MOSCOW CRITICAL OF AIR STRIKES IN IRAQ
Russian officials on 15 July harshly criticized the latest U.S. and British air strikes in Iraq's southern "no-fly" zone, saying that such incidents complicate the effort to resolve peacefully problems in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, Russian and Western news agencies reported on 16 July. "Russia is convinced that such operations in illegitimate 'no-fly' zones complicate the international community's efforts to find a political and diplomatic solution to the Iraqi problem," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Last week, President Vladimir Putin met in Moscow with Jordan's King Abdullah, after which Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said that both countries "have consistently spoken out for the rapid achievement of a just solution to the Iraqi problem exclusively by political and diplomatic means," strana.ru reported. RC
WHIRLWIND TALKS FOR DEFENSE MINISTER
Sergei Ivanov met with British Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon in St. Petersburg on 15 July, Russian and Western news agencies reported. The two ministers met informally and discussed bilateral cooperation as well as efforts against international terrorism and extremism. According to ITAR-TASS, an unidentified spokeswoman for the British Defense Ministry said that a Russian military delegation will visit London in October. Immediately after his meetings with Hoon, Ivanov left for Norway, where he held talks on 16 July with Defense Minister Kristin Krohn Devold. On 18 July, he is expected to travel to Finland. RC
U.S. RAISES RUSSIAN STEEL QUOTA
The U.S. Commerce Department has increased the amount of steel to be imported duty-free from Russia this year by 200,000 tons, "Gazeta" and other Russian media reported on 16 July. The move could bring Russian steel producers as much as $40 million. This year, the United States will import a total of 5.4 million tons of steel, including 1.2 million tons from Russia. RC
MEDIA COMMUNITY CREATES LOBBYING BODY
Leaders of Russia's media community on 15 July created a new corporate organization that will be tasked with lobbying the interests of the media sector, Russian news agencies reported on 16 July. Participants in a Moscow media conference selected National Association of Broadcasters head Eduard Sagalaev to organize the new body. According to "Izvestiya," the new organization was formally founded by VGTRK General Director Oleg Dobrodeev, ORT General Director Konstantin Ernst, Ren-TV's Irena Lesnevskaya, STS's Aleksandr Rodnyanskii, NTV's Boris Jordan, Interfax's Mikhail Komissar, Media Union President Aleksandr Lyubimov, Video International's Yurii Zapol, and about 20 others. The only person present at the conference who voted against the lobbying organization was "Kommersant" Editor Andrei Vasilev. After heated discussion, organizers decided not to invite Media Minister Mikhail Lesin or his deputy, Mikhail Seslavinskii, to join the body. "What would Lesin do? Lobby against himself or for himself," the daily quoted one unidentified participant as saying. RC
PUTIN AIDE SPEAKS OUT AGAINST WRITER CASE
Presidential adviser Sergei Yastrzhembskii in a television interview expressed disapproval of a recent criminal case on pornography charges against writer Vladimir Sorokin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 12 July 2002), polit.ru reported on 16 July. "On the political and the social level, this problem is extremely dangerous because it immediately creates a sort of historical line from [poet Osip] Mandelshtam to [novelist Aleksandr] Solzhenitsyn to [poet Boris] Pasternak to [poet Joseph] Brodsky. What do we need that for? We have already been there and do not intend to return," Yastrzhembskii said. He added, however, that he personally had been unable to finish any of Sorokin's books. RC
U.S. REFUSES VISA TO NATIONALIST
U.S. officials have refused to issue a visa to Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported on 16 July. According to the reports, Zhirinovskii had planned an appearance in the large Russian community of Brighton Beach, New York, for which more than 2,000 tickets had been sold. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow has not commented on the reports, but Zhirinovskii told NTV that the U.S. government fears his potential influence on the Russian diaspora there. "In certain circles of the United States, when they found out that I was coming, they became afraid of my appearances. They are afraid that I will persuade Russians to return to Russia, and America will be deprived of a significant part of its capital," Zhirinovskii said. RC
EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS FINDS AGAINST RUSSIA...
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled on 15 July in favor of Valerii Kalashnikov in his case against the state of Russia, granting him 5,000 euros ($5,000) in moral damages and 3,000 euros to cover legal costs, Interfax reported. The court found that Articles 3, 5, and 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights were violated in Kalashnikov's case, according to ntvru.com. Accused of embezzlement from the small Siberian bank of which he was president, Kalashnikov was held in pretrial detention for more than four years. He also complained of beatings by guards and a variety of other abominable conditions (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 19 June 2002), for which he sought $13 million in damages and compensation. At one point during Kalashnikov's trial, adding insult to injury, the prosecution even obtained a further delay in order to conduct a psychiatric evaluation of Kalashnikov in view of the long length of his detention. JAC
...IN CASE CALLED PRECEDENT-SETTING
The Russian state representative to the court, Pavel Laptev, told reporters that Russia will abide by the ruling even though it does not agree with it. Laptev lamented the fact that the European court representatives did not visit Magadan so that they could better understand what difficulties officials in Russia's judicial and penitentiary systems face. Laptev admitted that the conditions of Kalashnikov's custody did not meet the requirements set for penal institutions in other Council of Europe member countries. Ella Pamfilova, chairwoman of the presidential commission on human rights, called the decision a "precedent," which sounds "a very serious [warning] bell" for the Russian law enforcement and court systems. JAC
THE OLIGARCHS ARE DEAD -- LONG LIVE THE WTO?
