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Newsline - May 25, 2004


FOUR CIS PRESIDENTS VOW TO PROCEED WITH CREATION OF SINGLE ECONOMIC SPACE...
The presidents of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan -- Vladimir Putin, Leonid Kuchma, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and Nursultan Nazarbaev, respectively -- pledged in Yalta on 24 May that they will proceed with the implementation of the treaty on the creation of the Single Economic Space (SES) they signed in September (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 23 September 2003), international media reported. "The primary objective of the next stage in the evolution of the [SES] is to formulate as quickly as possible a workable regulatory and legal basis for economic cooperation," Interfax quoted Putin as saying in Yalta. The four governments are to present 61 draft agreements in extension of the SES treaty during the next SES summit in Astana in September. Putin proposed that the first package of agreements include documents on foreign trade, customs tariffs, and the business environment. Nazarbaev recommended beginning the development of the SES by establishing a customs union, while Kuchma suggested a free-trade zone (see also End Note below). "Russia, which is by far the dominant player in the new body, has been seeking increasingly to reestablish its influence in the former Soviet Union, in competition with the United States," "Business Week" commented in its 31 May issue. JM/VY

...BUT PLANS MAY COLLIDE WITH REALITY
At the same 24 May press conference, President Putin admitted that he spent 90 percent of his time in arguments with the other SES leaders about the adoption of a single "economic constitution," but instead it was decided to adopt the 61 separate agreements. Putin also said that the sides will define the priority of the agreements at the September summit in Astana. Meanwhile, participants of the talks failed to overcome some basic differences, izvestiya.ru and polit.ru reported. Lukashenka told journalists that initially the four countries wanted to join the World Trade Organization as a single entity, but because of differences will do so separately. Another disagreement is between Russia and Kazakhstan, which insist on creating a customs union, and Ukraine that opposes it. VY

GEORGIAN PRIME MINISTER BEGINS TALKS IN MOSCOW
Zurab Zhvania met on 24 May, the first day of his two-day visit to Moscow, with Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Russian and Georgian media reported. Ivanov assured Zhvania that Moscow wants "stable and friendly" relations with Georgia, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that Russia considers it imperative in the first instance to try to resolve without delay those problems in bilateral relations that have emerged since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Tbilisi daily "Mtavari gazeti" on 24 May identified Abkhazia as the most pressing issue to be discussed, suggesting that Zhvania will try to enlist Moscow's support for a solution to the Abkhaz conflict in return for investment opportunities for Russian business. Zhvania for his part said both Abkhazia and economic and security cooperation figure on the agenda of his meetings. Lavrov and Zhvania focussed on cooperation in fighting terrorism, the draft framework treaty on bilateral relations, and the possibility of easing the mutual visa requirement for citizens of Russia and Georgia, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

SUPREME COURT WILL HEAR NEW SPY CASE...
The Federal Security Service (FSB) has submitted to the Supreme Court's Military Collegium the case of FSB Lieutenant Colonel Igor Vyalkov, who is accused of espionage for an unnamed country and illegally crossing the border, Russian media reported on 24 May. The FSB accuses Vyalkov of meeting in Russia with a foreign intelligence agent and illegally crossing the border in 2001-02 several times to hand over Russian state secrets. He was arrested in fall 2002 and has been held in Lefortovo prison since then, RBK reported. The trial is set to begin on 27 May. VY

...AS JAILED FORMER FSB OFFICER COMPLAINS OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
Meanwhile, another former FSB lieutenant colonel, Mikhail Trepashkin, sentenced this month to four years in prison for divulging state secrets (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 20 May 2004), sent an open letter to President Putin, the chairmen of the Supreme and Constitutional courts, Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov, and human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin, as well as to civil rights organizations, asking them to intervene in his case, newsru.com reported. In his letter, Trepashkin, who took part in investigating the FSB's possible involvement in the 1999 apartment-building bombings in Moscow and other Russian cities, said that prosecutors and judges fabricated the case against him, as well as other similar cases. Trepashkin, who after his retirement from the FSB became a lawyer, also said in his letter that repression and human rights violations in Russia must be stopped. VY

COURT REFUSES PACE OFFICIAL ACCESS TO JAILED OLIGARCHS
Moscow Meshchanskii Raion Court Chairman Aleksandr Lukashenko refused on 24 May to allow Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) representative Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger to visit former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii and Menatep head Platon Lebedev in pretrial detention, NTV and Interfax reported on 24 May. Lukashenko said PACE is not eligible under Russian law to visit prisoners, as "only lawyers, priests, and relatives can visit inmates." Newsru.com reported on 25 May that Khodorkovskii's lawyers will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if the Moscow City Court refuses to overturn a 23 April order by the Basmannyi Raion Court compelling Khodorkovskii to complete his study of the materials of his case by 15 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2004). VY

HIGH-RANKING TRAFFIC POLICE ARRESTED FOR CORRUPTION
Officers of the Interior Ministry's Internal Security Department and the Prosecutor-General's Office searched the offices of the Moscow City Traffic Police on 24 May and arrested eight high-ranking officers, Russian media reported. The eight officers are accused of running a crime ring dealing in stolen cars. Allegedly, one of their schemes was to cut a deal with an owner of an expensive car in Germany, steal the car, and transfer it to Russia. In Germany, the owner of the stolen car got from the insurance company the cost of his car. In Russia, the ring found a buyer for the German car, then shortly afterward told the buyer that the car is listed as stolen by Interpol and offered to solve the problem for a couple of thousand dollars. If the new owner paid, they took the money; if not, they took the car and looked for another buyer. VY

