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Newsline

Newsline - April 25, 2008

HAS POLAND LIFTED ITS VETO ON RUSSIA-EU TALKS?
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said in Warsaw on April 24 that Poland is ready to drop its veto on EU talks with Russia regarding a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) as its conditions have been met, news agencies reported. Sikorski added that "Poland is not going to hamper the opening of [talks]." Poland originally imposed a veto in 2006 because of Russian restrictions on Polish agricultural exports, particularly meat, which it regarded as politically inspired. Sikorski noted on April 24 that Moscow has lifted its embargo on Polish meat. It is not clear if Sikorski's statement is the last word, however, because Polish officials previously sent out conflicting signals on the matter. President Lech Kaczynski told Reuters in Warsaw on April 9 that he wants Poland to maintain its veto over EU talks with Russia regarding a new PCA unless major West European EU states agree to put Ukraine and Georgia on a clear path to NATO membership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 7, and April 10 and 11, 2008). He later appeared to qualify his statement. Lithuania continues to block the launching of new Russia-EU talks over what one unidentified Lithuanian diplomat described in Vilnius on April 24 as "Russia's imperialistic policies" toward its Eastern European neighbors, Reuters reported. Lithuanian concerns center on several issues, including a Russian cutoff of oil supplies to a Lithuanian refinery, the disappearance of a Lithuanian businessman in Kaliningrad Oblast, and Russian policies toward Moldova and Georgia. Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said in Brussels on April 24, shortly before leaving for a meeting in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin, that the EU and Russia "need a strategic partnership," Reuters reported. He added that "I know that in Poland, in Lithuania, maybe elsewhere, there are great or small [misgivings], but I think that these will be sorted out in the next coming days" so that talks can begin under the current Slovenian EU presidency. PM

POLISH EX-PRESIDENT WANTS RUSSIA IN NATO
The daily "Vremya novostei" reported on April 25 that former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said in Washington recently that NATO should "give thought" to admitting Russia as a member, along with Australia, Japan, and South Korea. President Putin recently ruled out NATO membership for Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 7, 2008). Kwasniewski, who was president from 1995-2005 and is often spoken of as a possible future leading EU official, added in Washington recently that Russia will eventually seek membership in the alliance because of "the Chinese challenge" and "the threat of Islamic extremism from Iran." He added that he did not exclude possible NATO membership for Russia during his presidency. Kwasniewski stressed that bringing Russia into the alliance would help overcome its objections to Kyiv and Tbilisi joining as well. On April 16, the daily "Kommersant" quoted Kwasniewski as saying in Washington recently that "Russia has left the path of democracy, which is nothing new, since there has not been any serious reform there since the time of Peter I." Kwasniewski noted that "there is no need to expect substantive changes in the next eight years, since [President-elect] Dmitry Medvedev will continue the present course." Kwasniewski added that his only hope is Russian youth. PM

JAPAN SEEKS 'HIGHER DIMENSION' IN RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA
Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda left Tokyo on April 25 for a two-day Moscow summit with President Putin and President-elect Medvedev, his first meeting as prime minister with top Russian leaders, Russian and international media reported. Before leaving, he told reporters he wants to concentrate on "big issues" and bring bilateral relations to a "higher dimension." The Russian daily "Gazeta" wrote on April 25 that the agenda will be dominated by economic and environmental issues and plans for the July 7-9 summit of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized countries in Hokkaido. The paper quoted Fukuda as saying on April 24 that he will also discuss the "territorial problem" between the two countries, but it suggested that the perennial issue will arise "only in passing." Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura discussed the dispute with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on April 14, but apparently reached no breakthrough (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 16, 2008). The "territorial problem" refers to four islands in the southern Kuriles occupied by the Red Army in the closing days of World War II, which are still claimed by Japan as its Northern Territories and whose status is the main obstacle to concluding a peace treaty between the two countries. Japan has long maintained that signing a peace agreement will open the way for massive Japanese investment in Russia's underdeveloped Far East. On April 25, Interfax quoted an unnamed "Kremlin source" as saying that Fukuda's visit could lead to an agreement on nuclear cooperation and the building of a high-speed railway in Russia's Far East. PM

DUMA DRAFTS LAW TO LIGHTEN FUTURE PREMIER'S LOAD...
A draft law defining the powers of Russia's future prime minister, Vladimir Putin, has been introduced in the State Duma. Newsru.com reported on April 25 that the draft legislation, which was written by Duma Constitutional Law Committee Chairman Vladimir Pligin and his deputy Aleksandr Moskalets and amends 150 laws, transfers 500 of the cabinet's current 3,000 duties to lower governmental departments. "Kommersant" on April 25 quoted the government's representative in the State Duma, Andrei Loginov, as saying the legislation simply relieves the cabinet of "excess work" that can be done at lower levels. An unnamed source in the government apparatus said the draft law "allows the government apparatus to concentrate on strategic tasks." As "Nezavisimaya gazeta" observed on April 25, the legislation, if passed into law, will mean that Putin, as prime minister, will not have to put his signature on every document without distinction and thus not have "to answer personally for everything going on in the country." JB

