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Newsline - January 17, 1995

The Russian government press service characterized the situation in Grozny on 16 January as "tense," with Chechen forces continuing fierce resistance to Russian troops attempting to advance on the presidential palace. Western agencies cited unconfirmed claims by Chechen officials that Chechen fighters had succeeded in retaking some ground. Chechen forces were also said to be re-entrenching and concentrating artillery and armored vehicles along the Chelmuga-Bamut-Arshty road southwest of Grozny and at other locations in the south. Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 16 January, a senior Russian Foreign Ministry official stated that at present Moscow considers the dispatch to Chechnya of an OSCE representative to be premature, although he did not exclude OSCE involvement in a settlement of the conflict at some future stage, Interfax reported. He also conceded that developments in Chechnya could delay Russia's admission to the Council of Europe. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

On 16 January Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin proposed a cease-fire and immediate negotiations with Chechen separatists, subject to strict conditions, AFP reported. Chernomyrdin offered to hold talks on freezing troop deployments in Chechnya, calling off the use of tanks, artillery and other heavy weapons, and setting up no-fighting zones where weapons could be stockpiled, but stipulated that peace could only come after the Chechens had laid down their arms, something they have so far refused to do. Chernomyrdin also called for talks on Chechnya's future with a view to setting up a transitional government. However, the negotiators face the difficult task of finding a leader acceptable to both sides. Also on 16 January, a Chechen delegation headed by Economy Minister Teimuraz Abubakarov with negotiating authority from President Dzhokhar Dudaev arrived in Moscow for talks with Chernomyrdin, AFP reported. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

At their meeting in Geneva on 17-18 January, Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev and US Secretary of State Warren Christopher will discuss preparations for the May Russian-American summit in Moscow, as proposed by Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Interfax reported on 16 January, quoting a senior Russian Foreign Ministry official. The US Administration has not yet responded to Yeltsin's invitation. The official stressed that the Geneva meeting was not "on Chechnya or for it," but that the issue would be discussed. "We do not deny that the human rights aspect of this problem concerns not only Russia," he underlined. Kozyrev and Christopher will also review understandings reached by Yeltsin and US President Clinton last September, the expansion of NATO, creating a new system for European security, and nuclear non-proliferation. In a related development, Yeltsin has canceled his trip to Davos at the end of January to address the participants of an international economic forum there in light of events in Chechnya, Vremya reported 16 January, quoting Yeltsin's aide for international affairs, Dmitrii Ryurikov. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev expressed concern over the implications of a statement by Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin on Tatarstan's autonomy within the Russian Federation, Interfax reported on 13 January. Rybkin had said on 9 January that "gangster groups on Russian territory, no matter whether in Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Volgograd, Leningrad or Voronezh regions will be dealt with at this time." Shaimiev interpreted this statement as signaling a crackdown on Tatarstan, which has negotiated a bilateral treaty determining its status within Russia. Shaimiev expressed regret that Rybkin did not understand Tatarstan's role in building a genuinely democratic federation based on harmony and respect between the peoples of Russia. Rybkin said he did not intend to single out Tatarstan in saying that people who violated the law would be prosecuted and expressed the hope for "full understanding." -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

Former Russian Prime Minister Egor Gaidar, on a visit to Prague, said in an interview with Rude Pravo on 17 January that President Boris Yeltsin has no chance of being re-elected. The conflict in Chechnya has changed both Russia's international standing and its domestic political situation, with the government and president now receiving their most active support from radical nationalist parties and being most strongly opposed by liberal groups, he said. Gaidar added, however, that Russia remains a democratic state. "We have a free press--for the time being. Up to now, the elected organs of power are functioning and I believe that this state of affairs can be preserved," he said. -- Steve Kettle, OMRI, Inc.

Sergei Filatov, the head of the presidential staff, said that Yeltsin does not plan any new initiatives to reorganize Russian TV, Interfax reported 16 January. Filatov said that the December decrees establishing the independent NTV and Ostankino had not yet been fully implemented, and that Yeltsin had emphasized that it was time to give the media a chance to work normally. Filatov said that the Chechen crisis was a trial of "our ability to maintain democracy." He noted that some observers accused journalists of twisting the facts in their reporting, while others felt that the media had declared war on the government. In this connection, he said that although there were calls to muzzle the press and television, it must be understood that such a policy would undermine trust in the new Russia. Filatov called for tolerance in relation to the media. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

