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Newsline - February 21, 2003


FOREIGN MINISTER COMPLAINS OF 'PRESSURE' ON UN WEAPONS INSPECTORS...
Igor Ivanov said on 20 February that Moscow is concerned about "pressure on the international inspectors in Iraq," ORT and RIA-Novosti reported. Ivanov said that those who are pressuring the inspectors are trying to force their departure, as was done in 1998, or "to induce them to present inspection results that can be used as a pretext for coercive action against this country." Russia has called on inspectors to ignore the pressure and to fulfill their responsibilities objectively and has urged the international community to support the inspectors without pressuring them, Ivanov said. He added that if the United States and Britain produce a new draft United Nations Security Council resolution on Iraq, Russia "will consider it." VY

...AS EXPERT PREDICTS IRAQI PRESIDENT'S OUSTER 'IN ANY CASE'
Sergei Karaganov, chairman of the influential Council for Defense and Foreign Policy, said in an interview published on strana.ru on 20 February that no matter how the Iraq situation develops, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein will be removed from power. He added that, although war is not certain, there are only two possible political solutions to the crisis at this point: Either Hussein goes or the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush goes. Karaganov said that Russia should not use its UN Security Council veto on this matter. "[European opponents of U.S. policy] are dreaming that we will impose a veto so that they, as always, can hide behind our backs. But this is ludicrous, and we should stop doing the dirty work for others," Karaganov said. VY

OFFICIAL CRITICIZES BULGARIAN POSITION ON IRAQ
Colonel General Anatolii Mazurkevich, who heads the Defense Ministry's department for international military cooperation, has criticized Bulgaria's decision to support the United States on the Iraq crisis as "precipitate," mediapool.bg reported. Mazurkevich told journalists in Moscow on 20 February that Russia interprets Bulgaria's offer of military support as merely symbolic, given the strength of the U.S. military. Mazurkevich iterated Russia's support for finding a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis and said one state should not take it upon itself to resolve international conflicts. UB

GOVERNMENT ADOPTS BILL ON NATIONALIZATION
The cabinet on 20 February adopted a bill on the nationalization of private property that it plans to submit to the Duma in the next two to three weeks, globalrus.ru reported. Under the bill, the state would be authorized to seize private property only for reasons of national defense or state security. Even in those cases, seizures would only be allowed if the state is unable to meet its needs on the open market. The bill calls for an independent assessor to determine the value of any nationalized property and mandates compensation from a special, classified section of the state budget. The bill also states that nationalization can only be applied to "strategic objects," and it includes a definition of the term "strategic." It also specifically states that nationalization cannot be used as a form of punishment. Analysts believe this wording was included to ensure that nationalization is not used to reverse the privatization process of the early 1990s. VY

WANNA BUY A KALASHNIKOV?
Mikhail Kalashnikov, the man who designed the AK-47 assault rifle, has sold the rights to his name to a small German company that produces umbrellas, shaving razors, tennis rackets, and wristwatches, RTR reported on 20 February. Under the contract, Kalashnikov will receive a portion of the profits from sales of items bearing his name and will have the right to verify the quality of any products produced under the brand. Although more than 100 million AK-47s have been produced since Kalashnikov designed it, he has received no income from it and lives on a modest pension in Izhevsk. The German company reportedly hopes to use the brand to sell products from cars to mineral water. Kalashnikov told journalist that he is happy to have his name associated with products other than the AK-47, which has killed more people than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. "I wish I had invented a hay-mowing machine," Kalashnikov said on RTR. VY

ANALYSTS DOUBT EXPLANATION OF IRANIAN AIR DISASTER
Russian aviation experts believe that the Iranian government is not telling the whole story about the causes of the 19 February crash of a Soviet-made Ilyushin-76C military transport plane that left 302 dead (see "RFE/RL 20 February 2003), NTV reported on 20 February. Iran's information agencies have been reporting that the likely cause of the disaster was bad weather. However, according to the Russian experts, the maximum capacity of the Il-76 is 140 passengers and a crew of seven to nine members. Considering that the number of victims reported was twice this number, the Russian analysts are speculating that the plane might have collided with another aircraft and that the government is concealing this fact. Iran continues to use obsolete Soviet-era aircraft because it is unable to modernize its fleet under sanctions imposed by the United States, NTV added. VY

SIX LAW-ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS KILLED IN SHOOT-OUT WITH POACHERS
Four police officers and two forestry service employees were killed in a heated gun battle with a gang of suspected poachers in Krasnodar Krai on 19 February, "Vremya novostei" and other Russian news agencies reported. The shoot-out occurred during a massive police operation involving helicopters and thousands of police officers to root out poachers in the region. A pitched gun battle was fought for several hours against suspected poachers reportedly armed with machine guns and hand grenades. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said that "there are no traces of Chechen involvement" in the incident. However, he added that the suspects might have resisted so fiercely because they are also involved in drug trafficking, which is reportedly on the rise in the region. VY

NEWSPAPER EDITOR GETS FIRED...
Oleg Mitvol, chairman of the board of directors of the newspaper "Novye izvestiya," announced on 20 February that he has dismissed the daily's editor in chief and general director, Igor Golembiovskii, Interfax and other Russian news agencies reported. The newspaper's deputy editor, Sergei Agafonov, told lenta.ru that the paper would not come out on 21 February as a sign of protest against Golembiovskii's dismissal. Mitvol told strana.ru on 20 February that Golembiovskii might be allowed to remain as the paper's editor, although he has been removed as its general director for alleged financial improprieties. Although ownership of the paper has long been attributed to self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, who financed the creation of the paper when Golembiovskii and other journalists left "Izvestiya" in 1997, Mitvol now claims to own 76 percent of the daily, while Golembiovskii reportedly manages the remaining 24 percent in the name of the paper's journalists. Berezovskii told strana.ru on 20 February that Mitvol was supposed to transfer the paper's shares to one of Berezovskii's companies after its creation but never did so. Berezovskii said he is continuing to demand that Mitvol surrender the shares. JAC/RC

...AND BEREZOVSKII BLAMES THE KREMLIN
Berezovskii told Ekho Moskvy that he believes Golembiovskii was fired because the newspaper "has been irritating the Kremlin for a long time" and that Mitvol "is not an independent figure." Vladimir Yakov, one of the newspaper's journalists, told TVS that the daily "recently published several tough articles about the leadership of the country and the president in particular." "On 20 February, we published an article called the "Putinization of the Country" [that] described the threat of a personality cult and all this stupidity with Putin's busts and portraits," Yakov said. Strana.ru, however, published a commentary that argued that the tycoon himself was to blame for the dispute because he chose to manage his shares by proxy "because he did not want to take direct responsibility himself." The website, which is owned by the state broadcasting company VGTRK, speculated that similar situations could arise regarding Berezovskii's other newspapers, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Kommersant-Daily." JAC/RC

LAW ON ALTERNATIVE MILITARY SERVICE CONTINUES TO DRAW CRITICISM
The State Duma held a hearing on 20 February on the law on alternative civil service, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. President Vladimir Putin signed the law last July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2002). Participants at the hearing argued that the law has serious deficiencies. One flaw is that it stipulates that alternative service must be performed only in the social-services or health-care sectors, whereas any sector other than the military -- such as law enforcement or agriculture -- should be acceptable. The law also allows citizens to perform their alternative service only outside of the territory where they normally reside. According to the testimony, this creates opportunities for corruption among those bureaucrats who have the power to decide where the alternative service should be performed. The law will come into force on 1 January 2004, the bureau reported. JAC

POLLSTERS CONSIDER SUCCESSORS TO ST. PETERSBURG GOVERNOR
Roman Mogilevskii, research director at the Agency for Social Information, told reporters in St. Petersburg on 20 February that his firm's polling data suggests that State Duma Deputy Oksana Dmitrieva (independent) currently has the best chance of becoming the next governor of St. Petersburg, with 10-12 percent of respondents supporting her, RosBalt reported. State Duma Deputy Speaker Irina Khakamada (Union of Rightist Forces) also has growing support, with 7-9 percent, compared with only 3 percent for State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev. Lenenergo head Andrei Likhachev polled 6 percent, and if his rating continues to grow, Mogilevskii predicted he could become one of the most serious contenders in the race. Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin also has a stable rating of 7-9 percent. The survey was conducted among 500 residents from 7-9 February. Current Governor Vladimir Yakovlev could have his second term cut short if a proposal currently before the city's Legislative Assembly to move up the date of the election to December 2003 is approved, TVS reported on 19 February. JAC

