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Newsline - January 16, 1995

Systematic house-to-house
fighting and intensified artillery bombardment of the presidential palace in Grozny continued from 13 to 15 January, Western journalists reported. On 13 January, Russian forces took the Council of Ministers building opposite the presidential palace, and on 14 January succeeded in surrounding the blazing palace and preventing the advent of Chechen reinforcements or a Chechen retreat to the south. Russian troops who succeeded in forcing their way into the presidential palace on 14 January were driven out on 15 January. In a satellite-telephone interview from Grozny published in Die Welt am Sonntag on 15 January, Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev predicted that the war in Chechnya would last longer than that in Afghanistan, and claimed that 47 Russian generals had defected to the Chechen side. On 15 January, Russian Presidential Advisor Emil Pain met at The Hague with OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities Max van der Stoel to discuss the possibility of international mediation in Chechnya, AFP reported. * Liz Fuller

Alekdandr N. Yakovlev, head of Ostankino television and radio, asked the Russian government on 14 January to stop trying to control the coverage of the war in Chechnya through censorship or by putting pressure on the media, Interfax and Mlada Fronta Dnes reported on 13 and 16 January, respectively. Yakovlev said the censorship applies to all Russian journalists reporting on the conflict and has reduced the coverage of Russian forces. Yakovlev declared that the censorship measures give Chechen President Dudaev the upper hand because independent journalists can only cover the fighting from the Chechen side. In particular, Yakovlev has asked Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to stop putting pressure on Russian television's second program and independent NTV, both of which have been less compliant than Ostankino. Russian authorities have been particularly critical of NTV. * Robert Orttung

A reporter in the 14 January issue of Izvestiya cautioned his readers that it would be a "big mistake" to take the official Russian casualty figures released on 11 January, of 394 killed and 1,000 wounded, as accurate. Valerii Yakov said that some losses continued to be "concealed or blatantly lied about." Many of the Russian dead were still lying in parts of Grozny controlled by Dudaev's supporters, and their names would be on lists of men missing in action that have not been made public. Yakov also charged that the military was hiding the fact that it was placing urgent orders for zinc coffins for the war dead. Interfax on 15 January quoted "well-informed military sources" as saying some 500 Russian soldiers had been killed, 200 more had "disappeared" and another 120 to 150 had been captured. * Doug Clarke

Chuvash President Nikolai Fyodorov believes that society has paid "too high a price for the criminal experiments and mistakes by the federal authorities in Chechnya," Interfax reported 13 January. Fyodorov said that a 5 January meeting of Volga Republic leaders in Cheboksary, the Chuvash capital, caused dissatisfaction among federal authorities because the leaders "protested against policies which provoke armed clashes between citizens of the same state." Fyodorov said that the republican leaders will "continue to resist the erroneous decisions and neutralize their negative effect in the provinces as much as the Russian Constitution permits." In a related development, Duma Deputy Mikhail Molostvov, on his return to Moscow from Chechnya, declared that the federal authorities "are doing what they do in Chechnya to scare the constituent republics into submission." * Robert Orttung

Despite the unpopularity of the Chechen war, the protest movement against it has not turned into a mass movement, Russian Television "Vesti's" commentator opined, while reporting on two rallies held in Moscow by different democratic organizations on 14 and 15 January. According to "Vesti," neither of these meetings attracted more than a few thousand participants. "Vesti" also broadcast footage of anti-war rallies held on 15 January in other cities across Russia, including St. Petersburg, Chelyabinsk on the Urals, Omsk in Siberia and Volgograd. In Moscow, both protests were organized by former Yeltsin supporters who said they became opponents of the Russian president and his regime after the bombing of civilians in Grozny. In other places, participants condemned both the president and the democrats who had brought Yeltsin to power and approved of the use of force against the former Russian parliament in October 1993. In a separate development, "Vesti" said that a meeting of the leaders of Russia's Cossack organizations, held 14 and 15 January, disapproved of those Cossacks who voted for the military intervention in Chechnya. * Julia Wishnevsky

