PUTIN TRIED TO HIDE HIS KGB CONNECTION...
A new biography of President Vladimir Putin -- "The Road to Power" by journalist Oleg Blotskii, who earlier wrote "Vladimir Putin: The Story of a Life" -- claims that the future president tried to hide his status as a KGB officer when he first entered political life as a member of the Leningrad City Council, according to excerpts published in "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 30 August. The excerpt, which purports to be a long monologue by Putin himself, says that Putin "was forced initially to hide" his connection with the KGB "in order not to compromise [then-Leningrad Mayor Anatolii] Sobchak" when he entered the council, ostensibly representing Leningrad State University. Later, however, information about his links to the security service leaked to "certain business structures," which began trying to blackmail him into "deciding one or another matter in their favor." Putin also said that some unnamed deputies of the Leningrad City Council at that time were also involved in the blackmail attempts. That was when Putin decided to resign from the KGB and to "try to realize myself" in civilian life. As it turned out, that decision coincided almost precisely with the August 1991 coup attempt against then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Putin said that he never quit the Communist Party, but that "the Communist Party of the Soviet Union ceased to exist and, thus, I was left without a party." RC
...AND INITIALLY SYMPATHIZED WITH 1991 COUP
In the same excerpt, Putin said that he had "complicated feelings" when the 1991 coup attempt erupted and that he disagreed with many statements by people who later became leading figures in national and Leningrad politics. "For me it was then absolutely clear that our unilateral disarmament could not lead to anything good," Putin is quoted as saying. "Our fraternization with one-time geopolitical enemies was good within limits, but those who at that time were engaged in that fraternization knew no limits. For me, that was perfectly clear." However, Putin says, he also understood that the Soviet system was dead. He said that at the time he decided that if the coup plotters succeeded and "if they didn't put me in prison," he would work as a taxi driver using the Volga that he brought back with him from his KGB tour of duty in East Germany. "My only concern was how to secure a future for my children," Putin said. RC
PRESIDENT SUPPORTS REDUCING NUMBER OF REGIONS
At a press conference in Kemerovo Oblast on 29 August, President Putin said that he believes there is an economic basis for merging Krasnoyarsk Krai and the Taimyr and Evenk autonomous okrugs into a single federation subject, RIA-Novosti reported. However, he cautioned, "Issues regarding the revision of regional borders cannot be resolved by political will, since this would violate the constitution." "Borders may be changed only through a referendum and as the laws of each of the country's regions envision the relevant procedure," Putin continued. Regarding timing, Interfax reported, the president concluded that now is not the right time. JAC
POLICE SEIZE COMPUTER FACTORY
On the night of 29-30 August, about 50 armed Interior Ministry troops stormed the Kvant computer factory in the Moscow Oblast town of Zelenograd, "Vedomosti" and ntvru.com reported. The officers removed the plant's leadership, including General Director Sergei Kabaev, who took over the office on 22 August following a controversial court decision. The raid is the latest development in a long-running feud between computer company IVK and the Moscow company Sistema. Originally, Sistema held a 67 percent stake in Kvant, but through a series of disputed maneuvers, IVK managed to increase its own stake to 53 percent while reducing Sistema's to just 35 percent. Sistema has filed several court cases over these actions. "I barely escaped alive," said Kvant Deputy General Director Vasilii Konstantinov after the police raid, according to NTV. "Those people threatened me and my family, and the factory's security people were beaten." Kvant is Russia's largest computer-assembly plant. RC
TATARS TALK TOUGH BEFORE PUTIN'S ARRIVAL...
On the eve of President Putin's visit to Kazan, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev told delegates at the third International Congress of Tatars on 29 August that the federal center has begun moving away from the practice of building relations with the regions on the basis of agreement, and "words like 'sovereignty of the republics' and even 'federalism' continue to disappear from this vocabulary," RIA-Novosti reported. He added that the "center is even trying to take upon itself more authority." RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the same day that in their speeches at the congress, Professor Abdulkhan Akhamzyan of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and republican legislator and Tatar playwright Tufan Minnulin spoke about the federal government's "increasing pressure on the ethnic republics" and its "refusal to develop federalism." In his speech, Minnulin said, "Only Tatars can save their nation, since Russia isn't interested." JAC
...AS PRESIDENT URGES GOOD INTERETHNIC RELATIONS...
In his remarks to congress delegates on 30 August, Putin said that it is necessary "to defend the good relations among nations that have been built up over centuries from those who, from selfish motives, manipulate them with extremist and nationalist slogans and try to foster distrust, aggression, and intolerance," according to strana.ru. Putin added that "it is perfectly obvious that society itself must develop immunity from this illness." RC
...EMPHASIZES IMPORTANCE OF CENSUS...
In the same address, the president said that the upcoming national census is "an extremely serious state enterprise that demands the maximum correctness and tact, first of all from government representatives," strana.ru reported. He said that state policies on "matters of facilitating national-cultural development and preserving national languages and traditions" will be based on the census results. RC
...AND SAYS STATE SHOULD NOT INTERFERE WITH RELIGION
President Putin also told congress delegates that the state should not tell religions "how they should act, who they should select, and how they should unite," RIA-Novosti reported on 30 August. "We must help them create conditions in which they can work and do everything we can to ensure there are no barriers between them and the citizenry." He said that although it is important to keep religion separate from the state, "it would be a mistake to separate the people from religion." The president, responding to a question concerning whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear their traditional headscarves for their document photographs, said that such photographs must conform to "national standards," RIA-Novosti reported. RC
FELON'S SUPPORT COULD GIVE LEADER BIG MARGIN IN KRASNOYARSK RACE...
Former Krasnoyarsk Aluminum plant head Anatolii Bykov has expressed his support for the candidacy of Aleksandr Uss, chairman of Krasnoyarsk Krai's legislature, in the 8 September gubernatorial election, Russian agencies reported on 29 August. Bykov made the statements in an interview with the local newspaper "Krasnoyarskaya gazeta." According to RFE/RL's Krasnoyarsk correspondent, Bykov said that he hopes Uss will win in the first round. Local analysts believe that Bykov's expression of support will add no less than 10 percent of the total vote to Uss's tally. Bykov, although a convicted felon, remains popular in the region. Previously, some media speculated that Bykov was supporting Uss behind the scenes -- if not publicly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2002). JAC
...AS MAYORAL RACE HEATS UP IN NIZHNII
Two of the five candidates running for mayor of Nizhnii Novgorod pulled out of the race on 28 August, urging their supporters to vote for Duma Deputy Vadim Bulavinov, "Izvestiya" reported on 29 August. Deputy Speaker of the oblast's Legislative Assembly Mikhail Dikin and Deputy Governor of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Yurii Sentyuri -- both of whom were considered to have little chance of making it into a second round of voting -- threw their support behind Bulavinov, who is also supported by presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko. The moves put considerable pressure on the frontrunner in the race, businessman Andrei Klimentiev. According to the paper, the announcements came as a result of intense negotiations involving Kirienko, Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Governor Gennadii Khodyrev, and the head of the presidential administration, Aleksandr Voloshin. The first round of voting will be held on 15 September. RC
COURT DENIES AVANT-GARDE WRITER'S SUIT
The Taganka Municipal Court in Moscow on 29 August dismissed a suit by writer Vladimir Sorokin alleging that the pro-Putin youth movement Walking Together had violated his copyrights by distributing excerpts from his novels at its rallies, Russian news agencies reported. The court also charged Sorokin's publisher 75,000 rubles ($2,420) in court costs. Lawyers for the plaintiffs said they will appeal the verdict. Sorokin and his publisher face criminal charges of distributing pornography based on a complaint filed by Walking Together (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 12 July 2002). RC
EXPERIMENT WITH PROFESSIONAL ARMY OFF TO A SHAKY START...
