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Newsline - May 30, 2003


SUMMITS, CELEBRATIONS DOMINATE PETERSBURG'S JUBILEE...
The celebrations of Saint Petersburg's tercentennial are expected to reach their apogee on 30-31 May with the arrivals of 46 heads of state to attend the festivities, Russian and Western media reported. Among the leaders expected to participate are many from the Group of 8 (G-8) leading industrialized countries, the European Union, the CIS, and NATO-member states. A host of celebrities and international cultural figures are also expected to attend. President Vladimir Putin arrived in the city on 30 May to participate in a summit of CIS leaders. He also met the same day with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and the two leaders visited a judo school where Putin trained as a youth. On 31 May, Putin will participate in a Russia-EU summit. VY

...AS JOURNALISTS, POLICE, CRITICS ARE OUT IN FORCE
The national, state-run television network RTR sent more than 500 journalists and staff members to cover the events, which are also being scrutinized by thousands of journalists from across Russia and around the world. The summits and the celebrations are being guarded by more than 10,000 officers of the Federal Protection Service (FSO) and other security services, as well as thousands of police and Interior Ministry troops that have been brought in from across the country. Many local residents have complained about the preparations for the celebrations. They claim the city has been turned into a "Potemkin village," with only the facades of the city's many landmarks being repaired, and allege that considerable sums allocated for the preparations were diverted elsewhere, NTV reported on 28 May. The events are being covered around the clock in Russian and English at the website http://www.300spb.ru. VY

ANALYST CASTS DOUBT ON KREMLIN'S NUCLEAR COOPERATION WITH IRAN
Georgii Mirskii, an expert on Middle East affairs with Moscow's Institute of Global Economics and International Relations, said the Kremlin is ambivalent regarding U.S. demands that it end its nuclear-cooperation program with Iran, TV-Tsentr reported on 29 May. Moscow is reluctant to give in to Washington's pressure for reasons of economics and prestige, but it agrees that U.S. concerns that Iran might be seeking to build nuclear weapons are becoming increasingly substantiated, Mirskii said. He added that if Tehran succeeds in acquiring such weapons, they would pose a more direct threat to Russia than to the United States. Moreover, they could be directed against Israel and thereby spark a major conflagration in the Middle East. "Is this really what we want and are interested in seeing," Mirskii asked rhetorically. VY

EXPERTS WEIGH STATE OF U.S.-RUSSIA RELATIONS IN RUN-UP TO SUMMIT
Former Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister and current Sistema Vice President Anatolii Adamishin told a conference on 29 May that as a result of the Iraq crisis, President Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush "partially lost confidence in one another," strana.ru reported. But, he added, this damage will be easily repaired, since objective factors are pushing the two countries to cooperate in foreign-policy matters. Among those factors, Adamishin mentioned the two countries' joint global responsibility in the sphere of strategic weapons and U.S. interest in exploiting Russian experience and intelligence assets in certain global trouble spots. Aleksandr Konovalov, director of the Institute of Strategic Assessments, told the conference that the United States, not the European Union, is most inclined to provide Russia with practical support. "There is no country in the world more interested in a stable Russia than the United States," Konovalov said. Politika Foundation Director Vyacheslav Nikonov said he does not believe that Russia's membership in the G-8 will increase Moscow's influence. "The G-8 was created more to resolve economic issues than to consider international-security topics," Nikonov said. VY

RUSSIA SLATED FOR G-8 CHAIRMANSHIP IN 2006
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin has said that Russia expects to assume the rotating chairmanship of the G-8 in 2006 and that the organization's summit that year will most likely be held in St. Petersburg, polit.ru reported on 29 May. Kudrin added that as a member of the G-8 and the Paris Club, Russia is participating in international efforts to write off some of the debts of the world's poorest countries. However, he emphasized that this does not apply to Iraq, which has sufficient resources to pay what it owes. Kudrin said that Russia still hopes that the contracts Russian companies signed with the regime of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein will be honored. Oil giant LUKoil on 28 May issued a statement saying that it does not recognize a recent decision by the Iraq stabilization administration to discontinue oil contracts with Russian companies and will wait for a ruling by an international arbitration court and for decisions by a future Iraqi government that is "recognized as legitimate by the international community." VY

GOVERNMENT TO BOOST SALARIES, REDUCE POVERTY
Addressing a cabinet meeting on 29 May, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov announced that the government will increase salaries for the country's teachers, doctors, and other budget-sector social workers by 33 percent as of 1 September, ORT reported. Kasyanov noted that most budget-sector workers are paid from regional budgets and that this step will "not be easy for regional administrations." The cabinet also set the goal of reducing the percentage of Russians living below the poverty line from the current 26.1 percent to 15 percent by 2015, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 May. According to official figures, 37.2 million Russians currently have monthly incomes below the official poverty line of 2,000 rubles ($62). VY

COURT FREES ADMIRAL WHO SOLD OFF A SHIP
The Moscow Military District Court convicted Vice Admiral Yurii Klichugin of selling a Russian Navy vessel to a foreign company "without authorization and in violation of existing orders" and of misuse of office which caused the navy $12 million in damages, ITAR-TASS reported. He was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison but was immediately released under the terms of an amnesty adopted by the Duma in 1997. The press report did not mention how much money Klichugin received for the vessel, what became of that money, or to whom the ship was sold. VY

FAR EAST CITY LEARNS ABOUT SARS DIAGNOSIS FROM NATIONAL TV
Doctors and local residents in Amur Oblast first learned that Blagoveshchensk hospital patient Denis Soinikov had been diagnosed with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) from a national television news broadcast, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 May. The oblast press service issued a statement on 29 May saying "the results of analyses and the official confirmation of the diagnosis has not arrived from Moscow, and [we have] nothing to say about it." According to the daily's local correspondent, no additional measures to contain the disease have been introduced in the city. Local officials say the health of locals who have traveled abroad is being monitored, and markets are being checked. However, the daily reported that "market traders have already forgotten what the inspectors look like, and Blagoveshchensk residents are tired of being afraid of the deadly virus." Soinikov has almost completely recovered, but doctors treating him have been afraid to release him because of the growing brouhaha, the newspaper reported. Soinikov has reportedly announced that he is planning to sue a local television company for allegedly revealing confidential medical information about him, "Izvestiya" reported on 29 May. JAC

YABLOKO CHARGES SMEAR CAMPAIGN ONGOING DURING RUN-UP TO DECEMBER DUMA RACE
The leadership of the Yabloko party has asked the Prosecutor-General's Office and the Central Election Commission to investigate cases of so-called "dirty public relations" directed against it, Yabloko State Duma Deputy Vladimir Lukin told Ekho Moskvy on 29 May. Lukin said neither his party nor the Communist Party is behind posters that recently appeared in Moscow depicting Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii and Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov with the slogan, "We're Together." According to Lukin, the posters were apparently financed by a "third party." Yabloko Deputy Chairman Sergei Mitrokhin told reporters in Moscow the same day that a campaign to discredit the party's policies on reforming the housing sector and the so-called natural monopolies is being carried out in 30 regional newspapers, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 May. According to the daily, Mitrokhin also declined to state specifically who might have ordered the campaign, but he noted that the party has strengthened its position recently and that "arouses alarm among various parties including, perhaps, those in power." JAC

MORE CADRE CHANGES IN SECOND CITY TO PREPARE FOR NEXT LEADER
Members of St. Petersburg's election commission voted on 29 May to dismiss commission Chairman Aleksandr Garusov, Russian media reported. According to ITAR-TASS, city Prosecutor Nikolai Vinnichenko requested Garusov's removal because he has no legal training, which is required by federal law. Vinnichenko became city prosecutor last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2003). Legislative Assembly Deputy Vladimir Borkanov told RosBalt that Garusov's dismissal "symbolizes the change of the gubernatorial team." Legislator Mikhail Amosov expressed the view that Garusov was "too oriented toward [the city's] executive power." The Legislative Assembly is expected to decide to move the date of the gubernatorial election to December to coincide with the State Duma elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003). JAC