Speaking on the live television program "Itogi," Finance Minster Vladimir Panskov stated on 14 January that Russia's current budget for 1995 will be sufficient to pay for the Chechnya war if it ends soon. Similarly, Deputy Premier Anatolii Chubais, in a 14 January Interfax report, stated there is no reason to worry about an economic disaster because of the conflict. Statistics, however, indicate otherwise. Panskov said the military cost of Russia's intervention in Chechnya during December was about 450 billion rubles ($121 million). He estimated the cost of reconstruction between 4 and 5 trillion rubles ($1.1 to 1.35 billion), a conservative figure. According to a Western report, free-market reform economist Egor Gaidar said that if spending continues over the next few weeks the 1995 budget can be forgotten. Not only is the budget at stake, but also confidence in the ruble, which can help boost the economy and faith in Yeltsin, the force that influences Western lenders and investors. Already, the government's original $60 billion spending plan for 1995 is short by $19 billion, or 7.7% of the projected gross national product (GNP). The majority of this deficit was to be covered by credits from international lending agencies as well as the sale of treasury bonds. But as some reports estimate, an additional $4.5 billion expended on the war would raise the deficit to about 10% of the GNP, a level unacceptable to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). *Thomas Sigel

A team from the IMF will arrive in Moscow on 17 January to reopen negotiations with Russia concerning a $6 billion loan, AFP reported on 16 January. The loan is crucial for Russia to help quell its turbulent economy. Reports indicated that Russia is hoping for about $15 million, or 10% of its federal expenditure in foreign loans this year. However, due to the political and economic implications and results of the Chechnya conflict, one Western advisor to the Russian government said "the costs of the war and the accompanying international criticism could unravel the tight 1995 budget." This could mean withholding of or reduction in financial support by the IMF and other western sources, thus putting an even greater strain on Russia's already weakened economy. * Thomas Sigel

Russian President Boris Yeltsin has resubmitted Robert Tsivilev for the Federation Council's approval as the last judge on the Constitutional Court, Interfax reported 13 January. An aide to the head of the presidential administration, Tsivilev had been nominated in December 1994, but received only 86 votes, four short of the 90 necessary. At the same time, more than 80 deputies of the Federation Council signed an appeal asking the president to nominate Isa Kostoev, the chairman of the Federation Council Committee for Constitutional Law and Legal Issues, for the vacancy. * Robert Orttung

Georgian security and interior ministry forces thwarted what was initially termed an attempt on 13 January by the recently-created National Liberation Front of Abkhazia to expedite, by force if necessary, the repatriation of Georgian refugees to Abkhazia, Russian and Western agencies reported. Two separate convoys of six buses were intercepted in western Georgia and some 370 people, including the Front's organizers, ex-prime minister Tengiz Sigua and former defense minister Tengiz Kitovani, were disarmed and detained; five Front activists were injured in an exchange of fire. On 14 January, Georgian Prosecutor-General Dzhamlet Babilashvili told journalists that Kitovani would be formally charged with heading an illegal military formation; Georgian Intelligence chief Igor Georgadze claimed that the object of the crusade had been not to expedite the return of the Georgian refugees but to set up "a stronghold of resistance" in Senaki to the Georgian leadership and unleash civil war, according to Interfax. Georgian Parliament Chairman Eduard Shevardnadze refuted Kitovani's claim that the Russian military leadership had given the go ahead for the operation. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigorii Karasin likewise denied any Russian involvement. * Liz Fuller

After a six-hour hearing, the Armenian Supreme Court on 13 January upheld an appeal by the Ministry of Justice and banned the opposition Dashnak party for a period of six months, Interfax reported. The ban was announced on 28 December by President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, who accused the party of involvement in terrorist activities and drug-smuggling. A Ministry of Justice spokesman subsequently argued that the party had violated legislation on the activities of political parties and on the status of foreign nationals in Armenia (nine of the party's 13 leaders are foreign nationals). In an interview with Interfax on 14 January, Dashnak leader Hrair Karapetyan termed the ban "one-sided" and affirmed that party members will take all legal means to restore their rights. * Liz Fuller

