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Newsline - May 7, 2001



GUSINSKY SAYS THERE IS NO RESPECT FOR FREE PRESS IN RUSSIA

In a 4 May speech at the National Press Club in Washington, embattled Russian media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky said that "in today's Russia, there is no respect for the independent press, for private property, and for independent judicial action," Russian and Western agencies reported. Gusinsky said that Russia is drifting backward toward authoritarianism. He appealed to the leaders of Western countries to draw "a red line" that Russia's leaders must not be allowed to pass "if they want to live in the civilized world." He said that line would include respect for freedom of speech and the press, human rights, as well as many other things that are necessary for Russia to be called "a civilized country." PG

U.S. REJECTS RUSSIAN DEMANDS FOR GUSINSKY'S ARREST, EXTRADITION

Russian officials on 4 May demanded that the United States arrest and extradite Gusinsky, who had arrived in the U.S. to speak on the occasion of Free Press Day, Russian and Western agencies reported. A U.S. State Department spokesman said that Washington considers the charges against Gusinsky to be political, the agencies reported. The Russian Foreign Ministry reacted angrily, releasing a statement saying that "despite loud declarations of the importance of jointly fighting financial crimes," Washington has shown in this case that "in considering specific cases, they are first of all motivated by political concerns." Meanwhile, an article in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 4 May suggested that Gusinsky may seek asylum in the United States. PG

MOSCOW COURT GIVES GAZPROM MAJOR SHARE OF MEDIA-MOST HOLDINGS

A Moscow court on 4 May decided in favor of Gazprom-Media's Leadville Investments and awarded it an additional 19 percent of the shares in NTV now held by Media-MOST and 25 percent plus one of capital in 23 other media companies as part of a settlement of debt that Media-MOST owed Gazprom-Media, Russian and Western agencies reported. Gazprom-Media said that this decision represents the end of the struggle for control of Gusinsky's media empire, but Media-MOST denounced the court finding as yet another episode of "a festival of the defilement of justice," Western agencies reported. PG

RUSSIAN NATIONALISTS MARCH ON RFE/RL OFFICES IN MOSCOW

Approximately 150 members of extreme Russian nationalist organizations assembled in Moscow's Pushkin Square on 5 May to demand the release of their leader Eduard Limonov, and then most of them marched to the offices of the RFE/RL Russian Service bureau to condemn the information policies of Radio Liberty and NTV, Interfax reported. The meeting broke up without incident, the news service said. PG

FOREIGN INVOLVEMENT IN RUSSIAN MEDIA STILL VERY SMALL

According to an article in "Finansovaya Rossiya," No. 16, of the 12,000 Russian media outlets, foreign capital is "present only in 66 print and 38 electronic ones." Moreover, any effort to restrict foreign ownership, the article suggests, will simply lead to the rise of dummy corporations behind which foreign owners will be able to continue to operate. PG

ZYUGANOV SAYS PUTIN'S FIRST YEAR ONE OF 'LOST OPPORTUNITIES'

In an interview with Reuters Television on 4 May, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said that President Vladimir Putin's first year in office has been "a year of lost opportunities." Zyuganov said that he believes Putin wants to "do good" for the country but does not know what should be done. Zyuganov said he hopes that Putin will soon replace his reformist cabinet. The Communist party chief also observed that Putin's support is broad but not deep, adding that "there is no ideology" uniting his supporters. "They form a party around that great sack of money, the budget, and around the seat of power. But they do not understand that as soon as they lose that seat, there will be no party." PG

RUBLE MOVES TOWARD 29 TO THE DOLLAR

On 4 May, the ruble fell against the U.S. dollar toward the psychologically important level of 29 to one, Russian agencies reported. PG

FIVE PETERSBURGERS AROUND PUTIN

An article in "Argumenty i fakty," No. 18, discussed five St. Petersburg residents who have made their careers in the Kremlin because of their earlier ties to Putin in the northern capital: Igor Sechin, 41, the head of the Kremlin chancery; Dmitrii Medvedev, 35, the president's scheduler; Dmitrii Kozak, who oversees legal reform; V. Ivanov, 51, a secret policeman who tries to prevent the criminalization of the state; and Igor Kozhin, 42, who works in the presidential affairs directorate. PG

GRYZLOV CALLS FOR NEW LAWS TO FIGHT EXTREMISM

Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov called on 5 May for the rapid drafting and adoption of legislation to counter political extremism, to regulate states of emergency and migration, and to rule on citizenship questions, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

DUMA AMNESTY MISTAKE CREATES PROBLEMS FOR COURTS

The Duma's failure in May 2000 to include a list of criminals to whom an amnesty on the occasion of the 55th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe did not apply has created a crisis in Russian courts, according to an article in "Izvestiya" on 4 May. On the one hand, the absence of such a restriction has meant that more than 10,000 dangerous and hardened criminals have been released. But on the other, the only thing the Constitutional Court can do to rectify the situation is to make a subsequent Duma action on this point retroactive, something prohibited by the constitution. "This is a textbook example of a case defying a solution," the paper said. "The Constitutional Court and the public have Duma lawmakers to thank." PG

AN ELECTED FEDERATION COUNCIL PROPOSED

In an article that appeared in "Stavropolskaya pravda" on 4 May and was reported by Interfax the same day, Stavropol's representatives on the Federation Council suggested that "sooner or later" the members of Russia's upper house of parliament should be directly elected. PG

MOSCOW SAYS REGIONAL PROSECUTORS WILL BE FIRED IF LOCAL LAWS DON'T MATCH FEDERAL ONES

Vladimir Ustinov, Russia's prosecutor-general, said that prosecutors in the regions will be subject to punishment up to and including dismissal if they do not succeed in ensuring that regional legislation corresponds fully to Russian law, Interfax reported on 4 May. PG

MORE PURGES AHEAD AT DEFENSE MINISTRY...

According to an analysis in "Zavtra," No. 17, new Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has already moved against the two previously existing "military mafias" around the missile forces and the infantry and will soon make additional sweeping changes in military intelligence, possibly putting a Federal Security Service (FSB) officer like himself in charge of Military Intelligence. In so doing, the paper says, Ivanov will consolidate his status as the second most powerful man in the state. Meanwhile, "Izvestiya" reported on 4 May that the headquarters of the new Volga-Urals Military district to be formed on 1 September will be in Yekaterinburg. PG

...AS MILITARY SAID INVOLVED IN AFGHAN DRUG TRAFFIC

According to an article in "Versiya," No. 15, some Russian military officers are corruptly involved in Taliban-controlled drug traffic and thus seek to have Moscow end its support to anti-Taliban Afghan groups. But the journal said that Russian military intelligence continues to demand that Moscow support the anti-Taliban movement lest instability and drug trafficking sweep into Central Asia. PG

PUTIN LOOKS FORWARD TO 'CONSTRUCTIVE' DIALOGUE WITH U.S.

