DUMA DRAFTS RESOLUTION ON ECONOMIC SANCTIONS AGAINST GEORGIA
State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Andrei Nikolaev (People's Deputy) said on 13 September that his committee -- together with the International Affairs, Security, and CIS Affairs committees -- has drafted a resolution asking President Vladimir Putin to consider ending economic aid to Georgia "including the supply to [that county] of subsidized electric power," ITAR-TASS and other Russian news agencies reported. The draft resolution also calls on Putin to impose a more severe visa regime for Georgian citizens entering Russia. Finally, it urges Putin to take "most resolute action in order to cut off the penetration of international terrorists into Russia from the territory of Georgia," Nikolaev said. VY
U.S. SANCTIONS RUSSIAN FIRMS FOR ALLEGED TIES WITH TERRORISM
The U.S. State Department has announced the imposition of economic sanctions against three Russian state enterprises that are allegedly producing military supplies for states that the United States claims support international terrorism, Western and Russian news agencies reported on 12 September. The companies are the Tula Instrument Construction Bureau, the Basalt research-industrial enterprise, and Aviation Factory No. 168 in Rostov-na-Donu. According to RBK, the three companies are suspected of providing military-use equipment to Libya, Sudan, and Syria. The companies are not the first Russian firms to be so sanctioned, gazeta.ru noted on 13 September. In 1998, the State Department listed several companies linked to the Atomic Energy Ministry for allegedly exporting equipment used for conducting nuclear-weapons tests. The following year, 10 other firms were listed for allegedly transferring sensitive technologies to Iran, and three more for selling military equipment to Syria. Companies on the State Department list are barred from working with the U.S. government or U.S. companies and from selling their products in the United States. Although many of the Russian firms under sanction are state-owned, the United States does not plan to impose sanctions against the Russian government, RBK reported. According to ITAR-TASS, officials at Basalt and the Tula design bureau have denied the U.S. allegations. VY/RC
OIL GIANT'S EXECUTIVE KIDNAPPED
LUKoil First Vice President Sergei Kukura, who acts as the company's chief financial officer, was abducted from his car outside Moscow on 12 September by a group of masked gunmen, Russian and Western news agencies reported on 13 September. LUKoil, Russia's largest oil producer, is offering a 30 million ruble ($948,000) reward for information leading to his return, Reuters reported. Kukura's Mercedes was reportedly stopped by a group of masked men carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles who were driving a car with Moscow police license plates. The men handcuffed Kukura's bodyguard and driver before abducting the 48-year-old official. The incident is being investigated by the Interior Ministry, the Federal Security Service, and LUKoil's security service -- which is considered one of the best in Russia. Investigative journalist Yuliya Latynina told RFE/RL's Russian Service that she believes the authorities should look into the possible involvement of state organs or of LUKoil's major competitors. "An ordinary criminal group is too small to take on LUKoil's powerful security service," Latynina said. VY
AVIATION GIANTS NET ORDERS FOR 97 AIRLINERS
Aleksandr Lebedev -- president of National Reserve Bank, which is co-owner of the Ilyushin-finans aviation leasing company -- has announced that Ilyushin-finans has signed contracts to lease 97 new, Russian-made passenger airliners, polit.ru reported on 13 September. The contracts involve the Il-96, Tu-204, Tu-214, and Tu-334 models, which compete with several Boeing and Airbus models. Lebedev said the production of these planes is capable of reviving the domestic aviation industry over the next decade. He also said that National Reserve Bank is studying the possibility of purchasing state-owned aviation plants in Voronezh, Ulyanovsk, and Kazan. VY
MOSCOW CUSTOMS CHIEF MURDERED
Shamil Altyshov, director of the Domodedovo customs terminal in Moscow, was shot dead near his home on 13 September by unidentified gunmen, Russian news agencies reported. Altyshov was struck five times in the chest and back. According to police reports, Altyshov's fully loaded personal handgun was found on his body, indicating that he did not have time to respond to the attack. Investigators are looking into the possibility that Altyshov was killed by drug traffickers. The Domodedovo customs terminal is one of Russia's largest. VY
DEFENSE MINISTER REPORTS TO DUMA ON ARMY
Sergei Ivanov addressed a closed session of the Duma on 11 September, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 12 September. According to the report, Ivanov complained that the armed forces are facing an acute crisis of conscripts, as the military receives only 11 percent of the draftees that it needs. He added that most of those who do report for duty are from low-income families and are in poor physical condition. He said that the army often must provide supplementary nutrition for three months just to get the recruits into satisfactory condition. VY
INTERIOR MINISTER PROPOSES CHANGES TO CRIMINAL CODE
Boris Gryzlov told journalists on 13 September that the Interior Ministry (MVD) is preparing a raft of fundamental changes to the law on the police, which regulates his ministry, polit.ru reported. Gryzlov said that the changes will do away with the notion of the militsiya and create a genuine "police" force. However, at the local level, the name "militsiya" will continue to be used. Gryzlov also said that he has consulted with the leadership of the Unity, Fatherland-All Russia, and Russian Regions centrist Duma factions and has urged them to support his proposals. He said he is also proposing changes to the Administrative and Criminal Procedures codes adopted earlier this year, which he believes have already proven inadequate. VY
COMMUNIST SLAMS FIRST ROUND OF KRASNOYARSK ELECTION
Duma Deputy Sergei Glaziev (Communist), who came in third in the first round of voting for the post of Krasnoyarsk Krai governor on 8 September, has dealt out some harsh criticism of the way the campaign was run, RosBalt reported on 12 September. Glaziev said that the campaign "was conducted without rules" and said that "the three local candidates [krai legislature Speaker Aleksandr Uss, Taimyr Autonomous Okrug Governor Aleksandr Khloponin, and Krasnoyarsk Mayor Petr Pimashkov] were able to do whatever they pleased -- use budgetary resources with impunity, manipulate the mass media -- and the local election commission just closed its eyes to everything." By contrast, Glaziev said, election authorities harassed his campaign. "It even reached the point where I was warned for using quotations from my own books in my campaign leaflets," Glaziev said. He concluded that the irregularities were sufficient "to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the vote." RC
STATE UPS FUNDING FOR 'PATRIOTIC' FILMS
The draft 2003 budget that will soon be considered in the Duma contains a 50 percent increase in state funding for the domestic film industry, Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi announced on 13 September, polit.ru reported. Shvydkoi said that by 2006, Russia should be producing up to 100 films per year and the industry should be self-sufficient. He added that most of the funding will be used to produce films ordered by the state, including children's films and films of "a patriotic, historical, or national" nature. "Kommersant-Daily" commented that all the profitable films made in recent years were produced without state assistance and that it would have been better for the industry if the state had not last year rescinded tax incentives for investors in the film industry. RC
SIBERIAN CITY TO SWAP SHARES FOR FUEL
The Irkutsk Oblast city of Ust-Kut will auction state-held stakes in local businesses in order to buy heating fuel for the coming winter, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 September. Authorities will auction up to 23 million rubles ($742,000) worth of property in order to pay energy debts from last year, as suppliers are unwilling to deliver fresh shipments as long as debts are outstanding. Severe coal and oil shortages last winter left local schools, residences, and the city hospital without heat for long periods. RC
OFFICIAL DISCUSSES PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO RELIGION LAW...
