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Newsline - August 15, 2002

Speaking at a Moscow press conference following talks with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2002), President Vladimir Putin said that Russia and Belarus could create a unified federal state, beginning with a May 2003 referendum in both countries,, RIA-Novosti, and other Russian news agencies reported on 15 August. Following the referendum, Putin said, both countries could elect a joint parliament in December 2003, introduce the Russian ruble as the union's single currency as of 1 January 2004, and in March 2004 elect a president of the new state. Putin also stressed that the functioning of the new state's institutions should be in accord with the Russian -- rather than the Belarusian -- Constitution. "This is because Belarus is a unitary state while Russia is a federation, and the new country will also be a federation," Putin noted. "The time is ripe, and the elites and the people of both states are ready for such a march of events" (see Belarusian item in "Central and Eastern Europe"). VY

Putin added, however, that if the Belarusian leadership is not ready to move so rapidly, unification could be "modeled on the European Union." In that case, the integration process should be taken up by the union's parliament. However, the countries of the EU have similar economies, while Russia and Belarus have very different ones and these differences will create problems, reported Putin as saying. Andrei Ryabov, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, told "Izvestiya" on 14 August that Putin is using Belarus's isolated international and political situation to force Lukashenka to agree to a rigid unification model on Russia's terms. In doing so, Putin instantly transformed himself into the driving force of integration and Lukashenka into the "main dis-integrator," Ryabov continued. He added that if events proceed according to Putin's timeline, it will boost Putin's image during the 2004 Russian presidential campaign by portraying him as a "gatherer of the Slavic lands." VY

Labor Minister Aleksandr Pochinok said his ministry will call for the introduction of quotas for foreign workers in order to regulate the labor market, the news weekly "Itogi," No. 33, reported. Such measures can help protect the sectors of the labor market that Russia would like to preserve for domestic workers and correct the situation in sectors experiencing labor shortages, Pochinok said, noting that Russia has a shortage of manual labor. The minister also said that Bangladesh's ambassador to Russia has proposed organizing the migration of 2 million Bangladeshis to Moscow to work as laborers. "Bangladeshi are excellent workers. They do not drink, smoke, or use drugs, and they are cheaper than Turkish workers," Pochinok said. He noted, however, that 2 million is too many for Moscow alone. "We should look to other regions where they might go, as we are interested not only in having them come, but also in making sure they return home in a timely manner," he said. VY

In the same interview, Pochinok called for urgent measures to reduce the country's mortality rate, which exceeds the birthrate by almost 30 percent. He urged the government to take the problem seriously and proposed extending the retirement age, noting that, on average, Russian men die before reaching the current retirement age of 60. He added, though, that only 20 percent of Russian men die of natural causes, with the rest succumbing to violence, accidents, unhealthy lifestyles, and a poor environment. If highway safety were improved, Pochinok said, 20,000 lives a year could be saved. Likewise, enhanced workplace safety could reduce labor accidents by 75 percent. VY

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov opened a government discussion of the draft 2003 budget on 14 August by stating that future budgets might not show surpluses, reported the next day. He said that, although surpluses are currently needed to help the country cope with its foreign debts, "as soon as we pass through this phase...we might need to reduce taxes to allow the private sector to finance expenditures that the state cannot handle effectively." He also noted that the government and the Central Bank have agreed on the draft budget for next year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2002) and urged the Duma to adopt it. Kasyanov said that one of the government's top priorities for 2003 is to reduce inflation to about 9 percent, AP reported. He said that he expects inflation in 2002 to be about 14 percent. The government concluded its consideration of the draft budget on 15 August and adopted it. VY/RC

The state company Rosenergoatom, which manages the country's civilian nuclear-power plants, has announced a long-term investment program that envisages extending the term of service for Russia's first-generation reactors, Finmarket reported on 13 August. According to Rosenergoatom President Oleg Saraev, work to extend the life of the reactors at the Novovoronezhskaya, Leningradskaya, Kurskaya, and Kolskaya nuclear-power plants will be completed by 2005. At the same time, an unspecified number of new plants where construction has been suspended will be completed, adding up to 3,200 megawatts of generating capacity. Around 2010, the concern will begin construction of a new generation of safer reactors. RC

Federal Security Commission head Igor Kostikov has said that Russia -- following the example of the United States -- will increase the responsibility of executives managing publicly traded companies, and other Russian news agencies reported on 14 August. Early in its fall session, the State Duma is expected to approve a new law on the equities market that will improve the fiscal responsibility of Russian companies and help bring them into line with international standards. The next step, Kostikov added, will be the country's complete transition in 2004 to international accounting standards. VY

Russia marked the 10th anniversary of the privatization voucher on 14 August, Russian news agencies reported the next day. On 14 August 1992, then-President Boris Yeltsin signed the order endorsing the plan proposed by then-State Property Committee head Anatolii Chubais. Under the program, all 144 million Russians received vouchers with a nominal value of 10,000 rubles (about $40) to invest in state-owned enterprises. According to, about 25 million Russians invested in investment funds and about 40 million invested directly in enterprises, often in the ones where they worked. The remainder sold their vouchers for cash. The program resulted in a massive -- and often corrupt -- privatization process and the emergence of the oligarchs. By 1995, the number of private enterprises in Russia exceeded the number of state enterprises, and the private sector accounted for about 70 percent of Russia's GDP, according to RTR. According to "The Moscow Times," Chubais invested his voucher in the First Voucher Investment Fund, from which he continues to receive an annual dividend of about $1.50. RC

