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Newsline - September 19, 2002


TWO IVANOVS IN WASHINGTON FOR SECURITY TALKS...
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov will begin talks in Washington on 20 September with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell in the framework of a joint consultative group on strategic security set up during the Moscow summit in May, Russian news agencies reported on 19 September. In addition to strategic stability issues, the officials will discuss the situation concerning Iraq and some regional issues, including the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia. Both Ivanovs will also meet with U.S. President George W. Bush and members of Congress. VY

...AS DEFENSE MINISTER THREATENS PREEMPTIVE STRIKE ON GEORGIA...
Sergei Ivanov told journalists in Washington that Russia might launch preemptive strikes on Georgian territory if Moscow sees a threat, RTR reported on 19 September. "If we see bandits within 10-15 kilometers of our border, we will not wait until they cross it but will strike preemptively. We simply will have no other choice but to protect our national security and the lives of our citizens," Ivanov said. He also discussed a "security zone" along the border with Georgia that was proposed recently by leading Russian military commanders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 2002). Ivanov said that such a zone could only be created by the joint efforts of both countries manifesting the political will to do so. He said that such a zone should be 20-45 kilometers deep depending on the local landscape and must be laid out away from settlements in order to avoid civilian casualties. VY

...AND WORRIES ABOUT BALTIC STATES IN NATO
Defense Minister Ivanov also said that Russia is not concerned about NATO expansion in general but is worried that the Baltic states have not signed the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2001 and 9 and 29 July 2002), RTR reported. Ivanov noted that, according to this treaty, Russia took upon itself commitments to restrict its military presence in northwestern Europe. If, however, the Baltic States do not sign this treaty and if they refuse to take on similar obligations after joining NATO, "it would be stupid and laughable for Russia not to react to this," Ivanov said. VY

ECONOMICS ADVISER CLAIMS HE CONVINCED PUTIN TO RENATIONALIZE NATURAL WEALTH
Academician Dmitrii Lvov, an economics consultant to the Russian government and long-standing advocate of state control over natural-resource revenues, told "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 17 September that, under the impact of his ideas, President Vladimir Putin is inclined to support increased state control over revenues from the export of mineral resources. This proposal has been incorporated into the amendments to the Mineral Resources Code drafted by deputy head of the presidential administration Dmitrii Kozak (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September 2002). Lvov said that just 5 percent of the nation's gross revenue is generated by labor. Twenty percent is produced by capital and investment, and a full 75 percent is generated through the exploitation of natural resources. He said that much of that 75 percent is currently going directly into the pockets of a small group of oligarchs. Lvov proposed that the state take control of these funds and use them to finance education, health care, and housing, as well as to reduce taxes. In Lvov's words, Putin -- who wrote his dissertation in economics on the topic of "the rational use of natural resources" -- was very receptive to his ideas. VY

FSB SAYS LUKOIL VICE PRESIDENT KIDNAPPED BY COMPETITORS
Investigators from the Federal Security Service's (FSB) Economic Security Department said that it is most likely that a LUKoil competitor is responsible for the 13 September kidnapping of Sergei Kukura, the company's first vice president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 17 September 2002), Russian news agencies reported on 19 September. Investigators speculated that a likely motive for the kidnapping might be a dispute over lucrative new oil-field lots from state reserves that are expected to be distributed among oil operators soon. They said that the recent demand for $6 million ransom was too small an amount to be serious and was likely a ploy to drag out the situation in order to put maximum pressure on LUKoil's leadership. VY

RUSSIANS PREFER THE EURO
The euro has become the foreign currency of preference for Russians, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 18 September. The daily cited the Central Bank in reporting that Russians are now buying about four times as many euros as they are selling and are selling twice as many dollars as they are buying. Russian banks are importing roughly two times as many euros as dollars. To some extent, however, the demand for euros is explained by the summer vacation season, although recent developments with the euro-dollar exchange rate have also played a role. RC

MOSCOW HAILS KOREAN RAIL LINK
President Putin on 18 September congratulated North and South Korea on the establishment of a direct rail link between the two countries, RosBalt reported. Putin hopes that the development will be the first stage in the creation of a rail corridor across Russia from South Korea to Europe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 26 August 2002). In his message, Putin said that Russia is ready to do everything possible to work with both countries to realize the transport corridor "as quickly as possible." RC

800 PRISONERS DECLARE HUNGER STRIKE
Nearly 800 prisoners in a pretrial detention center in Astrakhan declared a hunger strike on 19 September to protest "unbearable conditions" at the facility, ntvru.com reported. President Putin's human rights ombudsman, Oleg Mironov, told Ekho Moskvy that he considers conditions in the 285-year-old facility to be "satisfactory." He said that he visited the jail in August and it has been improved considerably over the last two years. "I saw the repaired cells and they are in good condition. They have hot and cold running water, toilets, and walls painted in light colors," Mironov said. According to ITAR-TASS, a commission from the Astrakhan Oblast administration is currently investigating the prisoners' complaints. RC

WOMEN, INTELLECTUALS LOSE UNDER PUTIN...
In an article in "Vremya MN" on 18 September, sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya characterizes the chief differences between the country's ruling elite under President Putin and those that existed under former President Boris Yeltsin and Soviet leaders Mikhail Gorbachev and Leonid Brezhnev. According to Kryshtanovskaya, the proportion of intellectuals and women in the elite has decreased, while the numbers coming from the regions and the military have increased. For example, at the deputy-minister level, almost 35 percent of those appointed between 2000-02 were former military or intelligence officials. And a number of these officials have landed in economic ministries: there are four former military officials working as deputy ministers at the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, three at the Communications Ministry, and two each at the Transport, Media, Property Relations, Justice, and Tax ministries. JAC