In an article in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 13 July, commentator Aleksandr Budberg, who is considered close to the Union of Rightist Forces, argues that Russia's imminent entry into the World Trade Organization is evidence that "state interests have gained the upper hand over the interests of a large group of tycoons" and represents a change "that is truly historic." Budberg asserts that while discussions over the conditions and timing of Russia's entry will continue "for at least another year," the main point is that "Russia will become a member of the WTO." With WTO membership, Budberg believes, the rules of the game will become much more transparent, and he predicts that the current practice of some oil companies being taxed at half the rate of others will be stopped, since it will be defined as form of state support, drawing fines of billions of dollars. He concludes that "big business will always be linked to government," but the mechanisms of these interactions are becoming more complex. JAC
MYSTERIOUS NEW GROUP CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANTI-ARMENIAN GATHERING
The website obshestvo.ru reported on 12 July that a new public organization has been formed and is taking responsibility for the anti-Armenian meeting held in the city of Krasnoarmeisk in Moscow Oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2002). The "Movement Against Illegal Migration" has opened its own page on the free server hotbox.ru, but the server keeps the authors or sponsors of the site anonymous. The movement's 10-point program calls for a variety of legal measures to limit illegal migration, such as imposing large fines on people who give shelter to or provide transportation for illegal immigrants. The obshestvo site notes the "ideological similarity" between the movement's program and the 10 July resolution of the Federation Council on the situation in Krasnodar Krai, which it says was authored by Krasnodar's representative and former Governor Nikolai Kondratenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2002). Obshestvo.ru, is a special project of polit.ru, whose goal is to track the development of civil society in Russia. JAC
STIPENDS FOR STUDENTS TO BE DOUBLED
At a weekly meeting of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and his deputies and key ministers on 15 July, it was decided to double the monthly stipend for Russian students beginning on 1 September, RIA-Novosti reported. Currently, a minimum monthly stipend for students equals two minimum wages or 200 rubles (roughly $7). According to RIA-Novosti, representatives of the Government Information Department stressed that "all the necessary resources for this will be provided for in next year's budget." MD
DEADBEATS FROM LAST ELECTION TOLD TO PAY UP BEFORE NEXT RACE...
Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told reporters on 15 July that 21 electoral blocs that did not manage to collect more than 2 percent of all votes during the 1999 parliamentary elections still need to reimburse national and regional television and radio companies and periodicals for the free airtime and print space they were allotted, polit.ru reported. According to "Vek," No. 22, Zhirinovskii's LDPR, Aleksei Podberezkin's Spiritual Heritage movement, the Yurii Boldyrev bloc, and Viktor Chernomyrdin's Our Home is Russia all still owe money. According to the weekly, if the debts are not paid before the next elections, those blocs will lose the right to free airtime and print space in the future. JAC
...AS POLITICAL ORGANIZATIONS DENIED PARTY STATUS
In addition to its recent decision regarding Boris Berezovskii's Liberal Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2002), the Justice Ministry has declined to register nine other political organizations as parties since the law on political parties came into force, regions.ru reported on 15 July, citing RIA-Novosti. According to Deputy Justice Minister Yevgenii Sidorenko, the reasons for the rejections of the other parties have been purely formal or legal ones. Among the parties rejected were Viktor Anpilov's Working Russia, the Russian All-People's Union, Holy Russia, and the Christian Democratic Party, according to Interfax. JAC
BASHKORTOSTAN KEEPS WORKING ON CONSTITUTION
Bashkortostan's Constitutional Commission has chosen to use the U.S. Constitution as its model, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 12 July, citing "Ekspert-Ural." Bashkir authorities will try to develop a new constitution that will meet the requirements of federal authorities and that will also maintain the key provisions of the republic's previous constitution. According to the weekly, the assertion of the superiority of Bashkir legislation to federal law will be removed. However, the provision stating that the republic is sovereign state within the Russian Federation will be retained. Bashkir authorities have been forced to make amendments to the constitution for the second time in the last 18 months as a result of rulings by federal courts that have annulled a number of the document's articles (see upcoming "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 17 July 2002). Meanwhile, Aleksandr Bespalov, chairman of Unified Russia's General Council, announced on 2 July that Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov has reached agreement with President Putin and will run for a third term in office, the Kazan-based "Zvezda povolzhya" reported, according to the bureau. JAC
BORDER GUARD HEAD LINKS MURDER OF GENERAL WITH CRACKDOWN ON ILLEGAL TRADE WITH JAPAN
Federal Border Guard Service Director Konstantin Totskii told ITAR-TASS on 14 July that the "mafia" of people in the fishing industry in the Russian Far East is responsible for the assassination of General Vitalii Gamov in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 28 May 2002). Gamov had been the head of the Federal Border Guard Service directorate in that city. Totskii said that he does not exclude the possibility that the assassination was a result of the intensified effort to stop contraband deliveries of Russian marine products to Japan. JAC
AGAIN, RUSSIANS STEP UP TO THE PLATE
The Khovrino Little League team from Moscow became the first team to qualify for the 2002 Little League World Series on 14 July when it defeated a team from Botosani, Romania, 1-0, Russian and Western news agencies reported on 16 July. The Russian team won the European tournament, going undefeated in nine games and outscoring opponents 82-13, AP reported. Khovrino also won the European tournament in 2001. The series will be played from 16-25 August in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. RC
DASHNAK CANDIDATE WINS REPEAT ARMENIAN BY-ELECTION
Running unopposed, Hakob Matilian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) won a 14 July parliament by-election in a constituency in the northern province of Shirak, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 15 July. Matilian's initial 19 May victory against three rival candidates in the same constituency was invalidated following allegations of fraud. But the rival candidates declined to run against Matilian a second time, claiming that the outcome of the ballot had been decided in advance by the Armenian authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2002). The HHD now has 10 parliamentary mandates. LF
FOUR OPPOSITION PARTIES APPEAL TO ARMENIAN PRESIDENT TO VETO ELECTION-LAW AMENDMENTS
On 11 July, representatives of the Self-Determination Union (IM), the Oukht of National Unity, Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State), and "Worthy Future" wrote to President Robert Kocharian urging him not to sign into law the election-law amendments passed by the parliament one week earlier reducing the number of seats to be distributed under the proportional system, IM Chairman Paruyr Hairikian told journalists in Yerevan on 12 July, according to Interfax and Arminfo, as cited by Groong (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2002). The opposition is convinced that voting in single mandate constituencies facilitates fraud. Hairikian said that the Democratic Party of Armenia and the National Unity Party share their objections to the amendments but declined to sign the joint letter to Kocharian on the grounds that it was formulated too circumspectly. LF
AZERBAIJAN CLAIMS EU BACKS ITS NEW PROPOSAL FOR RESOLVING KARABAKH CONFLICT
At a meeting in Brussels on 12 July of the European Union-Azerbaijan Cooperation and Partnership Council, a document was adopted noting that the current situation in those districts of Azerbaijan currently occupied by Armenian forces is not conducive to achieving a solution to the conflict, Turan reported on 15 July. The agency quoted the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry as saying that the EU welcomes Azerbaijan's proposal to resume rail transport between Baku and Yerevan via Nakhichevan in return for the withdrawal of Armenian forces from the Fizuli, Djabrail, Gubadly, and Zangilan raions to the south and southwest of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Following a private visit to Baku last month, former Armenian presidential adviser Zhirair Libaridian said that Azerbaijan is advocating such an agreement as part of a "phased" settlement of the Karabakh conflict that would delay indefinitely a decision on the unrecognized enclave's status (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2002). Armenia, however, insists on a "package" peace deal that would resolve all contentious issues simultaneously. LF