President Putin on 4 May said that Russia counts on the upcoming dialogue with the United States about National Missile Defense and other issues to be "constructive," Russian and Western agencies reported. Putin said that "it is difficult not to agree with the president of the United States in this sense, that the world is changing rapidly and new threats are appearing," but he added that "we should not destroy the established system of international security." Instead, Putin said, "we must act together to perfect it." PG

KALAMANOV DENOUNCES POWELL COMMENTS

On 4 May, "Izvestiya" published an interview with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in which the U.S. diplomat said among other things that Washington wants to see Moscow improve its human rights record in Chechnya. Russian presidential aide for human rights in Chechnya Vladimir Kalamanov told Interfax the same day that either Powell is "insufficiently informed about what Russia is doing" or that some in Washington "do not want to see what is happening in reality." PG

ROGOZIN SAYS U.S. LOSS OF SEAT ON UN HUMAN RIGHTS BODY 'AN ALARM BELL'

Dmitrii Rogozin, the chairman of the Duma's International Relations Committee, told Interfax on 4 May that the failure of the United States to be re-elected to the UN Human Rights Commission is "an alarm bell." He said that he believes it reflects European anger at Washington's unilateralism and its unwillingness to go along with international agreements on land mines and global warming. At the same time, Rogozin said that Moscow must become more active on the commission or it could suffer the same fate. Meanwhile, on 5 May, Kalamanov, the Russian presidential representative for human rights in Chechnya, denounced the U.S. decision to allow people to view the execution of convicted terrorist Timothy McVeigh, Interfax reported. He said that Russians would be angered by this event. PG

CONVICTED AMERICAN STUDENT SAYS RUSSIANS TRIED TO RECRUIT HIM

In a message to his father reported by "The New York Times" on 5 May, John Tobin, the American exchange student convicted of drug possession in Voronezh last month, said that the Russian intelligence services tried to recruit him after his arrest. Because he had refused, Tobin said, he expects to remain in detention for some time. The letter, written in March, was sent out via the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, the paper said. PG

BELGIUM OVERWHELMED BY RUSSIAN ASYLUM SEEKERS

Fifteen percent of Russians who receive visas and then come to Belgium have requested political asylum, AP reported on 4 May. As a result, Brussels has appealed to Moscow to help restrict the flow of asylum seekers and announced that it will not grant visas to any Russian applicant for at least the next two weeks. PG

GREEK CLERIC IN MOSCOW AS POPE VISITS ATHENS

Archbishop Khristodula of Athens and All Greece is meeting with senior Russian churchmen and officials during a visit to Russia on 5-14 May, Interfax-Moscow reported on 5 May. Meanwhile, the news service reported, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksii II reacted in a restrained way to Pope John Paul II's declaration in Athens that Roman Catholics in the past had harmed Orthodox Christians. PG

PUTIN PRAISES CLOSE TIES WITH INDIA

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov presented a message to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee from Russian President Putin, who said that relations between the two countries are constantly improving, Russian and Western agencies reported on 4 May. PG

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS LIBYA

Foreign Minister Ivanov visited Libya on 6-7 May, Russian and Western agencies reported, to meet with Muamar Khadafi and to urge that Libya play a more active role in regional policies. In advance of the visit, Russian Foreign Ministry officials said on 4 May that Moscow believes that a Khadafi visit to Russia might take place "in the not distant future," Interfax reported. PG

FSB ALLEGES TURKISH SPIES INTERESTED IN RUSSIAN REGIONS

The FSB directorate in Chelyabinsk Oblast has noted over the last several years a special interest in the region by Turkey's intelligence services, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 4 May. Stanislav Neginskii, the head of the directorate's group for public relations, told the agency that three Turkish citizens had entered the oblast illegally, including Khamid Yuksel, who pretended to be a businessman and established contacts with local criminal groups. Yuksel is reportedly a member of the special services in Turkey and headed a separate "nationalist terrorist organization," known as the "Gray Wolves." According to Neginskii, other regions in Russia have had similar experiences with Turkey's intelligence services, such as Stavropol Krai, where two agents were exposed in April. JAC

INTERIOR MINISTRY COLONEL MURDERED IN NIZHEGOROD OBLAST

Interfax reported on 5 May that police are looking into the murder of Nikolai Karpovich, an Interior Ministry internal forces commander, in Bogorodskoe in Nizhegorod oblast. PG

PUTIN CREATES CHEMICAL WEAPONS DISARMAMENT BODY

President Putin on 4 May issued a decree creating a state commission for chemical disarmament, ITAR-TASS reported. The commission will supervise Russia's efforts to meet its international obligations to destroy chemical weapons. In the past, Russia has failed to meet its commitments, citing the lack of funds. PG

FAR EAST PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY CREATES EMERGENCIES COMMISSION

A special interagency commission for preventing and liquidating emergency situations has been created within the office of Konstantin Pulikovskii, the presidential envoy to the Far East federal district, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 4 May. PG

EDUCATIONAL REFORMS SEEN HARDENING SOCIAL DIVISIONS

Both declining government support for public education and the rise of private schools and payments for higher education are seriously reducing social mobility in Russia and threatening the country's future, according to an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 4 May. Graduates of elite private schools overwhelmingly go on to university, the article notes, but fewer than 10 percent of graduates of ordinary public schools do -- despite the fact that surveys show that many of these graduates want to do so. PG

ACADEMIC WARNS RUSSIANS AGAINST STUDYING ABROAD

In an interview published in "Trud" on 4 May, Viktor Sadovnichii, the rector of Moscow State University, said that he recommends against Russian students going abroad to study. "Our level of instruction," he said, "is higher," and consequently, students going abroad will simply review materials they've already covered. PG

FREE 'SOCIAL TAXIS' PLANNED FOR INVALIDS

Labor and Social Development Minister Aleksandr Pochinok said on 4 May that the Russian government plans to create a system of free "social taxis" for invalids as part of its response to the problems associated with the aging of the Russian population, Interfax reported. PG

