PUTIN WARNS GEORGIA OVER TOLERATION OF CHECHEN 'TERRORISM'...
Addressing a meeting of military and law enforcement officials in Sochi on 11 September, President Vladimir Putin warned the Georgian leadership that if it fails to take effective measures to prevent "bandits" from launching attacks on Russian territory from bases in Georgia, Russia will avail itself of its right -- guaranteed by the UN Charter -- to take appropriate action in self-defense either on its own or collectively, Russian news agencies and Caucasus Press reported. He said that "today nobody can deny...that those who had a hand in the terrorist attacks in the United States one year ago and the perpetrator of [the 1999] apartment bombings in Russia have taken refuge in Georgia," Interfax reported. Putin instructed the General Staff to provide proposals on whether it is possible and expedient to launch strikes on terrorists bases in Georgia that have been reliably identified in intelligence operations, Reuters reported. Putin did not specify a time frame within which he expects the Georgian leadership to comply with his demand to neutralize the Chechen militant presence. "Vremya novostei" reported on 12 September that the chief of the General Staff, General Anatolii Kvashnin, has already drafted the plan of a potential Russian operation in the Pankisi Gorge. According to Kvashnin's plan, the operation would be spearheaded by the 42nd Motorized Division -- currently deployed in Ingushetia -- and detachments of the Federal Border Guard Service, special-task units of Military Intelligence (GRU), and the theater air wing. LF/VY
...APPEALS TO UN, OSCE
In an 11 September missive addressed to the United Nations and the OSCE and carried by strana.ru, President Putin noted that Russia has largely succeeded in destroying the "terrorist infrastructure" created in Chechnya "with the support of the criminal [Chechen] regime" and is now beginning to reduce its military presence there. He claimed that peace is gradually returning to Chechnya, the economy is recovering, and preparations are in progress to adopt a new constitution and elect new republican and local authorities. But some Chechen militants have taken refuge in Georgia where, Putin claimed, they have the support of that country's leadership. Putin noted that Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in 1999 rejected Russian proposals to cooperate in order to prevent Chechen militants infiltrating Georgia and repeatedly denied their presence on Georgian territory until he was constrained to admit it. Putin claimed Shevardnadze did not react "constructively" to Putin's letter of 3 September calling for joint military action against the Chechens in the Pankisi Gorge. Putin accused Georgia of blatantly violating the UN Security Council's antiterrorism resolution No. 1373 and argued that Georgia must be made to comply with its international obligations. Putin said Russia might be constrained to resort to its right under UN Security Council resolution No. 1368 and the UN Charter to individual or collective self-defense and will act "in strict accordance with international law" to neutralize the "terrorist threat," if Georgia fails to do so. LF
RUSSIAN, CHECHEN OFFICIALS ENDORSE PUTIN'S WARNING...
Dmitrii Rogozin, who chairs the State Duma's International Affairs Committee, expressed his approval of Putin's 11 September statement, which he construed as "the final warning to the Georgian leadership," Interfax reported. Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov termed Putin's statement "a forced and necessary step" that, he predicted, the international community will understand and approve, Interfax reported. Kadyrov too accused Shevardnadze of "failing to take a single step" to neutralize the threat posed by Chechen militants in Pankisi. Chechen Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov similarly expressed approval of Putin's statement, arguing that "terrorists must be destroyed on any territory, on the ground, in the air, and if necessary under water," ITAR-TASS reported. He added that Shevardnadze's protection of Chechen "terrorists" disqualifies him from acting as a mediator between representatives of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership. (For Georgian reaction to Putin's statement, see "Transcaucasus and Central Asia.") LF
...AS DOES SPS
The Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) expressed support for President Putin's statement on Georgia, RIA-Novosti reported on 12 September. "One should accustom world public opinion and the United States to the idea that it is impossible to destroy terrorism on the territory of Georgia through consultations," said Deputy Duma Speaker and SPS leader Irina Khakamada. She added that Putin's statement is a warning and an offer to help resolve a problematic situation. VY
PROSECUTOR ASKS GREAT BRITAIN AND GEORGIA TO EXTRADITE BEREZOVSKII AND HIS AIDE...
Speaking in Samara, Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov said his office has nearly completed its investigation into LogoVAZ, which was formerly Russia's largest automobile dealer and which was controlled by now-disgraced oligarch Boris Berezovskii, Russian news agencies reported on 11 September. Kolesnikov said that the investigation has uncovered information that in 1994-95, Berezovskii and his associates -- particularly his aide Badri Patarkatsishvili -- allegedly fraudulently misappropriated 2,033 automobiles belonging to the company for their personal enrichment. Kolesnikov said that the prosecutor-general is calling on Great Britain and Georgia -- where Berezovskii and Patarkatsishvili, respectively, now reside -- to expedite the extradition of the two men so that they can be interrogated. Kolesnikov added that the investigation also raised serious questions relating to Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov, who will also face questioning. VY
...AS MEDIA SPECULATES ON POSSIBLE POLITICAL MOTIVATIONS BEHIND THE CASE
Kolesnikov's statement can be best explained by the ongoing tension between Russia and Georgia and by the fact that Patarkatsishvili is now an adviser to Georgian President Shevardnadze, gazeta.ru editorialized on 12 September. The website said that Kolesnikov has a reputation for sensational pubic statements that never amount to anything, including a promise to investigate presidential Chief of Staff Aleksandr Voloshin that was never fulfilled. Meanwhile, grani.ru -- which belongs to Berezovskii -- reported on 12 September that the oligarch's lawyers have not been informed of any request to Great Britain for his extradition. VY
DUMA SET TO UNDERMINE COMMUNIST REFERENDUM EFFORT...