More than 100,000 coal miners in northern Kazakhstan launched an indefinite strike on 13 January to coerce the government to pay several months' back wages totaling $50 million, according to Reuters of 13 January and the Financial Times of 14 January. The chairman of the regional miners' union, Vyacheslav Sidorov, told Reuters that 98 percent of his colleagues supported the protest and that 21 of the 23 pits at Karaganda and Ekisbastuz were idle. Minister of Coal Vladimir Karmakov warned, however, that the government would not yield to "economic blackmail." * Liz Fuller


The head of the Sevastopol garrison and deputy commander of the Ukrainian navy, Mykola Kostrov, criticized the Black Sea Fleet command for not having notified the Ukrainian navy or the authorities in Sevastopol prior to holding military exercises in the area, Ukrainian television reported on 14 January. According to the press service of the Ukrainian navy, the Black Sea Fleet held exercises on 12 January which involved the use of artillery fire along the coast of Sevastopol and neglected to tell the city's authorities, which led to panic in some sectors of Sevastopol. Kostrov said that in areas where both Ukrainian navy and Black Sea Fleet units are located, proper exchange of information is vital. He added that this was not the first time that the Black Sea Fleet Command had behaved in such a way. * Ustina Markus

Russian radio reported on 15 January that the Ukrainian foreign ministry has condemned a statement by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov regarding Sevastopol. Moscow and Sevastopol had signed an agreement on cooperation on 12 January. After the signing, Luzhkov said Sevastopol is being given the status of Moscow's 11th prefect district. The press center of the Ukrainian foreign ministry demanded an explanation of such statements by Russian officials. * Ustina Markus

Foreign Minister Andrzej Olechowski announced his final resignation on 13 January, citing "fundamental policy differences" with Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak, Gazeta Wyborcza reports. Olechowski charged the ruling coalition with pursuing foreign policy goals "contrary to Poland's national interests." He denied that the Constitutional Tribunal's "anticorruption" ruling the previous day had influenced his decision, quoting the court's conclusion that officials serving on the boards of state firms had taken second salaries "in good faith." At a press conference in Gdansk on 14 January, Pawlak denied any intention to modify foreign policy or abandon the goals of NATO and EU membership. Coalition officials argued that the foreign minister's real motive was to clear the way for a presidential campaign--opinion polls put him ahead of all other potential candidates--but Olechowski said that "for today" he had no political plans. * Louisa Vinton

Olechowski's departure will undermine the coalition government's already shaky standing, both at home and abroad, as the foreign minister was perceived as the last guarantor of Solidarity-era continuity in a political arrangement dominated by postcommunist forces. President Lech Walesa announced on 13 January that he is considering withdrawing Internal Affairs Andrzej Milczanowski from the cabinet as well. This would leave all three of the "presidential" ministries vacant, as the defense ministry has been without a chief since November. The result would be a final division of the executive branch into two warring camps. The leaders of Poland's largest opposition party, the Freedom Union, set up an "anti-crisis staff" on 15 January to respond to potential threats to the democratic order, Gazeta Wyborcza reports. * Louisa Vinton

Latvian Ambassador to the US Ojars Kalnins and the World Bank's European and Central Asian Region Acting Vice-President Basil Kavalsky signed a $4 million loan agreement on 9 January in Washington, BNS reported on13 January. The loan, along with a Nordic Environmental Finance Corporation loan and Swedish and Finnish government grants, will finance the largest environmental protection project in Latvia, the development of the Kurzeme coastal area. The project also aims to decrease untreated or partially treated sewage inflow into the Baltic Sea. The technical part of the project, whose implementation will be completed by September 1999, will be coordinated from Latvia's side by the Liepaja Water Supply and Sewage enterprise. * Saulius Girnius