OPPOSITION ACCUSES VORONEZH GOVERNOR OF USING BUDGET AS CASH COW...
A group of opposition legislators in Voronezh Oblast have sent an appeal to Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov asking him to investigate the financial activities of the oblast administration, regions.ru reported on 29 May. The lawmakers charge that Voronezh Oblast Governor Vladimir Kulakov has "turned the oblast budget into a credit cash box," to judge by the results of a recent investigation by the oblast Audit Chamber of the local enterprise Voronezhinvest. According to the local weekly "Bereg," the enterprise was created in 2001 immediately after former oblast Federal Security Service head Kulakov's gubernatorial-election victory in December 2000. Last year the firm obtained a 480-million-ruble ($16 million) loan from Vneshtorgbank that was secured by the oblast budget, as well as budget loans of more than 500 million rubles. JAC

...AS DEPUTY ALLEGES HE WAS ASSAULTED BY ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL
One of the deputies who signed the letter, Yurii Matveev, also charged that last week he was beaten up on a city street and that one of the attackers was a person who works for the oblast administration, regions.ru reported on 29 May. However, he has not filed a complaint with the police. "I will wait two weeks and ask them to admit their guilt, and if they do not then, I will sort things out with them myself," he said. According to the weekly, this is the second attack on an opposition deputy in the past two months. Vyacheslav Kitaev, chief specialist for economic security at the Voronezhinvest, countered that the deputies are trying to shake things up before the December State Duma campaign and "can't tell the difference between rye and barley," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 May. JAC

SIBERIAN NEWSPAPER EDITOR CONVICTED OF ANTI-SEMITISM AND RELEASED
A Novosibirsk city court on 29 May convicted "Russkaya Sibir" Editor Igor Kolodezenko of inciting interethnic and religious hatred and sentenced him to three years in jail, RIA-Novosti reported. The court then immediately released him under an amnesty adopted earlier by the State Duma. According to utro.ru, Kolodezenko is also the coordinator of the National Power Party of Russia for Novosibirsk Oblast. The case against him was launched in 2000 and concerns an article published on the eve of the 1999 gubernatorial elections that was reportedly ordered by rivals of incumbent Governor Viktor Tolokonskii, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 30 May. "I do not plan to abandon the people and will direct an appeal to a higher court," Kolodezenko commented after the verdict. JAC

MAYOR, GOVERNOR PONDER POWER-SHARING AGREEMENT
Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov and Saratov Mayor Yurii Aksenenko announced on 29 May that they are planning to start work on the preparation of an agreement demarcating responsibilities between oblast and city authorities, RosBalt reported. The two leaders told city legislators they believe the agreement will be the first such accord reached in Russia. Ayatskov also expressed the hope that the agreement will eliminate any duplication of functions between officials at the federal, oblast, and local levels and will allow a reduction in the estimated 500 bureaucrats working in the oblast. The State Duma is currently considering a bill proposed by the presidential commission on demarcating responsibilities among the various levels of government (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 15 May 2003). JAC

WORD TO THE WISE: AVOID PIKE IN PSKOV
Eighty-five percent of the pike in the Pskov Lake are infested with parasites, IMA Press reported on 29 May. According to the oblast's Chief Health Inspector Oleg Kuznetsov, the fish can be eaten safely only after they have been thoroughly frozen and then carefully cooked. JAC

REPEAT ELECTIONS SCHEDULED IN TWO ARMENIAN CONSTITUENCIES...
Local election commissions in a Yerevan suburb and a constituency in Armavir Raion ruled on 29 May that repeat voting will take place in those districts next month due to substantial "inaccuracies" during the counting of ballots cast during the 25 May parliamentary election, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. In Yerevan's Shengavit district, a candidate from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) challenged results showing an independent wealthy businessman in first place. In Armavir, former Interior Minister Suren Abrahamian is disputing his narrow defeat by a HHK candidate. LF

...AS OPPOSITION CITES DETAILS OF 'DISGRACEFUL IRREGULARITIES'
Representatives of the opposition Artarutiun election bloc, which according to official returns polled second in the 25 May ballot, told journalists in Yerevan on 29 May that recounts in recent days at polling stations across the country substantiate their initial claim to have won the election, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. They said Artarutiun polled more than 50 percent of the vote, rather than the 14 percent announced by the Central Election Commission. Artarutiun campaign manager Stepan Zakarian said, "wherever they held recounts, they found ballots marked for Artarutiun in the stacks of votes given to pro-government parties." "We have compelling evidence of disgraceful irregularities," he added. LF

FURTHER ARMENIAN PARTIES CHALLENGE OFFICIAL ELECTION OUTCOME
Artashes Geghamian, whose National Unity Party officially polled some 9 percent of the vote, told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 29 May that he believes the election outcome was "fixed rather badly," but stopped short of refusing to acknowledge its validity. The Dignity, Democracy, and Fatherland bloc led by former Prime Minister Armen Darpinian has also issued a statement affirming that "the published results do not correspond to reality," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The bloc is one of several supporting incumbent President Robert Kocharian that failed to poll the minimum 5 percent of the vote required to win parliamentary seats under the proportional-representation system. LF

AZERBAIJANI OFFICIALS DENY PARTICIPATION IN ANTI-IRAN COALITION
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev and presidential administration official Novruz Mamedov both denied on 29 May a report published the same day in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" alleging that the United States has secured Azerbaijan's consent to use its territory to launch a military operation against Iran, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Ross Wilson for his part affirmed that the United States "has no such plans," AFP reported. In Astana, Deputy Foreign Minister Kairat Abuseitov said on 30 May that Washington has not made any request for the use of Kazakh territory for operations against Iran, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

DISPATCH OF AZERBAIJANI PEACEKEEPERS TO IRAQ AGAIN DELAYED
The deployment to Iraq of a group of some 150 Azerbaijani peacekeepers, originally scheduled for 12 May and then for the end of the month, has been postponed indefinitely, Interfax reported on 29 May quoting the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9, 13, and 16 May 2003). On 27 May, the International Committee of the Red Cross held a briefing session for the future peacekeepers on international humanitarian law and the basic rules of conduct for forces engaged in peacekeeping operations, Turan reported on 30 May. No new date has been set for Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev's planned visit to Washington, during which the final details of the peacekeeping mission are to be clarified. That visit, too, was to have taken place before the end of May. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT MEETS WITH BAKU MAYOR
President Heidar Aliev chaired a meeting on 29 May at which Baku Mayor Hajibala Abutalibov delivered a detailed report on building and renovation projects under way in the Azerbaijani capital, Turan reported on 30 May. LF

GEORGIA SEEKS TO ASSUAGE U.S. CONCERN OVER AGREEMENT WITH GAZPROM
Georgian Energy Minister David Mirtskhulava told journalists in Tbilisi on 30 May that the agreement reached two days earlier under which Russia's Gazprom will supply Georgia with gas will not affect the planned exploitation of Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz Caspian gas field, Caucasus Press reported. He said that to ensure its energy security, Georgia is interested in importing natural gas from several countries. Under an intergovernmental agreement signed in September 2001, Azerbaijan is to export gas from Shah Deniz via Georgia, which will have the option of purchasing some of that gas at a price of $55 per 1,000 cubic meters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 2001). On 29 May, U.S. Ambassador Richard Miles expressed concern that a Georgian commitment to buy Russian gas could jeopardize the Shah Deniz project. Work on a pipeline from Baku via Tbilisi to Erzerum is expected to begin in the second quarter of 2004, and the first Shah Deniz gas should be exported via that pipeline in late 2006. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ORDERS TIGHTER CUSTOMS CONTROLS
Eduard Shevardnadze has issued a decree granting customs officials unlimited rights to check aircraft, ships, and terminals at airports and seaports, Caucasus Press reported on 30 May. The news agency reported that the decree was issued in response to complaints from customs officials that senior Georgian government officials obstruct their work. On 28 May, a member of the Anticorruption Commission accused Shevardnadze's nephew Kako Shevardnadze of involvement in smuggling (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2003). LF

