Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - January 18, 1995

A Chechen government delegation held what were termed "discussions not talks" in Moscow on 17 January with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai and First Deputy Minister for Nationalities Vyacheslav Mikhailov on the feasibility of enforcing a cease-fire in Chechnya, Interfax reported. (Minister for Nationalities Nikolai Egorov is reportedly "in poor health" and failed to attend either these "discussions" or the Federation Council session on 17 January.) The Chechen delegation told journalists on 17 January that at a subsequent meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, agreement was reached on a cessation of hostilities, possibly beginning in the evening of 18 January. But ITAR-TASS later quoted Russian government spokesman Valerii Grishin as stating that Chernomyrdin's talks with the Chechens had been "unofficial" and that a formal response to the Russian proposal for a cease-fire was awaited from Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev in Grozny. The head of Yeltsin's presidential staff, Sergei Filatov, expressed doubt whether the proposed cease-fire would take effect given that Dudaev "clearly does not control the situation" in Chechnya, according to The New York Times of 18 January. Meanwhile, AFP reported that the Russian artillery bombardment of Grozny continued on 17 January, while the Russian government press service claimed that street-to-street fighting was subsiding and that Chechen forces were retreating from the city in groups of 700-900 men. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

Earlier on 17 January, Federal Counter-Intelligence Service (FSK) Director Sergei Stepashin told Interfax in Mozdok that talks with Dudaev's representatives should focus only on the conditions under which illegal militias would lay down their arms, and not on political issues. Stepashin added that Dudaev's present whereabouts were unknown, and predicted that anti-Dudaev Chechen forces subordinate to Provisional Council Chairman Umar Avturkhanov and Beslan Gantemirov could enter Grozny on 18 or 19 January to begin "mopping up" operations. (Ruslan Labazanov, the former head of Dudaev's bodyguards, who subsequently went over to the anti-Dudaev opposition, realigned himself with Dudaev in early January, according to The Economist of 6-12 January.) Russian Security Council secretary Oleg Lobov told Interfax on 17 January that any government installed in Chechnya following the "restoration of constitutional order" will only be a temporary one, but that given that many of its members have lived in Chechnya for years and had a power base there it would be wrong to regard it as Moscow's puppet. Lobov discounted the possibility of either a protracted guerrilla war in Chechnya or any attempt to launch a resistance movement with the help of foreign media and mercenaries. US military intelligence experts testifying on 17 January before the US Senate Committee on Armed Services and quoted by AFP predicted, however, that although the Russians were poised to gain control of Grozny they would then face "a long siege" against guerrilla forces in the mountains. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev assured Secretary of State Warren Christopher of his country's commitment to democracy and market reform and its determination to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Chechnya during a three-hour dinner in Geneva on 17 January, The New York Times reported on 18 January. Kozyrev did not indicate what concrete steps his country intended to take; he claimed that Russia's inability to find Chechens to negotiate with prevented any progress from being made. Christopher warned Kozyrev to find a political way out of the conflict so that Russia can have a normal relationship with other countries, a senior official paraphrased Christopher as saying. Christopher also mentioned several issues that have put a strain on US-Russian relations: Russia's determination to sell arms to Iran, its eagerness to end the international embargo against Iraq, its refusal to provide information about its chemical weapons program and, most important, its unwillingness to halt attacks on civilians in prosecuting its war in Chechnya. Nevertheless, Christopher praised President Boris Yeltsin as "the most committed democrat in the country who is in a high position." Yeltsin has invited US President Bill Clinton to come to Moscow around May 9 to participate in the 50th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany. Christopher told Kozyrev that Clinton could not yet make a firm commitment on the invitation. The diplomats plan to meet again on 18 January. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

President Yeltsin has called on Chuvash President Nikolai Fedorov to rescind a decree issued last week challenging Moscow's right to intervene in Chechnya, telling him it is unconstitutional, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 January. In addition, the Russian government was quoted as saying that the decree "stirs up disobedience" among residents of the republic and encourages draft dodging. The Presidium of the Chuvash parliament, however, called for an amendment to the constitution to limit the use of military power in circumstances similar to those in Chechnya. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