IS YET ANOTHER ST. PETERSBURG CHEKIST GOING TO GAZPROM?
Valerii Golubev, Leningrad Oblast legislature's representative to the Federation Council, has announced that he is resigning his post and will work in the private sector, regions.ru reported on 20 February. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 February, Golubev plans to assume a leadership position with a Gazprom subsidiary. Golubev worked in the upper legislative chamber less than a year, having been selected last April (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 29 April 2002). Golubev is a former KGB officer and, like President Putin, worked in the administration of former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak. Earlier this week, another former intelligence officer from St. Petersburg, Sergei Ushakov, was appointed Gazprom's deputy chairman for administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2003). JAC

NEW AMBASSADOR NAMED FOR ISLAMIC ISSUES...
Russia has created the position of ambassador for Islamic issues, and Veniamin Popov has been named to this post, Interfax reported on 20 February, citing unidentified diplomats. Popov is a former Soviet ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. More recently, he headed the Russian delegation to negotiations on a cooperation agreement with Moldova. Last year, Popov declared that that agreement showed that "the Russian language was and is the most important means of communication on the territory of the former Soviet Union," Interfax reported on 21 February 2002. He also argued at the time that the introduction of Russian-language courses in Moldovan schools was not done "to please Moscow" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2002). JAC

...AS PENZA MUSLIM COMMUNITY OBJECTS TO RELIGIOUS SYMBOL ON LOCAL FLAG
Also on 20 February, the Muslim community in Penza Oblast protested the use of an image of Jesus from a Russian Orthodox icon on the oblast's flag, RosBalt reported. Abdurrauf Zabirov, chairman of the Council for a Unified Administration of Muslims in Penza Oblast, said that: "Muslims in the region are categorically opposed to using religious attributes for the formation of the oblast's symbol.... Flags are supposed to unite people, not divide them." He added that he is sure this violates the constitution and the law on religious activities. According to the agency, there are about 100,000 Muslims in Penza Oblast. JAC

SIBERIAN GOVERNORS FORM LEADERSHIP TROIKA...
The governors of Krasnoyarsk Krai, Evenk Autonomous Okrug, and Taimyr Autonomous Okrug on 20 February signed a protocol of intent to create a Union of Governors, regions.ru reported. According to Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Khloponin, under the agreement all social, economic, and cultural issues in the three regions will be decided jointly. Previously, Khloponin held negotiations with the leadership of Evenk Autonomous Okrug about the possibility of merging the two regions (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 30 January 2003). More recently, newly elected Taimyr Autonomous Okrug Governor Oleg Budargin said he does not see any reason for merging his okrug with Krasnoyarsk Krai (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2003). JAC

...AS SIBERIAN TEACHERS STRIKE GAINS STRENGTH
The number of teachers on strike in Irkutsk Oblast continues to rise, reaching 1,748 on 20 February, ITAR-TASS reported, citing the oblast committee of the trade union representing educational workers. At the beginning of the month, some 328 teachers went on strike to protest wage arrears, RIA-Novosti reported on 6 February. Local authorities in the Nizhneilimskii Raion have promised to pay January salaries by 5 March, ITAR-TASS reported. On 19 February, Labor Minister Aleksandr Pochinok told a ministry session that wage arrears were owed to about 6 million public-sector workers as of the end of 2002, compared to a total of 9 million in previous years, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2003). JAC

CHECHEN PRESIDENT CONVENES COUNCIL OF WAR
Accompanied by Defense Minister Mokhmad Khanbiev and the commander of the Presidential Guard, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov traveled on 16 February to Gudermes, Chechnya's second-largest city, where he convened a council of war that was attended by his field commanders, chechenpress.com reported on 19 February. Maskhadov then conducted tours of inspection in Grozny and Argun. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION CLAIMS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION WAS ILLEGAL...
Several defeated Armenian presidential candidates or their representatives said on 20 February that they will make use of all legal means at their disposal to have the outcome of the previous day's ballot nullified, according to Arminfo and Noyan Tapan, as cited by Groong. Aghasi Arshakian, a spokesman for National Unity Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian, and Center for Strategic Initiatives Head Aram Karapetian alleged ballot-box stuffing and other violations and said they do not consider the vote legitimate. Democratic Party of Armenia Chairman Aram Sarkisian, Hanrapetutiun leader Aram Sargsian, and former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovanissian told an opposition rally in Yerevan of some 10,000-15,000 people that they will not allow People's Party of Armenian Chairman Stepan Demirchian to be deprived of his "legitimate victory." Following protests in Yerevan by thousands of Demirchian's supporters, Central Election Commission Chairman Artak Sahradian announced on National Television on 20 February that a second round of voting will be necessary between incumbent President Robert Kocharian, who garnered 49.8 percent of the vote, and Demirchian, who placed second with 27.7 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2003). LF

...AS MORE DETAILS OF FALSIFICATIONS EMERGE
Meanwhile, the head of the small Council of Europe monitoring mission, Lord Russell Johnston, told journalists in Yerevan on 20 February that although Armenia has the opportunity and human resources to hold impeccable elections, "there are people involved in the organization of the elections attempting to spoil the process by preventing people from expressing their opinions freely, and this...causes our concern," Noyan Tapan reported. The "Economist" on 21 February reported that one of its correspondents who was present at the vote count at an unidentified polling station quoted opposition observers as saying that late in the day on 19 February two young men entered the polling station and stuffed into the ballot box a few handfuls of ballot papers that were folded only in half, not into four as regulations prescribe. During the vote count, the journalist noted that almost all those ballots were for Kocharian. LF

RUSSIAN SECURITY COUNCIL SECRETARY VISITS AZERBAIJAN
On a two-day visit to Baku on 19-20 February, Vladimir Rushailo held talks with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ramiz Mekhtiev, Azerbaijani National Security Minister Namig Abbasov, and President Heidar Aliev, Russian and Azerbaijani news agencies reported. Both sides expressed satisfaction at growing bilateral cooperation in combating cross-border crime, extremism, and drug trafficking. Rushailo also noted with approval the level of cooperation between Azerbaijani security agencies and their counterparts in neighboring Daghestan, zerkalo.az reported. Rushailo's two-hour meeting with Aliev on 20 February focused at length on the Karabakh conflict, which Rushailo reportedly said must be resolved in such a way as to preserve Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, according to zerkalo.az on 21 February. Rushailo also handed Aliev a letter from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who described maintaining long-term security and stability in the Caucasus as a key priority shared by the two countries, Turan reported. Also on 20 February, Rushailo and Mekhtiev signed a plan for further cooperation between their respective agencies in the struggle against crime, drug trafficking, and international terrorism for the period 2003-04. LF

SPOKESMAN DENIES THAT AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT'S HEALTH DETERIORATING
Several Azerbaijani newspapers on 20 February questioned an official announcement the previous day that President Aliev will visit the United States at the end of this month at U.S. President George W. Bush's invitation. They reasoned that Bush has more important issues to deal with, first and foremost Iraq. On 18 February, presidential administration official Novruz Mamedov assured Turan that there is no substance to rumors that the 79-year-old Aliev's health is deteriorating and that he will soon visit the Cleveland Clinic. Mamedov said Aliev "has no problems with his health." Aliev underwent a coronary bypass at the Cleveland Clinic in 1999 and prostate surgery in February 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April and 11 May 1999, and 4, 8, and 15 February 2002). LF

AZERBAIJANI PRISONER PLACED IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT AFTER VISIT FROM PACE MONITORS
Former Gyanja Police Chief Natig Efendiev was transferred to solitary confinement in Gobustan jail shortly after a visit last week from Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe rapporteur Andreas Gross, according to "RFE/RL Azerbaijan Report" on 18 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2003). Efendiev has embarked on a hunger strike to protest that move, for which the prison administration has not offered any explanation, according to Turan on 20 February. Efendiev was sentenced in 2001 to life imprisonment on charges of planning a coup d'etat with the aim of bringing exiled former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev to power (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 28 January 2000 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2001). LF

IRAQIS SEEK ASYLUM IN AZERBAIJAN
The independent Russian-language daily "Ekho" on 20 February quoted Aliovsat Aliev, who heads the Center for Legal Assistance to Immigrants, as saying that 300 citizens of Iraq have recently applied for asylum in Azerbaijan, Turan reported. "Azadliq" the previous day reported that Iraqis are arriving in Azerbaijan via Iran and settle in Azerbaijan's Djalalabad and Bilasuvar raions. LF

GEORGIAN STATE SECURITY MINISTRY DEFENDS ANTIEXTREMISM BILL
An unnamed State Security Ministry official told Caucasus Press on 20 February that the bill on combating the activities of extremist organizations will not pose a threat to legitimate NGOs. He said the bill was drafted in consultation with "European colleagues" and that the final version is not yet ready. On 19 February, the Georgian Young Lawyers' Association issued an evaluation of the bill (http://www.civil.ge ) that argues it poses a threat to basic civil rights. The evaluation notes that the bill provides for restricting or suspending the activities of organizations that receive foreign funding and whose activities "threaten Georgia's national interests" but fails to define those interests. Interfax on 20 February quoted an unidentified NGO member as saying that "approval of this bill will give the authorities the right to do away with political parties and organizations they do not like, because any statements or actions [directed] against the authorities can be viewed as extremism, with all the ensuing consequences." LF