ABKHAZ PARLIAMENT-IN-EXILE HEAD WARNS GEORGIAN LEADERSHIP OVER PEACEKEEPERS
Tamaz Nadareishvili, chairman of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz Supreme Council, warned on 30 May that consent by the Georgian leadership at the upcoming CIS summit in St. Petersburg to prolong the mandate of the CIS peacekeeping force deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone will negatively affect relations between his parliament and the Georgian authorities, Caucasus Press reported. In the 1999 parliamentary elections, Nadareishvili's Abkhaz Liberation Party (AGP) aligned with the ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia. But on 27 May "Tribuna" reported that he is currently holding discussions with other political parties, and that in the 2 November elections he will align with whichever party includes in its program demands for the withdrawal of the CIS peacekeeping force and for a UN-backed peace-enforcement operation in Abkhazia. On 29 May, Nadareishvili threatened to mobilize some 100,000 Georgians who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war to demonstrate in front of the Georgian parliament building if the legislature does not ratify by the end of next week the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Caucasus Press reported. Nadareishvili hopes that ratification will expedite the extradition to The Hague of those Abkhaz government officials whom he has accused of genocide and war crimes. LF

GEORGIAN PAPER CLAIMS CIS PEACEKEEPERS KILLED IN SHOOTOUT WITH ABKHAZ
The independent newspaper "Mtavari gazeti," which is financed by Russian oligarch Badri Patarkatsishvili, reported on 30 May that four Russian peacekeepers and two Abkhaz soldiers were killed and 14 soldiers wounded during a shootout in the village of Lata in the lower, Abkhaz-controlled reaches of the Kodori Gorge, Caucasus Press reported. The paper claimed the Abkhaz authorities are hushing up the incident, the date of which is unclear. LF

NGO COALITION SAYS KYRGYZ PREMIER URGED MINISTERS TO SUE PARLIAMENTARIANS
The Kyrgyz NGO Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society issued a statement on 29 May accusing Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev of having asked First Deputy Prime Minister Kurmanbek Osmonov and Interior Minister Bakirdin Subanbekov to consider suing a number of parliament deputies for their criticisms of the government and law enforcement agencies during a recent debate on public safety (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 2003), RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and akipress.org reported. The coalition reportedly called on President Askar Akaev to make a statement on Tanaev's actions. According to akipress.org, Tanaev asked Osmonov and Subanbekov to protect the government's "honor and dignity" -- the usual term for filing a criminal libel case against a person or a media outlet -- and use funds obtained as a result of court judgements to develop the Aksy Raion of Djalal-Abad Oblast, a center of antigovernment sentiment since police killed five demonstrators there in 2002. Akipress.org commented that the prime minister has gotten into the habit of using the courts against those whom he claims have caused him "moral harm," including the opposition daily "Moya stolitsa-novosti" and the deputy chairman of the NGO coalition's board of directors, Mikhail Korsunskii. When such cases are filed by government officials, they are almost always decided in favor of the plaintiff. The coalition also objected to Tanaev's plan to require that ministry employees contribute one day's salary to a fund for victims of natural disasters. The coalition said such contributions must be voluntary. BB

TAJIK TRAINS REROUTED TO AVOID MOST TURKMEN BORDER CROSSINGS
Tajik Railways passenger-service department head Safarali Taifurov announced that Uzbekistan has rerouted trains from Tajikistan to Russia to avoid all but one of the Turkmen-Uzbek border crossings that were used by the former route, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 29 May. The new branch line, from Bukhara through Karakalpakstan, means that Tajik passengers will have to pass through passport and customs control twice instead of the previous seven times. The new route, although longer, will not increase travel time, according to Taifurov, and will permit a reduction in the price of tickets. Last month the head of Tajik Railways complained of attacks on Tajik trains and passengers on the route that repeatedly crossed into Turkmen territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003). BB

SWISS NGO AND OSCE START LAND-MINE REMOVAL PROJECT IN TAJIKISTAN
The Swiss Federation for Mine Action and the OSCE Center in Dushanbe have launched the first stage of a project to remove land mines in Tajikistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 May. OSCE Centre Head Marc Gilbert was quoted as saying that the OSCE and several East European countries are contributing 500,000 euros ($595,000) to the project. Reportedly, 2 percent of Tajik territory -- 12,500 square kilometres -- needs to be inspected for minefields. According to the report, at least 16,000-17,000 land mines remain from the 1992-97 Tajik civil. The Uzbek military has also mined parts of its border with Tajikistan to prevent armed Islamic militants from crossing into Uzbekistan. BB

TAJIK MEDIA CONCERNED ABOUT ADVERTISING LAW
The lower house of Tajikistan's parliament adopted the country's first law on advertising on 28 May, and according to a Deutsche Welle report, the country's independent media outlets have expressed fears that the new legislation might endanger their existence. Discussion of the draft has been under way in media circles since February. Journalists and international media experts have expressed particular concern about the bill's limitations on the amount of income independent media can obtain from advertising sales. According to the report, parliamentarians took note of the points raised in public discussions of the law and made more than 150 changes before passing it in its second reading. Some of those changes affected the amount of advertising that may be carried in the press or broadcast on radio and on television. The version adopted by parliament differentiates between state and private media outlets. Private electronic media may devote 30 percent of daily broadcast time to advertising, but state media are limited to 10 percent. The private periodical press may give over up to 40 percent of space to advertisements, while state publications are not allowed to exceed 25 percent. Advertisements for alcohol and tobacco products, narcotics, pornography, and all types of weapons, except those intended for hunting, are prohibited. BB

U.S. TO PROVIDE FURTHER ASSISTANCE TO TAJIKISTAN IN FIGHTING DRUG-TRAFFICKING
Under an agreement signed in Dushanbe on 29 May by Tajik Deputy Prime Minister Saidamir Zuhurov and U.S. Charge d'Affaires Kenneth Gross, Washington will provide Tajikistan with a further $2.4 million to finance efforts against drug-trafficking, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 30 May. Part of the money will finance technical assistance and training for the Tajik law enforcement agencies. The United States will also appoint a special councilor to its Dushanbe embassy who will liaise with the Tajik power ministries and intelligence service on drug-related issues. The agreement supplements one signed earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2003). LF

TAJIK, CHINESE PRESIDENTS MEET
Imomali Rakhmonov and Hu Jintao met in Moscow on 29 May on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, Tajik presidential spokesman Zafar Saidov told Asia Plus-Blitz on 30 May. The two presidents agreed on the need to continue demarcation of the already delimitated frontier between their two countries, and to make the work of the joint commission on trade and economic cooperation more effective. They also discussed the construction of additional stretches of highway and border bridges between Tajikistan and Afghanistan that would give China road access to the Persian Gulf. Hu announced that China will provide a 25 million-yuan ($3 million) grant to Tajikistan for the implementation of unspecified projects. LF

TURKMEN FOREIGN MINISTRY ACCUSES RUSSIAN MEDIA OF DEFAMATION
The Turkmen Foreign Ministry on 30 May issued a statement accusing the Russian media, particularly NTV, of misleading public opinion and defaming Turkmenistan, turkmenistan.ru reported. The statement said the previous day's NTV evening news broadcast attempted to damage Turkmen-Russian relations, and complained that the Russian Foreign Ministry and other Russian agencies have failed to take measures to stop such activities. Among the specific complaints in the Turkmen Foreign Ministry statement were the network's allowing the sister of imprisoned former Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov -- whom the statement described as a "terrorist" -- to make "slanderous statements." NTV also allegedly distorted facts about a recent visit of OSCE Special Representative for Central Asia Martti Ahtisaari to Ashgabat and broadcast an "insulting" interview with State Duma International Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin about the situation of ethnic Russians in Turkmenistan. The statement asserted that the alleged defamation campaign is motivated by someone irritated by the "great authority Turkmenistan enjoys in the world community." The statement went on to threaten that Turkmenistan reserves the right to "take the necessary actions in line with the norms of international law" if the Russian authorities fail to take measures against the broadcasters of objectionable material. BB