The head of President Yeltsin's security service, Aleksandr Korzhakov, suggested creating a special body to coordinate the activities of Russia's special services, Interfax reported 17 January, quoting an article to be published in Argumenty i fakty on 18 January. Korzhakov claimed the need to create such a body was strong because criminal financial and industrial groups were buying officials in the special services and dictating their will through them. He declared that he will not be one of the leaders of the new body. Korzhakov also denounced claims that his service was becoming an independent political force in Russian politics. He said that his duties included working out security arrangements for the president's activities as well as fighting corruption. Korzhakov claimed that the Interior Ministry and Federal Counter-Intelligence Service (FSK) as well as his staff were responsible for security in the country, and that the new body was necessary to coordinate all their activities. Korzhakov rejected allegations that he was the leader of a "war party" in Russia, saying that if the point at issue was a war on crime, corruption, and illegal armed groups, he was certainly a supporter of such a party and would uncompromisingly fight against that evil. He denied sole responsibility for initiating the conflict in Chechnya, implying that the decision had been taken collectively by presidential advisors, the chief of the presidential staff, the former deputy chief of the FSK and security council members. In light of concerns that Russia was becoming a police state, he pointed out that "the real threat to society is posed not by the security service, but by those who unceremoniously and outrageously walk about the center of Moscow heavily armed under the nose of the mayor and the financial mafia, which nurtures a new generation of politicians in order to have a puppet government." -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

The opposition in the Federation Council's Defense and Security Committee did not succeed on 17 January in their attempt to replace Vladimir Shumeiko as the speaker Federation Council, Russian television newscasts, ITAR-TASS and an RFE/RL correspondent in Moscow reported. The attempt was initiated by Petr Romanov, who is the reported joint candidate of communists and moderate Russian nationalists for the next presidential election. Romanov disapproved of the speaker's pronouncements on the Chechen war (Shumeiko has made a number of contradictory public statements, proclaiming his whole-hearted support for the use of force in order to crush Chechnya one day, and protesting the bombing of Grozny a day later.) Apart from this, critics have accused Shumeiko and Ivan Rybkin, the speaker of the State Duma, of "acting as the president's representatives in the parliament, rather than representing their positions within their chambers of the parliament . . . " Romanov further complained that Shumeiko does not report to the Federation Council on the proceedings of the Security Council, of which Shumeiko is a member. Although five of the nine members of the Federation Council's Defense and Security Committee shared Romanov's opinion on the speaker (according to ITAR-TASS), after the day of debates the Committee decided not to include Shumeiko's status on the agenda. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc.

Gross domestic product (GDP) in 1994 numbered 630 trillion rubles ($165.78 billion), a 15% decline from 1993 and a 39% drop from pre-reform 1991, Interfax reported on 17 January. The official figures, released by the Russian Statistics Committee on 17 January, stated that 62% of the GDP came from the private sector. The rate of decline in industry in 1994 appeared higher than in the two previous years and totaled 20.9%, compared to 16.2% in 1993 and 18% in 1992. The Statistics Committee noted that the 1994 fourth quarter, as compared to a year earlier, showed a 17.8% growth in production. Other 1994 figures showed a continued reduction of capital investments in the economy--a fall of 27% in the past year. Overall, investments have fallen 61% since 1991. Retail prices grew 220%; wholesale prices rose 230%. Real income figures for the population were up 14% from 1993, while unemployment increased 28.6%, up 5.3 million from the previous year. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

In an effort to ease the problems of crediting and monetary policies amidst rising inflation, the Central Bank has reduced the open-currency positions of commercial banks. All currency above the 30% limit must be sold effective 18 January, Russian agencies reported. This move will most likely force many banks to withdraw from the currency market. Central Bank of Russia Vice President Aleksandr Khandruyev, according to Interfax on 17 January, said that "the degree and extent of the dollarization of the Russian economy cannot be underestimated." He said that foreign cash is often used for savings and settlements between companies and individuals, which is a breach in the country's legislation Khandruyev said that the ultimate goal of the Central Bank is to establish a predictable floating ruble rate, but in order to achieve this, the Central Bank needs to strengthen gold and foreign exchange reserves and utilize part of the excessive ruble reserves built up by commercial banks operating in the currency markets. Khandruyev hoped that this latest Central Bank move would be a step toward financial stabilization. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Henadii Udovenko has sent a letter to his Russian counterpart, Andrei Kozyrev, denouncing reports by the Russian media of Ukraine's involvement in the Chechen conflict, Ukrainian Television reported on 17 January. According to Udovenko, there is no evidence of Ukraine's involvement in Chechnya and allegations by senior Russian officials of Ukrainian mercenaries participating in the fighting are an attempt to damage Russian-Ukrainian relations. He charged the Russian media with not taking Ukraine's official position into account in their reporting. Reuters reported the same day that the leader of the ultra-nationalist Ukrainian National Assembly (UNA), Dmytro Korchynsky, had openly acknowledged that as many as 100 members of UNA's paramilitary arm, the Ukrainian National Self-Defense Organization (UNSO), were involved in the fighting on the side of Chechen President Dudaev. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc., OMRI, Inc.