Central Elections Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov lashed out at Krasnoyarsk Krai legislature speaker Aleksandr Uss, a leading candidate in the 8 September gubernatorial election, reported on 15 August. Veshnyakov said that he is surprised by efforts to "play the nationalism card" and added, "Such phenomena must be rooted out immediately because the situation in Krasnoyarsk Krai can easily get out of hand." He concluded by saying that Uss's statements were "one step away from the ideology of [Adolf] Hitler's 'Mein Kampf.'" RC

Deputy Duma Speaker and head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Vladimir Zhirinovskii left Moscow on 13 August for a tour of the United States, MIGnews reported. According to a party spokesman, Zhirinovskii will visit Boston, New York, and Detroit to hold a series of meetings with the Russian diaspora and American students, politicians, and businesspeople. Before leaving Moscow, the flamboyant nationalist described his trip as "a goodwill mission" intended to "finally destroy old stereotypes about relations between the United States and Russia." However, the trip got off to a rocky start, according to RIA-Novosti, when Zhirinovskii arrived in Boston to find that all the bottles in one of the two cases of Zhirinovskii brand vodka that he had brought with him had been smashed. Zhirinovskii told reporters that "police are certain the bottles were broken intentionally" and that he is inclined to think that the act was a deliberate provocation on the part of those who are opposed to the import of Russian goods into the United States. RC

Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov was hospitalized on 14 August while traveling from Moscow to Saransk to attend a conference, and other Russian news agencies reported the next day. According to the website, the train containing Ustinov's armored car was pelted by stones shortly after leaving the city of Ryazan. Witnesses say that some windows in virtually every car in the train had been shattered, although no one in Ustinov's car was reported injured. However, the train stopped unexpectedly in the village of Shilovo and Ustinov walked to a local hospital, where he was treated for high blood pressure. In the morning, a helicopter arrived from Moscow and took the prosecutor-general back to the capital, although his exact whereabouts are unclear. A spokesman from the Prosecutor-General's Office told "Kommersant-Daily" that Ustinov's illness was not related to the stone-throwing incident, but was brought on by fatigue. RC

The Media Ministry on 14 August expressed its concern about the lack of Russian-language media outlets in Turkmenistan, RosBalt and other Russian media reported. The local publication of the Russian-language press stopped in 1992 and, according to the ministry, since 1997 the Turkmen government has "by various unofficial methods" created obstacles to prevent citizens from subscribing to periodicals from Russia. On 29 July, Turkmen authorities banned the importation of Russian publications altogether. "The Media Ministry is perplexed by such actions from the Turkmen side and is counting on the highest authorities in Turkmenistan to take steps to correct this situation which affects the interests of...every Russian-speaker in Turkmenistan," the ministry's statement said. RC

At a ceremony at Moscow's Historical Museum on Red Square on 14 August, representatives of dozens of women's organizations presented the newly published "Dictionary of Gender Terms," "Izvestiya" reported the next day. "The publication of this dictionary is really something of a revolutionary event for our country," said Nadezhda Azhgikhina, co-chairwoman of the Association of Women Journalists. "Earlier, discussions were constantly arising over what 'gender' means and many people confused it with the word 'tender' [another English cognate in the sense of 'a competitive bidding process']." The new dictionary includes lengthy definitions of terms such as "workplace discrimination," "gender quotas," and "men's-rights movement." According to Azhgikhina, more than 30 million Russians currently receive assistance from nongovernmental organizations and "the majority of those who work in such organizations are women." RC

The confirmed death toll from the latest flooding in Krasnodar Krai reached 62 people as of 14 August, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 2002). According to the Emergency Situations Ministry, damage is estimated at 1.2 billion rubles ($39 million). Deputy Prosecutor-General for the Southern Federal District Sergei Fridinskii has launched a criminal investigation into the fatalities in the Novorossiisk area, reported. According to Fridinskii, rescue work has revealed that a number of structures in which people died had not been built according to regulations. JAC

Coal miners protesting in front of the Energy Ministry in Moscow moved their picket to Gorbatyi Bridge near the White House on 15 August, Russian news agencies reported. Analysts told RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that they do not expect the miners' action to have much effect. Yurii Korgunyuk of the INDEM research group told the bureau that even the much larger protests of 1998 had little effect and "in today's conditions, it's pointless." After negotiations with Deputy Energy Minister Leonid Tropko on 12 August, Andrei Dudnikov, a member of the independent Chelyabinsk coal miners union, said they were told that "everything is decided on the local level" and "the government doesn't decide anything." JAC

The administration of the city of Nakhodka plans to impose serious penalties against enterprises with 100 percent Chinese capital that have not registered with local tax agencies, RIA-Novosti reported on 14 August. Sergei Pilyugin, head of Nakhodka Tax Inspectorate, said that the trend toward tax evasion has intensified lately among the more than 100 Chinese-owned businesses in the city. According to the agency, fewer than 30 of them have reported to local tax agencies. The first six Chinese enterprises to face penalties have already been selected, the agency reported. JAC

A 19-year-old resident of Omsk has legally changed his last name and his patronymic in a tribute to President Putin, Ekho Moskvy reported on 15 August. According to the report, Andrei Aleksandrovich Volokhin recently became Andrei Vladimirovich Putin after being impressed by a biography of the president. "Putin is a very good person. You see, he is my ideal. For me, he is like a guardian angel," Andrei Putin was quoted as saying. RC

Robert Kocharian and Heidar Aliev told journalists in Sadarak on 14 August that their talks earlier that day on ways to resolve the Karabakh conflict were "useful and important," but declined to divulge particulars, citing the confidentiality of the negotiating process, Interfax reported. Kocharian said that "our mood is good," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He argued that he and Aliev are the best-placed individuals to hammer out a solution to the conflict and are aware of the responsibility that task imposes. Aliev said they discussed "many variants" of a solution and "analyzed the results of our previous meetings." The 14 August talks were held under tight security and lasted four hours, the longest meeting between the two over the past three years. AFP quoted Aliev as saying that their next meeting may take place on the sidelines of the 7 October CIS summit in Chisinau. In Ankara, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Yusuf Buluc hailed the meeting as "a positive development," AFP reported. LF