UZBEKISTAN TO REDUCE NUMBER OF BUREAUCRATS
Uzbek President Islam Karimov has signed a decree to reduce the number of bureaucrats involved in managing the economy, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 29 May, citing Interfax. According to an unnamed source in Karimov's office, the decree to reduce the number of bureaucrats by some 30 percent is part of a plan to improve economic management by bringing management systems into line with the requirements of a market economy and by reducing government expenditures on managing the economy. A special commission is reported to have been created to examine the current management system and recommend steps for reaching these goals. BB

BELARUSIAN MINISTER SAYS SUSPENDED PERIODICALS PUBLISHED 'SHEER LIES'
Information Minister Mikhail Padhayny said on 29 May that his ministry suspended publication of the private newspaper "Beloruskaya delovaya gazeta" and its supplement, "BDG. Dla sluzebnogo polzovaniya," for their continued violations of the media law despite numerous warnings from authorities, Belarusian Television reported. Padhayny's ministry issued three warnings to the two newspapers last week within a period of three days, thus paving the way for their closures by a court. "["Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta"] has recently descended into yellow journalism and [the publication of] sheer lies," Padhayny charged. "The situation was exacerbated after we turned our attention to businesses [run] by leaders of our state," "Beloruskaya delovaya gazeta" Editor in Chief Svyatlana Kalinkina told RFE/RL. "The reaction [of the authorities] has become really morbid." "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta," which appears four times a week, has a weekly circulation of 65,000-70,000 copies and is one of the most influential independent newspapers in Belarus. JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKERS DIVIDED OVER ASSESSMENT OF VOLYN MASSACRE
A group of 39 Verkhovna Rada deputies published an open letter in "Holos Ukrayiny" on 29 May to condemn the massacre of Polish civilians by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army in Volyn in 1943 (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 4 March 2003), Interfax reported. The letter criticizes alleged attempts on the part of some current politicians to defend those who "sullied their hands with the blood of women and children" 60 years ago as "immoral and exceptionally cynical." Signatories included parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, Viktor Musiyaka (European Choice), Nestor Shufrych (Social Democratic Party-united), Taras Chornovil, and Yuriy Karmazin (Our Ukraine). On 16 May, "Holos Ukrayiny" published a letter from a group of 33 predominantly right-wing lawmakers requesting that Poland abandon the quest for "one-sided apologies" for the Volyn massacre from Ukraine. "To achieve mutual understanding, Poland needs to revise cardinally its anti-Ukrainian prejudices," the letter said. That letter was signed by Hryhoriy Omelchenko, Levko Lukyanenko, Stepan Khmara, Yaroslav Kendzyor, and Andriy Shkil, among others. Polish and Ukrainian Presidents Aleksander Kwasniewski and Leonid Kuchma agreed in February to organize a joint commemoration of the massacre (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2003). JM

ESTONIAN, RUSSIAN CUSTOMS AGENCIES SIGN COOPERATION MEMO
Estonian Customs Board Director General Aivar Rehe and Russian Customs Committee Chairman Mikhail Vanin signed a cooperation memorandum between their services in Tallinn on 29 May, BNS reported. Its aim is to speed up border-crossing procedures for cargo. The customs officials also agreed to exchange information about the cost of goods and the related transactions to make sure that the correct value of goods is declared at the border. The customs heads agreed to set up a permanent working group comprising representatives of their central and regional bodies that will meet at least once a year. Rehe noted that investments in information technologies and training will be necessary as the border with Russia will become an outer border of the EU next year. During a meeting with Finance Minister Toni Palts, Vanin praised the increased trust between the customs services of the two countries, citing as examples successful joint operations against smuggling and drug trafficking. SG

LATVIA TO GET 830 MILLION MORE EUROS FROM EU THAN OWN CONTRIBUTION IN FIRST THREE YEARS
Finance Minister Valdis Dombrovskis told parliament on 29 May that in 2004-06 Latvia will receive 830 million euros ($990 million) more that it will contribute to the common EU budget, LETA reported. He said that during that period Latvia will receive about 1.117 billion euros from EU structural funds and assistance programs, but would have to contribute just 287 million euros. Dombrovskis said the size of Latvian payment to the EU budget should not grow much year to year, but EU funding to Latvia should increase annually. SG

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES READMISSION TREATY WITH RUSSIA
Parliament voted unanimously on 29 May to ratify the recently signed readmission treaty with Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2003), BNS reported. The treaty still must be ratified by the Russian Duma and Federation Council so that the agreement on travel documents for Russian citizens transiting Lithuania to and from Kaliningrad Oblast can take effect on 1 July. Parliament the same day also approved by a vote of 61 to 10 with two abstentions a resolution authorizing sending up to 130 military personnel to participate in stabilization operations in Iraq. Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius noted that the funds for the mission will be raised by canceling the third rotation of troops in Afghanistan, ending the service of a military transport plane in the Balkans, and reducing the number of conscripts to the armed forces. SG

BRITISH PREMIER URGES POLES TO SAY 'YES' TO EU
British Prime Minister Tony Blair urged Poles on 30 May to vote "yes" in their EU referendum scheduled for 7-8 June, Polish Radio reported. "On the basis of Britain's experience, which made this decision [to join the EU] 30 years ago, I can say that regardless of difficulties, I have no doubts that taking into consideration prosperity, standard of living, trade and economy, it is better to be in the European Union than out," Blair said at a joint news conference with Polish Premier Leszek Miller in Warsaw. JM

POLAND REPORTEDLY ASKING TURKEY TO SEND TROOPS TO IRAQ
Poland has asked Turkey to send troops to the Polish-administered stabilization sector in Iraq, Polish Radio reported on 29 May. According to the station, the Turkish government has responded positively in a preliminary response to that request. Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said last week that Poland is likely to make an effort to include servicemen from Muslim states in its stabilization force. Turkey, which refused to allow the use of its territory to stage U.S.-led military operations against Iraq, was not included on the list of countries asked to participate in the reconstruction of Iraq. JM

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER WITHDRAWS RESIGNATION
Jaroslav Tvrdik said on 30 May that he will stay on as defense minister but resign his deputy's post in the Czech lower house in order to concentrate his efforts on a new blueprint for military reform based on reduced defense spending, CTK reported the same day. Tvrdik made the announcement just one day after offering his resignation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2003), and following a meeting with Premier Vladimir Spidla. "For me, [military reform] is something that will require my full concentration and total effort, and I cannot divide my efforts in these critical moments at different places," said Tvrdik, a generally highly regarded minister who has complained of his heavy workload several times in recent months. In crafting the reforms, Tvrdik will assume defense spending equivalent to 1.9 percent of Czech GDP, below the 2.2 percent that the country had pledged to its NATO allies, according to CTK. His exit from the legislative post should not endanger the government's one-seat majority in the lower house, as a fellow Social Democrat is expected to replace him. Local commentators have speculated that Tvrdik's abandoned threat might in fact strengthen Spidla's hand, demonstrating the premier's commitment to much-needed public-finance reforms currently making their way toward parliament. AH