AZERBAIJAN TO PROBE POWER OUTAGE
President Heidar Aliev chaired a special government meeting on 15 July to discuss the aftermath of a fire in a wheat field in Akhsu Raion that damaged two major power lines on 13 July, causing an electricity outage across the country, Turan and Reuters reported. The sharp fall in voltage resulting from the failure of the power lines between two major power stations and Baku in turn caused the failure of transformers in four districts of the capital. Thanks to electricity supplies from Russia, Georgia, and Iran, power was restored in the morning of 14 July, and repair work is under way. Aliev on 15 July harshly criticized Azenergy head Etibar Pirverdiev and unnamed other senior officials for having failed to prohibit the use of land close to power lines for agricultural purposes and for their slowness in reacting to the emergency. LF
AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTER ACCUSES COUNCIL OF EUROPE RAPPORTEUR OF 'INDIFFERENCE'
Speaking to journalists in Baku on 15 July, Vilayat Quliev said Andreas Gross, the Council of Europe's Swiss rapporteur for Azerbaijan, refused two weeks earlier to agree to meet with Azerbaijani displaced persons from the village of Khodjaly, according to MPA News Agency, as cited by Groong. Russian and Karabakh Armenian forces killed several hundred villagers in an attack on Khodjaly, at that time the last remaining Azerbaijani-populated village in Nagorno-Karabakh, in February 1992. Quliev said that Gross's refusal demonstrates his "indifference to the country's biggest problem and the suffering of those who have lost everything they possessed." LF
COURT RULES THAT AZERBAIJANI MUSICIAN'S DEATH IN DETENTION WAS SUICIDE
A criminal investigation into the death in custody in April of Azerbaijani musician Beilar Guliev has been closed due to lack of evidence pointing to criminal intent, Turan reported on 15 July. Guliev died after jumping from a window of the building housing the Prosecutor-General's Office where he had been taken for questioning for reasons that remain unclear (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April and 6 May 2002). His family and colleagues believe he was pressured into taking his life, and the police officers present failed to prevent him from doing so. LF
GEORGIAN SECURITY OFFICIALS APPREHEND 'TERRORIST'
Georgian security officials detained Adam Dongushev, a native of the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, in the Black Sea resort of Ureki late on 14 July, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Dongushev was said to have been a member of the detachment led by Chechen field commander Khattab, and to have participated in the apartment-building bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk in the late summer of 1999. LF
GEORGIAN WAR GAMES JEOPARDIZED BY INSUFFICIENT COMPUTERS
Computerized military exercises involving Georgian, Azerbaijani, and Turkish officers scheduled to take place in Georgia in late July are in jeopardy as the Georgian General Staff can provide only 10 of the 26 computers required, Caucasus Press reported on 16 July, quoting a Georgian Defense Ministry official. The exercises are to focus on guaranteeing the safety of the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil-export pipeline. LF
KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER'S TRIAL BEGINS...
The trial opened in the town of Pavlodar on 15 July of Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, who was fired last November as Pavlodar Oblast governor shortly after he cofounded the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November 2001). Zhaqiyanov, who has been held in custody for the past three months, faces charges of abuse of his official position that he insists are politically motivated. Although the trial is open, no audio or video recordings are being permitted in the courtroom. LF
...AS KAZAKH PRESIDENT SIGNS LAW ON POLITICAL PARTIES
President Nursultan Nazarbaev signed the controversial new law on political parties on 15 July, four days after the Constitutional Court ruled that its provisions do not violate the country's basic law, Reuters and Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2002). Opposition parties argue that the law, which raises from 3,000 to 50,000 the minimum number of members a party must have to qualify for reregistration, will result in the closure of all but three of the country's 19 parties. Nazarbaev departed later on 15 July for a vacation at an unidentified foreign location. LF
U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY VISITS KYRGYZSTAN
During talks in Bishkek on 15 July with President Askar Akaev and Deputy Prime Minister Djoomart Otorbaev, Paul O'Neill pledged U.S. support for the development of Kyrgyzstan's hydroelectric and bauxite resources, Reuters and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. O'Neill said he was impressed by reports of progress in the reforms of Kyrgyzstan's education and health care systems, and lauded the country's role in supplying an airfield for use by the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition. LF
KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEPUTY CALLS FOR LABOR MIGRATION AGREEMENT WITH RUSSIA
Tursunbai Bakir Uulu told fellow parliament deputies on 15 July that the Kyrgyz government should conclude an agreement with Russia regulating the terms under which citizens of Kyrgyzstan travel to Russia to seek seasonal employment, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Bakir Uulu, who recently returned from a fact-finding trip to Sverdlovsk, said police create unnecessary obstacles for Kyrgyz citizens seeking work in that city. In February, a Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry official estimated the number of Kyrgyz then working in Russia as 500,000, or approximately 10 percent of the total Kyrgyz population. Bakir Uulu said there are 15,000 Kyrgyz citizens currently in Sverdlovsk Oblast. LF
INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS PROPOSE INSPECTION OF KYRGYZ GOLD MINE
Four international organizations issued a statement on 10 July calling for an international inspection of the Canadian-owned Kumtor gold mine in Kyrgyzstan following an accident on 8 July in which a miner was killed when a rock wall collapsed, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 15 July. The accident was the third involving the mine over the past four years. LF
ISLAMISTS MORE ACTIVE IN NORTHERN TAJIKISTAN
Most activists in Tajikistan of the banned Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir are Uzbeks living in the north of Tajikistan who have relatives in neighboring Uzbekistan, according to the chairman of the Tajik government's Committee for Religious Affairs, Said Akhmedov, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 16 July. But there are, Akhmedov continued, some Hizb ut-Tahrir underground cells in Dushanbe and elsewhere. He claimed that Tajik police and security forces have notched up recent successes in their efforts to prevent Hizb activists spreading religious propaganda. But at the same time he acknowledged that his department cannot monitor all the numerous Tajik students who are currently studying Islamic theology in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan. Some of those students, he claimed, are studying Wahhabism, and on their return home may propagate beliefs that could cause a schism within Tajikistan's Muslim community. LF
TAJIK ACADEMIC WARNS TALIBAN THREAT STILL EXISTS
Although geographically scattered, the Taliban "have retained their ranks, ideology, clandestine structures, and arms," and consequently still pose a threat to the countries of Central Asia, if not to Russia, Europe, or the United States, a member of the Tajik Academy of Sciences' Institute of Philosophy told ITAR-TASS in Dushanbe on 15 July. He predicted that the Taliban will lie low until the antiterrorism operation in Afghanistan winds down, at which juncture they will embark on a protracted series of unpredictable attacks that could destabilize Central Asia over a long time period. LF
NATO INVITED TO CONDUCT EXERCISES IN BELARUS
Belarus's permanent representative to NATO, Sergei Martynov, told Belarusian television on 15 July that Belarus has for the first time invited the alliance to conduct military exercises on Belarusian soil, Belapan reported the same day. Martynov said the proposed exercise would take place in 2004. Having pointed out that Belarus has been expanding its cooperation with NATO since the two sides signed a Partnership for Peace agreement in 1995, Martynov said, however, that: "We continue to adhere to the view that the enlargement of any military alliance, including NATO, doesn't solve any security problems in and of itself. We do not welcome the enlargement [of NATO], but this enlargement is a fact." CB
UKRAINE TO BOLSTER ARMS-SALES CONTROLS...
