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Newsline - January 13, 1995

Russian troops intensified their artillery bombardment of Grozny on 12 January amid predictions of a "final assault" on the city in the next few days, according to AFP. ITAR-TASS reported the dispatch to Chechnya of several hundred naval reinforcements, including marines, while Interfax said a large convoy of armored vehicles set out on 11 January from Vladikavkaz toward the Chechen frontier. Both Chechen and Russian military spokesmen suggested that Chechen forces might pull out of Grozny and regroup in the south of the republic to continue resistance against the Russians. In an interview with Krasnaya zvezda on 12 January, Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev warned that the war in Chechnya "will last for years." Meanwhile, the higher echelons of the Defense Ministry "swamped the Kremlin switchboard" with calls protesting the 11 January proposal that President Boris Yeltsin assume direct control of the military, according to AFP quoting Yeltsin's adviser for national security issues, Yurii Baturin. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 12 January, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigorii Karasin rejected as "inadequate and hasty" calls by Western political leaders for freezing economic and political cooperation with Russia in response to its handling of the Chechen crisis, Interfax and AFP report. While conceding the importance of the human rights aspect of the conflict, Karasin argued that "the scale of the challenge that Russia faced in Chechnya made human tragedies and losses practically inevitable." He hinted that Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev would brief US Secretary of State Warren Christopher on the Chechen situation at their meeting in Geneva on 17-18 January. In Vienna, a meeting of the OSCE Standing Committee on 12 January announced Russia has agreed to cooperate with an OSCE mission that will travel to Chechnya to assess human rights situation there, according to AFP. Also on 12 January, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, the current EU president, announced in Brussels that the union will lodge a new diplomatic protest with the Russian leadership. He noted that "Russia's promises to seek a negotiated solution have so far been without result." In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati reiterated Iran's readiness to mediate in Chechnya. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Pavel Shtein said deputies regard Dzhokhar Dudaev and his regime as "criminal," Interfax reported 12 January. But he added that "Federation Council members were split on assessing actions of the federal authorities in eliminating Dudaev's regime." Shtein said the council will continue its hearings at a later date. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

The Chechen crisis threatens to increase the desire of Russia's regional leaders to loosen ties with the center, Leonid Smirnyagin, a member of Yeltsin's Council of Advisers told Interfax on 11 January. He expected the regions to increase their demands for greater control over ethnic issues, pointing to their growing criticism of the federal authorities' failure to consult them about the handling of the Chechen crisis. Smirnyagin said such demands were groundless since the upper house of the parliament represents the interests of the regions. Meanwhile, Interfax reports that Yeltsin met with the heads of the Moscow, Kostroma, Rostov, Chita, and Stavropol regions on 12 January. According to the president's press service, the regional leaders were worried about legislation on the regions' status currently being debated by the Duma. They said the proposed law failed to guarantee the constitutional principle of power-sharing and ensure political stability. The regional leaders pushed for new legislation that would give Moscow and the regions equal standing. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

Russian TV newscasts on 12 January quoted Yelstin adviser Aleksandr Livshits as saying the month-long Chechen war has cost Russia 800 billion rubles ($220 million). He estimated that rebuilding the Chechen economy would cost 4-5 trillion rubles, "perhaps more but not much more," Ostankino's "Vremya" newscast reported him as saying. Col. Gen. Vasilii Vorobev, who heads the General Staff's budget and finance department, told Interfax on 12 January that the military operations in Chechnya have cost the Defense Ministry 550 billion rubles to date. He said that each day's operations added another 12-14 billion rubles to the bill and that one shot from the 125-mm gun of a T-72 tanks cost 1.7 million rubles. Vorobev also said the Defense Ministry has made no large purchases of equipment or ammunition because of the recent events. -- Julia Wishnevsky and Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

According to ITAR-TASS on 12 January, the Federation Council was told that 394 Defense and Interior Ministry personnel have been killed and 1,000 wounded in Chechnya since fighting broke out. Taken in conjunction with official figures released on 6 January, these data mean that 35% of the losses took place in the five-day period from 7-11 January. But the government tallies have been disputed. Interfax on 12 January quoted the Chechen General Headquarters as saying 3,000-4,000 Russian servicemen have been killed in 1995 alone. State Duma Deputy Aivars Lezdysh--a Liberal Democrat--told a Moscow press conference on 11 January that at least 1,500 Russian military were killed in the last few days. He claimed to have counted 160 dead servicemen in three Grozny districts he had visited. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

Russian TV's "Vesti" on 12 January cited Livshits as saying the president's approval rating, which nose-dived after the Chechen war broke out in December, has started to improve. A survey conducted by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion at the beginning of January revealed that only 17% of the respondents were satisfied with Yeltsin's performance as president (compared with 28% in September 1994). While 70% of those polled in September were dissatisfied with Yeltsin's work, this figure had climbed to 81% in January. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc.

