Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - January 11, 1995

ITAR-TASS on 10 January reported that small groups of Chechen militants in Grozny continued their resistance despite Russian troops' efforts to inform them of the Russian government's ceasefire offer the previous day. AFP on 11 January reports a lull in the fighting after continuous artillery fire throughout the night. Outside Grozny, Russian Interior Ministry troops were reported to be combing villages to neutralize illegal armed formations, according to ITAR-TASS. The same news agency cited an unconfirmed report that former Russian parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov, who abandoned his widely publicized mediation mission in Chechnya after the Russian invasion on 11 December, returned to Chechnya on 7 January. In an interview with Interfax on 10 January, Russian Security Council Secretary Oleg Lobov asserted that Russia is determined to crush the Chechen resistance once the 48-hour ceasefire has expired. He rejected charges that Russia had suffered "a defeat" in Chechnya or that the hostilities constituted "a Russian-Chechen war." In Moscow, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin held talks on Chechnya with Russian President Boris Yeltsin and representatives of the Chechen diaspora, whose input he solicited in stopping hostilities and beginning talks on a peaceful solution to the conflict. A Chechen representative subsequently told Interfax that Moscow-based Chechens advocated a face-to-face meeting between Yeltsin and Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev. While expressing respect for Salambek Khadzhiev, head of the Moscow-appointed Chechen "government of national revival," he argued that the next Chechen government should be elected by the Chechen people. * Liz Fuller

In talks with OSCE Executive Secretary Istvan Gyarmati in Moscow on 10 January, Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev conceded that the Chechen conflict can no longer be considered a strictly Russian issue, AFP reported on 10 January. Gyarmati told journalists that Kozyrev also admitted that human rights violations had taken place but contended that Russia had been constrained by the degree of Chechen resistance to use greater force than originally intended. Gyarmati reaffirmed the OSCE's view that any settlement to the conflict must be based on the principle of Russia's territorial integrity. He said he would propose to a meeting of the OSCE's permanent council in Vienna on 12 January that it send a delegation to Chechnya to gather materials on human rights violations there. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told Interfax on 10 January that there was "no question" of OSCE involvement in resolving the Chechen conflict and that Moscow is prepared to cooperate with the OSCE only in protecting human rights in Chechnya. * Liz Fuller

Vladimir Lukin, chairman of the State Duma Committee for International Affairs, said the protracted fighting in Chechnya has undermined Russian prestige abroad, Interfax reported on 10 January. He said Russia's rating has reached its lowest level "since 1982, when Leonid Brezhnev and his team were living their last days in the Kremlin." He claimed that the recent use of force has increased the desire of East European countries to become members of NATO as soon as possible. He also expected the new US Congress to put pressure on President Clinton to "toughen its policies in relation to Russia." He said the situation in Chechnya dimmed prospects for Russia's entry into the Council of Europe. Noting that Russia should allow OSCE observers into the conflict zone, Lukin said: "This is going to be a difficult decision, but Russia should take it." * Robert Orttung

Ingush President Ruslan Aushev has sent a telegram to Federation Council Chairman Vladimir Shumeiko calling for the immediate dispatch to Ingushetia of observers to assess human rights violations by Russian army and Interior Ministry troops, Interfax reported on 9 January. Ekho Moskvy reported the same day that a Russian combat helicopter on 7 January shot a 12-year-old Ingush shepherd boy in a village 10 km from the Ingush capital, Nazran. * Liz Fuller

Federation Council Deputy Chairman Ramazan Abdulatipov told a new conference on 10 January that "Russia has turned into a zone of wholesale abuse of nationality rights" and that "nationalities have no confidence in the state," Interfax reported. Abdulatipov said the Chechen conflict was not an ethnic but a political one, triggered by the inability of "bodies of power--official or unofficial--of one of the members of the federation to come to terms with the federal authorities." * Penny Morvant