Seven of the nine factions on the State Duma Council voted on 10 September to accelerate consideration of a key amendment to Russia's law on referendums, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 11 September. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) plans to collect 2 million signatures in order to compel a referendum on several key economic and social policies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2002). The proposed amendment would forbid holding referendums during the year immediately preceding parliamentary or presidential elections. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," the KPRF is counting on protection from the law on basic guarantees of citizens' electoral rights, which states that amendments to electoral legislation do not apply to elections or referendums that have already been scheduled. However, centrist Duma factions have reportedly agreed to amend the law on basic guarantees so as to grant retroactive force to changes in legislation on referendums. LB
...HANDING YABLOKO AND SPS POTENTIAL BARGAINING CHIP
The effort to thwart the Communist-backed referendum may give the Yabloko and SPS factions political leverage that they do not normally enjoy. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted on 11 September that the law on referendums is a federal constitutional law, which means that amendments to it must be approved by a two-thirds majority (300 votes) rather than by a simple majority of 226 deputies. Reaching the 300-vote threshold would almost certainly require the support of SPS and Yabloko, since the Communist and Agrarian factions oppose efforts to alter the law on referendums. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" speculated that in exchange for the cooperation of Yabloko and SPS in scuttling the Communist referendum, the Kremlin might be forced to support changes in the law on alternative service or even a constitutional amendment to require direct elections of Federation Council deputies. LB
NEXT ELECTION CYCLE MAY BE 'FUN' OR 'BORING'...
No consensus emerged from a scenario-spinning session featuring prominent Moscow political consultants on 10 September, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 11 September. Some experts shared Politika Foundation head Vyacheslav Nikonov's view that the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections will be "fun," while others agreed with Andrei Fedorov of the Foundation for Political Research and Consulting, who said they will be "boring." In particular, views differed concerning the prospects of Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev's new Party of Russia's Rebirth (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 2002). Yelena Bashkirova, president of the ROMIR polling firm, suggested that Seleznev's party "has already altered the [political] market." But Sergei Markov, head of the Institute for Political Research, recalled the sorry fate of the Bloc of Ivan Rybkin in 1995. Then-Duma Speaker Rybkin's political venture -- conceived as a center-left counterpart to then-Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's center-right Our Home Is Russia -- failed to attract prominent allies and attracted just 1 percent of the party-list vote. LB
...BUT EITHER WAY, PUTIN SEEN AS KEY PLAYER
Several participants in the 10 September Moscow meeting of political consultants agreed that President Putin, the overwhelming favorite to win the 2004 presidential election, will also play a key role during the Duma elections scheduled for December 2003, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 11 September. Andrei Fedorov went so far as to say, "Everything presented on the market of political forces [in the Duma campaign] will have the president's stamp." Aleksei Kara-Muza of the Center for Theoretical Problems of Russian Reform suggested that Putin's stance will determine which parties on the political right gain representation in parliament because the 225 Duma seats awarded according to proportional representation are distributed only among political parties that win at least 5 percent of the party-list vote. Kara-Muza also noted that Putin has not yet chosen a favorite among various pro-presidential groups such as Unified Russia or the People's Party of the Russian Federation. LB
WILL CLASH BETWEEN CENTER AND REGIONS DOMINATE NEXT PARLIAMENTARY CAMPAIGN?
The main fault line in next year's Duma elections will run not between left and right but between the center and regional authorities seeking "payback" for the first two years of Putin's presidency, according to Georgii Satarov, head of the INDEM think tank and a longtime adviser to former President Boris Yeltsin. In an interview published in the 9 September issue of "Kommersant-Vlast," Satarov noted that regional elites seeking to deny the Kremlin's "party of power" a majority in the Duma have powerful administrative resources at their disposal during election campaigns, ranging from control over regional media to outright vote rigging. Aleksandr Dynkin, deputy director of the Institute of the World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO), similarly predicted at a 10 September gathering of political consultants in Moscow that next year's parliamentary elections might be marked by a "governors' betrayal" of the Kremlin, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 11 September. LB
CENTRAL ELECTION COMMISSION CHAIRMAN BACKS SIMULTANEOUS REGIONAL AND FEDERAL ELECTIONS
Holding gubernatorial elections on the same day as nationwide parliamentary or presidential elections would save money, increase turnout, and avoid the "endless chain of elections that is starting to get irritating," according to Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov, "Vremya MN" reported on 11 September. Veshnyakov emphasized that the TsIK will not require regional authorities to set elections concurrently with parliamentary or presidential balloting and is merely reminding regional authorities that the option exists under Russia's law on basic guarantees of the electoral rights of citizens. "Vremya MN" speculated that the Kremlin is the true source of Veshnyakov's initiative. The presidential administration's ability to influence regional races would presumably grow if the Kremlin could push its favored gubernatorial candidates while using federal leverage on behalf of Unified Russia during the Duma campaign or of Putin during the presidential race. LB
DUMA REJECTS PROTEST OF U.S. IONOSPHERE EXPERIMENTS
In its opening session on 11 September, the Duma rejected a draft resolution addressed to President Putin that called for Russia to protest the U.S. High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP), polit.ru reported. HAARP is project to study the ionosphere in order to identify ways to use it for civilian and military communications and surveillance systems. One element of the program is the use of a powerful transmitter to excite the ionosphere in order to study it. Communist deputies believe that HAARP potentially represents a new global arms race in the area of geophysical weaponry. "It cannot be excluded that such experiments could become the launching platform for geophysical, geological, and biological cataclysms on a global scale," the resolution read. The resolution would have called on Putin to hold a Security Council session on HAARP and would have asked the Foreign Ministry to raise the issue at the UN. The resolution garnered 188 of the necessary 226 votes, and a similar resolution addressed to the UN Security Council was rejected by the same vote. RC
11 SEPTEMBER: BIRTHDAY OF THE FOUNDER OF SOVIET SECRET POLICE
11 September marked the 125th anniversary of the birth of Feliks Dzerzhinskii, founder of the Soviet secret police, RosBalt and "Izvestiya" reported on 12 September. "Izvestiya" described Dzerzhinskii as a person who choose security over freedom. An impoverished Polish nobleman who once dreamed of becoming a priest, Dzerzhinskii became a fanatic in the mold of Osama bin Laden, a man who was willing to commit terror for the sake of goals he believed were noble, the daily continued. Dzerzhinskii organized the Red Terror in order to combat injustice and was a man who saved children by killing adults, the paper said. "Dzerzhinskii has never left us. He remains in our hearts, souls, and minds," "Izvestiya" concluded. VY
CHECHEN ADMINISTRATION HEAD'S PRESS SECRETARY WOUNDED