A working group charged with considering amendments to Russia's 1997 religion law is receiving numerous proposals aimed at creating problems for religious associations not considered "traditional," according to Andrei Sebentsov, head of that group and deputy chairman of the government's Commission on Religious Associations. In an interview with "Gazeta" on 12 September, Sebentsov said adherents of Russian Orthodoxy and Islam, as well as representatives of the presidential administration and some regional authorities, are seeking to secure legal privileges for "traditional" organizations, even though there is no legal basis for granting some religions higher status than others. Article 14 of the constitution states that Russia is a secular state and that all religious associations are equal before the law. The preamble to the 1997 law names Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism as "traditional" Russian faiths, but the law itself does not specify what traditional religious organizations are or grant them advantages over other faiths, Sebentsov noted. LB
...AND DISCOUNTS PROSPECTS FOR PASSING LAW ON TRADITIONAL RELIGIONS
In the same "Gazeta" interview, Sebentsov discounted the seriousness of plans to adopt a separate law on traditional religions that would grant privileges to the Russian Orthodox Church. That proposal is the brainchild of Aleksandr Chuev, former deputy chairman of the Duma's Committee on Political and Religious Organizations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2002). Sebentsov argued that Chuev, who now leads the Russian Christian Democratic Party, is trying to raise his profile before the next election cycle. In July, the Justice Ministry refused to register Chuev's party, since the law on political parties forbids the creation of parties based on religion. In addition, Sebentsov suggested that speculation concerning a law on traditional religions might be intended "to size up public opinion" on the issue. LB
ALL THE PUBLICITY MONEY CAN BUY
The Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) will launch a multimillion-dollar campaign intended to improve the image of Russian business abroad, "Vedomosti" reported on 12 September. The union's committee on foreign affairs, headed by Yukos Chairman Mikhail Khodorkovskii, hatched the plan, which will consist of three projects. A new English-language Internet portal will inform Western investors about market trends in Russia and especially about "improvements" in the Russian business community. An advertising campaign in prominent Western media will tell the world about progress in "creating a favorable investment climate in Russia" and will also explain "the essence of the RSPP's mission." A new English-language magazine about Russian business will likewise be geared toward persuading foreigners that the Russian business community is "dynamic, transparent, and favorably disposed toward investors." LB
GOT A SWIFT ROACH?
The Siberian city of Barnaul will hold cockroach races as part of its City Day celebration from 13-15 September, Interfax reported on 12 September. Both black and brown cockroaches will be eligible to run, and at least 15 entrants are expected to compete, according to event organizer Valentina Gridina, who also heads the city rescue service. If the event is a hit, organizers say they will introduce cockroach racing to local clubs and other entertainment venues, according to the report. RC
CHECHEN MILITARY COMMAND DISOWNS SUSPECT ARRESTED FOR SHALI KILLINGS
In a statement on chechenpress.com on 13 September, a representative of the Chechen military command said that Khavazh Askhabov, whom Russian Interior Ministry troops have arrested on suspicion of masterminding the explosion in Shali that killed eight Chechen police officers, supports the concept of a single Russian state, has never fought for the Chechen resistance, is not "deputy military commander" for the Shali Raion, and has never had any contacts with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 September 2002). The spokesman noted that several Chechen officials, including administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, human rights commissioner Abdul-Khakim Sultygov and Chechen Security Council head Rudnik Dudaev have all blamed the attack on Russian troops deployed in Shali. LF
COUNCIL OF EUROPE SETS DEADLINE FOR ARMENIA TO ABOLISH DEATH PENALTY
A Council of Europe delegation that recently visited Yerevan set a deadline of June 2003 for Armenia to ratify Protocol No. 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, parliament Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Hovhannes Hovanisian said on 12 September, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That protocol bans the death penalty in all circumstances except in times of war. The Armenian parliament passed amendments earlier this summer to the Criminal Code that would allow for handing down the death penalty for crimes committed before the amendments came into force (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 25 June, 8 and 9 July, and 22 August 2002). The move was made in response to public pressure to execute the five gunmen who shot dead eight senior officials in the Armenian parliament in October 1999. LF
ARMENIA RAISES PENSIONS
The Armenian government approved on 12 September a 13 percent increase in state pensions, effective 1 October, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The average pension will rise from 5,400 to 6,100 drams ($11), which, however, is still far below the unofficial subsistence level of $40. LF
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT BLAMES DEFENSE MINISTRY FOR MILITARY CADETS' PROTEST...
Addressing servicemen at a military base in Gyandja on 12 September, Heidar Aliev blamed last week's walkout by up to 2,000 cadets at Baku's Higher Military School on serious shortcomings within the Defense Ministry leadership, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4, 5, 6, and 9 September 2002). He also admitted that some military officers still engage in extortion and hazing. LF
...DENIES IRANIAN PRESIDENT'S VISIT POSTPONED
Before departing for Gyandja on 12 September, President Aliev told journalists at Baku's Bina Airport that there is no truth to media reports that Iranian President Mohammed Khatami's planned visit to Azerbaijan has been postponed, according to Azerbaijani Television Channel One, as cited by Groong. LF
NEW AZERBAIJANI DIRECTIVES ON STATE SECRETS AMENDED
President Aliev has ordered the Azerbaijani government to draft within one month a new law on state secrets, zerkalo.az reported on 13 September. Aliev has also amended the controversial directives issued last month aimed at precluding publication of information that contains state secrets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August and 3 September 2002). Specifically, Aliev shortened from seven days to 48 hours the period within which a specially created commission must respond to media outlets' queries as to whether specific information constitutes a state secret. He also abolished that commission's right to demand that editors disclose on demand the source of their information. LF
U.S. 'TAKES EXCEPTION' TO PUTIN'S THREAT OF MILITARY ACTION IN GEORGIA
Washington "strongly supports Georgia's territorial integrity and would oppose any unilateral military action by Russia inside Georgia," Reuters quoted an unnamed State Department official as saying on 12 September in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's 11 September threat to take such action against Chechen "terrorist" bases on Georgian territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September 2002). The spokesman added that the United States "takes strong exception" to Putin's statements. A second U.S. official said U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to raise the issue with his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov during talks in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session. LF
GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY RESPONDS TO PUTIN