...AS POWER 'HORIZONTAL' FORMED AT LOWER LEVELS OF FEDERAL MINISTRIES
Kryshtanovskaya writes that "between 2000-02 the new authorities worked hard to create not only an administrative vertical but also an administrative horizontal, as the highest officers in the second and third tiers in the power structure form the country's basic cadre reserve at all levels of political and economic administration." She also notes that the role of the military and intelligence services in forming not only President Putin's team but also a support group has been "extraordinary." Putin "has managed not only to strengthen the center, but also to create a group of bureaucrats committed to him personally." JAC

ANTI-REFERENDUM BILL SQUEAKS BY LOWER HOUSE
On the fourth attempt that day, Duma deputies on 18 September finally approved in its first reading a bill prohibiting holding national referendums in the 12 months prior to federal elections, Russian news agencies reported. The vote was 304 in favor and 133 against, according to ITAR-TASS. A vote of 300 was required since the bill is a constitutional one. The Communist Party, which has been collecting signatures in support of conducting a referendum on land sales and other questions, opposed the bill (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August and 12 September 2002). Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said that he felt "ashamed to sit in the hall when such an elementary norm and right of the electorate was violated," according to polit.ru. Zyuganov has asked the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to consider this "threat to Russian democracy," ntvru.com reported on 19 September. The bill was introduced by leaders of the so-called centrist factions -- Unity, Fatherland-All Russia, People's Deputy, and Russian Regions -- as well as leaders from Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces. The second reading might be held as soon as 20 September. JAC/RC

ANOTHER GOVERNOR MULLS LIMITS ON AGRICULTURAL IMPORTS FROM OTHER REGIONS OF RUSSIA
Novosibirsk Oblast Governor Viktor Tolokonskii intends to raise the question of limiting the import into his region of meat and dairy products from other regions as well as from foreign countries at an upcoming federal government session, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 18 September, citing the oblast administration's press service. According to the service, the governor believes the limits might be needed to support local agricultural prices. He also intends to raise the possibility of the State Grain Reserve purchasing grain from the oblast, which is expecting a harvest as large as last year's despite unfavorable weather conditions. JAC

STAFF RESHUFFLED AT NATURAL RESOURCES MINISTRY
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has signed an order appointing Nikolai Tarasov as first deputy natural resources minister, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 September. Tarasov is a former mayor of the city of Orsk in Orenburg Oblast and, more recently, headed the administration for work with unitary enterprises and establishments within the jurisdiction of the ministry, RIA-Novosti reported. Earlier in the week, Kasyanov signed an order appointing Yurii Shuvaev as deputy natural resources minister. Shuvaev is a former general director of Ivanovoneftprodukt. JAC

FEEL LIKE GOING FOR A DRIVE?
Transport Minister Sergei Frank addressed the opening of the Second Baikal Economic Forum in Irkutsk on 17 September, Russian news agencies reported on 18 September. Frank announced that a direct highway linking St. Petersburg and Vladivostok will be completed in 2004, allowing trucks to make the trip in about 10 days. Only about 400 kilometers between Chita and Khabarovsk remain to be built out of the 9,000-kilometer highway. According to Transport Ministry official Oleg Smolin, President Putin has ordered that the road be completed as soon as possible. RC

GM JOINT VENTURE IN VOLGA REGION TO PRODUCE FIRST SUV THIS MONTH
The first Chevrolet Niva automobile of the General Motors-AvtoVAZ joint venture in Tolyatti is scheduled to roll off the production line on 23 September, Interfax reported on 18 September. Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov has already put in an order for the sports-utility vehicle, and the third one has been designated for Tolyatti Mayor Nikolai Utkin. A total of 456 of the light trucks costing $8,000 each are expected to be produced by the end of the year. The joint venture plans to eventually produce 60,000-75,000 vehicles annually. JAC

TRAFFIC OFFICER SUGGESTS MINIMUM FOR OFFERINGS TO BE CONSIDERED BRIBES
At a press conference in Samara's House of Journalists on 18 September, Viktor Mitnik, deputy head of the State Directorate for Automobile Inspections for Samara Oblast, told journalists that "50 or 100 rubles [$1.60-$3.00] given to a traffic inspector -- this is not corruption," VolgaInform reported. Mitnik's remark was made in response to a question about the possible influence of corruption on the increase in the number of traffic accidents locally. JAC

PENZA RESIDENTS DOGGED BY ADS
In the city of Penza, a homeless dog bearing the logo of LUKoil painted on his fur can be seen running around the streets of one neighborhood, ntvru.com reported on 18 September, citing "Molodoi leninets." The dog was reportedly lured with pieces of sausage and then the company's name was painted on its fur. According to the website, dogs bearing the brand names Sony, Camel, and Dosya have also been seen on city streets. Specialists at the oblast veterinary laboratory said that the practice raises questions not only of ethics, but health. Chief veterinarian Ivan Samushkin said, "Smear yourself with oil paint, walk around for a week, and then let's see whether it affects your health or not." JAC

RUSSIAN PROSECUTOR URGES GEORGIA TO EXTRADITE CHECHEN DETAINEES
Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov said after an 18 August meeting in Sochi with President Putin that Georgia has not furnished any convincing explanation for its failure to extradite 13 Chechen fighters detained in early August after entering Georgia illegally, Russian agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5, 6, and 7 August 2002). Acting Chechen Prosecutor Aleksandr Nikitin said on 31 August that the men have been identified as belonging to field commander Doku Umarov's group. Ustinov's deputy Sergei Fridinskii said in Stavropol on 14 September that Tbilisi might extradite them this week. But Interfax on 17 September quoted an official from the Georgian Prosecutor-General's Office as saying that Tbilisi might not do so unless it receives assurances from Russia that the men, who are charged with attempted murder of Russian servicemen and police, will not be sentenced to death. LF