RUSSIAN AIRLINES CARRY MORE PASSENGERS, CARGO IN 2000

The State Civil Aviation Service told Prime-TASS on 4 May that Russian domestic airlines carried 6.2 percent more passengers in 2000 (2.6 million) than the year before and that its international lines carried 21 percent more passengers (1.7 million) than in 1999. At the same time, Russian airlines carried 12.4 percent more cargo on domestic routes and 25.9 percent more on international ones in comparing 2000 to 1999. PG

MOSCOW TO SET UP ASIA SQUARE

The Russian capital already has a square named for Europe, and Moscow officials plan to create one named for Asia as well, Interfax-Moscow reported on 5 May. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov is backing the idea: "Russia is a Eurasian country and therefore this idea should be realized." PG

CATTLE RUSTLERS NABBED AT RUSSIAN-MONGOLIAN BORDER

Officers of the Russian Federal Border Service have arrested members of two Russian organized crime groups who were illegally transporting cattle from Mongolia to Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 May. PG

NAZDRATENKO CRONY REINSTATED IN PRIMORE...

On 4 May, a raion-level court in Primorskii Krai reinstated First Deputy Governor Konstantin Tolstoshein to his position. Tolstoshein, a close associate of former Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, was asked to resign from his position last February during a meeting with presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district Pulikovskii along with 10 other deputy governors. The court also granted Tolstoshein some 39,900 rubles ($1,380) in back pay and 2,000 rubles in damages. As a result of the court's decision, Tolstoshein becomes the krai's acting governor, replacing Igor Belchuk, who was named acting governor after Valentin Dubinin went on leave to pursue his campaign for governorship of the krai. According to ITAR-TASS, Tolstoshein announced that personnel in the krai's administration will be cut even before the 27 May gubernatorial elections are held. On 6 May, Dubinin told reporters that he thinks that Tolstoshein's return will lead to a "collapse of a unified administrative team and to a war among the staff." JAC

...AS KREMLIN AIDE FLIES TO KRAI

Meanwhile, first deputy head of the presidential administration Vladislav Surkov flew to Vladivostok on 6 May, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to the agency, Surkov is going to conduct meetings with Pulikovskii, krai leaders, representatives of federal structures, and heads of cities and raions in the krai. Surkov has a reputation as one of Russia's most successful political lobbyists (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 1 May 2001). Accompanying Surkov to Vladivostok is deputy prosecutor-general Vasilii Kolmogorov, as well as a deputy interior minister and a deputy director of the Federal Security Service. JAC

CHECHEN GOVERNMENT MOVES BACK TO GUDERMES...

The pro-Moscow Chechen administration has relocated to Gudermes, Chechnya's second-largest town, just 10 days after its long-delayed move back from Gudermes to Grozny, the capital, Reuters and AP reported on 5 May. Speaking after a 4 May meeting of Russian security officials at the Khankala Russian military base on the outskirts of Grozny, FSB Chairman Nikolai Patrushev said the decision that the Chechen government should remain in Gudermes was taken for security reasons. LF

...AS RUSSIAN TROOP WITHDRAWAL ON HOLD

Russian Defense Minister Ivanov said in Khankala on 4 May that Moscow has no plans to withdraw any further servicemen from Chechnya at present, Interfax reported. To date, 5,000 out of a total of 80,000 Russian troops have left Chechnya, according to dpa. Ivanov said that although the army has "carried out its main task" in Chechnya, it will now assist the FSB in "neutralizing" Chechen field commanders. Patrushev commented the same day that there are no longer any "large" Chechen military formations, but that individual field commanders continue organizing "acts of sabotage and terrorism that alarm the population and create problems for federal troops." LF

MUSLIM CLERGYMAN MURDERED IN CHECHNYA

Mullah Nasruddin Matuev was shot dead on 4 May by two unidentified gunmen in the village of Novye Atagi, south of Grozny, Russian agencies reported. A spokesman for the Chechen Prosecutor-General's Office said Matuev, who was 76, had been trying to persuade young Chechens not to join the forces commanded by radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev. Speaking in Yessentuki on 5 May, Russian Defense Minister Ivanov strongly condemned the systematic murder of representatives of the Chechen intelligentsia, including teachers and clergymen, who seek to "lead the population of Chechnya toward restoration," ITAR-TASS reported. LF




LEADER OF ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT GUNMEN INSISTS HE ACTED ALONE

Nairi Hunanian, the leader of the five gunmen currently on trial for the 27 October 1999 murder in the Armenian parliament of eight senior officials, told the court on 4 May that there is no truth to persistent speculation that the shootings were masterminded by other more influential persons, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Hunanian said that he had originally planned to seize the parliament without bloodshed and force the resignation of Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian and the formation of a new cabinet, but came to the conclusion in August 1999 that terror was the only way to improve the situation in Armenia, which he compared to the "antinational nightmare" that preceded the demise of the First Republic in 1920. LF

ARMENIA DENIES PURCHASING AMMUNITION FROM KYRGYZSTAN

The Armenian Embassy in Moscow on 4 May rejected as "disinformation" a report published in "Moskovskii komsomolets" the previous day that Armenia purchased over 3 million machine-gun cartridges from Kyrgyzstan last fall at a cost of $180,000 in violation of an international embargo, Caucasus Press reported. General Bolot Djanuzakov, who heads the Kyrgyz National Security Council, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 5 May that the "Moskovskii komsomolets" article had been written and published with the explicit aim of creating tensions between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan. He stressed that, as cosignatories of the 1992 CIS Collective Security Treaty, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan have "special relations." LF

ARMENIAN PREMIER MEETS WITH RELEASED ASALA MEMBER

Meeting in Yerevan on 4 May with Varoujan Garabedian, a former member of ASALA (the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia), Prime Minister Andranik Markarian expressed his "joy" at Garabedian's release from a French jail where he served almost 18 years of a life sentence for his alleged role in the 1983 bombing of the Turkish Airlines Office at Ory airport, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Garabedian, who was born in Syria, was released on the condition that he be expelled to Armenia. The French daily "Liberation" reported at the time of Garabedian's release last month that Yerevan Mayor Robert Nazarian had pledged to provide him with employment and accommodation. LF