Unidentified gunmen broke into the home in Gekhi of writer Lechi Yakhyaev late on 10 September and shot and seriously wounded him, Interfax reported the following day. Yakhyaev is Chechen administration head Kadyrov's press secretary. Kadyrov attributed the attack to Yakhyaev's professional activities, while Chechen Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudaev said the motive was robbery, according to ITAR-TASS. LF
ARMENIA OPPOSED TO POSSIBLE U.S. ATTACK ON IRAQ
Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told journalists in Yerevan on 11 September that the Armenian government believes a U.S. attack on Iraq would have "negative consequences" for the countries of the region, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He added that such an attack could endanger personnel at Armenia's embassy in Baghdad and the small Armenian community in Iraq. LF
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT HECKLED IN GYANDJA
President Heidar Aliev, accompanied by his son Ilham, traveled on 12 September to Gyandja, Azerbaijan's second-largest city, which is plagued by an almost total breakdown of its infrastructure and by massive unemployment, to open a new Olympic complex there, Turan reported. Alluding to those problems in his address, Aliev claimed that much has been done to improve gas and electricity supplies to the city. A group of protesters forced their way through the security cordon and interrupted his address. LF
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT SIGNS DECREE ON PRIVATE SECTOR
On 11 September Aliev signed a decree on increasing state support for private business, Turan and Interfax reported. He instructed the government to draft within two weeks proposals for reducing and simplifying tax rates as of 1 January 2003 and to revise the tariffs paid by private businesses for the use of gas, water, electricity, and state-owned road-, rail-, and air-transport companies. Aliev also called for 250 billion manats ($51 million) to be allocated in the 2003 state budget for the development of private business and asked the government to make suggestions for raising additional non-budgetary funds for the same purpose. LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT REJECTS PUTIN'S ACCUSATIONS AS UNFOUNDED
At a special press briefing on 12 September, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze dismissed Russian President Vladimir Putin's threat of military action against "bandits" in the Pankisi Gorge as biased and one-sided, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze said Putin made no mention of how and why the Chechen militants took refuge in Pankisi, stressing that the problem was not of Georgia's making. Shevardnadze admitted that Georgia cannot completely control traffic across the Georgian-Chechen border but denied that Russia is capable of doing so either. He claimed that except for 30-40 "criminals," all Chechens have already left Pankisi. Georgian National Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania downplayed Putin's statement, telling the independent television station Rustavi-2 that Russia has made similar threats in the past, Caucasus Press reported. Khaburzania again affirmed Georgia's readiness to "cooperate" with Russia over Pankisi, but not to launch a joint military operation there. LF
SOUTH OSSETIA APPEALS TO RUSSIA TO PREVENT NEW AGGRESSION
In a statement addressed to President Putin, the president and parliament of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia expressed concern at media reports that Chechen fighters have made their way from Georgia's Pankisi Gorge to the borders of South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported on 12 September. They appealed to Putin not to permit new bloodshed in South Ossetia. The parliament asked President Eduard Kokoyty to declare a general mobilization. Earlier on 12 September Kokoyty rejected as untrue media reports that he had already done so the previous day. On 11 September, Georgian National Security Ministry spokesman Nika Laliashvili denied that Chechen terrorists could have made their way from the Pankisi Gorge to South Ossetia, Interfax reported. LF
RUSSIAN PARLIAMENTARIAN ACCUSES KAZAKHSTAN OF ILLICIT PRODUCTION OF NUCLEAR MATERIAL
The Kazakh copper monopoly Kazakhmys is engaged in the unauthorized production of the strategic material osmium-187, which can be used to produce nuclear weapons, Russian State Duma Security Committee member Viktor Ilyukhin (Communist) told Interfax on 11 September. He added that couriers apprehended in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Volgograd were found to be in possession of samples of osmium-187 that could be proved to have originated in Kazakhstan. LF
KYRGYZ PROTESTERS SIGNAL READINESS TO NEGOTIATE WITH LEADERSHIP
In a message to President Askar Akaev, participants in a protest march from southern Kyrgyzstan to Bishkek on 11 September listed the conditions under which they are prepared to meet with a representative appointed by Akaev to discuss the possibility of abandoning that undertaking, Interfax, akipress.org, and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The protesters, who remain in the southern town of Kara-Kul, some 400 kilometers from Bishkek, demand that release nine march participants detained by police in Djalalabad be released and the criminal cases brought against them closed. They also insist that police return five cars used to transport food for the marchers that they confiscated. The marchers are demanding that Akaev resign and that those responsible for the killing of five protesters in Aksy in March be brought to justice. LF
AUTHORITIES STEP UP PRESSURE ON KYRGYZ MARCHERS
Meanwhile the Kyrgyz authorities continued to mobilize public organizations to pressure the marchers to quit, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. According to Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev's press office, some 10,000 people from across the country have signed an appeal addressed to the marchers calling on them to unite in the face of international and domestic religious extremism. The appeal, whose author is not known, warns marchers not to be misled by unnamed forces seeking to manipulate public anger over the Aksy killings for their own political ends. LF
KYRGYZSTAN, RUSSIA DISCUSS EXPANDING ECONOMIC COOPERATION
Prime Minister Tanaev met in Moscow on 11 September with his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kasyanov to discuss prospects for expanding bilateral economic cooperation, ITAR-TASS and akipress.org reported. The talks focused specifically on possible Russian participation in the construction of two hydroelectric power stations, the export of electricity to Russia, the joint development of the Djerui and Taldybulak gold deposits -- which according to the Economist Intelligence Unit each contain an estimated 50 tons of ore -- and setting up joint ventures in Kyrgyzstan to process meat, fruit, and vegetables. LF
11 SEPTEMBER ANNIVERSARY MARKED IN SOUTH CAUCASUS, CENTRAL ASIA
Armenia's top leadership, including President Robert Kocharian, attended a memorial service in Yerevan, and Catholicos Garegin II officiated in a special service at Echmiadzin, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. In Baku, President Heidar Aliev met with U.S. Ambassador Ross Wilson to present condolences and reaffirm Azerbaijan's readiness for continued cooperation with the antiterrorism coalition, Turan reported. In Tbilisi, the Georgian parliament observed a minute of silence and unanimously passed a resolution expressing support for U.S. efforts to eradicate terrorism, Caucasus Press reported. In Astana, U.S. Ambassador Larry Napper held a press conference at which he expressed gratitude for Kazakhstan's support and solidarity, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. In Bishkek, U.S. and other allied troops attended a remembrance ceremony at their base at the Manas International Airport, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. In Ashgabat, city residents thronged to the U.S. Embassy to pay their respects, according to turkmenistan.ru. In Tashkent, U.S. Ambassador John Herbst and Uzbekistan's Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov attended a memorial ceremony. LF
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT ORDERS CONSTRUCTION OF NATIONAL LIBRARY...