The trial began on 14 August at Azerbaijan's Court for Serious Crimes of five men accused of plotting a coup d'etat last fall with the aim of returning former President Ayaz Mutalibov to power, Turan reported. The National Security Ministry announced the men's arrest late last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2002). Teylor Ibragimov, identified as a former Mutalibov spokesman, testified on 14 August that the former president discussed preparations for the coup in Moscow with Civic Unity Party Chairman Sabir Hadjiev, and that he sought the help of the Lezgin separatist organization Sadval. Mutalibov, who is believed to have recently left Russia where he had lived since May 1992, has denied planning to overthrow President Aliev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 2002). LF

Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar on 14 August rejected as "groundless" President Aliev's comment the previous day endorsing a statement by the Prosecutor-General's Office and Interior Ministry about the continued tensions in the village of Nardaran on the outskirts of Baku, Turan reported. The joint statement attributed the tensions to efforts by members of the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan (IPA) who seek to capitalize on the villagers' discontent with abysmal social conditions in a bid to overthrow the Azerbaijani authorities and establish an Islamic state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2002). Speaking at a press conference in Baku on 14 August, Rovshan Agaev, who is a leading IPA member, said Aliev's statement could trigger a repeat of the clashes that took place in Nardaran in early June, Turan reported. LF

Following a 14 August meeting of Abkhazia's National Security Council, Abkhaz Prime Minister Anri Djergenia informed Georgian Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze that the Abkhaz troops that on 11 August advanced into the Georgian-controlled sector of the Kodori Gorge will retreat, and will hand over to the Georgian side a map showing where they laid mines, Caucasus Press reported. Djergenia told journalists in Sukhum on 15 August that the two sides will be separated by a distance of four kilometers. Georgian Intelligence chief Avtandil Ioseliani proposed that Georgian and Abkhaz specialists jointly undertake demining operations, but at a meeting between the Georgian and Abkhaz defense ministers it was agreed that the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone will do so, according to Caucasus Press on 15 August. LF

The UN Security Council is considering establishing a military observers' post near the village of Azhara in the Kodori Gorge, Djorbenadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 14 August, Interfax reported. He said that opening such a post should satisfy the Abkhaz side, and that Georgia would under no circumstances agree to a Russian post instead. But the commander of the Russian peacekeeping force, Major General Aleksandr Yevteev, reaffirmed Moscow's willingness to open a permanent post in the upper reaches of Kodori, Caucasus Press reported on 15 August. The 29 July UN Security Council resolution on Abkhazia makes no mention of any plans for a permanent post in Kodori. LF

Georgian National Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania on 14 August rejected as "absurd" a statement made earlier that day by Colonel Boris Podopriga, deputy commander of the joint federal forces in Chechnya, Interfax reported. Podopriga claimed that one of the Chechen militants apprehended during fighting last month in Itum-Kale said that during preparations for his group to cross from Georgian territory into Chechnya his field commander met several times with a Georgian in military uniform who gave him "professional instructions." On 13 August, a spokesman for Georgia's Ministry for Refugees and Displaced Persons denied an earlier claim by Ivanov that some of the Chechens who entered Chechnya from Georgia in late July were carrying documents issued by the Georgian government affirming their refugee status, Caucasus Press reported. LF

The Russian Air Force on 14 August denied a report by the Georgian Border Protection Service claiming that a Su-25 fighter aircraft entered Georgian airspace for two minutes earlier that day, Interfax reported. LF

Speaking at a government session on 14 August, President Eduard Shevardnadze advocated postponing discussion of the draft bill on the privileges to be extended to former Georgian presidents, Caucasus Press reported. The bill was the first item on the agenda, but Shevardnadze suggested it should first be submitted to parliamentary committees and to Finance Minister Mirian Gogiashvili for comment. The bill earmarks 139,132 laris ($64,000) annually for the upkeep of a former president and any members of his family who are unable to work. It also stipulates that former presidents may be detained, arrested, and prosecuted only with the sanction of the Supreme Court. LF

More than 20 Kyrgyz opposition parties aligned on 14 August in a new Movement for the Resignation of President Askar Akaev, Interfax and reported. But in a statement released the same day they stressed that they will use only peaceful and constitutional means to achieve that objective. Ismail Isakov, chairman of the committee for issues of state security of the Legislative Assembly (the lower parliament chamber), was elected to head the new movement. He told journalists that following Akaev's resignation the prime minister should discharge the president's duties and a coalition government be formed pending new presidential elections. LF

Temirbek Akmataliev has been named a department head in the presidential administration, reported on 14 August. Akmataliev lost his post as interior minister when the entire cabinet resigned in May. Kyrgyz human rights activists claim he was responsible for giving orders to police to open fire on demonstrators in the southern village of Aksy in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2002). LF

In a bid to stem fights among army personnel, which he said last week are becoming "increasingly common," President Saparmurat Niyazov has decreed the establishment of special army units that will spend three weeks out of every month working on the railways, sea and river fleets, and other unspecified sectors of the economy, Interfax reported on 14 August. Six months earlier, Niyazov endorsed a new program intended to raise the combat-readiness of the armed forces, under which conscripts were retired to spend only half their time perfecting their combat skills (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2002). LF

Islam Karimov chaired a 14 August meeting with Prime Minister Utkir Sultanov and economic ministers to discuss the main parameters of the preliminary draft budget for 2003, and reported. The draft envisages a 10 percent reduction in personal income tax and a 4 percent reduction in the profit tax on businesses. At the same time, social expenditures will be increased from 47.2 percent of all budget spending in 2002 to 52 percent in 2003. The cabinet is to submit its final draft to parliament on 15 September. LF

