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Newsline - July 31, 2002


NEW FEDERAL REFORMS TO AFFECT EVERYONE
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" claims to have obtained documents outlining deputy head of the presidential administration Dmitrii Kozak's plan for overhauling the federal system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2002). According to the daily on 30 July, while the plans of the Kozak commission for demarcating responsibilities among various levels of government cannot be called "revolutionary," they nevertheless constitute "the most significant overhaul of Russia's system of governance -- from top to bottom -- in a decade." Budgets at the federal, oblast, and local levels will be formed differently, affecting the work of hospitals, clinics, kindergartens, and schools. There will be two autonomous police forces. Overall, according to the daily, the reforms "will concern each and every person." The daily also noted that the commission's plan makes no mention of the seven federal districts or the presidential envoys who oversee them, adding that only time will tell whether this omission reflects the Kremlin's thinking or Kozak's alone. JAC

ALL IL-86S TO UNDERGO SAFETY INSPECTION
The Interstate Aviation Committee will conduct a one-time inspection of the stabilizer systems of all IL-86 commercial airliners following the crash of one near Moscow on 28 July that killed 14 people, dni.ru and other Russian news agencies reported on 31 July. According to a committee official, the horizontal stabilizer of the ill-fated plane was in its maximum position when the plane crashed, although investigators are uncertain why that was the case. "We are looking into all possibilities, including the possibility of pilot error," said Rudolf Teimurazov, a member of the committee. The stabilizer inspection will be immediately carried out on the Il-86 used by President Vladimir Putin and those used by other high-ranking government officials. The government has decided not to suspend the Il-86 from service. RC

PRO-KREMLIN PARTY ALLEGEDLY HANDED HEFTY WAR CHEST...
Russia's executive branch has reportedly allocated $5 million to the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia to spend over the summer months of 2002, "Izvestiya" reported on 30 July, citing unidentified sources in the upper levels of the party's competitor organizations. According to the daily, this is a "fantastic" sum since the annual budgets for a large party in the Duma tend to be just $1 million in a nonelection year. However, Unified Russia has been spending a lot of money lately, including running "an unprecedented publicity campaign with numerous billboards across the country" that lends credence to the story. The party also gets funding from business tycoons, who also provide financial support to some of Unified Russia's competitors so they "are not putting all of their eggs in one basket." JAC

...AND IS SPENDING FREELY IN EARLY CAMPAIGN EFFORT
Meanwhile, Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Politika Foundation, wrote in "Trud" on 27 July that the "State Duma election campaign has started earlier than ever before, keeping in mind that the election is still 18 months away." According to Nikonov, "Unified Russia has pasted its posters across the entire country." In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 25 July, State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov (independent) said that with its current campaign, Unified Russia is "competing with Coca-Cola" as the leader in the advertising market. Earlier in the month, some polling agencies reported that Unified Russia has recently made new inroads winning public support (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 July 2002). JAC

WAVE OF ANTI-SEMITIC BOMB SCARES CONTINUES
A box bearing an anti-Semitic slogan was found near the entrance of a Moscow maternity hospital on 31 July, Interfax and other Russian news agencies reported. Police sappers were called to the scene, but no explosives were found. On 30 July, an anti-Semitic sign with a fake bomb attached to it was found along a highway just outside of Moscow. These incidents are the latest in a series that has swept across Russia since a woman was seriously injured by an exploding sign near Moscow on 27 May. RC

LOOKS LIKE NO $100,000 CAR IS SAFE
Carjackers stole a luxury car used by the wife of Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov in broad daylight in St. Petersburg on 31 July, Russian and Western news agencies reported. The thieves allegedly sprayed mace in the face of the driver as he waited near Gryzlov's apartment, pulled him from the car, and made off with the $100,000 BMW, which was reportedly on loan from the pedagogical training institute where Gryzlov's wife works, dpa reported. RC

SENATORS, PATRIARCH SEE EYE TO EYE ON FORMER CHURCH LANDS...
Members of the Federation Council met on 30 July with Patriarch Aleksii II to discuss proposals to return Russian Orthodox Church lands that were nationalized following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, "Izvestiya" reported the next day. The meeting came in response to a recent initiative by Ivan Starikov, chairman of the council's Agricultural Policy Committee, to transfer to the church and other "traditional" religions in Russia lands from the state reserve fund (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2002). According to the report, the patriarch endorsed the senators' initiative. He repeated an earlier call for lands to be returned to monasteries for agricultural purposes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June 2002), but both the patriarch and the senators were careful to avoid the word "restitution." Starikov told "Izvestiya" that his idea is supported by Federation Council Deputy Chairman Valerii Goreglyad. RC

...BUT GOVERNMENT IS NOT SO SURE
Meanwhile, RIA-Novosti reported the same day that Aleksei Volin, a government deputy chief of staff, told journalists that he is skeptical about Starikov's proposal. Volin said the constitution defines Russia as a secular state and forbids the government from extending economic or other privileges to the Russian Orthodox Church. Finally, Volin added, transferring state land to the church would violate the biblical injunction to "render unto God what is God's and unto Caesar what is Caesar's." RC

REGIONAL JOURNALIST ALLEGEDLY A VICTIM OF SKINHEADS
A 53-year-old journalist was beaten about the head in downtown Penza, allegedly by skinheads retaliating for articles he had written in local newspapers, Infonews reported on 31 July, citing the Privolzhe news agency. Yurii Sorkin, who is a lieutenant colonel in the military reserve, said he was approached by two shaven-headed youths in broad daylight in the center of the city who began beating him. They made no effort to rob him. According to the report, on 19 April, the municipally controlled radio station broadcast a program that asserted that local skinheads are "real patriots" compared to the "bought scribblers" in the local media. The moderator allegedly said he would not be surprised if "the nightstick of anger of patriotic youth were to come down on the heads" of such journalists. The broadcast was replayed several times, and local authorities refused to respond to Sorkin's request for an explanation. RC

PROSECUTORS NEED MORE TIME TO DEVELOP BEREZOVSKII CASE
The Prosecutor-General's Office has extended the term for investigating the case against self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovskii until 5 October, strana.ru and other Russian news agencies reported on 31 July. Prosecutors are looking into allegations that Berezovskii financed illegal armed formations in Chechnya, based on information provided by the Federal Security Service (FSB). They extended the term of the investigation "because of the necessity of carrying out an additional amount of work," the website quoted an unidentified official as saying. Meanwhile, speaking to journalists in St. Petersburg on 30 July, FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev alleged that Berezovskii committed numerous crimes in Russia. "We have received information about the financing of illegal armed formations -- even a bit more information than we expected," Patrushev said, according to strana.ru. "I think that Berezovskii will have to answer for what he's done." RC