ARMENIA, RUSSIA INAUGURATE NEW JOINT AIR DEFENSE SYSTEM

Russian air force commander General Anatolii Kornukov and Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian presided on 4 May over the first joint air patrols by Russian and Armenian military aircraft, AP and Interfax reported. Speaking at a ceremony in Gyumri to mark the occasion, Kornukov stressed that the joint antiaircraft units, which are equipped with S-300 air defense missiles, "do not threaten anyone" and are purely defensive in nature. Sarkisian for his part said they "will considerably increase Armenia's security." LF

MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRMAN MEETS WITH AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT

Carey Cavanaugh, the U.S. co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, met in Baku on 5 May with President Heidar Aliyev to discuss preparations for the planned meeting in Geneva in June between Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian, Turan and Reuters reported. Speaking in London on 4 May, Cavanaugh noted "a dramatic acceleration of both the speed and intensity" of the talks aimed at resolving the Karabakh conflict, according to Reuters. He said the outlines of the draft settlement are already clear and that "most" of it is now on paper. He added that "we have seen a lot of signs" that both presidents are preparing public opinion for a settlement based on "serious compromise." Cavanaugh also praised Russia's role within the Minsk Group, saying that Moscow no longer seeks to profit from continued instability in the South Caucasus. LF

INTERCEPTED ARMAMENTS DELIVERED TO GEORGIA

A consignment of six howitzers, spare parts, and ammunition was to be flown to Tbilisi on 5 May, a Georgian Defense Ministry official told Caucasus Press that day. The Ukrainian aircraft transporting the armaments, which the Georgian military had purchased from the Czech Republic, was intercepted in Burgas in late April and found to be carrying 30 tons of weaponry that the crew said was destined for Eritrea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 May 2001). Tbilisi denied any knowledge of those arms. LF

TOP SECURITY OFFICIALS RESHUFFLED IN KAZAKHSTAN

Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev issued a decree on 4 May appointing National Security Council Secretary Marat Tazhin to head that agency, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Tazhin, who is a civilian, replaces Alnur Musaev, who was named to head the presidential bodyguard service. Reuters quoted Nazarbaev's press secretary, Asylbek Visenbaev, as saying the president attached particular importance to naming a civilian to head the council. Minister of Culture, Information, and Social Concord Altynbek Sarsenbaev was named to succeed Tazhin as National Security Council secretary. LF

KAZAKHSTAN PROPOSES BILATERAL CASPIAN AGREEMENT WITH AZERBAIJAN

Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Yerlan Idrisov has proposed to Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev that Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan should sign a bilateral agreement demarcating their respective sectors of the Caspian Sea bed and subsoil along a median line that may later be modified, Turan and Interfax reported on 4 May. Idrisov recalled that Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan agreed in 1997 to adhere to the existing borders based on the median line until the five Caspian littoral states reach a consensus on the legal status of the sea, but that such a consensus still requires "additional efforts and time." LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PREMIER SAYS DEMOCRATIZATION 'IRREVERSIBLE'

Toqaev assured visiting OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Chairman Adrian Severin in Astana on 4 May that the processes of democratization and economic liberalization in Kazakhstan are irreversible, Interfax reported. Acknowledging the concerns of the Central Asian states over possible incursions by radical Islamist fighters, Severin stressed that democratization should not be sacrificed in the name of national security. He also told Toqaev that during talks the previous day with President Nazarbaev, he had stressed the need for "improvements and modernization" in Kazakhstan. Toqaev also greeted the plans to establish an OSCE Trans-Asian parliamentary forum. LF

RADIOACTIVE CARGO INTERCEPTED IN KAZAKHSTAN

Kazakh customs officials on the border between Russia and northern Kazakhstan intercepted a shipment of almost 33 tons of niobium-tantalum concentrate worth approximately $1.5 million that was being transported from the Netherlands to the Ulbinsk metal works in East Kazakhstan Oblast, Interfax reported on 4 May. The radiation level of the concentrate is between five and 10 times higher than the permitted maximum. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT DISCUSSES ECONOMIC COOPERATION WITH IRAN, PAKISTAN

During talks in Dushanbe on 3 May on the sidelines of a meeting of Economic Cooperation Organization foreign ministers, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi agreed on the need to expand bilateral economic cooperation, primarily by encouraging Iranian investment in Tajikistan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The two sides also reviewed the implementation of previous bilateral agreements and discussed regional security and the situation in Afghanistan. Rakhmonov also discussed bilateral economic ties and Afghanistan with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Abdus Sattar, expressing the hope that Pakistan will intensify its efforts to end the civil war in Afghanistan, Interfax reported on 4 May. Rakhmonov also met the same day with the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan, Vilayat Quliev and Muratbek ImanAliyev respectively. LF

TAJIK OPPOSITION PARTY PROTESTS OFFICIAL REPRESSION

The leadership of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) has issued a statement accusing the Tajik leadership of persecuting and arresting its supporters under the guise of a crackdown on the banned radical Islamist Hizb-ut-Tahrir party, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 2 May. The IRPT warned that such reprisals risk undermining the ongoing peace process and destabilizing the political situation in Tajikistan. On 4 May, Asia Plus-Blitz reported that in Tajikistan's Khatlon Oblast there are 1,480 functioning mosques, many of them unregistered, but only 1,215 secondary schools. LF

UZBEKISTAN, RUSSIA DISCUSS ECONOMIC, MILITARY COOPERATION

During his state visit to Moscow on 3-5 May, Uzbek President Islam Karimov met with top Russian officials including President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. Both presidents characterized bilateral relations as being on the rise following Putin's visit to Tashkent last year, and vowed to increase economic and trade ties with the aim of doubling last year's bilateral trade turnover of $1 billion, Interfax reported. The two presidents also discussed Afghanistan and the security situation in Central Asia, which Putin said will be decisive in shaping future military cooperation between Russia and Uzbekistan. In that context he noted that Moscow "is doing much" to provide Uzbekistan with up-to-date arms. Karimov for his part dismissed rumors of alleged major differences between the two countries, noting that while each country has its own interests, those interests do not clash. He added that Uzbekistan supports Russia's policy in Central Asia and termed Russia's presence "a fundamental guarantee of security and stability in the region." LF




FOUR BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS ARRESTED OVER UNAUTHORIZED RALLY

Police on 7 May arrested four of the five opposition activists from Barysau, Minsk Oblast, who staged a demonstration in downtown Minsk to mark the second anniversary of the disappearance of opposition politician Yury Zakharanka, Belapan reported. The activists, members of the Social Democratic Party and the unregistered opposition youth movement Zubr, held placards reading: "Where is Zakharanka?"; "Who's Next?"; and "Where are the Disappeared People -- Zakharanka, Hanchar, Krasouski, Zavadski?" The agency added that more protests over Zakharanka's disappearance were expected in Minsk later in the day. JM