The Ukrainian government announced on 15 July that it will introduce more stringent controls on arms sales, AP and Reuters reported. These will include more controls over intermediaries engaged in the arms trade that have presented fake "end-user certificates" to Ukrainian state arms sales companies in the past. Under the new regulations, a buyer will have to guarantee that military equipment will not be resold without written permission. Negotiations for arms sales will also be subject to greater control. RK
...AS IRAQI AMBASSADOR DENIES PURCHASING UKRAINIAN WEAPONS, BUT EXPRESSES INTEREST
At a press conference in Kyiv on 15 July, Iraq's Ambassador to Ukraine Hisham A. Ibrahim vehemently denied recent reports that his country has purchased Ukrainian weapons in violation of UN sanctions. However, at the same time he underscored Iraq's interest in Ukrainian military technology, AP reported. According to Ibrahim, the reports of arms sales are "within the aggressive campaign of the U.S. against Iraq -- 100 percent." Allegations that Ukraine sold a high-tech radar system, the Kolchuga, to Iraq in 2000 have circulated for months and reemerged last week when the "Financial Times" of 8 July quoted arms-control experts as saying that "Iraq is exploiting its growing links with Ukraine in an effort to obtain weapons technologies." President Leonid Kuchma and other officials have repeatedly denied the accusations. "We need Ukrainian technology as much as Ukraine needs Iraqi oil," Ibrahim said. "If it were possible, we would cooperate with Ukraine in military spheres, but for us, the embargo prevents it." RK
ESTONIAN SUPREME COURT RULES BAN ON ELECTORAL ALLIANCES UNCONSTITUTIONAL
The Supreme Court on 15 July declared unconstitutional the prohibition of election alliances for the local-council elections on 20 October that was passed by the parliament in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2002), ETA reported. The opposition Pro Patria Union and Moderates as well as President Arnold Ruutel expressed their support for calling a special parliamentary session later this month or in early August to amend the local-elections law, as the formal registration of candidates for the elections are scheduled for 21 August to 10 September. Justice Minister Mart Rask noted that the court did not rule that the ban on election alliances was illegal, but that it was established too soon before the local elections. In his opinion the simplest solution would be for parliament to vote that the ban should not go into effect until 2005, thus allowing election alliances this fall. SG
IMF RANKS LATVIA AMONG TOP EU CANDIDATE COUNTRIES
The Latvian Finance Ministry announced that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its recent report on Latvia recognized it as one of the top candidates for European Union accession, BNS reported on 15 July. The report noted Latvia's progress in macroeconomic development while maintaining low inflation and achieving a budget surplus in the first half of the year. The IMF praised the strengthening of the country's anticorruption system and the meaningful steps taken in creating a legal structure to combat money laundering. However, the report also mentioned that Latvia's current account deficit is too large and that greater supervision is needed regarding loans by local governments. Finance Minister Gundars Berzins expressed his satisfaction with the report and noted that the parliament passed a bill limiting such loans, but President Vaira Vike-Freiberga returned it for repeat consideration. SG
U.S. OFFICIAL PRAISES LITHUANIA'S COOPERATION IN ANTITERRORISM COALITION
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Elizabeth Jones told President Valdas Adamkus in Vilnius on 15 July that Lithuania is making a contribution to the fight against international terrorism and good progress in preparing for possible NATO membership, ELTA reported. Adamkus inquired why the U.S. Commerce Department has not yet granted Lithuania the status of a country with a functioning market economy. Jones responded that granting such status is a long process involving both the U.S. government and the opinion of foreign investors. Parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas said Jones suggested to him that if Lithuania is accepted into NATO it could take a leading role in ensuring security in the Baltic region. Jones also held talks with Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis and Deputy Defense Minister Jonas Gecas. SG
LOCKHEED MARTIN PLEDGES $1 BILLION IN POLISH FIGHTER-JET OFFSETS
U.S. aeronautics firm Lockheed Martin has signed deals on the investment of some $1 billion in five Polish companies as part of its effort to win a bid to sell Poland its F-16 fighter jets, AP reported on 15 July. The company is one of three bidders the Polish government is considering for the purchase of 48 multipurpose fighter jets that it needs to bring its military up to NATO requirements by 2008. The sale is estimated at $3.5 billion. "Today's preliminary contracts are the first part of our offset offer, which we intend to enlarge to at least the full value of the jet deal by 12 November," said William Perkins, Lockheed Martin's deputy chairman for Eastern Europe. The government's deadline for final offers is 12 November. Other competitors in the bidding are the joint venture of Sweden's Saab and Britain's BAE Systems, maker of the Gripen jet, and Dassault of France, which makes the Mirage 2000 fighter. DW
CZECH PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW GOVERNMENT...