At a news conference on 10 January, Russian Television Chairman Oleg Poptsov said opposing factions within the Russian government are constantly trying to make RTV a propaganda organ. He added that the company would not give up its fight for unbiased reporting. Poptsov fell out of favor with Yeltsin because of the coverage of the Chechen crisis on RTV newscasts. Later on 10 January, Egorov, in a prime-time interview with Ostankino TV's "Vremya," said state television should not be allowed to allocate so much air time to opponents of the Russian intervention in Chechnya. Shortly after, Sergei Filatov, the head of Yeltsin's administration, said on Ostankino TV that "the Chechen developments demonstrate that the Russian state has no state media" and that measures should be taken to improve the situation. He suggested that Ostankino and RTV be merged into a body similar to the State Television and Radio Company--the former Soviet propaganda behemoth. The idea of merging the two companies was proposed by Yeltsin in November but quickly dropped amid a flood of protests. * Julia Wishnevsky

Interior Ministry officials in both Moscow and Ekaterinburg denied an Izvestiya story describing the mutiny of an OMON unit from Ekaterinburg serving in Chechnya. As quoted by Interfax on 10 January, an Interior Ministry spokesman in Moscow called the story "tendentious" and said the men had been replaced "on a routine basis" because they were "tired." The head of the OMON troops in Ekaterinburg said the group had been replaced "according to schedule" by another contingent from the city. The commander of the unit in question was quoted as saying that 80% of his men had caught colds in Chechnya due to a shortage of warm clothing and poor living conditions. This was why they had turned down a "proposal" to stay on in Chechnya, he noted. * Doug Clarke

President Yeltsin on 10 January signed a decree naming Federation Council Speaker Vladimir Shumeiko and State Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin permanent members of the Security Council, Interfax reported. The Security Council, which played a major role in the decision to invade Chechnya, has been made up until now of unelected officials such as Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, Interior Minister Viktor Erin, and Federal Counterintelligence Service Director Sergei Stepashin. Rybkin told Interfax and independent NTV that the move to include the heads of both parliament chambers improves the status of the legislature vis-a-vis the executive. According to Anatoli Krasikov, the head of the presidential press service, only permanent council members have full voting rights during discussions and can chair sessions in the absence of the president and under his instructions, Interfax reported. The other permanent members are Security Council Secretary Lobov and Chernomyrdin. Nonpermanent members are appointed by presidential decrees but do not have full voting rights. * Robert Orttung

The Finance Ministry sent the 1995 draft budget to the State Duma for a second reading yesterday, leaving key figures unchanged despite the cost of the Chechen crisis, the Financial Information Agency reported on 10 January. The draft, first approved on 23 December, projects expenditures of 231.97 trillion rubles (3,705 rubles to $1 at current exchange rates) and income of 160.32 trillion rubles. The projected budget deficit remains 7.7% of GDP. Finance Minister Vladimir Panskov told Interfax that spending on Chechnya was estimated at 4-5 trillion rubles. In December 1994, the Finance Ministry allocated 431 billion rubles to the Defense Ministry for Chechen operations and another 50 billion rubles at the beginning of January. But Panskov told Interfax that the government will adamantly oppose increasing the budget deficit. * Thomas Sigel

Birth rates have plummeted and death rates risen owing to political chaos and economic decline since the collapse of the USSR, the Baltimore Sun reported on 10 January, citing a study by Carl Haub. Life expectancy for males fell from 63.9 years in 1990 to 58.9 in 1993, the lowest among industrialized countries. Female life expectancy declined from 74.3 to 71.9 years. The birth rate dropped from 1.9 in 1990 to 1.4 in 1994, reflecting the gloomy outlook of the population. Infant mortality more than doubled from 14 per 1,000 live births to 30 per 1,000. Haub estimated that if current trends continue, the Russian population could drop to 126.7 million by 2025, from 147.9 million in 1990. Also on 10 January, the State Statistics Committee reported that 90,000 women suffer occupational injuries annually. The deterioration in women's health is due largely to poor working conditions, particularly in agriculture, according to Interfax. * Penny Morvant