In an official statement released in Tbilisi late on 12 September, the Georgian Foreign Ministry expressed "bewilderment" at President Putin's 11 September statement and rejected as "unfounded" his claims that Georgia has taken no measures against militants encamped on its territory, Caucasus Press reported. It noted that Moscow has been informed in detail of all operations launched in the Pankisi Gorge. The statement affirms Georgia's respect for Russia's territorial integrity and its willingness to cooperate in the international struggle against terrorism. It said Tbilisi would agree to allow Russian experts access to the Pankisi Gorge as part of a broader team of OSCE observers. It rejected as inadmissible the claim that Russia is justified in mounting a unilateral military intervention against terrorist bases on Georgian territory, and condemned Russia's military and political support for the Abkhaz leadership. LF
GEORGIAN NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL MEETS
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze chaired a four-hour meeting of the National Security Council on 12 September to discuss how to respond to President Putin's threat of military intervention. Interfax quoted Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze as telling parliament after the meeting that specific diplomatic and domestic political measures were agreed on during the session, but did not enumerate them. Also on 12 September, the commander of the Interior Ministry Forces, Major General Giorgi Shervashidze, said that no changes will be made to the ongoing anticrime and antiterrorism operation in the Pankisi Gorge, Interfax reported. LF
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT APPEALS TO INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY FOR PROTECTION
Deputies on 12 September approved unanimously an appeal to the United Nations, the OSCE, the European Union, the Council of Europe, and NATO for protection from anticipated "Russian military aggression," Caucasus Press reported. The appeal characterizes Putin's threat of unilateral military intervention as a preliminary to military aggression that would destabilize the entire Caucasus region, and blames Russia for earlier conflicts in Georgia that resulted in hundreds of thousands of people being displaced from their homes. LF
ARMENIA, UKRAINE CONCERNED BY ESCALATION OF GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN TENSIONS
Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on 11 September, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said he is sure President Robert Kocharian would agree "with pleasure" to mediate between Russia and Georgia if asked to do so, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. In Kyiv, Foreign Ministry press service spokesman Serhiy Borodenkov said on 12 September that Ukraine is "extremely concerned" over the Russian-Georgian crisis, and believes that it should be resolved by exclusively peaceful means, according to ITAR-TASS. LF
RUSSIA DENIES DEPLOYING ADDITIONAL TROOPS TO ABKHAZIA
Colonel General Nikolai Kormiltsev, who is commander of Russia's ground forces, denied on 12 September that Russia has sent additional troops to Abkhazia, Interfax reported. He said the only Russian servicemen currently in Abkhazia are members of the peacekeeping force deployed there under the CIS aegis. Tamaz Nadareishvili, chairman of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz parliament in exile, said in Tbilisi earlier on 12 September that Russia began sending several thousand additional troops to Abkhazia four days earlier. LF
GEORGIA'S ARMENIANS PROTEST ANTICIPATED CLOSURE OF RUSSIAN BASE
Some 5,000 Armenian residents of Georgia's Djavakheti district that borders on Armenia attended a demonstration on 12 September in Akhalkalaki to protest the anticipated closure of the Russian military base located there, which is the region's largest single employer, according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong. The previous day, the Georgian government had approved a three-year program aimed at improving social conditions and infrastructure in Djavakheti and reviving local enterprises that could provide alternative employment, Caucasus Press reported. The program includes construction of a highway linking Tbilisi with Tsalka, Ninotsminda, and Akhalkalaki, the repair of the main power line to the region, and the provision of mains gas. LF
KAZAKHSTAN DENIES THEFT FROM ITS TERRITORY OF NUCLEAR MATERIALS
Mukhtar Bayelov, who is a senior official of Kazakhstan's state-run body responsible for precious metals, denied on 12 September that nuclear materials could be stolen in Kazakhstan and transported to other CIS states, Interfax reported. Bayelov said allegations made the previous day by Russian State Duma Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin that osmium-187 stolen from Kazakhstan has surfaced in several Russian cities are unsubstantiated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September 2002). He added that no osmium-187 has been produced in or exported from Kazakhstan for the past five years, and that stockpiles of it are kept in a state warehouse. LF
U.S. JUDGE RULES THAT KAZAKH PRESIDENT MAY NOT CLAIM 'SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY'
Manhattan Federal Court Judge Denny Chin ruled on 9 September that relevant documentation must be handed over to a New York grand jury investigating allegations that Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev and members of his family accepted millions of dollars in bribes, the Kazakhstan 21st Century Foundation's newsletter reported on 11 September, citing the New York "Daily News." Judge Chin ruled that "a foreign government that is alleged to be the recipient of bribes from an American corporation cannot be permitted to bring a grand jury investigation to a halt." The newsletter also quoted the "New York Law Journal" as reporting that lawyers for Nazarbaev and Kazakh diplomats in Washington tried to persuade the U.S. State Department to rule that Nazarbaev enjoys sovereign immunity from prosecution. LF
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT BLAMES OPPOSITION FOR ATTACK ON SENIOR OFFICIAL
A statement released on 12 September by President Askar Akaev's press service characterizes the 6 September grenade attack on presidential administration head Misir Ashyrkulov as a politically motivated terrorist act resulting from the "domestic political confrontation" fueled by the opposition, akipress.org reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 2002). The statement says that the authorities have nonetheless no intention of "tightening the screws" or engaging in a "witch-hunt" against the opposition. LF
KYRGYZ MARCHERS DROP DEMAND FOR PRESIDENT'S RESIGNATION
First Deputy Prime Minister Kurmanbek Osmonov, Interior Minister Bakirdin Subanbekov, and Altai Borubaev, the speaker of the People's Assembly (the upper parliament chamber), met in Toktogul on 12 September with a group of opposition parliament deputies but failed to persuade them to halt the protest march on Bishkek, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Bazarbai Mambetov and Djalalabad Oblast Governor Jusupbek Sharipov met with some 800 marchers in Kara-Kul, 80 kilometers away. According to akipress.org, the marchers agreed to drop their demand for President Akaev's resignation and for the annulment of the Sino-Kyrgyz border agreement under which Kyrgyzstan cedes territory to China (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 17 May 2002), but continue to insist on the resignation of senior officials, including former presidential administration head Amanbek Karypkulov, whom they hold responsible for the deaths of five protesters in Aksy in March. LF
ANOTHER CHINESE MILITARY DELEGATION VISITS TAJIKISTAN
A delegation of Chinese military officers headed by the commander of the Xinjiang Military Sub-District, Lieutenant General Chu Yan-Xian, paid a working visit to Dushanbe on 11-12 September, Asia Plus-Blitz and ITAR-TASS reported. It is the second Chinese military delegation to arrive in Tajikistan within the past month. The delegation met with the chairman of the Tajik Border Protection Committee, Lieutenant General Abdurahmon Azimov, to discuss regional security issues and increasing bilateral cooperation, including the joint control of the 500-kilometer common border between Tajikistan and Xinjiang and measures to counter international terrorism, religious extremism, and drug trafficking. The Russian border guards currently responsible for policing that border are shortly to be withdrawn and replaced by Tajik officers. The Chinese also met with Tajik Defense Minister Colonel General Sherali Khairulloev. LF
BELARUSIAN TELEVISION WARNS AGAINST MEDIA 'PROVOCATION' FROM RUSSIA...