...SO HE CAN CONCENTRATE ON BIGGER THINGS
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on April 25 quoted Aleksei Makarkin, vice president of the Center for Political Technologies, as saying the bill transferring 500 duties currently carried out by the cabinet to lower levels in the government is designed to free future Prime Minister Putin of "technical" functions. "For the first time, we are getting a prime minister who will not be a technical figure," Makarkin said. "He will have big political powers, not assigned legislatively, but regulated by practice." "Nezavisimaya gazeta" added, "And since the new master of the White House will be given a whole series of these political functions, the introduction of this bill for discussion is aimed precisely at freeing him from the routine of everyday decisions [and] widening his authority as an independent political figure on Russia's power Olympus." "Kommersant" on April 25 quoted Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov as saying of the draft law that the concept of "excess work" should not apply to the prime minister. "He and the government answer for the life of the country, for production, business, the entire administrative-managerial portion," Zyuganov said. "And [the bill's author, State Duma Constitutional Law Committee Chairman] Pligin wants to free Putin from the people and from the country. First, party powers were transferred to him, and now they are freeing [him] from supposedly unnecessary things in order to reduce [his] responsibility to the people. Such irresponsibility is frightening." JB

DUMA CONSIDERS AMENDMENT AIMED AT CURBING 'YELLOW PRESS'
The State Duma on April 25 plans to pass in its first reading an amendment introduced by Robert Shlegel, a deputy with the Unified Russia faction, to the law on the media that would make it possible to shut down media for defamation, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on April 25. According to the paper, the Duma's Information Policy Committee initially planned to reject the amendment offered by Shlegel, a former activist with the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi, but attitudes toward the legislation changed in the wake of the scandal surrounding the article in the newspaper "Moskovsky korrespondent" that claimed that outgoing President Putin planned to divorce his wife and marry Alina Kabayeva, the former Olympic gold-medal-winning gymnast who is now a State Duma deputy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 21, 2008). "Nezavisimaya gazeta" quoted an "explanatory note" accompanying the draft law as stating that it will permit "an increase in the number of reasons" that can be used to close a media outlet on the basis of a court order in the event of "repeated distribution of materials of a slanderous nature." While Russia's Criminal Code already includes defamation as a punishable offense, "RBK Daily" on April 25 quoted Shlegel as saying that the courts do not enforce libel laws and that he hopes his amendment will permit the methodical closure of "the yellow press, which in chasing sensation permits itself to publish unchecked information." JB

HEALTH MINISTER HAILS RISING INCOMES, FALLING POVERTY
Health and Social Development Minister Tatyana Golikova said on April 25 that the number of Russians with incomes less than the minimum subsistence level shrank by 23 percent, meaning by nearly 6 million people, over the last two years, Interfax reported. During that same period, the cash incomes of Russians grew by 25 percent in real terms, she said. At the same time, the number of unemployed shrank by nearly 1 million people, wage arrears were reduced nearly to zero, and positive shifts were seen in the country's demographic situation and in the areas of health care and social development, Golikova said. Still, she expressed concern about Russia's continued high death rate, noting that cardiovascular diseases and traffic accidents remain the main causes of death among able-bodied citizens. Meanwhile, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on April 25 quoted Yevgeny Gontmakher, the head of the Center for Social Policy of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Economics, as saying that despite the growth in incomes and the reduction in the number of poor people in Russia, a true middle class is not growing. According to Gontmakher, no more than a third of the 20-25 percent of the Russian population officially considered to be middle class actually belongs to a middle class of the kind found in developed countries. JB

FORMER ARKHANGELSK GOVERNOR'S ARREST DENIED
The office of the presidential envoy to the Northwestern Federal District denied on April 24 reports that former Arkhangelsk Oblast Governor Nikolai Kiselyov is under arrest, regnum.ru reported. "Vedomosti" on April 25 likewise quoted "sources close to Kiselyov" as denying his arrest, while former Arkhangelsk Mayor Aleksandr Donskoi and the former speaker of the city duma, Dmitry Yurkov, told that publication the reports were true. Kiselyov has been under a cloud since the posting to the Internet in July 2007 of footage dated two years earlier showing a man who bears a strong resemblance to Kiselyov receiving a bribe from a man believed to be Severgaz General Director Vladimir Gudovichev. Kiselyov resigned earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 26, 2007). LF

COMMUNISTS IN KALMYKIA SEEK PRESIDENT'S RESIGNATION
At its first session on April 24, the People's Khural (parliament) elected on March 2 voted down a proposal by the Communist faction to include in its agenda the question of demanding the resignation of the republic's president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. The Kalmyk opposition, together with the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, staged protests earlier this month on the 15th anniversary of Ilyumzhinov's election as president to demand that he step down in light of his inability to resolve the serious socioeconomic problems the republic faces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 15, 2008). Ulyumdji Chidjiyev, who heads the Communist faction in the Kalmyk parliament, admitted to kavkaz-uzel.ru that he had little hope the proposal would be accepted even though "cardinal measures" are needed to remedy the situation. LF