On 1 September, the Defense Ministry's experiment involving converting the entire 76th Airborne Division to professional status is set to begin, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 30 August. However, the paper reported, problems have arisen that could undermine the success of the experiment, including delays in building suitable housing and training facilities for the new volunteers. However, the paper wrote, the most serious problem is the lack of qualified candidates to fill the division. The paper notes that when the Defense Ministry conducted a similar experiment with the 201st Motorized Infantry Division, up to 80 percent of the volunteers were dismissed from service within one year "for violations of discipline, drunkenness, and professional unsuitability." The head of the Airborne Force's mobilization department, Colonel Viktor Zaitsev, told the paper: "We understand that for the 76th division, we cannot just take people off the street. They must be professionals." He expressed serious doubt that the army would be able to find enough qualified people. "The only incentive for service in Pskov is army housing.... For homeless people, this might be a strong incentive, but how many of those people are qualified for professional service," the paper commented. RC
...AS SURVEY SHOWS RUSSIANS DISSATISFIED WITH THE MILITARY
A poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation on 24 August found that 49 percent of Russians negatively view the work of the Defense Ministry and other military organs, lenta.ru reported on 30 August. Just 19 percent approve of those bodies. Interestingly, 40 percent approve of Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, and just 26 percent disapprove. Among the main problems within the military, respondents listed poor discipline, corruption in the officer corps, and a lack of funding for the military. Thirteen percent said that the Defense Ministry is responsible for dragging out the conflict in Chechnya. RC
FAR EAST PLANE CRASH KILLS 16
An An-28 commercial aircraft crashed on 29 August near the village of Ayan in Khabarovsk Oblast, killing all 16 aboard, Russian news agencies reported on 30 August. The plane apparently crashed as it was making its final approach to the runway. RC
COMMUNISTS RETAKE LEAD IN PUBLIC-OPINION POLL
According to the latest poll by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), 34 percent of respondents would support the Communist Party if State Duma elections were held today, Interfax reported on 30 August. This is an increase of 5 percent over a similar poll taken one month ago. Twenty-six percent said that they would vote for the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, down from 29 percent in July. RC
GOVERNMENT AGREES TO DO SOMETHING FOR FARMERS
At a meeting to discuss the grain market on 29 August, members of the cabinet adopted a decision to intervene in the wheat and rye markets to try to stabilize prices, ITAR-TASS reported. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov asked ministers to submit proposals for how such intervention would take place and a final decision is expected on 19 September. According to polit.ru the same day, Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev had threatened to resign if the government did not provide money for such an intervention. Last year, the government undertook a similar effort to prop up prices, and this year some analysts are predicting that average grain prices could be 15 percent lower than last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2002). The government's decision follows a number of different policies announced by local leaders to support prices in their local markets. JAC
DARYAL-TV LOSES LICENSE; TENDER IN NOVEMBER
The Media Ministry will conduct a tender for the broadcasting license of Daryal-TV, Interfax and other Russian news agencies reported on 30 August. In July, an advisory commission recommended that the ministry not renew Daryal-TV's license after the channel had received a number of warnings for violations of media law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2002). The tender will be held at the end of November and the cost for the license should be about $1 million. Interfax also reported the same day that, as expected, state-run ORT will participate in the tender (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July 2002). ORT's Public-Relations Director Igor Burenkov said that ORT will participate in every such tender until it is able to acquire an additional frequency. RC
FOLLOWING GOVERNORS' LEAD, MAYORS MULL THIRD TERMS
At a press conference in Yekaterinburg, Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii said that he is not ruling out a possible third term as head of that city, regions.ru reported. Meanwhile, Anatolii Batov, the deputy head of the Union of Rightist Forces regional branch, told "Region-Inform" that the "election of municipal heads for a third term would lead to the stagnation of power, the merging of various groups and clans, and the effective privatization of the territory in question." JAC
POLITICAL OPPOSITION IN KALMYKIA MAKES SHOW OF STRENGTH...
About 300 professors and students from Kalmykia State University conducted a meeting on 28 August in support of the university's rector, German Borlikov, who is also a candidate in the 20 October republican presidential elections, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 29 August. Earlier in the month, an adviser to incumbent republican President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, Nina Odinokova, accused Borlikov on local television of purchasing a gold medal for himself for $7,500 on local television. She also said that professors at the university take bribes from students. University staff believe that Odinokova's attack is linked to Borlikov's decision to run for president. For his part, Borlikov has complained about Odinokova's "slander" against him to the local election commission and the prosecutor's office. JAC
...AS DUMA DEPUTY SAYS MOST OF ELECTORATE OPPOSES LEADER
According to the daily, Unified Russia party activist and State Duma Deputy Aleksandra Burataeva (Unity) attended the meeting in support of Borlikov. She claimed that independent opinion polls show that 80 percent of the electorate opposes Ilyumzhinov, despite "official data" showing him in the lead. JAC
OFFICERS DISMISSED OVER POLICE OFFICER'S RAMPAGE
At a press conference in Vladivostok on 29 August, Primorskii Krai Governor Sergei Darkin said that 10 police officers will be dismissed in connection with the siege of a village bar by a local police officer, ntvru.com reported. That incident, which occurred on 25 August, started when local police captain Sergei Semidotskii opened fire on patrons in a bar in the village of Yaroslavl, killing four people on the spot and injuring 11 others. Later one of the injured died from his wounds. Semidotskii then tried to kill himself, but he survived, only to die from heart attack in the hospital on 27 August. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 30 August, in an earlier incident, a drunken Semidotskii brandished his weapon but no one was injured. JAC
ARMENIAN OPPOSITION AGREES ON PRE-ELECTION COOPERATION
Following three days of closed-door talks, Armenia's leading opposition parties agreed late on 29 August to create a united front and nominate a joint candidate to run against incumbent President Robert Kocharian in the presidential poll scheduled for February 2003, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Party leaders said they agreed on the main points of a joint declaration that will be made public next week but have not yet discussed, let alone selected, their joint candidate. Former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian said the choice will probably be made either late this year or in the immediate run-up to the ballot. But in an indication of how difficult it may be to reach such an agreement, Albert Bazeyan -- who, like Sargsian, is a leading member of the Hanrapetutiun Party -- said Hanrapetutiun might either nominate Sargsian as its presidential candidate or back a joint candidate, according to Mediamax, as cited by Groong. Bazeyan said the opposition will not choose former President Levon Ter-Petrossian as its joint candidate. LF
ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER CONCERNED OVER RUSSIAN-GEORGIAN TENSIONS
Serzh Sarkisian was quoted by Interfax on 28 August as expressing concern over the possible economic impact on Armenia of the current strains in relations between Georgia and Russia. Sarkisian pointed out that Armenia has a vested interest in political stability in Georgia, as much of its foreign trade is routed through that country. LF
ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN EXCHANGE PRISONERS OF WAR
One Armenian and one Azerbaijani prisoner of war were repatriated in an exchange under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross on the border between the two countries on 29 August, according to Armenian and Azerbaijani news agencies cited by Groong. LF
AZERBAIJAN REJECTS CRITICISM OF REFERENDUM...