CHIEF INSPECTOR REPORTS TO THE FEDERATION COUNCIL...
Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin met with the Federation Council Commission on Relations With the Audit Chamber on 24 May and presented a summary of his agency's activities in 2003, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 25 May. The commission approved Stepashin's report. Stepashin told senators that the chamber conducted 518 audits last year and produced evidence of 116 activities that harmed the federal or regional budgets. On the basis of the chamber's work, the Prosecutor-General's Office initiated 241 criminal cases. "The total damage from violations uncovered by the chamber in 2003 was approximately 100 billion rubles [$3.3 billion], while in 2002 that figure was almost 120 billion rubles," Stepashin said. Stepashin added that Audit Chamber auditors have occasionally been pressured "by financial-industrial groups" during the course of their work. RC

...AND COMMENTS ON CHUKOTKA INVESTIGATION
Audit Chamber Chairman Stepashin confirmed on 24 May an earlier statement by auditor Sergei Ryabukhin that documentation relating to the Audit Chamber's probe of the administration of Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich will be handed over to prosecutors within 10 days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2004), "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 25 May. Stepashin said that he does not understand why this particular investigation has produced such a storm of publicity, especially since the chamber has uncovered far greater violations in Chechnya. "Apparently some influential person in Chukotka has national mass media outlets under his control and they have created all the fuss," Stepashin said. "I would advise whomever it is not to be overly nervous." Meanwhile, lenta.ru and other Russian media reported on 25 May that Abramovich has purchased a Boeing 767-300 that he intends to use as a flying office, similar to the U.S. president's Air Force One. "The Moscow Times" reported on 24 May that the plane will be equipped with antiaircraft-missile defenses. "Novye izvestiya" on 25 May reported that Abramovich has purchased a palace in central St. Petersburg. A deputy in the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly told the daily that the building will house the permanent representation of Chukotka in St. Petersburg. RC

NEW REFERENDUM LAW TO BE FAST-TRACKED THROUGH LEGISLATURE
A new law on referendums could come into effect as early as July, Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said on 24 May, ITAR-TASS reported. The presidential administration submitted the bill, which critics say would make it virtually impossible to force the state to hold referendums, to the Duma on 19 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2004). Veshnyakov said the bill will have its first reading in the legislature on 2 June and praised it as "creating real conditions for the realization of real initiatives." The 300-page bill's most controversial provisions stipulate that only groups with registered representations in 45 Russian regions, each of which must have at least 100 members, may initiate referendum drives by collecting 2 million signatures. RC

NO STATUES, PLEASE
There is little indication that a cult of personality around President Putin has been forming in Russia over the last three years, according to a study by the Yurii Leveda Analytical Center, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 25 May. The national survey of 1,591 respondents found that 11 percent said they have or would like to have a bust or portrait of Putin, compared to 9 percent in 2001. Eighty-one percent said they have no such desire, while 81 percent also said they have no desire to see a monument to Putin erected in their town. Fifteen percent of respondents said that portraits and monuments "reinforce [the president's] authority and popularity," while 29 percent said they "provoke laughter and cast the president in a bad light." Young people living in small towns were most likely to be hard-core Putin fans. The center said that much of so-called Putinmania is actually just a provincial-youth fashion. RC

CHARGES FILED IN SARATOV OIL CASE
As expected, Saratov Oblast prosecutors on 24 May filed criminal charges of illegal commercial activity, abuse of office, and violating regulations on the exploitation of natural resources against Saratovneftegaz General Director Stanislav Tyurev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2004), "Izvestiya" reported on 25 May. Observers see the case as an attack on the administration of Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov. The charges stem from accusations that the company illegally exploited four oil deposits in the oblast, although Tyurev has claimed the firm acted with the consent of Ayatskov's administration. Tyurev has argued that when Vitalii Artyukhov was natural resources minister, there were frequently long delays in the issuing of licenses, forcing companies and local governments to make "temporary arrangements." The daily speculated that if Tyurev is convicted, Ayatskov could himself face charges of exceeding his authority. RC

IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME
International Olympic Committee (IOC) Vice President Vitalii Smirnov said on 24 May that the city of Moscow will likely proceed with plans to build 15 new athletic facilities for the 2012 Olympic Games, whether or not the IOC awards those games to the city, ITAR-TASS reported. Among the planned facilities is the world's largest indoor ice-skating rink, which will host the world figure-skating championships in 2005 and could be used for table tennis and weightlifting in 2012. There are also plans for two 50,000-seat soccer stadiums, a 25,000-seat baseball stadium, a track-and-field stadium, and a swimming facility. "I have no doubt that the facilities will be built as planned," Smirnov said. Moscow is among five cities currently being considered to host the 2012 games. RC

TWO GROZNY BOMBING SUSPECTS REPORTED KILLED
Two Chechen field commanders who played a role in the 9 May bombing at the Dynamo stadium in Grozny that killed six people, including pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, have been killed in a shootout with federal forces on the outskirts of Grozny, Colonel Ilya Shabalkin, who is a spokesman for the Russian federal forces in the North Caucasus, told Interfax on 24 May. He identified the two Chechens as Said-Emin Elikhanov and Taus Udaev. Clashes between Chechen detachments and federal forces took place in Starye Atagi and in Grozny's Sadovoe Koltso district on 22 May and in the Michurino suburb of Grozny on 23 May, chechenpress.com reported. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT 'DISMAYED' BY ALLEGATIONS OF MISUSE OF WORLD BANK LOAN
Meeting on 22 May with leaders of the pro-presidential parliament factions, Robert Kocharian reportedly expressed concern over the public exchange of accusations between parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and Justice Minister David Harutiunian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 24 May. Baghdasarian charged on 11 May that the parliament's Audit Chamber had noted irregularities in the Justice Ministry's use of a 1999 World Bank loan intended to strengthen the Armenian judiciary. Harutiunian rejected that criticism as misplaced and unfounded (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 17 May 2004). Kocharian did not, however, express support for either Baghdasarian or Harutiunian. LF