President Yeltsin appointed Finance Minister Vladimir Panskov to the Security Council, a presidential spokesman told AFP on 16 January. Panskov, who has been in his current post for less than three months, has asserted on several occasions in the past few weeks that the war in Chechnya would not affect Russia's austerity budget. His estimates of the costs have been lower than those of most other experts. The Council has been the top decision-making body in the Chechen conflict. Yeltsin recently appointed both parliamentary leaders to its ranks. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

A senior Russian Foreign Ministry official was quoted by Interfax on 16 January as saying that an upcoming U.S. test of a tactical anti-ballistic missile was a "very untimely step." American and Russian negotiators have been trying for some time--without success--to agree on the differences between tactical and strategic anti-ballistic missile weapons so that testing of the former would not conflict with the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty. The official also complained that the Americans officially notified Russia of the test only after the information had been leaked to the American press. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

General Alexei Ilyushenko, Russia's acting prosecutor-general, told a press conference on 16 January that military prosecutors had interviewed Colonel-General Eduard Vorobyov in connection with the latter's refusal to take command of the operations in Chechnya. According to Interfax, Ilyushenko indicated other officers and servicemen were also being investigated. He said that no criminal proceedings had yet been started, adding that his office did not distinguish "between a private, a general, and a deputy defense minister." Military sources told Interfax that Vorobyov could not be prosecuted because he had only been offered the Chechnya post, not ordered there. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

The ruble continued to skid against the dollar, falling 41 points and closing at 3,817 rubles to $1 in MICEX trading on 16 January. Since 12 January, the ruble has fallen 60 points against the US dollar. According to Interfax on 16 January, the difference between demand and supply stood at $36 million. Dealers reported that the Russian Bank sold about $55 million. Meanwhile Minister of Economics Yevgenii Yasin told Interfax on 16 January that he does not envisage a repeat of "Black Tuesday" ( 11 October, 1994), when the ruble crashed against the dollar. Yasin said that the threat of another crash had been more real a few months ago when prices were rising faster than the ruble. He said that recently money supply has been growing far more slowly than prices, and if this trend continues, inflationary fears will disappear in three to four months. Yasin said that the ministry plans to continue with stringent monetary policy and to stabilize the ruble as long as prices level off, rather than prop up the ruble by the Central Bank's currency interventions. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

Over 1,200 Russian enterprises in which the state holds over a 25% stake have been declared insolvent, Interfax reported on 16 January. The Federal Insolvency Administration said that the total debt of these enterprises, which have a work force of 2 million, has reached nearly 11 trillion rubles ($2.89 billion). Most seriously affected are energy producing industries and agriculture processing plants. According to the report, the number of insolvent public enterprises is increasing: last month Russia had 1,100 insolvent public enterprises, but today more than 4,500 are likely to be declared insolvent. The Administration has already ordered 150 public enterprises to go into receivership. In 1994 Russia's arbitration courts handled 102 insolvency cases. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.


Miners at Kazakhstan's Ekibastuz coal field returned to work on 15 January following government promises to pay back wages through last November, Interfax reported on 16 January. In Karaganda, however, miners are continuing the strike begun on 13 January and holding out for payment of wages from October, 1994. Kazakh Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin held talks with coal ministry officials and trade union leaders from both Ekibastuz and Karaganda on 16 January. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

While stressing that he has no intention of exerting pressure on the opposition press, Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev has called upon the country's journalists to "tone down" their writings, to refrain from expressing either extreme right-wing or extreme left-wing views, and to be "balanced" in their criticism of the country's leadership, according to Interfax of 16 January quoting presidential press service chief Kamil Bayalinov. Akaev rejected proposals for submitting a new law on the media to parliament as an attempt to reinstate censorship, arguing that the existing legislation "provides sufficient democratic potential for the media." -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.


Caspian Pipeline Consortium members Kazakhstan, Russia, and Oman have signed a protocol on the start of the first stage of a $1.2 billion project to lay a Caspian pipeline network, Interfax reported on 16 January. Oman and Kazakhstan each control 33% of the shares in the project, and Russia--34%. On 12 January the Journal of Commerce reported that the Russian government had issued a decree nominating the Tengiz-Astrakhan-Grozny oil pipeline, which is currently out of commission, as Russia's contribution to the CPC. The pipeline has a projected capacity of 62 million metric tons per year, or 452.6 million barrels; transit costs will be $3.25 a barrel for CPC founders and $3.5 a barrel for other users for deliveries of more than 750 kms. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