A 29 August session of Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission refused to consider statements from the opposition Democratic Party and Azerbaijan National Independence Party alleging serious procedural violations in the course of voting in the 24 August referendum on constitutional amendments, and also rejected copies of voting-station protocols that they submitted to substantiate those allegations, zerkalo.az reported on 30 August. Commission Chairman Mazahir Panakhov dismissed those complaints and others by opposition parties that monitored the vote as subjective and totally unfounded. He added that statements by the OSCE office in Baku and the U.S. State Department expressing concern over irregularities in the voting were "not objective, unsubstantiated, and a manifestation of disrespect to the Azerbaijani people and the millions of voters" who participated in the referendum. LF
...BUT ANNULS RESULTS IN SOME CONSTITUENCIES
At the same 29 August session, the Central Election Commission annulled the outcome of the referendum at 251 polling stations where the protocols submitted by the local election commission staff were incorrectly filled out, Interfax and zerkalo.az reported. Panakhov disclosed that 28 protocols from regional election commissions lacked the signatures of one of the six commission members, 12 were not signed by two, and two by three members. He characterized such refusals to sign the protocols enumerating total votes for and against as "unheard of." LF
ARAB APPREHENDED IN GEORGIAN PANKISI CRACKDOWN
Georgian Interior and Security Ministry troops have apprehended an Arab bearing a French passport in the course of their "anticrime and antiterror" operation in the Pankisi Gorge, Caucasus Press reported on 29 August. His identity is still being verified. Also on 29 August, Georgian Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze said Georgia's Constitution specifically precludes the participation of Russia or any other country in a joint military action with Georgia in the Pankisi Gorge, Interfax reported. LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT EXPRESSES THANKS FOR U.S. ASSISTANCE
President Eduard Shevardnadze and U.S. Ambassador Richard Miles attended the formal commencement on 29 August of the third phase of the U.S.-funded "Train and Equip" program for the Georgian military, Caucasus Press reported. Some 500 servicemen who have already undergone theoretical training will now embark on a course of practical training. Speaking at the ceremony, Shevardnadze characterized U.S.-Georgian relations as a "special" friendship and partnership and expressed gratitude for the economic and military assistance that the United States has provided over the past decade, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
GEORGIA'S ARMENIAN MINORITY CONCERNED OVER CALLS FOR CLOSURE OF RUSSIAN MILITARY BASE
David Rstakian, who heads the unregistered political party Virk that represents the predominantly Armenian population of the Djavakheti district in southern Georgia, has again told journalists that the closure of the Russian military base in the region could trigger unrest among the population, many of whom are employed at the base, according to Arminfo on 29 August, as cited by Groong. He expressed hope that President Shevardnadze will not comply with parliament's recent demand to expedite the closure of the two remaining Russian military bases in Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2002). LF
RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS COMPLAIN TO TBILISI OVER DISPLACED PERSONS' BORDER PICKET
Major General Aleksandr Yevteev, who commands the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone, expressed concern on 29 August at a weekly meeting with Georgian, Abkhaz, and UN representatives about the picket by Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia at the border bridge over the Inguri River, Caucasus Press reported. The picketers, who Abkhaz security officials say have been blocking traffic across the bridge since 22 August, are demanding the Russian peacekeepers' withdrawal, the dismissal of Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze as President Shevardnadze's special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, and a UN military intervention in Abkhazia to enforce peace there. Yevteev complained that the protesters' action hinders the political settlement of the conflict. He also expressed concern over warnings by Georgian guerrilla detachments that they will resort to military force in a bid to reimpose Georgian jurisdiction over Abkhazia. LF
JOURNALIST BEATEN IN KAZAKHSTAN
Independent journalist Sergei Duvanov was attacked and severely beaten by three men in the stairwell of his apartment building late on 28 August, Reuters and Interfax reported. He has been hospitalized for treatment. Duvanov, who has written widely on corruption and human rights violations, was summoned to the National Security Committee last month and subsequently charged with insulting President Nursultan Nazarbaev in an article chronicling persistent rumors that Nazarbaev and his entourage have clandestine foreign bank accounts totaling millions of U.S. dollars (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2002). Speaking in Washington on 29 August, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher condemned the assault on Duvanov, which he said appears to be part of "a pattern of harassment of Kazakhstan's independent media," Reuters reported. In Astana, Nazarbaev condemned the beating of Duvanov as a "provocation" intended to discredit the country's leadership, Interfax reported. LF
COURT REJECTS KAZAKH OPPOSITION POLITICIAN'S APPEAL
The Criminal Collegium of the Pavlodar Oblast Court on 29 August rejected an appeal by former oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov against the seven-year sentence the court handed down to him earlier this month, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2002). The court found him guilty of abuse of office and embezzlement, charges that are widely believed to be unfounded and politically motivated. Zhaqiyanov's lawyer Elena Rebenchuk said he will appeal the sentence to the Revision Collegium of the Pavlodar Oblast Court and then, if necessary, to the Supreme Court. LF
KAZAKH PRESIDENT SAYS COUNTRY NEEDS STRONG STATE POWER
Speaking at a 29 August ceremony in Astana to mark Constitution Day, President Nazarbaev argued that "what Kazakhstan currently needs is a strong state power with a presidential form of government" in order to prevent interethnic and interconfessional discord and to strengthen the country's independence, according to Interfax. Nazarbaev said, in the present conditions, a parliamentary system -- which some opposition parties advocate -- is not appropriate, given that parliamentary republics are subject to "frequent political crises...[and] changes of government." Such instability, Nazarbaev continued, "would inevitably lead to chaos and [economic] stagnation." LF
NEW SECURITY COUNCIL SECRETARY NAMED IN KAZAKHSTAN
President Nazarbaev has named a member of his presidential administration, Omarkhan Oksikbaev, to head the National Security Council in place of Marat Tazhin, Interfax reported on 29 August. Tazhin, who is 42 and headed the council from February 1999-May 2001 and then for a second time since December 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2001), has been named first deputy head of the presidential administration. LF
KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT APPROVES DRAFT BUDGET