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTRY OFFICIAL REVIEWS OPPOSITION TO EU CONSTITUTION
Foreign Ministry State Secretary Ivan Korcok told the Slovak parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee on 29 May that the smaller EU members and candidate countries oppose the draft EU Constitution prepared for the European Convention on the future of Europe, TASR reported. Korcok said that if no changes are made that take such countries' interests into account, those states might attempt to present a joint alternative draft. He said the smaller states and the candidate countries insist on maintaining the rotating EU Presidency and the principle of "one country-one commissioner" on the European Commission. Korcok said representatives from Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Slovenia agreed to coordinate their positions at a meeting in Vienna on 28 May. The aim of predominantly larger EU states to create the post of elected EU president would fundamentally damage "the fragile balance" between the European Council, the European Parliament, and the European Commission, Korcok said. MS

SLOVAKIA PROTESTS AMENDED DRAFT TO HUNGARIAN STATUS LAW
The Slovak Foreign Ministry sent a note of protest on 29 May to Hungary, expressing "regret" that the government in Budapest submitted an amended version of its controversial Status Law to the Hungarian Standing Conference (MAERT) without prior consultation with Slovakia, TASR, CTK, and Hungarian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2003). MAERT approved the amended version with the support of organizations representing ethnic Hungarians abroad, including the Slovak Hungarian Coalition Party, a junior partner in Slovakia's ruling center-right coalition. The Slovak Foreign Ministry said in its note that, "in doing so," Hungary "has made impossible the search for a solution based on mutual agreement." According to reports in the Hungarian media, the Hungarian parliament will not be able to debate the amended version before this fall because the opposition FIDESZ opposes placing the debate on the legislature's agenda before parliament's summer recess. The FIDESZ-led government of Viktor Orban initiated the Status Law. MS

TENSION IN HUNGARIAN DEMOCRATIC FORUM OVER CHOICE OF NEW TELEVISION HEAD
The opposition Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) has seen considerable infighting since the board of trustees of national television network MTV backed the selection of Imre Ragats as the broadcaster's president earlier this week, Hungarian media reported on 30 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 2003). According to those reports, at a heated meeting of the MDF leadership on 28 May, MDF Chairwoman Ibolya David blamed Deputy Chairman Gyorgy Gemesi for the fact that MDF representatives on the board voted for Ragats. The MDF leadership had reportedly agreed before the vote to support Gyorgy Kosa-Somogy, who also had the support of the ruling Socialist Party. When Kosa-Somogy failed to win the six votes necessary for selection, all eight members of the board, including four representing the MDF, opted for Ragats. David said the four MDF representatives thus flouted the party's "recommendations" and announced that she is stripping Gemesi of his party duties in the media sector. MS

HUNGARIAN HEALTH UNIONS DEMONSTRATE AGAINST PLANNED HOSPITAL PRIVATIZATIONS
Some 500 health-sector workers rallied on 29 May outside the Health Ministry in Budapest to protest a bill submitted to parliament by the cabinet on the privatization of selected hospitals, local media reported. The Democratic Union of Health Workers announced it will launch a petition drive to force a referendum to ensure that a two-thirds parliamentary majority would be required to approve the proposed bill. Participants carried posters reading "The Hospitals Bill [Is] an Attempt to Murder the Entire Hungarian Society." MS

U.S. PRESIDENT ENDS SANCTIONS AGAINST SERBIA
President George W. Bush sent a letter to the U.S. Congress on 29 May announcing the end of the 11-year-old "national emergency" declared against Belgrade in response to its wars in Croatia and Bosnia, Reuters and RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Bush hailed "the strong commitment to political and economic reform shown [recently] by senior officials in the government of Serbia and Montenegro." He noted that lifting the emergency ends "a source of bilateral concern for the United States and Serbia and Montenegro." Bush added that economic and legal sanctions will remain in force against approximately 150 individuals and organizations considered to be obstructing peace and stability in the former Yugoslavia. The list includes indicted war criminals such as Croatian General Ante Gotovina, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, and Bosnian Serb wartime leaders Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic. Among the organizations listed is Serbia's Ravnogora Chetnik Movement. New to the list is former Macedonian Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski. PM

SERBIAN BALKAN EXPERT SAYS BELGRADE NEEDS GOOD RELATIONS WITH WASHINGTON
Predrag Simic, who is a prominent Balkans expert and a foreign-affairs adviser to former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, told a Belgrade conference on 29 May that Belgrade needs U.S. support to clear up many matters stemming from the recent conflicts in former Yugoslavia, "Vesti" reported. Simic argued that Serbia's "future is in the EU" but that U.S. support is crucial for solving the Kosova question and several other important issues. He stressed that Belgrade faces a very difficult decision regarding U.S. demands that it conclude a bilateral extradition-immunity agreement with the United States by 1 July that would exempt U.S. citizens from handover to the International Criminal Court (ICC) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 29 May 2003). Simic added that Belgrade's diplomats will not find it easy to please both Brussels and Washington. PM

INDICTED SERBIAN WAR CRIMINAL ARRIVES IN THE HAGUE
Franko Simatovic "Frenki" arrived in The Hague on a flight from Belgrade on 30 May to face trial before the UN-sponsored war crimes tribunal on five counts of crimes against humanity during the 1991-95 conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia, Reuters and RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2003). He was extradited by the Serbian government following his recent arrest as part of the authorities' crackdown on organized crime in the wake of the 12 March assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. Simatovic headed the recently disbanded elite Special Operations Unit (JSO) within the State Security Service (SDB). PM

HEIR TO THE SERBIAN THRONE HONORS A RIVAL DYNASTY
Crown Prince Petar Karadjordjevic knelt and lit a candle on 29 May at the graves of King Aleksandar Obrenovic and Queen Draga in Belgrade's St. Mark's Church to mark the centenary of their deaths, "Vesti" reported. The unpopular royal couple were killed by members of the secret society known as the Black Hand, which was closely linked to the army officer corps. King Petar I Karadjordjevic, who was the great-grandfather of his present-day descendant, ascended the throne in one of the most important chapters in the bitter rivalry between Serbia's two royal houses. The crown prince said that Serbia's democratic progress is at least partly contingent on its coming to terms with its past. The British-born crown prince has not actively sought the restoration of the monarchy -- which has little support in Serbian politics -- but says he will serve his country in any way possible. He and his family have been active in charity work. PM

NEW MACEDONIAN OPPOSITION LEADER PLEDGES CONSTRUCTIVE APPROACH
Nikola Gruevski, who is the new chairman of the largest opposition party, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 29 May that he will work to establish his party as a critical but constructive opposition. Gruevski added that he has extremely good relations with President Boris Trajkovski and the international community that he intends to maintain. "The VMRO-DPMNE is open to talks with all opposition parties and will offer its cooperation," he said. The hard-line nationalist course of its previous chairman, former Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, had led the party into domestic and international isolation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 May 2003). UB

MACEDONIA SAYS NO FURTHER FOREIGN MILITARY PRESENCE IS NEEDED
Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski said in Skopje on 29 May that there will be no further need for any foreign military force in Macedonia once the mandate of the EU's Concordia peacekeeping mission runs out in September, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2003). PM

OSCE STRESSES THAT 'HISTORY IS THE ENEMY' IN KOSOVA
Ambassador Pascal Fieschi, who heads the OSCE's mission to Kosova, told the OSCE's Permanent Council in Vienna on 29 May that "institutions have been created [in Kosova], but democratic standards, human rights, and the rule of law have yet to be institutionalized," a press release said. He added: "In the future we will be working in an environment where far more decisions are taken by local elected and appointed officials. Our message that we need to get across is that, with the increased handover of authority comes an increased obligation upon the...institutions themselves to perform their duties well." Fieschi stressed that "without us, various tendencies...will go unchecked: the tendency towards boycott rather than constructive opposition, the tendency towards intolerance, and the tendency towards accepting the old way of doing things." He argued that, in Kosova: "History is our enemy. Poverty and economic backwardness are its powerful allies, and perhaps even more dangerous in the long run. We as the OSCE cannot solve this problem. What we can do is contribute to making a society more fit to tackle it for itself." PM