In a letter to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Russian President Yeltsin expressed a wish for greater cooperation between their two countries. He said he hoped Russian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Bolshakov's recent visit to Minsk had led to further progress in drafting a broad political agreement, Belarusian radio reported on 10 January. According to Interfax, Bolshakov's visit resulted in the signing of an agreement on a customs union and a protocol on a free trade regime. The two countries also agreed on a conversion mechanism and signed an accord setting up financial-industrial groups to organize trade payments. Belarus has also agreed to lease two military bases--the phased-array ballistic-missile early warning radar under construction at Baranavichy and the Russian submarine communications center in Vileika, near Minsk--to Russia for 25 years for a nominal sum covering the maintenance of the bases. In return Belarus will be given free access to the military information Russia will collect at Baranavichy and to Russian air defense missile ranges. * Ustina Markus and Doug Clarke

The Russian Defense Ministry has ordered an inspection of the 14th Russian Army deployed in Transdniestria, Interfax reports. A commission led by Deputy Defense Minister and Commander of Russia's ground troops Col.-Gen. Vladimir Semenov arrived in Chisinau on 10 January; it was unable to land in Tiraspol because of bad weather. According to Radio Chisinau, the inspection was requested by Transdniestria's Security Ministry, which had complained to Moscow that 14th Army Commander Lt.-Gen. Aleksandr Lebed was interfering in the region's internal affairs. The same source alleged that the commission's main goal was to remove Lebed, who has repeatedly criticized the Russian Defense Ministry for the military intervention in Chechnya. Other sources, however, describe the inspection as a routine one and say no personnel changes are expected in the near future. * Dan Ionescu

The fourth round of UN-mediated Tajik peace talks, scheduled to open in Moscow on 15 January, has been postponed until the end of the month in order to resolve "related technical matters," the head of the UN mission in Tajikistan, Liviu Botha, told Interfax on 10 January. A spokesman for the Islamic Revival Movement told Interfax that the opposition sees no point in continuing negotiations with the Tajik leadership, given that the latter "regularly violates" the truce agreement signed in Tehran in October 1994. * Liz Fuller

Anders Aslund, a prominent Swedish economist who is an adviser to the Ukrainian government, says Kiev is "on the right track" with economic reforms and its prospects for success are "very promising," an RFE/RL special correspondent reports on 11 January. Aslund told a gathering at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington that in the last 18 months, Ukraine has undergone "an extraordinary transformation from the worst-case situation to the leader" among most former Soviet republics in the area of reform. He said breakthroughs can be expected in the next few months, as Ukraine stands on the threshold of real change. While Ukraine succeeded in cutting its 1994 budget deficit to 8% of GDP, it will need aid from the international community to meet its 1995 target deficit of 4-5%. Aslund said he believes Ukraine can reach agreement with IMF officials by late January for a stand-by loan of around $1.3 billion. But he noted more funds will have to come from the United States, the EU, Japan, and most important, from Russia, Ukraine's chief creditor. * Chrystyna Lapychak

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma appointed Petro Sabluk, head of the Ukrainian Institute for Agrarian Economics, as first deputy prime minister in charge of agriculture, Reuters reported on 10 January. Ukraine has two other first deputy prime ministers, one for economic reform and the other for national security. The Kuchma administration has repeatedly claimed that market-oriented reforms in the agricultural sector will be a priority in their 1995 economic reform plan. * Chrystyna Lapychak

The International Monetary Fund on 9 January granted Estonia a second loan worth $16.9 million under its Systemic Transformation Facility for countries moving from communism to capitalism, Reuters reports. The IMF said Estonia was very successful over the past two years in stabilizing its economy, with monthly inflation down to 1-2% and output growing by about 5% in 1994. Like the same-sized STP loan approved on 27 October 1993, the new loan will be channeled into the economy through Estonian commercial banks. While the IMF charges an annual interest rate of 5%, commercial banks will receive the money at an interest rate of about 7%. They are allowed to raise the rate to up to 18%, but many are unlikely to do so. * Saulius Girnius