Meeting on 29 August, the Kyrgyz government approved a draft budget for 2003 that sets revenues at 15.7 billion soms ($340.9 million), the equivalent of 17.9 percent of projected GDP, and spending at 15.26 billion soms, Interfax reported. The resulting surplus is equal to 0.4 percent of GDP. GDP growth in 2003 is projected at 5.8 percent, while industrial production is slated to increase by 9.6 percent over this year's figure. During the first six months of this year, Kyrgyzstan registered a 4.9 percent fall in GDP and a 13.6 percent decline in industrial production. Finance Minister Bolot Abdildaev told fellow ministers that the draft budget was worked out in consultation with the IMF. LF
KYRGYZSTAN WILL NOT BE USED AS A BASE FOR STRIKE ON IRAQ
Kyrgyzstan will not permit the use of the air base it has placed at the disposal of the international antiterrorism coalition for a possible U.S. strike against Iraq, Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov told Interfax on 29 August. He said the agreement between the Kyrgyz and U.S. governments permits the use of that base solely for antiterrorism operations in Afghanistan. Moreover, Aitmatov said, Kyrgyzstan is too far from Iraq, and Turkmenistan and Iran would have to give permission for the use of their airspace by U.S. planes flying missions against Iraq from Kyrgyz territory. LF
TACIS PROGRAM RELAUNCHED IN TAJIKISTAN
The European Commission has given the go-ahead to relaunch its TACIS program in Tajikistan, Russian news agencies reported on 29 August. The program was halted in 1997 after two TACIS staff members were kidnapped, and one of them was subsequently killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November and 1 December 1997). The European Union will also fund several infrastructure and environmental-protection projects in Tajikistan, the head of the TACIS bureau in Dushanbe, Pierre-Paul Antounissens, said at a meeting with Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov. LF
UZBEK PRESIDENT OUTLINES PRIORITIES...
Addressing a session of Uzbekistan's parliament on 29 August, Islam Karimov listed seven priorities for the country's future development, uza.uz reported. They are: strengthening independence and compliance with international law; preserving domestic political stability and security; continuing to implement market-oriented economic reforms; expediting democratization and the protection of human rights, including freedom of speech; expanding the importance of NGOs and other social organizations, while at the same time reducing the control exercised by the state over the economy, especially the private sector; legal and judicial reforms; and implementing a "strong social policy," taking into account specific demographic and other factors. LF
...CALLS FOR SMALLER, BUT MORE PROFESSIONAL ARMY...
During a break in the parliament session, President Karimov also told journalists that the state plans to cut the armed forces by between 10,000-15,000 men to a total of 52,000-55,000 by 2005, Interfax reported. He stressed that "we need a mobile and highly professional army." He also said he has proposed to parliament reducing from 18 to 12 months the duration of compulsory military service. LF
...DENIES HE HAS HEALTH PROBLEMS
Karimov told deputies that rumors that his health is deteriorating are untrue and invited skeptics to watch his performance on the tennis court, Interfax reported. Karimov, who was born in January 1938 and is thus the eldest of the five Central Asian presidents, suggested issuing periodic bulletins on his health "as they do in the West." A source in the presidential apparatus told Interfax that Karimov has not taken a single day's vacation or sick leave so far this year. LF
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT TURNS 48
Presidential spokeswoman Natalya Pyatkevich told Belapan on 30 August that no celebrations were planned to mark Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's 48th birthday the same day. Lukashenka will reportedly work according to his routine schedule and meet with several officials from the presidential administration. Meanwhile, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 29 August that a newly built 2.5-kilometer lane for roller skaters will be opened in Minsk on 30 August to coincide with the president's birthday. Lukashenka is known to be an ardent roller skater. Moreover, the August issue of the presidential administration monthly "Belaruskaya dumka" published an article about Lukashenka's birthplace, the village of Aleksandriya. A quote from the article read: "I tell you, readers, a piece of news. I saw with my own eyes an old photo in which youthful Sasha Lukashenka stands with a bunch of jasmine flowers.... A tall beautiful lad with a red shock of hair. He is like a friar-rose bush." JM
BELARUSIAN JOURNALISTS TO SERVE SENTENCES FAR FROM HOME
Mikola Markevich and Pavel Mazheyka, who were each sentenced to one year of "restriction of freedom" for slandering President Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2002), will begin serving their terms on 1 September, Belapan reported on 29 August. Both journalists live in Hrodna (northwestern Belarus) but will be incarcerated far from home: Markevich in the city of Asipovichy (Mahilyou Oblast) and Mazheyka in the city of Zhlobin (Homel Oblast). The sentence "restriction of freedom" means that the journalists will not be put into prison but in "open-type corrective institutions." They will live in guarded barracks, work at a factory or a construction site, and will have to report back to their barracks every night. JM
BELARUSIAN SCIENTISTS URGED TO CONTRIBUTE MORE TO ECONOMY
Belarusian National Academy of Sciences President Mikhail Myasnikovich has urged scientists to contribute more to the country's economic development, Belapan reported. Myasnikovich told a meeting of the academy's presidium on August 29 that the government will finance just a few research-and-development projects that are of great importance to the country's economic security. Myasnikovich called on scientists "to abandon infantile and parasitic attitudes and to realize the country's problems," the agency reported. "Enough wailing about the shortage of funds and the low-profile image of scientists. A great deal of money has been spent on [science] for many years. The funds, like the image, must be earned, primarily by scientists themselves," Belarusian television quoted Myasnikovich as saying. Prior to his appointment to lead the National Academy of Sciences in October 2001, Myasnikovich headed the presidential administration. JM
OUR UKRAINE SLAMS AUTHORITIES FOR DESTABILIZING COUNTRY...
Our Ukraine on 29 August publicized an open letter to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, warning him against a "systemic crisis of the authority that has hit all spheres of social life," Ukrainian media reported. According to Viktor Yushchenko's bloc, "actions by the authorities are threatening Ukraine's national interests, national security, the independence of the state, and are provoking civic confrontation." Our Ukraine reiterated its charge that the presidential administration created an "artificial majority" in the parliament by pressuring deputies in order "to give the parliamentary leadership to outsiders of the election race." "One has the impression that the parliament, the government, and the media have been leased to the head of the presidential administration [Viktor Medvedchuk] and his oligarchic clan," the letter noted. Our Ukraine also complained that the opposition has no access to the state-run media. According to the bloc, "the situation in the state has been heading toward unpredictability and uncontrollability." JM
...AND URGES KUCHMA TO REMOVE 'THREATS TO UKRAINE'S DEMOCRACY AND STATEHOOD'...