KARABAKH OFFICIALS DENY REPORTS OF PRO-AZERBAIJANI DEMONSTRATION
Unnamed representatives of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic rejected on 24 May as untrue reports that the local Armenian population has staged demonstrations to protest low living standards and to demand an end to the war with Azerbaijan, Turan reported quoting Arminfo. Baku media had claimed that participants in the demonstration carried Azerbaijani flags and affirmed their readiness for the enclave to remain part of Azerbaijan. LF

AZERBAIJAN, RUSSIA MAP OUT ENERGY COOPERATION
Anatolii Chubais, CEO of Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES), arrived in Baku on 24 May for a one-day visit during which he met with President Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister Artur Rasizade to discuss long-term cooperation, Russian and Azerbaijani media reported. Chubais and Azerenergy President Etibar Pirverdiev signed a memorandum that envisages linking the two countries' power grids and building new high-voltage transmission lines in order to increase the export of Russian energy to Iran and Turkey. LF

ABKHAZ PARLIAMENT, MINORITIES CONDEMN GEORGIAN THREAT OF MILITARY FORCE
The Abkhaz parliament adopted a statement on 24 May condemning as "an encroachment on the rights and freedoms of a sovereign state" the recent hints by Georgian politicians, including President Mikheil Saakashvili, that Tbilisi might attempt to repeat in Abkhazia and South Ossetia the popular protests that culminated in the resignation earlier this month of Aslan Abashidze, leader of the Adjar Autonomous Republic, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. Also on 24 May, representatives of the Russian, Armenian, Greek, Estonian, Polish, and Ukrainian communities in Abkhazia issued a statement affirming their support for the unrecognized republic's constitution, which defines Abkhazia as an independent sovereign state. They denied Georgian claims that they would support the return of Abkhazia to the jurisdiction of the central government. LF

GEORGIA CLAIMS TO HAVE THWARTED TERRORIST ACT
The Georgian State Security Ministry has averted an attempt to blow up a railway bridge in the suburbs of Tbilisi, Georgian and Russian agencies reported on 25 May. Police found and defused an explosive device containing 800 grams of dynamite on the bridge early on 25 May. Three suspects have been detained, one of them a Security Ministry official. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SAYS ECONOMIC UPSWING KEY TO RESTORING TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY
Meeting in Kakheti on 24 May with members of Georgia's Union of Major Taxpayers, President Saakashvili said that Georgia cannot restore central control over the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by military force, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. But increasing the volume of the annual budget by 500-600 percent and thus raising living standards would serve as an incentive to the population of those republics to return voluntarily under Tbilisi's hegemony, Saakashvili continued. He told the businessmen that their role is therefore crucial to restoring Georgia's territorial integrity. LF

ABKHAZIA DENIES PLANS TO INTRODUCE NATIONAL CURRENCY...
Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba denied on 24 May a statement attributed to him earlier that day by Caucasus Press that the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia is about to introduce its own national currency, Interfax reported. Shamba said Abkhazia wants instead to preserve "a common economic and financial space" with Russia as an associate member of the Russian Federation. Astamur Tania, an adviser to Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba, likewise said that "the Russian ruble will remain in circulation in Abkhazia," Caucasus Press reported on 24 May. LF

...OR DEPLOY COSSACK FORCES
Abkhaz Interior Minister Abesalom Beya denied on 24 May that Cossack forces have been deployed in the unrecognized republic's southernmost Gali Raion, Interfax reported. Earlier on 24 May, the Caucasus Press reported that Georgian residents of Gali were fleeing the district because Cossacks were breaking into their homes, ostensibly to search for weapons, and robbing and beating them. Beya said a group of Kuban Cossacks travelled to Sukhum on 22 May to participate in a ceremony but have since left Abkhazia. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT PROPOSES SES CUSTOMS UNION TO JOIN WTO
Nursultan Nazarbaev said at the Single Economic Space (SES) summit in the Crimea on 24 May that the four SES members (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine) should form a customs union that could join the World Trade Organization (WTO) as a unit. Nazarbaev's proposal was reported by Interfax-Ukraine the same day. Nazarbaev said that formation of a customs union would be the first step in establishing a free-trade zone encompassing the four states. He added that if the formation of a SES customs union is left until after the four members states join the WTO individually -- Kazakhstan has been working diligently on gaining WTO membership for more than a year -- it could prove almost impossible to form a customs union embracing only the SES members. Nazarbaev also called for the creation of a SES transport union and for the speedy adoption of laws that will provide a legal foundation for the organization so that it can begin to function and accept new members. Nazarbaev said some other countries, which the report did not name, have expressed interest in joining the SES. BB

TWO KAZAKH POLITICAL PARTIES PREPARING TO MERGE PROGRAMS
The moderate opposition party Ak Zhol (Bright Path) and Asar (Working Together), the party of President Nazarbaev's daughter, Dariga Nazarbaeva, are forming a working group to prepare a common program of political reforms, Ak Zhol co-Chairman Alikha Baymenov and Asar Deputy Chairman Yerlan Karin announced on Kazakhstan's Channel 31, regnum.ru reported on 24 May. Baymenov said his party hopes that cooperation with Asar will help create conditions for healthy competition and that the two will work together to ensure that the country's wealth is fairly distributed. He added that Ak Zhol is willing to work with any party in order to achieve these goals. Karin said that no matter which party does better in upcoming parliamentary elections, the two will continue to work together. Nazarbaeva has said that she hopes her party will win at least half the seats in the parliament scheduled to be held in October. BB

