not indicated which way its deputies might vote. AS
FORMER HUNGARIAN FINANCE MINISTER ATTACKS MEDGYESSY
Mihaly Varga, the finance minister in the former FIDESZ-led government, on 2 July accused Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy of repeatedly making false claims about his past as a secret agent and insisted that Medgyessy reveal details of his activities between 1977 and 1982, Hungarian media report. Varga noted conflicting statements from the prime minister ("RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 June 2002). He alleged that documents and statements by witnesses contradict Medgyessy's claim that his activities were directed against the KGB and toward helping Hungary join the International Monetary Fund. Medgyessy later told reporters that an investigative commission will deal with the questions and provide the answers. MSZ
HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT DEBATES INVESTIGATIVE COMMISSIONS
Governing and opposition parties on 2 July agreed in parliament to waive house rules so a motion to establish commissions to look into Prime Minister Medgyessy's counterintelligence past could be put on the agenda, Hungarian dailies reported. A commission proposed by the opposition Hungarian Democratic Forum would seek to determine whether there are more documents about Medgyessy's past apart from those made public. The commission would also examine Medgyessy's role as a counterintelligence officer, the nature of the reports he submitted, and whether he had contact with other departments within the secret services. Another commission, proposed by the ruling coalition's Free Democrats, would explore the role in the communist-era state security service of people who have held public office since 1989. MSZ
BAR OWNER IN HUNGARY FINED FOR REFUSING TO SERVE ROMA
The Hungarian Supreme Court on 2 July fined the owner of a bar 100,000 forints ($400) for repeatedly refusing to serve local residents of Romany origin, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Imre Furmann, head of the country's minority legal-protection office, said the case marks the first such ruling in modern Hungarian history. Erika T., owner of a bar in the northern Hungarian village of Patvarc, told the newspaper she has no trouble with local Roma, many of whom are regular customers. But, she added, she had differences with several Roma who regularly did not pay. MSZ
CROATIAN PRIME MINISTER THREATENS TO RESIGN
Prime Minister Ivica Racan said in Zagreb on 2 July that the governing five-party coalition no longer functions and that he may submit his resignation and that of the government to President Stipe Mesic as early as 6 July, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Racan's statement was triggered by the decision by Drazen Budisa and his Social Liberals (HSLS) not to support ratification of an agreement with Slovenia on the use and funding of the Krsko nuclear-power plant (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 2002). Racan negotiated the pact with his Slovenian counterpart Janez Drnovsek in 2001. The HSLS objects to the agreement because it requires Croatia to dispose of radioactive waste. Racan's left-of-center Social Democrats (SDP) is the largest party in a coalition government that came into office in early 2000, while the center-right HSLS is the second largest. Budisa said on 2 July that the government would be "illegitimate" if it continued in office without his party. PM
HOW SERIOUS IS THE GOVERNMENT CRISIS?
Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported from Zagreb on 2 July that this is the toughest language Racan has ever used regarding the future of his often-fractious coalition. Tensions between the SDP and HSLS have been frequent and often reflect ideological differences. But most observers feel that the core of the problem is Budisa's difficult and ambitious nature. Sometimes described as "the man who always comes in second," Budisa is widely believed to want the premiership for himself at the head of a center-right coalition. PM
CROATIAN SUPREME COURT REFUSES TO MOVE CONTROVERSIAL WAR CRIMES TRIAL
The Supreme Court ruled on 2 July that the trial of eight Croatian former military policemen in conjunction with the torture of hundreds of Serbs and Yugoslav Army men at Split's Lora military prison during the 1991-1995 war must continue in Split, AP reported. The prosecution had demanded that the trial be moved, charging that the "trial was turning into a farce" because of the bias of Judge Stanko Lozina. The Supreme Court's ruling is widely seen as a victory for the defense. Many observers may regard the ruling as evidence that Croatian courts are not yet capable of trying war crimes cases in a professional manner, especially cases involving crimes committed by Croats against Serbs and others. PM
POWELL REAFFIRMS U.S. COMMITMENT TO BOSNIA
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell telephoned Bosnian Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija on 1 July to affirm that the United States remains committed to the peace and security of Bosnia, dpa reported from Sarajevo the next day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 2 July 2002). Powell stressed that "we will not leave unfinished what we started here." Meanwhile at the UN, diplomatic efforts continued to solve the crisis over the prolongation of the UN mandate in Bosnia, which is linked to U.S. opposition to the rules governing the new International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. In Berlin, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said in a television interview that "there is a high probability that the mission will not be extended by the UN Security Council. But that should not stop the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. That would be absurd," Reuters reported. The German parliament may vote as early as 5 July on continuing the German presence in the mission if the UN mandate comes to an end. German law says that German troops can be stationed abroad only under a UN-approved mandate. PM