SENIOR RUSSIAN OFFICIAL VISITS ARMENIA
Russian presidential apparatus head Aleksandr Voloshin held talks in Yerevan on 18 September with President Robert Kocharian, focusing on the deterioration in Russian-Georgian relations over the presence of Chechen militants in the Pankisi Gorge, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported quoting the Armenian presidential press service. They also discussed economic and military-technical cooperation. Voloshin himself declined to comment to journalists. He is scheduled to met on 19 September with Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian. LF

ARMENIAN PRIME MINISTER ADVOCATES CRACKDOWN ON 'DANGEROUS SECTS'
Addressing the first session of a newly created government council on religious affairs, Andranik Markarian argued on 18 September that preventing the spread of "dangerous sects" that threaten national security should take priority over compliance with international human rights commitments, including those Armenia has made to the Council of Europe, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Deputy Defense Minister Lieutenant General Mikael Grigorian similarly accused those sects that oppose compulsory military service of seeking the "disintegration and demoralization" of Armenia's armed forces. "Defense of the homeland is above everything," Grigorian affirmed. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES CONDEMN PRESIDENT'S COMMENTS ON ELECTION
Several Armenian opposition party leaders on 18 September criticized President Kocharian's statement the previous day that the February 2003 presidential ballot could be decided in the first round, saving money and precluding political tensions, if the opposition agree on a single candidate to run against him, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 2002). National Democratic Union Chairman Vazgen Manukian told RFE/RL he fears Kocharian's statement implies that he is prepared to resort to falsification to ensure his re-election in the first round because he fears losing to an opposition candidate in a possible runoff. National Accord Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian agreed with Kocharian's reasoning that it would be easier for him to win in the first round against a single opposition candidate. But Arshak Sadoyan of the National Democratic Bloc parliament faction told journalists on 18 September that the choice of a single opposition candidate would make it more difficult for Kocharian to win outright in the first round, according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong. LF

CONSTRUCTION OF AZERBAIJAN OIL-EXPORT PIPELINE BEGUN
The groundbreaking ceremony for construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil-export pipeline took place at the Sangachal oil terminal south of Baku on 18 September in the presence of the Azerbaijani, Georgian, and Turkish presidents and U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. Former Turkish President Suleyman Demirel, who first proposed together with then-Georgian State Council Chairman Eduard Shevardnadze in November 1994 that the pipeline be routed via Georgia, was not present. Speaking at the ceremony, Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer said that the pipeline "will contribute to the improvement of regional cooperation, to the economic recovery in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey, and...the strengthening of political stability and democracy and thus to peace in the region," RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported. Sezer also argued that it is "very important" from the point of view of regional cooperation that Kazakhstan commit itself to export oil via BTC, and that both Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan agree to export gas via the planned parallel Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum gas-export pipeline. Construction of BTC is planned to begin early in 2003 and to be completed by the end of 2004, with the first oil being pumped through the pipeline in 2005. Throughput capacity will be 50 million metric tons per year. LF

AZERBAIJAN, PAKISTAN SIGN ANOTHER DEFENSE COOPERATION AGREEMENT
A bilateral agreement on training military personnel, exchanging experience, holding joint military exercises, and defense-industry cooperation was signed on 17 September during a visit to Karachi by Azerbaijan's Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev, Turan reported on 18 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2002). LF

TWELVE CHECHENS DETAINED, ONE KILLED IN PANKISI SWEEP
In line with Georgian President Shevardnadze's 17 September statement that every village and every house in the Pankisi Gorge will be searched during the ongoing antiterrorism operation, Georgian police and special forces launched a search on 18 September of three villages, Caucasus Press reported. Twelve Chechen men who had no documents were detained and large quantities of arms, computer equipment, and Islamic literature were confiscated, Interfax quoted Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Paata Gomelauri as saying. An unnamed Georgian Interior Ministry source told Interfax the same day that some of the detainees may be released. Later on 18 September, one Chechen died during a clash with Georgian forces at a checkpoint in Pankisi when a hand grenade in his possession exploded, Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIAN INTELLIGENCE CHIEF ACCUSES RUSSIA OF PLANNING TO CREATE PRETEXT FOR CROSS-BORDER RAID
Speaking on 18 September on the independent Georgian television station Rustavi-2, Georgian Intelligence Service head Lieutenant General Avtandil Ioseliani said he has information that a specially trained Chechen unit of 80 men currently in Shatoi Raion south of Grozny will be ordered to create a diversion on the Chechen-Georgian border in order to create a pretext for Russian forces to enter Georgia in their pursuit, Russian news agencies reported. The previous day, Ioseliani had said he has information that Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelaev is hiding in Shatoi; it is not clear whether he implied that Gelaev would lead the planned diversion. Russian Defense Ministry officials dismissed Ioseliani's 18 September allegations as absurd and invited him to "inspect any districts in Chechnya at any time," Interfax reported. Also on 18 September, a spokesman for Russia's Federal Security Service denied that Gelaev is in Chechnya, claiming he and his men are still in Georgia, Interfax reported. Georgian National Security Minister Khaburzania said on 4 September that Gelaev is no longer in Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September 2002). LF