POPULAR RUKH OF UKRAINE RE-ELECTS UDOVENKO AS LEADER

The Popular Rukh of Ukraine held a congress in Kyiv on 5-6 May, at which delegates re-elected Hennadiy Udovenko as the party's leader, adopted the party's new statute and program, and decided to form an electoral bloc with the Reform and Order Party and the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, Interfax reported. Tensions within the party appeared after the re-election of Udovenko, who defeated Mykhaylo Kosiv. Kosiv refused to join Rukh's leadership, while Taras Chornovil, son of Rukh former leader Vyacheslav Chornovil, announced that he may quit the Popular Rukh of Ukraine and join the Reform and Order Party. Rukh -- an influential, moderately nationalist movement in Ukraine in the early 1990s -- has since split into Hennadiy Udovenko's and Yuriy Kostenko's factions and given rise to a third group, the Popular Rukh of Ukraine for Unity, led by Bohdan Boyko. JM

UKRAINE TO REQUIRE FOREIGN PASSPORTS FROM CIS VISITORS, EXCEPT FOR RUSSIANS, BELARUSIANS

The government on 6 May decided that citizens of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) will be able to travel to Ukraine only with their foreign-travel passports, instead of the domestic passports that had been accepted until now, Interfax reported. The CIS citizens will still not need visas to enter Ukraine. Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko elaborated on the new regulation later the same day by saying that it does not apply to Russians and Belarusians, since Kyiv has accords with Moscow and Minsk allowing their citizens to travel with any documents that confirm their identity and citizenship. JM

METHANE BLAST KILLS EIGHT UKRAINIAN MINERS

A methane explosion on 5 May killed eight miners at the Kirov coal mine in Makyivka, Donetsk Oblast, Interfax reported. Of the 151 miners working underground at the time, 141 were brought safely to surface, while two are missing. Ukraine's mines are among the world's most dangerous; 306 people died in mining accidents last year in the country. JM

ESTONIAN REFORM PARTY HOLDS CONGRESS

The congress on 6 May re-elected Finance Minister Siim Kallas as Reform Party Chairman, ETA reported. Kallas was the only candidate and collected 1,028 votes among 1,061 delegates. Parliament Chairman Toomas Savi was elected as the party's presidential candidate, receiving 807 votes; while Justice Minister Mart Rask received 167 votes and Social Committee Chairman Toomas Vilosius took 76. The congress adopted a statement declaring firm support for European Union membership and recommending that the referendum on whether Estonia should join the EU should be held in 2003, following parliamentary elections. The party currently has 1,925 members and wishes to increase its number to 3,000 by 2003. SG

LATVIAN, RUSSIAN CULTURE MINISTERS SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENT

Culture ministers Karina Petersone and Mikhail Shvidkoy signed a program for cooperation between the two ministries for 2001-2003 in Riga on 4 May, LETA reported. The program envisages boosting cooperation between music and concert organizations of both countries as well as the exchange of individual musicians, orchestras, and specialists. In a meeting with Justice Minister Ingrida Labucka, Shvidkoy praised the measures taken in Latvia for the integration of people of other nationalities, but noted that mostly negative information dominates in the media of both countries. He told a press conference that the monument to Peter the Great that Riga has offered to give to St. Petersburg (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2001) should remain in the Latvian capital, but a replica could be made and erected in St. Petersburg to mark the long-lasting friendship between the cities. SG

HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS LITHUANIA

Janos Martonyi told Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus in Vilnius on 4 May that Hungary will continue to support the membership of the Baltic states in NATO, BNS reported. Adamkus spoke about his recent trip to Moscow, stressing that Lithuania has good and pragmatic ties with all neighboring countries. Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas told Martonyi that while economic cooperation between their countries is increasing, the level of trade is too low. Last year Lithuania imported goods worth more than $50 million from Hungary, but exported goods worth only $9 million. Martonyi and his Lithuanian counterpart Antanas Valionis signed bilateral treaties on visa-free travel and mutual aid in the event of catastrophe or large-scale emergency. The visa agreement increases the number of days citizens of one country can stay in the other without a visa from the current 30 days to 90 days. SG

PREMIER WANTS POLAND TO JOIN EU IN 2004

Jerzy Buzek has said that Poland still wants to join the EU in 2004, Polish Radio reported on 4 May. Buzek was referring to a statement by Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski on 2 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 2001), after the latter's talks with EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen. Bartoszewski conceded that the probable date of Poland's entry to the EU is 2005. It appears that Warsaw has recently taken a more realistic stance toward its EU membership, since previously Polish government officials pushed for 1 January 2003 as the date of Poland's admission to the EU. JM

EU PROPOSES SEVEN-YEAR GRACE PERIOD ON LAND PURCHASES IN POLAND

The EU Commission on 4 May proposed that candidate countries, including Poland, be offered transitional periods of seven years on purchases of agricultural land and of five years on purchases of second homes by firms based in the EU, PAP reported. The transitional periods would not apply to private individuals, including farmers from the EU, who would be able to buy land in the candidate countries immediately after their accession. The EU Commission thus rejected the Polish request for a transitional period of 18 years, during which foreigners would be barred from buying agricultural land, and a transitional period of five years barring purchases of land for industrial investment projects. JM

CZECH ARMY TO END CONSCRIPTION IN 4-6 YEARS...

After President Vaclav Havel swore in Jaroslav Tvrdik as defense minister on 4 May, Prime Minister Milos Zeman said he expects the former career soldier to draw up a plan within three months to professionalize the Czech army, CTK reported. Tvrdik said that foreign experience shows it can be done in four to six years, but that no "plausible study" has been done on professionalizing the Czech armed forces. Opposition deputies welcomed the proposal, though many expressed doubts that it can be drawn up in three months. DW

...AND BE 20 PERCENT FEMALE?