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 11 September ordered that the construction of a new building for the National Library in Minsk begin on 1 November and concluded by 1 September 2005, Belapan and Belarusian television reported. According to the Belarusian president, the new library facilities should become not only a "gigantic book repository" but also a "supermodern center of knowledge" and a symbol of Belarusian statehood. "There is a willingness today to build [the library], beginning from its director [and ending with] the president. But, pardon my saying, the devil only knows if the future authorities will be willing to build it.... [Therefore], it is we who should build this library," Lukashenka said at a meeting with architects and designers. "You should organize an ideal construction site.... You should instruct our builders how to build beautifully and in a civilized manner, without using Soviet technologies," he added. JM
...SENDS LETTER TO BUSH OVER 11 SEPTEMBER 2001 ATTACKS
Belarusian television reported on 11 September that Lukashenka has sent a message to U.S. President George W. Bush in connection with the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. "We are ready to continue constructive cooperation with the United States and other countries to achieve the final victory over international terrorism," the network quoted from Lukashenka's letter. JM
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION DEMONSTRATOR JAILED FOR 15 DAYS
A court in Minsk on 11 September imposed a 15-day jail sentence on Zmitser Dashkevich, an activists of the Youth Front organization, for his part in an unauthorized demonstration in front of the Russian Embassy in Minsk on 8 September, Belapan reported. Dashkevich and 10 other Youth Front activists protested Russian President Vladimir Putin's proposal to incorporate Belarus into the Russian Federation. Dashkevich argued in the court that during the demonstration he was acting in line with the Belarusian Constitution, which obliges Belarusian citizens to defend their country's sovereignty. Judge Tatsyana Paulyuchuk, however, did not heed the argument. JM
TRADERS STRIKE, DEMAND BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT'S OUSTER
Valery Levaneuski, the chairman of the strike committee of Belarusian outdoor-market traders, told Belapan on 12 September that some 110,000 vendors throughout Belarus took part in a strike the previous day. The protesters, apart from demands to reduce the administrative and financial pressure on small businesses, also demanded that President Lukashenka resign. "For the last eight years Alyaksandr Ryhoravich [Lukashenka] has engaged us in idle talks. He promises to meet traders halfway, but in actual fact he stifles them. What do we need such a president for?" Levaneuski told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service. JM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT NOT TO DISCUSS IMPEACHING PRESIDENT...
The Verkhovna Rada on 12 September approved an agenda for its second session that began earlier this month, UNIAN reported. In particular, the legislature plans to adopt a budget for 2003 as well as to discuss a Tax Code, a Labor Code, and bills on the Cabinet of Ministers and the post of president. Deputies did not support a motion to initiate the impeachment of President Leonid Kuchma during the current session (only 152 out of the 405 deputies registered in the session hall voted to include this proposal in the agenda). JM
...OR LIFTING TYMOSHENKO'S IMMUNITY
Parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn has decided to return to the Prosecutor-General's Office its request to lift deputy Yuliya Tymoshenko's parliamentary immunity in connection with a criminal investigation against her (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August and 9 September 2002), UNIAN reported on 12 September. Lytvyn told the Verkhovna Rada that the request needs to be elaborated and better substantiated. He added that in its present form, the request does not abide by the Ukrainian Constitution or legislation. Tymoshenko, who insisted that the request be considered by the parliament during the current session, commented that "the president and his retinue have not yet managed to pressure the necessary number of deputies" into voting to lift her immunity and allow her arrest. JM
OUR UKRAINE EXPECTS OVER 1,000 DELEGATES AT DEMOCRATIC FORUM...
Our Ukraine anticipates that more than 1,000 delegates will take part in its democratic forum in Kyiv on 14-15 September, UNIAN reported on 11 September, quoting Our Ukraine lawmaker Oleh Rybachuk. Rybachuk said invitations to participate in the forum have been sent to parliamentarians, regional councilors, and organizations, including 62 political parties. President Kuchma has been invited as a delegate to the forum, while Premier Anatoliy Kinakh, cabinet ministers, and regional administration heads have been asked to participate as guests. JM
...WHILE YUSHCHENKO, LYTVYN MULL FORMATION OF PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITY
Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko and parliamentary speaker Lytvyn met on 11 September to discuss the creation of a parliamentary majority that could run a coalition government, UNIAN reported. Their meeting was reportedly attended by Tymoshenko, the leader of the opposition Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc. Yushchenko refused to meet with representatives of the so-called "nine" -- comprising nine pro-presidential parliamentary groups (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September 2002). Yushchenko said he "had the impression" that Lytvyn understood Our Ukraine's position regarding the formation of a parliamentary majority. Yushchenko added that no democratic majority will be created if Our Ukraine is presented with "ultimatums." JM
MORE THAN 15,000 CANDIDATES REGISTERED FOR ESTONIA'S LOCAL-COUNCIL ELECTIONS
The National Election Commission announced on 11 September that a total of 15,176 candidates have been registered for the local-council elections on 20 October, BNS reported. The local election commissions are required to register candidates until 15 September and finalize lists by 18 September. There are a total of 3,273 seats in 241 town and local-government councils in the country. More than 70 percent of the candidates (11,046) are running on party tickets, 4,012 as members of 249 electoral alliances, and 118 persons as independents. There are 1,292 candidates from 10 political parties and one election alliance, as well as six independents competing for the 63 seats on the Tallinn City Council. SG
WORLD BANK AUTHORIZES PREVIOUSLY POSTPONED $20 MILLION LOAN TO LATVIA
The Finance Ministry announced on 11 September that the World Bank has approved disbursing a $20 million loan to Latvia for supporting economic reforms in Latvia, BNS reported. The loan is not intended for specific projects but is part of a multiyear structural-reforms loan program, which Latvia was among the first countries to receive. Latvia received a $40 million loan in 2000 and was to receive another $40 million last year, but this sum was later reduced to $20 million because of the state's delays in implementing some reforms, and was subsequently halted after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) objected to the high projected deficit in Latvia's 2001 budget. The government later reached a compromise with the IMF and the World Bank and the $20 million loan was authorized. SG
LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT VISITS UNITED STATES
Valdas Adamkus participated in ceremonies in New York on 11 September commemorating the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, ELTA reported. Adamkus met the same day with members of the American Jewish Community and spoke with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen about the controversial issue regarding visas for Kaliningrad Oblast residents. Adamkus opened his four-day U.S. visit in Chicago on 9 September by participating in a roundtable at Northwestern University's Center of International Relations and Comparative Studies and also addressed the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. The next day he met with organizers of U.S. Environment Protection Agency's program to support the Baltic countries. Adamkus was scheduled to give a speech to the UN General Assembly on 12 September. SG
IMF OPTIMISTIC ABOUT POLISH ECONOMIC RECOVERY
Susan Schadler, who headed an International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission that visited Poland earlier this month, forecast at a news conference in Warsaw on 11 September that Poland will post GDP growth of 1 percent in 2002, 2.5 percent in 2003, and 5 percent in 2004-06 provided that Premier Leszek Miller's cabinet keeps tight controls on spending and reduces the budget deficit, "Rzeczpospolita" reported. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Grzegorz Kolodko said on 12 September that he expects GDP to grow by 1.2 percent this year, PAP reported. JM
POLISH GERMANS SET UP COORDINATION BODY
German minority organizations in Silesian Province -- the Reconciliation and Future group, the German Social-Cultural Association, and the Union of German Youth -- have set up a Council of Upper Silesian Germans, PAP reported on 11 September. "This is one of the breakthrough moments in the history of Silesia's German minority. The council was planned as an initiative uniting Poland's Germans so that we don't just sit around drinking tea but take more part in public life," Reconciliation and Future head Dietmar Brehmer told journalists. The council will be chaired by the German minority's chaplain, Father Konrad Wersch. JM
CZECH GOVERNMENT APPROVES FIELD HOSPITAL'S PULLOUT FROM AFGHANISTAN...