ABKHAZIA AGAIN ACCUSES GEORGIAN OFFICIAL OF LIAISING WITH CHECHEN MILITANTS...
In a statement released on 18 September, the Abkhaz Defense Ministry press service accused Kodori Gorge Governor Emzar Kvitsiani of meeting in the Pankisi Gorge with "international terrorists" to negotiate the transfer of Chechen fighters from Pankisi to the Kodori Gorge, Caucasus Press reported. Abkhaz Defense Ministry General Staff Commander Vladimir Arshba leveled similar accusations against Kvitsiani on 14 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 16 September 2002). The Defense Ministry statement expressed concern at a possible new attack on Kodori similar to that launched by Chechen militants last fall. Also on 18 September, Abkhaz Prime Minister Anri Djergenia again called for the withdrawal of the 900-1,000 Georgian troops he claims are still in the Kodori Gorge, Interfax reported. But in an interview with "Vremya novostei" on 19 September, Ioseliani said that the UN observers who patrol the gorge have not seen any Chechens there. He claimed the Russians and Abkhaz are engaged in a troop buildup in the vicinity of Kodori. LF

...AS DOES GEORGIAN GUERRILLA LEADER
The Georgian newspaper "Akhali taoba" on 19 September quoted Zurab Samushia, the leader of the "White Legion" guerrilla movement, as saying that there are currently some 1,000 Chechen fighters in various locations in Georgia that are inaccessible to the Georgian Army, and that both the Georgian and Russian intelligence services are aware of their presence. Samushia claimed that senior Georgian officials accepted huge bribes for permitting the Chechen fighters to enter Georgia. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT CALLS FOR MORE SUPPORT FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
Addressing a business forum in Astana on 18 September, President Nursultan Nazarbaev urged the government to "make crucial decisions" that would create favorable conditions for small businesses, Interfax reported. Nazarbaev specifically called for removing restrictions in relevant legislation, simplifying the tax procedures for small businesses, and simplifying the procedure for registering new businesses. He also called for a nine-month moratorium beginning next year on inspections of small businesses by tax police. LF

TAJIKISTAN'S DRAFT NATIONALITY CONCEPT CRITICIZED
Representatives of the Tajik presidential staff, political parties, international organizations, and organizations representing ethnic minorities attended a roundtable in Dushanbe on 18 September to discuss the draft nationality concept prepared by the presidential staff, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Most minority representatives rejected the draft and called for it to be reworked. Valerii Yushin, who heads Tajikistan's Russian community, said the draft is devoid of specific content and does not address such issues as education and representation of minorities in local government bodies. Viktor Kim, who is president of the Soviet Koreans' Association, noted that Tajikistan still has no legislation on ethnic minorities. He also pointed to unspecified "difficulties" in rural areas with the law on language and argued that Russian should be designated an official language. Islamic Revival Party Chairman Said Abdullo Nuri pointed out that the law makes no reference to religion, which he termed an important unifying factor. A working group was established to rework the draft concept. LF

BELARUSIAN CENTRAL BANK HEAD REJECTS RUSSIA'S SINGLE-CURRENCY PROPOSAL
Belarusian National Bank Chairman Pyotr Prakapovich told Belarusian Television on 18 September that Minsk does not accept Moscow's proposal that the emission center of a single currency in the Russia-Belarus Union be located in and controlled by Russia. Prakapovich said such a proposal means that the Belarusian National Bank would lose its influence on the socioeconomic processes in the country while the country as a whole would have to give up some of its sovereignty. Earlier the same day, Russian President Vladimir Putin categorically rejected Minsk's idea of two banks and a joint monetary council controlling the union's single currency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 2002). JM

...AS IMF UNCONVINCED ON LOAN RESUMPTION AFTER CRUNCHING NUMBERS...
International Monetary Fund (IMF) representative Thomas Richardson, who spent the last two weeks in Belarus, told journalists in Minsk on 18 September that the IMF and the Belarusian authorities have not reached an agreement on macroeconomic indicators that could make it possible for the fund to renew its suspended monitoring program in Belarus or financial support to the country, Belapan reported. According to IMF experts, macroeconomic indicators and prognoses envisaged by the Belarusian government -- in particular, those pertaining to foreign investments, exports, and GDP growth -- are overoptimistic. The fund has also failed to agree with Belarus on its budget deficit, volumes of money disbursement, and hard-currency reserves. JM

...AND WORLD BANK'S BELARUS STRATEGY STALLS
"Since the adoption of the World Bank's Strategy of Assistance to Belarus for 2002-04 [on 14 March 2002], the sides have not made a single step to carry it out," World Bank representative for Belarus Serhiy Kulyk told Belapan on 18 September. Kulyk noted that the World Bank and the United Nations had sought to help Belarus fight tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS: the bank intended to provide a loan for an anti-TB/HIV/AIDS project, while the UN wanted Belarus to become involved in donor programs of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. The Belarusian government is still hesitating over the World Bank-assisted anti-TB/HIV/AIDS project, while 27 September is the last day to apply for grants from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SAYS OPPOSITION PROTESTS MAY SCARE AWAY INVESTORS...
President Leonid Kuchma said in Odesa on 18 January that such protest actions as that in Kyiv on 16 September (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 17 September 2002) may frighten away potential investors in the country's economy, UNIAN reported. "Ukraine primarily needs political stability. People will come to Ukraine with their capital only if they see peace and order here," Kuchma said. The Ukrainian president also said he does not accept protesters who put forward "not demands, but ultimatums." JM

...AS OPPOSITION APPEALS TO WORLD LEADERS TO 'IGNORE' HIM
The Fatherland Party press service told UNIAN that an appeal to world leaders to "ignore" President Kuchma has been sent to nearly 50 countries. The appeal, which was adopted during the 16 September antipresidential rally in Kyiv, calls on world leaders not to make political contacts with Kuchma "in exchange for economic and political concessions" from him. It also urges the world's heads of state not to invite Kuchma to international summits and official meetings. JM