Petr Necas, chairman of the Chamber of Deputies Defense Committee and shadow defense minister for the Civic Democratic Party, said on Czech television on 6 May that up to one-fifth of the future Czech professional army should be comprised of women, CTK reported. "I hope that in the future there will be 15-20 percent [female soldiers] in the army, because they have had really splendid results," he said. He added that the creation of a professional army of 38,000 troops should be supplemented by "active reserves" taking part in regular voluntary exercises, but that the proposal to come up with a plan for this modernization in three months was unrealistic. DW

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS FOR 'FLEXIBLE' EU APPROACH TO LABOR MOVEMENT

Jan Kavan called on the European Union to be more "flexible" than the European Commission in formulating a transitional period for the free movement of labor, CTK reported on 6 May. He said he expects the EU's final position to be close to the German proposal of seven years, but "be so flexible that it would set the criteria of an early revision and take into account differentiation among the new members." But Kavan also said that introducing the transitional periods will "have a very negative impact...in psychological and political terms" and add to suspicions that the EU views the Czech Republic as a "second-category member." DW

SLOVAK PREMIER OPPOSES CHANGE OF SLOVAK-CZECH BORDER IN LAND DISPUTE

Mikulas Dzurinda has spoken against a proposal by Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross that the dispute over the land on which Czech owners have their cottages in Slovakia's Kasarna recreational area could be settled by a change to the Czech-Slovak border, CTK reported on 6 May. "Rather, I think that this is out of the question as the border was delineated by an international treaty," the agency quoted Dzurinda as saying. The dispute in Kasarna erupted after the Slovak town of Makov recently sold land plots belonging to Czech sports clubs to Slovak companies and individuals. After the division of Czechoslovakia in 1993, the Kasarna area was joined to Makov and, according to Makov Mayor Marian Masnica, it now belongs to Slovaks. JM

HUNGARIAN SMALLHOLDERS' CONVENTIONS ELECT RIVAL PARTY CHAIRMEN

The Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) split into two, after the party's convention in Cegled on 5 May confirmed Jozsef Torgyan as FKGP chairman, while the same day in Budapest a convention of "reform" Smallholders elected Zsolt Lanyi to the same position. At the Cegled convention, Torgyan told Environment Minister Bela Turi-Kovacs and Defense Minister Janos Szabo to leave the building, and prevented Szabo from going on stage to present the 900 no-confidence motions against Torgyan. The FKGP chairman later told reporters that the two ministers had been escorted to the convention by National Security Office guards, whom he called "armed robber bandits." Turi-Kovacs and Szabo said they will ask the prosecutor-general to declare the Cegled convention invalid. MSZ

HUNGARY'S FIDESZ ELECTS NEW CHAIRMAN

The 13th congress of the major coalition party FIDESZ elected Education Minister and party Deputy Chairman Zoltan Pokorni as new party chairman on 6 May. Pokorni, who replaces Laszlo Kover, said that FIDESZ's goal is to win the 2002 parliamentary elections on its own, and then form a coalition with its current partners, the Democratic Forum and the Smallholders. Pokorni ruled out a coalition with either the Socialist Party or the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party. He also said that Prime Minister Viktor Orban will remain the party's "No. 1 politician." Pokorni announced that he will resign as education minister in the summer, Hungarian media reported. MSZ




MACEDONIA CONTINUES OPERATIONS AGAINST INSURGENTS

The Macedonian military continued to use artillery, tanks, and helicopter gunships against positions held by ethnic Albanian rebels around the town of Kumanovo from 5-7 May, AP reported. Military spokesman Blagoje Markovski said on 7 May that the army is conducting "clean-and-sweep operations" and that there have been no casualties among Macedonian soldiers. The government held two unilateral cease-fires over the weekend in an effort to allow civilians to leave the area. International Committee of the Red Cross spokeswoman Annick Bouvier said it appears there has been some intimidation by the rebels in an attempt to keep people in the villages, but that other civilians don't want to leave because they are afraid of separating their families. Commander "Hoxha," a rebel leader who says he is the commander of the National Liberation Army's (UCK) 113th brigade, said "those who have stayed did so of their own will, we did not force them," AFP reported. But some villagers told reporters they were forced to pay exorbitant fees or give jewelry to the rebels before being allowed to leave. Ethnic Albanian officials claimed on 5 May that 10 rebels had been killed during the government's offensive up to that point, and that six civilians had died. PB

ARE REBELS OPENING SECOND FRONT?

Ethnic Albanian rebels fired on 6 May upon Macedonian troops in Sipkovica, a mountainside village near Tetovo, AP reported. One ethnic Albanian man was reported killed in the fighting. Exchanges of gunfire were reported in other villages in the area as well, as government officials vowed to crack down on any insurgents in the area to prevent a second front from developing in the conflict. Macedonian state radio said "rebels have taken positions in the villages above Tetovo." That area was the scene of intense fighting in March. PB

NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL TO URGE SKOPJE NOT TO DECLARE STATE OF WAR...

Lord George Robertson arrived in the Macedonian capital on 7 May to discuss the latest outbreak of violence between ethnic Albanian guerillas and Macedonian forces, dpa reported. Robertson joins the EU foreign affairs and security chief, Javier Solana, who arrived the previous day. The two are to urge the Macedonian government not to declare a state of war in the country. "Rather than talk about a state of war, we should discuss a state of peace," Solana said. Premier Ljubco Georgievski said on 6 May that the government will consult with other political parties about the possibility of requesting that parliament declare a state of war. A two-thirds majority is required for such a declaration. PB

...AS GOVERNMENT SAYS IT WILL MAKE OWN DECISION

The Macedonian government said in a statement that "terrorist activities...severely deteriorated the security situation and jeopardize Macedonia's territorial integrity and sovereignty." A government spokesman emphasized that Skopje will decide itself whether to declare a state of war, something that could be sent to parliament as early as 8 May. He added, however, that the government will listen to "suggestions made by Western countries." PB

SERBIAN PARLIAMENT DEMANDS MORE RIGHTS FOR SERBS IN KOSOVA

The Serbian parliament unanimously adopted a resolution on 4 May demanding greater rights for Serbs and other nonethnic Albanians in Kosova and a rejection of the legal framework being drawn up for the province, AP reported. The resolution calls for "equal rights of all non-Albanians in Kosovo, as well as basic provisions for their security." Yugoslav President Kostunica said he backs the resolution, which states that "the legal framework (being drafted for Kosova) does not offer guarantees for a multiethnic Kosovo." Serbian representatives in Kosova's interim government refused last week to accept the draft, saying that it will open the door to independence for the province. Two Kosovar Serbs were killed in Kosova last week; one was shot to death and the other was strangled. PB

KOSTUNICA TO BE HONORED AS 'STATESMAN OF THE YEAR'