OFFICIALS ASSESS PROGRESS OF VOLUNTEER-SERVICE EXPERIMENT
The Military Council of the Russian Airborne Force met in Pskov on 31 July where the primary topic of discussion was the country's experiment with contract-based military service, RTR and other Russian news agencies reported. It was reported that the 76th Paratroop Division is being transferred to contract service on a volunteer basis as an experiment. However, the chief of the Airborne Force's mobilization department, Colonel Viktor Zaitsev, told strana.ru that roughly 2 percent of all contract soldiers under his purview decline to extend their contracts and his office is worried by the loss of trained specialists. At present, about 25 percent of airborne troops are on the contract system, but Zaitsev said that figure could fall to 15 percent by the end of the year if the drain continues. Zaitsev called on the government to take measures to increase the prestige of voluntary military service. The current experiment with the 76th Paratroop Division is the first step in a proposed program to switch Russia's military to primarily contract service by 2010, strana.ru reported. RC

KULTURA TAKES THE ADVERTISING PLUNGE
The state-owned Kultura television channel will begin showing paid advertising in the near future, lenta.ru reported on 31 July. According to Kultura general director Aleksandr Ponomarev, the station -- which is part of the VGTRK holding and features highbrow programming including classical-music concerts, ballet, opera, and dramatic adaptations of literary classics -- needs to develop revenue sources, including advertising. However, Ponomarev said that advertising on Kultura will not be the same as on other television channels, but he did not specify what the difference would be. RC

EXPERTS WARN AUTHORITIES TO PAY NOW...
TV-6 reported on 31 July that experts are concerned about the heavy flow of vehicles and trains along a road across a dam built on the Volga River at the Volzhskaya Power Plant near Volgograd. The construction of a bridge across the Volga in Volgograd was begun 10 years ago in order to relieve the pressure on the dam, but it was never completed due to lack of funds. According to TV-6, the local budget has neither the 10 billion rubles ($317 million) needed to complete the bridge nor money to repair and renovate the dam. Supervisory agencies perform constant checks on the impact of trains and vehicles; however, their conclusions are not comforting, and nobody can guarantee the station's safety today, TV-6 reported. Earlier in the month, Yurii Rakhmaninov, vice president of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that some specialists have been warning for years that dams are deteriorating. Rakhmaninov suggested that the population along the Volga River could also face severe flooding like that experienced earlier this summer in the Southern Federal District (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 2002). JAC

...OR PAY LATER
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov signed a decree on 30 July allocating 960 million rubles ($31 million) to build and purchase housing for victims of the flooding in southern Russia in June and July, Interfax reported, citing the government's information department. Krasnodar Krai received 400 million rubles, compared to 230 million rubles for Stavropol Krai. JAC

FRONT-RUNNER IN KRASNOYARSK RACE SPEAKS OUT IN FAVOR OF REGIONAL MERGER
Taimyr Autonomous Okrug Governor Aleksandr Khloponin told RIA-Novosti on 30 July that he favors merging Krasnoyarsk Krai with Taimyr and Evenk autonomous okrugs. Khloponin said that all three regions would benefit economically from closer association, but he cautioned that the process of merging could start no earlier than within one to two years. According to regions.ru the same day, pollsters have found that Khloponin's support among voters for the 8 September gubernatorial election in Krasnoyarsk Krai has been gradually increasing. According to the latest figures, he has a 2-4 percent advantage over Krasnoyarsk Mayor Petr Pimashkov. The website also reported that the central office of the pro-Kremlin party Unified Russia will soon announce its support for Khloponin. Utro.ru reported on 31 July that Berezovskii's Liberal Russia will support Krasnoyarsk Krai legislature speaker Aleksandr Uss. JAC

KALMYKIAN OFFICIALS START PRE-ELECTION PRESSURE EARLY...
Natalya Manzhikova, head of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) branch in the Republic of Kalmykia, has already made it clear that she will participate in the 20 October republican presidential elections, regions.ru reported, citing the SPS press service. The republic's leadership is reportedly attempting to remove her from leadership of the local SPS branch, the website claimed, identifying many of the key figures involved only by their first initial and last name. The head of the presidential administration, Igor Shalkhakov; the head of the Elista's electricity network, V. Vembinov; the construction minister, O. Kichkov; the head of the local licensing chamber, I. Badmaev; and the mayor of Elista, Radii Burulov, allegedly put pressure on one or the other of two local SPS members, threatening their lives or their livelihoods if they did not support alternative leadership for SPS. JAC

...AS VARIOUS OFFICIALS ALLEGEDLY THREATEN RIVALS' LIVES AND LIVELIHOODS
For example, L. Zaitsev claimed that he was told the electricity to his cafe would be shut off and he would lose his license to operate, while Elista's mayor allegedly threatened his life and the health of his son. According to Zaitsev, Mayor Burulov wanted Vembinov named head of SPS's political council and warned that "Moscow is far away, and we are [next to you]." Construction Minister O. Kichkov reportedly threatened another SPS member, V. Kurkudinov, allegedly saying that his company would never receive another state order unless either he, Kichkov, or his brother were elected head of SPS. JAC

KUBAN LEADER SWITCHES FROM MIGRATION POLICY TO TRADE
Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev has signed a decree restricting imported meat and dairy products in order to defend the interests of Kuban producers, presscenter.ru reported on 30 July. For goods from the neighboring former Soviet republics a higher tariff will be applied. Tkachev has spoken out on several occasions against immigration and the buying and selling of agricultural land. JAC

RUSSIAN MINISTERS CALL FOR EXPEDITING RECONSTRUCTION IN CHECHNYA
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko and Vladimir Yelagin, minister for reconstruction in Chechnya, told a 30 July session of the government commission on reconstruction in Chechnya that measures to rebuild the republic's infrastructure are lagging because only a small proportion of the funds allocated for that purpose were actually made available during the first six months of this year, Russian agencies reported. Khristenko stressed that rebuilding schools prior to the beginning of the new academic year and providing housing for displaced persons returning from Ingushetia require priority attention. LF

ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI DIPLOMATS MEET IN PRAGUE
Deputy Armenian and Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers Tatul Markarian and Araz Azimov, respectively, met in Prague on 29 July together with representatives of the OSCE Minsk Group for the second time in three months for further talks on possible approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 30 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2002). The talks were due to continue on 30 July, after which the Armenian delegation was scheduled to return to Yerevan later that day, Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Dziunik Aghadjanian said last week. But by 30 July, both delegations and the OSCE mediators had checked out of their hotel and some of the participants were said to be en route for Karlovy Vary. Aghadjanian said the two deputy ministers would focus on details of points agreed earlier in talks between the two countries' presidents. Azerbaijani presidential apparatus official Novruz Mamedov was quoted on 27 July by Sharq news agency as saying that Baku did not anticipate any radical breakthrough at the Prague talks, according to Groong. LF