COURTS IN KYIV PUNISH ARRESTED PROTESTERS
Kyiv-based courts have punished the 64 people arrested after the dismantling of a tent camp that was set up near the presidential administration building on 17 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 2002), UNIAN reported on 18 September, quoting an Interior Ministry official. Fifty-one demonstrators were jailed for terms of one to 10 days, while the others were fined or given warnings. JM

UKRAINE HARVESTS 36.7 MILLION TONS OF GRAIN IN 2002
Ukrainian farmers collected 36.7 million tons of grain this year, UNIAN reported on 18 September, quoting Agricultural Ministry Secretary Serhiy Melnyk. Melnyk was reporting on the 2002 harvest results to the parliamentary Commission for Agrarian Policy and Land Relations. Melnyk said this year's average grain yield was 2.82 tons per hectare. Meanwhile, commission head Ivan Tomych predicted that nearly 70 percent of Ukrainian farms and agricultural enterprises will suffer fiscal losses in 2002. According to Tomych, the losses will be due to a fall in domestic prices for grain, meat, and milk. In 2001, 7,320 farms and agricultural enterprises in Ukraine were profitable (56.9 percent of their total number), compared with 65.5 percent in 2000. JM

EUROPEAN AGRICULTURE CONGRESS STARTS IN ESTONIAN CAPITAL
The 54th European Agriculture Congress focusing on "The Role of Farmers in the New Europe" opened in Tallinn on 18 September with more than 400 foreign and 160 Estonian representatives, BNS reported. EU Agriculture, Rural Development, and Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler explained that the European Commission recommended giving farmers in new European Union member countries in 2004 just 25 percent of the subsidies given to farmers in current EU countries because the EU budget for 2004-06 was already adopted. He said that the reform of the EU's common agriculture policy (CAP), which is expected to begin in 2007, will focus on income subsidies rather than price subsidies. Gerd Sonnenleitner, the president of the European Committee of Agricultural Organizations, said that "Farmers are repeating that, on the one hand, enlargement of the EU must not jeopardize CAP; while on the other hand, agriculture must not jeopardize enlargement" and all farmers in a united Europe must be treated equally. SG

LATVIA'S MEDICAL WORKERS HOLD ANOTHER STRIKE
Dissatisfied with the results of its strikes in June and July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June 2002 and 19 July 2002), the Latvian Health and Social Care Employees Union conducted another one-day strike on 18 September, LETA reported. As part of the strike, 7,000 people, the majority of whom were medical workers, marched from the union's headquarters to a rally on Riga's Esplanade. A resolution was adopted calling for the government to designate health care a priority and to raise salaries for medical workers to 140 lats ($230) per month from the current 100 lats. After their regular weekly meeting that day, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Prime Minister Andris Berzins said that the salaries of physicians and nurses will be raised in the near future. SG

VISA-FREE TRAINS THROUGH LITHUANIA POSSIBLE ONLY AFTER EU ENTRY
Commenting on the communique issued on 18 September by the European Commission (EC) outlining possible solutions for travel between Kaliningrad Oblast and the rest of Russia, Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis said the next day that Lithuania will consider Russia's proposal of allowing special visa-free fast trains to transit Lithuania only with guarantees from the European Union that the scheme would not impede the country's efforts to join the Schengen agreement, BNS and ELTA reported. He also noted that EC President Romano Prodi has affirmed that such visa-free travel would be possible only after Lithuania becomes a member of the EU; i.e., in 2004 at the earliest. Thus, Valionis said Lithuania will abide by its commitment to end the current system of visa-free travel between Kaliningrad and Russia beginning on 1 January 2003. Valionis also mentioned that the high-speed train option would be possible only after technical improvement of the rail line, which would cost more than $100 million. SG

POLAND TO INTRODUCE VISAS FOR RUSSIANS DESPITE EU CONCESSION
Polish Minister for European Affairs Danuta Huebne, said in Brussels on 18 September that Poland will introduce visas for all citizens of Russia as of 1 July 2003, PAP reported. Huebner added that according to agreements reached between Warsaw and Moscow, "all special solutions which are to deal with the transit issue do not concern Poland." She was commenting on the EC's proposal announced earlier the same day that a special transit document for residents of Russia's Kaliningrad exclave easing their freedom of movement after European Union enlargement could serve not only for transit through Lithuania but also through Poland or Latvia. JM

MOLDOVAN PREMIER IN POLAND
Moldovan Premier Vasile Tarlev arrived in Warsaw on 18 September, the first visit by Moldova's head of government to Poland since the two countries established bilateral relations, Polish media reported. Tarlev told his Polish counterpart Leszek Miller that Moldova counts on Poland's support in pursuing privatization and wants to gain from Poland's experience in economic and sociopolitical transformations. The two sides signed agreements on cooperation and mutual assistance in customs, as well as on economic, scientific, and technical cooperation in the food and agriculture sectors. JM

TRIAL OF MAJOR GANG OPENS IN POLAND
Fourteen men suspected of involvement in the so-called Pruszkow gang, Poland's most notorious criminal group, went on trial in Warsaw on 18 September on charges including drug trafficking and illegal possession of firearms, Polish media reported. The indictment is based on the testimony of five other suspected criminals who gave information to police in exchange for protection and immunity from prosecution. The suspected members of the Pruszkow gang were arrested between 2000 and early 2002 in Poland, Bulgaria, Mexico, and Spain. JM