In an interview with Argumenty i fakty, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reiterated his proposal that Russia grant Chechnya independence. He criticized the Russian authorities for not doing so when the republic declared independence in 1991. Solzhenitsyn said that immediately after the republic's declaration, Russia should have cut its subsidies to Chechnya, sealed its borders, and deported all Chechens residing in Moscow and other Russian cities or treated them as foreigners. Solzhenitsyn believed that continuing the war against Chechnya might result in a Russian confrontation with the entire Muslim world, which, he said, should be avoided at all costs. He opposed signing a confederation treaty with the breakaway Caucasian republic because of a possible domino effect, even in those republics with a Russian majority population. Only those republics where the eponymous nationality constitutes two-thirds of the population--namely, Chechnya, Chuvashia, and Tuva--could be granted independence if they requested it, Solzhenitsyn said. Meanwhile, Nezavisimaya gazeta published on 11 January an appeal to Solzhenitsyn, signed by 11 young Russian politicians, asking him to run for the presidency in the next elections. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc.

In London for a meeting of the International Democrat Union grouping of center-right parties, Egor Gaidar, the leader of Russia's Choice, told reporters that if Yeltsin "continues in the way he is doing, in a very short time he will not be in control of the military." Gaidar said Yeltsin was already "much more dependent on the army and military forces than he was," Reuters reported on 12 January. Gaidar was not optimistic that the legislation his faction introduced in the Duma this week, banning the use of military force in Russia except in a state of emergency, would be adopted. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

At an emergency conference of the Russian Defense Industry Workers' Union on 12 January, workers decided to prepare for joint action to bring down the government and replace Yeltsin. According to Interfax, the union reported that more than 200,000 workers left Russian defense enterprises in 1994. Workers were owed more than 160 billion rubles, while their average wage was only 62.5% of the average industrial wage. The union charged that less than 30% of the necessary funds were provided in 1994 for programs to convert defense plants to civilian production. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

The military collegium of the Russian Supreme Court on 12 January sentenced Air Force Maj. Gen. Nikolai Seliverstov to five years in prison for misappropriating government property. According to Interfax, the court also required him to return 64 million rubles to the treasury. Seliverstov was the deputy commander of the air forces of the Western Group of Forces in Germany. He went to trial on 22 November for the theft of state funds, bribery, and forgery. The last two charges were dropped by the court. Interfax said the verdict was final and could not be appealed. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

Livshits, speaking at a 12 January news conference, predicted that inflation would fall in the near future. He dismissed as "absolutely groundless" rumors about the collapse of the ruble and government plans to replace 50,000 ruble bank notes and to suspend hard-currency bank accounts. Equally "groundless," he said, was the rumor that newly appointed State Property Committee Chairman Vladimir Polevanov plans to reverse the privatization of Russia's economy. He ruled out both a "curtailment" of privatization and the renationalization of industries already privatized. In an interview with Russian TV's "Pod-robnosti" on 29 December 1994, Polevanov revealed plans to nationalize factories producing aluminum for military purposes. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc.

In a meeting with Duma deputies on 12 January, Yeltsin called for the confirmation of Tatyana Paramonova as head of the Central Bank, according to Interfax. Paramonova has been acting head since the Duma ousted former Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko on 23 November 1994. In order for the Central Bank to make substantive progress in banking procedures, Yeltsin stressed the importance of making a permanent appointment. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

The Moscow Interbank Currency Exchange announced on 12 January that it will begin auctioning bonds and trading future contracts for US dollars in February. Sergei Kharitonov, MICEX term operations head, said in a 12 January news conference that 110 commercial banks and financial companies have applied to take part in the auction. Although the mechanism for trading term contracts has been established, the auction format has still not been finalized. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

Meeting in emergency session on 12 January, the Georgian parliament approved by 122 votes to 62 a deficit-free budget for 1995, with revenue and spending amounting to 243 trillion coupons, Interfax reported. (As of 1 January, the National Bank exchange rate was 1.28 million coupons to $1.) The lion's share of expenditures--15.7%--will be on defense, followed by 13.7% on law enforcement. In lines with IMF recommendations, spending on the government apparatus will not exceed 4.8%. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma told newspaper editors in the central Ukrainian city of Zhytomyr that 1995 will be a turning point for the Ukrainian economy, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 12 January. He said "either the situation will be changed for the better or we will face a total collapse." He also noted that the draft state budget for 1995 will include the toughest austerity measures ever. Kuchma accused the Cabinet of Ministers of lacking real commitment to economic reforms and suggested a cabinet reshuffle was possible. He said a new constitutional law giving the president sweeping executive authority to preside over reform must be passed by parliament this month so that he can immediately adopt effective decisions. Otherwise, he will be forced to call a national referendum on the issue, he commented. -- Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.