KYRGYZ LOWER HOUSE VOTES TO CREATE OVERSIGHT COMMISSION FOR SECURITY SERVICES...
The Legislative Assembly (lower house) of Kyrgyzstan's parliament voted on 24 May to set up an oversight commission to control the country's security services, Interfax reported the same day. The decision came after the assembly heard a report by a special parliamentary commission that blamed the National Security Service (SNB) for bugging and tailing opposition parliamentarians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2004). The assembly adopted a resolution noting that the special commission had not been given access to all the documents it needed and thus was able to find only circumstantial evidence of SNB actions against parliamentarians. BB

...THOUGH NATIONAL SECURITY CHIEF SAYS REPORT WAS BIASED
SNB Chairman Kalyk Imankulov said on 24 May that the conclusions of the special parliamentary commission are biased, adding that his service has neither the staff nor the resources to monitor parliament members, and many of the alleged facts in the report are based on rumor and are inaccurate, Interfax reported the same day. Imankulov said, however, that he supports the creation of a parliamentary oversight commission because it might improve the parliament's understanding of the work and needs of the security services. But he said there need to be guarantees of nondisclosure of some aspects of the services' work. BB

KYRGYZ SECURITY COUNCIL HEAD FIRED AFTER JOINING ELECTION GROUP
Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev has issued a decree dismissing Misir Ashirkulov from his job as secretary of the Security Council, akipress.org and Interfax reported on 24 May, quoting the presidential press service. Ashirkulov had held the post since 2001. For part of that time he was concurrently head of the president's administrative office. The press service announcement insisted that Ashirkulov's removal had nothing to do with his election on 20 May to the chairmanship of the newly created Union for Honest Elections, a group in which a number of prominent opposition politicians are members (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2004). He told a press conference that introduced the new group that he has no intention of leaving his Security Council job. BB

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT ASKS U.S. FOR MORE OBJECTIVE ASSESSMENT OF REFORMS
President Akaev asked during a 24 May meeting in Bishkek with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Lynn Pascoe that the U.S. be "more objective" in assessing democratic reforms in Kyrgyzstan, kabar.kg and RIA-Novosti reported, quoting the presidential press service. Akaev denied that the reform process was being pursued so that Kyrgyzstan could obtain foreign aid, but rather because it was in the interests of the "young Kyrgyz state." Pascoe reportedly said that the U.S. sees Kyrgyzstan as a model in the process of political and economic reform in Central Asia, kabar.kg and RIA-Novosti reported. BB

HIZB UT-TAHRIR MEMBERS RESCUE UZBEK AND KYRGYZ SECURITY OFFICERS FROM MOB
The office of Kyrgyz Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu reported on 24 May that members of the Muslim extremist party Hizb ut-Tahrir rescued one Uzbek National Security Service and two Kyrgyz National Security (SNB) officers from an angry mob on 14 May when they were caught filming the congregation of a mosque in Osh Oblast's Karasuu Raion. According to the akipress.org account appearing on 24 May, members of the congregation phoned the Osh office of the SNB and were told that no one had permission to secretly film the mosque. The congregation then decided to attack the security officers but were reportedly stopped by Hizb ut-Tahrir members. The mob then seized the men's video camera, later handing it over to the Ombudsman's Office, where it is along with the film. Bakir-uulu has irritated the Kyrgyz authorities by asserting that Hizb ut-Tahrir rejects the use of violence to achieve its goals and therefore should not be considered a terrorist organization. BB

RUSSIAN BORDER SERVICE NOT LEAVING TAJIKISTAN
An unnamed spokesman for the Russian Border Service told Interfax on 24 May that Russian media reports asserting that Russian border troops are being withdrawn from Tajikistan are "absolute nonsense." Some reports claimed that the first Russian troops would leave Tajikistan on 24 May. The Border Service's deputy chief, Lieutenant General Aleksandr Manilov, had earlier told Interfax that Russian troops will gradually transfer control of sections of the Tajik-Afghan border to the Tajik Border Service, but said there are no plans for a complete Russian withdrawal, which he said the Tajik leadership does not want. According to the spokesman, an official timetable for the handover does not exist. Russia and Tajikistan are in the process of negotiating a new format for cooperation between the two countries' border services. Tajik border officials want Tajik border troops to take greater responsibility for guarding the Tajik-Afghan border, one of the main routes for transfer of illegal drugs from Afghanistan to the CIS. BB

FOUR CIS PRESIDENTS VOW TO PROCEED WITH CREATION OF SINGLE ECONOMIC SPACE...
The presidents of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan -- Vladimir Putin, Leonid Kuchma, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and Nursultan Nazarbaev, respectively -- pledged in Yalta on 24 May that they will proceed with the implementation of the treaty on the creation of the Single Economic Space (SES) they signed in September (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 23 September 2003), international media reported. "The primary objective of the next stage in the evolution of the [SES] is to formulate as quickly as possible a workable regulatory and legal basis for economic cooperation," Interfax quoted Putin as saying in Yalta. The four governments are to present 61 draft agreements in extension of the SES treaty during the next SES summit in Astana in September. Putin proposed that the first package of agreements include documents on foreign trade, customs tariffs, and the business environment. Nazarbaev recommended beginning the development of the SES by establishing a customs union, while Kuchma suggested a free-trade zone (see also End Note below). "Russia, which is by far the dominant player in the new body, has been seeking increasingly to reestablish its influence in the former Soviet Union, in competition with the United States," "Business Week" commented in its 31 May issue. JM/VY