The government on 11 September approved the withdrawal of the Czech military field hospital stationed in Afghanistan by the end of 2002, CTK and AP reported. At the same time, the cabinet approved the extension of the mission of the Czech antichemical/antibacteriological unit in Kuwait until the end of 2003. Finally, the government decided to extend Czech military participation in the KFOR mission in the Balkans through 2003. All the decisions require the approval of the parliament. Also on 11 September, CTK reported that the first group of the joint Czech-Slovak KFOR battalion left for Kosova on the same day. The battalion will operate under British command. It includes about 400 Czech and 100 Slovak soldiers. MS
...APPROVES DRAFT BILL ON EU PARLIAMENT ELECTIONS
At its 11 September meeting, the Czech government also approved a draft bill for the 2004 elections to the European Parliament, CTK reported. The cabinet expects the Czech Republic to join the EU that year. Candidates for the body must be at least 21 years old and must be permanent residents -- although not necessarily citizens -- of the Czech Republic. Elected EU parliament deputies will serve five-year terms. The country's president, members of the cabinet, parliamentary deputies and senators, judges, and the ombudsman are barred from running in the elections. The draft bill must still be debated in the parliament's two chambers. MS
DID POSSIBLE CZECH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE CONCEAL KSC MEMBERSHIP?
The daily "Pravo" on 12 September reported that Jaroslav Bures, considered a possible Social Democratic Party candidate for president, was a member of the Czechoslovak Communist Party (KSC) between 1986-89, CTK reported. Bures, who is a former justice minister and currently serves as deputy justice minister, did not include his KSC membership on his curriculum vitae. He told "Pravo" that he did not conceal the fact, but that no one asked him whether he was a KSC member when his candidacy for the post of justice minister was vetted. He added that he had intended to reveal his former KSC membership if he were selected as the Social Democratic Party's presidential candidate. "Pravo" said Bures joined the KSC in order to further his professional career, and Bures told the daily he left the party immediately after the overthrow of the communist regime in November 1989. MS
SLOVAKIA COMMEMORATES SEPTEMBER 2001 EVENTS...
"Slovakia and its citizens feel that they are a firm part of a large coalition of solidarity [with the United States]," Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said at a commemoration of the 11 September terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, according to CTK. Dzurinda said that those events have taught Slovakia to be "more sensitive" to any sign of intolerance, racism, xenophobia, violations of human rights, violence, populism, and nationalism. He mentioned that Slovakia has dispatched an engineering unit to Afghanistan and has supported NATO operations in Kosova. President Rudolf Schuster, who attended the ceremony, said that Slovakia "never wished to be just a passive consumer of the security [extended by NATO]." U. S. Ambassador to Slovakia Ronald Weiser said the United States will never forget that Slovak support came at the moment when it was needed most. MS
...BUT POSTPONES DECISION ON SUPPORT FOR MILITARY ACTION IN IRAQ
Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan on 11 September told TASR that before his country makes a decision on whether to support military action against Iraq, it will wait for an official U.S. decision to be made public. "Thus far, the United States has been holding intensive consultations with its European allies," but has not produced an official statement on the issue, Kukan said. He conceded that the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein represents a potential threat and emphasized that "it would be irresponsible to let [Hussein] make the most" of that threat. MS
SLOVAKIA, HUNGARY AGREE ON NEED TO AMEND STATUS LAW
Slovak Deputy Prime Minister Pal Csaky and the new chairman of the Hungarian Office for Hungarians Abroad, Balint Pataki, agreed on 11 September in Bratislava on the need to amend the Status Law, TASR reported. They both said that the law, which came into force in Hungary in January 2001, should be so amended as to reflect the recommendations of the European Commission for Democracy and Law -- better known as the Venice Commission. A spokesman for Csaky said the current Slovak government will no longer deal with the issue, and agreement with Budapest on how to amend the law should be reached by the next Slovak cabinet. MS
SLOVAK POLICE WANT TO QUESTION FORMER PREMIER'S GERMAN FRIEND AND FINANCIER
Police Vice President Jaroslav Spisak told TASR on 11 September that Slovak police would like to question German businessman Peter Ziegler. Ziegler the previous day revealed that he loaned former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar more than $900,000 to finance the reconstruction of a villa Meciar owns in Trencianske Teplice (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September 2002). Meciar has thus far refused to answer police questions on the affair. MS
HUNGARIANS COMMEMORATE 11 SEPTEMBER...