AZERBAIJANI POLITICAL PARTIES VOW TO BOYCOTT REFERENDUM
Meeting in Baku on 30 July, representatives of 27 Azerbaijani opposition parties adopted a three-point document affirming their intention to boycott the 24 August referendum on constitutional amendments and calling on the electorate to do as well, zerkalo.az reported on 31 July. They also pledged to monitor the conduct of the voting and not to attend a series of roundtables on the referendum organized by the OSCE office in Baku. LF

FORMER AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT DENIES PLOTTING COUP
In a statement released in Moscow on 30 July, Ayaz Mutalibov denied that either he personally plotted to stage a coup in Azerbaijan last fall or that the Civic Unity Party that supports him intended to participate in his alleged bid to overthrow the country's leadership, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2002). Mutalibov claimed that President Heidar Aliev ordered the National Security Ministry to implicate him and the Civic Unity Party in order to create a pretext for ordering the party's closure on the grounds that it is a terrorist organization. He said such allegations are in the worst traditions of the Stalin era. Also on 30 July, 21 Azerbaijani opposition parties adopted a statement condemning the National Security Ministry accusations against Mutalibov as a policy of revenge conducted at state level and an attempt to delude public opinion, Turan reported. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT SIGNS DECREE ON PIPELINE FUNDING
On 30 July, Heidar Aliev signed a decree on providing the funding for the 25 percent stake owned by Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR in the consortium to build the Baku-Ceyhan oil-export pipeline, Turan reported. Seventy percent of SOCAR's stake will be financed by credits from foreign banks and other members of the consortium including British Petroleum, Statoil, and Unocal, and the remainder will come from Azerbaijan's hard-currency reserves. Also on 30 July, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said the Georgian troops currently being trained by U.S. instructors within the parameters of the Train and Equip program will be deployed not only against suspected terrorists but to also guard the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum gas pipeline, Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIA SLAMS RUSSIAN 'AGGRESSION,' DENIES ABETTING CHECHEN FIGHTERS...
The Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 30 July condemning as "acts of military aggression" bombing raids by Russian military helicopters in the Pankisi Gorge in northeast Georgia, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Also on 30 July, Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Kakha Sikharulidze denied a statement by Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii that Georgian border guards ignored a warning by a Georgian shepherd that a band of Chechen fighters were preparing to enter Chechnya from Georgia. The Georgian Border Guard Service on 30 July similarly denied an allegation by a Russian officer with the combined federal forces in Chechnya, who said that Georgian border guards helped the Chechens cross into Russia. The "Los Angeles Times" on 31 July also reported that two Chechen fighters captured during fighting in southern Chechnya in recent days claimed on Russian television that Georgian border guards had helped them enter Russia. LF

...AS RUSSIA CONTINUES TO ASSERT ITS RIGHT TO MILITARY ACTION IN GEORGIA
Russian State Duma International Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin told journalists in Moscow on 30 July that the Russian Constitution and "international norms" grant Russia the right to conduct "targeted retaliatory operations" against "rebel bases outside its borders," meaning the Chechen militants ensconced in Pankisi, Interfax reported. He claimed that not only Chechen fighters but militant Wahhabis from Daghestan have found refuge in the gorge. Also on 30 July, Sergei Markov of the Institute of Political Research said the Pankisi problem could be solved by means of a joint U.S.-Russian military operation and by establishing an international protectorate in the gorge. He also proposed raising at the United Nations Security Council Georgia's alleged "support for international terrorism." LF

MOSCOW WELCOMES UN SECURITY COUNCIL RESOLUTION ON ABKHAZIA
The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement on 30 July pledging to continue its "active assistance" in promoting a peaceful political solution to the Abkhaz conflict, Russian news agencies reported. The statement was pegged to a UN Security Council resolution adopted unanimously the previous day that lauded Russia's role in promoting such a settlement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July 2002). LF

SOUTH OSSETIAN PRESIDENT THREATENS TO SHOOT DOWN INTRUDING GEORGIAN AIRCRAFT
Eduard Kokoyty, president of the unrecognized breakaway Republic of South Ossetia, said on 30 July that Georgian helicopters have violated his republic's airspace over the previous two days, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. He said he has issued orders that any aircraft that do so in future should be shot down. LF

GEORGIA REGISTERS MODEST GDP GROWTH
Georgia's GDP increased by 4.2 percent during the first six months of 2002 compared with the same period last year, Caucasus Press reported on 30 July. The growth was attributed primarily to an increase in agricultural production. LF

PROSECUTOR DEMANDS EIGHT-YEAR SENTENCE FOR KAZAKH OPPOSITIONIST
The prosecutor at the trial in Pavlodar of former Pavlodar Oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov demanded on 31 July that he be sentenced to eight years' imprisonment and required to reimburse some 26 million tenges ($1.7 million) in damages to the state, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Zhaqiyanov is one of the cofounders of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan. LF

KYRGYZ AMNESTY LAW TAKES EFFECT
The amnesty law signed by President Askar Akaev on 25 July came into effect on 30 July, Interfax reported. The amnesty is part of a new 10-year human rights program, and provides for the preterm release of some 2,750 prisoners out of a total of 17,430. A further 12,863 convicts will have their sentences reduced. LF

ASIAN DEVELOPMENT BANK PLEDGES FUNDING FOR TRANS-AFGHAN PIPELINE
Following talks in Ashgabat, the Asian Development Bank has formally agreed to participate in funding the planned gas-export pipeline from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan, Interfax and turkmenistan.ru reported on 30 July. The three countries' leaders signed a memorandum of understanding two months ago on proceeding with a feasibility study for that project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2002). LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT CONDEMNS EMBEZZLEMENT ON RAILWAYS
Speaking on national television on 29 July, Saparmurat Niyazov said millions of dollars allocated each year for developing the rail sector are embezzled, Interfax reported the following day. He dismissed state railways Director Batyr Sardjaev, and named Deputy Prime Minister Berdymurat Redjepov to succeed him. A former state railways director died under mysterious circumstances a year ago amid similar allegations of embezzlement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June 2001). LF

UZBEK PRESIDENT ENDS VISIT TO JAPAN
On a three-day visit to Tokyo on 28-31 July, Islam Karimov met with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, and Finance Minister Masajuro Shiokawa to discuss political and economic aspects of bilateral relations, uza.uz and uzreport.com reported. A total of 14 documents were signed, including a declaration of friendship, cooperation, and strategic partnership, and a Japanese statement of support for the reform process in Uzbekistan. The two sides also reaffirmed their support for the "Silk Road" energy project. Japan has provided Uzbekistan with humanitarian aid worth $150 million over the past six years, and Japanese investments in Uzbekistan amount to some $1.6 billion. LF