President Vaclav Havel on 15 July formally appointed the new Czech center-left government headed by Vladimir Spidla, Czech radio and international media reported. Havel said it is his "belief and hope" that the government will be "stable" and serve its full four-year term. He also expressed his hope that the new cabinet "will bring our country into the EU." The Social Democratic Party (CSSD) dominates the new government, with 11 out of a total of 17 ministers. The minor Coalition partner has only one portfolio that is regarded as important, namely that of foreign minister (Cyril Svoboda). Unlike the previous cabinet, which was all male, two members of the new government (Education Minister Petra Buzkova and Health Minister Marie Souckova) are women. This is the youngest government in Czech history, its average age being 42. The youngest cabinet member is Finance Minister Bohuslav Svoboda, who is 31 years old. MS
...AND GOVERNMENT APPOINTS NEW OFFICE HEAD
The first appointment in the staff of the new Czech government staff was made on 15 July, when Jana Gavlasova replaced Karel Brezina as head of the Czech Government Office, CTK reported. MS
PRAGUE GETS NEW MAYOR
Igor Nemec of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) was elected by the Prague Municipal Assembly as new Prague mayor on 15 July, CTK reported. In a secret ballot, he received 39 out of 49 votes. Nemec was the only candidate for the post. He replaces Jan Kasl, who resigned in late May and left the ODS to form his own party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2002). Nemec was previously Prague's councilor for culture, sport, and church affairs, and was a minister without portfolio and head of the prime minister's office under the Vaclav Klaus government in the mid-90s. MS
ODS TO APPOINT NEW CZECH SHADOW CABINET
ODS Deputy Chairman Ivan Langer said on 15 July that the party's Executive Council has decided to appoint a new shadow cabinet by the end of September, replacing the outgoing shadow cabinet whose term expired the same day, CTK reported. Langer also said that the council decided that the ODS leadership will offer its resignation at the party's national conference scheduled for December. The Executive Council also approved the analysis of the election campaign produced by a team of prominent ODS members (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2002). Langer said the ODS has formed another working group that will work out a strategy for the ODS local and Senate election campaigns later this year. MS
CZECH COMMUNISTS PLAN PROTEST DEMONSTRATIONS DURING NATO SUMMIT
The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) is preparing a "counter-summit" international conference during the NATO summit scheduled for November in Prague, CTK reported, quoting KSCM spokeswoman Vera Zezulkova. Zezulkova also said demonstrations against the summit will be held in the city's main square. She said some 40 European leftist parties have been contacted for the purpose of the "counter-summit" and some confirmations have already been received. The conference is to offer "a different security alternative" than that offered by NATO, she said. MS
SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS COOPERATION WITH CZECH REPUBLIC WILL CONTINUE
Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan expects cooperation with the new Czech government to continue, CTK reported. Kukan said his country's cooperation with the cabinet headed by Milos Zeman was "excellent," adding, "I have every reason to believe the good-neighborly relations will continue" after the appointment of the successor cabinet headed by Spidla. Kukan also said he "appreciates" the fact that the first foreign capital Svoboda will visit as new foreign minister will be Bratislava. MS
BELGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN SLOVAKIA
Visiting Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel on 15 July called on Slovaks to take part in the 20-21 September elections, saying that if they hope for their country to become a member of the European Union and NATO, participation in the ballot is the best instrument to show their support by electing pro-integration politicians, CTK reported. Michel also said his country has not yet decided whether to impose transition periods on new EU members following expansion, but added that even in the event they are imposed such transition periods will be "as short as possible." His Slovak counterpart Kukan praised Belgium for supporting Slovakia's efforts to join the two organizations. Kukan also called for increased Belgian investments in his country. MS
FORMER SLOVAK COUNTERINTELLIGENCE CHIEF ARRESTED IN SOUTH AFRICA
Former Slovak Information Service (SIS) chief Ivan Lexa, who has been a fugitive since 2000, was arrested in South Africa on 15 July, CTK and international news agencies reported, citing a Slovak Interior Ministry official. He was carrying a false passport and was detained under an international arrest warrant. The Slovak Justice Ministry said the South African authorities have already agreed to extradite Lexa. The former SIS head faces a number of charges, including abuse of power and involvement in the abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son in August 1995. MS
GASPAROVIC ELECTED CHAIRMAN OF NEW SLOVAK PARTY
Ivan Gasparovic was elected on 15 July as chairman of the newly formed Movement for Democracy, while Marta Aibekova and Jan Bencat were elected as deputy chairs, CTK reported. Gasparovic, a former speaker of parliament and prominent leader of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), resigned from the HZDS after failing to be nominated as a candidate in the elections this September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2002). MS
HUNGARIAN FARMERS BLOCK ROADS TO PROTEST EXPECTED AMENDMENT TO LAND LAW
Members of the Hungarian Farmers' Circle (MAGOSZ) on 15 July partially blocked main roads with heavy vehicles to protest an expected amendment to the country's land law, Hungarian and international media reported. MAGOSZ Chairman Istvan Jakab said the protestors consider the government's intention to amend the law an attempt to "sell Hungarian territory to foreigners and stop supporting family businesses." Agriculture Minister Imre Nemeth responded that the protesting farmers are badly informed. "I can reassure you that the government will not make it possible for foreigners to buy Hungarian land in any way, and that family businesses are in no danger at all -- on the contrary, they will be the first to benefit from the new law," he said. Nemeth also claimed that FIDESZ opposition leader Viktor Orban is behind the protests. Tamas Nagy, head of the Alliance of Cooperatives (MOSZ), said the MAGOSZ protest stemmed from the fact that MAGOSZ enjoyed a privileged position in the disbursing of agricultural loans under the previous government. MS
HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION PARTY ELECTS NEW PARLIAMENTARY GROUP LEADER
By an overwhelming majority of 125 out of 126 votes cast, Janos Ader was elected on 15 July as the leader of the FIDESZ parliamentary group in the Hungarian legislature, Hungarian media reported. He replaces Zoltan Pokorni, who resigned after learning that his own father had been an informant of the Communist secret police. In related news, former Prime Minister Orban reportedly said in a closed-door meeting that the Socialist-Free Democrat cabinet is working well and has placed the opposition on the defensive. Orban reportedly said FIDESZ needs to "change its style" in order to get back on the offensive. He reportedly also said that FIDESZ will abandon attempts to dig up details about Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy's past, because the matter will soon be tackled by a parliamentary commission. MS
VERHEUGEN REASSURES HUNGARY ON EU MEMBERSHIP
Guenter Verheugen on 15 July reassured his Hungarian hosts at the beginning of a two-day visit that the EU will adhere to its timetable for expansion, Hungarian media reported. The EU commissioner in charge of enlargement stressed that reforming the EU's agricultural policy will not slow down the expansion schedule, nor will it set new conditions while accession negotiations are in progress. He said he is confident that Hungary will be a EU member by the time the union holds its 2004 parliamentary elections. Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs said after talks with Verheugen that the commissioner offered him assurances that candidate countries that fall behind in their accession preparations will not slow down the accession of candidates that meet membership criteria. Verheugen also met with Prime Minister Medgyessy, who told him that Hungary wants to be an "equal partner" upon accession, and that this equality also applies to the issue of agricultural subsidies. MS
SARAJEVO SUMMIT AGREES ON 'LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR'...