YUGOSLAV FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS U.S. WITHDRAWAL WOULD DESTABILIZE BALKANS
Speaking in Novi Sad on 2 July, Goran Svilanovic said that any U.S. withdrawal from the Balkans would destabilize the region, Beta reported. He added that those voting in the Security Council would do well to think about what effect a U.S. departure from the Balkans would have, especially on Bosnia and Kosova. Svilanovic noted that an American departure would leave the European Union alone to ensure stability. PM
BUSH MAINTAINS OPPOSITION TO INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT
Speaking in Milwaukee on 2 July, U.S. President George W. Bush said, "the International Criminal Court is troubling to the United States, it's troubling to the administration, it's obviously troubling to the United States Senate as well," RFE/RL reported. Bush added that "President Clinton signed this treaty, but when he signed it he said it shouldn't be submitted to the Senate, therefore it never has been, and I don't intend to submit it either. [This is] because as the United States works to bring peace around the world, our diplomats and our soldiers could be dragged into this court, and that's very troubling to me." Observers note that during the Vietnam War, several nongovernmental bodies were set up by prominent West European leftist intellectuals and politicians to "try" American military leaders for "crimes" committed in that Asian conflict. The names of British philosopher Bertrand Russell and Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme were particularly linked to such efforts. On 2 July, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote that critics of U.S. policy should be more mindful of America's special responsibilities as the only superpower. PM
VOLKSWAGEN RESUMES PRODUCTION IN BOSNIA
A Sarajevo factory resumed production of Volkswagen Golf cars that was interrupted by the 1992-95 war, dpa reported on 2 July. Output is expected to be 1,000 Golf A-4 cars per year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2002). VW has cooperated with various Bosnian enterprises for some 30 years. The return of production by this prestigious employer is widely seen as a return of something like normal conditions. PM
KOSOVA'S PRIME MINISTER HOPES FOR INDEPENDENCE IN THREE YEARS
Bajram Rexhepi told Reuters in Prishtina on 2 July that he hopes the province will be independent by the time his term expires in three years. He added that he recognizes that Kosovars must first show the world that they are able to manage their own affairs, which includes enabling Serbian refugees and displaced persons to go home. Rexhepi added that an independent Kosova will still need a NATO military presence to ensure stability, albeit not as large a force as the 30,000-strong KFOR. PM
MACEDONIAN ALBANIANS BLOCK BORDER CROSSING
A group of 60 ethnic Albanians blocked roads leading to the border crossing with Kosova at Blace to protest the recent arrest by Macedonian police of three former rebel commanders, AP reported from Skopje on 2 July. The police have provided no details of the arrests. The road is used not only by local people but also by NATO-led troops moving supplies from Macedonia into Kosova. PM
YUGOSLAV PARLIAMENT SEEKS CONTROL OVER SPOOKS
The upper chamber of the Yugoslav parliament passed legislation on 2 July to establish civilian control over the military intelligence services, AP reported from Belgrade. The lower house has already approved the bill. The legislation effectively dismantles the military intelligence chain of command put in place by former President Slobodan Milosevic, which is widely believed to have been abused for political and even criminal purposes. Pressure for change came in March after military intelligence personnel arrested then-Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Momcilo Perisic and charged him with spying for the United States. Still a member of the parliament, Perisic voted for the new law and told reporters again that he is "not a spy." He stressed that the legislation is "far from perfect, but will ensure that no one is above the interest of the nation, army, and state." PM
EU HELPS ROMANIA BRING ASYLUM SYSTEM INTO LINE WITH BRUSSELS STANDARDS
An EU-funded twinning project between the Romanian National Refugee Office and the Danish Immigration Service that concluded this week contributed significantly to securing Romania's borders and to opening negotiations with Brussels on the justice and home affairs in April, Deputy Interior Minister Alexandru Farcas told reporters on 2 July. The project aided the implementation of a new law on refugees and asylum, and helped improve processing and training in the system, Farcas added. A follow-up twinning venture to include Sweden and Denmark is expected to continue to address migration issues, with additional funding of 1 million euros, according to the European Union's delegation in Bucharest. LCB
EUROPEAN COURT AGAIN SLAMS ROMANIA OVER PROPERTY RESTITUTION
Romanian authorities are obliged by a decision of the European Court of Human Rights to return three apartments to two women stripped of their property in 1950 and to pay them an additional 14,000 euros in moral compensation within three months, Mediafax reported on 2 July. Maria Budescu, 99, and her 70-year-old daughter, Maria Mihaela Petrescu, won a favorable verdict from a Bucharest court in 1995 but the prosecutor-general reversed that court decision 16 months later. Bucharest city officials then sold two of the apartments despite the fact that the women filed new claims in 1998 under a revised restitution law, prompting them to appeal to the European Court. LCB
DRACULA PARK AGAIN RISES FROM THE DEAD?