POLL REVEALS INTEGRATION PREFERENCES OF BELARUSIANS, UKRAINIANS, RUSSIANS
The All-Russian Center for Studies of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), in cooperation with pollsters in Belarus and Ukraine, has recently conducted a survey in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine regarding respondents' attitudes to political and economic integration, Interfax reported on 24 May. According to VTsIOM, the overwhelming majority of people in the three countries think that there are reasons -- in particular, based on common history, family ties, and commonality of economic interests -- for the rapprochement of the three nations; only 6 percent of people in Ukraine and Russia and 10 percent in Belarus think that there are no such reasons whatsoever. The pollster also noted "peculiarities" in integration preferences in the three countries. Fifty-one percent of Russians want to live in their own country and are not enthusiastic about a supranational union, 28 percent of Belarusians would like to live in a "unified Europe," while 23 percent of Ukrainians would be happy living in a "union of Slavic states." JM

COURT EXPLAINS CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISION FOR DISSOLUTION OF UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT
Following a request from President Leonid Kuchma, the Constitutional Court on 25 May announced its ruling on the constitutional provision allowing the president to disband the Verkhovna Rada if the legislature fails to gather for a plenary sitting within 30 days of a regular session (Article 90 and Article 106 of the Ukrainian Constitution), Interfax reported. The court ruled that "30 days" refers to 30 calendar days, including holidays and other recesses in the parliamentary session. JM

DEMONSTRATORS WAIT FOR UKRAINIAN COURT RULING ON CLOSURE OF OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER
More than 600 people picketed Kyiv's Court of Appeals on 25 May, demanding that it annul the decision of a district court in Kyiv in January to close "Silski visti," the largest opposition newspaper in Ukraine, on charges of anti-Semitism (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 3 February 2004), Interfax reported on 25 May. Picketers, who reportedly included members of the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, and several nationalist organizations, held placards reading "Hands off 'Silski visti!'" and chanted "shame on you!" Meanwhile, some 500 people, organized by Ukraine's Jewish communities, gathered for a separate rally near the Court of Appeals. "We have come here to let our voice be heard by Ukraine, [to see how] for the first time in history a European newspaper is being closed for anti-Semitism," said Oleksandr Shlayen, head of the International Antifascist Committee, which sued "Silski visti." JM

CHIEF OF UN'S KOSOVA MISSION RESIGNS
Harri Holkeri, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said in Helsinki on 25 May that he has submitted his resignation "based on...my doctor's recommendation," Reuters reported. Holkeri was recently hospitalized in France for what was described as exhaustion and then underwent further medical checks in his native Finland. Before and after the 17-18 March unrest in Kosova, many inside and outside that province criticized his performance in office. Several Serbian leaders openly called for his resignation and former U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke said that Holkeri does "not understand the situation" in Kosova. His one-year term was due to expire in August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 August 2003, and 2 and 16 April 2004). Holkeri's deputy is Charles Brayshaw, an American. It is not clear who will succeed Holkeri, but the post is expected to go again to a European. PM

NEW MACEDONIAN CONTINGENT PREPARES FOR IRAQ
An army spokesman said on 24 May that the government has decided to replace the current Macedonian contingent stationed in Iraq, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. The new troops, a 32-strong platoon of the special operation forces known as the Wolves, will leave for Iraq on 1 June. The decision must now be approved by the parliament. In related news, visiting top U.S. Pentagon official James MacDougall praised the courage of the Macedonian soldiers in Iraq. MacDougall added that Macedonia has made significant progress on its way to NATO membership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 2003, and 21 April and 24 May 2004). UB

NATO GIVES BOSNIA THE COLD SHOULDER
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer indicated in Brussels on 24 May that it is unlikely that Bosnia-Herzegovina will be invited to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program at the Atlantic alliance's June Istanbul summit, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2004). While noting Bosnia's progress in reforming its military structures, he suggested that it still needs to cooperate better with the Hague-based, war-crimes tribunal. PM

A HABSBURG VISITS THE BOSNIAN CAPITAL
Otto von Habsburg, the eldest son of the late Austrian Emperor Karl, attended the premier in Sarajevo on 24 May of a film about the 28 June 1914 assassination of Habsburg Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, which triggered a set of events that resulted in the outbreak of World War I, dpa reported. The film is titled "90 Years Later" and will be released on the 90th anniversary of the couple's death at the hands of a young Serbian revolutionary, Gavrilo Princip. The 45-minute documentary film is a joint production of the German public broadcaster ARD, Bosnian Federation Television, and Belgrade B92 Television. It was shot in Sarajevo, Belgrade, Vienna, and Princip's hometown Bosansko Grahovo. PM

EU GIVES WARNING ON SERBIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana said in Brussels on 24 May that Tomislav Nikolic, who is the candidate of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) in the 13 June Serbian presidential elections, does not have the support of the EU, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April and 11 May 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003 and 9 January 2004). Polls suggest that Nikolic will place first in what is expected to be a first round of voting. His main opponents are Boris Tadic of the opposition Democratic Party and Dragan Marsicanin of the governing coalition. The campaign has been overshadowed in recent days by a bitter exchange of accusations between several prominent Democratic Party politicians on the one hand and some leaders of the governing coalition on the other. Some of the latter have suggested that the Democrats brought organized crime into Serbian politics and were responsible for the 12 March 2003 killing of their own leader, Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. Some observers suggest that the main effect of the mudslinging could be to further increase voter disgust and apathy, dpa reported. PM