Croatian President Stipe Mesic and his Yugoslav counterpart Vojislav Kostunica met without interpreters in Sarajevo on 15 July with the three members of the Bosnian joint Presidency: Beriz Belkic, Zivko Radisic, and Jozo Krizanovic, international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2002). The participants issued a joint declaration agreeing to respect international frontiers; implement the 1995 Dayton agreement; promote refugee return, European integration, and regional cooperation; combat terrorism and organized crime; and work toward bilateral agreements aimed at visa-free travel, free trade, and providing investment guarantees. Mesic said later that the endorsement of current frontiers puts and end to dreams of a Greater Serbia or Greater Croatia. Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service noted that the declaration represents the "lowest common denominator" on which the participants could agree. PM
...WHILE LEAVING PROBLEMATIC ISSUES ASIDE
The participants in the Sarajevo summit on 15 July did not deal with some important long-standing, difficult issues in their joint declaration, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. Zdravko Grebo, who belongs to the Bosnian Committee for Regional Cooperation, said that Belkic did not demand an apology from Kostunica for Serbian aggression from 1992 to 1995 because Kostunica had insisted that no such demand be made as a precondition for his coming to Sarajevo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2002). Other topics that the participants avoided or sidestepped included the questions of dual citizenship and of Bosnia's use of Croatia's port at Ploce. Belkic said the participants decided to deal with such issues "as is customary in Europe to deal with them." He did not elaborate. PM
SERBIAN WAR OF WORDS INTENSIFIES WITH CHARGES...
Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) said in a statement in Belgrade on 15 July that it will provide to the relevant military authorities information linking former General Nebojsa Pavkovic to various "criminal affairs," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2002). Ljubisa Jovasevic, who is a DSS representative in the Yugoslav parliament, told reporters that an investigation of the murder of Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic turned up evidence linking Pavkovic to misuse of army-owned apartments and a fund for military hospitals, as well as involvement in cigarette-smuggling rackets run by the criminal underworld. Jovasevic also said that former General Aleksandar Vasiljevic, who has supported Pavkovic in his public charges against Kostunica, was involved in clandestine arms sales to the Bosnian Muslims during the 1992-95 war. AP noted that Vasiljevic was investigated in 1992 for similar charges, which were dropped for lack of evidence. PM
Speaking in Belgrade on 15 July, Pavkovic denied the charges and called on his accusers to provide proof or face legal consequences, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He also said that Kostunica knew in advance of the Serbian government's intentions to extradite former President Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague in 2001. Pavkovic added that Kostunica informed him about the plans personally. Kostunica has repeatedly denied that he knew about the extradition in advance. PM
...AS SERBIAN JOURNALISTS SEEK PROTECTION
Natasa Odalovic, who reports for RFE/RL and the daily "Danas," and Aleksandar Tijanic, who is an aide to Kostunica for media affairs, say they have been threatened and want protection from the authorities, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Belgrade on 15 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2002). Odalovic wrote in an open letter to Kostunica that she has recently been followed by unidentified individuals. Tijanic wrote to Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic that he has recently been threatened with death four times by an unidentified telephone caller. Odalovic has written that Tijanic told her that Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and some of his entourage are linked to organized crime, and that Tijanic knows who has ordered well-publicized political killings in Serbia. PM
MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES USE OF ALBANIAN LANGUAGE
On 15 July, the parliament adopted new rules of procedure that will permit use of the Albanian language in legislative sessions in keeping with the August 2001 Ohrid agreement, dpa reported from Skopje. In related news, the parliament voted on 11 July to name five new Supreme Court judges and to set up an Election Commission headed by Mirjana Lazarova-Trajkovska, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 15 July. Rules regarding fair campaigning practices remain to be adopted, as do measures regarding the use of the Albanian language in passports. Parliamentary elections will take place on 15 September. PM
MACEDONIAN GOVERNING PARTY FORMS ELECTION COALITION
The Central Committee of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski's Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) voted in Ohrid on 14 July to approve an election coalition with the Liberal Party and to empower the Executive Committee to form additional electoral pacts, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. PM
UNMIK AND TIRANA AGREE ON FREE TRADE
Officials of the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) and the Albanian government signed a memorandum of understanding on 15 July providing for free trade between Kosova and Albania, dpa reported from Prishtina and Tirana. UNMIK head Michael Steiner recently declared invalid a previous free-trade pact between the Kosovar cabinet and its Albanian counterpart on the grounds that the Kosovars do not have the legal right to negotiate agreements with other states. He did not, however, object to the substance of the agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2002). PM
FATOS NANO POISED TO BECOME ALBANIA'S PRIME MINISTER?