The Crimean parliament has voted to place all property on its territory subject to privatization--including ports, railways, and dozens of Black Sea resorts--under the region's jurisdiction, Reuters reported on 12 January. Legislators said they voted for the resolution because they feared Ukrainians from outside Crimea would buy up local property. Officials in Kiev said the decision violates Ukrainian law. Crimean government ministers had appealed to the legislators to refrain from making rash decisions, while legal experts had warned the parliament that the move violated Ukrainian and international laws. -- Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.

Volodymyr Yerasov, director of the State Employment Center, told journalists in Kiev that more than 2.5 million Ukraine residents are expected to be unemployed in 1995, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 12 January. Mass layoffs may begin in the first half of the year, he said. While only 113,200 people were officially registered as unemployed in 1994, hidden unemployment at industrial enterprises and government agencies was believed to approach 3.4 million, including many workers who went on forced vacation for more than a month or worked shorter weeks or days. Due to expected budgetary restrictions and austerity measures in the draft state budget for 1995, unemployment benefits will be cut from the equivalent of three months' wages to one months' salary, Yerasov said. -- Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.

The Belarusian parliament has demanded to see the text of the recently signed Russian-Belarusian agreements, Belarusian Radio reported on 12 January. The agreements are considered vital to an assessment of the budget since they will affect Belarus's annual revenues. Deputy Prime Minister Syarhei Ling said that the customs agreement with Russia will generate $250 million for Belarus, but the country will have to pay $500 million for Russian energy supplies. Deputies complained that they were excluded from the drafting of the accords with Russia and learned of their signing only from the media. Uladzimir Novikau, the head of the parliament Industry Committee, criticized the government's trade policy, which calls for the export of 80% of the country's output to Russia. Novikau said Belarus must find new markets for its products, otherwise its industries will be doomed. Debate on the budget is proceeding smoothly, with deputies agreeing that the budget deficit must be kept down to 4% of GDP. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Estoniya, one of the major Russian-language newspapers in Estonia, has been declared bankrupt by a Tallinn court, Interfax reports on 12 January. The newspaper, formerly called Sovetskaya Estoniya, was the official organ of the Estonian Communist Party. Its acting editor-in-chief, Vyacheslav Ivanov, said that even though Estoniya was one of the few official newspapers in the country, the state decided not to invest in its development. He added that despite the formal bankruptcy of the state-run joint-stock company, Newspaper Estonia, the daily will still be issued. Its journalists have set up a joint-stock company called Kronist and will continue to sell the newspaper at the same price. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

Poland's Constitutional Tribunal on 12 January ruled that tax legislation challenged by President Lech Walesa does not violate constitutional guidelines. The tribunal ruled only on Walesa's objection that the tax law fails to raise a deduction for housing renovations to keep pace with inflation. It did not consider the president's more sweeping challenge to the tax rates themselves (21%, 33%, and 45%), noting that such a challenge is possible only after the bill has been signed into law. Rezeczpospolita notes that most company accountants have been deducting taxes in accordance with the government's instructions, disregarding calls from some politicians (including Walesa) to adhere to the pre-1994 20%, 30%, and 40% rates. The lower rates would reduce budget revenues by $500 million. The key question now is whether the president will push ahead with his challenge to the ruling coalition by vetoing the 1995 budget, which the parliament passed at record speed early in January. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

In a second ruling expected to decide the fate of Foreign Minister Andrzej Olechowski, the Constitutional Tribunal ruled on 12 January that the "anticorruption" law of 1992 bans high public officials from holding posts in private firms and permits them to sit on the boards of commercial firms in which the state has a stake only when expressly assigned to do. They may accept no payment. But the tribunal also stressed that officials who accepted extra salaries in the past had done so "in good faith," as government lawyers had instructed that this practice was legal. Justice Minister Wlodzimierz Cimosewicz, who in October published lists of dozens of officials who, he said, were violating the 1992 law, claimed the ruling justified his "clean hands" campaign. Olechowski, who was included on the justice minister's list because of his post as chairman of the board of Bank Handlowy, had said he would resign if the tribunal ruled in Cimoszewicz's favor. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