Our Ukraine called on President Kuchma to make a choice between "democracy and dictatorship" and take urgent measures "to remove threats to Ukraine's democracy and statehood." In particular, the bloc demands that a democratic parliamentary majority be created around Our Ukraine and a coalition government be formed by this majority. Our Ukraine also postulates that the authorities secure equal access to the state media for all political forces, stop political persecution, and strengthen Ukraine's integration into "European and trans-Atlantic structures," while simultaneously abandoning talk of Ukraine's accession to the Eurasian Economic Union. "The inability of the authorities to stop the country's slide toward a social and economic catastrophe and the continuation of the policy oriented toward curbing democracy and constitutional civil rights and freedoms will force us to call on voters to stand in defense of democracy, national interests, and the independence of the Ukrainian state," the letter warned. JM
...AS YUSHCHENKO COMPARES CURRENT REGIME TO STALIN'S
Yushchenko told journalists on 29 August that Ukraine is witnessing "how state institutions resort to the methods of a dictatorship," Reuters reported. Yushchenko was commenting on his meeting with Kuchma earlier the same day, where he handed the president Our Ukraine's open letter. "My colleagues have been subjected to political persecution to make them change their faction, betray their political views, and obediently join a majority formed by the presidential administration," Yushchenko noted, adding that "we need to abolish this kind of 1937 regime." JM
ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT PROPOSES COMPENSATING ORTHODOX CHURCH
The Estonian Interior Ministry has reached a provisional agreement with both the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church under the Constantinople Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate in Estonia to share the use of existing church property after a nearly decade-long dispute, BNS reported on 29 August. Under the agreement, churches and buildings belonging to the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church would be renovated with government funds to the same degree as the church cedes its property rights. The state would then rent the ceded property to the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate for 50 years "by right of usufruct," allowing the existing congregations to function. As a result of property restitution, all Orthodox Church property was returned to the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church, successor to the pre-World War II Orthodox Church in Estonia. The proposal has won government approval, but no final decision has been made, as the Estonian Council of Churches has its own suggestions for the division of church property. AB
ESTONIAN AIR FORCE RECEIVES NEW HELICOPTERS
The Estonian Air Force took possession of four U.S.-donated Robinson R44 helicopters on 29 August at an official ceremony attended by Defense Minister Sven Mikser, U.S. Embassy representative Mart Pekala, and Robinson Helicopter Company Vice President Kurt Robinson, ETA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2002). AB
LATVIAN ARMY ADOPTS CRISIS-COORDINATION GROUP FOR FOREST FIRES
Latvia's armed forces have set up a crisis-coordination working group to help the country's firefighting and rescue services to extinguish forest fires, BNS reported on 29 August. Home Guard commander Juris Kiukucans is the chairman of the new group, and the coordination center will be located at Home Guard headquarters. Latvian soldiers and home guards from 13 battalions are currently helping to extinguish fires throughout the country. The military has suspended all training because of the high fire alert due to a heat wave and drought conditions in the country. AB
ENVIRONMENTALISTS PROTEST NEW LATVIAN OIL TERMINAL
The Environmental Protection Club of Latvia plans to hold a demonstration on 1 September at the Daugavgriva site where the government plans to build a new oil terminal, LETA reported on 29 August. Additional demonstrations are planned for the same day at rivers and lakes throughout Latvia. The demonstration is endorsed by the Maritime Environment Administration and by Cardinal Janis Pujats of the Roman Catholic Church in Latvia. AB
YUKOS SAYS IT WILL ABIDE BY LITHUANIAN LAW
Yukos International U.K. board Chairman Lord David Owen assured Vytautas Landsbergis, the leader of the Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania), during their meeting on 29 August that Yukos would operate Mazeikiai Oil in accordance with Lithuanian law, ELTA reported. Owen agreed that the three-party agreement made in June when Yukos bought an initial 27 percent stake in the Lithuanian oil and transport company should be made public except for "ordinary commercial secrets." Meanwhile, the Lithuanian Political Prisoners and Deportees Union has urged the government not to sell the country's energy firms to Russian companies, BNS reported on 29 August. In an effort to dissuade fears of Russian inroads into the Lithuanian energy sector, Owen predicted that Russia will be a member of the European Union within 30 years and lauded Russia's international role following the 11 September 2001 attacks against the United States. Landsbergis countered that Russia's behavior toward the civilian population of Chechnya does not indicate any transformation in the values or thinking of the Russian government. AB
POLAND'S EU CAMPAIGN CHIEF ADMITS SPYING FOR COMMUNIST SECRET SERVICES
Slawomir Wiatr, the government's commissioner for promoting European Union membership, has admitted to "willingly and covertly" collaborating with the communist-era political police, Polish media reported on 29 August. Wiatr's admission was published in the official legal journal "Monitor Polski" of 28 August. Government spokesman Michal Tober commented that Premier Leszek Miller, when appointing Wiatr to his post, knew that he was an agent for the communist-era secret services. Tober did not explain why Wiatr's lustration statement was not published immediately after his nomination but following a six-month delay. "We demand Wiatr's dismissal. It is becoming increasingly evident that the Third [Polish] Republic's ruling elite is infested with communist-era security people, which runs contrary to the idea of a democratic state," said Adam Bielan of the opposition Law and Justice party. JM
RUSSIAN UPPER HOUSE LEADER, PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY DISCUSS KALININGRAD IN POLAND
In Gdansk on 29 August, Russian Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov expressed satisfaction with his two-day visit to Poland, ITAR-TASS reported. Mironov told journalists that Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast was the focus of his talks with the leaders of the Polish parliament, the Polish president, and the prime minister. Mironov said that although no solution was found for the issue of travel between Russia and its Kaliningrad exclave after Poland and Lithuania join the European Union, Russia and Poland did manage to reach a mutual understanding. Russian presidential envoy on the Kaliningrad issue Dmitrii Rogozin also visited Warsaw on 29 August to discuss Kaliningrad as well, Polish media reported. Rogozin reportedly said that Moscow has never asked Warsaw to establish extraterritorial corridors and travel rights for sealed trains to transport Russian citizens between Kaliningrad and the rest of Russia. JM