Upon returning to Minsk from Moscow on 14 August, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said Russian President Vladimir Putin's proposal that referendums be held in Belarus and Russia next year on the unification of the two countries into a single state on the basis of the Russian Constitution (see "Russia") is "unacceptable to Belarus," Belarusian television reported. Lukashenka said, "If [one were] to translate [the Putin-proposed referendum question] into [plain] Russian, it will sound to Belarusians this way: 'Do you agree to dividing Belarus into seven parts, including these parts into the Russian Federation, and granting to these seven Belarusian parts equal rights with Russia's regions? What will Belarus's citizens answer? It is not hard to guess -- [this will be] a categorical rejection, a categorical 'no.' Therefore, there is no sense in discussing this variant." JM

President Lukashenka said Belarus and Russia should make the most of their union treaty, which he signed with former Russian President Boris Yeltsin in December 1999. "Let us squeeze out as much as possible from the union treaty currently in force," Belarusian television quoted Lukashenka as saying at the Minsk airport. "Let us create such conditions for economic entities in which Belarusians in Russia and Russians in Belarus will not consider themselves foreigners. There are many problems laid out in the addendum to the treaty, which is called the program of action. It is an inseparable part of the treaty, and we have not yet met its provisions," he added. JM

Referring to Putin's proposal to introduce the Russian ruble as the single currency of Russia and Belarus on 1 January 2004, one year ahead of the term stipulated by the union treaty, Lukashenka said it is a "difficult issue," Belarusian television reported. "This issue affects the sovereignty of [our] state," Lukashenka noted. "If the mechanism of functioning of the single currency is based on equal rights [of both states], let us introduce it even on 1 January 2003. But if there are unequal approaches [in Putin's proposal] -- for instance, [Belarus's] National Bank has to become a branch of [Russia's] Central Bank -- then we cannot accept such a variant," he said. JM

Our Ukraine lawmaker Petro Poroshenko told UNIAN on 14 August that the Political Council of the Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus will gather next week to decide whether the bloc is to take part in protest actions planned by opposition parties for this fall. On 22 July, Our Ukraine lawmaker Roman Bezsmertnyy said Our Ukraine was pondering whether to use "extreme measures" against the existing power system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2002). Later the same month, Socialist Party lawmaker Yosyp Vinskyy said the opposition has agreed to hold a nationwide protest action on 16 September to demand early presidential elections. Vinskyy added that the protest will involve activists of the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and Our Ukraine. Vinskyy's announcement has not been officially confirmed by Our Ukraine. Meanwhile, Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko and four other legislators from Our Ukraine met on 13 August with President Leonid Kuchma, who is currently vacationing in Crimea. According to the Our Ukraine press service, the sides discussed "problematic issues" in Ukraine's development. The press service added that Kuchma's interlocutors "attracted the president's attention to a number of controversial administrative decisions and mistakes made by top authority bodies in governing the state." Kuchma reportedly agreed to consult with Our Ukraine on the adoption of "major state decisions." JM

The Prosecutor-General's Office has taken over a criminal investigation launched by Kyiv City investigators against a criminal gang suspected of kidnapping people for ransom and murdering them, UNIAN reported on 14 August. The investigation followed a report in the Kyiv-based "Stolichnye novosti" on 1 August claiming that a gang led by three "senior police officers" committed a number of kidnappings in Kyiv and its environs from 1996-2000 for ransom. The newspaper added that kidnapped persons were subsequently murdered by the gang, irrespective of whether their families paid the required money or not. Prosecutors suspect that the gang murdered at least 10 individuals; the bodies of seven of them have already been found. Police reportedly arrested the entire gang. JM

Disregarding the advice of the IMF and the Bank of Estonia, the cabinet approved a second supplementary budget of 788 million kroons ($49 million) on 13 August, ETA reported the next day. The initial 2002 state budget was 33.13 billion kroons, which was later supplemented by 410.7 million kroons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June 2002). Some of the latest additional funding will go to the Social Affairs Ministry (177 million kroons), mainly for the payment of subsidies; to the Foreign Ministry (145 million kroons) for purchasing an office building in Brussels; to the Agriculture Ministry (101 million kroons) for drought relief; to the Culture Ministry (94 million kroons) for the repair of several theaters and the payment of UNESCO debt; and to the Interior Ministry (33 million kroons) for renovation of border-crossing stations. SG

Parliament deputy Janis Adamsons of the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party (LSDSP) filed an appeal in the Riga Central District Court against the decision by the Central Election Commission to remove him from the list of candidates for the parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2002), BNS reported on 14 August. The commission based its decision on Article 5 of the parliamentary election law, which prohibits former members of foreign secret or intelligence services from being candidates, and on a March 2000 Riga Zemgale District Court decision that ruled that Adamsons had served with the Soviet Union's KGB border-guards service. Adamsons, who was elected to the previous parliament as a candidate of Latvia's Way and who served as interior minister in 1995, said that the fact that the parliament did not disbar him after the court decision is evidence that the parliament does not consider him a former KGB member just because he worked for an agency subordinate to the KGB. SG

The District Court in Gdansk on 14 August dismissed a claim filed by Roman Nowosielski, a 73-year-old inhabitant of Sopot, demanding that the state treasury pay him 488,000 zlotys ($120,000) in compensation for a small estate near Vilnius that he lost as a result of the postwar change of borders, Polish media reported. The Polish authorities in 1944 signed accords with the Lithuanian, Belarusian, and Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republics on repatriation and exchange of populations in line with the Yalta agreements regarding the shift of borders. Those accords also provided for compensation for properties lost due to repatriation and resettlement. The compensation claim, if satisfied, would set a precedent for some 100,000 former property owners who were resettled from areas incorporated into the Soviet Union after WW II. In rejecting the compensation claim, the court argued that the repatriation and resettlement accords were never ratified by Poland and therefore are not applicable under Polish law. JM