BOSNIAN SERB PRESIDENT STANDS FIRM AGAINST A JOINT BOSNIAN ARMY
Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic told the parliament on 29 May that the Bosnian Serbs will keep their own army and not approve the setting up of a joint Bosnian military, which, he stressed, would violate the constitutions of Bosnia and the Republika Srpska, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. Cavic added that his government will nonetheless seek to work with NATO regarding Bosnia's admission to the Partnership for Peace program. NATO has repeatedly told Bosnian leaders that their country may join the program only if it has a single army with a unified command under civilian control (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 18 April 2003). In related news, High Representative Paddy Ashdown set up a commission in Sarajevo to unite and reform the intelligence system throughout Bosnia, Reuters reported. PM

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT AMENDS ANTICORRUPTION LEGISLATION
Cabinet ministers approved an emergency ordinance on 29 May that amends anticorruption legislation recently approved by parliament, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The revised legislation says members of parliament, ministers, state- and local-government officials, and judges must now report the precise deposits they hold in Romanian and foreign banks exceeding 10,000 euros ($11,909). Under the previous version of the law, they only had to state whether their deposits exceeded 10,000 euros. The new asset declarations must be submitted within 30 days. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS JUSTICE SYSTEM IS INFILTRATED BY FORMER SECURITATE
Popular Action Chairman and former President Emil Constantinescu told journalists on 29 May that former members of the Securitate, as well as prosecutors and judges who served the communist regime, have been maintained and even promoted since the fall of the former regime, thus gravely obstructing the country's system of justice, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Constantinescu also claimed that Supreme Court judges are being intimidated by the radical Greater Romania Party's chairman, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, who he alleges is blackmailing them through his access to judges' files in light of his close ties to the former Securitate. Constantinescu said a flawed justice system could obstruct Romania's integration in NATO and the EU. MS

AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTER IN ROMANIA
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev, on a two-day visit to Romania, met on 29 May with his counterpart Mircea Geoana, discussing bilateral relations, international security issues, and commercial ties between their countries, Romanian Radio reported. Geoana said Azerbaijan is a "pivotal state" in the West's relations with the "Caucasus space" and that the two countries share a "profound friendship and long-term strategic interests." He said that much of their discussion focused on the role Romania can play in the "energy transportation corridors" from Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the Black Sea to Western markets. Guliev was received on 30 May by Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, according to an official communique from the premier's office. MS

MOLDOVA REACTS TO U.S.-IMPOSED SANCTIONS
Valeriu Gurbulea, head of the Moldovan Supreme Security Council, said on 29 May that one of the companies targeted by U.S. commercial sanctions, Cuanta SA, was liquidated in 2001, ITAR-TASS reported. Gurbulea was reacting to a U.S. decision the previous day to impose commercial sanctions on Cuanta and Computer & Comunicatii SRL, as well as on Moldovan businessman Mikhail Pavlovich Vladov, for exporting missile technology to Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2003). An unidentified source on the council cited by Infotag said Vladov had emigrated from Moldova and that no company exists in the Moldovan Commercial Register under the name Computer & Comunicatii SRL. Both ITAR-TASS and Infotag said Cuanta was the successor company to a scientific-research institute belonging to the Signal electronics-engineering plant, which used to be part of the former Soviet military-industrial complex. According to ITAR-TASS, Signal manufactured remote-control and tracking systems for ballistic missiles. Moldovan Foreign Ministry officials cited by the Russian agency said they are establishing contacts with U.S. authorities in an attempt to clarify the matter. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT BEGINS PROCESS OF AMENDING CITIZENSHIP LAW
Parliament approved the first reading of an amendment to the Citizenship Law on 29 May that would make it possible for Moldovans to hold dual citizenship, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Under the amendment, obtaining foreign citizenship would no longer trigger the automatic loss of Moldovan citizenship, as is the case under current legislation. Former Moldovan citizens who hold foreign citizenship would also be eligible for reclaiming their Moldovan citizenship. According to unofficial data, some 300,000 Moldovans have been granted Romanian citizenship in recent years, while many Moldovans who live in Transdniester hold Ukrainian or Russian citizenship. MS

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL CRITICIZES MOLDOVAN POLICE
In a report issued on 28 May, Amnesty International charged that Moldovan police acted brutally against students who participated in the 2002 antigovernment demonstrations on Chisinau's main square, Flux reported. The human rights watchdog also said that despite international criticism, those under detention continue to suffer torture at the hands of Moldovan police. MS

BULGARIA'S GOVERNING MAJORITY VOTES DOWN NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION...
The governing majority of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and its junior coalition partner, the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), on 29 May stuck together to defeat by a vote of 129 to 104 with three abstentions the no-confidence motion put forward by the conservative opposition coalition United Democratic Forces (ODS), BTA reported. The motion was also supported by the Coalition for Bulgaria, which is led by the Socialist Party (BSP). After the vote, Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski told reporters that now the governing coalition is more confident than ever and that it will continue to pursue its policies. He added that the vote was doomed to fail from the start (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2003). UB

...AS JUNIOR COALITION PARTNER SIGNALS TALKS ON GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLE...
Following the unsuccessful no-confidence vote on 29 May, DPS Chairman Ahmed Dogan said there is a stable parliamentary majority, which is the basis for the governing coalition and for stable government policies, mediapool.bg reported. Dogan underscored the coalition government's need to conduct an objective analysis of its policies, which should take place in June. "I think we are a little late, but a political force and a coalition are strong when they find the power to correct themselves in time," Dogan said. "I hope that we find the power to correct ourselves while we are governing the country" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19, 20, and 27 May 2003). UB

...AND OPPOSITION PARTIES THINK ABOUT EARLY ELECTIONS
After the vote, ODS Chairwoman Nadezhda Mihailova repeated her call to all political parties in parliament to support early elections, mediapool.bg reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2003). Mihailova announced that the ODS will begin consultations about the date of such elections and whether the elections will be for a normal parliament or constituent Grand National Assembly. BSP Deputy Chairman Rumen Ovcharov welcomed the fact that the Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), which is the major political party within the ODS, has overcome its internal strife and is now able to concentrate on important issues in a responsible way. He said his party is ready to hold talks on early elections, but without any preconditions, especially with regard to the question of a Grand National Assembly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 14 April 2003). UB

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES TROOP DEPLOYMENT TO IRAQ
Parliament on 29 May approved by a vote of 160 to four the deployment of an infantry battalion to participate in the stabilization mission in Iraq, BTA reported. The unit will be up to 500 troops strong. UB

THE UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT'S NATO STRATEGY
What has Iraq got to do with U.S.-Ukrainian relations and Ukraine's desire to join NATO? Judging by the meeting of countries interested in sending peacekeeping troops to Iraq on 22 May in Warsaw and earlier signals from the U.S. and NATO, the answer is: a great deal.

U.S.-Ukrainian relations deteriorated sharply last September after Washington publicly accused Ukraine of supplying Kolchuga radars to Iraq two years earlier. The Kolchuga scandal was behind the implicit warning issued to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, when he was told he would not be welcome at the NATO Prague summit in November -- a warning he duly ignored. But the war in Iraq has provided Kyiv, which has consistently cooperated with NATO far more actively than has any other CIS state, with a golden opportunity to redeem itself in the eyes of both NATO and the United States.

Ukraine joined the coalition to disarm Iraq and sent an anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) battalion to Kuwait. Ukraine will also send 2,000 troops -- including a command-center brigade, a sapper, and an engineering battalion -- that may be based in the Polish stabilization sector of south-central Iraq. Anatoliy Hrytsenko, head of the Razumkov Center in Kyiv, said, "The U.S. considers [such a deployment] a real step toward America, a chance for later serious political support to Ukraine on the path to NATO."

Kuchma's foreign ministers between 1994 and 2000, Hennadiy Udovenko and Borys Tarasyuk, both wholeheartedly supported Ukraine's integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. (Udovenko and Tarasyuk have each led the Ukrainian Popular Movement [Rukh] at one point or another.) Nevertheless, Ukraine did not openly declare its intention to join NATO until May 2001, and it still has not submitted a formal application.