CANADIAN JOURNALIST EXPELLED FROM CHECHNYA
Jane Armstrong, a correspondent for the "Toronto Globe And Mail," was detained by the Federal Security Service (FSB) at her hotel in Grozny early on April 17 together with her interpreter, interrogated for several hours, fined 300,000 rubles ($12,710), and ordered to leave Chechnya immediately on the grounds that she did not have unspecified special authorization to be there, regnum.ru and kavkaz-uzel.ru reported on April 24. Armstrong had authorization to travel to Chechnya from the Russian Foreign Ministry; she met earlier in Grozny with Chechen Culture Minister Dikalu Muzakayev and traveled to the southern Shatoi Raion to gather material for an article on Chechen customs, folklore, and history. LF

NALCHIK TRIAL BEGINS
The trial began in Nalchik on April 24 of 58 men accused of participating in the October 2005 multiple attacks on police and security facilities in the city, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. Preliminary hearings began in October 2007 but were repeatedly adjourned (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 15 and 30, 2007, and February 21, 2008). The presiding judge ruled that the proceedings will be open to the public; the selection of jury members was postponed due to the absence of three defense lawyers. LF

ARMENIA MARKS GENOCIDE ANNIVERSARY
Hundreds of thousands of Armenians marched in silence on April 24 to the Tsitsernakaberd memorial outside Yerevan to pay their respects to the estimated 1.5 million Armenians massacred in Ottoman Turkey during the first two decades of the 20th century, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. In a statement marking the 93rd anniversary of the arrest in Constantinople of hundreds of Armenian intellectuals that marked the beginning of the wave of mass killings, President Serzh Sarkisian termed them "a crime against humanity," but stressed at the same time that Armenia seeks only recognition and condemnation of the genocide, but not "vengeance and enmity." As in an editorial published in "The Wall Street Journal" in December 2006, and during his visit to the United States in October 2007, Sarkisian again affirmed that Armenia is ready to normalize relations with Turkey without preconditions. In Moscow on April 24, police prevented Armenians from staging a protest outside the Turkish Embassy to mark the anniversary, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON UN STATEMENT
Mikheil Saakashvili said during a televised address to the nation on April 24 that Georgia intends to launch "intensive consultations" on increasing the role of "friendly states" in the search for a solution to the Abkhaz conflict, and on whether the Russian peacekeeping force currently deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone should be replaced, civil.ge reported. But while noting that the United States and other countries have questioned Russia's ability to act as a "neutral mediator," he did not repeat earlier demands for the Russian peacekeepers' withdrawal. Saakashvili also stressed the significance of the resolution circulated following a session of the UN Security Council the previous day in which four of the five members of the so-called "friends of the UN secretary-general for Georgia group of countries" (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, but not Russia) called on Russia to revoke or not implement its plans for upgrading economic cooperation with the unrecognized republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 18 and 24, 2008). Meanwhile, in an interview published on April 24 in "Novye izvestia," Georgian State Minister for Reintegration Temur Yakobashvili advocated direct talks between Tbilisi and Sukhum(i) on ways to resolve the conflict, adding that if Russia orders the Abkhaz to try to reach such an agreement, they will comply. Echoing comments he made on April 21 that the Abkhaz as a small nation risk extinction, and that Georgia's army could destroy the Abkhaz armed forces "within three hours," Yakobashvili warned that a new war could easily erupt "at any moment," given the large amounts of weaponry concentrated in the region. LF

ABKHAZIA HINTS IT MAY WITHDRAW FROM UN TALKS
Speaking to journalists in Sukhum on April 24, de facto Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba said the Abkhaz leadership is not satisfied with the statement adopted by the four members of the "Group of Friends," apsny.ru reported. He argued that the UN Security Council should have insisted that Georgia withdraw the forces Abkhazia claims it recently deployed to the Kodori Gorge. In a statement released on April 21, the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) said it found no evidence either that Georgia had more forces in Kodori than permitted, or that Abkhazia had sent additional forces to Kodori and Gali, as Georgian Minister for Reintegration Yakobashvili alleged (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 18, 21 and 22, 2008). Shamba argued that the UN has opted for the tactic of exerting pressure on Abkhazia to accept President Saakashvili's recent peace proposal, and he hinted that in light of what he termed the international mediators' "lack of objectivity," Abkhazia will seriously consider whether the continued participation of the "Group of Friends" in the search for a solution to the conflict serves any useful purpose. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON GLOBAL SECURITY...
In a wide-ranging address at the opening of the seventh annual Eurasian Media Forum on April 24 in Almaty, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev called on countries to do more to strengthen regional and global security, adding a criticism of nuclear states for doing "nothing to reduce of destroy their nuclear arsenals," ITAR-TASS reported. He hailed Kazakhstan as "an exemplary state," citing the Kazakh initiative of "giving up nuclear weapons and developing confidence-building measures." In a related development, the parliament voted on April 24 to ratify an international convention against nuclear terrorism, which Kazakhstan first signed at a UN meeting in September 2005, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. Commenting on the enhanced role of the media, Nazarbaev said that the "emergence of global communication networks, satellite television, and the Internet" are new opportunities that have granted the media "an all-penetrating capacity," Kazakhstan Today reported. He then praised the forum as a venue "to find a balance" between the right to freedom of speech and concerns about preserving global security. RG