ABKHAZIA LAYS CLAIM TO RUSSIAN MILITARY BASE
Abkhazia intends to take over the former Russian military base at Gudauta after the Russian peacekeeping force currently deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone is withdrawn, Caucasus Press and Interfax quoted Abkhaz Deputy Defense Minister Garri Kupalba as saying on 20 February. He said the infrastructure of the base "is vital for the development of the Abkhaz army." Russian officials have repeatedly said, most recently at talks with a Georgian delegation in Moscow on 19 February, that all regular troops and weaponry have been withdrawn from Gudauta and that they are ready to sign an agreement with Tbilisi on the use of Gudauta as a logistical and recreation center for the peacekeeping force. LF

KAZAKHSTAN PUTS FINAL TOUCHES TO ANTIPOVERTY PROGRAM
Kazakhstan's national antipoverty program will be signed within 10 days, in early March, Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Imanghaliy Tasmagambetov told a session of the Labor and Social Security Ministry Board on 20 February, Interfax reported. He explained that the program is intended to reduce poverty by promoting economic growth, reducing unemployment, and rendering social security more effective. At a cabinet session on 24 December, Economics Minister Kairat Kelimbetov said the program should reduce poverty by 25 percent between 2002-05, Interfax reported. He added that the program will be financed by transferring funds earmarked for existing programs, rather than directly from the budget. In 2002, 1.35 million people in Kazakhstan lived below the poverty line. LF

MOST KYRGYZ UNHAPPY WITH ECONOMIC SITUATION
Two separate recent polls conducted by the Ekspert agency established that 52 percent of respondents have a negative view of the economic situation in Kyrgyzstan, akipress.org reported on 20 February. The level of general dissatisfaction was even higher in Chu Oblast (62.2 percent) and in Bishkek (61 percent). Fifty-seven percent of respondents nationwide said they live in conditions that are "difficult, but bearable," while 16.2 percent of respondents in Bishkek and 14.9 percent in Osh characterized the poverty in which their families lived as "unbearable." The political situation in Kyrgyzstan was characterized by 43.8 percent of respondents as peaceful and by 39.6 percent as favorable, while 7.1 percent described it as tense and 6.8 percent as "explosive." LF

OSCE CHAIRMAN EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN TURKMENISTAN...
Netherlands Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who is the current OSCE chairman-in office, said in Vienna on 20 February that he is "very worried about what is happening in Turkmenistan," Reuters reported. De Hoop Scheffer added that "there is room for strong and fierce criticism" of that country's record on the rule of law and civil society. He said he intends to raise those issues with President Saparmurat Niyazov during a planned tour of the Central Asian states later this year. But he said it is too early to say whether the report on human rights violations in Turkmenistan currently being drafted for the OSCE by a Western expert might lead to Turkmenistan's suspension from the OSCE. LF

...AS AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT LAUDS TURKMEN COUNTERPART'S PROGRESS TOWARD DEMOCRACY
In a message of congratulation to Turkmenistan's President Niyazov on his 63rd birthday, Azerbaijani President Aliev wrote that Niyazov's "farsighted and purposeful policy firmly and resolutely leads Turkmenistan toward democratic reforms and integration into the world community," Turan reported on 21 February. LF

JOURNALIST ARRESTED IN UZBEKISTAN
Uzbek police arrested Tokhtomurad Toshev in his office in Tashkent on 20 February on unknown charges, ITAR-TASS reported. Since 1995 Toshev has been editor in chief of the newspaper "Adolat," which is published by the Social-Democratic Party. LF

OSCE PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY RECOGNIZES BELARUSIAN LEGISLATURE...
The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly on 20 February voted to recognize the National Assembly of Belarus as a full member, Belarusian media reported. The decision was taken despite a negative assessment of Belarus's progress toward democracy by an OSCE delegation that visited Belarus earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 10 February 2003). The decision to grant full membership to the Belarusian legislature, supported by just 20 delegations in the 55-member OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, was the result of a so-called procedural approach, in which procedural issues take precedence over political ones. A U.S. proposal to postpone consideration until the assembly's summer session was supported by 18 member states. JM

...PROVOKING MIXED REACTIONS FROM BELARUSIAN POLITICIANS
"This is a victory for common sense," Belapan quoted Chamber of Representatives Chairman Anatol Malafeyeu as saying on 20 February of the decision granting his house full membership in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. On the other hand, exiled Belarusian National Front Leader Zyanon Paznyak told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service, "The recognition by the OSCE of the illegitimate chamber of the Lukashenka regime is, to put it graphically, a stab with a rusted knife in the back of independent Belarus." Paznyak added, "In short, Europe has sold Belarus to Russia." Social Democratic Party leader Mikola Statkevich welcomed the decision, saying it will provide the West with an additional tool to influence the Belarusian government. United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka said the Belarusian opposition should modify its tactics in relations with the OSCE in view of its recognition of the National Assembly, but he did not elaborate, according to Belapan. JM

SADDAM HUSSEIN'S SON REPORTEDLY TO VISIT BELARUS IN MARCH
Iraqi Ambassador to Belarus Salman Zeydan said in Minsk on 20 February that Uday Hussein, the eldest son of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, is scheduled to visit Belarus at the end of March in his capacity as head of the National Olympic Committee of Iraq, dpa reported. Zeydan added that Uday Hussein is expected to attend a wrestling tournament in Minsk. The Iraqi diplomat was speaking at the signing ceremony for a cooperation accord between those countries' National Olympic Committees. The Belarusian body is headed by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The planned visit was confirmed by the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, according to ITAR-TASS. JM

UKRAINIAN SECURITY COUNCIL APPROVES SENDING NBC UNIT TO PERSIAN GULF
Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council on 20 February decided to send an antinuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) battalion to the Persian Gulf in response to a U.S. request (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2003), Ukrainian and international media reported, quoting council head Yevhen Marchuk. "We have agreed to a proposal to send the radiation and chemical battalion to the Gulf region to help defend civilians and clean up the possible consequences from the [possible] use of weapons of mass destruction," Reuters quoted Marchuk as saying. Marchuk noted that a final decision on dispatching the unit belongs to the Verkhovna Rada. Marchuk also said Kyiv is considering two countries in the Gulf region for possible deployment of the battalion. Marchuk noted that the decision to send the battalion is in no way dependent on the UN Security Council, according to Interfax. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS BILLS ON PROPORTIONAL ELECTORAL SYSTEM
The Verkhovna Rada on 20 February voted down two bills proposing that parliamentary elections be held under a proportional system, UNIAN reported. In particular, the bill proposed by lawmakers Valentyn Melnychuk (Social Democratic Party-united) and Mykola Rudkovskyy (Socialist Party) stipulated that 450 lawmakers be elected in 225 constituencies solely under a proportional, party-list system. The bill was supported by 217 votes from Our Ukraine, the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and the Social Democratic Party-united. JM

ESTONIAN PARTIES, NGOS SIGN MEMORANDUM OF NATIONAL ACCORD
Thirty-nine representatives of civic associations, organizations, and political parties signed a so-called memorandum of national accord at the presidential palace on 20 February, BNS reported. In addition to all the major political parties, signatories include trade-union and employers associations, journalists and doctors unions, the Estonian Business Association, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Chamber of Agriculture and Trade, the president's academic council, the Academy of Sciences, universities, and the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church. In it, the signatories declare that they intend to set out a national accord that is aimed at developing a state and a civic society centered around the principles of social environment, culture, education, research and development, economic environment, and rule of law in Estonia. SG

LATVIA APPEALS TO RUSSIA OVER HALTED OIL TRANSIT
The Latvian Foreign Ministry submitted a note on 20 February to the Russian Embassy in Riga asserting that Russia is not fulfilling the Latvian-Russian government agreement of June 1993 on joint utilization and operation of crude-oil and oil-product pipelines located in Latvia, LETA reported. The note stated that while Latvia has invested significant funds in modernizing the pipeline, which is owned by the jointly established operator LatRosTrans, the Russian state-owned oil exporter Transneft decided unilaterally, and without consultations, to halt all oil shipments to the port of Ventspils in the first quarter of 2003. The Foreign Ministry has already informed the European Commission about the pipeline blockade. Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga told reporters on 20 February after returning from Washington that U.S. President George W. Bush inquired about the blockade and pledged to help Latvia end it, BNS reported. More than 250 employees of LatRosTrans signed a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev asking that the government make a decision on resuming or halting the oil transit, adding that even a negative decision is better than the current uncertainty. The letter noted that Russia owns 34 percent of LatRosTrans, and 95 percent of its employees are Russian-speaking residents of Latvia. SG