U.S., CZECH PRESIDENTS DISCUSS IRAQ, NATO EXPANSION
Vaclav Havel, who is paying his last visit to the United States as Czech president, on 18 September met in Washington with U.S. President George W. Bush. Citing White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, Reuters reported that they discussed NATO expansion and the November NATO summit in Prague. Fleischer also said the two presidents discussed Iraq, but provided no details. Havel told journalists after the meeting that he opposes unilateral U.S. military action against Iraq, even if Baghdad does not accept the conditions of the planned U.S. Security Council resolution, CTK reported. He said military action against Iraq should only be carried out by a "major international coalition" in which NATO would play an important role. He said the Czech Republic could participate in such an international action, most likely with its antichemical- and antibacteorological-warfare unit. Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik, who is accompanying Havel on the visit, said he agrees with the president's views. MS

CZECH COALITION LEADERS OFFICIALLY FEND OFF CABINET'S COLLAPSE...
The leaders of the three Czech coalition partners -- the Social Democratic Party (CSSD), the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL), and the Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU) -- on 18 September signed an agreement reached one day earlier, thus making possible the survival of the cabinet headed by Vladimir Spidla, CTK and international agencies reported. In Washington, President Havel expressed satisfaction with the solution reached but called on the coalition members to consider other measures to avoid a similar crisis in the future, according to a CTK report. MS

...BUT FRICTION IS ONCE MORE IN THE OFFING
US-DEU acting Chairman Ivan Pilip on 18 September said in an interview with the BBC that his party considers the planned budget deficit of 157.3 billion crowns (nearly $5.1 billion) too high and wants it reduced, CTK reported. On the same day, the Senate refused the government's request that two bills related to the financing of reconstruction in the wake of flood damages be fast-tracked for debate, CTK reported. The upper house agreed to debate under this procedure two other bills submitted by the cabinet, however. US-DEU Senator Jan Hadrava joined the opposition Civic Democratic Party in opposing the government's request. The cabinet is to debate on 20 September a draft bill replacing the bill on raising taxes that triggered last week's crisis. Meanwhile, Vladimir Mlynar of the US-DEU told journalists on 18 September that the cabinet decided to create a new Ministry of Information and Technology and that he will head that ministry. Until now, Mlynar was minister without portfolio. MS

EC SIGNALS MEASURES TO HELP CZECHS, SLOVAKS COPE WITH FLOOD CONSEQUENCES
The European Commission on 18 September said it intends to loosen conditions under which the Czech Republic and Slovakia can draw funds from its SAPARD program to help alleviate damages caused by the August floods, TASR reported. In addition, the commission presented its proposal for setting up the Solidarity Fund for coping with the consequences of natural, environmental, and technological disasters. The proposals define such disasters as those that cause damages of more than $1 billion, or of 0.5 percent of a country's gross domestic product (GDP). The Solidarity Fund is to contain at least $500 million by November and $1 billion by 2003. TASR said damage estimates in Slovakia for the August floods are $35 million, which is less than 0.5 percent of GDP, and that Slovakia would thus not be entitled to receive aid from the Solidarity Fund. MS

'ELECTORAL BLACKOUT' BEGINS IN SLOVAKIA...
Slovakia's electoral campaigns officially ended on 18 September, TASR reported. In line with Slovak law, an "electoral blackout" was instituted as of the afternoon hours, two days ahead of the 20-21 September parliamentary ballot. During the blackout, any political campaigning is prohibited. MS

...BUT ELECTIONEERING OVERHEATS HOURS AHEAD
Alliance for New Citizens (ANO) Chairman Pavol Rusko said on 18 September during a debate on TV Markiza, of which he is co-owner, that Smer (Direction) is financed by the same people who in the past financed Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), TASR reported. He said Smer "is financed by people who financed the HZDS and are today betting on a different horse" who is younger than Meciar. Smer Chairman Robert Fico, who participated in the televised debate alongside Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, dismissed the allegation as "nonsense" and noted that Meciar attended Rusko's wedding and approved the licensing of TV Markiza. Dzurinda told Fico that the Smer leader professes to admire the so-called "Third Way" of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder but is behaving more like Austrian populist Joerg Haider. MS

SLOVAKIA SETS UP HOLOCAUST VICTIMS FUND
The government on 18 September approved the creation of a fund to compensate Holocaust victims who suffered under the Slovak Nazi puppet state during World War II, CTK and international agencies reported. Deputy Premier Pal Csaky, who initiated the legislation, said the state will contribute 850 million crowns ($19 million) to the fund to compensate victims or their relatives whose property was confiscated, to cover the social needs of elderly members of the country's Jewish community, and to finance cultural programs. Csaky said that over 10 years, the fund will grow to some 1.5 billion crowns with accrued interest. It will be managed by a joint committee composed of government representatives and representatives of the Slovak Jewish community, he said. MS

SLOVAK ROMANY ORGANIZATION SAYS JUSTICE MINISTRY VIOLATING LAW
Hana Pucikova, a representative of the People Against Racism organization, on 18 September told TASR that the Justice Ministry is violating the law by publicizing the ethnic origins of convicted criminals. Pucikova said that on the ministry's website there is a special separate column on crimes committed by members of the Romany community, adding that this violates the Constitution and international agreements. A ministry official refused to comment but said the column has been taken off the web page. MS

MECS COMMISSION BACKS AWAY FROM PLAN TO SUBMIT REPORT TO HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT
Imre Mecs (Alliance of Free Democrats), the chairman of the parliamentary commission investigating government officials' secret-service pasts, said on 18 September that a summary on the commission's activity will be presented to the speaker of parliament and made public next week, Hungarian media reported. His statement marked a change in his position, as Mecs had earlier insisted that the full report be submitted to parliament. The same day, former Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi and former Industry Minister Szabolcs Fazakas examined files that the Mecs commission used to substantiate its claims that they worked with the communist-era secret services. Fazakas said the documents supported his earlier statement that as a foreign-trade businessman it was his duty to provide information to Interior Ministry bodies, and that he had no contact with domestic-security agencies. Martonyi said that as a diplomat he turned down a request to provide economic and trade policy information to domestic-security bodies, and expressed surprise that a file had been kept on him. MSZ