...AS HIS DAUGHTER FOCUSES ON FOOD SECURITY AS GLOBAL CONCERN
In an opening address to the Eurasian Media Forum on April 24 following her father's speech, Darigha Nazarbaeva identified food security as a global concern, according to ITAR-TASS and Interfax-Kazakhstan. The Kazakh president's daughter explained that the rising prices for basic food products pose a new global economic problem and compel "us to consider the role and place of international organizations and humanitarian aspects of international relations in a new way." She added that the "precedent of Kosovo" represents a second concern, saying that the independence of "states like Kosovo questions the entire system of organizing the modern global order and relations between states." The forum also opened by Srgjan Kerim, the president of the 62nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, who welcomed Nazarbaev's "initiative on the creation of the union of the Central Asian states" as "a very interesting" proposal. RG

KAZAKHSTAN CONCLUDES AGREEMENT WITH GEORGIAN FIRM TO REPAIR MILITARY AIRCRAFT
According to a press release posted on the ministry's website, Kazakh Defense Minister Daniyal Akhmetov concluded a new agreement on April 22 with Georgia's Tbilaviamsheni aircraft company for the repair and maintenance of Kazakh military aircraft, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on April 24. The agreement was reportedly signed during a meeting in Astana between Akhmetov and a delegation of executives from the Georgian company. Since the Soviet period, the Tbilaviamsheni company has been a leading producer of Soviet models of military aircraft and specializes in the production and maintenance of the Su-25 combat aircraft. The contract, which was previously held by the Ukrainian Ukrspetseksport firm, includes the repair of six currently inoperable Su-25 aircraft. RG

OLDEST KYRGYZ PARTY DISSOLVES AFTER MASS DEFECTIONS
Speaking to reporters in Bishkek, Baktygul Togonbaeva, the head of the oldest Kyrgyz political party, announced on April 24 that the Moya Strana (My Country) party has been dissolved after a large number of its members defected to the ruling Ak-Jol Eldik (Best Path Popular) Party, AKIpress reported. Togonbaeva revealed that the decision to dissolve the party was first adopted in a closed meeting of its senior leaders on April 12, but was not publicly released for almost two weeks. She added that the defections of party members reduced overall membership to under 3,000 active members, down from a high of over 12,000. The party was founded in 1997, but suffered from a series of continuing financial problems over the past several years. RG

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT ADOPTS NEW ENERGY STRATEGY
The Kyrgyz parliament adopted on April 24 a long-delayed new national energy strategy, according to AKIpress. Although the passage of the energy strategy was a crucial step toward the implementation of a long-term development program of the energy sector through 2025, the vote was marred by a mass walkout by deputies of the opposition Communist and Social Democratic parties in protest at being denied the right to offer amendments or comment on the strategy. With the opposition protest, the draft legislation was adopted by a vote limited to deputies from the ruling Ak-Jol Eldik Party. In a separate vote that was attended by all deputies, a new law on defense reform was adopted on April 24 introducing new measures for the implementation of a limited contract-based service for the armed forces. Defense Minister Ismail Isakov explained that the move is part of a more ambitious reform to replace the military draft with a voluntary, professional, contract-based term of service. RG

CONTROVERSIAL TAJIK POLICE OFFICIAL DEMANDS FAIR PROBE INTO DEATH OF POLICE CHIEF
In an open letter to Tajik leaders, Mirzokhuja Ahmadov, a senior Interior Ministry official in the Rasht district, warned on April 24 that a "biased and unfair" investigation of the killing of a police commander could destabilize the country, Asia-Plus reported. Ahmadov was referring to the death of Oleg Zakharchenko, the commander of a special police unit who was killed in an attack on his unit in the Rasht district in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 5, 2008). The unit came under attack after it was dispatched to the district to arrest Ahmadov, and Zakharchenko was fatally shot by gunmen loyal to Ahmadov. A former prominent member of the United Tajik Opposition during the civil war in the mid-1990s, Ahmadov was later appointed to a senior police post as part of a broader attempt at reintegrating former rebel leaders. RG

OSCE OFFERS COUNTERNARCOTICS ASSISTANCE TO TAJIKISTAN
The head of the Tajik Drug Control Agency, Rustam Nazarov, met on April 23 in Dushanbe with Ambassador Vladimir Pryakhin, the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Center in Tajikistan, and accepted technical assistance from the OSCE to bolster counternarcotics efforts, Asia-Plus reported. Speaking to reporters following the meeting, Nazarov said that the OSCE offered to train personnel from the Tajik counternarcotics agency at leading centers in Europe. For his part, Pryakhin added that the OSCE will also provide specific assistance to expand a canine drug-detection training center, construct new modern forensic examination facility, and will finance the production and distribution of antidrug literature. RG