LITHUANIA SUCCESSFULLY PLACES EUROBOND ISSUE
The government on 20 February successfully issued 10-year Eurobonds worth 400 million euros ($430 million) on international markets at a yield of 4.5 percent, BNS reported. Although the yield is the lowest since Lithuania started borrowing on foreign capital markets, bids for the bonds totaled 800 million euros. The biggest purchasers of the bonds were from Germany and Austria (45 percent), Great Britain (12 percent), and France (12 percent). Finance Minister Dalia Grybauskaite said the successful issue indicates investors' confidence in Lithuania's "consistent fiscal policy, the steadily improving reliability of its economy, and, of course, a well-chosen borrowing strategy and tactics." The interest rate was 5.875 percent on a similar 10-year bond issue in April and 6.625 percent on seven-year bonds issued in 2001. SG

SOLIDARITY HOLDS 'REGIONAL PROTEST DAY' IN SILESIA
Members of the Solidarity trade union in the coal-mining region of Silesia, in southern Poland, on 21 February blocked major railways and roads as part of a "regional protest day," PAP reported. The trade union is protesting government policies and the perceived lack of any socioeconomic program for Silesia. Meanwhile, Polish farmers demanding changes in the government's farm policy and higher prices for their products continued countrywide protests and road blockades on 20 February. Demonstrations were heaviest in Wielkopolska Province, in western Poland, with 52 separate pickets set up on local roads. JM

JUNIOR RULING PARTY ENDORSES SENIOR PARTNER'S CANDIDATE FOR CZECH PRESIDENT
Philosopher and Charles University Humanities Faculty Dean Jan Sokol on 20 February won the official and unanimous endorsement of the Freedom Union-Democratic Union's (US-DEU) 10-member parliamentary group, CTK and dpa reported. The senior ruling Social Democratic Party's (CSSD) parliamentary group approved Sokol's nomination one day earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2003). The parliamentary group of the third coalition partner, the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party, is expected to do so on 21 February. Before endorsing him, US-DEU deputies grilled Sokol on his views on EU integration, the Iraq crisis, the role of the head of state and his relations with the cabinet, his views on the role of civil society, and other issues. The vote is scheduled for 28 February in what will be the third attempt to elect a successor to former President Vaclav Havel. MS

CZECH PREMIER SAYS PREDECESSOR HARMING COUNTRY AND PARTY
Premier Vladimir Spidla on 20 February lashed out at his party colleague and predecessor, Milos Zeman, saying the latter's recent statements are harming the interests of both the Czech Republic and the CSSD, the daily "Hospodarske noviny" reported the next day. Zeman this week suggested he might run in direct presidential elections if parliament fails to elect a president on 28 February and the CSSD changes its leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2003). Spidla said Zeman's statement cannot but have an impact on the CSSD national conference scheduled for March. He added that the only way to overcome current divisions in the CSSD is to elect a president in the 28 February parliamentary vote. Spidla also said that while Zeman still has influence within the CSSD, he sees no reason to reconcile himself with the former premier, who, he said, "is not at the center of my thoughts." MS

FORMER CZECH PREMIER'S AIDE LOSES LIBEL SUIT AGAINST WEEKLY 'RESPEKT'
Former Prime Minister Zeman's controversial chief aide, Miroslav Slouf, on 20 February lost a lawsuit he launched against the weekly "Respekt" and against journalist Martin Profant, CTK reported. Slouf demanded an apology from the weekly and from Profant for a cartoon depicting him as a "Wanted" man in the American Wild West. The cartoon appeared at an exhibition on Prague's central Wenceslas Square. His lawyers said the cartoon and an interview with Profant that accompanied it damaged Slouf's image as a businessman. The judge ruled that "Respekt" was not the organizer of the exhibition and rejected the complaint. In the interview, Profant called Slouf a symbol of all the negative images of the Czech Republic -- corruption, violent rule, and arbitrariness of the civil service. The judge said in his ruling that Profant's interview reflected Slouf's general image in the media. MS

CZECH UNION BANKA RUNS OUT OF CASH, FACES CLOSURE
The Italian owners of mid-sized Union Banka on 20 February conceded the institution is in serious trouble following a Czech Finance Ministry decision not to bail them out, the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported the following day. The financial group Invesmart had conditioned completion of its purchase on some 2 billion ($69 million) in indemnities, and may now walk away from the institution, the paper added. But the Finance Ministry said after months of considering a bailout that the fate of the bank, which has 200,000-250,000 clients and controls roughly 20 billion crowns ($685 million) in assets, lies with the Czech National Bank, which supervises the banking sector. Central bankers said they are unlikely to throw a life preserver to Union Banka in the form of forced administration, since its failure would not threaten the banking sector, according to "Hospodarske noviny." Union Banka halted withdrawals at its ATMs on 20 February and closed its doors the following day. AH

SLOVAK PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER DOWNPLAYS DECLINE IN SUPPORT FOR JOINING NATO
Parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky on 20 February told visiting NATO Parliamentary Assembly President Douglas Bereuter that the recent decline in Slovak support for NATO membership should not be exaggerated, TASR reported. Bereuter is on a tour of the seven postcommunist countries invited to join NATO at the organization's November 2002 Prague summit. Hrusovsky said all Slovak parliamentary parties support joining NATO with the exception of the Communist Party of Slovakia, adding that the current decline in support represents an emotional response by the public to a possible war in Iraq. Bereuter said that if a referendum on NATO membership took place and Slovaks voted against it, the event would represent a great disappointment for NATO's current members. According to CTK, Bereuter compared the Slovak situation with that in Slovenia, where a plebiscite on joining NATO is certain to take place, saying he expects Slovenians to remember communist repression and decide in favor of membership. MS

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTRY LAUNCHES NATO-RELATED WEBSITE
The Foreign Ministry on 20 February launched an Internet website (http://www.NATOservis.sk), providing what it says is the most important information about NATO membership, CTK reported. The ministry denied there is any connection between the launch of the site and the recent decline in public support for joining the alliance. Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan writes on the website: "I consider it very important for citizens to understand the sense of our integration efforts and our conviction on the advantages of Slovakia's accession, as only this would make it possible for them to take a qualified and responsible stand on these issues." MS

EUROPEAN COMMISSION SAYS SLOVAKIA MUST GIVE PRIORITY TO JOB CREATION
In a report on candidate countries released on 20 February, the European Commission said Slovakia must consider the creation of new jobs one of its highest priorities, TASR reported. The report said Slovakia must eliminate disincentives to work embedded in its social-security and retirement systems and reduce taxes on low-income households. Another priority, according to the report, should be tackling the problems faced by the Romany minority. MS

EU AMBASSADOR TO SLOVAKIA WARNS AGAINST HUNGARIAN COMPENSATION DEMANDS...
EU Ambassador to Slovakia Eric van der Linden on 20 February told CTK that compensating ethnic Hungarians deported from what is now southern Slovakia and the Czech Republic or otherwise dispossessed under the 1945 Benes Decrees should be viewed as an internal affair of those two countries, CTK reported. He warned against highlighting old wrongs, saying this might complicate coexistence within the EU in the future. Mikulas Krivansky, chairman of the association of Victims of Deportations and Their Descendants, recently wrote a letter in support of compensation to European Commission President Romano Prodi and European Parliament President Patrick Cox. The Hungarian-language Slovak daily "Uj Szo" on 20 February cited Pal Csaky, deputy premier in charge of national minorities and human rights, as saying compensation of the victims is currently impossible because there is neither the legislation providing for it nor the political will to approve such remedies. Csaky said the compensation issue is the only one on which no agreement could be reached between his own Hungarian Coalition Party and the other coalition members after the September elections. MS

...AND WELCOMES INVESTIGATION INTO ALLEGED STERILIZATION OF ROMANY WOMEN
Van der Linden also told CTK on 20 February that the European Commission welcomes and supports the decision by the Slovak government to investigate allegations of forced sterilization of Romany women in eastern Slovakia. He said he has discussed the matter with Deputy Premier Csaky and offered him the assistance of European Commission experts, which Csaky accepted. Their participation in the investigation, he added, could both improve the investigation and serve as a signal that Slovakia has nothing to hide (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 January and 14 February 2003). MS