No report today.


Polish Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak offered on 17 January to hold "immediate consultations" with President Lech Walesa on filling the two empty posts at the "presidential" ministries, Radio Warsaw reports. Clearly unnerved by Western criticism prompted by charges from departing Foreign Minister Andrzej Olechowski that the government is deviating from the established, pro-Western foreign policy course, Pawlak again emphasized that Poland's priorities are EU and NATO membership. Speaking to reporters on his departure for the Czech Republic, Walesa criticized coalition plans to appoint "directors" to the two vacant ministries as a way of circumventing the constitutional requirement of presidential approval for ministerial candidates. This would be an "attack on democracy," Walesa said. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

In a move that is certain to heighten hostilities between the ruling coalition and the president, Sejm Speaker Jozef Oleksy (who represents the Democratic Left Alliance) indicated to other parliament leaders on 17 January that he is considering calling a session of the National Assembly for 4 February, Gazeta Wyborcza reports. On that date, the three-month constitutional deadline for passage of the budget expires. The Assembly is a joint session of the Sejm and Senate. The parliament has already approved the budget, but there is still debate over whether the deadline has already been met or will be fulfilled only when the president signs it into law. Much of the press speculated that calling the session would be an implicit threat to force the president to stand before the State Tribunal should he attempt to dissolve the parliament. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

After arriving in Prague on 17 January, Walesa said relations with the neighboring Czech Republic have improved after a cool period. "Before, I used to come to Prague to knock down problems that were bothering both nations; today, I am here to build," Czech media reported Walesa as saying. Czech President Vaclav Havel said Walesa's visit demonstrated the end of a period when Poles and Czechs had nothing to say to each other. In the presence of the two presidents, Interior Ministers Jan Ruml and Andrzej Milczanowski signed an agreement allowing people living near the Czech-Polish border to cross the frontier freely without needing passports. Walesa's two-day visit is due to end on 18 January when he travels to towns close to the Czech-Polish border. -- Steve Kettle, OMRI, Inc.

Prime Minister Andres Tarand told a press conference on 17 January that he will not decide before 15 February whether to ask Transport and Communications Minister Andi Meister to resign, BNS reports. The Estonian National Independence Party is demanding Meister's resignation, arguing that since Meister left the ENIP in December it no longer had the ministry that the current coalition agreement had assigned to it. Tarand said that Meister was given three weeks to solve "certain concrete tasks in the field under his government" and if he succeeded he would not be asked to resign. Tarand refused to say what the "concrete tasks" were, but admitted that they were of a "political, not technical" character." -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

Health Minister Normunds Zemvaldis denied on 17 January that his resignation the previous day was connected with pressure from the Cabinet or the Welfare Ministry, BNS reports. "It's fatigue, it's health problems, it's other problems," he said. Unofficial sources, however, suggest that Prime Minister Maris Gailis had suggested the resignation. Zemvaldis mentioned three possible candidates as his replacement while the Latvia's Way party proposed Physicians Society Chairman Peteris Apinis. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

The Belarusian parliament approved the state budget for 1995 on 17 January, international agencies reported. The budget complies with IMF conditions for releasing credits to the country. The budget's revenues were set at 13.06 trillion Belarusian rubels ($1.11 billion) and spending at 15.74 trillion rubels ($1.34 billion). This left a deficit of some 2.7 trillion rubels, or 4% of the country's GDP. The IMF had specified a deficit within that range as a condition for the release of credits. Taxes are the main source of revenue, and the main expenditure will be social services, 19.28%. A further 13.5% will be spent on eliminating the aftereffects of the 1986 Chornobyl disaster; 7.8% will be spent on external economic activity, including the maintenance of embassies; law enforcement agencies are allotted 4% of the budget; the military will receive 5.7%. The budget also aims to reduce inflation to 1-2% by the end of the year. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

The Ukrainian Parliament convened its third session on 17 January with socialist speaker Oleksander Moroz calling on legislators to avoid confrontations and seek cooperation among themselves and, more importantly, with President Leonid Kuchma, Radio Ukraine reported on the same day. Among the issues scheduled for debate is a controversial new law on the division of powers submitted by Kuchma, giving the president sweeping executive powers and sharply limiting the parliament's authority, which the deputies preliminarily approved in December. Radio Ukraine also reported that the large Communist faction in parliament may once again attempt to introduce for debate a possible lifting of the ban on the former Communist Party of (Soviet) Ukraine. A vote on the party's reinstatement last autumn was ruled illegal after violations of voting procedures were discovered. The session is scheduled to last until July. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