Russian oil supplies to the Czech Republic have resumed after a four-day interruption, Czech media report on 13 January. Deliveries were cut off because of a dispute over pipeline transit fees between Russia and Ukraine. The Czech Republic's biggest refinery had to draw on state reserves to keep operating. Other refineries had sufficient oil reserves and were not seriously affected by the interruption. Officials said 30,000 tons of crude oil were expected to reach the Czech Republic daily, almost twice the country's minimum needs. -- Steve Kettle, OMRI, Inc.

Opposition deputies from the Christian Democratic Movement, the Democratic Union, the Party of the Democratic Left, the Social Democratic Party, and the three ethnic Hungarian parties submitted a proposal on 12 January to the Constitutional Court asking it to review two laws recently passed by the parliament. One law is an amendment to the large-scale privatization legislation transferring control over privatization from the government to the National Property Fund; the other cancels all direct-sale privatization projects carried out by the Moravcik government after 6 September. The two laws were passed by the parliament on 4 November, vetoed by the president, and then reapproved by the legislature on 21 December. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

Delegations from three Hungarian opposition parties--the Hungarian Democratic Forum, the Christian Democratic Peoples' Party, and the Alliance of Young Democrats--arrived in Slovakia on 12 January for a two-day visit. Invited by the chairmen of the three ethnic Hungarian parties in Slovakia, the Hungarian politicians are seeking to strengthen ties with ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia and contribute to the development of "good-neighborly relations," HDF Chairman Lajos Fur said. The delegation is expected to meet with Slovak Premier Vladimir Meciar and the chairmen of the Christian Democratic Movement and Democratic Union, Sme reports. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

The Hungarian government on 12 January canceled a major hotel privatization deal and fired privatization chief Ferenc Bartha, MTI reports. The government accused the State Property Agency, headed by Bartha, of "professional lapses" and ignoring "the interests of the national economy." The State Property Agency agreed to sell 51% of the shares of 14 Hungarian hotels to the American General Hospitality for $57.5 million. But Prime Minister Gyula Horn stopped the transaction because he considered the price too low. The cancellation of the deal and the dismissal of Bartha is likely to exacerbate growing tensions between Horn's Hungarian Socialist Party and its coalition partner, the Alliance of Free Democrats, which was opposed to both moves. The Financial Times on 13 January reports that the index of the Budpaest stock exchange fell 66 points, the biggest daily drop for nearly a year, in anticipation that the government would cancel the sale. -- Edith Oltay, OMRI, Inc.

The UN Security Council voted 14-0 on 12 January to continue easing sanctions against the rump Yugoslavia for another 100 days. Russia, objecting primarily to additional restrictions on oil convoys from Serbia Serb-controlled territories of Croatia, was the only nation to abstain. Reuters on 13 January reports the council's decision received mixed reviews, with leaders from Islamic states arguing that sanctions should not be eased until the Bosnian Serbs show their full support for peace. Reuters also quotes Muhamed Sacirbey, Bosnia's UN ambassador, as saying the sanctions monitors' means for tracking activity along Serbia's border with Bosnia and Herzegovina were "flawed and inadequate from their inception." A partial easing of sanctions was introduced by a resolution dating from September 1994 in recognition of what appears to be Belgrade's severing of some ties with the Bosnian Serbs. Sanctions on transportation links and cultural and sports events were first eased for a period of 100 days. -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

Hina on 12 January carried the texts of messages by President Franjo Tudjman to the Croatian nation and to UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali saying Croatia will not renew UNPROFOR's mandate when it expires on 31 March. The UN forces will have three months to leave the country, although they may continue to use Zagreb as UN regional headquarters. He thanked the UN forces for their initial successes in keeping peace and noted that many were killed or wounded in the process. But he argued that UNPROFOR has not promoted the reintegration of the Serb-held one-third of Croatian territory despite repeated warnings from the Croatian government to do so or face the loss of its mandate. The president concluded that UNPROFOR is not only "inefficient" but also "significantly counterproductive to the peace process." He added that UNPROFOR's departure could provide a fresh impetus for a peaceful solution to the problems of Croatia, Bosnia, and the region as a whole. Tudjman stressed that his government seeks a peaceful solution to the ongoing crisis, and he also reassured the Serbian minority that its rights will be protected in keeping with Croatian law. Croatian diplomats had informed Contact Group representatives as well as Italy, China, and the Vatican of Tudjman's decision in advance, although speculation continues as to whether his word is final. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Reuters on 13 January quoted some UN officials as suggesting that the president's speech leaves little room for maneuver, while also mentioning that the world organization should not overreact but rather make a "considered reply." Boutros-Ghali nonetheless said he is "gravely concerned about the risk of renewed hostilities," and Croatia's two closest major allies, Germany and the United States, were also critical of Tudjman's moves, the BBC reports. But public opinion polls in Croatia have indicated widespread disgust with the UN's role. The peacekeepers are often derided with the nickname SERBPROFOR, reflecting the widespread view that UNPROFOR has become a buffer between Croatian and Serbian forces and hence protects Serbian conquests. The Croatian media have long expressed the fear that the country will become "another Cyprus," with UN forces originally sent to promote a ceasefire eventually ensuring the partition of the area. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