Romanian Tourism Minister Dan Agathon on 1 July denied that his government -- under pressure from environmental groups, England's Prince Charles, and most recently the UNESCO's World Heritage Committee -- has abandoned plans to build a Dracula theme park near the mediaeval town of Sighisoara, Mediafax reported. Seemingly contradicting a recent statement from the Culture Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 2002), he said, "Any rumors saying that we intend to move the location of [the] Dracula park or give up the project are simple fabrications." Agathon insisted that any decision concerning the park will be based solely on suggestions made by consultants from PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has been hired by the government to produce a feasibility study. That study will be ready by mid-September. PricewaterhouseCoopers would also be involved in seeking financing for an estimated $100 million investment into the park. Agathon said the consultant's opinion regarding alternative locations for the park will be carefully considered. LCB
RICOP PROGRAM BACK ON TRACK
Romania's Public Finance Ministry last week signed 89 funding conventions worth 21.6 million euros with public authorities participating in the EU-funded RICOP program, the ministry announced on 2 July. That represents 17.2 million euros in PHARE non-reimbursable funds, while the balance is to be covered from local budgets. The largest chunk of PHARE funds, 3.9 million euros, was contracted in the Northeast development area, by far Romania's poorest. The RICOP program's total contracted sum is currently 66 million euros, just two-thirds of the approved figure. The program was effectively stalled for two years. RICOP was established to ease the social impact of restructuring, privatization, and the closure of loss-generating companies. LCB
ROMANIAN AND MOLDOVAN AUTHORITIES NEGOTIATE SCHOOL FELLOWSHIPS
Representatives of the Romanian and Moldovan Education Ministries started negotiations on 2 July in Bucharest regarding their cooperation protocol for the 2002-03 academic year, Mediafax reported. If a consensus is reached, the protocol could be signed next week in Chisinau. The Romanian government has announced that it will offer up to 2,000 fellowships for Moldovan citizens: 150 for graduate studies, 1,000 for university studies, and 850 for high-school students. In addition, 150 Moldovan teachers will be trained in Romania. The negotiations could be complicated by the public circulation in Moldova during last week of an alleged internal memorandum addressed to President Vladimir Voronin by Education Minister Gheorghe Sima. According to that alleged correspondence, Moldova will try to substantially slash the fellowships accepted, in some categories by up to 90 percent, and direct the others to students already studying in Romania, Flux reported. Minister Sima denied the existence of any such document, which has been interpreted as an attempt to prevent brain drain out of Moldova. LCB
EARLY ELECTIONS DEMANDED IN GAGAUZ-YERI
More than 600 local government representatives in the Gagauz-Yeri Autonomous Republic expressed their dissatisfaction with the tense social and political situation at an extraordinary congress on 30 June, requesting early elections to all its representative bodies, Flux reported. The congress was also attended by members of the local executive, deputies of the For an Integral Gagauzia faction, and representatives of the Mayors Association. Participants endorsed a resolution calling for preparations to begin immediately for new elections that they argue are the only way to overcome the current social and political crisis. They also asked Dumitru Croitor to withdraw his resignation as governor, pending the resignation of the local People's Assembly. The resolution appeals to Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin to halt a criminal inquiry into the activities of Croitor and the former director of the legal and protocol department of the People's Assembly, Ivan Burgudji, both of whom are accused of hindering a referendum on autonomy for the region. The resolution was made available to international bodies, diplomatic missions accredited in Moldova, and the Moldovan political leadership. LCB
BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER MAKES PLEA FOR GUARANTEED RELIGIOUS FREEDOMS