Prague Mayor Igor Nemec, speaking on Czech television on 15 August, urged evacuated residents to stay away from their homes, even though the flooding Vltava River is gradually receding, CTK and international agencies reported. Nemec said the city center and low-lying neighborhoods, where some 50,000 have had to flee their homes since 12 August, are still dangerous. Meanwhile, a four-story building in the Karlin area of Prague collapsed at around noon on 15 August, and firefighters said they could not rule out the possibility that there were people inside, CTK reported. City officials have said it will take at least one week before the river level in Prague returns to normal, and they say it will take even longer to assess damage to buildings, bridges, subway tunnels, and public utilities. In some evacuated areas that were not touched by high water, electricity and natural gas remain shut off. Nemec said that before people can return to their homes, power and gas lines must be checked by safety inspectors. Most bridges and all three subway tunnels under the Vltava remain closed. MS/AH

Areas north of Prague, including the towns of Decin and Usti nad Labem, were evacuated during the night of 14-15 August, local media reported. Residents were also evacuated on 14 August in Neratovice, which is also on the Labe, and river levels were said to be rising in the north and west of the country. In the Tabor district, the Luznice River and Rozmberk pond were still said to be rising on 14 August. Also on 14 August, an 81-year-old man drowned after refusing to evacuate his riverside vacation cottage. MS

Five barges broke loose in the Krasne Belo port on the Labe (Elbe) River near Usti nad Labem on 15 August and wrought havoc as emergency teams tried to demolish two that could not be brought under control. Two vessels damaged gas lines and bridges as they careened down the Labe before one was stopped with explosives. CTK reported on 15 August that a man was killed when he failed to comply with requests to leave the area and was struck by a fragment from an explosion as teams tried to sink the second barge, which was loaded with 600 tons of rapeseed. His was the 11th Czech fatality directly attributed to two weeks of flooding. CTK reported in the afternoon of 15 August that the vessel was out of control and headed for neighboring Germany. AH

President Vaclav Havel on 14 August said after a meeting with Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla that the Spidla government "has passed the test" and called on citizens to show solidarity and cooperate with the authorities, CTK reported. Havel, who interrupted a vacation in Portugal and arrived in Prague earlier that day, warned political parties to refrain from abusing the situation created by the natural calamity for political ends. MS

Interior Minister Stanislav Gross said on 14 August that the Czech Republic is thankful for the many offers of aid received from abroad but does not need all of the help on offer, CTK reported. Gross said the government will decide which forms of offer to accept. He added that the country will mainly welcome assistance for reconstruction. He also said that a Belgian military unit specialized in fighting floods that arrived in Prague the same day is being deployed in Southern Bohemia. CTK reported the same day that the United States is in contact with NATO allies and Czech authorities to examine the best way to help, adding that Czech-born former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has personally contacted her successor, Colin Powell, asking for his help. The U.S. Embassy in Prague donated $50,000 for immediate humanitarian assistance. A spokesman for UNESCO said on 14 August that the World Heritage sites of Prague and Cesky Krumlov may be eligible for international funding to repair damage to historical structures, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2002). MS

Officials in Bratislava on 14 August said Slovakia could be hit by the worst floods in 500 years, TASR and CTK reported. A state of emergency was declared during the night of 14-15 August for the entire stretch of the Danube River flowing through Slovakia. Bratislava municipal authorities said they will soon make a decision on whether to evacuate parts of the Old Town. Schools and other educational facilities are being converted into makeshift shelters. Some people were evacuated on 14 August from the Bratislava suburb of Devin. The water flow is expected to peak at 11,500 cubic meters per second on 16 August. Some residents along unregulated sections of the Danube have been without electricity since late 14 August, when two transformer stations were swamped by water. The Defense Ministry said soldiers are helping in building flood defenses on the river's embankments and will evacuate people from areas afflicted by the floods. MS

Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said on 14 August that towns and other communities affected by the floods will receive aid and compensation. Dzurinda asked Finance Minister Frantisek Hajnovic to find the necessary funds. Hajnovic said the state budget includes a provision of 90 million crowns (roughly $2 million) to cover damages from natural disasters. These funds, he said, should be sufficient, but if the situation becomes as bad as that in the neighboring Czech Republic, additional resources will have to be found. MS

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on 14 August warned Slovakia that it must take steps to tighten fiscal policy in order to maintain economic growth and improve its trade balance, TASR reported. The fund said the cabinet should take measures to stick to its planned 4.5 percent deficit and said that if current trends continue, the deficit could be as high as 5 percent of GDP, TASR reported. The IMF said the government should reduce spending, speed up reforms of the health and pension systems, and solve problems in public administration. The fund said it is concerned that growing domestic demand will encourage imports and lead to a wide trade deficit. Finance Minister Hajnovic countered that this is "the familiar position of the IMF," saying he believes the 4.5 percent deficit target can still be achieved. But National Bank Governor Marian Jusko said he agrees with the IMF and that the cabinet should tighten fiscal policy to trim excessive imports and encourage exports. MS

The cabinet was to hold a special emergency session on 15 August to discuss measures for coping with the huge quantity of water flowing down the Danube River from neighboring countries toward Hungary, the media reported the same day. A special ministerial committee was set up on 14 August to coordinate flood defense along the river, while Environment and Water Minister Maria Korodi inspected flood defenses and said flood-protection costs are expected to run up to several billion forints. Dikes are being reinforced with sandbags and some sections of riverside roads in Budapest have already been closed. But Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky said the population need not fear a catastrophe like that in Prague and that he does not expect any parts of the city to be evacuated. MS