During a half-hour meeting on 16 January described by a spokesman as "icy," President Lech Walesa repeatedly expressed his concern to Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak that vacancies in the defense and foreign ministries were promoting the "growing destabilization of the state," Radio Warsaw reports. Pawlak disagreed. He acknowledged that the government has "personnel problems" to overcome, but denied that consensus on foreign and security policy is threatened. The president rejected the coalition's latest candidate for defense minister, Longin Pastusiak, a political scientist and expert on the US who had long represented the communist establishment. Pastusiak's appointment, the spokesman said, would be a "slap in the face" for one of Poland's closest allies. Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Iwo Byczewski, who was expected to serve as acting minister until a replacement for Andrzej Olechowski could be found, announced his resignation on 16 January. Gazeta Wyborcza reports that at least a dozen diplomats and several department heads plan to leave the ministry as well. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

Meeting on 14 January, nine of Poland's 10 largest right-wing parties agreed to support a common candidate in the presidential election expected in November. No candidate was chosen, however, and debate on a shared "minimum program" revealed deep divisions over foreign policy priorities (including EU and NATO membership) and possible election alliances. Most delegates ruled out any cooperation with the largest parliamentary opposition party, the Freedom Union (UW), effectively scuttling any chance for a united "post-Solidarity" front. Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski urged "all patriotic forces" to support the union's draft constitution, and hinted that this was a precondition for Solidarity's endorsement in the elections. The UW leadership on 15 January agreed to hold straw polls within the party before choosing a candidate at an April congress, Rzeczpospolita reports. The party's left wing supports former Labor Minister Jacek Kuron, while the right wing backs former Prime Minister Hanna Suchocka. UW chairman Tadeusz Mazowiecki ruled out his own candidacy. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

The Pro-Patria and Estonian National Independence Party Union at a conference on 15 January announced the top dozen names on their election list, BNS reported on 16 January. It includes eight Pro-Patria and four ENIP members headed by chairmen Mart Laar and Tunne Kelam, respectively. The union will campaign under the slogan "Fire Will Not Go Out," indicating their platform of continuing the current reforms. The People's Party of Republicans and Conservatives, commonly known as the Rightists, held a pre-election conference in Tallinn on 14 January at which various speakers outlined the domestic, economic, foreign, and defense policies the party's candidates will support if elected. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

Bishop Jonas Kalvanas died over the weekend at the age of 80, BNS reported on 16 January. He will be buried on 18 January in the town of Taurage. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka arrived in China on 16 January for a three-day visit, Belarusian Radio reported. Lukashenka is to meet with President Jiang Zemin, Prime Minister Li Peng and other officials. During the visit, it is expected that agreements on cooperation, air links and dual taxation will be signed. The two sides will also discuss cooperation in education, science and cultural affairs. Trade between China and Belarus stands at some $46 million annually. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

The Belarusian Prosecutor General, Vasil Shaladonau, told reporters on 13 January that the censorship imposed on newspapers in December violated citizens' rights to information, Belarusian television reported. Following a sensational report in parliament, which alleged that a number of officials in the president's administration engaged in corrupt practices, the republic's newspapers were banned from printing accounts of the session and several independent newspapers were banned from publishing altogether. The censorship provoked an outcry from the opposition and journalists and led to the resignation of the head of the president's policy center, Alyaksandr Feduta. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Ukrainian Television reported on 16 January that Ukraine has appointed a new ambassador to Russia. Volodymyr Fedorov, a Russian who was a deputy to the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet in 1990 and served as a representative of the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers in Russia from 1991 to 1992, was selected. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has severely criticized the organizers of a campaign, currently gathering signatures for a petition to hold a referendum on the creation of a new political, economic, and military union with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 16 January. While visiting a military unit in the Chernihiv region, Kuchma told reporters that such a union would "do no one any good, including Ukraine," and warned organizers that as recently elected president of an independent Ukraine he would not allow anyone to "rock the boat we are in" and would do his utmost to strengthen its independence. Leftist political forces, including the Communist Party of Ukraine, have led the petition drive, mainly in the russified regions in eastern Ukraine, spurred on by similar movements in other former Soviet republics still displeased with the dissolution of the old union. -- Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.

The emergency stoppage system in the first reactor of the Khmelnytsky nuclear power station was activated early on 16 January after three main circulating pumps were disconnected from the mains due to a failure of the power supply of the transducers, the Ukrainian State Committee for Atomic Energy told Interfax-Ukraine on the same day. Serhiy Nazarenko, an agency official, said there had been no increase in radiation levels at the plant, but the reasons for the accident are under investigation. The reactor was scheduled shortly to be shut down for repairs and maintenance of its control and safety systems, he said. -- Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.