Quoting a telephone call from an unidentified individual from the Russian State Duma, Belarusian Television reported on 12 September that Russia's Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov is preparing a "new provocation against the Russia-Belarus Union" on "Russian [television] channels." According to the Belarusian Television's interlocutor, Nemtsov wants Belarusian opposition leaders to appear on television in Moscow in order to "present the situation in Belarus in an extremely negative light." "Nemtsov hates your president, therefore he is collecting all the [possible] negative information about [Alyaksandr] Lukashenka. They even want to compare him to Hitler," the anonymous interlocutor said. Earlier this month, "Sovetskaya Belorussiya" published a transcript of a telephone conversation between Nemtsov and Belarus's United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka in which they allegedly discussed how to oust Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 10 September 2002). JM
...AS OPPOSITION LEADER SAYS REGIME 'IS GETTING NERVOUS'
Lyabedzka told Belapan on 12 September that he is planning to appear on Russia's NTV television in the near future. "The authorities are getting nervous," he commented on the Belarusian Television's warning. "I think this is the work of the special services that possibly want to impede my appointments in Moscow this week.... It is absurd to call [my planned appearance on NTV] a provocation. When Alyaksandr Lukashenka appeared on NTV [on 9 September], nobody called it a provocation. But when Lyabedzka or relatives of the disappeared [Belarusian] politicians are invited to appear there, it is called a provocation for some reason." JM
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE TO BUSH OVER 9/11 SAID TO BE 'SHEER HYPOCRISY'
Stanislau Shushkevich, Belarus's former head of state, told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 12 September that President Lukashenka's recent letter to U.S. President George W. Bush over the 9/11 anniversary (see RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September 2002) is "sheer hypocrisy." In his message Lukashenka called on Washington to normalize bilateral relations and assured Bush that Belarus "will never be a safe haven for terrorists." Shushkevich said Minsk missed a good opportunity earlier this year to normalize its relations with Washington by not responding positively to a U.S. critical report on the human rights situation in Belarus earlier this year. "[In response], the Belarusian Foreign Ministry has thrown mud at the well-founded report," Shushkevich said. "Belarus is a state professing state terrorism.... It will be possible [for Lukashenka] to speak about normalization of relations with the U.S. only after he puts an end to domestic lawlessness," he added. JM
PROSECUTOR WANTS THREE-YEAR SENTENCE FOR BELARUSIAN EDITOR
A prosecutor in the trial of "Rabochy" Editor in Chief Viktar Ivashkevich has demanded that the defendant be given a three-year sentence for libeling President Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 September 2002), Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 12 September. "If I am actually guilty, as the prosecutor asserted, then why did he ask the court to give me three years [in an open-type corrective institution] instead of the maximum five years in prison as stipulated by the [Criminal Code] articles relevant to my case?" Ivashkevich asked, adding that everything he published about Lukashenka is true. The incriminating article in "Rabochy" alleged that Lukashenka and his entourage may be involved in grave economic crimes. The court is expected to pronounce its verdict on 16 September. JM
UKRAINIAN COURT BANS 16 SEPTEMBER ANTIPRESIDENTIAL RALLY IN KYIV...
A local court in Kyiv on 12 September complied with the request of the Kyiv city administration to prohibit the planned opposition rally on European Square in Kyiv on 16 September, UNIAN reported. The court said the rally might disrupt the city's daily routine by provoking "mass violations of the public order" and added that opposition parties could move their protest to a sports complex outside the capital. The judge said the verdict is not subject to appeal. Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko said on 13 September that the city administration will take every measure to implement the ban. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party have planned to inaugurate the "Rise Up, Ukraine!" nationwide antipresidential campaign with the 16 September rally in Kyiv. JM
...AS ORGANIZERS PLEDGE TO LAUNCH PROTESTS 'UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES'
Quoting from a joint statement by the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party, Socialist Party lawmaker Ivan Bokyy said in the Verkhovna Rada on 13 September that the "Rise Up, Ukraine" protest campaign will take place "under any circumstances." The statement stated that the protesters will be armed only with "[our] words and the constitution, and if the authorities resort to provocations and pogroms, they will be fully responsible [for that]." Bokyy told the parliament that President Leonid Kuchma plans to "run away" from Ukraine on 16 September. The presidential administration announced the previous day that Kuchma will take part in an economic forum in Salzburg (Austria) on 15-17 September. Meanwhile, Iosip Vinskyy from the Socialist Party told journalists that the opposition will appeal against the ban to the Kyiv Appeals Court on 16 September. According to Vinskyy, an appeal to a higher-instance court automatically suspends the relevant verdict of a lower-instance court. JM
UKRAINIAN COMMUNIST LEADER ACCUSES GOVERNMENT OF LOSING 200 NUCLEAR WARHEADS
Speaking at a news conference in Kharkiv (eastern Ukraine) on 12 September, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko said, "We will once again raise the issue of [Ukraine's] arms sales, in particular, regarding the whereabouts of 200 Ukrainian nuclear warheads." Symonenko said he has already spoken about this issue in the parliament. He explained that Ukraine, in order to meet its international obligations, had to ship 2,400 nuclear warheads to Russia but transferred only 2,200. "We do not know where those [missing] 200 are," he noted. In commenting on Symonenko's claims, Defense Ministry spokesman Kostyantyn Khivrenko said, "This could hardly be possible. Two hundred warheads are not a needle in a haystack." JM
UKRAINIAN INDEPENDENT JOURNALIST RECEIVES OFFICIAL PROTECTION
Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) has provided personal protection for Olena Prytula, the editor in chief of the "Ukrayinska pravda" website, UNIAN reported on 12 September, quoting an SBU spokesman. Prytula appealed for official protection earlier this week, arguing that her life could be in danger in connection with the investigation into the death of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 2002). JM
ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT TO WITHDRAW ITS DEPOSITS FROM COMMERCIAL BANKS
In an effort to curb the growth in lending rates and boost domestic savings, the Bank of Estonia and the Finance Ministry decided on 12 September to withdraw government deposits worth up to one billion kroons ($62.5 million) from commercial banks and deposit them temporarily in the central bank, ETA reported. The Bank of Estonia also plans to prepare by October, together with the Financial Supervisory Authority, proposals for commercial banks to toughen loan conditions. The move was prompted by the observations that investment and consumption were growing not at the expense of savings and profits, but on borrowed money, and that Estonia's exports of goods and services were less than expected. The decision to withdraw state money from commercial banks was a relatively soft step, apparently intended as a signal to banks and above all to cool down borrowers' optimism. SG
LATVIA JOINS INTERNATIONAL PROTOCOL ON ANTI-DOPING POLICY
In Warsaw on 12 September for an annual informal meeting of European sports ministers, Education and Science Minister Karlis Greiskalns signed the supplementary protocol of the Council of Europe's Anti-Doping Convention, BNS reported. Ministry spokesman Artis Jurkevics noted that Latvia is the first of the three Baltic states to sign the document and said it demonstrates the country's "readiness to undertake responsibility for implementing the principles of the European anti-doping policy." The protocol also calls for recognition of the World Anti-Doping Agency mandate. SG