National Bank Governor Zsigmond Jarai on 14 August said he will not cooperate with the parliamentary commission headed by Imre Mecs, nor will he authorize it to release any information it may uncover on him, Hungarian media reported. Jarai was a finance minister in the government headed by former Premier Viktor Orban and is one of the few former or current ministers to refuse any cooperation with the commission, which is probing post-1990 cabinet members' earlier links with the communist secret services. About 100 current and former ministers have authorized the commission to publicize information it may discover on them. Among those who have refused are Hungarian Democratic Forum parliamentary group leader Istvan Balsai and Attila Varhegyi, a culture minister in the Orban cabinet, who insist the commission is unconstitutional. Former PHARE Funds Minister Imre Boros is also declining to cooperate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 2002), but said he will do so as soon as issues regarding the commission's constitutionality have been clarified. MS

Hungarian media on 15 August confirmed earlier reports that two experts were rejected after being invited by a parliamentary commission probing the past of Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy to work for the commission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2002). Commission head Laszlo Balogh on 14 August confirmed the news but complained that no grounds have been mentioned by the National Security Office for denying clearance to Sebestyen Gorka and Gabor Kiszely, who were said to possibly pose risks to national security. Gorka, who has dual British-Hungarian citizenship, has admitted that as a student he was a member of the British Territorial Army's antiterrorism unit, which "Magyar Hirlap" described as a reserve force of the intelligence corps. Gorka denied having ever participated in intelligence-related activities, saying his job was to examine possible Irish Republican Army threats. Gorka said he intends to file a complaint against the National Security Office decision, describing it as "ridiculous and politically motivated." Kiszely said he believes his rejection is due to his having refused to answer some questions related to his private life, adding that he will file no complaint. Balogh said he intends to take the matter to the Supreme Court, since the denial of clearance for the two experts was leaked to the media well before he received the information on 14 August. MS

Representatives of the Romanian, Slovak, and German minorities have expressed concern to Jeno Kaltenbach, minority rights ombudsman, that the number of candidates running for autonomous local governmental minority representation in the autumn elections is suspiciously high, Hungarian media reported on 15 August. They insist many of the candidates have nothing in common with ethnic groups that they ostensibly represent. Earlier this week, a Romanian government official said Hungarian Roma are seeking to run in the elections as representatives of the Romanian minority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 2002). Kaltenbach promised to investigate the matter, adding that only those candidates who are legitimate representatives of national minorities will be eligible for funding from the state budget to cover campaign costs. MS

NATO troops and helicopters are patrolling around the eastern Bosnian village of Celebici and blocking the roads in the Foca area to neighboring Montenegro in the latest effort to find and arrest former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who is wanted for war crimes by the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Reuters reported on 15 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 4 March 2002). An SFOR spokesman said that the moves to target Karadzic's "base of operation" began on 14 August and could last for several more days. The news agency mentioned that German and French troops are involved, but it is not clear if they are the only ones. AP mentioned that U.S. troops are also present. PM

Ethnically mixed patrols began work in the predominantly Serbian community of Shterpce and the mainly Albanian area of Kacanik, Hina reported on 14 August. Reshat Maliqi, who is a police adviser in Gjilan, called the patrols a big step forward for freedom of movement and for the Kosova police. Members of the Serbian community in Shterpce said that they believe that the mixed patrols will help increase security. PM

Boris Trajkovski praised the reported recent arrest by KFOR in Prishtina of Nevzat Halili, a former leader of Macedonia's ethnic Albanian Party of Democratic Prosperity (PPD), AP reported on 14 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 2002). Trajkovski said that KFOR's "action lessens the possibility of the destabilization of Macedonia and the region [and helps...] curtail the spread of Albanian extremism in Kosovo and Macedonia." PM

Speaking on the occasion of the official start of the election campaign on 14 August, Trajkovski said the results of parliamentary elections slated for 15 September are less important than the integrity of the electoral process. Trajkovski called upon the political parties to offer platforms that propose concrete, realistic, and creative solutions to existing problems. "I am sure that nobody will profit if the campaigns turns into a competition between the parties and their leaders to show who is the biggest patriot and who 'loves' Macedonia the most," Trajkovski said. Regarding the fight against organized crime and corruption, Trajkovski reminded the political parties to propose concrete measures "instead of accusing each other" of being responsible for the problem. UB

Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan discussed recent incidents in the Bay of Piran in a telephone conversation with his Slovenian counterpart Janez Drnovsek on 14 August, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2002). Racan's office said in a statement that the two agreed that one solution would be to adopt a proposed agreement on local border traffic. Drnovsek's office said in Ljubljana that the matter should be handled through negotiations in the joint commission on local border traffic. Meeting in Slovenia's Mokrice Castle, the commission stressed that an agreement will put an end to the incidents. Meanwhile, in the Bay of Piran, a Croatian police vessel chased two Slovenian fishing boats and a Slovenian police patrol boat out of what Zagreb considers its territorial waters. PM

The Slovenian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on 14 August that Ljubljana has turned down a request from Washington for a bilateral agreement pledging not to turn U.S. citizens over to the new International Criminal Court (ICC), Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2002). The statement added that "all progress" in setting up the ICC to date has been based on the unity of EU members and applicant countries. The ministry also noted that Slovenia is seeking to have input into formulating Brussels' eventual policy toward Washington's request, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. "The Wall Street Journal Europe" noted on 15 August, however, that "when it comes to dealing with [the ICC]...the State Department is finding that diplomacy doesn't pay.... Such agreements are explicitly envisioned in Article 98 of the court's statute and were the course of action urged by the European diplomats who blocked the U.S. request that the UN Security Council grant immunity to American peacekeepers.... Nor are the EU's actions what we'd expect of allies in wartime." PM