Crimean President Yurii Meshkov told a rally in Simferopol on 15 January that the power struggle between himself and the Crimean Parliament that stripped him of most of his authority last autumn has left a dangerous power vacuum in the region that has been exploited by local organized crime groups, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 16 January. Meshkov promised radical changes in the regional management system as well as tough measures against organized crime, referring to a recent poll of Crimeans that revealed some 58% of them believe the "mafia" is in charge in this autonomous region of Ukraine. He blamed local law enforcement for "inaction" against growing crime and said the Crimean Parliament has disregarded the will of the people by curbing the powers of their popularly-elected president. -- Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.

The leaders of the four parties in the Czech governing coalition met on 16 January but remained divided over whether the state counter-intelligence service BIS has been collecting information illegally on political parties, Czech media report. Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus said he was not convinced by the evidence presented by Deputy Premier Jan Kalvoda, leader of the Civic Democratic Alliance. As prime minister, Klaus is responsible for BIS, which is headed by a nominee of his Civic Democratic Party. Kalvoda and other CDA leaders have said confidential documents and the party's database of members went missing or were stolen from a party official's car before last November's local elections. Christian Democratic Union leader Josef Lux, another deputy premier, also repeated charges that BIS has spied on his party. The party leaders, increasingly at odds in recent months, refused to comment on the tone of their meeting but agreed that a parliament commission should investigate the accusations. Kalvoda and Lux later informed President Vaclav Havel of their charges; Havel's spokesman said the president took the situation seriously and found the two deputy premiers' concerns convincing. -- Steve Kettle, OMRI, Inc.

Central Europe Today reported on 16 January that the four Visegrad countries--the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia--have agreed to a Pentagon proposal for the establishment of a unified air defense and air traffic control system. The radio said that the Regional Airspace Initiative was approved by senior defense and transport ministry officials from the four nations at a meeting in Trencin, Slovakia. The Pentagon is said to have pledged up to $25 million to the project. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

During an official visit to Hungary on 16 January, EU President and French Minister for European Affairs Alain Lamassoure said that Hungary is the most prepared of the countries seeking full EU membership but still needs to reform its economy substantially and establish good relations with countries with Hungarian minorities, MTI reports. He offered France's and the EU's help in resolving differences of opinion between Hungary and its neighbors over the exercise of minority rights, an issue which has delayed the signing of bilateral treaties with Slovakia and Romania. Lamassoure reiterated that the EU will not accept members who cannot solve their problems with their neighbors. -- Edith Oltay, OMRI, Inc.

Hungarian Agricultural Minister Laszlo Lakos told a press conference on 16 January that after years of decline Hungarian agriculture is on the way to recovery, MTI reports. He noted that agricultural production increased by 5%, exports by 15%, and producer prices rose by 30% compared to the same period last year. Lakos said that the agricultural sector received 80 billion forint from the central budget in 1995 compared to 57 billion forint in 1994, and that the increased subsidies will be used mainly to support food exports and to supply agricultural machinery. -- Edith Oltay, OMRI, Inc.

A number of developments continue to undermine the shaky cease-fire that came into force at the start of the year. First is further shelling of the Bihac area, about which one news agency wrote on 15 January: "it was not clear which sides were fighting." A second issue is the presence of what the ceasefire agreement calls "foreign forces, " namely those of the Krajina Serbs and of the Croatian army. AFP on 16 January quotes UNPROFOR as calling for the Croatian military to leave Bosnia and Herzegovina, where they are active on the Livno and Kupres fronts with Bosnian Croat forces. A third problem is the discovery by the UN of at least 50 Bosnian government soldiers in three different places in Mt. Igman's demilitarized zone, from which they were supposed to be gone. A fourth concern is the continued Serb blockade of supply routes into Sarajevo, which they were expected to reopen last weekend. Reuters on 17 January said that the Serbs "sabotaged an accord... by demanding the roads be used only by eight foreign relief agencies that do not need them." -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