RUSSIAN WARSHIPS PAY FIRST POST-SOVIET VISIT TO LITHUANIA
The minesweepers "A. Lebedev" and "BT-212" of the Russian Baltic Fleet docked in the port of Klaipeda on 12 September and thus became the first Russian warships to visit Lithuania since the restoration of its independence, ELTA reported. The visit was made possible after Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius extended an invitation at a meeting in July with his Russian counterpart Sergei Ivanov. Vice Admiral Viktor Mardusin, the commander of Russia's Baltiisk naval base, told a press conference that the friendly visit is also intended to promote peace in the entire Baltic Sea region and demonstrate to Klaipeda residents the changes that Russian naval forces have undergone. He also invited Lithuanian officers to attend next year's celebrations of the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Russian Baltic Fleet. The ships will remain in Klaipeda until 15 September. SG
LITHUANIA HANDS BRUSSELS REVISED COST ESTIMATE FOR IGNALINA CLOSURE
Petras Austrevicius, Lithuania's chief negotiator with the European Union, at a regular round of talks in Brussels on 12 September submitted a revised estimate of the costs of closing the Ignalina nuclear-power plant, BNS reported. The estimates were given for five cost groups: technical halting of the plant's operations, social needs, renovation of power stations, connection of Lithuanian electricity and gas networks to European systems, and the funding of environmental projects. Lithuania has made a commitment to close the plant's first unit by 2005 and the second unit by 2009. According to earlier calculations, the economic impact of the plant's closure would amount to 8 billion litas ($2.28 billion) up to the year 2020. SG
POLISH PREMIER SUPPORTS PEACEFUL SOLUTION TO IRAQ ISSUE
Premier Leszek Miller on 12 September said the Polish government favors finding a peaceful solution to the Iraq issue, Polish Radio reported. According to Miller, the UN Security Council should present Iraq with an ultimatum demanding a return of UN weapons inspectors. "It will be a test for Saddam Hussein," Miller noted. "Should he resist, the civilized world would have an argument that the threat is real. At that point the problem of a military intervention is likely to come up. However, the military intervention would be more successful if it were carried out under the United Nations and as part of the broadest possible coalition, as is the case with the antiterrorist coalition set up after last year's events." JM
POLISH PARLIAMENTARIANS JEER AT EU AGRICULTURE COMMISSIONER
EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler arrived at Warsaw on 12 September on a two-day trip to discuss Poland's European Union membership terms regarding the country's agricultural sector, Polish and international news agencies reported. Fischler met with Prime Minister Miller and Agriculture Minister Jaroslaw Kalinowski. "It would be a big mistake to nourish false illusions within the Polish farming community. The room for maneuver for compromises in the negotiation package is limited," Fischler said. The European Commission proposes a gradual phasing-in of direct payments for Polish farmers over 10 years, starting at 25 percent of what current EU farmers receive. Warsaw argues that such a solution would make Polish farmers uncompetitive on the EU market. During a meeting with Polish parliamentarians later the same day, Fischler was booed by whistle-blowing anti-EU lawmakers from the Peasant Party and the League of Polish Families. "Believe me, if Poland decides against joining the European Union, the European market will not collapse," Fischler responded to the whistle-blowers. JM
U.S. AIRCRAFT MANUFACTURER LURES POLAND WITH $500 MILLION OFFSET DEAL IN EFFORT TO WIN BID
Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. on 12 September signed preliminary agreements worth a total of $500 million with four Polish defense-industry companies, stepping up its efforts to win a $4 billion contract to supply 48 fighter jets to Poland, AP reported. Lockheed Martin is one of three bidders seeking the Polish contract. The Polish government says it will choose the offer that is accompanied by the best offset deal. "Today's agreements are the second part of our offset offer, which we will enlarge to at least 100 percent of the full value of the jet deal," said William Perkins, Lockheed Martin's deputy chairman for Eastern Europe. The two other bidders are Sweden's Saab and Britain's BAE Systems, makers of the Gripen jet, and Dassault of France, which makes the Mirage 2000 fighter. The deadline for final offers is 12 November, and the government has promised to select a winner within 45 days. JM
POLISH OPPOSITION INITIATES MOTION OF NO CONFIDENCE IN INFRASTRUCTURE MINISTER
Law and Order (PiS) and Civic Platform deputies on 13 September lodged a motion of no confidence in Deputy Prime Minister and Infrastructure Minister Marek Pol, PAP reported. PiS spokesman Adam Bielan said Pol's performance in the government is "socially bothersome and politically harmful," citing Pol's recent proposal to introduce road tolls as an example (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2002). The motion also mentions Pol's "ineptitude" in negotiations on reducing the volume of gas supplies from Russia. The signatories of the motion also claim that Pol is responsible for the introduction of one of Europe's highest VAT rates in the construction industry. JM
CZECH PARLIAMENT REJECTS GOVERNMENT'S BILL ON TAX PACKAGE
The Chamber of Deputies on 13 September rejected a government-sponsored bill on raising taxes to finance reconstruction following last month's floods, CTK reported. The bill fell one vote short of approval, with Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU) deputy Hana Marvanova joining the opposition Civic Democratic Party and Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia in voting against it. She had announced one day earlier that she opposes the provision in the bill that would have raised the income-tax rate from 32 percent to 35 percent for those earning 900,000 crowns or more a year. Two deputies representing the main ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) -- current UN General Assembly President Jan Kavan and ailing deputy Josef Houzak -- were absent from the debate. Foreign Minister and Christian Democratic-People's Party (KDU-CSL) Chairman Cyril Svoboda said following the outcome of the vote that the coalition government of the CSSD, KDU-CSL, and US-DEU may have to be "reconstructed." He told journalists that he does not rule out a minority government, adding that the three parties' leaderships must now hold talks. MS
CZECH CABINET TO SEEK ALTERNATIVE TO GRIPEN PURCHASE
The cabinet on 12 September decided to seek alternative solutions to purchasing British-Swedish Gripen supersonic fighter jets for the Czech Air Force, CTK reported. The government tasked Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik to submit a list of such alternatives. Tvrdik told Czech Radio that the decision will be made after the November NATO summit, but before the year's end. "We are negotiating with allied governments on a possible temporary [and] cheaper solution," he said. CTK said that the alternatives include purchasing used planes or leasing fighter aircraft. MS
SLOVAK ANO CHAIRMAN MEETS WITH EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN IN BRUSSELS
European Parliament Chairman Patrick Cox and Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) Chairman Pavol Rusko said in Brussels on 12 September that they share the view that the next Slovak elections will result in a pro-European and pro-NATO governing coalition, CTK reported. Cox said he is pleased that ANO is pursuing goals for EU and NATO integration. Rusko, co-owner of Markiza TV, said he hopes that the elections will enable the now-extraparliamentary ANO to participate in a government that will be "a trustworthy partner of EU institutions and the organization's members." He also said he wants Slovakia to be "not a partner begging for aid, but one offering know-how, capability, suitable conditions for investors, and a stable economic, legal, and business environment." MS
FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS HUNGARY WILL STEP UP FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM
Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs on 12 September told "Magyar Hirlap" that the United States should force its will upon Iraq in conjunction with the United Nations, but not necessarily through military action. Kovacs confirmed that Hungary is prepared to play a bigger part in combating terrorism than it has in the past. He said President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan had expressed thanks for Hungarian weaponry and other materials sent to his country. In related news, U.S. Ambassador Nancy Goodman Brinker told a conference in Budapest, that the United States highly appreciates the efforts Hungary is making to combat terrorism. Brinker expressed regret, however, that Hungary is the only state in the region not to have offered any tangible military assistance in the antiterrorist operations in Afghanistan, "Magyar Nemzet" reported on 13 September. MSZ
BUDAPEST COURT NIXES COUNTY REFERENDUM
The Pest County Court on 12 September rejected a decision by the Pest County Council to hold a referendum on whether the county should secede from the Central Hungary Region that also includes Budapest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 September 2002), Hungarian dailies reported. Acting upon an application submitted by the council's Socialist members, the court ruled that a referendum is not part of the county council's purview, and only parliament can decide to change the borders of a region. The council pressed for secession, claiming that if after 2006 it remains with Budapest as one region, Pest County could lose 80 billion forints ($326 million) in EU subsidies because of the capital's good economic indices. Pest County Council Chairman Andras Meszaros (FIDESZ) said the county will go through all legal avenues to establish an autonomous Pest County Region. A poll conducted by the county in August showed that over 70 percent of the population supports secession. MSZ
FORMER HUNGARIAN OFFICIAL CONSENTS TO HAVE DOCUMENTS RELEASED BY MECS COMMISSION
Laszlo Bogar, a political state secretary in Hungary's right-wing governments of 1990-94 and 1998-2002, on 12 September said in a letter sent to Imre Mecs, chairman of the parliamentary commission investigating government officials' secret-service pasts, that he consents to the release of all documents about him. In his letter, Bogar said, "If there is no such document, I will charge you with slander, and if there are such documents -- which can only be forgeries -- I will charge you with libel, and I will charge the unidentified perpetrators for forgery of documents." He added that he does not intend to contact Mecs or his committee, Hungarian media reported. MSZ
HUNGARIAN EXTREMIST LEADER DETAILS CONDITIONS FOR WITHDRAWING FROM MAYORAL RACE
Istvan Csurka, Chairman of the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP), on 12 September told his party's campaign-opening rally in Budapest that he does not think he will win the post of mayor of Budapest, Hungarian media reported. Csurka said he is ready to step aside for rightwing candidate Pal Schmitt, if Schmitt clearly states that "MIEP is not a party bent on destroying the nation, nor is it anti-Semitic," and that the right wing will officially co-operate with MIEP in the capital. In his speech, Csurka again likened the EU to the now-defunct East European trading bloc Comecon and described Hungary's planned accession under present conditions as disadvantageous. In contrast to the results of the parliamentary elections, he said he expects a rightwing victory in the capital, "Nepszabadsag" reported. MSZ
STRONG REACTIONS TO KOSTUNICA'S CLAIM TO REPUBLIKA SRPSKA...
Representatives of leading international agencies in Bosnia strongly condemned recent remarks by Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and his political ally Dragan Marsicanin that the Republika Srpska has only temporarily been separated from Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 12 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 12 September 2002, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 August and 6 September 2002). The statement called Kostunica's remarks in the run-up to the 29 September Serbian presidential elections "the worst form of cheap and irresponsible electioneering, and manifestly contrary to the policy of the Yugoslav government and the international agreements Yugoslavia has entered into." Bosnia's governing Social Democratic Party charged that Kostunica is trying to "destabilize" that country, the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" reported. Beriz Belkic, who heads the three-man Bosnian Presidency, said that Kostunica's remarks amount to poking "a finger in the eye," as far as his country is concerned. In Belgrade, Bosnian Ambassador to Yugoslavia Zeljko Komsic told RFE/RL that he has had no reply to his two notes to the Yugoslav authorities in which he asked for clarification of Kostunica's remarks. He added that he is not surprised. PM
...WHILE KOSTUNICA CLAIMS HE WAS MISUNDERSTOOD
Unnamed top aides to Kostunica told Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service in Belgrade on 12 September that they do not want to comment on their chief's remarks on the Republika Srpska until he returns from the United Nations, where he addressed the General Assembly at its opening session. The aides added that it must first be proven that he actually made the remarks that have been attributed to him. But Deutsche Welle noted that there is a recording of Kostunica's recent speech in Mali Zvornik, which proves that the media have quoted him correctly. In New York, Kostunica said that his statement was misinterpreted, adding that he meant that divisions between Serbia and the Republika Srpska will diminish as bilateral relations between Bosnia and Yugoslavia improve and as Belgrade becomes integrated into European institutions, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He also said that "There is sometimes a certain mistrust of my country, and this is unbelievable," AP reported. PM
BOSNIAN GOVERNMENT SEEKS TO CONTROL ARMS TRADE
The Council of Ministers agreed on 12 September that all companies must obtain the approval of the Trade and Economic Relations Ministry for any import or export of arms and military equipment, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9, 10, and 11 September 2002). PM
POLICE OFFICER KILLED IN MACEDONIA
An ethnic Albanian policeman was shot dead in the village of Bogovinje near Tetovo on 12 September, Macedonian media reported. He died in an attack on a police station launched by a group of about 10 armed civilians, who fired a heavy machine gun at the building. Macedonian police detained two suspects. The victim was the grandson of Deputy Interior Minister Refet Elmazi. The international community condemned the incident, calling for restraint. Ambassador Craig Jenness, the head of the OSCE mission to Skopje, said: "We hope that the authorities, political leaders, local communities, and citizens will manifest wisdom and restraint and will act in such a way that the situation remains calm, and the electoral campaign [for the 15 September parliamentary elections] continues peacefully." UB
MACEDONIAN POLITICAL VETERAN PREDICTS BIG CHANGES
Ljubomir Frckovski, who is an adviser to President Boris Trajkovski and a former foreign minister, told RFE/RL in Skopje on 12 September that he expects that the 15 September parliamentary elections will produce "radical" political changes. Frckovski compared the changes he anticipates to those in Croatia and Serbia in 2000. He added that the current leadership under Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski is very nervous and will soon find itself out of office. Frckovski pointed out that most ethnic Albanian politicians have displayed a political maturity in the campaign that has been lacking among ethnic Macedonian parties (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 September 2002). He added that former guerrilla leader Ali Ahmeti is responsible for this development among the Albanians. In related news, the country's largest union, the Macedonian Workers' Union, announced on 13 September that it has endorsed the opposition Social Democrats, dpa reported. The previous night, Georgievski told a large rally that voters should "remember who defended the country during last year's aggression by the Kosova Protection Corps." PM
KOSOVAR LEADERS CALL ON PRESEVO ALBANIANS TO BE A 'BRIDGE'
Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova, Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi, and speaker of the parliament Nexhat Daci met leaders of the ethnic Albanian population in southern Serbia's Presevo Valley, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The Kosovars told their guests, who included Presevo's Mayor Riza Halimi, that Kosova offers cultural cooperation but that there must be no border changes. The Kosovars also advised their visitors not to behave like the Serbs of northern Mitrovica. PM
MONTENEGRIN MEDIA LAWS ON ICE
A planned parliamentary discussion on three media laws was postponed on 12 September -- for the eighth time, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 12 September 2002). PM
CROATIAN PRESIDENT IN ROMANIA
Visiting Croatian President Stipe Mesic and his Romanian counterpart Ion Iliescu on 12 September discussed bilateral relations and regional cooperation, Romanian and international media reported. They said that an agreement on free trade between their two countries is at the advanced negotiating stage and they also dealt at length on the importance of a 1,200-kilometer-long pipeline project linking the Black Sea port of Constanta in Romania to the Adriatic port of Omisalj in Croatia through Serbian territory. An accord on the pipeline's construction was signed earlier this week in Bucharest. Iliescu said the project is not an alternative, but an addition to other projects for the transportation of Caspian Sea oil to Europe. He also said Romania strongly endorses Croatia joining the Central European Trade Agreement. MS
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SEES NO NEED FOR EARLY ELECTIONS
Contradicting Prime Minister Adrian Nastase's statement of two days earlier, President Iliescu on 12 September said he can see no reason for early parliamentary elections in Romania and has no intention of discussing that possibility with the premier, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. On the other hand, Iliescu praised the cabinet headed by Nastase, saying that "it is the most diligent cabinet" Romania has had after 1989 and has succeeded in "setting the economy on an upward trend." MS
WORLD BANK APPROVES NEW LOAN FOR ROMANIA
The Executive Board of the World Bank on 12 September approved a $300 million loan aimed at supporting banking and energy-system restructuring in Romania, Romanian Radio reported. Finance Minister Mihai Tanasescu welcomed the decision and said the implementation of the restructuring program will start immediately and will include the privatization of several banks and energy companies. World Bank Director for Central Europe Andrew Vorkink is to sign the agreement on the loan in Bucharest on 12 September. MS
ROMANIAN AUTHORITIES REVOKE XENOPHOBIC TV CHANNEL'S BROADCASTING LICENSE
The National Audiovisual Council (CNA) on 12 September revoked he license of the private Oglinda TV (OTV) channel, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. CNA Chairman Serban Madgearu said that OTV "has repeatedly broken the audiovisual law by broadcasting programs inciting hatred on racial, religious, ethnic, and sexual grounds." Madgearu said the decision was made independently of an appeal by Presidential Counselor Corina Cretu to revoke the license (see "RFE/RL's Newsline," 12 September 2002). President Iliescu welcomed the decision. Greater Romania Party Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor said he "vehemently" protests the decision, and said that, in a gesture of "solidarity" with Oglinda TV talk show host Dan Diaconescu, he is "resigning in protest" from the Romanian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Diaconescu said OTV will appeal the decision in court and threatened to trigger early elections by making public videocassettes proving high-level corruption among ruling Social Democratic Party officials. MS
ROMANIAN SENATE APPROVES NEW LAW ON POLITICAL PARTIES...
The Senate on 12 September approved a new law on political parties, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The number of members in a political formation necessary for a party's registration has been raised from 10,000 to 50,000 and all currently functioning political parties must reregister with the Bucharest Tribunal by 31 December. The law also stipulates that in order to qualify for registration, a party must be endorsed by at least 1,000 residents in 21 counties (out of Romania's 41 counties). Political formations that fail to garner at least 50,000 votes countrywide in two consecutive elections will automatically be struck from the list of authorized parties. MS
...AND REDUCES PENALTIES FOR LIBEL AND INSULTING PUBLIC OFFICIALS
The Senate the same day approved a government ordinance reducing sanctions in the Penal Code for libel or for insulting a public official on duty. The ordinance has already been approved by the Chamber of Deputies, and provides jail sentences of between three months and three years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2002). The Senate-approved version makes possible the imposition of fines instead of jail sentences. Romanian journalists are unlikely to be satisfied with the amendment, which still allows for their prosecution for libel. In other news, the Senate also approved a government-sponsored bill on amnestying first-time offenders sentenced to terms of up to five years in jail. The Chamber of Deputies has already approved this bill. Finally, the Senate also approved an amendment to the Law on the Status of Foreign Nationals prohibiting the entry to Romania of people charged with, or suspected of, war crimes or "crimes against peace." The amendment closes the door on the extradition to Romania of former Nazis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September 2002). MS
COUNCIL OF EUROPE RAPPORTEURS HEARS DIFFERENT EVALUATIONS FROM MOLDOVANS
Council of Europe rapporteurs for Moldova Josette Durrieu and Laurie Vahtre met on 12 September with the leaderships of the opposition and the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) to evaluate the implementation of PACE's April recommendations on Moldova, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. While Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca told the rapporteurs that no recommendation has been implemented except for the registration of the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church, PCM deputy parliamentary group leader Vadim Mishin said Moldova is in the course of implementing the recommendations. Braghis Alliance leader Dumitru Braghis drew the rapporteurs' attention to the fact that the resolution's recommendations on Teleradio Moldova have been ignored. Durrieu said after the talks that she could sense "some progress," but that Moldova must fully implement the obligations its government has assumed. MS
MOLDOVAN PREMIER MEETS WITH IMF DELEGATION CHIEF
Marta de Castello-Branco, the head of the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) expert delegation currently visiting Moldova, told Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev on 12 September that the fund is encouraged by findings indicating progress in structural reforms, Flux reported the next day. She also said that the delegation "appreciates" the government's efforts to implement the budgetary restraints agreed with the IMF for 2002. She also praised the Moldovan National Bank for its "balanced monetary policy" and insisted on the importance of continuing to promote a "correct fiscal budgetary policy." Tarlev thanked the IMF for its support in restructuring Moldova's foreign debt and said that the second stage of foreign-debt restructuring awaits an agreement with the Paris Club of creditors. Tarlev said the government is requesting that the IMF agree to additional budgetary spending for the current year in order to cover the costs of this summer's natural calamities. MS
BULGARIAN PRESIDENT ADDRESSES UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY
President Georgi Parvanov addressed the UN General Assembly on 12 September, BTA reported. Speaking after U.S. President George Bush, Parvanov echoed Bush's major arguments for urgent action against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, but also stressed the role of the UN Security Council. "For some 12 years now Iraq has been the focus of the UN's attention. The full implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions in respect to Iraq is a very urgent task. We expect Iraq to observer these resolutions immediately and unconditionally. For its part, the Security Council must take steps to establish its authority and efficiency as the only international body responsible for maintaining international peace and security," Parvanov said. Bulgaria currently holds the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council. UB