UN ASKS SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO FOR PEACEKEEPERS FOR HAITI
The UN has asked Serbia and Montenegro to send an unspecified number of peacekeepers to Haiti, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 24 May. The parliament must first approve the request. The UN has also requested a technical team for Sudan and a medical group for Ethiopia. Serbia and Montenegro already has small observer teams of military officers in East Timor, Ivory Coast, and Liberia. Communist Yugoslavia participated in several UN peacekeeping missions over the years. PM

TRUCK BLAST KILLS 16 IN ROMANIA
At least 16 people, including rescue workers and journalists, died on 24 May when a truck carrying fertilizer blew up after a road accident near the southern Romanian city of Buzau, Romanian media reported. The overturned truck caught fire and subsequently exploded as police and firefighters prepared to extinguish the fire. Two journalists from the private Antena 1 TV station filming the incident were among those killed. The truck was carrying ammonium nitrate. The blast left a large crater and damaged nearby houses and electricity pylons. Several people are still in critical condition. Transport Minister Miron Mitrea said at the site that an investigation is under way. The government said it will give financial support to families of the victims. ZsM

SLOVENIA, ROMANIA DISCUSS RELATIONS
Meeting with his Romanian counterpart Adrian Nastase in Bucharest, Slovenian Prime Minister Anton Rop on 24 May announced his country will open an embassy in Romania by the end of the year, as well as a trade office in order to improve relations, especially economic ones, Mediafax reported. The two parties will also set up a joint council of business people that will promote investment. Rop said Slovenia, which just became an EU member, will support Romania's EU accession efforts. ZsM

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH COUNCIL OF EUROPE RAPPORTEURS
Vladimir Voronin, meeting on 24 May with visiting Council of Europe rapporteurs for Moldova Josette Durrieu and Andre Kvakkestad, said international organizations should take more resolute steps to implement the 1999 OSCE summit decisions concerning the withdrawal of Russian troops and weapons from Moldova, Infotag reported. Voronin said that the Transdniester conflict is a problem for the whole region and it should be resolved by joint effort. He also stressed that European integration is an absolute priority for Moldova. Rapporteur Durrieu said Moldova's term chairing the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers last year was successful and she hopes relations between the council and Moldova will develop further. ZsM

YALTA SUMMIT PRODUCES LITTLE OF SUBSTANCE
The presidents of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan -- Vladimir Putin, Leonid Kuchma, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and Nursultan Nazarbaev, respectively -- gathered in the Ukrainian sea resort of Yalta on 23-24 May to discuss further moves in developing the Single Economic Space (SES), the body they created in September 2003. The agreement on the SES commits the signatories to establishing a free-trade zone and a customs alliance as well as ensuring free movement of commodities, labor, services, and capital between the four countries. It also calls for a high level of political coordination of economic and financial policies of the four states.

The Yalta meeting, apart from the reiterated declaration of the four leaders to pursue closer integration within the SES framework, has brought little substance. The presidents agreed that, in order to proceed with further integration, experts need to prepare 61 draft accords and some 50 normative acts that could give some shape to the hitherto amorphous SES idea. These documents are to be viewed by the four presidents at their subsequent summit, in September in Astana. "Each should lose something in order to find something else at the end of the road," Kuchma reportedly said in summing up the Yalta summit on 24 May.

However, what specifically should be lost and/or found by the SES signatories remains unclear. The presidents in Yalta seemed to disagree as regards SES priorities. Putin said the first package of documents to make the SES a reality may be signed in 2005 or early 2006. According to him, this package should include accords on the harmonization of foreign trade, the introduction of common customs tariffs, and the creation of the same competition environment for businesses of the four countries. Putin also stressed the need to set up a supranational "regulatory body" for pursuing SES policies.

Ukraine insists that the formation of the SES should be started from the creation of a free-trade zone without any reservations. According to Kuchma, it is sufficient to adopt some 13 documents in order to achieve this goal. Kuchma expressed hope that these documents could be prepared and signed as soon as in the first quarter of 2005. In its economic relations with Russia, Ukraine is primarily concerned with Moscow's collection of value-added tax on Russian oil and gas exports according to the country-of-origin principle, that is, in Russia. The introduction of a free-trade zone would switch this collection to the country-of-destination principle, a move that could give Ukraine's budget some $800 million annually.

The Kazakh president said in Yalta that the SES formation should be started with the establishment of a customs union. "Otherwise, I don't understand what we are going to do next," he was quoted as saying. "And afterwards we need a transport union." Nazarbaev stressed that such an approach to the creation of the SES would allow the four states to present the same conditions while applying for membership in the World Trade Organization.

Lukashenka was less clear than Kuchma and Nazarbaev in his vision of the SES. On arriving to Yalta, he announced that Belarus is unlikely to receive any additional advantages in relations with the other three countries at the current stage of the SES's development. "[Belarus] has advanced further than the others in relations with our major partner, the Russian Federation, and the economic measures that we are taking now in the framework of the four are behind the level that exists between Belarus and Russia," Lukashenka added. But following the summit talks, he assured journalists that Belarus does not "regret" joining the SES even if its economic interests are "satisfied" up to 90-95 percent in the Russia-Belarus Union. "But we are international people and advocate the processes of integration," he argued. "Moreover, the remaining 5 percent is not insignificant either."

In theory, the creation of a trade alliance with the same rules of the game for a market of some 225 million consumers is not a bad idea. Today's European Union was also preceded by the European Common Market, a much looser economic alliance than the current union run by an army of bureaucrats from Brussels. But some in the post-Soviet area, particularly in Ukraine, are afraid that Russia is primarily seeking an alliance that could give it political levers of control over republics that left the USSR in 1991. The Ukrainian opposition also argues that the full implementation of the SES treaty will deprive Ukraine of any prospects of integrating with Europe in the future.