Council of Europe Parliament Assembly President Miguel Angel Martinez met in Riga on 10 January with Saeima Chairman Anatolijs Gorbunovs, leaders of its factions and committees, and Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs, BNS reports. He spoke positively about Latvia's citizenship law and said Latvia would receive extensive support from international organizations after its admission into the CE in February. Martinez is also scheduled to meet with President Guntis Ulmanis, Prime Minister Maris Gailis, other ministers, and representatives of ethnic minorities. Latvia currently has three delegates to the CE Parliament Assembly as special guests and will later be represented by six deputies, elected by the Saeima. * Saulius Girnius

Gediminas Kiesus, deputy director-general of the Nafta oil refinery in Mazeikiai, said the facility closed down shortly before the New Year for the fifth time in 1994 owing to irregular oil supplies, BNS reported on 6 January. Although it signed a contract to supply 250,000 tons of crude oil in December, the Russian oil company Lukoil sent only 150,000 tons, forcing the shut down. Nafta, which has the capacity to refine 13.8 million tons of oil per year, refined 3.7 million tons in 1994, of which 1.3 million tons came from Lukoil. Kiesus explained that the major problem in obtaining crude oil was the lack of circulating funds to purchase it. The US company ABB Lummus Crest has agreed to lend Nafta $20 million, but the money cannot be expected until late January, when the enterprise holds a presentation in London with other potential creditors. * Saulius Girnius

According to preliminary Finance Ministry estimates, prices rose 2.1% in December, bringing the year-on-year figure to 29.7%. This is well in excess of the government's original plan for 1994 of 23% and its subsequent upward revision to 27%. Estimates by the Main Statistical Office were even higher, at 30.2%. The Finance Ministry predicts that inflation will amount to 2.6% in January, largely due to rises in electricity and natural gas prices. The disappointing results for the year seem to rule out any reduction in interest rates. They also call into question the 17% inflation prediction for 1995 on which the government has based its budgetary assumptions. Interviewed in Gazeta Wyborcza on 6 January, reform architect Leszek Balcerowicz attributed Poland's inflationary difficulties to uncontrolled wage growth, high export revenues, sectoral pressures from agriculture and mining, and political instability. He advised rapid and thorough privatization as the best remedy. * Louisa Vinton

Less than one in five Czechs but almost one-third of Slovaks regret the breakup of Czechoslovakia into two separate states, according to an opinion poll, published on 11 January, marking the second anniversary of the split. Researchers said that the 1,400 respondents in both countries accepted the split as necessary and that the division into two states is still heavily supported, particularly among the better-educated. Only 2% of Czechs and 8% of Slovaks believed that going their separate ways was the right solution to the problems at the time, but they now considered it a mistake. The poll also revealed that, since the division at the end of 1992, Czechs are preoccupied with cracking down on crime, while Slovaks are more concerned with health and unemployment. Slovaks have much more faith in their political leaders, parliament, and army than Czechs, but a substantial number in both countries (44% of Czechs, 57% of Slovaks) believe tighter laws should be adopted to control Gypsies, who are frequently blamed for a rising crime rate. * Steve Kettle

Data released by the Czech Statistical Office on 10 January show that the country's 1994 annual inflation rate was 10%, compared with almost 21% the previous year. The steepest increase in costs--14%--was recorded in the service sector. Food prices rose by 13.9%. The government estimates that the 1995 inflation rate will be 7-9%. * Jiri Pehe

The Slovak cabinet on 10 January approved its program manifesto, which, according to the constitution, must be presented to parliament within 30 days of the government's installation. Deputy Premier Sergej Kozlik said Slovakia's economic development strategy will stress the use of both domestic and foreign investment. Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar noted the economic portion of the program focuses on investment, foreign trade, agriculture, and a continuation of reforms in health and education. He also said the total value of firms to be sold in the second wave of coupon privatization is approximately 50 billion koruny. Foreign Minister Juraj Schenk added that Slovakia is still striving for European integration, improved ties with its neighbors, and a stronger foreign economic policy. Slovak Cultural Minister Ivan Hudec said the government will support individual rights for Slovakia's ethnic minorities in the cultural sphere and will ensure Slovak-language education in all schools. Hudec also noted that the administration wants to open a nongovernment agency to provide the world with accurate information about Slovakia and to improve the work of foreign journalists in the country, TASR reports. * Sharon Fisher