TURKMENISTAN REACHES GAS-PRICE AGREEMENT WITH IRAN
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov met on April 25 in Ashgabat with Iranian Deputy Oil Minister Seyyed Reza Kasaizadeh and concluded talks over resuming Turkmen natural-gas exports to Iran, Turkmen Television reported. Kasaizadeh, who also serves as the director of the Iranian national gas company, agreed to new higher prices for Turkmen gas and said that lower-level negotiations would determine an acceptable price. Turkmenistan is a key gas supplier for Iran, utilizing the Korpeje-Kord-Koy gas pipeline, but cut off exports to Iran in December 2007, citing pipeline problems. Some unidentified Turkmen officials admitted that the halt in exports stemmed from displeasure over the low price paid by Iran, however, AFP reported. RG

DECREE RAISING OFFICE RENTS FOR NGOS TAKES EFFECT IN BELARUS
The decree issued by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on October 23, 2007, to abolish concessions for renting offices by many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), took effect on April 24, Belapan reported. Prior to this decree, nonprofit NGOs enjoyed the privilege of paying one euro ($1.56) per square meter for renting up to 75 square meters of office space, whereas commercial organizations paid 10 euros per square meter. The decree preserved the favorable rent for nonprofit NGOs that are engaged in charity activities or run children's and youth sports-training groups and children's theater, and dancing, literary, or art studios. The low rent has also been preserved for small-business owners and organizations if at least half of their employees have disabilities, and for art associations that rent space for workshops, galleries, exhibitions, studios, or laboratories. "This is one more economic noose on nongovernmental organizations," Hary Pahanyayla of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee told Belapan. "Some organizations will retain the privilege, but it will again be up to the authorities to decide to whom the lower rate should apply," he said. Most of the office buildings in Minsk are under the control of the presidential administration, while in the provinces such buildings are controlled by local governments. AM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES PARLIAMENTARY CONSTITUTIONAL COMMISSION...
President Viktor Yushchenko told a press conference on April 24 that the intention to change the constitution through the ad hoc parliamentary commission is a "rowdy attempt that has no prospect," RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Yushchenko was apparently responding to representatives of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc who accused him of disrupting the constitutional process and announced the intention to set up such a commission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 24, 2008). Yushchenko believes that the only way to improve the Ukrainian Constitution is for its conception to be worked out by the National Constitutional Council with the participation of politicians, Constitutional Court judges, experts on constitutional law, human rights defenders, and other experts. Then, Yushchenko continued, it might be useful to conduct public hearings, after which the president will submit the bill to parliament as urgent. The parliament sets up a parliamentary commission to examine procedural issues and after approval by a simple majority, sends the bill to the Constitutional Court. After approval by the Constitutional Court, the draft constitution could be adopted in parliament by a two-thirds majority. Yushchenko added that the Verkhovna Rada should take a constructive part in the constitutional process, and the will of the nation should be expressed in a referendum. AM

...AND SAYS UKRAINE NOT READY FOR PARLIAMENTARY REPUBLIC
President Yushchenko said on April 24 that, taking account of current realities, the discussion on changing the form of government in Ukraine is out of date, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Recently, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko announced that the parliamentary bloc bearing her name will initiate constitutional changes to transform Ukraine into a parliamentary republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 21, 2008). "Is an unstable institution able to form a stable national development? Is it able to bring a responsibility for a policy, for a course of stability while itself being unstable? No, of course not," Yushchenko said, referring to the Verkhovna Rada. "When the parliamentary republic is mentioned, you should read in parentheses: the republic of the prime minister. This poses a big threat to our children, our future. This is not a model we can accept easily," Yushchenko said. "I am deeply convinced that in a transitional period, a period of a transformation, the presidential form of government is more effective," he added. AM

SERBIAN DEAL WITH RUSSIA REMAINS ON HOLD
The Serbian caretaker government failed to agree at its April 24 meeting on whether to finalize a recent agreement with Russia to sell the state oil monopoly NIS to a Gazprom-led consortium, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica signed the deal in Moscow earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 27, and April 4 and 21, 2008, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," February 13, 2008). Critics charge that the caretaker government has no authority to finalize the deal, under which Russia will allegedly acquire NIS for a fraction of its market value in repayment for its political support over Kosova. Defense Minister Dragan Sutanovac, who belongs to Tadic's Democratic Party and is an outspoken critic of Kostunica, said on April 24 that he will block any attempts to finalize the deal before the May 11 Serbian general elections. He also wants the agreement renegotiated in any event. Kostunica argues that the deal is "too important" to be held up any longer. Several high-ranking Russian officials recently called on Serbia to ratify the agreement. PM

WHY DOES MONICA LOVINESCU MATTER?
(Monica Lovinescu, a Paris-based literary critic and journalist who encouraged intellectual resistance to Romania's communist regime from the microphone of Radio Free Europe from 1964-92, passed away on April 21 at the age of 85. The daughter of influential interwar academic Eugen Lovinescu, and a mother who was to die in a communist prison, Monica Lovinescu enjoyed tremendous prestige and influence in her native Romania. She was considered a chief ideologue in arguing that communist crimes were equal to those of the Nazis, and her work angered dictator Nicolae Ceausescu to the point that he ordered the beating in 1977 that left her in a coma. She recovered to return to her seat behind the microphone, where she observed the downfall of Ceausescu's regime in 1989.)