Members of parliament on 11 September observed a minute of silence before regular business in tribute to the victims of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Hungarian media reported. At another commemoration in Buda Castle, Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy said that what happened in New York a year ago also happened to Hungarians, and "we have not forgotten that since." He said that America is a symbol to Hungary, "a symbol of the rule of law, free trade, and of home-loving people who believe in themselves." U.S. Ambassador Nancy Goodman Brinker spoke about the heroic work performed by firefighters, police, and volunteer workers in New York. The U.S. flag that was brought to Budapest from the Pentagon for the occasion was then hoisted. In the evening, a twin tower of light modeled on the New York World Trade Center was beamed skyward from Budapest's Gellert Hill. MSZ
...AS FOREIGN MINISTER HESITANT ON UNILATERAL MILITARY ACTION IN IRAQ
Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs on 10 September told "The New York Times" in Budapest that Hungary would not like to see any military operation in Iraq without UN authorization, "Nepszabadsag" reports. He said Hungary also wants international supervision to prevent Iraq from acquiring the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction. Kovacs said, "The latter represents a bigger threat to world security than the former." One of the basic goals of Hungarian foreign policy is Euro-Atlantic integration and that in this composition both "European" and "Atlantic" carry identical weight, he remarked. MSZ
HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION CRITICIZES VETTING BILLS
Justice Minister Peter Barandy on 11 September outlined in parliament the government's two vetting bills, saying the aim of the bill on making public the state-security past of persons who hold public posts is to promote transparency in public life and close this chapter of the past, Hungarian media reported. Accordingly, the bill is designed to reveal whether public political figures worked for the secret services at the Interior Ministry between December 1944 and February 1990, Barandy explained. He said the rights of persons figuring in state-security documents must be balanced with the need for transparency and the demands of past and present national security. A second bill stipulates the establishment of a State Security Services Historical Archive, Barandy said. The opposition slammed both bills as being unacceptable. FIDESZ Deputy Ervin Demeter complained that those who pursued law enforcement activity in 1956-57 are meant to be removed from the bill, "as that would affect former Prime Minister Gyula Horn." MSZ
COMMISSION TRACES DISAPPEARANCE OF HUNGARIAN OFFICIAL'S DOCUMENT
The missing document on Gabor Szalay, a Free Democrat political state secretary at the Economy Ministry, was taken from the Interior Ministry in 1995 by the then-head of the ministry's data-processing department, Hungarian Television reported on 11 September, citing Imre Mecs, chairman of the parliamentary commission investigating government officials' secret-service pasts. Mecs said this person is now the office manager of the panel of vetting judges, adding that it is still unclear where the document was taken. Szalay admitted last week that he collaborated with communist-era counterintelligence between 1978-88 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 2002). MSZ
KOSOVARS MARK 11 SEPTEMBER WITH CANDLELIGHT VIGIL
Official commemorations of the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States took place in Ljubljana, Zagreb, Sarajevo, Podgorica, Prishtina, and Belgrade on 11 September, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Several leaders from the region, including Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, attended ceremonies in New York. In Kosova, where ethnic Albanians regard Americans as their liberators from Serbian rule in 1999, ordinary citizens turned out to light candles in the streets of many towns. President Ibrahim Rugova and Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration (UNMIK), agreed that 11 September will henceforth be known as Remembrance Day in Kosova, Hina reported. In Sarajevo, Muslim women survivors of the 11 July 1995 Srebrenica massacre gathered with 50 representatives of Serbia's Women in Black, an NGO that opposed former President Slobodan Milosevic's wars against his neighbors, AP reported. Gordana Mugosan of Women in Black said that "11 September and 11 July are linked because those were attacks against civilians; those were terrorist acts." In Cetinje, Montenegrin NGOs honored the victims at the building that housed the U.S. Embassy to the Kingdom of Montenegro prior to 1918. PM
INTERNATIONAL ELECTION OBSERVERS ARRIVE IN MACEDONIA
The Warsaw-based OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) will monitor the 15 September parliamentary elections with more than 800 election observers, "Dnevnik" reported on 12 September. Michael Meyer, the ODIHR mission's political analyst, said the observers have already been briefed. An unspecified number of polling stations throughout the country will be monitored from the opening until the counting of the votes. Most election observers will leave the country on 17 September. In related news, NATO spokesman Craig Ratcliff said members of NATO Task Force Fox, together with Macedonian police, will continue to patrol throughout the country. The Atlantic alliance also provided a number of additional helicopters for use in the event of an emergency. UB
NATO OPTIMISTIC ON MACEDONIAN ELECTIONS
A spokesman for the Atlantic alliance said in Brussels on 12 September that NATO condemns the recent killing of a Macedonian policeman near Tetovo but believes that the elections will be free and fair, Reuters reported. He added that "the only possible response is for people to answer through the ballot box and refuse to allow this unrepresentative minority to drag Macedonia down into a spiral of violence." There have been almost daily reports of isolated cases of violence in recent weeks, most coming from police sources. Not all reports have been independently confirmed, nor is it clear whether any or all were politically or ethnically motivated. PM
MACEDONIAN CENSUS TO TAKE PLACE IN NOVEMBER
The State Census Commission has reviewed preparations for the census to be held between 1 and 15 November 2002, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 11 September. The census was due to be held in May 2001, but was delayed several times because of the unrest. According to the Ohrid peace agreement that ended the insurgency, the quantitative division of jobs in the public sector will be decided based on the results of the census. The last population count was conducted in 1994. However, Macedonia's ethnic Albanians questioned the results, according to which they make up some 23 percent of Macedonia's population. UB
MONTENEGRIN STATE MEDIA CHIEFS RESIGN
Following the recent all-party agreement on the rules for the 20 October parliamentary elections and a number of related issues, the heads of state-run radio and television, as well as of the state-run daily "Pobjeda," resigned, AP reported from Podgorica on 12 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September 2002). Radovan Miljanic, who had been editor in chief of Radio Montenegro since 1998, said: "I am leaving my post convinced it is the only way to safeguard the dignity of my profession." The news agency reported that President Milo Djukanovic agreed with the opposition that his supporters in the top media posts should quit in the interest of calm in the run-up to the elections. PM
KOSTUNICA'S PARTY DEFENDS HIS REMARKS ON REPUBLIKA SRPSKA
Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) gave its endorsement on 11 September to recent remarks made by the president in the Serbian border town of Mali Zvornik, which some Bosnian officials regard as expressing a claim to Bosnian territory, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September 2002). Kostunica said that he has regarded the Republika Srpska "all along as part of the family that is dear and close to us, even if it is temporarily separated. But it will always be ours and in our hearts." Dragan Marsicanin, who is DSS vice president and Kostunica's campaign manager in his bid for the Serbian presidency, said he is not familiar with Kostunica's remarks. Marsicanin added, however, that annexing the Republika Srpska is in Serbia's "historic interest." He stressed that "there is nothing controversial for us in this, even if it is [for Bosnia]. This is the goal that we aim for." In Sarajevo, Bosnian Presidency candidate Haris Silajdzic sent a letter to foreign ambassadors and to Paddy Ashdown, the international community's high representative, saying that Kostunica's remarks show that he has territorial pretensions toward Bosnia. PM