The Confederation of Trade Unions of Slovakia has rejected the Slovak cabinet's wage regulation proposals as incompatible with a market economy, Narodna obroda reports. In a statement on 9 January, Confederation Vice President Vaclav Stevko noted that media statements by some cabinet members suggest the trade unions agree with wage regulation, but he stressed the unions are opposed to it. Wage regulation is seen by the unions as an effort by the state to extend its influence in the business sphere to the wrong area, the statement said. * Sharon Fisher

Tibor Draskovics, the Hungarian state secretary in the Finance Ministry, has said the 1994 budget deficit of 321,000 million forint ($2,850 million) was 5% lower than the government planned, Western agencies report. He attributed the lower-than-expected deficit to a 30% growth in advanced corporate tax payments, a rise in customs duty payments, and higher value-added tax payments. Draskovich said the deficit is equal to about 8% of last year's gross domestic product. * Edith Oltay

International media report on 11 January that a delegation from the five-nation Contact Group is to begin a new round of shuttle diplomacy to the former Yugoslavia later in the day. The diplomats have moved away from their earlier position that the July peace plan must be accepted as a whole, a change that has already angered the Bosnian government, which agreed to the plan on its original terms. US Assistant Secretary Richard Holbrooke is now echoing the Bosnian Serb position by saying the document is merely "the basis for further negotiations." * Patrick Moore

Reuters reports on 11 January that the UN commander in Bosnia, General Sir Michael Rose, will meet the same day with Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic. Rose may want to find out what was behind the remarks by Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic's spokesman, Jovan Zametica, who suggested that Pale will open civilian traffic routes to Sarajevo regardless of whether the Muslims leave the Mt. Igman demilitarized zone. The Los Angeles Times says that if Zametica's comments reflect official policy, this will mean that Pale is unwilling to let the Mt. Igman issue hamstring the ceasefire. The UN hopes to confirm on 11 January whether government troops have left the DMZ. Elsewhere in Bosnia, Hina and the Los Angeles Times report heavy fighting in the Bihac pocket. The Croatian agency notes that the Velika Kladusa, Bosanska Krupa, and Bosanska Otoka areas were particularly hard hit, while the Californian newspaper adds that some eight out of a 100 shells hit the UN-designated "safe area" of Bihac. Troops of the Krajina Serbs are particularly active in the offensive, but their leaders refused to see Rose on 10 January when he tried to visit them to urge the signing of the current fourth-month ceasefire. Politika on 11 January says the visit failed to take place because of "technical reasons." * Patrick Moore

Reuters reports on 11 January that the rump Yugoslav economy is showing unmistakable signs of faltering. National Bank Governor Dragoslav Avramovic halted the country's spiraling hyperinflation in January 1994 by pegging the dinar to the German mark at an exchange rate of 1:1. But recently the dinar has been trading at a rate of 1.9 to the mark. The UN Security Council is slated to review international sanctions against Belgrade on 13 January, but Reuters says "there is little prospect" the sanctions will be "significantly eased or lifted" in the near future. Meanwhile, Politika on 11 January reports that all political parties in rump Yugoslavia have usurped symbols of Serbian nationalism as part of a strategy to win and consolidate voter sympathies. * Stan Markotich

The Macedonian Statistical Office has announced that industrial production in Macedonia fell by 10.5% in 1994, Nova Makedonija reported on 10 January. Gross national product was 6.2% down from 1993, while investments dropped by 6.8%. The main reasons for the decline are the Greek embargo against Macedonia and the war in former Yugoslavia. The Macedonian trade deficit totaled $265 million in 1994. Nova Makedonija on 11 January reported that six large enterprises have been successfully privatized, among them four tobacco factories. Seventy small, medium-sized, and large enterprises were privatized in 1994. * Stefan Krause