In an apparent move to address such fears, Putin stressed in Yalta that the SES will not hinder its members' moves to participate in "European integration processes." "None of these countries is entering an [already existing] organization," he said. "It would be wrong to think that someone is dragging someone else into some sort of a regional organizations by force. We have gathered together in order to work out, through discussion, rules of economic behavior that are favorable to each of the four countries."

It would be hasty to conclude right now that the SES is facing a brighter future than that of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The CIS, inaugurated by the Slavic "core" of the Soviet Union -- Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine in December 1991 -- and shortly afterwards joined by Kazakhstan, has since then turned into nothing more significant than a talking shop. On the other hand, the creation of the SES may be Russia's last chance to firmly anchor some of the post-Soviet states in its sphere of political and economic influence. Therefore, Russia may now be ready to make some bolder moves and/or concessions in order not to lose this chance.

Whatever the final outcome of this latest reintegration attempt in the post-Soviet area, one can already say that the SES formation will be the principal issue on the political agenda of Ukraine and Belarus for many years to come. Brussels has recently unambiguously suggested that these two country have no prospects of joining the EU. And one old, wise saying maintains that nature abhors a vacuum.

KEY WARLORDS IN KABUL TO DISCUSS DISARMAMENT...
Powerful regional warlords are meeting in Kabul to discuss the UN-backed Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 24 May. The list includes Mohammad Ismail Khan, the governor of the western Herat Province; General Ata Mohammad, the commander of Military Corps No. 7 in the northern Balkh Province; General Hazrat Ali, the commander of Military Corps No. 1 in the eastern Nangarhar Province; and General Mohammad Daud, the commander from the northern Konduz Province. These warlords have recently agreed to disarm their militias or integrate them into the nascent Afghan National Army (ANA) (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 May 2004 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2004). AT

...WHILE ONE OF THEM REPORTEDLY 'IRRITATED' BY ANA PRESENCE
Herat Governor Khan, before leaving for Kabul on 24 May, said that he was irritated by the presence of ANA troops in his province, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 24 May. Khan added that the presence of ANA troops would harm the security situation in Herat. The central government dispatched some 1,500 ANA troops to Herat in March after armed clashes between Khan's militia and troops loyal to a Herat divisional commander, General Abdul Zaher Nayebzadah (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 25 March and 1 April 2004). In a press statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on 21 March, U.S. Ambassador to Kabul Zalmay Khalilzad welcomed Khan's agreement to cooperate with the DDR program. Details on the procedure and timing of the program's implementation are yet to be made public. AT

AFGHAN LEADER ANNOUNCES INCENTIVES FOR TEACHERS...
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has announced incentive packages for teachers, Radio Afghanistan reported on 23 May. According to the plan, teachers in Kabul will receive a one-time payment of 1,100 afghanis (approximately $20) and teachers in the provinces and those who travel out of their area of residence to teach will receive slightly more. Afghanistan has an illiteracy rate of around 90 percent (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July 2003). AT

...AND APPOINTS NEW ADVISER
Enayatullah Qasemi has been appointed to the post of ministerial adviser on legal affairs and international relations, Radio Afghanistan reported on 23 May. In April, Karzai announced a plan to downsize his cabinet in order to make it more efficient but, thus far, there have been only additions (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 28 April 2004). AT

KABUL CINEMA REOPENS
The Ariana cinema in downtown Kabul reopened on 23 May, RFE/RL reported. The 600-seat landmark, which was partially destroyed during the Afghan civil war in the 1990s, was repaired with help from the French film industry. AT

WESTERN DIPLOMATS SAY IRAN OBSTRUCTING NUCLEAR INSPECTIONS...
Reuters cited four unnamed Western diplomats as saying in Vienna on 24 May that Iran has prevented International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors from checking certain military sites. The "third diplomat close to the IAEA" told Reuters that inspectors have had "managed access" to sites. The agency cited the "second diplomat" as saying there is no "hard evidence" to show that Iran is hiding possible nuclear-bomb making activities, as the United States suspects, but "the pattern of behavior suggests they are trying to hide something." Iran's ambassador to the United Nations in Vienna, Piruz Husseini, rejected the charges on 24 May and said "everything is going in a smooth way," Reuters reported. Husseini also told ISNA on 24 May that inspectors must consider the evidence they have gathered to see if Iran has fully cooperated with the agency. He said that with the information Iran has given, the IAEA "can present a positive report" at a scheduled 14-18 June meeting. "A few countries led by America want the agency to be very aggressive with Iran," he added. VS

...AS RUSSIA SAYS IRAN RUNS A 'TRANSPARENT' NUCLEAR PROGRAM...
Russia's Atomic Energy Ministry spokesman Nikolai Shingarev told IRNA in Moscow on 24 May that "developments in the past six months in Iran's nuclear program and repeated examinations [by the IAEA governing board] show that it is transparent." Shingarev said that the latest report Iran has given to the IAEA (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2004) confirms this. According to IRNA, Shingarev denied that U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton, who was in Moscow on 20 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2004), has asked that Russia end its nuclear cooperation with Iran. "He only expressed concern...and discussed [this] with [Russian Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr] Rumyantsev," Shingarev said, adding that Russia and the United States have not agreed on the possibility of sending Iran's dossier to the UN Security Council, which could impose sanctions on Iran for violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. VS