Premier Simeon Saxecoburggotski on 3 July appealed to lawmakers for the preparation and adoption of a legal framework "guaranteeing the right to a religious faith and religious freedoms" ahead of debate on three draft bills expected later in the day, BTA reported. He urged nonintervention in religious affairs, equal treatment of religious institutions, and recognition of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church as a legal entity, the agency added. Saxecoburggotski also stressed that already-registered faiths should not be forced to repeat that process to comply with the new legislation. "The Council of Ministers pays equal attention and respect to all faiths, yet we cannot but give the Bulgarian Orthodox Church its due as an institution that has rendered extraordinary service to the Bulgarian people and statehood," he said, according to BTA. AH
BULGARIAN MINISTER HINTS AT ENERGY BATTLE WITH BRUSSELS
Deputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister Nikolai Vassilev warned on 2 July that Bulgaria's talks with the EU are likely to drag on over the energy chapter, BTA reported the same day. Speaking after a meeting with cabinet colleague Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, he said the energy chapter of the EU's acquis communautaire is "complicated" and will be among the last to be closed in bilateral talks. But he added that other applicant countries are also likely to run into similar delays in closing that chapter, one of 31 in the EU's body of common legislation. AH
BULGARIAN POLICE NAB SUSPECTED INTERNATIONAL KILLER
Authorities in Sofia announced on 2 July that they have detained a Kosovar Albanian sought by Interpol in connection with killings in four countries, BTA and AP reported. The director of Bulgaria's National Service for Combating Organized Crime, Colonel Roumen Milanov, said 40-year-old "Sreten I." was apprehended in central Sofia on 20 June, BTA reported. He escaped in 1993 from a Dutch prison, where he was serving a term for attempted murder of a policeman, and is wanted for murder in Germany, the Netherlands, Serbia, and Austria, AP reported. He is heavily involved in the narcotics and counterfeiting trades, according to Milanov. Officials said Sreten I., who has entered Bulgaria under 14 different names in the past several years, will be handed over to the Netherlands under a legal-assistance request, according to BTA. AH
In the 2 July "RFE/RL Newsline" item titled "Minister Downplays Glowing Assessment of Bulgarian Nuclear Reactors," Meglena Kuneva should have been identified as Bulgaria's minister for European affairs.
TURKISH-UKRAINIAN RELATIONS RECEIVE A BOOST
Turkey was one of the first countries to support Ukraine's 23 May announcement that it will seek NATO membership. That expression of support came during an 11 June visit to Ukraine by Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem.
Turkey has historically seen Ukraine as a strategic partner. In 1918-21, the governments of independent Ukraine had good relations with the new Turkish state as both countries perceived Russia as their main threat.
In the years immediately following the demise of the USSR, Ukraine and Turkey similarly had a very close geopolitical outlook in the Black Sea and CIS regions because of their common hostility to what they perceived to be Russian expansionism and intervention in Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Moldova. In addition, Ukraine and Turkey shared similar views on the return to the Crimea of the Tatar community deported to Siberia in 1944, and Ankara backed Ukraine in its Black Sea Fleet dispute with Russia.
"However, the initially promising relationship failed to produce the expected results," according to Suat Kiniklioglu of the Center for Russian Studies at Bilkent University in Ankara. One reason was because of socioeconomic collapse in Ukraine. "Ukraine simply did not live up to the high expectations that were propagated in the immediate aftermath of disintegration," Kiniklioglu added.
Since the mid-1990s, greater pragmatism in Russian policies, increased attention on domestic Turkish problems, and the international isolation of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma after the "Kuchmagate" crisis all lessened Turkish interest in Ukraine. The death of Turkish fishermen at the hands of Ukrainian border troops and high-profile Turkish media reports blaming Slavic women for bringing a potential AIDS epidemic to the country have also not helped matters.
During Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz's visit to Ukraine in February 1998, then-Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko claim that, "We are planning to transform our relationship to the level of a strategic partnership," was typical hyperbole, given that Ukrainian leaders have defined relations with almost 20 countries in such terms without any factual basis for doing so.
But despite the unfulfilled nature of their relationship, Ukraine and Turkey share four strategic objectives.