MACEDONIAN ELECTION LOSERS CHALLENGE ELECTION RESULTS
The State Election Commission (DIK) has rejected numerous complaints against the election results that have been filed since the 15 September vote, Macedonian media reported on 19 September. The ruling Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) and one of its splinter groups, the "real" VMRO, have demanded a chemical analysis of the paper and the printing ink that were used to print the ballots. Other complaints refer to breaches of ballot secrecy, the data in the voters lists, and the counting of the votes, DIK spokesman Zoran Tanevski noted. He added that, "that is why we will double-check the data included in the reports by the [regional] election commissions and in the report by the DIK." But hard-line Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski charged that 488,000 ballots were illegally burned in Prilep, suggesting that his VMRO-DPMNE had been robbed of votes, dpa reported. Fifteen armed special police "stormed" the printing house where the ballots were burned. VMRO-DPMNE leader Ljubco Georgievski previously accepted the elections as fair (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16, 17, and 18 September 2002). His party won 33 seats, while the Social Democrats took 60 out of 120 mandates. UB/PM

MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN ELECTION WINNER SAYS HE DOES NOT WANT A CABINET JOB
Ali Ahmeti, the chairman of the victorious Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) and former political leader of the National Liberation Army (UCK), said through a spokesman in Skopje on 18 September that he sees his future as a party leader rather than as a government minister, AP reported. The Social Democrat-led Together for Macedonia coalition has not formally offered posts to the BDI, but a coalition spokesman told Reuters that "political isolation" of the party that won two-thirds of the Albanian vote "would be a problem." Many ethnic Macedonians, however, would strongly object to any former UCK man sitting in the government. Observers note that one reason for Boskovski's vehement challenge to the election results is the prospect that the BDI might acquire control of his ministry, which he has run like a private fiefdom for the VMRO-DPMNE. PM

EU STILL NOT READY FOR MACEDONIAN PEACEKEEPING
The European Union will not be able to take over the peacekeeping mandate of NATO's Operation Amber Fox when it ends on 26 October because of continuing bickering between Greece and Turkey over EU use of NATO resources, Reuters reported from Brussels on 18 September (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 May and 9 August 2002). The news agency quoted an unnamed "senior alliance diplomat" as saying that progress has been made on technical issues but that the political will to close a deal is lacking. He added that he expects that the mandate of Amber Fox will be extended for two or three months, by which time he hopes that Greece and Turkey can reach an agreement. PM

DID DJINDJIC ALSO QUESTION BOSNIA'S INTEGRITY?
In the wake of a controversy over a recent statement by Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica to the effect that he considers the Republika Srpska's separation from Serbia to be only "temporary," the Bosnian Foreign Ministry has also protested recent remarks by Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic suggesting that Bosnia's borders are not permanent, Hina reported from Sarajevo on 18 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12, 13, and 16 September 2002, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 August and 6 September 2002). Djindjic told the European Economic Summit in Salzburg that the frontiers of some Balkan countries do not "meet European criteria." He also linked the status of Kosova with that of Bosnia. Bosnian Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija and Croatian President Stipe Mesic strongly criticized Djindjic's remarks. But a spokesman for the OSCE mission in Bosnia, Philip Henning, told the Croatian news agency that Djindjic's statement merely reflects his personal view and is not official policy. PM

SERBIAN ELECTION CAMPAIGN IN FULL SWING
The Serbian Supreme Court ruled on 18 September that the Election Commission must register former General Nebojsa Pavkovic as a candidate in the 29 September Serbian presidential elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The commission previously ruled that Pavkovic had not collected enough signatures to qualify. He is now the eleventh candidate in the race. In Pozarevac, Kostunica said that it is important that Serbia have an outlet to the sea. In Belgrade, the Serbian government called on Kostunica to conduct his campaign trips at his own expense and not charge them to the state. Reuters reported on 19 September that most Serbs are apathetic about the vote, being disillusioned with the politicians who seem unable to solve the pressing problems of poverty, crime, and corruption. PM

YUGOSLAVIA TO SUE ITALIAN COMPANY
Serbian Communications and Telecommunications Minister Marija Raseta Vukosavljevic said in Belgrade on 18 September that the Yugoslav government will sue the Italian company that renovated the Ivanjica satellite station in 1999 for shoddy workmanship, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

YUGOSLAV DELEGATION AT NATO HEADQUARTERS
Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic and General Branko Krga, who heads the General Staff, held talks in Brussels with NATO officials about Belgrade's request to join the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 19 September. The visitors were told that all indicted war criminals on Yugoslav territory must be arrested before that country can join PfP. There are several other issues holding up Belgrade's admission, including the lack of transparent civilian control over the military and the presence of possible war criminals in the officer corps. PM

HARD-LINERS' PACT IN MONTENEGRO
Momir Bulatovic of the People's Socialist Party (NSS), Vojislav Seselj of the Serbian Radical Party, and Mirjana Markovic of the United Yugoslav Left (JUL) signed an agreement in Podgorica on 18 September to form a coalition for the 20 October Montenegrin parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The coalition of loyalists to former President Slobodan Milosevic will be called the Patriotic Coalition for Yugoslavia. It is doubtful whether the coalition will be able to surmount the electoral hurdle of 5 percent. PM