The Washington Post on 13 January writes that Contact Group negotiators held talks with Bosnian government leaders in Sarajevo the previous day and are now off to visit the rebel Serbs in Pale. Bosnian government officials told the diplomats that they will allow no changes in the peace plan that Sarajevo accepted in July. Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic nonetheless seemed to take at face value a British statement that the delegation "sticks to the Contact Group plan" and added that "it is now clear that the Contact Group never shifted its position." But this may be an exercise by Sarajevo to forestall expected diplomatic concessions to Pale by the international negotiators. The German agency dpa on 12 January reported an increase in the fighting around Bihac, while AFP said that the Serbs in the Livno area are using Croats and Muslims as human shields. The French agency also reported on threats by the Bosnian army against UNPROFOR at Tuzla airport, apparently over the presence of a Serbian liaison officer there. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

The Romanian Environment Ministry on 12 January denied that Romania plans to compensate Hungary for damage caused when oil spilled into the Hungarian part of the Barcau River at the end of December, Radio Bucharest reported the same day. The ministry issued a statement denying a report by Radio Budapest maintaining that Romania had agreed to pay compensation (see OMRI Daily Digest, 11 January). The statement says Romania's environmental protection agreement with Hungary does not require compensation for such damage. It notes that Romania has fulfilled all its obligations under the agreement and eliminated the effects of the spill. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

The National Defense Ministry, in a press release carried by Radio Bucharest on 12 January, confirmed that the UN has asked Romania if it is ready to send peacekeeping troops to Angola and that Romania has responded it is ready "in principle." The ministry said the decision to send troops will be taken once the UN officially asks for Romania to participate in the operation. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

The Movement of Civic Alliance has accused the Romanian government of trying to control the broadcast media by blocking reforms of public radio and television, Reuters reported on 11 January. The MCA pointed to a five-month delay in appointing a new management board for Romanian Television and Radio. The state-owned broadcast media became public institutions subordinated to the parliament under legislation that took effect in June 1994, but no administrators have been appointed to date. The Media Commission of the Chamber of Deputies in late 1994 rejected the candidacy of prominent intellectuals put forward by the broadcast unions. The MCA accused the Party of Social Democracy in Romania of promoting its own nominees, who, it claimed, are "politically subservient." -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

At the first session of the new Bulgarian parliament on 12 January, Blagovest Sendov, a mathematician affiliated with the Bulgarian Socialist Party, was elected parliament chairman, international news agencies reported. Sendov received 138 votes and Aleksandar Dzherov of the People's Union 55; no fewer than 42 deputies abstained. Sendov was a deputy during the communist era but not a member of the communist party. The parliament's session was opened by the oldest deputy, Vladimir Abadzhiev of the Union of Democratic Forces. Abadzhiev said the new assembly has to "bring about the economic recovery of the country and deal with unemployment, poverty, and crime." President Zhelyu Zhelev's scheduled address to the legislators was canceled because the election of the speaker took up most of the day. The 18 December elections gave the Socialists a majority of 125 seats in the 240-seat parliament. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

Server Pellumbi, deputy leader of the Socialist Party, has called for new elections and said his party will start the election campaign--not in a coalition, but on its own. But he did not rule out the possibility of forming a coalition later with another party. It is still unclear when the next elections will be, but Gazeta Shqiptare reported on 13 January that all opposition parties have called for an early ballot. President Sali Berisha, whose term ends in April 1997, has nonetheless ruled out early elections. Meanwhile, Albanian Ambassador to Washington Lublim Dilja signed a treaty with the US government regulating bilateral investments, Rilindja Demokratike reported on 13 January. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Jan Cleave