BELARUSIAN MINISTERS REPORT TO PRESIDENT ON PERFORMANCE...
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka held a cabinet conference on 30 July where ministers reported on their performance in the first half of 2002, Belarusian media reported. Prime Minister Henadz Navitski's cabinet reportedly met nine out of the 16 economic targets decreed by Lukashenka for 2002. "Many have tried to present today's conference as an extraordinary event with far-reaching consequences -- a dismissal of the government as a minimum," Belarusian television quoted Lukashenka as saying. "These are hostile voices. It is another attempt at destabilizing the situation at the top level to make people droop their heads and fail to carry out their duties, particularly in this difficult period," Lukashenka added. He praised his ministers for their successful contributions to the "battle for the harvest" that is now raging in Belarus. JM

...AS PARTY LEADER ASKS THEM 'TO LEAVE THE BELARUSIAN PEOPLE ALONE'
In an open letter to the 30 July cabinet conference, Liberal Democratic Party Chairman Syarhey Haydukevich suggested that the harvest problems faced by the government every year could be eliminated by allowing private ownership of land in Belarus, Belapan reported on 30 July. Haydukevich asked the participants in the government conference "to leave the Belarusian people alone," adding that the annual government-sponsored "battle for the harvest" on collective-farm fields is an "annoying circus show staged over the past seven years." Haydukevich challenged Lukashenka in the 2001 presidential election in which, according to the official report, he obtained 2.5 percent of the vote. JM

TWO BELARUSIAN YOUTH ORGANIZATIONS PLAN TO MERGE
The Belarusian Patriotic Youth Union (BPSM) and the Belarusian Youth Union (BSM) -- the country's largest youth organizations -- are planning to hold a joint congress on 6 September in order to merge into one organization, Belarusian television reported on 30 July. The BSM is the legal successor to the Soviet-era Communist Youth League (Komsomol), while the BPSM (nicknamed Lukamol) was created by President Lukashenka in 1997 in order to mobilize support for his policies among young Belarusians. JM

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION BLAMES TOP LEADERSHIP FOR AIR-SHOW TRAGEDY...
Quoting the Our Ukraine press service, UNIAN reported on 30 July that four opposition leaders have issued a statement blaming the country's top leadership for the tragic air-show crash in Lviv on 27 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 July 2002). The statement was reportedly signed by Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, and Yuliya Tymoshenko who leads the eponymous political bloc. Communist Party officials subsequently denied that Symonenko signed the document. "All of us should be aware that the blame for similar tragedies [to that of the Lviv air-show crash] is to be put on the political system, which is headed by the person who cares not about state problems but about how to defend the interests of favored clans and strengthen his personal authority," the statement reads. JM

...AS DOUBTS ARE CAST ON GUILT OF SACKED AIR-FORCE COMMANDER
Officers of Ukraine's 5th Air Corps have addressed President Leonid Kuchma with a letter saying that they treat the arrest of air-force commander Viktor Strelnykov, who was dismissed by the president following the Lviv tragedy, as an "infringement upon their civic rights and professional honor," UNIAN reported on 31 July. The officers say they "have questions" about what they call "biased" media reports on the arrest of Strelnykov as a person "directly responsible" for the tragedy. "[We know] that 10 minutes before [the crash], Colonel General Viktor Strelnykov gave an order forbidding the commander of the 14th Air Corps [which staged the air show] to send jets over the crowd and instructing him to conduct the show only over the landing-and-takeoff strip," the letter reads. JM

ESTONIA CLOSES ENERGY CHAPTER FOR EU ACCESSION
Alar Streimann, Estonia's chief negotiator with the European Union and Foreign Ministry deputy chancellor, closed the energy chapter during talks in Brussels on 30 July, ETA reported. Estonia thus joined the leaders among EU candidates with 28 of the 31 chapters completed. Estonia reached agreement to open 35 percent of its electricity market by 2009 and to fully open that market by the end of 2012. The long transition period was granted because of the difficulties of converting from oil shale, which is currently used to supply 90 percent of Estonia's electricity. The EU agreed to add oil shale to the list of research cofinanced by the EU's Coal and Steel Research Fund. Estonia also succeeded in postponing to 31 December 2009 the deadline by which it agreed to build up a 90-day reserve of fuel oil and gasoline. SG

NAZI-HUNTER'S PLAN MAY CLASH WITH ESTONIAN ADVERTISING LAW
Advertising specialist Kaur Hanson told the daily "Eesti Paevaleht" on 30 July that the plans of Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Jerusalem Office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, to place ads in Estonian newspapers offering a $10,000 reward for reliable information that would lead to the trial and conviction of Estonian Nazi war criminals might conflict with the Advertising Law, BNS reported. Under the law, advertising is deemed offensive if it incites or supports discrimination on the grounds of nationality, race, color, sex, age, language, origin, religion, political, or other circumstances. Hanson said that fanning hatred and interethnic hostility carries a criminal punishment under Estonian law. He called Zuroff a successful propagandist whose efforts in Estonia have produced negative results as "more and more residents of Estonia are feeling a growing sympathy for Arabs and antipathy toward Jews." SG

LATVIA FAILS TO SELECT CORRUPTION PREVENTION BUREAU DIRECTOR
The second competition to find a director for the new Corruption Prevention Bureau ended unsuccessfully on 30 July when the cabinet rejected the three top candidates proposed by a special selection jury, BNS reported. The candidates were Security Police Deputy Chief Didzis Smitins, deputy head of the Service for Preventing Legalization of Illegally Acquired Funds Aldis Lieljuksis, and Presidential Security Service official Raimonds Avdejevs. Prime Minister Andris Berzins announced that applications for a third competition will be accepted until 12 August. He said the same selection jury will continue to examine candidates, as he has found it to be "trustworthy." Berzins noted that in the event that no suitable candidate is found in the third competition he will likely ask parliament to amend the law founding the bureau by abolishing the requirement that the candidate have a university degree. SG

RUSSIA SATISFIED WITH MILITARY TRANSIT THROUGH LITHUANIA
In Palanga on 30 July, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told his Lithuanian counterpart Linas Linkevicius that Russia is satisfied with current conditions for military transit to and from Kaliningrad Oblast via Lithuania and would not want to encounter "additional difficulties," BNS reported. The two ministers agreed to form a group of Russian and Lithuanian experts to investigate the possibilities of transporting 1,600 tons of spent liquid missile fuel from Kaliningrad to plants in Russia for reprocessing. They also discussed the idea of installing a hot line between the Lithuanian Air Force and Russian air bases in Kaliningrad to exchange information about flights over the border zone. Linkevicius invited Russian officers to attend the Amber Hope 2003 exercises that will be held next year in Lithuania as part of the NATO Partnership for Peace program. After the meeting, Ivanov told to reporters the discussions were very open and that the close dialogue was much better than with the other Baltic states. SG