The Steering Committee of the governing Socialist Party (PS) voted in Tirana on 15 July to change the party statutes to enable the party chairman to also serve as prime minister, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2002). It is expected that Chairman Fatos Nano will soon become prime minister for the fifth time, replacing Pandeli Majko, who does not want to give up the job. Nano commands the loyalty of many in the PS organization, but many others regard him as a polarizing figure. PM
ANOTHER HIT-AND-RUN ACCIDENT INVOLVING A CROATIAN POLITICIAN
Outgoing Public Works Minister Radimir Cacic hit a parked van in Varazdin with his government car on 15 July and then left the scene of the accident, dpa reported. Police caught him 20 minutes later but released him after he tested negative for alcohol. Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic was forced to resign earlier this year after being involved in a drunken hit-and-run accident (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2002). PM
ROMANIAN PREMIER TACKLES CORRUPTION, LACK OF DISCIPLINE IN OWN PARTY...
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 15 July told a meeting of the Social Democratic Party's (PSD) Permanent Delegation in Sibiu that some members of the party "use their party membership card" to commit illegalities and that it is necessary to "eliminate [from the party] some local Mafiosi," Mediafax and Romanian radio reported. At the meeting, which analyzed the PSD's activity in Transylvania, Nastase said two PSD members, former Sibiu County Council Chairman Eftime Costeiu and former Bihor County Chairman Mihai Bar, displayed "irresponsibility" that affected "both the political and the administrative" activity in their counties. He said the PSD will take "firm measures" against party members who are guilty of corruption and for this purpose it will set up "operative groups" to monitor the situation in each county and take disciplinary measures when necessary. MS
...DENIES RIFT AT PARTY LEADERSHIP LEVEL...
Nastase denied reports in the media about a rift in the PSD's leadership between himself and PSD Deputy Chairman and Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, Mediafax reported. Nastase said attempts are being made to create a rift and undermine the "team spirit" of the government, but did not specify whom he is blaming for these attempts, which some media reports attribute to President Ion Iliescu. Nastase said Geoana "is a member of the team,...is playing loyally, and has all the chances deserved by an intelligent person who knows what the spirit of teamwork is all about." MS
...AND SAYS PSD IS 'PAYING A PRICE' FOR ITS RELATIONSHIP WITH THE UDMR
Nastase also said some public opinion polls carried out in Transylvania show that support for the PSD is dropping among ethnic Romanians in the region as a result of the agreement under which the PSD is supported in parliament by the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) and the cooperation of the two parties at the county level. He said the PSD-UDMR relationship is "beneficial" to Romania as a whole and that the country's stability owes much to this cooperation. Those who oppose the agreement, Nastase said, "forget that in 2000 we did not receive more than 37 percent" and without this cooperation the PSD would not have enough parliamentary support for its minority government, Mediafax reported. MS
MOLDOVA CHANGES POSITION ON ROMANIAN SCHOLARSHIPS
Moldova's Education Ministry has backed down and agreed to Romania's proposal to grant Moldovan students 2,000 scholarships to study in Romania, Infotag reported on 15 July. Deputy Education Minister Lilia Pogolsa told a group of parents who were protesting the government's refusal to accept the Romanian offer that her ministry has already informed the Education Ministry in Romania about its change of mind. According to Infotag, a Romanian official confirmed in Bucharest that a fax has been received from the Moldovan Education Ministry, but added that the Moldovan position does not correspond with the Romanian proposal. Moldova earlier rejected the Romanian offer, saying that many Moldovan students sent to study in Romania subsequently refuse to return home (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 2002). MS
SIGNATURES IN SUPPORT OF CHANGES TO MOLDOVA'S ELECTORAL SYSTEM TURNED IN
On 15 July, the organizers of a drive for a referendum on changing Moldova's electoral system submitted 220,314 signatures to the Central Election Commission (CEC) in support of the initiative, Infotag reported. The initiative is thus supported by 20,000 more than the 200,000 stipulated by the law. However, CEC Deputy Chairman Nicolae Televco said 12,000 signatures have not yet been authenticated. The organizers of the plebiscite drive propose that the proportional system be replaced by a mixed system, under which half of the seats in the parliament would be decided in single-seat constituencies. MS
HEAT WAVE FORCES TRUCKS OFF BULGARIAN HIGHWAYS
Bulgaria's second major heat wave of the summer prompted authorities to order truck drivers to take the afternoon off on 16 July, dpa reported. The agency added that trucks and vehicles heavier than 15 tons were banned from highways and regional roads in Bulgaria, whose low-quality asphalt surfaces get notoriously soft under intense heat. Temperatures have reached 39 degrees Celsius, while the Black Sea's temperature has risen to 28 degrees, dpa reported. AH
PUTIN ADMINISTRATION PUSHES CLAIM TO BULGARIAN TOBACCO ASSETS...
A lawyer for the Russian presidential administration on 15 July reiterated Moscow's claims to a handful of assets currently slated for privatization within Bulgartabac Holding Group, BTA reported. "The Russian side has documents that do not invite the conclusion that the German property involved in the tobacco industry has been donated to Bulgaria," presidential administration lawyer Yavor Dimitrov said. At issue are 12 enterprises, including real estate and a 49 percent stake in a Sofia tobacco factory currently on the selling block (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2002). The head of Balkan assets management within the Putin administration, Aleksandr Semernev, added that the properties were leased in perpetuity to Bulgaria under a 1953 intergovernmental agreement, but not sold. He noted that the Russian Federation presented its claims on the Bulgartabac holdings on 28 November and insisted it has documents to back those claims, BTA reported. Former Bulgarian Deputy Economy Minister Ljubka Kachakova countered in the daily "Standart" on 16 July that Russia made its first official claim to Bulgarian assets on 13-14 February. (For previous references, please also search "Bulgartabak.") AH
...AND ACCUSES SOFIA OF 'WITHDRAWING' FROM TALKS...