While the Croatian authorities continue their intensive campaign to mobilize domestic support for President Franjo Tudjman's decision to end UNPROFOR's mandate on 31 March, UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali was quoted by news agencies on 16 January as saying he hopes that Zagreb will change its mind and let the peacekeepers stay. He expressed the fear that governments might not only withdraw their forces from Croatia but from other parts of the former Yugoslavia as well. Boutros-Ghali also referred to the "practical and financial aspects" of a UN pull-out. Tudjman offered to let the UN, whose presence means big income for Croatia, keep its headquarters in Zagreb. Reuters wrote on 13 September, however, that a new location is under consideration by the world body. "Among the choices are Sarajevo, which some object to for safety reasons, or perhaps even the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana." Boutros-Ghali also said on 16 January that he fears the Croatian decision will lead to a renewal in the fighting. Similar concerns were expressed by the rump Yugoslav Prime Minister Radoje Kontic, Tanjug said, and by the Bosnian Serb news agency SRNA, which claimed that Zagreb is already planning a new war. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Independent Borba on 17 January reports on economic conditions in Montenegro in 1994, suggesting that some indicators were far from positive. It said industrial production in the rump Yugoslav republic fell by some 27.5% over 1993. Moreover, out of some 30 "industrial branches" only 11 reported increased output over the previous year. In other news, independent Borba also continues its coverage of the plight of rump Yugoslavia's independent media, chafing under Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's continuing efforts to silence them. Politika reports on 17 January that the independent weekly Vreme will go on sale in the rump Yugoslavia again that same day, after being temporarily kept off the market due to a newsprint shortage. -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

The Serbian government is offering interest-free credits for building houses or buying flats to citizens of Serbia who left Kosovo and want to return. The credits are valid for a period of 40 years and are also offered to specialists who want to move to Kosovo, the independent Borba reported on 17 January. The goal is to settle about 100,000 ethnic Serbs and Montenegrins in the mainly ethnic Albanian region, which has an estimated population of two million. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

President Ion Iliescu and Defense Minister Gheorghe Tinca on 16 January attended the opening ceremony of the new academic year at the National Defense College. In his address broadcast live by Radio Bucharest, Iliescu praised Romania's progress towards European integration in 1994, a year he described as "Romania's Euro-Atlantic year." He singled out former Yugoslavia as a "major source of insecurity" for Romania, and expressed concern over the situation in some regions of the former Soviet Union, including the eastern part of the neighboring Republic of Moldova. While not specifically mentioning the conflict in Chechnya, Iliescu warned against the reemergence of "imperial tendencies in Russia's policy" which, he said, could hamper the restructuring of Europe's security system and have a direct impact on Romania's security. The National Defense College is an institution training army officers and security experts in post-graduate defense studies. -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

The Romanian Health Ministry has been sued for the first time by a child who contracted AIDS in hospital, Rompres reported on 15 January. The 10-year-old girl probably contracted the AIDS virus in 1991 when hospitalized in the town of Iasi. She was diagnosed as having AIDS two years later. The hospital is also being sued, the agency says. According to statistics published last September, Romania has 2,905 registered cases of AIDS. The overwhelming majority (2,695) are children aged less than 13 years. -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

A Council of Europe delegation will recommend that Moldova be admitted to the organization in the near future, Interfax reported on 15 January. The delegation concluded a four-day visit to Moldova aimed at assessing the country's compliance with council standards, especially in the field of human rights and freedoms. Asked about the possible influence of the conflict in the Dniestr region on Moldova's application, Lord Finsberg, a member of the team, replied euphemistically that the situation in the separatist region would be described as "a museum of communism." Moldova is among several Soviet republics expected to be admitted to the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe this year. -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

Zhelyu Zhelev met with the leaders of the parties represented in parliament on 16 January, Standart reported the following day. These political consultations took place according to the constitution in order to find a candidate for the post of prime minister. On 17 January Zhelev will ask Socialist Party leader Zhan Videnov to form a government, which must then be presented within seven days. The socialist newspaper Duma reported on 17 January that the new cabinet will be presented on 20 January. Most opposition parties' leaders said they will not support the new government. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

The Bulgarian National Bank is prepared to lower the prime interest rate in February, Trud and Standart reported on 17 January, citing BNB officials. Trud stated that this is the result of positive figures for January's inflation. BNB executives fear, however, that there is a risk of declining reserves in foreign currency if a new agreement with the International Monetary Fund is not concluded soon. In this case the reserves might drop to $200 million by the end of 1995. IMF officials will visit Sofia for negotiations after the formation of a new government, Standart reported. During their last visit in November 1994 they insisted that Bulgaria should fight inflation even at the price of fixing exchange rates, the article said. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Liz Fuller and Steve Kettle