POLAND DEPORTS ILLEGAL BULGARIANS
The Border Guard on 29 August deported to Sofia some 80 Bulgarian citizens who had been staying in Poland unlawfully, Polish television reported. The Border Guard has detained more than 3,000 illegal migrants this year. The average cost of deporting one person from Poland is 400 zlotys ($97). JM
EU COMMISSIONER MEETS CZECH LEADERS, PROMISES AID
EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen met in Prague on 29 August with President Vaclav Havel, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, and Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda to discuss EU aid for recovering from the effects of the recent floods, CTK and international agencies reported. EU enlargement was also discussed. Verheugen said the Czech Republic will be eligible this year for money from a planned EU disaster-relief fund, though he could not say how much aid will be involved. The EU has already pledged to provide 58 million euros ($56.79 million) for Czech recovery efforts. The fund was established last week. Verheugen said the quick aid provided by the EU to flood-affected countries is proof that the EU is not a bureaucratic machine but a tool serving the interests of the people. Verheugen and Spidla said after their talks that the floods will not delay EU enlargement. The commissioner also toured flood-affected areas in Prague. MS
RUSSIAN OFFICIAL DENIES CZECH MEDIA REPORTS ON 'USELESS EXPERTS'
Ivan Galagtionov, counselor at the Russian Embassy in Prague, on 29 August denied reports in the Czech media that five experts who arrived to provide expert advice on the reconstruction of the city's damaged metro proved useless for this purpose, CTK reported. The daily "Lidove noviny" earlier in the day reported that the five were all Russian Emergency Situations Ministry officials with no knowledge of metro construction. Galagtionov said on 30 August that only two of the five work for that ministry, and one has already returned to Russia, according to CTK. Prague Transport Company spokeswoman Michaela Kucharova said the Russian experts visited several flooded metro stations and that a memorandum for the supply of spare parts for metro escalators was signed on the same day. The Prague metro was built in the 1970s with the aid of the former Soviet Union. MS
CZECH POLICE ARREST ALLEGED WEAPONS TRAFFICKERS
Czech authorities on 29 August announced the arrest of a man and a woman who allegedly ran an illegal weapons business that arranged the sale of tanks, rocket launchers, planes, and even submarines to Middle Eastern countries, CTK and international agencies reported. The alleged arms traders were arrested after an 18-month investigation involving the Czech government's anticorruption agency and authorities in Germany and Switzerland. A spokeswoman for the Czech police said the ringleader of the alleged smugglers has been arrested in Germany. The unidentified Czech detainees, a 65-year-old woman and a 28-year-old man, are suspected of having arranged the sale of Russian and Bulgarian-made weapons. MS
SLOVAK PRESIDENT RETURNS TO BRATISLAVA
President Rudolf Schuster on 29 August returned to Bratislava, after being discharged from the Vienna hospital where he underwent tests this week, TASR and international agencies reported. He will continue treatment at home, as recommended by Austrian doctors. The doctors who treated him in Vienna said they still do not know for certain what caused Schuster's high fever last week but are inclined to believe it was a bacterial infection. Before leaving Vienna, Schuster told journalists that he does not believe he was poisoned and will recommend that his son withdraw a criminal complaint based on this suspicion. AP reported that Peter Schuster had withdrawn his complaint. MS
HUNGARY'S FIDESZ SAYS MECS COMMISSION RUNNING 'POLITICALLY AMOK'
The opposition FIDESZ party said in a statement on 29 August that the parliamentary commission headed by Imre Mecs that is investigating government officials' secret-service pasts is running "politically amok" and trampling on people's dignity and solid reputations, Budapest dailies reported. FIDESZ issued the statement after three more politicians recently alleged by "Magyar Hirlap" to have links to communist-era secret services strongly denied any such links. Bela Kadar, international economic trade relations minister from 1990-94, as well as two former state secretaries, Laszlo Sarossy and Laszlo Bogar, on 29 August told Hungarian media that they never worked for the secret services. FIDESZ said in the statement that developments over the last few days highlight concerns by opposition parties that the Mecs commission is unlawful. MSZ
HUNGARIAN TV STILL CONTINUES TO MAKE THE HEADLINES
Former executives at Hungarian Television (MTV), speaking on condition of anonymity, on 29 August told "Magyar Hirlap" that outside security companies were not hired to keep tabs on television employees but to ensure that no information was leaked from MTV headquarters. The officials were reacting to the findings of an internal probe at MTV, which alleged that in 1999 former MTV President Zsolt Laszlo Szabo issued orders to have companies and private individuals monitored. In other news, the right-wing Alliance for the Nation was to stage a demonstration on 30 August outside MTV headquarters to protest what they call a lack of press freedom nationwide. The keynote speaker at the rally will be former Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Organizers said they will press for the resignation of MTV executive Imre Ragats, claiming that since he has held that office senior executives and program editors have been dismissed from their jobs or demoted. MSZ
NEW ROMANY COALITION SEEKS TO OUST PRO-FIDESZ CHAIRMAN
Nine Romany organizations on 29 August formed an electoral alliance that is designed to remove incumbent Florian Farkas from his post as chairman of the National Gypsy Authority, Hungarian media reported. Farkas, a FIDESZ parliament member and chairman of the Romany organization Lungo Drom, said Romany policy should only be approached along the lines of programs and not from an ideological point of view. Farkas added that Lungo Drom supports all measures taken by the new Socialist government on Romany issues. MSZ
MACEDONIAN POLICE PREPARING FOR ACTION?
Reuters reported from Skopje on 30 August that a heavily armed convoy of police and armored vehicles is forming outside the capital following reports that armed ethnic Albanians have kidnapped five ethnic Macedonians on the Tetovo-Gostivar highway. The armed convoy is heading in the direction of those two mainly Albanian-populated towns. The hostage takers demand the release of two ethnic Albanians held for the recent murder of two policemen (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26, 27, and 28 August 2002). The kidnappers' original deadline for the release of the two suspects has already expired. PM
NATO WARNS MACEDONIA NOT TO ARREST ALBANIAN POLITICIAN...