The European Commission's mission to Romania said on 14 August that it is launching an investigation into allegations in the Romanian media that PHARE funds allocated for the development of small and medium-size enterprises were "channeled" into private hands, Romanian radio reported on 14 August. Angela Filote, who is the mission's spokeswoman, said the European Union will send a team of experts to Brasov, where reports in the Romanian media allege that local officials are suspected of misappropriating the funds for their own benefit. Filote said that if the allegations are proven, Romania must return the funds to the EU. Development Ministry State Secretary Mihai David has denied the allegations. MS

In an open letter to Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL) on 14 August demanded that Nastase take steps against the increasingly "aggressive language and behavior" of prominent members of his own Social Democratic Party (PSD), the daily "Ziua" reported the next day. PNL parliamentary deputy Mona Musca told journalists that as PSD chairman, Nastase is responsible for the behavior of the party's dignitaries, which she said amounts in many instances to an "infringement on human rights." She said that people known to be PSD political opponents are being intimidated by abusive detentions, which are subsequently followed by apologies presented to them by the authorities. In addition, she claimed that intimate and personal information regarding PSD opponents is being publicized in violation of their constitutional rights. Musca said that in its letter, the PNL is proposing that Nastase initiate a process for monitoring the statements of PSD leaders and cabinet members. MS

Romany Social Democratic Party Chairman Nicolae Paun told journalists on 14 August his formation is ready to sign an agreement with the extremist Greater Romania Party prior to the 2004 elections, Mediafax reported. Paun said the agreement will be concluded if the government does not begin implementing its own strategy for improving the situation of the Roma. Paun said some local PSD leaders have not even bothered to read the document describing this strategy and added that "I am fed up with promises." MS

Eight Turkish fishermen were fined a total of $440,000 in Romania for illegally fishing in Romanian waters last April, AP reported on 13 August. A court in the Black Sea port of Constanta also sentenced the fishermen to suspended prison terms and confiscated their vessels and fishing equipment. The authorities found 20 dead dolphins trapped in fishing nets used by the Turkish boats. Large fishing nets of this type are banned in Romanian territorial waters in an effort to protect the dwindling dolphin population. MS

Eleven opposition parliamentary and extraparliamentary parties on 14 August said the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) is not fully implementing the 24 April resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The opposition parties approved a joint declaration saying the PCM has only implemented one of the resolution's recommendations -- the registration of the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church. They said the PCM is ignoring the PACE recommendations concerning the transformation of Teleradio Moldova into a public company, on ensuring the independence of the judiciary, and on imposing a moratorium on the obligatory teaching of the Russian language and the teaching of the History of Moldova in schools. MS

Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev told journalists on 14 August that the cabinet decided at its meeting that day to set up a new air company, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The new airline, called Moldova, will be 100 percent state owned and will operate parallel to Air Moldova, in which the state owns a 51 percent stake. It will become operational within one month. Air Moldova has been involved in a conflict with the German company Unistar Ventures, which holds a 49 percent stake in the company. A ministerial commission recently concluded that the privatization of Air Moldova was fraudulent. Tarlev said the government's decision to set up the new airline was prompted by the need to "avoid upsetting air traffic," and improve "the image of [Moldovan] civil aviation," as several Air Moldova officials will be testifying in court in the wake of the commission's findings. The government also decided to release Ion Matei as the country's director of civil aviation, at Matei's own request, and appointed Vladimir Petras as interim director. MS

Finance Minister Milen Velchev conceded that the government has managed to use only minimal amounts of European Union financial aid earmarked for projects in Bulgaria under the ISPA and SAPARD programs, "Monitor" reported on 15 August. According to the newspaper, Bulgaria has used just 0.02 percent of the $344.5 million approved under the ISPA program, and 2 percent of the $105.5 million approved under the SAPARD program. Velchev ascribed the problem to "certain defects within the administration." Meanwhile, European Affairs Minister Meglena Kuneva has warned that Bulgaria could lose the financial aid it was granted by the EU. "If we do not use up the approved money within a financial year, the EU can reduce the financial aid to a level that is commensurate with what we actually used up," Kuneva said. UB

Asked by journalists to comment on the withdrawal of one of the bidders for the state tobacco company Bulgartabac, Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski ruled out any possibility that the bidders may be asked to improve their bids, BTA reported. "We are clear on what we expect from the West...[and that] competitive bidding must be conducted in an intelligent, clear, and transparent manner. Once the bids are opened, if manipulation and chicanery begin, I do not think we will see any other foreigner coming here to Bulgaria. Let this be crystal clear," Saxecoburggotski said. The bidder that withdrew from the tender, the Russian Metatabak Consortium, has accused the government of giving preferential treatment to another competitor, Tobacco Capital Partners (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2002). UB

The same day that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma arrived in Moscow for his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on 8 August, the Moscow Garrison's Military Court ordered the Main Military Prosecutor's Office to rearrest the Russian defense minister's former chief financial officer, Colonel General Georgii Oleinik. Oleinik was accused of abuse of office that had cost the Russian state $60 million. Oleinik was placed in custody because the Main Military Prosecutor's Office claimed he would flee the country. One month earlier, an old criminal case had been reopened against former Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, who heads the populist bloc named after her. The ostensible reason for Kuchma's visit -- to end a Russian-Ukrainian trade war -- was already resolved days before his visit by the economy ministers of both countries.

The synchronization of the reopening of the criminal cases against Tymoshenko and Oleinik dates back to 2001 when Putin began assisting Kuchma in his drive to neutralize the opposition that had grown up during the "Kuchmagate" scandal. As in most such cases in Russia and Ukraine, the charges are politically motivated. Tymoshenko was quoted by "Moloda Ukrayina" on 12 December 2001 as saying that that the presidential administration had offered to halt any criminal cases against her and stop destroying her business interests in return for cooperation with the authorities.