SERBIA GOES AHEAD WITH KEY HIGHWAY PROJECT
The Serbian government announced on 11 September that it will continue construction of the 150-kilometer highway linking Nis with the Macedonian border in the spring of 2003, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The project is estimated to cost just under $250 million, of which Greece will contribute nearly $100 million. In related news, the Belgrade railway authorities (ZTP) said that "for technical reasons" they have delayed plans to resume rail links to Macedonia via Kosova. PM
DEVOTED SERBIAN BASKETBALL PLAYERS
Serbia continues to fete the Yugoslav men's basketball team, which recently returned to the country after winning its second consecutive World Basketball Championship title, "Vesti" reported on 12 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 September 2002). Players Vlade Divac, Predrag Stojakovic, and Dejan Bodiroga called on Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle to express in their "own names, as in the name of all the basketball team, their loyalty and devotion to the Serbian Orthodox Church," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Elsewhere, representatives of an organization of Milosevic supporters brought the team his greetings and congratulations. It is not clear how the players reacted. PM
CASHIERED CROATIAN POLICE TOLD TO MOVE
Police in central Zagreb cleared away a group of their former colleagues who have been protesting their dismissal under a government reform plan for the past six months, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 11 September. The ouster followed a recent incident in which some of the protesters hurled eggs at Prime Minister Ivica Racan during the visit of his Slovenian counterpart Janez Drnovsek. PM
ROMANIA MARKS 11 SEPTEMBER
In Bucharest on 11 September, President Ion Iliescu, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu, and other officials addressed an international conference titled "Solidarity Against Terrorism" and expressed Romania's determination to contribute to the struggle and, as Iliescu put it, "to fulfill at whatever costs its pledges within the strategic partnership with the U.S.," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. A minute of silence was observed the same day at cabinet and presidential staff meetings and Iliescu sent a telegram of condolence to his U.S. counterpart George W. Bush. At an evening concert at Bucharest's main concert hall, U.S. Ambassador Michael Guest presented a symbolic U.S. flag to Iliescu as a sign of gratitude for Romania's support following the 9/11 attacks. A plaque carries the inscription: "Together in remembrance, united in resolve." MS
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN PRIMES ROMANIAN MINISTER ON LETTER
European Parliament Chairman Patrick Cox met in Brussels on 11 September with Romanian European Integration Minister Hildegard Puwak, Romanian Radio reported. Cox told Puwak that in the letter he is preparing to send to the Romanian parliament, he will not propose "solutions" to the controversy concerning Romania's agreement with the United States pertaining to the International Criminal Court (ICC) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 2002). He said he intends only to outline "general observations" reflecting the European Union's position. Cox said the European Parliament "cannot dictate to a sovereign people" how its legislature should handle the matter. He also said he hopes "wisdom will prevail in making possible a joint European position" on the ICC. Puwak told Romanian radio that in the discussion with Cox, "no link was made" between the "accession dialogue" and the ICC dispute. EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said after meeting with Puwak on 11 September that he believes that, following the European Council's meeting in Brussels next month and the EU summit in Copenhagen in December, the EU will "send a clear [positive] signal" to Romania on the matter. MS
ROMANIAN PRESIDENTIAL COUNSELOR WANTS XENOPHOBIC TV CHANNEL OFF THE AIR
Presidential Counselor Corina Cretu said on 11 September that the National Council of Television must "take measures" against the private television channel Oglinda TV (OTV), Mediafax reported. Cretu criticized, in particular, OTV's talk show "Dan Diaconescu Live," saying the talk show "has been turned into an instrument of hatred, intolerance, racism, and anti-Semitism." According to Cretu, the show has become "a platform for the dissemination of incitement to violence [and] attacks on democratic values and on the institutions of the state based on the rule of the law." She said moderator Diaconescu's "passivity, lack of professionalism, and bad faith" in failing to counter guests who present such opinions on the show demonstrates that OTV is "pursuing cheap sensationalism and breaking the country's laws." Cretu's statement came after Greater Romania Party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor was interviewed on the program. MS
MOLDOVA COMMEMORATES 11 SEPTEMBER
A ceremony marking the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States was held in central Chisinau on 11 September, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. A letter President Vladimir Voronin sent one day earlier to his U.S. counterpart George W. Bush was read out. Voronin said in the letter that Moldova shares the grief of U.S. citizens and that "from the very start, Moldova has rallied behind the international coalition against terrorism." U.S. Ambassador Pamela Hyde Smith expressed her country's determination to root out terrorism. A special commemoration service led by Moldovan Orthodox Church Metropolitan Vladimir was conducted at the Chisinau Christmas Cathedral. The Moldovan cabinet began its meeting that day with a minute of silence in honor of the victims of the attack. MS
IMF MISSION STARTS MOLDOVAN VISIT
A mission of experts from the International Monetary Fund began an eight-day visit to Moldova on 11 September, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The experts are to examine Moldova's implementation of stipulations of a standby agreement on a $146 million loan to the country covering 2001-03. Moldova has received the first $36 million tranche of that loan. An agreement on a low-interest loan intended to reduce poverty is also to be examined. MS
BULGARIAN PRESIDENT OPENS UN SECURITY COUNCIL MEETING ON INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM
President Georgi Parvanov opened the UN Security Council meeting on international terrorism on 11 September and read the council's declaration against terrorism, BTA reported. Bulgaria holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council. The same day, Parvanov attended ceremonies in New York at the United Nations as well as the former site of the World Trade Center marking the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. On the sidelines of the UN ceremony, Parvanov held talks with Danish Prime Minster Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Parvanov also held a videoconference with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney. The talks focused on Bulgaria's bid for NATO accession and the possible military intervention in Iraq. UB
BULGARIA COMMEMORATES 11 SEPTEMBER
In memory of the victims of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Bulgarian parliamentarians held a minute of silence at the beginning of the 11 September plenary debate, mediapool.bg reported. In a letter addressed to U.S. President George W. Bush, Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski assured him of Bulgaria's support for the international antiterrorism coalition. "Expressing our deep respect for the memory of the victims of 11 September and the grief for their families, we cannot but also voice our great admiration of the selflessness and heroism of ordinary Americans, who stood as one against the threats and devoted all their strength to repairing the damage," the letter says. U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria James Pardew and representatives of the Bulgarian government and political parties participated in a memorial service at Sofia's Aleksandr Nevskii Cathedral. The sermon was delivered by Bulgarian Orthodox Church Patriarch Maksim. UB
PUBLIC OPINION, UNIONS, AND NATIONALISM IN THE THREE EASTERN SLAVIC STATES
The public disagreement in recent months over the future of the Belarus-Russia Union gives rise to two questions. First, what value do opinion polls and public sentiment have in the three eastern Slavic states of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus on issues such as unions with neighboring states if those expressions of popular preference have little relationship to the realm of the possible and elites are unwilling to implement them? Second, how can new unions be formed when all three eastern Slavic states understand their relationship to one another differently?