Semernev meanwhile charged on 15 July that "the Bulgarian side has...practically withdrawn" from the working group that is negotiating on the issue, BTA added. The only meeting of experts to consider Moscow's claims took place on 18 April and a subsequent meeting initiated by Russia was canceled, he said. Semernev insisted the 1953 agreement includes a clause stipulating that the other side consider requests for a return of the property within a month after the requests are made, the agency reported. The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry dismissed the Russian claim in a 14 June press release that cited "a comprehensive and in-depth scrutiny" by the government that showed the claims to be "entirely groundless," according to BTA. AH
...AS POTENTIAL BUYERS SEEK TO HEDGE THEIR BETS
A senior Bulgarian privatization official said on 16 July that the state has agreed to requests by potential investors in Bulgartabac for part of the eventual sale price to be set aside in an escrow account, BTA reported. However, privatization agency Executive Director Apostol Apostolov said his agency will not accept terms that call for more than one-fifth of the price to be placed in escrow, the agency added. Potential bidders have reportedly requested that 20-40 percent be set aside. Government officials have said they hope to earn between $100 million and $500 million from the Bulgartabac sale. An editorial in "24 Chasa" on 16 July meanwhile noted that at least two offers for Bulgartabac Holding "smack of tobacco ambitions on the part of [Mikhail] Chernyi," a Russian businessman and former owner of the Bulgarian cell-phone operator Mobiltel who has been barred from entering Bulgaria since 2000 due to alleged connections with organized-crime structures in Bulgaria and Russia. AH
WILL LUKASHENKA SURVIVE AS PUTIN LOSES INTEREST IN UNION WITH BELARUS?
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has become increasingly isolated and out of step with international developments since his re-election and the 11 September terrorist attacks against the United States -- a trend best evidenced by the country's tepid relations with its closest ally, Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has not shown the same level of interest in the much-touted Russia-Belarus Union, which is based on an interstate treaty that came into force in January 2000, as did his predecessor Boris Yeltsin. As "Izvestiya" recently wrote, Lukashenka's problem is that he no longer has an ally in the Kremlin. "The chill in Russian-Belarusian relations appeared as soon as Putin replaced Yeltsin," "Izvestiya" added. Moreover, the presidential elections held in Belarus on 9 September, in which Lukashenka won in the first round with 75.62 percent of the vote, "marked a dramatic decline in relations between Moscow and Minsk" because it was reminiscent of a "farce," "Izvestiya" commented.
Four issues plague the union, which have caused Putin to lose interest in the union. First, Putin has openly poured cold water on the idea of equality between Russia and Belarus, upon which Lukashenka has always insisted. Pavel Borodin, the state secretary of the Russia-Belarus Union, told Russia's NTV television that Lukashenka's proposed model for the union, which he presented to Putin last month, is "nonsense" and "simply foolish."
Second, the Belarusian economy is only 3 percent as large as Russia's, as Putin pointed out, but Belarus is demanding the right of veto while maintaining its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Lukashenka disagrees with the common perception in Russia that Belarus is using the union to obtain subsidies. Complaining about this view of Belarus as a freeloader, Lukashenka said, "Nobody has allowed himself to voice such an insult during the 10 years of Belarus's independence and sovereignty."
Third, a major stumbling block is how the union should be organized. On this question, Lukashenka increasingly sounds like his nationalist opponents when defending Belarusian sovereignty in the face of Russian efforts to define the union as the incorporation of Belarus. Lukashenka rules out Belarus becoming the 90th subject of the Russian Federation. This is totally out of the question for Lukashenka because, "No president of Belarus would take that step. In the Soviet Union, Belarus had more sovereignty." He went on to complain, "Even Stalin did not plan to deprive Belarus of its sovereignty."
Syarhey Kastsyan, a deputy of the Belarusian Chamber of Representatives, rejected Putin's proposals for "a single state" with one government and parliament. The Belarusian understanding of "union" is akin to a new confederation of equal, sovereign states comparable to what the USSR was moving toward in late 1991.
Fourth, Lukashenka's hostility to economic reform includes opposition to the Russian takeover of the still small number of privatized companies. Lukashenka warned Russia that he would never "betray" Belarusian state interests and "give up Belarus to anybody," adding that he does not "need to sell enterprises to some Russian oligarchs."
Fundamentally, Putin's waning interest in the union amid these four disagreements is because the Russia-Belarus Union was always understood differently by Russia and Belarus. Both Yeltsin and Putin saw it in non-ideological terms, as a useful attribute to their foreign-policy arsenal and geopolitical designs. Putin prefers to view the union as building on the experience of the European Union.
But Lukashenka has always seen it very differently. As a Sovietophile pan-Slavist, he is ideologically committed to the union as a stepping-stone to a revived USSR, however unlikely that is a decade after it disintegrated.
In the late 1990s, a union with Belarus was a means for Russia to assert itself as a "great power" vis-a-vis the West and NATO expansion. Unfortunately for Lukashenka, Putin has tempered his opposition to NATO expansion, which has resulted in the development of a new "19+1" relationship between the alliance and Russia. Unlike Belarus, Russia is no longer engaging in the sort of anti-Western and anti-U.S. diatribes that it earlier unleashed during NATO's bombing campaign in Kosova and Serbia. Lukashenka's continued "anti-Westernism," as exemplified by his hostility to the OSCE presence in Minsk and to NATO expansion, seems increasingly anomalous in the aftermath of 11 September.
After the creation of the NATO-Russia Council and Ukraine's announcement that it intends to seek NATO membership, Lukashenka is unsure where to turn. Aware that he is being increasingly isolated, Lukashenka has now invited NATO to take part in annual military exercises.
Lukashenka's calls for a "300,000-strong joint Belarusian-Russian military group" have also not been supported by Putin -- presumably because it is not clear who such a force would be directed against. Although Belarus is a member of the CIS Collective Security Treaty (now Organization) its usefulness to that structure is not evident, as Lukashenka has always opposed the use of Belarusian troops outside Russia and Belarus. A new law adopted this month allowing Belarusian troops to undertake military missions abroad rules out sending them to "hot spots."
To Putin, the advancement of Russia's "strategic partnership" with Ukraine is now more important than a union with Belarus. The decision to create a Russian-Ukrainian gas consortium, which means an end to the idea of building a pipeline through Belarus, reflects Moscow's greater interest in Ukraine as a strategic asset. In addition, Ukraine under Kuchma, unlike Belarus under Lukashenka, is allowing Russian capital to take part in privatization. By 2005, 70 percent of commodities made in Ukraine will be produced with the participation of Russian capital.
As Russia increasingly cold-shoulders him and his regime, opportunities will arise for the Belarusian opposition and disgruntled elites to move against him. The Lukashenka regime no longer looks stable, and his popularity ratings are at an all time low of 25-30 percent.
"The Washington Post" recently called upon Russia to prove its commitment to integration with the West by withdrawing its support for Lukashenka. If Moscow accepts this advice, Lukashenka is finished.
Dr. Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.