Monica Lovinescu matters because she was one of the most important voices of the Eastern and Central European antitotalitarian thought. Her passing away is a major loss for all the friends of an open society. My personal indebtedness to her -- like that of many Romanian intellectuals -- is immense. As a member of the Presidential Commission for the Analysis of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania (which I chaired), Lovinescu participated, even during the most painful moments of physical suffering, in the condemnation of communist totalitarianism. Her solidarity was unswerving, both morally and intellectually.

Lovinescu's crucial impact on Romania's culture is inextricably linked to her major role as a cultural commentator for Radio Free Europe (RFE). There is no exaggeration in saying that no other RFE broadcast was more execrated, abhorred, and feared by Ceausescu and the communist nomenklatura than those undertaken by Lovinescu and her husband, Virgil Ierunca. For decades, Lovinescu fought against terrorist collectivisms, the regimentation of the mind, and moral capitulation. Her patriotism was enlightened and generous. Thanks to her, Romanian intellectuals were able to internalize the great messages from the writings of Camus, Arendt, Kolakowski, Orwell, Solzhenitsyn, Koestler, Cioran, Milosz, Revel, Aron, and the list is fatally too short. A spirit totally dedicated to modernity, open to the crucial polemics of the 20th century, Lovinescu wrote poignant essays on the what American critic Lionel Trilling called "the bloody crossroads, where literature and politics meet."

For years, her outspoken positions in defense of dissident writers and moral resistance to totalitarianism provoked the ire of the party hacks and their Securitate associates. Starting in 1967 and continuing today, publications associated with the most vicious, ultranationalist, and anti-Semitic circles among Romania's Stalinists have targeted Monica Lovinescu. On several occasions, in the 1970s-80s, attempts were made on her life. For Ceausescu and his sycophants (many of whom are still thriving in the Social Democratic and Romania Mare parties), Lovinescu symbolizes all they love to hate: pluralism, tolerance, hostility to xenophobia, compassion for victims of both totalitarianisms (fascist and communist), and a commitment to what we can call an "ethics of forgetlessness." On the other hand, democratic intellectuals (Gabriel Liiceanu, Andrei Plesu, N. Manolescu, H.R. Patapievici, Andrei Cornea, Dorin Tudoran, Cristian Teodorescu, Sorin Alexandrescu, Mircea Mihaies, Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, to name just a few) learned from her that "memory is indispensable to freedom."

Lovinescu matters because she knew how to maintain the unity between ethics and aesthetics. In 1963, she wrote: "We live in an age in which impostures abound. They should not conceal however the other voices -- those of the victims." Her RFE broadcasts were precisely an antidote to the official mendacity, a voice of truth speaking for those condemned to silence. Especially during the watershed year 1968, Lovinescu paid close attention to the ideological crisis of world communism and the importance of disenchantment among ex-Marxist intellectuals. At a historical juncture when Ceausescu masqueraded as a de-Stalinizer, Lovinescu exposed the tyrant's imposture and appealed to Romanian writers to emulate the ethical audacity of Czech and Slovak intellectuals such as Ludvik Vaculik, Vaclav Havel, Ivan Svitak, Ladislav Mnacko, Eduard Goldstuecker, Antonin Liehm, Pavel Kohout, and Ivan Klima. Thanks to Radio Free Europe and to Monica Lovinescu, Romanians had direct access to the iconoclastic pages of "Literarny listy."

At a time when many thought disparagingly about anything smacking of neo-Marxism, Lovinescu and her husband Ierunca highlighted the significance of revisionism for the destruction of communist pseudo-legitimacy. She wrote extensively about the importance of apostasy, which she described as the "voie royale" toward the awakening from what Immanuel Kant coined "the dogmatic sleep." Furthermore, while emphasizing the need for Romanian culture to avoid autarky, she proposed remarkable guidelines that decisively influenced the intellectual cannon in the country.

Lovinescu's writings have come out after 1990 from the prestigious publishing house Humanitas. A few weeks before her passing away, I reread her essays from 1968. They strike me as extraordinarily timely, insightful, and prescient. She understood before many others that communism was irretrievably sick, and she insisted on the role of intellectuals in the insurrectionary saga of Eastern Europe's opposition to Sovietism.

After 1990, Lovinescu and Ierunca saw many of their predictions (including the dire ones) come true. The legacies of national-Stalinism continue to haunt Romania's fragile pluralism. The lackeys of the ancien regime made it politically and financially. Dissidents were exhausted, marginalized, slandered. Things changed, however, after 1996 and especially after 2004. The initiation by Traian Basescu of the Presidential Commission unleashed a national conversation along the lines of historical truth and moral justice. Immediately after President Basescu's condemnation of the communist regime as illegitimate and criminal, on December 18, 2006, I called from Bucharest and told Monica Lovinescu what happened. I mentioned the hysterical sabotaging of the president's speech by Romania Mare leader, and former Ceausescu bootlicker, Corneliu Vadim Tudor. Her answer was short and encapsulated the meaning of an exemplary intellectual and moral itinerary: "The noise doesn't matter. Truth was said. We won!"