A top-level delegation from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has failed to persuade Belgrade authorities to allow monitoring missions back into rump Yugoslavia, Reuters reported on 10 January. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic said that as a precondition for reopening its office in Kosovo, the OSCE will have to readmit his country as a member. Yugoslavia's seat in the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe was suspended in July 1992 because of that country's involvement in the Bosnian war. The mandate of a CSCE monitoring mission to the potential conflict areas of Kosovo, Vojvodina, and Sandzak was not extended in August 1993, and the monitors had to leave the country. OSCE delegate Frank Swaelen said the delegation was "very much disappointed" by the visit's results, while Milosevic saw the visit as "the beginning of a normalization of relations," Politika reported on 11 January. * Fabian Schmidt

Radio Bucharest, citing a Radio Budapest report, announced on 11 January that Romania will pay Hungary 40 million forint in compensation for damage caused by the oil pollution of the River Barcau (Berettyo in Hungarian) in late December. The sum will cover the costs of cleaning the river. * Michael Shafir

Romania's Ministry of National Defense says it is considering a UN proposal to send a peacekeeping battalion to Angola, RFE/RL's correspondent in Bucharest and Reuters reported on 9 January. Ministry spokeswoman Major Elena Olariu said the UN has expressed an interest in using the new Romanian peacekeeping force to help control the uneasy peace between factions in Angola's civil war. Reuters quoted the independent daily Evenimentul zilei as saying up to 900 Romanian troops are being trained for an assignment in Angola in March. But Olariu said no decision has yet been made on the matter. * Doug Clarke and Michael Shafir

US President Bill Clinton has invited Moldovan President Mircea Snegur to Washington to discuss Moldovan economic progress, international agencies and Radio Bucharest report on 11 January. The visit, scheduled for 30 January, will focus on US support for Moldova's developing market economy and political reforms, according to a statement released by the White House the previous day. The two presidents will also discuss the political situation in the Transdniester region and the recent accord between Chisinau and Moscow on the withdrawal of the Russian 14th Army from the self-styled Transdniester Republic. * Michael Shafir

Former leader of the Bulgarian Communist Party Todor Zhivkov, contradicting press reports, told 24 chasa on 11 January that the BCP had not thought about recognizing the country's Turkish minority. "There was not and there could not have been such a project as long as I was head of the party and the state," Zhivkov said. But a report to the BCP's county first secretaries on the problems of the ethnic communities said "ethnic groups should have the opportunity to merge with the Bulgarian community." A copy of the report is in the possession of the state attorney. Yundel Atilla, spokesman of the predominantly Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom, told 24 chasa the same day that the MRF also has a copy of the report. The movement's Kardzhali local committee issued a document saying efforts are afoot to revive the mid-1980s campaign to forcefully Bulgarize ethnic Turkish names. The document has been sent to the Council of Europe Parliament Commission and to the diplomatic corps. * Stefan Krause

Unemployment in Bulgaria is expected to rise to 750,000 in 1995, Trud reported on 10 January. Economic change is unlikely to have much effect on the labor market. Trud also reported that more than 300,000 unemployed receive no state compensation. The state paid out some 2.7 billion leva (about $180 million) in unemployment benefits in 1994. * Stefan Krause

Zef Brozi has asked the parliament to set up a commission to investigate the release of a Greek citizen accused of drug smuggling, Gazeta Shqiptare reports on 11 January. Brozi, who ordered the release, was accused of wrongdoing by Chief Prosecutor Alush Dragoshi and two other judges. Dragoshi has asked the parliament to lift Brozi's immunity and has started criminal investigations against him, but the parliament has refused to cooperate. Brozi was supported by the Association of Judges, which said the moves against him are unjust. Brozi and his supporters claim that the proceedings are part of a campaign by President Sali Berisha against the judge, who has criticized Berisha's policies. * Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Jan Cleave