Tymoshenko was first charged on 5 January 2001 and arrested the following month. At that time, she was deputy prime minister in charge of energy in the Viktor Yushchenko government. Her reforms of the energy sector reduced the illegal revenues siphoned off by oligarchs, thereby releasing funds to clear wage and pension arrears. In September 2001 these charges against herself and her husband, Oleksandr, who was arrested in August 2000, were lifted.

But Tymoshenko's case was left open as different law enforcement bodies argued between themselves. Eventually she was given permission in February 2002 to leave Kyiv to conduct her election campaign and her bloc, despite the numerous obstacles placed in her way by the authorities, obtained the impressive result of 7.26 percent.

In August 2001, Russian prosecutors handed over evidence to their Ukrainian counterparts pertaining to two criminal cases against Tymoshenko on charges of "complicity in bribe giving." The alleged recipient of one bribe was Colonel General Oleinik. Tymoshenko was also accused of attempting to smuggle $100,000 out of Russia in 1995. The sum was confiscated by customs officials at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport.

On 9 August 2001, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" quoted Tymoshenko as saying that the attempt to link her to Oleinik was politically motivated. With regard to Oleinik, Tymoshenko claimed she had "never seen him or maintained any relations with him." "How can I bribe a man whom I have never seen?" Tymoshenko added.

The Social Democratic Party of Ukraine-united (SDPU-o) led by Viktor Medvedchuk, now head of the presidential administration, was hurt the most by Tymoshenko's energy reforms, as the SDPU-o controls the majority of oblast energy distributors. On 2 August, the same day that the criminal case was reopened against Tymoshenko, Medvedchuk, and the head of the Russian presidential administration, Aleksandr Voloshin, met in the Crimean port of Yalta to hatch plans for Russia to assist Kuchma against the opposition.

Since the "Kuchmagate" scandal unfolded in November 2000, President Kuchma has increasingly reoriented Ukraine's "multivector" Western-oriented foreign policy to an Eastern-leaning neutrality. Whereas 2001 was the first year that no U.S.-Ukrainian presidential summit was held, Kuchma and Putin met eight times in the same year. This year they have so far held five summits. During the run-up to the Ukrainian parliamentary elections in March, Russian officials openly backed the pro-presidential For a United Ukraine (ZYU) bloc, and helped fan an antinationalist campaign against Yushchenko's Our Ukraine. In addition, the SDPU-o hired Putin's image-maker, Gleb Pavlovskii and his Fund for Effective Politics.

Meeting in Sochi in May, Putin congratulated Kuchma on "a significant victory of the presidential bloc of forces." (In reality, ZYU only obtained 11.77 compared to Our Ukraine's 23.57 percent). The following month Russian State Duma First Deputy Chairman Lyubov Sliska signed an agreement on behalf of Russia's party of power Unified Russia with ZYU leader and parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn.

As the weekly newspaper "Zerkalo nedeli/Dzerkalo tyzhnya" reported in its 10-17 August issue, "The Ukrainian authorities are taking unprecedented measures to neutralize Tymoshenko and Yushchenko, but they seem to have exhausted their own resources and to be relying on external help." Primarily this applies to Russia. But, Kuchma has also asked Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev to put pressure on Turkey to extradite four former employees of Unified Energy Systems of Ukraine, which Tymoshenko headed in the mid 1990s, who were arrested on 1 June. All four face similar charges to those reopened against Tymoshenko.

In mid-August, Oleh Rybachuk, a leading member of Our Ukraine, claimed that the authorities had launched criminal cases against 20 businesses whose founders or shareholders are members of Our Ukraine. Members of the Internal Affairs Ministry and Tax Police are demanding that they resign from Our Ukraine as the price for a halt to these investigations. As in the Tymoshenko case, Rybachuk alleged that these criminal investigations are being fabricated with the assistance of Russian law enforcement bodies. "Appropriate agreement was reached at the highest level" during the Yalta Voloshin-Medvedchuk meeting, Rybachuk claimed.

This renewed activity of the law enforcement bodies against Tymoshenko and Our Ukraine comes at the same time as a criminal case has been opened against popular Kyiv Mayor and head of the Association of Cities of Ukraine Oleksandsr Omelchenko. Omelchenko is an ally of Yushchenko and both harbor a strong dislike for Medvedchuk and the SDPU-o. Omelchenko, re-elected by an overwhelming 73 percent of Kyiv residents in March, claimed in the 10-17 August issue of "Zerkalo nedeli/Dzerkalo tyzhnya" that oligarchic parties like the SDPU-o, which failed to win a single seat in the 90-member Kyiv council, are behind these moves.

The election results in the city of Kyiv could not have been what Kuchma was hoping for from his pre-election agreement with Omelchenko. Of the five blocs that made it through the 4 percent barrier in Kyiv, only one was pro-presidential -- the SDPU-o -- with 4.85 percent. Pro-Kuchma forces were squeezed out by Omelchenko's Unity bloc, which obtained 11.62 percent. The two most popular forces were Our Ukraine and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc with 28.05 and 12.83 percent, respectively. ZYU, with only 3.97 percent, failed to surmount the 4 percent barrier.

Putin is assisting Ukraine's reorientation toward the East that has been taking place since 2000. The primary threats to Russia's game plan are Tymoshenko and Yushchenko. The latter is Ukraine's most popular politician with a stable, average rating of 30 percent. But Russia is already working to ensure that Yushchenko is not elected Ukrainian president in 2004.

Dr. Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European studies, University of Toronto.