NATO Ambassador to Macedonia Nicolaas Biegman sent a letter to the government on 29 August in which he reminded them of their recent promise that "there will be no arrests for alleged war crimes for Ali Ahmeti" or other officials of the ethnic Albanian Union for Democratic Integration (BDI), AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2002). He added that NATO "expects continued cooperation with the Interior Ministry to ensure free and fair elections, free from any provocation or intimidation." Vienna's "Die Presse" wrote on 30 August that "Skopje is pouring oil on the fire." PM
...BUT MACEDONIAN MINISTRY WILL NOT BE BUDGED
Macedonian State Prosecutor Stavre Dzikov nonetheless remained adamant that the recently issued warrant will be enforced, AP reported from Skopje on 29 August. He stressed that "I will not give in to any pressure, domestic or international. The arrest warrant must be complied with, and Ahmeti and others should be brought to justice." Warrants are also outstanding for two other former guerrillas, Gezim Ostreni and Fazli Veliu. The recent harassing of ethnic Albanians by hard-line Macedonian nationalists in the Interior Ministry led by Ljube Boskovski has contributed to tensions in the run-up to the 15 September parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 August 2002). A spokesman for the BDI called the Interior Ministry's move electioneering. PM
GUNMEN PIN DOWN PEACEKEEPERS IN KOSOVA
UN civilian administration (UNMIK) police spokesman Barry Fletcher told Reuters in Prishtina on 29 August that unidentified gunmen shot at Serbian woodcutters in the Peja district and "police responded with three vehicles and a total of eight officers. When they arrived, they were fired upon and they had to take cover." Fletcher added that the police "were being fired at from at least three different places, and people who were shooting were too far away for the range of pistols. [The police] couldn't move because of the shooting." The police then called for KFOR troops to come to the scene. "But the KFOR troops were also fired at, and both UNMIK police and KFOR were trapped for at least two hours." Italian peacekeepers then brought up reinforcements and military vehicles, which prompted the gunmen to flee. Italian military police detained one suspect who refused to speak. UNMIK spokeswoman Andrea Angeli said nonetheless that he is an ethnic Albanian. AP described the attack as one of the worst cases of violence since NATO troops entered Kosova in June 1999. PM
KOSTUNICA MAINTAINS OPPOSITION TO CONSTITUTIONAL PROPOSALS
Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica told the Belgrade daily "Danas" of 30 August that he continues to consider counterproductive the proposed Constitutional Charter recently agreed by the governments of Serbia and Montenegro (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 August 2002). He stressed that the Constitutional Commission alone should be tasked with drafting the charter. PM
SERBIAN GOVERNMENT TO TAKE NATION OFF DOWNERS
The Serbian authorities have begun a campaign to reduce consumption of antistress drugs, Reuters reported on 29 August. Health department officials said that in 2001, Serbs consumed "41 million tablets of Bensedin, 63 million of Bromazepam, and 40 million pills of Diazepam," adding that "it looked like the entire nation was high on drugs." The new measures ban over-the-counter sales of such drugs and require a doctor's prescription. It is not clear how difficult such prescriptions will be to obtain. One psychiatrist said that such drugs are highly addictive and that several months of expert medical supervision may be necessary to kick the habit. PM
KOSOVAR HIJACKING ATTEMPT THWARTED
The personnel of a Montenegrin Airlines flight from Duesseldorf to Prishtina thwarted an attempt by a young Kosovar Albanian to strangle a stewardess with his shoelace on 29 August, AP reported. She was not seriously injured. The youth was part of a group of 50 Kosovars being deported from Germany on a charter flight. The suspect is under arrest, and police are investigating. PM
ALBANIAN POLICE FIND ARMS CACHE NEAR MACEDONIAN BORDER
Colonel Gani Malushi told AP in Tirana on 29 August that police have found the third arms cache in a month in the Librazhd district. He added that "because of the elections in neighboring Macedonia, we have given top priority to the fight against weapon trafficking in the area." The hoard includes 18,000 rounds of ammunition. The other recent hauls yielded 80 light weapons and 130,000 rounds. Police are investigating tips regarding additional caches in the area. PM
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT CONSIDERS NATO ACCESSION ROMANIA'S 'MATURITY CERTIFICATE'
Presidential spokeswoman Corina Cretu told journalists at a briefing in Bucharest on 29 August that President Ion Iliescu believes admission to NATO at the organization's November summit in Prague would represent Romania's "maturity certificate," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Cretu said that in the president's view, NATO accession would be an indication of the "normalcy of Romanian democracy" and that "we have all become integrated and are respecting the values on which the North Atlantic alliance is built." Iliescu also called on political parties to "overcome partisan interests" and accelerate the passing of legislation necessary for European Union accession. MS
ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DEFENDS ACCORD WITH U.S. ON ICC
In an interview with Reuters on 29 August, Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana rejected charges that the accord with the United States under which Romania agreed not to extradite U.S. citizens to the proposed International Criminal Court was a ploy to win NATO membership. "Romania has not done this in order to gain the favors of Washington for joining the alliance, because, by and large, this is a done deal," Geoana said. He added that "we can anticipate a Prague summit with a broad [NATO] enlargement from the Baltic to the Black Sea." Geoana said that the accord concluded with the United States was a recognition on Bucharest's part of "legitimate" concerns in Washington. MS
ROMANIAN PARLIAMENTARY DELEGATION VISITS CONTINGENT IN KANDAHAR
A delegation of Romanian members of parliament on 29 August visited the Romanian contingent stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Romanian radio reported. Defense Ministry State Secretary George Maior told the Romanian soldiers participating in Operation Enduring Freedom that their activities serve Romania's national interests and that the military partnership with the United States has a positive impact on Romania's foreign policy. Maior said the Romanian battalion is engaged in the "most complex operation the Romanian Army has been involved in since World War II." Former Defense Minister Sorin Frunzaverde, a member of the visiting delegation, said Romania is "participating in a mission that by and large heralds warfare in the third millennium, against an enemy that is often unseen, fighting alongside its U.S. military ally in the hotbed of the antiterrorist struggle." MS
ROMANIAN RULING PARTY, UDMR FAIL TO AGREE ON CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
Valer Dorneanu, parliamentary leader of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), and Bela Marko, chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), failed on 29 August to reach an agreement on amending the constitution, Mediafax reported. The UDMR is insisting on amending Article 1, which defines Romania as a "national state," as well as Article 148, which prohibits changing the basic document's first article. Dorneanu said that they will meet again next week in a further attempt to overcome their differences. He said that other UDMR constitutional amendment proposals can be brought up for further discussion in the parliamentary commission that debates amendments. Marko said that differences on amending the constitution should not be linked to the PSD-UDMR accord on support by the UDMR of the PSD minority government in the parliament. MS
TRANSDNIESTER THREATENS TO PULL OUT OF CHISINAU NEGOTIATIONS
The Transdniester delegation at the ongoing negotiations in Chisinau on the draft settlement proposed by the OSCE said on 29 August that it might withdraw from the negotiation process, Infotag reported. In a statement handed to the three mediators (Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE), the separatists said that the "economic blockade imposed by Moldova" on the export of goods from the Transdniester since 1 September 2001 has caused losses of $100 million. They said they will agree to continue negotiating only if the blockade is lifted. An unidentified member of the Moldovan delegation said the demand was "ultimatum-like" and defied the accord to resume negotiations without preliminary conditions. He said a group of experts has been set up to examine the issue and make recommendations by 1 October. The negotiations were to continue on 30 August at the Ukrainian Embassy in Chisinau. MS
BULGARIAN ENERGY MINISTRY OFFICIAL SIGNALS NO COMPROMISE POSITION OVER KOZLODUY
According to Energy Ministry Nuclear Safety Director Yordan Georgiev, the final report on a recent inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency has determined that units No. 3 and No. 4 of the Kozloduy nuclear-power plant do not have any safety problems, mediapool.bg reported. Georgiev presented the final report that stated that units No. 3 and No. 4 meet international standards. Analysts believe that the government will use the report as an argument against the European Commission's position that units No. 3 and No. 4 must be closed down before 2006. Georgiev told journalists that one cannot talk about any deadline for the closure of the units in question and that they will be operated as long as it makes good economic sense and as long as their safety is ensured. UB
BULGARIAN BORDER POLICE CORRUPTION DISCUSSED
The leadership of the National Border Police Service and directors of border checkpoints discussed measures on 29 August to fight corruption at border crossings, BTA reported. National Border Police Service Director Colonel Valeri Grigorov addressed the meeting, saying, "There is willingness to fight corruption at the central administration level -- in the Interior Ministry and the Border Police leadership -- but the situation is different at the regional border checkpoints." According to Grigorov, 15 border police officers have been dismissed thus far on charges of corruption, and more dismissals are likely to follow. The government hopes to lessen the incidence of corruption with the introduction of a new computer system that will restrict the possibilities for border officials to circumvent it or to enter false data. UB
BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT EXTENDS BAN ON DEATH PENALTY
At its regular session on 29 August, the government approved Bulgaria's accession to Protocol No. 13 to the Council of Europe's Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, BTA reported. The protocol bans the death penalty under all circumstances, including for acts committed in times of war or imminent threat of war. Bulgaria abolished the death penalty in 1998. UB
CAN GLASNOST SAVE PRESIDENT KUCHMA AND HIS REGIME?