POLAND PLEDGES TO LOCK UP EU EXTERNAL FRONTIER
Poland concluded the administration of justice and internal affairs chapter in its EU accession talks in Brussels on 30 July, Polish media reported. Warsaw pledged to beef up control of its borders with Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine to prevent illegal migration and trafficking of drug and arms after Poland joins the EU. Poland's key obligations under this negotiation chapter include replacing its conscript frontier guards with professionally trained units; buying equipment such as night-vision surveillance devices and helicopters; posting consular staff in Moscow, Kaliningrad, Kyiv, and Minsk; and introducing visa requirements for Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians as of 1 July 2003. The concluded chapter also commits Poland to implementing laws to fight corruption, fraud, drug dealing, and illegal immigration. Warsaw still needs to close EU talks in four areas: competition, agriculture, regional policy, budget and finances. JM

SLD PARLIAMENTARY CAUCUS HEAD CLEARED OF LUSTRATION LIE
The Lustration Court ruled on 30 July that Jerzy Jaskiernia, the head of the parliamentary caucus of the ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), was not a communist-era secret-service collaborator, PAP reported. Deputy Lustration Prosecutor Krzysztof Kauba had charged that Jaskiernia lied in his lustration statement by not admitting his ties with communist Poland's intelligence in the 1970s. Last November, the Lustration Court decided that Jaskiernia had to undergo the lustration procedure once again, thus overruling the previous verdict that had cleared him of the alleged lustration lie. JM

POLAND SENDS AID TO VICTIMS OF UKRAINIAN AIR CRASH
A shipment of medicines and other medical material worth some 50,000 zlotys ($12,000) sent from Poland's southeastern region reached Lviv hospitals on 29 July, PAP reported on 30 July. Another shipment of aid prepared by local governments was sent to Lviv on 30 July. The Caritas church-charity organization from the Rzeszow region has also joined the effort to collect donations. JM

CZECH OPPOSITION CRITICIZES GOVERNMENT ON PLANNED BUDGET
The Civic Democratic Party (ODS) said on 30 July that the expected budget deficit announced earlier that day by Deputy Finance Minister Eduard Janota is far too high and claimed that, instead of channeling funds to investments, the government intends to waste the entire deficit on consumption, CTK reported. Janota said the first draft of the budget, which was to be discussed by the cabinet on 31 July, provides for a 157 billion-crown (over $5.06 billion) deficit and that it is "impossible to realistically envisage a budget with a lower deficit." ODS parliamentary group leader Vlastimil Tlusty said in response that the cabinet headed by Vladimir Spidla is on course to incur in one year debts equal to the overall Czech debt inherited from the ODS by the first Czech Social Democratic government in 1998. Tlusty said the cabinet has no intention of reforming social expenditures or the tax system and that "the entire debt will be eaten up and burnt in cauldrons." MS

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER SEES 'NO SERIOUS PROBLEMS' AHEAD OF NATO SUMMIT
Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda told journalists after a meeting of the National Security Council on 30 July that the council cannot envisage "any serious problems that could threaten" the November NATO summit in Prague, CTK reported. One day earlier Svoboda said that at the summit the Czech Republic will support admitting as many new members as possible into the organization. MS

NUMBER OF CZECH ASYLUM SEEKERS IN BRITAIN SOARING AGAIN...
The daily "Hospodarske noviny" reported on 31 July that nearly 10 times as many Czech-passport holders have requested asylum in the United Kingdom in July as in January, CTK reported. While in January there were 21 such applications, there were 280 in June and 186 in the first half of July. Most of the applicants are Roma. On 29 July, 29 Czech Roma out of a group of 26 were denied entry into Germany. This follows a similar incident last week. As in the previous case, the Roma who were refused entry at the German border were on their way to Britain (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2002). MS

...AS BELGIAN DAILY CRITICIZES SLOVAK ROMA'S SITUATION
The Slovak parliament is still refusing to debate a bill against discrimination, although respect of the rights of ethnic minorities is one of the conditions for admission into the European Union, the Belgian daily "La Libre Belgique," cited by CTK, wrote on 30 July. The daily added that discrimination in Slovakia affects mainly the Romany minority and that the unemployment rate among the minority is as high as 98 percent in some localities. The situation results not only from Roma's lack of professional qualifications and Slovakia's ailing economy, but also due to racism, the paper said, noting that even those Roma who have secondary educations face difficulties finding jobs. According to the daily, most Slovaks believe the Roma themselves are to blame for their situation, as they consider that members of the minority to be lazy and prone to violence and stealing. The ethnic majority finds it hard to understand why the EU is so keen on helping the Roma, the paper said. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT VETOES 'NATIONAL MEMORY BILL'
On 29 July, President Rudolf Schuster refused to sign into law a bill approved by parliament earlier this month on access to files kept by the communist secret police, CTK reported. Schuster returned the National Memory Bill to lawmakers for further deliberation. Presidential spokesman Jan Fuele said the bill includes provisions that are unclear and is not in line with legislation that is currently in force. Fuele said Schuster believes the bill's definition of crimes against humanity is contradictory to the definition of those crimes in international conventions to which Slovakia adheres. He also said the setting up of a National Memory Institute is mentioned in the title of the bill but is not reflected in the text of the law. The president is also concerned that some of the documents that might become public could include unreliable information. Parliament is to debate the returned bill during its last session in August. An absolute majority of 76 votes is required for overturning a presidential veto. MS

SLOVAK, POLISH INTERIOR MINISTERS SIGN BORDER AGREEMENT
Slovak Interior Minister Ivan Simko and his Polish counterpart Krysztof Janik on 29 July signed in Stara Lubovna, east Slovakia, an agreement exchanging some 3,000 square meters on the two sides of the border, CTK reported. The agreement also provides for simplified road- and rail-transport border checks, which Simko told journalists will boast tourism. The two ministers agreed to introduce a system similar to that of the Schengen agreement on their mutual borders beginning in 2003. Separately, Janik and Slovak National Security Office head Jan Mojzis signed an agreement on the mutual protection of classified data. MS

HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER INVITES MEDIA TO COMMITTEE HEARING
Peter Medgyessy has requested that his hearing before the parliamentary commission investigating his counterintelligence past be open to the media, commission Chairman Laszlo Balogh said, Hungarian media reported on 30 July. Medgyessy is to testify before the commission on 1 August. Former Interior Minister Sandor Pinter said the document revealing Medgyessy's counterintelligence activity in the communist era, reproduced by "Magyar Nemzet" in June, could not have left the ministry during his term. In his testimony Pinter explained to the commission that he maintained tight discipline and does not believe that "anybody would have dared to leak the document." The 31 July issue of "Magyar Nemzet" published a copy of an official document terminating the employment of agent "D-209" -- Medgyessy's codename -- effective 31 December 1982. MSZ