Since the disintegration of the USSR in December 1991, there have been countless opinion polls conducted by Belarusian and Ukrainian organizations as well as Western governments and institutions that deal with foreign-policy preferences. These polls invariably register strong support in all three eastern Slavic countries for some form of union. In Russia and Belarus this support is evenly distributed throughout the population, while in Ukraine it is confined to its eastern regions.
But, can these sentiments be translated into policy? The gap between the common people and the elites that dates back to the USSR has grown, rather than shrunk, in the post-Soviet era. Ruling elites still feel they have the sole right to control issues of "national security" (i.e., foreign policy, the military, control over the security forces). In all three countries the militaries, which are mainly geared toward dealing with external threats, have been downsized, while internal-security forces have grown disproportionately.
These internal security forces are under the control of the executive and their focus is on dealing with internal "threats," such as that emanating from citizens who might wish to increase their level of political influence. Internal "threats" are seen as more threatening than external ones, despite all the rhetoric about a Western and NATO threat to Belarus and Russia or a Russian threat to Ukraine.
The ruling elites in the three eastern Slavic states take little heed of domestic opinion on most matters, especially on foreign policy. The local population understands this perfectly well. Opinion polls indicate low levels of perceived political effectiveness, and declining participation in civil society (e.g., membership in NGOs, parties, demonstrations, etc.,) throughout the 1990s.
What use then do opinion polls have in determining state policies, particularly in areas of "national security?" It would seem very little. Russian, Ukrainian, or -- as we now see -- even Belarusian elites are not going to implement the policies that logically follow from their citizens' preferences as reflected in opinion polls.
Second, the growing dispute between Belarus and Russia over their union project, launched in 1996, has failed to resolve the dilemma of what kind of union is to be created. Russia's view of its ideal relationships with Belarus and Ukraine differs considerably from its view of its optimum relationships with other former Soviet states. Belarus and Ukraine are not "foreign" in Russian eyes, but temporarily separated regions of one spiritual-cultural space within which Russia is the "elder brother" and the Russian language the language of modernity and culture, in contrast to the Belarusian and Ukrainian languages, which Russians consider remnants of the village and the past. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has been willing to go along with this conception, thereby reinforcing the Russian view of Belarusians as essentially the same people. In addition, Belarus and Russia have adopted variations of the Soviet Belarusian and Soviet anthems, respectively.
Eleven years of defending Ukrainian sovereignty vis-a-vis Russia and the outside world have forced Russians to begrudgingly realize that Ukraine is different from Belarus. This is something Putin has understood, and he has adopted different policies toward Ukraine. The only political forces in Ukraine that have supported a union with Russia and Belarus are on the extreme left (the Communists, Progressive Socialists, Slavic Unity, etc.,). No member of any centrist political group in Ukraine, which are President Leonid Kuchma's main support base, supports Ukraine's membership of the Russia-Belarus Union.
The reasons for these conflicting views of what kind of "union" is to be built are to be found in Soviet nationalities policies that helped entrench among non-Russians a twin allegiance to their republics and to the USSR. Belarus and Ukraine were unique among the former non-Russian republics in that they even had United Nations representations and small foreign ministries. Russia was different. It had no republican institutions until 1990 and Russians therefore identified with the USSR as their "homeland," not the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR).
Prior to 1917, Russia did not have a developed sense of national identity nurtured within an independent nation-state, and the blurring of Russian-Soviet identity therefore added to an overall confused identity, particularly toward the eastern Slavs. In contrast, Serbia had a nation-state throughout most of the 19th century and republican institutions within Yugoslavia. Some Western scholars have therefore characterized Russian ethnic nationalism as "weak," as seen in the lack of Russian diaspora mobilization, unlike Serbian nationalism in Yugoslavia.
The Russian understanding of a union with Belarus and Ukraine is closer to the tsarist view of Belarusians and Ukrainians being "Russians" who should simply be absorbed into Russia. But to Belarusian and Ukrainian elites, including those on the extreme left, such a proposal is worse than the policy of sblizhenie (drawing together) that was the cornerstone of Soviet nationality policy during the final years of the USSR.
Allegiance to their Soviet republican territory and borders is strongly entrenched among the Belarusian and Ukrainian elites and public. Separatist movements have been nonexistent or weak and pure Russian nationalist groups have never been able to obtain public support in Belarus or Ukraine. In Ukraine, Russian nationalist groups did not obtain more than 2 percent of the vote in the 1998 and 2002 elections.
In answer to Putin's referendum proposals on a merger of Belarus and Russia, Lukashenka has ruled out any steps that would "liquidate" Belarus as a country, even though opinion polls in both states support such a step. Lukashenka's views on the ideal union are similar to those of the extreme left in Ukraine; that is, a new confederal USSR where republics would enjoy more sovereignty than in the former Soviet Union. But this is not what Putin has in mind. Lukashenka's defense of his country's sovereignty vis-a-vis Russia and domestic supporters of Putin's proposals is consequently making him sound increasingly like his nationalist opponents.
Dr. Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies and adjunct staff in the Department of Political Science, University of Toronto.