Valdis Birkavs on 12 January held talks with US Secretary of State Warren Christopher on topics including the expansion of NATO and the situation in Chechnya, BNS reported on13 January. On that day, Birkavs and US trade representative Mickey Kantor signed an agreement on mutual investment protection. In meetings with two deputy secretaries of state and representatives of the National Security Council, Latvian officials discussed the dismantling of the Russian radar station at Skrunda, US assistance in forming Latvia's export control system, bilateral cooperation and US technical assistance projects. Birkavs also met with several Republican Senators. He will return to Riga on 17 January, making a one-day visit to Helsinki en route. * Saulius Girnius

Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Economic Relations Oleg Davydov on 12 January arrived in Pskov to visit three new border checkpoints with Latvia (at Ubylinka and Burachki) and Estonia (at Kunichina Gora), Interfax reports. The three points should have started functioning at the end of 1994, but their construction was delayed because promised state funds were not received. Davydov attended the opening ceremonies of the Ubylinka post on 12 January and of the Kunichina Gora post the following day. The new posts increase the number of highway checkpoints between Russia and Latvia and Estonia from four to seven and are expected to help strengthen the fight against smuggling. * Saulius Girnius

The leaders of the four parties in the Czech governing coalition are due to meet on 16 January to sort out issues that have brought relations among them to an apparent crisis point. The meeting was called by Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus after Civic Democratic Alliance leader Jan Kalvoda told a news conference on 13 January he had evidence that the state counter-intelligence agency BIS was illegally collecting information on political parties, including his own. Kalvoda's accusation was supported by Christian Democratic Union leader Josef Lux. Both men are deputy prime ministers but Kalvoda said relations with Klaus' Civic Democratic Party have deteriorated to the point of a "coalition war." The head of BIS, a nominee of the CDP, denied collecting information on political parties and Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec in a weekend television program accused Kalvoda of destabilizing the country's political system. * Steve Kettle

Meeting in Bratislava on 13 January with delegations from three of Hungary's opposition parties, Slovak Premier Vladimir Meciar stressed that relations with Hungary are of high priority and promised that Slovakia "will guarantee ethnic minority rights" based on European norms, Reuters and TASR reported. Meciar has accepted an invitation from his Hungarian counterpart Gyula Horn to visit Budapest, but an exact date has not yet been set. Speaking at a press conference on 13 January, Slovak National Party Chairman Jan Slota accused Slovakia's ethnic Hungarian minority of wanting separation and noted that if he were prime minister, the meeting with the Hungarian opposition parties would not have taken place. * Sharon Fisher

Party of the Democratic Left Chairman Peter Weiss said on 14 January his party does not support the program manifesto of the Meciar cabinet. Calling the program too general, Weiss also said his party finds it difficult to believe that the government's offer to cooperate with other parliamentary parties is sincere since the cabinet "is beginning to spread an atmosphere of fear in society and to carry out far-reaching purges at every level," Sme reports. Meanwhile, a joint statement issued on 14 January by the Association of Slovak Workers and the Party of French Workers has also attracted criticism. The resolution declares privatization to be "the foundation of a speculative economy" which destroys industry, agriculture and the whole economic base of their countries and says that "we are obliged to tell governments, the IMF, the World Bank and the European Union: it is not possible to continue further with this policy which is leading the whole world to barbarism!," Sme reports. In a political debate broadcast on Slovak TV on 15 January, Christian Democratic Movement deputy Mikulas Dzurinda noted that the ASW's statement contradicts the cabinet's program, which promises to speed up privatization and cooperate with the IMF, Hospodarske noviny reports. * Sharon Fisher