BULGARIAN, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET IN NEW YORK
Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi met in New York on 12 September with his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov at the United Nations, BTA reported. They discussed Bulgarian-Russian cooperation in the UN Security Council as well as bilateral issues such as the opening of Bulgarian consulates in the Russian cities of Yekaterinburg and Rostov-na-Donu. On 11 September, Pasi met separately with Spanish Foreign Minister Ana de Palacio and French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin to discuss Bulgaria's bid for EU accession. He also met with his Romanian counterpart Mircea Geoana the same day to discuss so-called smaller cross-border traffic, which will allow residents of both sides of the Romanian/Bulgarian border to travel to the other country using only their ID cards. UB
COMMEMORATION OF ETHNIC MACEDONIAN ORGANIZATION ENDS IN SCUFFLE IN BULGARIA
A commemoration ceremony held by forbidden All-Macedonian Organization Ilinden (OMO-Ilinden) in the western Bulgarian town of Blagoevgrad on 12 September ended in a scuffle between members of the organization and angry citizens, the daily "Sega" reported. Marking the "Day of the Macedonian genocide in Bulgaria," a small group of OMO-Ilinden members conducted a protest march through the center of Blagoevgrad, displaying the Macedonian flag and placards reading, "Stop the assimilation!" When the organizers laid a wreath at the monument to Jane Sandanski -- an early 20th century revolutionary, who is a national hero to both Bulgarians and Macedonians -- some angry citizens attacked the ceremony. Bulgaria does not recognize the existence of a Macedonian ethnic minority in Bulgaria, arguing that the Macedonian language is merely a dialect of Bulgarian. UB
RUSSIA EXPANDS ITS OWN 'WAR ON TERROR,' FURTHER THREATENING GEORGIAN STATEHOOD
The already tense relations between Russia and Georgia reached an unprecedented level of distrust and confrontation in recent days with a new Russian threat to launch unilateral, preemptive strikes against Chechen militants in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge. Instructing his Defense Ministry to draft a new plan for strikes against "terrorist" bases in the Pankisi Gorge, Russian President Vladimir Putin raised the stakes in the last two weeks of mounting confrontation with the Georgian government. Russia argued that Georgia's inability, or unwillingness, to secure the Georgian border with Chechnya necessitates a Russian "preemptive" move to address the threat posed by the Chechen fighters entrenched in the eleven-mile gorge.
Issued on 11 September, the Russian threat of preemptive action compounds the already existing threats to Georgia's seriously weakened statehood. The Russian president also attempted to establish a linkage with the U.S. war on terrorism, noting that the terrorist presence in Georgia poses a direct threat to Russia, and even charging that the perpetrators of the September 1999 apartment-building bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk are enjoying refuge in Georgia. Expanding such linkage has not been very difficult in the wake of the repeated U.S. warnings of the dangers posed by "Al-Qaeda" terrorists in the area.
The Russian threat follows several weeks of escalation between Moscow and Tbilisi over the presence of Chechen militants in the gorge and which included a bombing attack of Georgian territory on 23 August by aircraft widely believed to be Russian. Under pressure to address the Pankisi threat, the Georgian government hastily deployed 1,000 Interior and Security ministry forces to the gorge, setting up a series of 10 checkpoints and launching a limited security sweep of the area.
Generally validating Russian complaints over Georgia's inability to secure the area, observers have noted the overall ineffectiveness of the operation, citing in particular the focus on arresting criminal, rather than terrorist, groups. Additional criticism of the operation centers on the Georgian reluctance to deploy into the mountainous areas beyond the gorge's main roads and central villages and on the advance warning of the operation issued by the government, thereby eliminating any element of surprise. Despite the well-known presence of notorious criminal groups, kidnappers, and narcotics traffickers, Georgian security forces have arrested a mere 10 criminal suspects and one ethnic Arab French citizen initially suspected of links to terrorist organizations, but who subsequently proved to be an employee of a humanitarian agency.
For much of the past decade, Georgian sovereignty and territorial integrity have been seriously undermined by the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and their aftermath, which increased the country's vulnerability to Russian coercion. Russian pressure on Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and his government utilizes a combination of "hard" and "soft" power, capitalizing on the serious weakness of the Georgian state and its inability to control much of its own territory.
Although the Russian use of hard power, manifested by its continued military presence in both Abkhazia and Georgia proper, is the more visible, its exercise of "soft" power has been far more effective. Such soft-power tactics have ranged from Moscow's generous grant of Russian passports to a substantial number of Abkhaz to the Russian Itera group's recent acquisition of a controlling stake in Georgia's natural-gas distribution network.
Hoping to counter overwhelming Russian influence, Georgia happily welcomed the U.S. military's April 2002 "Train and Equip" program, a $64 million project designed to bolster Georgian border security and modernize its cash-strapped armed forces. Initially, many Georgian officials envisioned the new U.S. military assistance as a means for the central Georgian government to reassert its control over the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But such aspirations were, however, soon checked by the limitations of the rather small U.S. military program, which will train a mere 1,600 Georgian soldiers, and the Georgian military's fundamental ineffectiveness. Notable signs of the meager returns on the U.S. investment in the Georgian armed forces included a number of organized desertions and protests over poor living conditions and mounting salary arrears by some military units.
The timing of the most recent Russian threat to intervene in the Pankisi Gorge stems from several factors. First, there is an important practical consideration related to the relatively small window of opportunity for a military engagement, as the approaching winter will soon make the gorge virtually impassible. A second factor is linked to the recent Russian claim that an agreement was reached with Georgia for a joint military operation in the Pankisi. Although quickly denied by Georgian officials, there are suggestions that the agreement was in fact reached but that Shevardnadze was compelled to renounce it. If true, this suggests that Russia is now seeking to capitalize on Shevardnadze's weakness. The third factor in the timing of this crisis stems from a Russian perception that the disappointing results to date of the U.S. "Train and Equip" program only strengthens their charge (in U.S. eyes) that Georgia lacks the capabilities for confronting the Pankisi-based terrorist threat.
The Georgian-Russian crisis may escalate even further to pose the first real test of the important strategic partnership between Russia and the United States. Faced with the challenge of balancing its commitment to bolstering Georgian statehood with its obligations under its partnership with Russia, the United States is being quickly drawn deeper into the complexities of the Caucasus. Additional short-term complications include the need for Russian support within the United Nations Security Council for Washington's ambitions in Iraq, as well as the broader necessity for Russian cooperation in Central Asia.
Perhaps most ironic is the fact that it is Russian utilization of the Bush administration's policies of "regime change" and preemptive strikes that now test U.S. policy in the region. And it is the characterization of Georgia as a "failed state" that serves as a core component in the Russian reassertion of its national interests in the southern Caucasus. It remains to be seen whether Georgia will emerge as the first real test or the first real victim of Russian-U.S. cooperation.