HUNGARIAN MOTORWAY OPERATOR LOSES CHIEF TO CRONYISM SCANDAL
Andras Laszlo, president of state-owned Hungarian National Highway (Nemzeti Autopalya), on 20 February resigned his post following revelations that the company retained the services of the law firm of which he is a partner, Budapest dailies reported. Elemer Kiss, the minister in charge of the Prime Minister's Office, is a partner in the same firm, Forgacs & Kiss, which also received an order to audit the contracts of state-owned Malev Hungarian Airlines. Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy accepted Laszlo's resignation and said the contracts were "unethical," "Nepszabadsag" reported. Medgyessy defended Kiss, however, saying his integrity is not in question, as he suspended his activities as a lawyer when he became a cabinet minister. MSZ

BATTLE OF DOSSIERS CONTINUES AT HUNGARIAN FINANCE MINISTRY
Finance Minister Csaba Laszlo on 19 February ordered an internal investigation at the ministry to explain why dossiers containing his personal files were requested by the chief of staff to then-Finance Minister Mihaly Varga in February 2002, prior to the change of government, Hungarian media reported. Government Spokesman Zoltan Gal on 20 February told Hungarian radio that during Varga's tenure, the Finance Ministry requested files on Premier Medgyessy, his former chief of staff Klara Dobrev, and Laszlo from the ministry's human resources department. Varga said he had asked for Laszlo's files in order to examine an alleged irregularity concerning Laszlo's severance pay in 1999. The file was requested after Medgyessy named Laszlo as his candidate for finance minister. Varga told a separate press briefing that Laszlo's inquiry is meant to divert attention from speculation that tax-office data have been stolen, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. Varga is leading opposition allegations that people outside the tax office might have had access to its databases. MSZ

HUNGARIAN, MOLDOVAN PRESIDENTS MEET IN BUDAPEST
Hungarian President Ferenc Madl and his visiting Moldovan counterpart Vladimir Voronin met in Budapest on 20 February and discussed EU integration and the fight against terrorism, Hungarian and international media reported. Voronin said Moldova is committed to integrating into European structures and particularly counts on the support of Central European countries in that aim. A joint communique stated that Hungary, which is among the 10 countries invited to join the EU in 2004, has expressed readiness to share the benefits of its experience in EU accession with Moldova. Madl said Hungary supports Moldovan efforts to achieve eventual integration in the EU, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. MSZ

STALIN CONCERT BANNED IN BUDAPEST
A concert arranged by the Open Society Archives to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the death of Josef Stalin was banned on 20 February by Andras Csonka, director of the Artistic and Free Education Foundation that manages the Vigado hall in which the concert was scheduled to take place, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. The concert at the Vigado was to feature works by Aram Khachaturian, Sergey Prokofiev, and Dmitry Shostakovich performed by the American Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leon Bolstein. Csonka cited "technical considerations" in canceling the concert, adding that "a concert in Stalin's name cannot be staged in Hungary today, nor could one hallmarked by the name of Adolf Hitler." The head of the Open Society Archives, Istvan Rev, suggested that political considerations lay behind the cancellation, saying, "The censor's lack of culture remains after the dictator's death." A related exhibition at the Centralis Gallery, due to open on 5 March, examines the consequences of Stalin's death from a scholarly viewpoint. MSZ

CROATIA SUBMITS EU MEMBERSHIP APPLICATION
Prime Minister Ivica Racan handed the country's official application for EU membership to his Greek counterpart Costas Simitis in Athens on 21 February, Hina reported. During the ceremony, Racan said Croatia is absolutely aware of the EU's principles -- freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as the rule of law. Racan added that Croatia is devoted to building an efficient economy and a truly democratic society, but he said that Serbia's aggression against Croatia and its consequences slowed this process down. President Stipe Mesic and Prime Minister Racan signed the application in an official ceremony in Zagreb on 20 February, Hina reported. Greece currently holds the rotating, six-month EU Presidency. UB

INDICTED KOSOVAR ALBANIANS PLEAD 'NOT GUILTY' IN THE HAGUE...
Three former members of the Kosovar Liberation Army (UCK) appeared for the first time before The Hague-based war crimes tribunal on 20 February, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Harajdin Bala, Isak Musliu, and Agim Murtezi, who are charged with crimes against humanity, pleaded "not guilty." A fourth indictee, Fatmir Limaj, who is a member of Kosova's parliament, is still in Slovenian custody but is expected to be extradited soon to The Hague. UB

...WHILE LAWMAKERS PROTEST COLLEAGUE'S ARREST
Ethnic Albanian lawmakers boycotted a regularly scheduled parliamentary session on 20 February, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Serbian members of Kosova's parliament attended the session. Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK) called for the protest in response to Limaj's arrest in Slovenia. Limaj headed the PDK parliamentary group (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2003). In related news, Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi on 19 February called Limaj's arrest a "painful act," Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. Rexhepi said he is confident Limaj will prove his innocence before The Hague tribunal. UB

SERBIAN RADICAL PARTY LEADER VOWS TO GO TO THE HAGUE...
Serbian Radical Party (SRS) leader Vojislav Seselj confirmed on 20 February that he will leave for The Hague on a regular JAT flight on 24 February, Tanjug reported. Seselj added that he will defend himself against the charges but will have legal advisers: SRS functionary Maja Gojkovic and lawyer Slavko Jerkovic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2003). UB

...AS SERBIAN SOCIALISTS WILL PAY TRIBUTE
Ivica Dacic, the chairman of the steering committee of Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party (SPS), called on party members to attend a "farewell congress" for Seselj, Tanjug reported. Dacic told a news conference that his party opposes the departure of any Serb to The Hague, adding, "The politicians will be followed by the police, soldiers, and those who defended their country." According to Dacic, the recent indictment and arrest of former UCK members (see items above) is merely an "attempt to establish objectivity." But this cannot provide an "alibi" to disguise the fact that the war crimes tribunal's only aim is to incriminate Serbia and the Serbian people, Dacic said. UB

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO CLOSES EMBASSY IN IRAQ
The government of the united state of Serbia and Montenegro decided on 20 February to close its embassy in Baghdad due to possible developments in Iraq and the growing danger that citizens and property of Serbia and Montenegro will be hurt or damaged during a possible military confrontation, Tanjug reported. UB

100 DAYS LATER, MACEDONIA'S COALITION PARTNERS FINALLY MEET
The leaders of the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and the ethnic Albanian Union for Democratic Integration (BDI), Branko Crvenkovski and Ali Ahmeti, officially met on 20 February for the first time since coming to power, Macedonian media reported. Crvenkovski and Ahmeti assessed current government policies "in a constructive atmosphere" and "without interpreters," "Utrinski vesnik" noted. The talks focused on security issues and foreign policy. Crvenkovski and former National Liberation Army (UCK) leader Ahmeti have so far avoided a meeting, mainly because of the Social Democrats' fear that obvious cooperation with the former rebels could damage the party's public image. UB

U.S. PLANES USING ROMANIAN MILITARY AIRFIELD
Several U.S. Hercules C-130 transport aircraft carrying military equipment landed on 20 February at the Black Sea Mihail Kogalniceanu military airfield in the vicinity of Constanta, Romanian Radio and Mediafax reported the next day. Mediafax quoted U.S. Embassy press attache Mark Wening as saying on 20 February that the team of experts that inspected the facility earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2003) "recommended the temporary utilization" of the airfield, and that "U.S. military personnel and materials will be landing" at the base over the next few days. The private Antena 1 television channel said strict security measures are in force at the airfield. It also said the facility is not to be transformed into a U.S. military base and will serve only logistic purposes in the event of military operations against Iraq. MS

EU ENLARGEMENT COMMISSIONER MEETS WITH ROMANIAN LEADERS IN BUCHAREST...
Visiting EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen met in Bucharest on 20 February with President Ion Iliescu, Premier Adrian Nastase, Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, and leaders of opposition parties, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Verheugen said after the talks that nothing has changed in EU policies regarding Romania's integration into the union by 2007, but stressed that meeting that target date is mainly dependent on Romania's own progress toward fulfilling its membership criteria. To do so, he said, Romania must implement and finalize economic, administrative, and judicial reforms, as well as fight corruption. Of utmost importance, he said, is for the country to become a "functioning market economy." Verheugen said the EU might issue an evaluation performance next year and, in the most optimistic scenario, accession negotiations could start in 2004. MS

...AND DENIES DIVISION OF EUROPE INTO 'PRO- AND ANTI-AMERICAN'
After his meeting with Premier Nastase, Verheugen said Romania's support for the U.S. position on Iraq will not affect Romania's EU-accession chances, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He said it would be wrong to believe that EU candidate countries are attempting to "create within the EU a pro-American influence zone that would be in contradiction to the anti-American zone in the union, because the latter does not, in fact, exist." The new EU members will be "an advantage, not a disadvantage for us," he said, and they will "fully participate after accession in the process of forging a joint European policy." Iliescu said that French President Jacques Chirac's recent criticism of EU candidate countries in general, and Romania and Bulgaria in particular, due to their position on the Iraqi conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2003) was not raised during his meeting with Verheugen. "We do not gossip about people who are not present" at the discussions, he said. Nastase termed the criticism "a road accident" and said Romania is grateful for the French championing Bucharest's EU membership. However, he added, as is the case with all European states, "We have the right to pursue our own national interests and do not like to be told how we should handle our foreign affairs." MS