Hungarian government spokeswoman Evelyn Forro told MTI on 13 January that the government has set a schedule for harmonizing the country's legislation with that of the European Union. She said that the country's association agreement with the EU divides this process into two five-year periods starting in 1994, and during the first period basic economic legislation would have to come into line with EU standards. Forro announced that in the first half of 1995 the government will discuss draft legislation on customs duties, patent rights, insurance companies, foreign exchange, public purchases, technical standards, and environmental protection. The government's schedule this year includes a long-awaited bill on customs clearance procedures and customs administration, which will include regulations on immediate duty payments and duty-free zones. A draft law on insurance, which has been discussed since last February, would allow foreign-based insurance companies to open permanent representative offices in Hungary without, however, permitting them to be involved in insurance, insurance brokerage or professional advisory activities. * Edith Oltay

The Los Angeles Times reports on 16 January that "gunmen loyal to Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic tricked French peacekeepers for the second straight day into opening a front-line crossing for their traffic, then forced UN soldiers to close it once it was time for Bosnian government loyalists to pass." AFP said on 15 January that the ostensible issue centers on conflicting interpretations by government and Serbian officials as to what kinds of traffic are permitted to pass on the Sarajevo airport road. UN commander General Sir Michael Rose held talks over the weekend both with Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic and with Karadzic, but to no avail. Mladic instead told Rose that the UN should not try to move men or supplies across Serb-held territory into UN-designated "safe areas" because the roads are not safe in winter weather, despite the fact that the UN provided the Serbs with fuel for snowplows. Meanwhile, the BBC on 16 January quotes a London daily as saying that Rose earlier planned to give Bosnian Serbs copies of NATO flight plans for Bosnia as a "confidence-building measure," but that NATO did not agree and now no longer provides such information to the UN. * Patrick Moore

International media report on 16 January that at least seven civilians were killed and more wounded in the UN-declared "safe area" over the weekend. A UN spokesman called the attacks from Bosnian Serb or Krajina Serb artillery "outrageous" and "murder," but the BBC added that Bosnian government forces were nonetheless able to make some gains on the ground. Meanwhile, on the diplomatic front, Reuters on 14 January said that the Contact Group's diplomats are continuing their "exploratory exercise" regarding a revised peace plan and met with the Bosnian government leadership on that day. In other developments, AFP said that Belgium has withdrawn 130 peacekeepers as planned despite pleas from the UN for them to stay, and that Jordan is also preparing for a pull-out. In Zagreb, the government-controlled daily Vjesnik on 16 January is continuing a series of attacks on Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic. Finally, international media reported from Manila on 15 January that Pope John Paul II again issued a plea for peace in Bosnia. * Patrick Moore

The Croatian government and media launched a campaign over the weekend to promote popular support for President Franjo Tudjman's decision not to extend UNPROFOR's mandate when it runs out at the end of March. Statements by Tudjman and others stress three key themes: that Croatia had no choice but to ask the 12,000 peacekeepers to leave, that the move will not mean the start of a new war, and that it will instead help promote an early peaceful settlement. Reuters on 15 January reported that any military activity would most likely be limited to raids, and that Tudjman made his decision for domestic political reasons despite strong international pressure to let the UN remain. One diplomat said that "Tudjman had to do this in order to stay in power, it's as simple as that." There is widespread feeling in Croatia that UNPROFOR's presence has simply served to protect rebel Serbs' control of one-third of the country and prevent 300,000 refugees from returning home. Nonetheless, Borba on 16 January runs the headline: "Fear of a New War." * Patrick Moore

Independent Borba's weekend issue of 14-15 January features a series of articles on the media in post-communist countries throughout Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. One item explores the plight of the independent Borba, and the ongoing government crackdown and efforts to silence the Belgrade daily. While the author states it is difficult to say precisely what motivates Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and his cronies to undertake any course of action, there is speculation that, like all authoritarian and dictatorial rulers, he is ultimately incapable of tolerating independent and critical media. It is also speculated that Borba's propensity to report on developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina, information about which Milosevic has shown he wants to control and vet carefully, prompted the timing of the current attack. * Stan Markotich