Kuchma regularly offloads responsibility for Ukraine's domestic and foreign problems onto others. Ukraine's poor international image, he claims, is due to opposition Internet websites. Similarly, Kuchma blames the slow pace of Ukraine's integration into "Euro-Atlantic" structures on Mykola Melnychenko, the presidential guard who triggered the "Kuchmagate" scandal by making public tape recordings of incriminating conversations in Kuchma's office.

He also has blamed inactivity on the part of a parliamentary committee on Euro-Atlantic integration created after the March 2002 elections and headed by Tarasyuk. Tarasyuk has rejected those accusations and invited Kuchma to debate the issue publicly, an offer that Kuchma has so far refused. Tarasyuk has correctly pointed out that the Ukrainian Constitution specifies that responsibility for foreign policy lies with the chief executive. Moreover, as Tarasyuk and Our Ukraine politicians including leader Viktor Yushchenko have recently stated, the West is confused by Ukraine's foreign policy and its seemingly contradictory efforts simultaneously to create a CIS free-trade zone and to attempt to join the EU.

Tarasyuk's criticism of Kuchma's passivity (in not formally applying to join NATO) was echoed by U.S. and NATO officials at a high-level conference on NATO-Ukraine relations at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies in May. Participants in the conference, which included 12 of 26 NATO defense ministers, repeated hints given to Ukraine at NATO's pre-Prague summit in Reykjavik in May 2002 by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell: that an application to join NATO would be received positively. The message conveyed was that Ukraine could be rewarded for its support of the U.S. stance in the Iraqi conflict and its contribution to stabilization efforts in Iraq by being invited to join NATO at the alliance's 2007 summit along with Croatia, Macedonia, and Albania.

Tarasyuk has argued that a country should first apply to join NATO and then proceed in stages to achieve the goal of a formal invitation. But Yevhen Marchuk, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, countered that Ukraine needs first to go through different stages of preparation for NATO membership, and then apply to join the trans-Atlantic defense alliance.

Marchuk's approach should engender concern, as it is contrary to the path that Ukraine has always demanded from the European Union. Ukraine has long insisted that the EU give it a signal of potential future membership by signing an Association Agreement with Ukraine. After that, the argument goes, Ukraine would begin to implement EU reforms. Marchuk would seem to be insisting -- unlike Tarasyuk, who advocates a similar procedure with regard to both NATO and the EU -- that Ukraine be allowed to adopt a different approach to NATO: ignore the implicit invitation to apply for membership extended in 2002-03, undertake the required steps, and only then formally applying to join.

Although the United States and NATO are both well disposed toward a possible Ukrainian application to join NATO, it is highly unlikely at this juncture that Kuchma would risk jeopardizing his personal fate by endorsing a departure in Ukrainian foreign policy that would alienate Russia. Russian commentators and Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin have repeatedly stated that Russia would view a Ukrainian application to join NATO as an unfriendly act. Kuchma has assiduously solicited President Vladimir Putin's support since relations with the West deteriorated in the wake of the Kuchmagate crisis in November 2000, since Putin and Russia hold the key to the 2004 transition to a post-Kuchma era. The choice of Kuchma as head of the CIS heads of state council, the creation of a CIS Free Trade Zone and the signing this month of a Russian-Ukrainian "strategic partnership" are all steps in the same strategy to ensure that Kuchma's chosen successor wins the 2004 elections by appealing to voters in the more populous, Russian-speaking eastern part of the country.

Applying for NATO membership now -- as Tarasyuk, the United States, and NATO are urging, or at least tacitly encouraging, Kyiv to do -- would undermine Kuchma's 2004 strategy. In Kuchma's eyes, NATO can and should wait until he has secured immunity from prosecution through the election of his chosen successor.

Russia, for its part, knows that Ukraine's multivector foreign-policy games have led to "Ukraine fatigue" in Western Europe, and that these games would end if Yushchenko were to win the 2004 presidential election. Yushchenko most likely would follow Tarasyuk's advice and apply for NATO membership first, then ensure that all of the steps required of Ukraine were undertaken.

The choices for Ukraine are twofold: Apply for NATO membership now and hold free elections in 2004 that Yushchenko would almost certainly win; this might, in turn, prompt the EU to alter its stance on Ukraine. Or, alternatively, hold off on applying for NATO membership to guarantee Russian support in ensuring that a Kuchma loyalist is elected through undemocratic presidential elections. That approach would only exacerbate the West's fatigue with Ukraine.

Dr. Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto, and a visiting fellow at the Institute for Security Studies-EU, Paris.

U.S. TROOPS KILL TWO IRAQIS RUNNING CHECKPOINT...
U.S. forces shot dead two Iraqi civilians who attempted to drive their vehicle through a checkpoint in Samarra, south of Tikrit, on 28 May, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) reported in a 29 May press release on its website (http://www.centcom.mil). The vehicle approached what CENTCOM described as "a well-established and well-lit" checkpoint at an estimated speed of 60 kilometers per hour and did not stop despite warning shots fired by U.S. soldiers manning the checkpoint. "The soldiers then fired at it with a tank-mounted machine gun, killing two civilians inside the vehicle," according to CENTCOM. Two other passengers in the vehicle were wounded and transported to a local hospital. KR

...AS COALITION COMMANDER CONSIDERS REPOSITIONING U.S. TROOPS
The commander of coalition ground force in Iraq, Lieutenant General David McKiernan, told reporters on 29 May that he is considering repositioning a number of U.S. troops in Iraq in what appears to be a twofold effort to provide improved security for Iraqi civilians and to protect U.S. troops, AP reported on 29 May. Six U.S. soldiers have been killed in attacks in Iraq since 25 May. McKiernan told reporters that there are no immediate plans for the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, which was scheduled to return to the United States in June, to leave Iraq. "Now that the 1st Armored Division has assumed the responsibility for the Baghdad area, I'm working with the V Corps commander on different options," he said, adding, "If we need to apply some of the combat power of the 3rd Infantry Division elsewhere in Iraq, we will certainly not hesitate to do that." There are currently around 140,000 U.S. troops serving in Iraq, AP reported. KR

U.S. REPORTEDLY DISARMING SCIRI'S BADR CORPS IN IRAQ
The Kurdish newspaper "Hawlati" reported on 28 May that U.S. forces have begun disarming the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI) armed wing, the Badr Corps, in the area of Ba'qubah, northeast of Baghdad. According to that report, the group is not only being disarmed, but some members have been arrested and interrogated "about the number and identity of the Iranians who accompanied them [into] Iraqi territory." The report stated that "scores" of Badr fighters have been arrested, and many remain in detention. The report has not been independently confirmed. KR

SUSPECTED MURDERER RELEASED FROM U.S. CUSTODY
An Iraqi accused of participating in the murder of thousands of Iraqi Shi'as was inadvertently released from U.S. custody, CENTCOM reported in a 29 May press release on its website. Muhammad Jawad al-Neifus was released from the Bucca Internment Facility in Umm Qasr on 18 May after a screening by an officer of the Judge Advocate General's (JAG) Corps. According to the press release, al-Neifus's true identity was not known at the time. He was taken to the facility after being detained by U.S. Marines outside Al-Hillah on 26 April. He is accused of participating in the murder of thousands of Iraqi Shi'as in Al-Mahawil, just north of Al-Hillah. "U.S. forces are solely responsible for his erroneous release," the statement read, adding that the coalition "will use all means available to bring al-Neifus to swift justice and are offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to his capture." KR