Yugoslav President Kostunica flew to New York on 7 May to receive an award for his leadership in promoting peace and democracy in his country, AP reported. Kostunica, who is being accompanied by Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic and Deputy Premier Miroljub Labus, said before leaving Belgrade that he also hopes to meet with top U.S. and international officials during his visit. The award as "statesman of the year" is being given to him by the New York-based EastWest Institute for steering Yugoslavia "...through a peaceful transition of power after ousting one of Europe's last dictators." Kostunica is expected to hold talks at the UN on the much discussed legal framework for Kosova. PB

MESIC JEERED AT SPLIT CEREMONY

Croatian President Stipe Mesic, taking part in a ceremony in the southern city of Split to honor the 10th anniversary of the Split brigade, was jeered and booed by veterans and their supporters, AP reported on 5 May. The veterans then walked out in protest when Mesic began to address them. He later told Croatian television he was "surprised" by their reaction and blamed veterans' organizations in Split for organizing it. Also in Split, up to 20,000 people gathered to protest the dismissal of Josip Jovic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 2001), the editor in chief of "Slobodna Dalmacija," who was known for leading attacks on the reformist government of Mesic and Prime Minister Ivica Racan for prosecuting war crimes against Croats in the 1991-95 war with Yugoslavia. DW

SEVEN CROATIAN SERBS ARRESTED ON WAR CRIMES CHARGES

Police in eastern Croatia arrested seven ethnic Serbs suspected of war crimes in the war with Yugoslavia, AP reported on 4 May. Milorad Pupovac, a Croatian Serb leader, accused the pro-Western government of continuing the nationalist policies of the previous government of late President Franjo Tudjman and said that the arrests "represent the continuation of ethnic cleansing of Serbs, this time by legal means." Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica also condemned the arrests, saying they "certainly do not contribute to a normalization of relations" between Croatia and Yugoslavia. DW

SERB MUSEUM CURATOR CONVICTED BY CROATIAN COURT

A former Croatian Serb museum curator was convicted in absentia for the removal of 156 Orthodox icons to Serbia during the 1991-95 war, AP reported on 5 May. The court in Benkovac sentenced Milorad Savic to four years in prison and ordered Serbian Orthodox Church and the Belgrade National Museum to return the icons to the Orthodox Church in Croatia. However, since the Orthodox Church in Croatia is part of the Serbian church, the Serbian church may claim ownership of the icons. DW

TREBINJE CEREMONY TO REBUILD MOSQUE BROKEN UP BY BOSNIAN SERBS...

A ceremony on 5 May to break ground for the reconstruction of a mosque in the Bosnian Serb town of Trebinje, which included the Bosnian Muslim member of the presidency, Beriz Belkic, was broken up by a stone-throwing mob of hundreds of Serbs chanting nationalist slogans, news services reported. Daniel Ruiz, a senior aide to High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch, was one of the delegation to be beaten by protesters, and other members were trapped in the local Islamic community office. A UN statement accused the Trebinje police of failing to "take adequate measures soon enough to ensure security for the ceremony or prevent the assaults," while Petritsch said such a "display of uncivilized and brutal behavior" was an "embarrassment for the Serb republic." DW

...AS IS BANJA LUKA MOSQUE CEREMONY

At a groundbreaking ceremony in Banja Luka on 7 May, with up to 1,000 former Muslim residents of the Republika Srpska capital in attendance, hundreds of Serbs throwing stones and bottles and waving nationalist flags broke through police cordons and attacked the ceremony, AP reported. UN officials Jacques Klein and Werner Blatter were trapped in the local Islamic community center as protesters climbed the roof and burned its flag, replacing it with the Bosnian Serb flag. Local police head Vladimir Tatus said he had deployed 300 police, "but the mass overwhelmed them." DW

ALBANIAN POLICE ARREST MAIN SUSPECT IN HAJDARI KILLING

The Albanian Interior Ministry announced on 6 May that police had arrested the main suspect in the 1998 killing of Democratic Party legislator Azem Hajdari, AP reported. Jaho Salihi was arrested on 6 May in his hometown of Tropoje, where police found him in his father-in-law's apartment, the ministry statement said. The trial of Salihi and others suspected of the murder has already begun (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2001), though it was delayed while the court appointed a lawyer to defend Salihi in absentia, as he is believed to have fled the country to Kosova. DW

ROMANIAN, LEBANESE PRESIDENTS DISCUSS BILATERAL RELATIONS

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud on 4 May ended a two-day visit to Bucharest, Mediafax reported. Romanian President Ion Iliescu said bilateral relations are "good" and that the parties have agreed to intensify those relations, especially economic ones. He added that Lebanon would like to use Romania as its "connecting point" for Southeastern Europe. After his meeting with Lahoud, Premier Adrian Nastase said that bilateral relations could be improved, particularly regarding construction and tourism. ZsM

ROMANIAN TRADE UNION DENOUNCES AGREEMENT WITH GOVERNMENT

The "Cartel Alfa" trade union confederation on 4 May denounced a 19 February social pact agreement signed with the government, Mediafax reported. The leaders of the trade union, one of Romania's largest, decided to denounce the agreement and resort to protest actions, on the grounds that the government had failed to respect its promises. They particularly resent the new Public Pension Law, the delay in resetting tax levels, and the decrease of VAT values for basic products. Premier Nastase is to meet trade union leaders later this week to discuss trade union complains. ZsM

PRM TO COUNTER EFFECTS OF LAW ON HUNGARIANS ABROAD

Extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM) leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor on 4 May said that if the Hungarian Parliament approves a pending bill on the status of Hungarian minorities living beyond Hungary's borders, his party will elaborate a bill to "counter the Hungarian IDs," Mediafax reported. According to the bill now being debated in Budapest, on the recommendation of local Hungarian organizations in surrounding countries, Hungarian authorities will issue IDs to ethnic Hungarians granting them several advantages in Hungary, as well as financial aid. Tudor said the bill will make the "Hungarian IDs" ineffective in Romania. The Romanian government set up an ad hoc commission to examine possible effects of the bill, while Premier Nastase on 23 April said the bill might create discrimination among Romanian citizens (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 24 April). ZsM