ROMANIA, IMF AGREE ON NEW 'LETTER OF INTENT'
Neven Mates, the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) chief negotiator for Romania, concluded his visit to Romania on 20 February, having reached an agreement with Romanian officials on the content of a new "letter of intent" detailing the tasks Romania pledges to fulfill in 2003, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The agreement was signed by Mates and Premier Nastase. If approved by the IMF's executive board at its planned April meeting, the fund is likely to disburse a fourth tranche of $75 million as part of the $383 million loan pledged by the IMF in October 2001. An IMF press release cited by Mediafax warned that wages in the state sector are higher than justified by the country's economic performance and must be closely monitored to prevent inflation. The IMF also said the government must accelerate privatization and cope with the problem of loss-making state enterprises that generate a substantial part of the deficit. It said the fund is backing the government's current efforts to privatize the large Romanian Commercial Bank and its current parleys with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Bank's International Finance Corporation on the bank's privatization. MS

ROMANIA HAS HIGHEST PERCENTAGE OF AGRICULTURAL LABORERS AMONG EU CANDIDATES
Romania has the highest percentage of people employed in the agricultural sector (44.4 percent) and the lowest percentage of persons employed in the service sector (29.7 percent) among all EU candidates, Mediafax reported on 20 February, citing a recently published European Commission report. The EU's median percentage of those employed in the agricultural sector is 4.2 percent, while 67.2 percent of EU citizens are employed in the services sector. Romania's figures run counter to the European Commission's policies, which recommend reducing the agricultural workforce and increasing the proportion of those employed in the services sector. MS

ROMANIA, U.K. SIGN READMISSION AGREEMENT
Romania and the United Kingdom on 20 April signed an agreement under which approximately 1,400 illegal Romanian immigrants will be repatriated, Romanian Radio and AP reported. The agreement was signed in London by British Home Office Minister Bob Ainsworth and Romanian Interior Minister State Secretary Alexandru Farcas. Britain also pledged to help Romania in fighting illegal immigration and drug smuggling. MS

GAGAUZ-YERI GOVERNOR WANTS REGION TO BE THIRD COMPONENT OF FUTURE MOLDOVAN FEDERATION
Gagauz-Yeri Governor Georgii Tabunshik on 20 February said he is confident the autonomous region will become the third component of the envisaged Moldovan federal state, alongside Moldova and the Transdniester, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. He said that since the autonomous region has been granted special status within the current unitary state, it could not possibly be ignored and not become a separate component of a federal state. MS

FORMER MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER TO COORDINATE UNIFICATION OF CENTER-LEFT
Democratic Party Chairman Dumitru Diacov, a former speaker of the parliament, was selected on 20 February by representatives of 11 center-left Moldovan extraparliamentary parties as "coordinator" of a drive to merge those formations into a unified party, Flux and Infotag reported. According to Flux, the initiative follows a meeting earlier this week between those parties' leaders and President Vladimir Voronin and is aimed at backing Voronin's initiative to elaborate a new constitution jointly with Transdniester representatives. The signatories said that despite differences between themselves and with the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists, "intolerance and hatred" in Moldovan society must be overcome and the new formation should be set up on the basis of "the ideology of building a modern state." MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT VETOES DRAFT PRIVATIZATION ACT
President Georgi Parvanov vetoed the draft Privatization Act on 20 February, which was to exempt 15 privatization deals from judicial control on the grounds that they would affect national security, mediapool.bg reported. In his reasoning, Parvanov said the draft law violates the constitution's Article No. 8, which regulates the division of powers among state institutions. Giving the parliament the power to decide on privatization deals would have also been in violation of Article No. 62, Parvanov stated. The amended law was to exclude the possibility that the Supreme Administrative Court could interfere with strategic privatizations such as the state-owned Bulgartabac tobacco company or other pending deals. Members of the governing coalition of National Movement Simeon II and the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) have already signaled that they will override Parvanov's veto in parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22, 27, and 31 January 2003). UB

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT FORMS CONSORTIUM FOR BURGAS-ALEXANDROUPOLIS PIPELINE PROJECT
The government decided on 20 February to form a joint-stock company of 10 Bulgarian companies, the Trans-Balkan Oil Pipeline Bulgaria, which will participate in the construction of an oil pipeline linking the Bulgarian Black Sea port city of Burgas with the Greek Aegean Sea port city of Alexandroupolis, bnn reported. The company will have a one-third stake in the joint Russian-Greek-Bulgarian project. The government is to hold a golden share in the consortium, giving it veto power over key strategic decisions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January, 21 March, 4 April, and 24 July 2002). UB

NATO MEMBERSHIP FOR UKRAINE NOT LIKELY BEFORE 2012
On 22 January, Ukraine and NATO jointly released the NATO-Ukraine Plan of Action that was adopted at the NATO summit in Prague in November. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma had been diplomatically advised to stay away from the summit because of U.S. allegations two months earlier that Ukraine had supplied a Kolchuga radar system to Iraq in 2000. A meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Committee on the sidelines of the summit was downgraded to the level of foreign ministers. Nevertheless, Kuchma turned up at the summit, thereby demonstrating, according to deputy head of the presidential administration Anatoliy Oryol, his "public success, authority, and prestige."

Although Ukraine was only offered an Action Plan -- not participation in a Membership Action Plan (MAP) -- many Ukrainian officials, including Defense Minister Volodymyr Shkidchenko, have confidently predicted that Ukraine will be invited to join NATO at its next summit in 2007. In reality, NATO membership for Ukraine is impossible before the 2012 summit, U.S. officials told "Financial Times Deutschland" in October. If that prognosis proves correct, in 2012 NATO will for the first time expand onto the territory of the CIS.

The April 1999 NATO summit unveiled MAPs for nine countries -- Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia -- and Croatia was added last year. Of these 10 countries, all but three -- Albania, Croatia, Macedonia -- were invited during the November NATO summit to begin accession talks. Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia have a good possibility of being invited at NATO's 2007 summit to begin accession talks. The enlargement of NATO to incorporate these three states will mean that all of Central-Eastern Europe outside the CIS -- except for Bosnia and Serbia-Montenegro -- will have joined the alliance.

What then of Ukraine's timetable for membership? Ukraine's aspirations to join NATO and the EU have been totally confusing, making many Western states and international organizations reluctant to take seriously the declarations and rhetoric emanating from Kyiv. Under both Foreign Ministers Hennadiy Udovenko and Borys Tarasiuk (1994-2000), Ukraine's main foreign policy goal was defined as integration into "Euro-Atlantic" structures. However until 2001, Ukraine officially declared only its desire to join the European Union. Last May, Kyiv stated that it will ALSO seek NATO membership.

The NATO-Ukraine Action Plan released last month mentions "the long-term goal of membership" only once. Adopting a MAP for Ukraine between May and November 2002 would have been unlikely because the United States had already begun analyzing portions of tapes purportedly made in Kuchma's office that deal with the Kolchuga sales to Iraq, and the results of that analysis were made public in September.

Kuchma's very poor reputation in the West -- he has yet to be invited to meet with the U.S. president -- will ensure that Ukraine will not be able to "upgrade" from its Action Plan to a MAP as long as Kuchma remains president. It seems evident that NATO and the West will not reinvigorate their relationships with Ukraine until after the November 2004 presidential election there. Consequently, Ukraine could only enter the MAP process in 2005. In contrast, other NATO aspirant members such as the three Baltic states began participation in MAPs in 1999.

In the cases of these countries, however, their commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration was heartily backed by virtually the entire domestic political spectrum. Moreover, Ukraine's participation in a MAP in 2005 is contingent on the results of the 2004 presidential poll. Neither of the two likely pro-Kuchma candidates -- presidential administration head Viktor Medvedchuk and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukevych -- supports a NATO-membership bid. In addition, Donbasite Mykola Azarov, who is deputy prime minister with responsibility for Euro-Atlantic integration and the organizer of the European Choice parliamentary faction, "has never been an active Euro-integrator, defense reformer or NATO peacekeeper," "Zerkalo Nedeli" commented earlier this month.

Given Yanukevych's Donbas origins, he is unlikely to show much enthusiasm for the idea of converting the Russian-Ukrainian border into a NATO-Russia one. The establishment of NATO bases in Ukraine would also be problematic, given that Russia has a naval base in Sevastopol until 2017. Joining NATO would create a clear break with Russia, which would be psychologically problematic for eastern Ukrainian oligarchs who support a "Toward Europe with Russia" foreign policy. Russia has never expressed interest in joining NATO, and Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin claims to be unable to comprehend why Ukraine should even need to join NATO.