(Vladimir Tismaneanu is professor of politics at the University of Maryland, chair of the Presidential Advisory Commission for the Analysis of the Communist Dictatorship in Romania, and author of numerous books including "Stalinism For All Seasons: A Political History Of Romanian Communism" [University of California Press]. Since 1983, he has been a regular contributor to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.)

TURKMEN-AFGHAN-PAKISTANI PIPELINE PROJECT TO START IN 2010
Oil ministers from Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India signed a draft framework in Islamabad on April 24 agreeing to begin construction work in 2010 on a pipeline project to bring Turkmen natural gas through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India, news agencies reported the same day. Talks between Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have been going on since 2002. In 2006, India was invited in as an observer to the project, but this is the first time that India is participating in talks on the pipeline as a full-fledged member. Originally estimated at $3.3 billion in 2004, the cost of the project has risen to $7.6 billion due to a sharp increase in price of steel, construction costs, and the cost of compressor stations, Pakistani Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Khwaja Asif said. According to the Associated Press of Pakistan, despite the significant increase in cost estimates, the project is still considered economically and financially feasible. The pipeline is to run from Turkmenistan's Dauletabad field through Herat and Kandahar in Afghanistan to Multan in Pakistan, and then to the Pakistan-India border. AT

AFGHANISTAN, PAKISTAN AGREE TO 'NEW BEGINNING' IN RELATIONS
According to a joint statement, Afghanistan and Pakistan have agreed to a "new beginning" to bilateral relations based on mutual trust and understanding, AFP reported on April 24. The announcement was made after Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta concluded a two-day visit to Pakistan, where he met with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmud Qureshi, President Pervez Musharraf, and Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani. "Both side reaffirmed their resolve towards intensifying cooperation and coordination between the two nations in the fight against international terrorism and narcotics," said the statement. "Both ministers agreed on the importance of convening the third regional economic cooperation conference on Afghanistan in Islamabad," it concluded. AT

TALIBAN DENIES KIDNAPPING TWO FOREIGNERS
The Taliban has denied responsibility for the kidnapping of an Indian and Nepalese national, while police continue to search for the men, AFP reported on April 24. Taliban spokesman Qari Yusef Ahmadi said his organization was not involved. "We cannot take responsibility for the kidnapping of the two foreigners," he told AFP. "We have asked all our allies, but they reject this." Although Taliban insurgents are usually blamed for scores of such kidnappings over the past years, criminal gangs also seize people to extract ransoms. The Indian man has worked in Afghanistan for five years and was providing logistics for Afghan security forces, an Afghan government official said. AT

PAKISTAN PROTESTS TO NATO, AFGHANISTAN OVER SOLDIER'S DEATH
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry has lodged a strong protest with NATO and Afghan forces over the death of a Pakistani soldier, AFP reported on April 24. The incident occurred when NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Afghan troops responded to an assault by Taliban militants on border post on April 23. Afghan and ISAF troops then pounded the Pakistani side with shells, which killed a soldier and injured another. As many as 10 militants were killed in the fighting. "We have lodged a strong protest with the Afghan and ISAF side and told them in clear terms that such incidents must not be repeated," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq told reporters at a weekly briefing. "We emphasized that military action on the Pakistan side is the exclusive responsibility of Pakistani forces." AT

NATO CONCERNED BY IRANIAN NUCLEAR THREAT
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told a conference in Manama, Bahrain, on April 24 that Iran's bid to produce nuclear fuel is dangerous both for the Persian Gulf region and the international community, Reuters reported. The UN Security Council has imposed three sets of sanctions on Iran to coerce it to halt uranium enrichment. Gulf states have in turn expressed concern about Iran's intentions, and the security of the Bushehr nuclear installation on Iran's Persian Gulf coast. Iran insists its nuclear program is to produce energy and for research only. NATO has sought to bolster contacts and defense ties with Gulf states as part of the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative; it signed an agreement to that end with Bahrain on April 24, Reuters reported. The same day, Israeli Air Force chief Eliezer Shkedy told CBS News that Israel takes the threats of Iranian officials against the Jewish state seriously. He said Israel should only rely on itself against the perceived threat from Iran. Iranian officials have reiterated their belief that Israel should not exist and its territory belongs to the Palestinians. Shkedy compared a refusal to take seriously statements on Israel's destruction by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to what he said was a tendency by many to dismiss the threat of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, which he added allowed the Holocaust to occur. VS