...AND IRAN CONCURS
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani said in Tehran on 24 May that "Iran has not only been clear and transparent in collaborating with the [IAEA]...[but has] given its declaration a month ahead of the deadline," IRNA reported the same day. He said Iranians are "closely watching the [IAEA's] actions [and] will lose confidence in [the IAEA]" if they feel "political pressures" influence its decisions. In a meeting with the Russian Ambassador to Tehran Aleksandr Maryasov, Rohani said that after so much cooperation Iran "expects a fitting response from the [IAEA] governing board," IRNA reported. Rohani added, "Concluding Iran's dossier in the [14 June] session can pave the way for better collaboration" and expressed hope that Russia, "as a friendly country," will "work closely" with Iran at the governing board meeting. VS

CAR BOMB DETONATES NEAR AUSTRALIAN EMBASSY
A car bomb detonated in the Al-Jadiriyah district of Baghdad on 25 May killing at least one person and injuring nine, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. The target of the bomb, which exploded in front of the Al-Karma Hotel -- near the Australian Embassy, as well as a number of hotels and the RFI bureau -- was not immediately known. The Al-Karma Hotel is used by Iraqis, not foreigners. Eyewitnesses speculated to RFI that the driver wanted to park close to the Australian Embassy or the Al-Hamrah Hotel, but couldn't due to security measures. Al-Hamrah is popular with foreign contractors, journalists, and officials, and houses RFI. Many Iraqis on the scene, including policeman Hassan Hindawi, said that the Al-Karma Hotel was targeted because there were no security measures in place. Al-Karma Hotel employee Sami Sa'dun said the facility is mainly used for weddings. He said he saw no parked cars in the area when he came to work about an hour before the blast, contradicting statements by police who claimed the car was parked overnight. KR

IRAQI DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS FOREIGN TROOPS WILL NOT STAY LONG
Iraqi Defense Minister Ali Allawi told reporters in London on 25 May that a multinational force will not remain in Iraq forever, saying "I think it will be a question of months rather than years," RFE/RL reported. "It [would] be very unusual, I believe, that we will not be able to install security in the country within the next year. Beyond that period, I think, the level of adequate security is going to be dependent at the rate at which we develop our own capabilities inside Iraq, and this is what we working on," he added. Allawi said that the goal is to replace multinational forces with Iraqi forces within one year. "We are not really starting from scratch. We are starting with a large number of officers and soldiers available from the previous Iraqi army. So we have quite a large recruitment pool. The question now is training them and ensuring that they are properly equipped and they are properly commanded." KR

TURKOMAN LEADER ASSASSINATED IN KIRKUK
Turkoman Union Party leader Ahmad Najm al-Din was shot and killed as he left his Kirkuk office on 24 May, Reuters reported on 25 May. Al-Din is one of many politicians to be targeted by militants in recent months. "A group of armed men armed with AK-47s shot him as he was leaving work. It was a terrorist operation, not a criminal attack," Kirkuk Police Colonel Ahmad Slamerz said. Kirkuk has seen ongoing tension since the fall of the Hussein regime, as Kurds, Arabs, and Turkomans fight for dominance in the oil-rich city. KR

KUWAIT DONATES $5 MILLION TO IRAQI TRUST FUND
The Kuwaiti government signed a memorandum of understanding with the World Bank on 24 May in which it pledged to donate $5 million to the Iraqi Trust Fund, KUNA reported on 25 May. Kuwait also recently donated $5 million to the United Nations Development Program fund which is overseeing reconstruction projects in Iraq. KUNA reports that having donated $10 million, Kuwait is now eligible to sit on the committee of donor countries for Iraqi reconstruction. KR

U.S., U.K. PRESENT DRAFT RESOLUTION TO UN SECURITY COUNCIL
The United States and United Kingdom presented a new draft resolution on Iraq to the United Nations Security Council on 24 May, washingtonpost.com reported the same day. The resolution, presented during a closed-door meeting, calls for a multinational force to remain in Iraq for at least one year. The resolution also makes the Iraqi interim government responsible for the country's oil revenues but allows for an international board to audit oil expenditures. The resolution also notes that the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority will "cease to exist" on 30 June, adding that a "sovereign interim government" will take power and "assume the responsibility and authority for governing a sovereign Iraq." The draft resolution received mixed reviews, according to the website. Germany's UN Ambassador Gunter Plueger called it a "good basis for discussion," while Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya said that he and others will introduce possible amendments to "improve" the draft. Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said on 25 May: "It is a draft -- a draft which should be discussed and improved," Reuters reported. KR

U.S. PRESIDENT OUTLINES FUTURE GOALS FOR IRAQ
U.S. President George W. Bush addressed the nation on 24 May (http://www.whitehouse.gov) outlining future goals for Iraq just 38 days before the transfer of sovereignty. Bush said that Iraq is now the "central front in the war on terror," and vowed to keep U.S. forces on the ground until stability is restored. "The rise of a free and self-governing Iraq will deny terrorists a base of operation, discredit their narrow ideology, and give momentum to reformers across the region," he claimed. The president added that the U.S. plan to help Iraq "achieve democracy and freedom" would address rebuilding Iraq's infrastructre, encouraging international support, and helping to establish national elections. Bush said that U.S. troop levels will remain at 138,000 for "as long as necessary," adding that a U.S. team is overseeing the training of 260,000 Iraqi soldiers, police, and other security personnel. Regarding Abu Ghurayb prison, Bush said: "America will fund the construction of a modern, maximum security prison. When that prison is completed, detainees at Abu Ghurayb will be relocated. Then, with the approval of the Iraqi government, we will demolish the Abu Ghurayb prison as a fitting symbol of Iraq's new beginning." KR

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