Meanwhile, official Ukrainian declarations in support of joining NATO remain at the level of mere rhetoric. Razumkov Center President Anatoliy Hrytsenko wrote in "Zerkalo Nedeli" in January that the Action Plan was purely declarative. Jennifer Moroney, a Washington-based expert on NATO-Ukrainian relations, adds that Ukraine was lucky to obtain even the Action Plan in the light of the Kolchuga scandal and that the plan does not fundamentally alter Ukraine's relationship to NATO. Hrytsenko agrees that there is little new in the plan, which includes a "list of declarations" similar to those found in the constitution, laws, decrees, government resolutions, and existing programs. "Yet, none of the above have been duly enforced so far." Why, then, should one expect the Action Plan to be fulfilled?

On 30 January, Kuchma issued a decree establishing a State Council for Euro-Atlantic Integration headed by his longtime ally Volodymyr Horbulin. The purpose of this council is not entirely clear, as it duplicates the National Security and Defense Council whose secretary, Yevhen Marchuk, was absent from the State Council's first meeting. Few believe the new State Council will accelerate Ukraine's "Euro-Atlantic" drive.

No state information campaign is under way to increase public support for NATO membership, which is at an all time low. A February poll by the Razumkov Center registered only 21.9 percent in favor of membership and 37.7 percent opposed. Section 1 of the NATO-Ukraine Action Plan is devoted to internal political, economic, and informational issues. In all three areas, Ukraine has severely regressed since the late 1990s, a regression that accelerated after the March 2002 parliamentary election. Western governments and NATO are therefore no longer convinced by mere declarations in support of democratization, such as those made by Kuchma after the Prague summit when he committed Ukraine to "continue market transformations, strengthen democratic principles within the authorities and society, and ensure European standards in the sphere of human rights."

Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the University of Toronto's Centre for Russian and East European Studies.

AFGHAN DEFENSE MINISTRY CHANGES ITS ETHNIC COMPOSITION
Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim told a news conference in Kabul on 20 February that following President Hamid Karzai's approval a number of changes have been made at the Defense Ministry to address charges "that many posts in the Defense Ministry belonged to the Tajik ethnic group," Radio Afghanistan reported the same day. Fahim said the new appointees -- who are Uzbeks, Pashtuns, and Hazaras -- would take over posts that "mostly belonged to the Tajik ethnic group" and which were held by people "mainly from Panjsher District," Radio Afghanistan reported. Fahim expressed the hope that other governmental institutions will also make efforts to better reflect the ethnic makeup of the country in order to establish a sound and acceptable administration in which the Afghans can have confidence, the report added. Gul Zarak Zadran, a Pashtun, will assume the post of deputy defense minister and 11 new department heads have been appointed. A Human Rights Watch report issued on 5 December 2002 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 December 2002) claimed that Fahim "continues to command an army whose primary allegiance is to him." This could be a major victory for Karzai's administration if Fahim is sincere about sharing power in the Defense Ministry. AT

NATO CHIEF AGAIN CALLS FOR ROLE IN AFGHANISTAN
NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson suggested in a meeting in Washington with U.S. President George W. Bush on 19 February that NATO should take a more active role in Afghanistan, an idea an unidentified U.S. diplomat said was received with a "positive reaction," "The New York Times" reported on 21 February. The diplomat speculated that NATO could either take formal command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF); provide support to countries providing troops to the force; or a combination of the two approaches could be implemented, "The New York Times" added. During a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on 20 February, the NATO secretary-general said that "Afghanistan has been for too long an exporter of trouble, instability, drugs, and trafficking, and if we can help to reduce that threat to the whole of Europe, then NATO will play its part and do it strongly, too," the New York daily reported. Robertson said on 8 February that he sees "no credible alternative" to NATO in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2003). The issue of NATO's involvement in Afghanistan has been the topic of intense discussion since early 2002, and NATO logistical support for the ISAF was formally approved during the Atlantic alliance's Prague summit in November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2002). Some alliance members, especially France, remain opposed to NATO involvement in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 December 2002). AT

AFGHAN TELEVISION IN NEED OF ASSISTANCE
Azizullah Ariafar, the head of state-owned Afghanistan Radio and Television, said in an interview with the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran on 19 February that thanks to a new transmitter donated by Iran, Afghanistan Television is currently able to broadcast five to six hours per day as compared to one hour previously, but he added that the broadcasting infrastructure in Afghanistan was badly damaged during the war years and is in dire need of further assistance. Ariafar added that international donors have not fulfilled their pledges to assist Afghanistan's broadcast sector, according to the report. Afghanistan Television went back on air with Iranian assistance in November 2001. AT

WOMEN ACTIVE IN AFGHANISTAN'S BROADCAST SECTOR
Afghanistan Radio and Television head Ariafar said on 19 February that women are playing an active role in the state-owned organization, "including artistic, acting, and presenting and producing programs," the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported. The only restriction, according to Ariafar, is that songs by female Afghan singers cannot be broadcast. With the slow arrival of aid from Western donors, Iran has stepped up its efforts to assist Afghanistan's broadcast sector, not only in Kabul but in Herat and other provinces. Female singers are also banned from Iranian radio and television programs. AT

AFGHAN MINISTER IN PAKISTAN TO DISCUSS PIPELINE
Afghan Mines and Natural Resources Minister Joma Mohammad Mohammadi arrived in Pakistan on 19 February to participate in meetings regarding the proposed Trans-Afghan gas pipeline for transporting Turkmen gas to Pakistan via Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002), Pakistan's PTV reported. Mohammadi said the pipeline project is going to be very important for Afghanistan in terms of creating jobs and generating income for its citizens, PTV reported. According to the report, the $3.45 billion pipeline project, which was put on hold because of war in Afghanistan, has become a reality due to the new political situation in that country. Two proposed routes are under discussion: one from western Afghanistan transiting Kandahar Province into Pakistan's Baluchistan Province; and a second through the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif and moving south to Jalalabad before entering the Pakistani cities of Peshawar and Lahore, the report added. High security risks and India's hesitation to rely on gas transported via Pakistan casts doubt on the project's success. Pakistan alone does not represent a sufficient market for Turkmen gas. Two competing consortiums had planned to lay the pipeline in 1990s and were courting the Taliban regime, but pressure from women's rights groups and the lack of international financing forced them to abandon their plans. AT

U.S. SOLDIER LOSES FOOT IN MINE BLAST
A U.S. military spokesman in Kabul said on 20 February that a U.S. soldier lost his foot in the landmine blast that damaged the vehicle in which he was traveling in Paktiya Province on 19 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2003), American Forces Press Service (AFPS) reported on 20 February. Another U.S. soldier sustained minor injuries in the blast and was released after treatment, AFPS reported. AT

HASHISH SEIZED IN HERAT...
About 27 kilograms of raw hashish has been sized by security forces of Herat Province, Herat Television reported on 19 February. According to the report, the hashish was being smuggled to Iran. In 2002 the production of illegal drugs increased dramatically in Afghanistan (for an analysis of the narcotics trade in Afghanistan see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February 2003). AT

...AS BALKH BURNS OPIUM-POPPY SEEDS
Ten tons of opium-poppy seeds and 180 kilograms of raw opium has been burned by the security forces of the northern Balkh Province, Balkh Radio reported on 20 February. The illegal substances were sized from smugglers, according to the report. AT

IAEA OFFICIALS VISIT IRAN
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei arrived in Iran on 21 February for a two-day visit to inspect Iran's nuclear facilities, including new installations in the central Iranian cities of Arak and Natanz, Iranian state radio reported. He is expected to urge officials there to sign an "additional protocol," supported by the European Union, that would allow the IAEA to increase monitoring of Iran's nuclear operations, AFP reported on 19 February. El-Baradei was expected to be accompanied by IAEA Deputy Director-General Pierre Goldschmidt, as well as Holli Heinonen, the director of the agency's division of safeguards, who is responsible for Iran. "We have encouraged Iran and all other countries to conclude this additional protocol because it would provide us with further information and access to different sites, including things like uranium mines and concentration plants," IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said. El-Baradei is due to meet on 23 February with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, parliament speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, and Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. SF