First, "The Turkish security establishment views Ukraine as an invaluable partner with which it shares a common outlook to the region," Kiniklioglu believes. The fact that Ukraine has preserved its independence and sovereignty, while remaining outside the Russian sphere of influence is also important to Turkey. "Turkey views the viability and constructive role of Ukraine as an important factor of the geopolitical landscape," Kiniklioglu said.
Second, the territorial integrity of states as a principle in international relations is of special concern to Turkey because of its Kurdish secessionist conflict. That concept is also important to Ukraine because of insecurity over its borders. Both countries are therefore status quo powers. Turkey strongly backed Ukraine in its dispute with Russia over the Crimea between 1992-97. Visiting Ukraine in 1994, then-Turkish President Suleyman Demirel condemned Russian expansionism, expressed support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine and Moldova, and warned Russia that the "Crimea is Ukraine's internal affair."
Turkey and Ukraine have also supported the territorial integrity of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Moldova bilaterally, in international forums, and through Turkish diplomatic support for the GUUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova) regional group. Turkey and GUUAM jointly opposed Russia's attempts to revise upward its flank limits in the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty).
Nevertheless, the high hopes that Turkey had for GUUAM as a counterweight to Russia have not materialized. And the creation of such a counterweight has also become less important as Turkey and Russia have improved their relations, as testified by the "Action Plan" they signed in November 2001 in New York. Unfortunately, "Ukraine has been unable to communicate effectively its policies on the Caucasus and its relationship to Turkey in this regard," Kiniklioglu points out.
Turkey and Ukraine both see Georgia as geopolitically important and would like to devise ways to break the deadlocked Abkhaz conflict. One way to achieve this would be to "internationalize" the conflict as President Eduard Shevardnadze has demanded through the introduction of Ukrainian, Turkish, and other peacekeeping forces under a UN or OSCE mandate. Ukraine has already offered to provide peacekeepers to serve in such a UN-mandated force.
Third, the Tatar issue. Turkey backed Ukraine's territorial claims to Crimea because it strongly opposed the idea of the Crimean Tatars -- of whom there are some 5 million to 7 million in Turkey, where they are called "Crimean Turks" -- returning to Russian rule. Turkey is unhappy that the election law has been amended to abolish the guaranteed representation that Tatars had in the 1994-98 Crimean Supreme Soviet.
Turkey is helping to finance the construction of mosques and accommodation for returning Tatars through the Turkish Agency for International Cooperation, which has operated an office in the Crimea since 1998. Turkey also provides Tatars with scholarships for higher education in Turkey.
Fourth, security cooperation. Ukraine and Turkey signed an intergovernmental agreement in July 1994 on cooperation in the field of military training, technologies, and science. The agreement provided for the joint training and education of servicemen, exchanges of information, and joint scientific research in the military sphere. Further agreements on cooperation in their defense industries were signed during then-President Suleyman Demirel's visit to Ukraine in May 1998.
Turkey's support for Ukraine's NATO membership represents a natural continuation of their joint cooperation through NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP) and "In the Spirit of PfP" exercises organized by the United States. Both countries have provided bilateral military support to Georgia together with the United States and Germany. Turkey and Ukraine have also taken part in joint peacekeeping exercises organized by NATO, such as the "Peace Bridge-98" exercise held in Topkule, Turkey. Turkish military units have taken part in NATO exercises at the Yavoriv training ground near Lviv. Both countries have also regularly taken part in the annual "Sea Breeze" exercises organized by the United States "in the spirit of PfP."
Ukraine and Turkey have always held close views on the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) organization, because it is one forum that Russia cannot dominate. Unlike Russia, Turkey is not perceived by Ukraine, Georgia, and Azerbaijan as a hegemonic regional power.
Ukraine also potentially has much to gain if Turkey is admitted, after a decades-long wait, into the European Union. Turkish membership in the EU would go far to allay perceived fears regarding Ukraine's admittance to the EU -- including the union's ability to "digest" Ukraine as a new member. Turkey is largely Islamic, lies mainly in Asia Minor, and has a larger population than Ukraine.
Unlike the three Baltic states, Ukraine lacks allies to lobby on its behalf its integration into trans-Atlantic and European structures, with the possible exception of Poland. Turkey could certainly become an important such lobbyist if the much talked about "strategic partnership" is finally allowed to develop.
Dr. Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.