ILASCU RELEASED FROM TRANSDNIESTER JAIL

The leader of the breakaway Transdniester region, Igor Smirnov, commuted Ilie Ilascu's death sentence on 5 May and the Tiraspol authorities released him from jail, Flux reported. Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin said Smirnov pardoned Ilascu in response to his 12 April letter asking for Ilascu's release. However, Prime Minister Nicolae Cernomaz said on 27 April in Moscow that he spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who phoned Smirnov and asked for Ilascu's release. Smirnov said Moldova must admit its own responsibility for the Transdniester conflict. Voronin denied allegations that, in exchange for Ilascu's release, Chisinau is to recognize the independence of the Transdniester region. The three other detainees who were being held with Ilascu have not yet been released, but Voronin said this is the first step in freeing the whole group. The four, who have been detained since 1992, were sentenced by Tiraspol authorities on charges of terrorism under which Ilascu was given the death penalty and the others handed heavy prison terms. ZsM

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT MEETS ILASCU

Meeting with President Voronin on 5 May, Ilascu thanked Voronin for his release. He said Moldova can only be considered an independent country with the Transdniester region as part of it. Voronin stressed that 40 percent of Moldova's economic potential is concentrated in that region, but currently economic relations are blocked. Ilascu said the Transdniester conflict is, in fact, a "war" between Moldova and the Russian Federation. He said that as soon as the other members of the group are released, he will leave for Romania. Ilascu, now a Romanian citizen, is a member of the Romanian Parliament, having been elected last year on the Greater Romania Party's list. In related news, Romanian President Iliescu said on 5 May that Ilascu's release opens the path for a political solution to the Transdniester conflict. ZsM

ILASCU ON FUTURE PLANS

In his first interview with Flux news agency, Ilascu said he still considers Moldova to be part of Romania and as a Romanian senator he will continue to work for the two countries' unification. He said he thanks Voronin for his release, but added that he will continue to "fight against the communist ideology." Ilascu said time was his main ally during his detainment and that former Moldovan presidents Mircea Snegur and Petru Lucinschi didn't really want his release. He also thanked the Romanian authorities for their help. ZsM

BULGARIAN PREMIER CRITICIZES KING SIMEON II

Ivan Kostov said on 5 May that the political movement headed by King Simeon II does not "have the political will to lead Bulgaria in the right direction," Reuters reported. Speaking at a two-day Union of Democratic Forces conference in Sofia, Kostov said that Simeon's coalition "has not announced its position on Bulgarian policy priorities," and said the former king has thus far not made a solid stand on the country's attempts to gain NATO membership. He added that "I am not convinced that by seeking disappointed voters this national movement would be able to take responsibility for difficult decisions." Whereas Simeon has promised to improve the plight of Bulgarians within 800 days of taking office, Kostov told some 5,000 delegates at the conference that "a further four to five years of persistent efforts are needed for the country's success to be felt by all Bulgarians." PB




BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT GETS U.S. BLESSING


By Kathryn Mazur

Nearing the end of his current term in office, Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov received a clear acknowledgement of his pro-Western reformist policy from the White House during his visit to Washington in late April. In meetings with U.S. President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, the Bulgarian delegation discussed the situation in Southeast Europe, further NATO enlargement, and the election campaign in Bulgaria.

The White House's attention to Bulgaria stems from three major developments. The most important of them being the continuing unrest in the Balkans, especially the recent fighting in neighboring Macedonia. Second, Bulgaria has on several occasions opposed Russia's attempts to retain its influence in the region. Third, Bulgaria has arguably remained the only comparatively stable and predictable democracy in Southeast Europe and has also proven to be a loyal NATO ally.

During his visit, Kostov stressed the important role Bulgaria played during the 1999 bombing of Serbia in preventing Russian troops from preemptively deploying to Kosova by refusing to allow Russian planes to fly over Bulgarian territory. He also emphasized Bulgaria's dedication to fostering security and stability in the region by cooperating with NATO. At the onset of the Macedonian crisis in March, Sofia signed an agreement with NATO to allow it to transit and deploy forces in the country. Bulgaria became the first non-NATO country to sign such an agreement and hopes to be invited at next year's summit in Prague to join the Atlantic alliance.

During his meeting with the Bulgarian delegation, Vice President Cheney said that the Balkans must be free from external political influence. He also pointed out that the activities of foreign secret services, mafia groups, and organized crime should not be allowed to further destabilize the region and create problems for European security. Powell spoke with Kostov on another important issue: two important deals involving U.S. investments in Bulgaria's energy sector that are still awaiting the final decision of the Bulgarian government. The Bulgarian press has suggested that the Russian lobby in the energy sector is preventing these deals from going through.

During the past decade, Russian interest groups have penetrated Bulgaria through corporate and often mafia-style organizations using techniques including bribery and energy blackmail. Last year, the Bulgarian authorities expelled five Russian businessmen, some of them former Soviet intelligence officers, for money laundering and other illegal activities. In March, the Bulgarian authorities went further in their effort to reduce the activities of Russia's intelligence service by expelling three Russian diplomats for spying on the Defense Ministry. This was the first such incident in the history of Bulgarian-Russian diplomatic relations.

Kostov's high-profile reception in Washington suggests that the new U.S. administration regards his government as democratic, reformist, and successful. His cabinet became the first one to complete a full term of office in post-communist Bulgaria. Kostov, who is the leader of the center-right Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), implemented tough policies of monetary restraint, reconstruction and privatization of the major industries, and decollectivization of agricultural lands. But although the cabinet laid the foundations for a free-market economy and the GDP is gradually increasing for a third consecutive year, the reforms have not improved social conditions, and most people live in poverty.

Regardless of his image abroad, Kostov now has to deal with domestic attitudes -- and his support among Bulgarians is only about 23 percent. The SDS is running a close race against the ex-communist Socialist Party (BSP), and the party of former King Simeon II, who returned to Bulgaria as a political leader in April. After a Bulgarian court refused to register his National Movement Simeon II (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2001), the former king did not withdraw from the race but joined two small political parties and registered with the electoral commission.

Simeon's party has attracted the so-called "protest vote" of those dissatisfied with politicians from both sides of the SDS-BSP divide (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 April 2001). It has also changed the bipolar political space by presenting a third formation to challenge the major political contenders and bring in new ideas.

Paradoxically, however, the appearance of Simeon's party could mean that the SDS theoretically has a better chance to continue in office -- as part of a broader coalition government. Although such an outcome may help reduce the sharp political divisions within Bulgarian society, it would present a significant challenge to the SDS, which would have to become a more flexible and accommodating political partner.

Kathryn Mazur is an independent analyst based in the U.S. (Kathryn_Mazur@hotmail.com)


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