WEATHER HAMPERS ACTIVITIES AT IRANIAN CRASH SITE
Efforts to recover the flight-data recorder of an Ilyushin-76 aircraft that crashed near Kerman on 19 February were called off on 20 February because of severe weather, Reuters reported late that day. None of the 302 people on board -- Islamic Revolution Guards Corps personnel and the flight crew -- survived. Rescue operations had begun early on 20 February, 41st Sarallah Division commander Raufi-Nejad said on state television. He said the weather was making it very difficult to reach the crash site, which is at an altitude of 3,500 meters. An unidentified mountaineer said, "Only the boys from the mountaineering unit have been able to get up there. No one else can get up there. And no one is staying up there. The weather is very bad. There is fog, snow, and gale [force] wind." Helicopters could not land at the crash site, IRNA reported, and efforts were under way to plow a road to the site. Recovery operations were scheduled to resume on 21 February. BS

IRANIAN CRASH CLAIMS DON'T MAKE SENSE
The Iranian government is saying that 302 people died in the 19 February crash of a Soviet-made Ilyushin-76 aircraft. The Il-76, however, has a maximum capacity of just 140 passengers or 125 fully equipped paratroopers, and it normally carries a crew of up to seven people. Moreover, the Iranian government has said the probable cause of the crash is bad weather. If the aircraft really was carrying more than twice its normal payload, then it could be that the plane was just too heavy to clear the mountain it struck. BS

DEPENDABILITY OF RUSSIAN AIRCRAFT DEFENDED
The Ilyushin-76 aircraft, which is designated the Candid by NATO, first flew in 1971 and was designed as a counterpart to the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter. Moscow's ORT television on 20 February reported that "its pilots describe it as dependable," and added, "Almost all Il-76 crashes have involved a human factor or poor weather conditions." According to the Aviation Safety Network (http://aviation-safety.net/database/type/314.shtml), the Il-76 has crashed at least 45 times. This is the third crash of an IL-76 in Iran; the others occurred on 24 May 1991 and 24 February 2002. BS

MUNICIPAL-COUNCIL CAMPAIGNING BEGINS IN IRAN
Campaigning for the 28 February municipal-council elections began on 20 February, Iranian state television reported. The campaigning will continue until midnight on 26 February. Candidates are competing for 186,000 positions in cities, villages, and townships. Campaigning candidates are banned from writing on walls, forming campaign convoys, and covering traffic signs with posters. This will be Iran's second-ever council election; the first took place in February 1999. BS

IRANIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER URGES IRAQI COMPLIANCE
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Gholam Ali Khoshroo, in Kuala Lumpur for the Non-Aligned Movement's (NAM) summit that opened on 20 February, told the Kuala Lumpur newspaper "The Star" of 21 February that Iran will help the United Nations and nongovernmental agencies assist the Iraqi people in the eventuality of war, although he stressed that Iran would have difficulty coping with an influx of Iraqi refugees. He said Iran is opposed to any unilateral attack on Iraq, but he also urged Iraq to abide with UN resolutions to disarm. In an interview with IRNA, Khoshroo called for the revitalization of NAM as a multilateral institution that is needed to resolve conflicts in a "unipolar world." He confirmed that Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi is due to arrive for the summit on 21 February and President Mohammad Khatami is to arrive on 23 February. SF

UN INSPECTORS SAY IRAQ BROKE PROMISES
Iraq has broken several of its promises to cooperate with UN inspectors "on issues of substance," London's "The Daily Telegraph" reported on its website (http://www.dailytelegraph.co.uk) on 21 February. "We [UN inspectors] have seen more signs of cooperation, but not to the extent that we can report to the Security Council that they are providing full cooperation," UN spokesman Hiro Ueki said. UN inspectors have noted "a pattern of defiance" over the past two weeks, including the refusal of Iraqi scientists to give private interviews and Iraq's failure to explain the location of large quantities of biological and chemical weapons that have remained unaccounted for since 1998, according to the daily. Iraq's increasingly antagonistic stance toward UN inspections could provide the legal basis for a U.S.-led war against Iraq, Reuters reported on 20 February. A U.S. administration official confirmed that the United States will present a second resolution to the UN's Security Council next week, Reuters added. The resolution will declare Iraq in "further material breach" of UN Security Council Resolution 1441 but will not set a deadline that might "allow Iraq to avoid attack by showing it had voluntarily surrendered any illicit arms in time," according to Reuters. SH

MEXICAN PRESIDENT DECLARES OPPOSITION TO WAR WITH IRAQ...
Mexican President Vincente Fox on 20 February expressed his opposition to war with Iraq and any unilateral action aimed at that country, AFP reported. Fox said he is "certain there are still many alternatives, before a war, alternatives for disarming Iraq and disarming [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein." Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar arrived in Mexico City on 20 February to meet with Fox and discuss the situation in Iraq. Spain, which along with Mexico is a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council, is a strong supporter of the U.S. position on Iraq. Aznar's visit to Mexico City was presumed to be an attempt to sway Mexico, a member of the Security Council's pivotal, wavering "middle six," to the U.S. position vis-a-vis Iraq, according to "The New York Times" of 20 February. Aznar will meet with U.S. President George W. Bush this weekend and is expected to review a draft of the UN Security Council resolution that the United States will present next week. SH

...AND SWITZERLAND DECLARES INTENT TO BACK IRAQ WAR ONLY IF SANCTIONED BY UN
Switzerland is "deeply attached to the primacy of international law...[and] would morally back an armed intervention in Iraq only if it were founded on a clear United Nations resolution," Swiss President Pascal Couchepin stated on 20 February, AFP reported. Following talks with French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, Couchepin reiterated that Switzerland "cannot deliver such an open-ended authorization because we do not yet know if a possible war will be based on a UN resolution," referring to Switzerland's refusal on 19 February to grant an open-ended U.S. request to use Swiss airspace in the event of a war with Iraq. Couchepin stated that if a UN-sanctioned war against Iraq occurs, Switzerland will reconsider whether to allow U.S. military aircraft to use Swiss airspace. SH

FRANCE PROVIDES PLANES FOR UN INSPECTIONS
The commander of France's Istres air base, Colonel Bruno Clermont, said on 20 February that two French Mirage IV planes will leave for the Persian Gulf on 21 February, AFP reported. UN weapons inspectors in Iraq will use the Mirage IV reconnaissance planes, which will be stationed in Saudi Arabia, according to Defense Ministry spokesman Jean-Francois Bureau (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 18 February 2003 and "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 14 and 20 February 2003). Saudi authorities only granted permission to base the reconnaissance planes in Saudi Arabia on the afternoon of 20 February, Bureau added. Eight French Mirage aircraft are already stationed at Saudi Arabia's Prince Sultan air base. Meanwhile, the second U-2 reconnaissance flight over Iraq to search for weapons of mass destruction occurred on 20 February, according to Reuters. SH

IRAQ DESCRIBES U.S. AND BRITISH AIR FORAYS
An Iraqi Air Defense Command spokesman issued a statement detailing U.S. and British "combat air sorties" into Iraqi airspace on 20 February, Iraq News Agency reported. After carrying out 34 "combat air sorties," the U.S. and British planes were forced to leave Iraqi airspace and return to Kuwait by Iraqi ground forces, the unnamed spokesman claimed. The "ravens of evil violated our airspace, flying from the land of Kuwait. They were backed by an AWACS plane flying in Saudi airspace and an E-2C plane flying in Kuwaiti airspace," Iraq News Agency reported. SH

BAGHDAD TO JOIN INVESTMENT AGREEMENT
Iraq's Revolution Command Council (RCC) and the National Assembly approved a law to join The Arab Economic Unity Council's "agreement on encouraging and protecting investments and the movement of capital among Arab states," Iraq News Agency reported on 20 February. The agreement, which was designed to "consolidate the principles of economic unity and the common Arab market," was signed in Cairo on 7 June 2000. The 11-member Arab Economic Unity Council was established in 1964 to promote the free movement of people, capital, and products within the Arab world. SH

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER COMPLAINS OF 'PRESSURE' ON UN WEAPONS INSPECTORS
Igor Ivanov said on 20 February that Moscow is concerned about "pressure on the international inspectors in Iraq," ORT and RIA-Novosti reported. Ivanov said those who are pressuring the inspectors are trying to force their departure, as was done in 1998, or "to induce them to present inspection results that can be used as a pretext for coercive action against this country." Russia has called on inspectors to ignore the pressure and to fulfill their responsibilities objectively, and has urged the international community to support the inspectors without pressuring them, Ivanov said. He added that if the United States and Britain produce a new draft UN Security Council resolution on Iraq, Russia "will consider it." VY

IRAQIS SEEK ASYLUM IN AZERBAIJAN
The independent Russian-language daily "Ekho" on 20 February quoted Aliovsat Aliev, who heads the Center for Legal Assistance to Immigrants, as saying that 300 citizens of Iraq have recently applied for asylum in Azerbaijan, Turan reported. "Azadliq" the previous day reported that Iraqis are arriving in Azerbaijan via Iran and settle in Azerbaijan's Djalalabad and Bilasuvar raions. LF

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