SEVEN FORMER HUNGARIAN MINISTERS WORKED FOR COMMUNIST-ERA SECRET SERVICES
The National Security Office (NBH) has so far discovered that seven former ministers who served in the government between 1990-2002 were involved in state security bodies prior to the 1989 change of regime, RTL Klub television reported on 30 July. Most of the seven ministers worked in the FIDESZ-led cabinet that governed between 1998-2002. The NBH report was prepared at the request of the parliamentary commission formed to investigate all cabinet members for their possible roles in the secret service following the change of regime. The Intelligence Office and other secret-service organs have yet to file their reports. MSZ

FORMER HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER EXPLAINS INCREASE IN HIS SAVINGS
Viktor Orban has supplemented his statement of assets at the request of the parliament's Immunity Committee, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 31 July. The committee's Chairman Jozsef Alajos Geczi (Socialist) said earlier that Orban had not sufficiently clarified how his personal savings rose by 8 million forints ($32,500) since February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 23 July 2002). Orban said on 30 July that in his June statement he had included assets owned by his wife, thus accounting for some of the increased savings. Geczi must now decide whether to accept Orban's explanations and close the matter or launch proceedings against him. MSZ

HUNGARY TO REFORMULATE NATO COMMITMENTS
Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz said on 30 July that Hungary has asked for NATO to be patient until the ministry completes its defense review (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2002), "Nepszava" reported on 31 July. Juhasz said that until the review process is finished Hungary must temporarily suspend some of its NATO commitments and will reformulate its undertakings at the alliance's summit in November in Prague. Juhasz said Hungary has failed to meet its NATO commitments over the past four years to such an extent that the alliance has unofficially stated that Hungary would have been expelled from the alliance if an expulsion procedure existed. MSZ

HUNGARIAN TELEVISION NETWORK NAMES NEW NEWS DIRECTOR
Zoltan Rudi has been appointed news director at Hungarian Television (MTV), acting vice president Imre Ragats announced on 30 July, Hungarian media reported. Rudi replaces Peter Csermely, who quit the post on 3 July, citing political attacks. Rudi began his broadcasting career in 1986 at Hungarian Radio and in 1989 was placed in charge of television coverage of parliamentary sessions, first as a reporter and later as an editor. He held the post of editor in chief of MTV news from August 1997 to October 1998, and left MTV in 1999. He had since been working for the commercial station TV-2. MSZ

STEINER RULES OUT PARTITION OF KOSOVA OR RETURN TO SERBIAN RULE...
Speaking at a UN Security Council session dealing with Kosova, Michael Steiner, who heads the UN's civilian administration in the province, ruled out any return to Serbian rule or ethnic conflict, AP reported. He said that "while we cannot say now what...[Kosova's] future status will be, we can say what it will not be. There will be no partition, no cantonization, and no return to the status quo" before 1999. He added that "the outcome cannot be mono-ethnic but must be multiethnic. It must be a democratic, safe, and respectable Kosovo on the way to Europe" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 2002). Steiner argued that it is too early to discuss the final status, stressing that stable institutions, rule of law, and personal security must be established first. "When that will be depends also on the Kosovars themselves," he added. PM

...WHILE BILDT STRESSES THE NEED TO FINALIZE KOSOVA'S STATUS
UN Balkans envoy Carl Bildt told the BBC on 30 July that Kosova cannot wait until stable institutions are in place before its future can be discussed. He stressed that a clear roadmap for the province's political future is part and parcel of the stabilization process aimed at "moving the region toward Europe." Bildt said he believes in "integration over disintegration" but does not rule out any solution for the province's future. In response, Steiner told the BBC that "my friend Carl Bildt [is]...dead wrong" in wanting to tackle the status question now. PM

CUP HALF FULL OR HALF EMPTY FOR KOSOVA'S SERBS?
Addressing the Security Council on 30 July, Steiner noted that Serbs are now taking part in Kosova's institutions, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. But Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who is Belgrade's point man for southern Serbia and Kosova, called attention to the fact that few Serbs have been able to return to Kosova. PM

TWO U.S. SOLDIERS INJURED IN EXPLOSIONS IN KOSOVA
Six explosions rocked the ethnically mixed village of Klokot near Viti in southeastern Kosova on 31 July, injuring two U.S. KFOR soldiers who arrived on the scene to investigate the first two in a series of blasts, Reuters reported. The village is ethnically mixed, although many Serbian-owned homes are empty. The explosions damaged five of the Serbian-owned homes, one of which was inhabited by an elderly man. He was not injured. A KFOR spokesman blamed unnamed "extremists" for the blasts and promised that those individuals will be brought to justice. PM

SERBIAN SOUR GRAPES IN BUJANOVAC...
Several hundred Serbs demonstrated outside the town hall in Bujanovac on 30 July, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July 2002). Their chants included: "This is Serbia" and "Belgrade betrayed us." The angry protesters demanded the annulment of the results of the recent election that produced a victory for ethnic Albanian mayoral candidate Nagip Arifi. In a vote with a 60 percent turnout, Arifi won 55 percent against 43 percent for a Serbian candidate, Novica Manojlovic, in unofficial tallies. Arifi told AP: "I don't think the Serbs have cause to protest, the elections were fair and democratic. I urge them not to provoke conflicts. I intend to be the mayor of all residents of Bujanovac, Serbs and Albanians alike." PM

...WINS LITTLE SYMPATHY FROM COVIC
In New York, Covic said on 30 July: "Whoever won the elections is a citizen of Serbia. Let the [electoral] commission do its job and proclaim the [official] winner," AP reported. Observers note that at the root of former President Slobodan Milosevic's wars against Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova was the refusal of many Serbs to live in a state they no longer controlled. PM

EU 'TROIKA' IN MONTENEGRO
The ambassadors to Yugoslavia of Spain, Denmark, and Greece are scheduled to have talks in Podgorica on 31 July with President Milo Djukanovic regarding the recent increase in political tensions there, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July 2002). The previous day, Djukanovic reluctantly signed into law electoral and media legislation passed by the parliament, which is dominated by a new if unlikely coalition of pro-Belgrade and pro-independence deputies. He also announced that local elections will be held in Tivat on 6 October following the failure of the members of the new governing coalition to agree on how to share power in that municipality. PM

LITTLE PROGRESS ON CONSTITUTIONAL CHARTER FOR SERBIA-MONTENEGRO
In Belgrade on 31 July, Zoran Zizic, who is a member of the commission charged with drafting the proposed Constitutional Charter for the new loose union of Serbia and Montenegro, said that the commission is unlikely to finish its work by the end of August as planned, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 2002). He called for including the leaders who signed the March compromise between Belgrade and Podgorica in the commission's work. In related news, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said in Salzburg, that the biggest problem in the Balkans is a lack of cooperation and communication between the countries of the region. PM

CROATIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW GOVERNMENT
The legislature approved the new cabinet of Prime Minister Ivica Racan in a 84-47 vote on 30 July, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July 2002). PM

BUSEK TAKES STOCK
Erhard Busek, who heads the European Union-led Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, said in Sarajevo on 30 July that one of the most important developments for the Balkans in the past several years was the setting up of the pact itself, which acts as a clearing house for a wide variety of projects, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. He added that one of the pact's great successes was to set up a network of free-trade agreements between countries of the region and the EU. Busek argued that "the greatest [regional] failure is Bosnia-Herzegovina, which does not have a real government." PM

HAGUE TRIBUNAL FREES OMARSKA GUARD
Jim Landale, who is a spokesman for the war crimes tribunal, said in The Hague on 31 July that the Bosnian Serb "Milojica Kos was released this morning following an order by the president of the tribunal," Reuters reported. Kos was a guard at the Omarska concentration camp in 1992. He served more than four years of a six-year sentence for participating in a "hellish orgy of persecution" at the notorious camp, photographs of which evoked comparisons to the Holocaust when they were published in 1992. Tribunal President Claude Jorda said he decided to free Kos, noting "the prisoner's wish to reintegrate himself into society, his determination not to re-offend, his good physical and mental health, his irreproachable conduct in detention, his attachment to his family, and the possibility of exercising a profession again suggest that release will open up promising prospects for Milojica Kos." PM

ELIE WIESEL CONCERNED OVER PRM SUPPORT IN ROMANIA
Speaking at the NATO House in Bucharest on 30 July, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel said he is concerned over the 28 percent support received in the 2000 elections by a "racist candidate" for Romania's presidency, Mediafax reported. He said the popularity of the Greater Romania Party (PRM) led by Corneliu Vadim Tudor is so great that Romanian politicians must "assume the risk of popularity loss" and clearly state that "intolerance and racial hatred are unacceptable." Earlier on 30 July Wiesel was decorated by President Ion Iliescu. Addressing Iliescu, he said the president has made a "noble effort" to raise awareness about the Holocaust in Romania but that it was "not stated clearly enough." Wiesel said many Romanians still regard Marshal Ion Antonescu as a national hero. While Antonescu belongs to the past, he said, "those who glorify him unfortunately belong to the present." MS

AMERICAN JEWISH ORGANIZATION SUPPORTS NATO EXPANSION
As Wiesel did during his speech at the NATO House, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) the same day announced its support for NATO expansion, Romanian radio reported on 31 July. The AJC said it favors accepting seven new states into the organization; namely, the three Baltic states, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS FORMER NAZIS MUST BE JUDGED IN U.S.
At the press conference following the award to Wiesel of a high Romanian state order, President Iliescu told journalists in response to a question that Romanian-born former Nazis who served in the SS and are now U.S. citizens should not be deported to Romania and should face justice in the United States, Mediafax reported. Iliescu said many of those people have held U.S. citizenship for 50 years and that their crimes should be dealt with by U.S. courts. Addressing the same question, Wiesel said it is not important where it takes place as long as they eventually face justice. MS

ROMANIAN, HUNGARIAN DIPLOMATS DISCUSS AMENDING STATUS LAW
A Hungarian Foreign Ministry delegation headed by State Secretary Vilmos Szabo and Jozef Balint-Pataki, head of the Office for Ethnic Hungarians Abroad, met in Bucharest on 30 July with a Romanian team headed by Foreign Ministry State Secretary Cristian Diaconescu to discuss the possibility of amending Hungary's Status Law as well as aspects related to the memorandum of understanding signed by the two countries' prime ministers in December 2001, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The Hungarian side reiterated its intention to amend the law. According to a Mediafax report, Bucharest is insisting on the need for the Venice Commission's recommendations and the recommendations of Council of Europe rapporteur Erik Jurgens be taken into account while amending the law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 2002). The sides agreed to examine the implementation of the memorandum at a meeting of experts next month. The meeting is to take place prior to a scheduled session of the joint intergovernmental commission. MS

MOLDOVAN AUTHORITIES REGISTER BESSARABIAN METROPOLITAN CHURCH
The Bessarabian Metropolitan Church was registered by the authorities on 30 July, ending a 10-year-old struggle, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Bessarabian Bishop Petre Paduraru said upon receiving the registration certificate that he hopes the long fight has ended for good and that "the bad things belong to the past." Popular Party Christian Democratic Party (PPCD) Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov, who is also the chief legal adviser for the Metropolitan Church, said its faithful "have been persecuted for 10 years without deserving that" and that at this "redemption time" they are grateful to all those who supported their struggle. Cubreacov also said credit for the registration can mainly be given to the decision made on the issue in December 2001 by the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg. MS

CHISINAU MAYORALTY DENIES PPCD PERMISSION TO ORGANIZE RALLY
The Chisinau mayoralty on 30 July announced it has rejected an application from the PPCD to hold a rally on 31 August on the city's main square, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The mayoralty said it intends to organize several events on 27 and 31 August, when Moldova will mark its Independence Day and the "Day of Our Language," respectively, and that no political formation can be involved in those events, which are to have an apolitical character. MS

MOLDOVAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT NIXES COMMUNIST-SPONSORED AMENDMENT
The Constitutional Court ruled on 30 July that an amendment to the constitution proposed by 52 deputies representing the Party of Moldovan Communists is unconstitutional, Infotag reported. The amendment would have struck from Article 112 the word "elected" in reference to mayors and local councils. It would thereby open the gate to the communist-envisaged return to the Soviet-era local-government structure, by which mayors and local councils were elected by local councils instead of by popular vote. Earlier this year the Constitutional Court ruled that a law reintroducing the Soviet-type system was unconstitutional on the grounds that it infringed on the provisions of Article 112, which stipulates that mayors and local councils be elected by popular vote. The amendment rejected by the court on 30 July sought to circumvent that ruling. MS

AGRICULTURE MINISTER CRITICIZES BULGARTABAC PRIVATIZATION
Speaking to parliament on 31 July, Agriculture Minister Mehmed Dikme criticized the offers submitted by the four bidders in the final round of the Bulgartabac privatization tender, Bulgarian media reported. Dikme said the prices offered for the state tobacco company are too low. He also raised doubts about the investment plans proposed by the bidders and provisions for purchasing Bulgarian tobacco. "I will ask for meetings with each bidder in order to ask them about the kind of tobacco to be purchased as well as where the investments will go," Dikme said. Thus far, the consortium Tobacco Capital Partners, which includes Deutsche Bank, has submitted the best offer. UB

BULGARIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY, PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S OFFICE TO CRACK DOWN ON HIGHWAY ROBBERY
The Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office on 30 July outlined measures Bulgaria is taking to stop a recent spate of highway robberies, BTA reported. The new measures include the formation of special investigative teams to work in the most affected provinces and the speeding up of judicial procedures. Prosecutor-General Nikola Filchev said the issuing of indictments against those committing highway robberies will cut from 30 to 15 days. Media commentators fear that reports in Western media about tourists being robbed could seriously damage Bulgaria's tourism industry, which has enjoyed 30 percent growth this season, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 2002). Turks working in Western Europe and driving home for their summer vacation are the most frequent targets, according to dpa. Travelers have been pulled over and robbed of their possessions and in some cases their vehicles. UB

BULGARIA GRANTS AFGHANISTAN MILITARY AID
Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov and Afghan Charge d' Affairs to Bulgaria Mohammed Fazel Saifi on 30 July signed an agreement by which Bulgaria will provide military aid to Afghanistan, BTA reported. The materiel includes 400 automatic rifles, eight mortars, 27 antitank devices, eight machine guns, and 30 walkie-talkies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 2002). UB

ARMENIAN-RUSSIAN RELATIONS: 'STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP' OR TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT?
The strategic relationship between Armenia and Russia has significantly deepened in recent months, leading to concern over the parity of the relationship and some trepidation over Armenia's mounting dependence on its larger partner. Armenia is the only country in the Transcaucasus to openly welcome a Russian military presence on its territory, and its leaders seem increasingly determined to anchor their small state ever more firmly within the Russian orbit. Although such a strong relationship with Russia is vital for Armenia, its implications for Armenian national security appear to be little-considered, and certainly little-debated, beyond the small circle of Armenia's ruling elite.

The latest example of this trend is the recent "assets-for-debts" agreement, whereby Russia forgives some $98 million in Armenian debt in exchange for control of at least four of Armenia's relatively few strategic enterprises. Although still subject to parliamentary ratification by both countries, passage of the long-delayed agreement seems assured. Orchestrated by powerful Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian in his capacity as co-chair of the Armenian-Russian intergovernmental commission, the deal is reportedly targeting the Hrazdan thermal-power station, the "Mars" electronics company, and two Yerevan research institutes for transfer to Russian ownership.

While some welcomed the "assets-for-debt" deal as a means to garner important new investment into some of the country's most promising enterprises, others, including the political opposition, criticize it as a case of excessive generosity by the Armenian government in exchange for little more than the write-off of paper debts by Moscow at a time when Russia herself is securing debt forgiveness from the West. Such criticism is, however, largely irrelevant insofar as the deal was the brainchild of Sarkisian, whose real behind-the-scenes power is unrivaled. A rare example of a powerful minister surviving the transition from a previous presidency, Sarkisian is Moscow's man in Yerevan, and as such is an effective counterweight to Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian's multipolar foreign policy of "complementarity."

Aside from this outward example of the deepening of ties between Yerevan and Moscow, there is a more serious, and potentially harmful, aspect to the Armenian-Russian relationship that remains obscured by the overriding focus on Russia's security guarantee for Armenia. It is the political aspect of the Armenian-Russian relationship that presets a particularly understated threat to the development of democracy and the rule of law in Armenia. That threat stems from the Armenian leadership's espousal of the Russian model for power and governance. In what could be termed "good governance gone bad," Armenian President Robert Kocharian is now drawing on some of the more dubious practices current in Vladimir Putin's Russia, practices that pose a threat to Armenia's infant democratic institutions.

The Russian political model offers specific tactical and strategic lessons for the less experienced Armenian president, including precedents for restraining an independent media, marginalizing the opposition, subverting the rule of law, and keeping the parliament powerless and ineffective. This Russian model of a strong authoritarian presidency, free of effective "checks and balances" or oversight, appeals to most of the post-Soviet Armenian political elite. The lessons from Putin's moves against the opposition and independent media also have not gone unheeded in Armenia, just as attempts at meaningful constitutional reforms remain relatively symbolic and incomplete.

Although the contrast in the Transcaucasus is evident between Armenia and the autocratic rule of the Soviet-era septuagenarian presidents of Azerbaijan and Georgia, the comparative advantage of the more-established Armenian democracy is increasingly weakened as the leadership seeks ways to retain power in next year's presidential and parliamentary elections. This "democracy divide" among the states of the Transcaucasus is actually lessening, but in the wrong direction, as Armenian politics is reverting toward the one-man regimes of Azerbaijan and Georgia.

The real threat to Armenian democracy is most clearly demonstrated by the tendency toward individual strong leaders, rather than an institutionalized strong leadership, and the related preference, shared by both the present leadership and the opposition, for personality over performance. The opposition, hitherto a fractured collection of over a dozen disparate political parties, is now single-mindedly seeking one candidate capable of opposing Kocharian in the coming presidential election. But finding one candidate acceptable to all is the hardest challenge in these negotiations and has also encouraged talk of a return to power by former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, despite his tainted record of corruption and political repression. Thus, the opposition is limited by its shortsighted focus on personality over platform. Former Prime Minister and twice-defeated presidential candidate Vazgen Manukian's recent exhortation that "we should rally around ideas, rather than candidates" has seemingly found little resonance.

In what some may argue is a natural feature of the post-Soviet transition period, Armenia shares the Russian preference for the "strong hand" of an authoritarian leader, whose firm rule, some contend, is a necessary prerequisite for painful economic reforms. The Russian case set a dangerously attractive precedent for Armenia, complete with former Russian President Boris Yeltsin's 1993 clash with a parliamentary opposition led by his vice president, Aleksandr Rutskoi, a clash that ended with tanks firing on the Russian parliament. In the wake of that victory, Yeltsin quietly abolished the post of vice president and encouraged the practice of sidestepping parliamentary obstacles by issuing presidential decrees. The lesson that the international community is prepared to turn a blind eye to questionable practice on the part of a leader whose removal might precipitate instability has clearly been noted in Yerevan and other presidential mansions throughout the former Soviet Union.

This also helps to explain such manifestations of Kocharian's disdain for the democratic process as his recent decree empowering the police to use force if necessary to remove unruly deputies from the chamber for "disrupting" parliamentary sessions. It is also reflected in the parliament's recent reversal of the December 2000 electoral reforms, reducing the number of deputies elected by proportional representation. That return to the status quo ante was backed by only one party -- the pro-government Republican Party (HHK) led by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian. It is this apparent determination to use every available means to cling to power that casts doubt on the democratic credentials of the Armenian president and worries those concerned for the course of democracy in Armenia.

Richard Giragosian is a frequent commentator on developments in the Caucasus and writes the monthly publication "Transcaucasus: A Chronology."

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