CROATIAN GOVERNMENT REPORTEDLY CONFIRMS THAT THE HAGUE WANTS BOBETKO
An unnamed "government source" told Reuters on 19 September in Zagreb that the war crimes tribunal has prepared a case against former General Janko Bobetko, an ex-chief of the General Staff. The source said that "we have not received a formal indictment [from the tribunal], but we were asked to arrange an interview with Bobetko in the capacity of an indictee" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 2002). The tribunal has refused to confirm or deny previous press reports that Bobetko has been indicted for his role in the 1993 Medak Pocket killings of Serbian civilians. PM

CROATIAN POLICEMAN FOUND NOT GUILTY OF WAR CRIMES
The Karlovac County court ruled on 18 September that Mihajlo Hrastov acted in self-defense when he killed 13 Serbian military prisoners in 1991 and did not commit a war crime, dpa reported. He was found not guilty of the charges once before, but the county prosecutor demanded a new trial. In related news, the Justice Ministry confirmed that an investigation has been launched into charges that controversial Judge Slavko Lozina has hidden important evidence that could have been used in war crimes trials. The Split-based judge has made little secret of his right-wing views. PM

ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER RECEIVES U.S. ASSURANCES ON NATO MEMBERSHIP
Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu, who is currently on a visit to the United States, on 18 September met with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, as well as with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Romanian Radio reported. Pascu described the meetings as "very friendly and encouraging," and said he received assurances that Romania can "expect a positive answer" to its NATO membership bid at the organization's November Prague summit. He said among the issues discussed was also the Iraqi crisis and the Romanian military contingent's participation in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Pascu also met with U.S. senators and members of the House of Representatives, as well as their staff. MS

ROMANIA DENIES DELIVERING MILITARY EQUIPMENT TO IRAQ
In response to a report in the French daily "Le Parisien," a spokesman for the Romanian Foreign Affairs Ministry cited by Romanian Radio on 18 September denied that Romania has sold Iraq spare parts for the Puma helicopters produced in the country under French license. The spokesman said that no military technology has been traded with Iraq after the approval by the Security Council of its 1991 resolution No. 667 on sanctions against that country. The spokesman described the report in "Le Parisien" as "mere speculation," emphasizing that Romania abides "in good faith" by all Security Council resolutions on Iraq. MS

ROMANIAN COURT REJECTS NATIONALIST TV CHANNEL'S APPEAL
On 18 September, the Bucharest Court of Appeals rejected on procedural grounds the Oglinda TV channel's appeal against the National Audiovisual Council's (CNA) decision to revoke its license, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2002). Supporters of the extreme nationalist channel, headed by Greater Romania Party Senator Corneliu Vadim Tudor, the same day demonstrated against the decision in front of the Senate and near the presidential palace in Bucharest. Oglinda TV Director Dan Diaconescu said the broadcasts will be resumed, "possibly from abroad," while Tudor said that he will launch his own television station "before Christmas," according to the daily "Ziua." The daily also reported on 19 September that the CNA has launched a judicial complaint against Tudor, accusing him of having incited readers in his "Romania mare" weekly to physically attack the council's members. The CNA members were summoned on 18 September by Senate Cultural Commission Chairman Adrian Paunescu to explain their decision to the commission. Media reports say the commission, and Paunescu in particular, criticized the decision as infringing on the freedom of expression. MS

TIRASPOL NEGOTIATIONS BEGIN, 'BLACKOUT' INSTITUTED ON COVERAGE
The new round of negotiations on settling the Transdniester conflict began in Tiraspol on 18 September and lasted late into the night, Infotag reported. The heads of the negotiating teams and the three mediators -- the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Russia, and Ukraine -- refused to speak to journalists during the breaks or after the talks were adjourned. OSCE mission head David Schwartz said the sides have started what he called "the active phase" of the negotiations, and that statements to the media could obstruct their work. He said the media will be informed only "after concrete results are in place." But a Moldovan diplomat told Infotag that "before such results appear, the road is long.... This meeting...was not significantly different from those held in Chisinau." MS

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES FOREIGN-DEBT SWAP
With the votes of the ruling coalition of the National Movement Simeon II and the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms, parliament on 18 September ratified a foreign-debt exchange deal under which parts of the country's foreign debt in "Brady bonds" will be exchanged for U.S. dollar-denominated Eurobonds, BTA reported. Due to the lack of the necessary quorum, the first ratification attempt failed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2002). After the ratification, Finance Minister Milen Velchev hailed the deal as "very good for Bulgaria. It fits perfectly in the debt-management strategy and will bring about a number of positive results [such as the] extension of the debt term and reduction of the risk related to the fluctuation of interest rates on the world market." UB

IMF OFFICIAL ASSESSES BULGARIAN BUDGET
In Sofia on 18 September, Finance Minister Milen Velchev met with Jerald Schiff, a division chief who represents the Bulgarian team at the International Monetary Fund headquarters, to discuss the draft budget for 2003, BTA reported. Schiff described the utilization of the 2002 budget as excellent, adding that there are clear indications that the economy is doing very well. He emphasized, however, that structural reforms should continue. The 2003 draft budget envisages 4.5 percent inflation, 4.5 percent economic growth, a drop in the current-account deficit of between 5-5.5 percent, and 0.7 percent budget deficit. UB

FBI REPRESENTATIVE LAUDS COOPERATION WITH BULGARIA
FBI Balkans Coordinator Robert Clifford met with Interior Ministry Chief Secretary Boyko Borisov on 18 September, mediapool.bg reported. Clifford, who is also the legal attache of the U.S. Embassy in Athens, lauded Bulgaria's contribution to the fight against international terrorism and organized crime. He warned, however, that no country is immune to terrorism and that terrorist groups use all possibilities to build and finance their structures. Borisov handed Clifford a list of technical equipment that the Interior Ministry hopes to be provided with by the FBI, including helicopters, boats, and computers. Clifford promised to forward the list to the FBI director. UB

There is no End Note today.


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