SHI'ITE CLERIC DISCUSSES AL-NAJAF HAWZAH
Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Sayyid Muhammad Rida al-Sistani told Beirut-based "Al-Mustaqbal" in an interview published on 28 May that efforts are under way to reestablish the Al-Najaf hawzah to its pre-Saddam Hussein status as a major center for religious study. Al-Sistani said the institution is now in a transitional phase, noting: "In the past years, particularly during the [1980-88] Iran-Iraq War, there were no students. We had very few people from Islamic countries. Iraqis and others went to other hawzahs, like those in Qom and Mashhad [both in Iran]." He said the Al-Najaf hawzah needs to be rebuilt, noting that under the deposed Hussein regime, "not even a small book" was allowed, while in places like Qom, "the best books are printed on the best printers and with the best layout." As for the future role of the Al-Najaf hawzah, al-Sistani said: "We will certainly expand our role and activity. My father [Grand Ayatollah Ali] al-Sistani has no establishment here, but he has schools, societies, and centers in Qom, in addition to more than 300 houses for students. We are waiting for the right time to build compounds and schools" in Al-Najaf. Al-Sistani added that a revival of the Al-Najaf hawzah will not affect Qom, saying, "Each hawzah has its [own] status and role." KR

IRAQI CLERIC COMMENTS ON BA'ATH SABOTEURS, CALLS ON IRAQI EXPATRIATES TO RETURN
Iraqi cleric Shaykh Muhammad Baqir al-Nasiri issued a statement to "Al-Zaman" calling on Iraqi expatriates to return to their country and invest in the rebuilding effort, according to an article published in that London-based Iraqi daily on 28 May. "I call on entrepreneurs to invest their capital and capabilities in rebuilding Iraq," he said, adding that Iraq is "in dire need of investment in the sectors of water, electricity, and services." Al-Nasiri said the local infrastructure is subject to regular attacks by Ba'ath Party members. "Former members of the Ba'ath Party provoke party members to carry out daily sabotage of water and power networks and to hamper the administration's work in Al-Nasiriyah in various sectors," he said, adding, "We are not happy with these acts and we call for an end to them." KR

BAHRAINI KING INVITES IRAQI GROUPS TO NATIONAL CONFERENCE
Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has invited all Iraqi political groups to hold a national conference in Bahrain, Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Shaykh Muhammad bin Khalifa al-Khalifa announced on 28 May, according to a "Gulf Daily News" report the next day. Addressing the 30th session of Islamic foreign ministers in Tehran, al-Khalifa said the king is eager to encourage an Iraqi national dialogue as its citizens move toward rebuilding their country. KR

FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS IRAN UNAWARE OF AL-QAEDA IDENTITIES...
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said on 29 May that Tehran does not know whether Al-Qaeda "security chief" Saif Al-Adel, linked to the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa and the recent terrorist bombings in Riyadh, is among the Al-Qaeda members Tehran claims it has detained for questioning, IRNA reported. Asefi said Iran has arrested "several elements" of the organization but added, "They have not been identified yet." SF

...AND DENIES IRAN TRAINED HIZBALLAH PILOTS...
At the same 29 May news conference, Asefi rejected a report that Iran has been training Lebanese Hizballah pilots but had stopped doing so because of U.S. pressure. The report, written by expatriate Iranian journalist Ali Nurizadeh for the London-based Arabic-language daily "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" on 29 May, said that Iranian Revolutionary Guards trained more than 100 officers from Hizballah and 20 others from Palestinian Islamic Jihad in how to use engine-less hang gliders to carry out suicide operations against Israel. The report also said Iran has sent "a large unspecified number" of those aircraft to Lebanon as parts, to be reassembled by Revolutionary Guard technicians when needed. Asefi denounced the report as part of a "propaganda campaign" in a "psychological war" against Iran. SF

...WHILE CLAIMING IRAN IS NOT INTERFERING IN IRAQ
Asefi on 29 May also rejected allegations by L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, that Iran is interfering in Iraq's affairs. Asefi called Bremer's charges "baseless," since Iran "does not intend at all to interfere in Iraqi issues and impose a government on Iraqis," IRNA reported. "It depends on Iraqis what model they want to choose for their country, and whatever they choose is acceptable from our point of view," the Foreign Ministry spokesman said. SF

RUSSIA CLOSE TO AGREEMENT WITH IRAN ON SPENT NUCLEAR FUEL
Russian Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev, in a live interview on Ekho Moskvy radio on 29 May, said Russia is close to concluding an agreement with Iran on the return of spent nuclear fuel rods from Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant, ITAR-TASS reported. Reporting on the same interview, Moscow's Interfax news agency said the minister confirmed that Russia so far "has not shipped fresh nuclear fuel to Iran." Rumyantsev said all construction work on the project will be completed by the end of 2004, the reactor will be started in early 2005, and commercial operation will commence later the same year, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, a number of Russian Federation Council members have rejected Washington's suspicions about Iran's nuclear program and Russia's involvement in it, Interfax reported on 29 May. Federation Council First Deputy Chairman Valerii Goreglyad, citing numerous International Atomic Energy Agency inspections in Iran, called the U.S. concerns "groundless." Goreglyad characterized the U.S. charges as "a desire to establish a new world order to suit its economic and political interests," according to Interfax. SF

GERMAN CHANCELLOR SETS CONDITIONS FOR EXPANSION OF MILITARY MANDATE IN AFGHANISTAN
Gerhard Schroeder said on 28 May that Germany would "seriously consider" the extension of its forces beyond Kabul if the United Nations requested such a move and if those forces were given the required resources, ddp reported. Schroeder said the possibility of German participation in the U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) is being studied, but added that no decision has been made to commit German troops to those teams. Germany was reported on 26 May to be planning to establish a second military base in Herat Province in western Afghanistan in addition to the base it operates in Kabul as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2003 and "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January 2003). The UN has not sanctioned PRTs, which represent an attempt by the United States to combine peace and security efforts with reconstruction among Afghan provinces. AT

GERMAN SOLDIER KILLED BY MINE BLAST IN AFGHANISTAN
A German soldier serving with ISAF was killed and another sustained injuries when their vehicle hit a land mine south of Kabul on 29 May, ISAF reported. This brings the number of German ISAF soldiers killed in Afghanistan to 10. AT

MAJOR CUTS AT AFGHAN WOMEN'S AFFAIRS MINISTRY
Women's Affairs Minister Habiba Sorabi announced on 29 May that her ministry dismissed 117 female staff on 22 May, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported on 30 May. Sorabi said the cuts were part of a plan to reduce state employees in all departments, adding that the total number of dismissals in her ministry will be about 400. Those employees who lost their jobs, many of whom are heads of households, protested their dismissal in a gathering in front of the ministry, charging that only those employees who "do not enjoy the support of the ministry" have lost their jobs, the Iranian radio reported. AT

AFGHAN DAILY LAUDS APPOINTMENT OF DOSTUM AS ADVISER
In a 28 May commentary, "The Kabul Times" praised the appointment of General Abdul Rashid Dostum on 21 May as a special adviser on security and military affairs to Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May 2003). The paper argued that Karzai's decision to transfer "General Dostum from his seat of power" in northern Afghanistan to Kabul has "been welcomed throughout the country," adding that "those who grow too big for their clothes ought to be cut down to size" to allow for the development of a strong central government. Dostum nevertheless appears to be consolidating his position in the Faryab, Balkh, Samangan, and Sar-e Pol provinces; almost immediately after the appointment, he made his way back to northern Afghanistan, with a stopover in Uzbekistan. AT

AFGHAN LEADER VISITS GHAZNI
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai visited Ghazni, the provincial seat of Ghazni Province, on 29 May, AP reported. Karzai was greeted by cheering crowds amid tight security and was surrounded by his U.S. bodyguards. Sayyed Tayeb Jawad, Karzai's chief of staff, said the trip was meant to assess "how the reconstruction process is going and what the people need," adding that Karzai will visit all of Afghan's provinces. During his trip, Karzai met with Ghazni Governor Asadollah Khaled and visited a television station and a school. The trip might be related in part to Karzai's efforts to curb the power of renegade governors and warlords and extend the authority of the central government beyond Kabul (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May 2003). AT

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