Incumbent Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma faces three insurmountable problems in the 2004 presidential campaign that de facto begins next month and heralds the approach to the post-Kuchma era. (The Ukrainian Constitution precludes him running for a third presidential term).
First, Kuchma is finding it impossible to arrange a transfer of power to a chosen successor along the lines of that from Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin in Russia in 1999-2000. Kuchma has no oligarch ally who has any public support. Worse still, anybody whom he anointed as his successor would automatically be discredited. Ukrainian polls in the last two years have consistently placed Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko and Communist Party (KPU) leader Pyotr Symonenko in the second round of a presidential election with Yushchenko winning.
Who then will provide Kuchma with immunity from prosecution and protection for his family's business empire? And who will protect other oligarchs from a bona fide campaign against corruption if Yushchenko becomes president? Head of the Writers Union and Our Ukraine deputy Volodymyr Yavorivskyy believes that this is a life-or-death struggle for those such as the Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o), led by presidential administration head Viktor Medvedchuk, who are accused of being the most corrupt oligarchic clan.
Second, Kuchma's recent actions suggest that he is no longer indifferent to increasing public hostility about widespread public hostility to his administration. In a poll released on the 11th anniversary of independence, the Ukrainian Center for Economic and Political Studies (UTsEPD) found that 92 percent of Ukrainians feel that they have no influence over the authorities. The same number believe human rights are routinely infringed upon and 80 percent feel their standard of living has worsened since 1990, while 72 percent want him to resign and 52 percent would support his impeachment.
For the first time ever, four opposition groups -- Our Ukraine, KPU, the Socialists, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc -- are coordinating mass protests calling for early presidential elections on 16 September, the second anniversary of opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze's abduction. The UTsEPD poll found that 43 percent of Ukrainians supported the protest.
Third, as the opposition has long argued, a serious crisis of power exists in Ukraine and there is very low public trust in state institutions. Kuchma and his oligarchic allies have little public support and live completely separate lives from the population, there is a lack of public accountability and transparency, and they attempt to stay in power through undemocratic methods. As oligarch and former presidential adviser Oleksandr Volkov pointed out in "Den" on 21 May, the presidency is ideologically amorphous and therefore unable to explain to the public what its policies are. One of Kuchma's answers is to reintroduce a Soviet-style policy that beginning this year his State of the Nation Address to parliament is studied in all educational institutions.
Kuchma is accused of changing the outcome of the March 2002 parliamentary elections when four opposition groups won 58 percent of the vote, compared to only 18 percent obtained by the SDPU-o, and For a United Ukraine (ZYU). Other parties who lost the elections, the Winter Crop Generation party and the Christian Democratic Party, have been promoted by Kuchma into the presidential administration and together with the SDPU-o and factions that have grown out of ZYU continue to run the government. Thus, it is not surprising that 59 percent of Ukrainians, according to the UTsEPD poll, do not believe that the March elections were democratic while 51 percent do not believe the forthcoming 2004 elections will be any improvement.
Kuchma has resorted to former CPSU Central Committee General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost in a doomed attempt to overcome these three problems and win back public confidence. As Kuchma admitted in an interview in "Den" on 2 August normal societies have a high level of trust in the authorities. "It is no secret that such trust today is lacking," he admitted. In effect, Kuchma's policy of glasnost is a tacit admission that pro-presidential groups lost the parliamentary elections.
The "new Kuchma" now expresses concern for his citizens. Kuchma interrupted his holiday following the Lviv air-show disaster on 27 July that killed 74 people and he demanded the arrest of military officers "guilty" of that catastrophe. Coal-mine directors deemed guilty of negligence leading to 13 accidents that have killed 187 miners this year alone are also being targeted.
Presidential decrees issued on 1 and 20 August outlined new steps to make Ukraine's political system more transparent and reorganized the presidential administration. Although these decrees are portrayed as major steps in political reform, they are no different from three earlier attempts last year that ended up being largely ignored by Ukraine's bureaucrats and the presidentially appointed state administration.
In his Independence Day speech, Kuchma came out in favor of transforming Ukraine into a parliamentary-presidential republic, a demand that most opposition groups have long supported and pro-presidential blocs in the elections opposed. Kuchma recently described parliament as a "center for the country's destabilization." Kuchma also backed opposition calls for an election law that is fully proportional, something he vetoed five times last year because he claimed society was insufficiently "mature" and parties "inadequately developed."
Kuchma has successfully created an artificial pro-presidential "parliamentary majority" of 228 through bribery and by blackmailing businessmen who can now appoint a new government and safely introduce his political reforms. Such a policy would sideline the opposition by wooing the "constructive opposition" Our Ukraine from opposition protests and discrediting them in the eyes of the population, while branding the "radical opposition," whom he already accuses of existing only due to "black funds," as a destabilizing factor and stripping Tymoshenko of her immunity from prosecution.
Although the aim of this new policy of glasnost is to regain public support, it may also undermine the foundations of the regime built up by Kuchma since 1994. The new policies are the first signs that Kuchma is desperately searching for a way out of a predicament that he has himself created as he approaches the end of his term in office.
Dr. Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies and adjunct staff of the Department of Political Science, University of Toronto.