IRANIANS SEE DIFFERING IMPACT OF SANCTIONS
Iranian officials have said UN Security Council sanctions on Iran have had little effect on Iran's economy, though Radio Farda has reported on less defiant commentaries from others in Iran working in the private sector. On April 22, outgoing Finance Minister Davud Danesh-Jafari said in Tehran that Iran and the U.S. Treasury Department are in some ways playing a complicated game of chess -- each party respectively trying to keep open or closed Iran's financial channels -- and that Iran has "checkmated" its rival, Radio Farda reported on April 24. The broadcaster cited the Tehran-based business daily "Sarmayeh" as reporting on April 12, however, that the Iranian private sector had a very bad year to late March 2008, that foreign investment slowed in that time, and that Iranian traders are facing increased costs due to the sanctions. The daily reported on April 21 that Iranian traders have had to use money changers in Iran for some transactions such as money transfers, and that the changers are charging more than banks for their services. Media have reported on the increasing difficulty Iranian state and private-sector parties have in financing transactions, though "Le Monde" cited an official French study on April 24 showing that sanctions have not affected Iran's oil- and gas-production capacity as much as Western states had hoped. VS

ARMS FAIR EXPELS IRAN OVER ILLEGAL DISPLAY
Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak said in Kuala Lumpur on April 24 that Iran has been asked to leave a defense fair for displaying "offensive" equipment contravening UN resolutions, AP reported. The articles that led to Iran's expulsion from the Defense Services Asia show were "missiles and missile systems," according to Najib. The show began on April 21, with participants from 50 states, AP reported. The Iranian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur said that Iran's participation in the fair was not against Malaysian or international laws, though it didn't elaborate. VS

IRAN, VENEZUELA TO EXPAND COLLABORATION
Iran and Venezuela signed 15 cooperation documents in Caracas on April 24 for projects in areas including energy, housing, and agriculture, news agencies reported. The agreements were signed in the context of the fifth meeting of their joint economic-cooperation commission. Iranian Industries and Mines Minister Ali Akbar Mehrabian, his Venezuelan counterpart Rodolfo Sanz, and Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro signed the documents. The agreements pertain to joint projects that include the construction of a cement plant, several sugar-processing plants, and the formation of firms to make farming and tractor parts and equipment for dairy production, IRNA reported. The joint commission has in recent days also discussed the progress of past projects and the construction by 2013 of a large industrial complex in southern Venezuela between the Orinoco and Apure rivers, with a short-term investment of $3 billion, EFE and IRNA reported. Mehrabian said in Caracas that the complex will lead to "a fundamental development of Venezuela's industrial and economic structure," IRNA reported. VS

IRAQI SHEIKH CLAIMS 800 DEAD IN THREE WEEKS OF AL-SADR CITY CLASHES
Sheikh Salaman al-Fariji told a parliamentary delegation touring Baghdad's Al-Sadr City this week that U.S. forces have killed 800 people in three weeks of clashes there, "Al-Zaman" reported on April 24. Al-Fariji contended that the majority of victims were civilians, and that another 1,800 people were injured in the nearly monthlong security operation. The delegation comprised some 20 legislators. Lawmaker Falah Shanshal said the delegation will ask parliament to lift the siege on Al-Sadr City and reach a peaceful resolution to the standoff with Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia, the Imam Al-Mahdi Army. KR

U.K. FOREIGN SECRETARY MEETS IRAQI OFFICIALS IN BAGHDAD
Foreign Secretary David Miliband met with Iraqi officials in Baghdad on April 24, Iraqi media reported. National security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i told Al-Iraqiyah television that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki urged the British government to fulfill its promises and commitments to support Iraq's reconstruction, particularly across southern Iraq. Al-Iraqiyah also reported that Trade Minister Abd al-Falah al-Sudani met with the head of the commercial section at the British Embassy to discuss mechanisms to enhance trade cooperation between the two countries. KR

IRAQ BOOSTS CRUDE OIL OUTPUT
Iraq increased its crude oil exports by 3.3 million barrels in March to 59.4 million and grossed $5.644 billion, AP reported on April 24, citing Oil Ministry figures. A total of 49.5 million barrels were exported through Al-Basrah in the south, while another 9.9 million barrels were exported through Turkey. February's exports reached 56.1 million barrels and yielded $5.037 billion in revenues. Stuart Bowden, the U.S. special inspector-general for Iraqi reconstruction, said on April 23 that Iraq could bring in as much as $70 billion this year in oil revenues, thanks to soaring oil prices in international markets. KR

IRAQI-AMERICAN BUSINESSMAN GETS PROBATION FOR ROLE IN OIL-FOR-FOOD SCANDAL
Samir Vincent, an Iraqi-American businessman, was sentenced to three years of probation on April 24 for violations related to the UN's oil-for-food program, international media reported. Vincent pleaded guilty in 2005 to secretly working on behalf of the Iraqi government to lobby U.S. and UN officials about the program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 19, 2005). In exchange, he received millions of dollars in concession to sell Iraqi oil. The oil-for-food program was established in 1996 when Iraq was under international sanctions to help ease the effects of those sanctions on the civilian population. Iraq was allowed to sell oil under the program to buy foodstuffs. Vincent faced a maximum sentence of 28 years in prison, but worked out an arrangement with federal prosecutors to testify against other key figures in the government's case, including South Korean businessman Tongsun Park and Texas oilman Oscar Wyatt Jr. KR

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