Emil Constantinescu, chairman of the Democratic Convention of Romania, the country's main opposition umbrella organization, announced at a press conference on 13 January his intention to run for president in 1996. Constantinescu, who lost to President Ion Iliescu in 1992, said he is running again because he feels a responsibility to the five million Romanians who voted for him in the previous elections. He further said that he wants the DCR to choose its candidate by 28 February to allow the election campaign to start early. Other leading figures in the CDR, however, criticized Constantinescu's decision and said they opposed his renewed candidacy. Sergiu Cunescu, leader of the Romanian Social-Democratic Party, accused Constantinescu of having failed to consult other CDR leaders on the issue of a joint presidential candidate for the alliance. Ludovic Orban, a spokesman for the Liberal Party 1993, described Constantinescu's announcement as a "mere proposal" whose chances of being accepted by other parties in the CDR were rather slim. * Dan Ionescu

Ethnic Germans in Romania on 13 and 14 January commemorated the 50th anniversary of their mass deportation to the former Soviet Union ordered by the Soviet occupation authorities in early 1945. At a meeting with representatives of the German Democratic Forum of Romania in Brasov, Romanian President Ion Iliescu said on 12 January that the deportation had been a "discriminatory and condemnable" act imposed by the Soviet Union. Radio Bucharest quoted him as further saying that the action had been supported by the Soviet Union's Western allies in World War II. Some 70,000 Germans from Romania were sent to forced labor camps in the Ukraine and the Ural mountains area after the war; some 15% died there because of particularly hard living conditions. * Dan Ionescu

The Bulgarian Socialist Party on 14 January nominated Chairman Zhan Videnov to head the new government, international news agencies reported the same day. Videnov was the only candidate at a meeting of the party's leadership and deputies. Under the constitution, the president asks the candidate of the strongest party to form a government, which then must be presented within seven days. Videnov is a 35-year-old economist trained in Moscow who took over leadership of the BSP three years ago, and will meet with President Zhelyu Zhelev on 16 January. The new government will be formed by the BSP and its coalition partners, the Bulgarian Agrarian People's Union "Aleksandar Stamboliyski" and the political club Ekoglasnost, Duma reported on 16 January.* Stefan Krause

Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou will stick to his tough line in relations with Turkey, Macedonia and Albania, Reuters reported on 15 January, citing an interview published in the Greek newspaper Kathimerini the same day. Papandreou charged Turkey with violating Greek airspace and threatening war if Greece should extend its territorial waters to 12 miles. He also warned Macedonia that the Greek embargo against that country would stay in force whatever the European Court decides. The court is expected to rule in February on the legality of the Greek trade embargo imposed in February 1994. Greece wants Macedonia to change its name and symbols, saying they are historically Greek and hence Athens regards them as an expression of territorial ambitions against Greece. On Albania, Papandreou said that relations will not improve until four ethnic Greeks jailed for espionage last year are freed. As a goodwill gesture Greece meanwhile stopped blocking a EU aid package for Albania. The prime minister noted, however, that this aid was far less than the $300 million in remittances that Albania gets every year from its citizens working in Greece. * Stefan Krause

The leader of the Socialist Party, Fatos Nano, used his testimony in the trial of four former high-ranking bank officials and former socialist Prime Minister Vilson Ahmeti to attack the current Albanian government, Gazeta Shqiptare reported on 15 January. The five officials are charged with misappropriating $1.2 million, which was paid in 1991 to Nicola Arsidi, a French citizen, who was employed by the Albanian Ministry for Foreign Trade to negotiate forgiveness of Albania's foreign debts. According to Gazeta Shqiptare, Nano's testimony did not present any new evidence. Nano, who was Ahmeti's predecessor and heard as a defense witness, said that he never met Arsidi and was not involved in negotiations with him. * Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Pete Baumgartner and Steve Kettle