Slovak and French builders, Slovenske Elektrarne Bratislava and Electricite de France, on 17 January defended the construction of Slovakia's nuclear power plant at Mochovce and refused to accept an invitation from the Austrian Environment Ministry to attend a public discussion on the subject, Reuters reports. On 16 January, Austrian President Thomas Klestil asked his Slovak counterpart Michal Kovac to ensure that the builders attend the meeting, scheduled for 23-24 January in Vienna, but the firms expressed reluctance, expecting it will turn into an anti-nuclear demonstration. According to TASR of 17 January, international auditors and consultants studying the costs, environmental impact and safety of the plant have concluded that the completion of Mochovce is "economically advantageous" for Slovakia. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is expected to decide by March whether to offer the loan needed to finish construction of the plant. Only if Mochovce is completed can Slovakia close down its Chornobyl-style plant at Jaslovske Bohunice, which is presently being inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency. -- Sharon Fisher

Jozsef Eigner, the chairman of the committee of judges screening high-ranking officials for ties to the former internal security service or to paramilitary groups that participated in the armed suppression of the 1956 revolution, told a press conference on 17 January that he will not resign, MTI reports. The parliament's National Security Committee asked Eigner to resign last week on the grounds that he passed sentences between 1945 and 1963 that were annulled by parliament in 1990. Those sentences involved border violations and unlawful possession of arms. Eigner said that he revealed everything about his past when he was nominated to head the screening committee under the previous conservative government. The head of the National Security Committee, former prime minister Peter Boross, voted against the decision to ask Eigner to resign; he argued that the National Security Committee had no legal means of forcing Eigner to resign and that the call for his resignation will only serve to make the work of the screening committee impossible. -- Edith Oltay, OMRI, Inc.

The New York Times reports on 18 January that the Bosnian government has told UN commander General Sir Michael Rose to reopen the Tuzla airfield by 1 February or pull out the UN forces now stationed there. The paper says there are over 200 men involved, while news agencies put the figure at 450. The UN is supposed to reopen the airfield for relief flights and first tried to do so last March. But Serb gunners in surrounding hills made this impossible, so Rose allowed a Serb liaison officer to be smuggled into the airfield area to verify that no government military flights would be allowed. The Bosnian authorities, however, have long regarded Rose as pro-Serb and objected to the presence of Colonel Slavko Guzvic, the liaison officer. The BBC added that the Muslims suspect Guzvic of involvement in war crimes. The New York paper noted further that it is "not clear how Rose could justify the Serbian officer's presence at the airport, since the UN headquarters in Tuzla is located elsewhere." -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

News agencies on 17 January quote UN spokesmen as saying that the Serbs forced some 500 Muslims and Croats out of their homes in the past two weeks. The main areas involved are Banja Luka, Kotor Varos, Bosanska Gradiska, Kljuc, and Doboj. Elsewhere, France announced that General Bernard Janvier will take over the UNPROFOR command for the former Yugoslavia from General Bertrand de Lapresle when the later finishes his assignment in March. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

News agencies reported on 17 January that the Security Council made its first official response to Croatia's decision announced last week not to renew UNPROFOR's mandate at the end of March. The 15-member body asked Croatia to reconsider the move, stressing that the forces are vital to regional security. The statement added that the Council understands Croatia's frustration over the continued Serbian occupation of one-third of its territory. Vecernji list notes on 18 January that President Franjo Tudjman and other top government officials met the previous day with US ambassador Peter Galbraith. The UNPROFOR issue appears to have been at the top of their agenda. Elsewhere, that same paper indicates that continued contacts at various levels have failed to break the impasse in relations between Croatia and Slovenia. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

The 16 January edition of the weekly Vreme poses this question in an article analyzing contacts between Serbia's opposition parties, notably the Democratic Party (DS), the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) and the leadership of the Bosnian Serbs. Related queries explored include: "How great is the political effect of the pilgrimages by the Serbian opposition for Dr. Karadzic?" and "What does this all mean on the international, Bosnian, and Serbian political scenes?" According to the piece, leaders of the above mentioned parties have a record of lending support to Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, notably since backing his decision to reject an international peace plan for Bosnia and Herzegovina turning over control of 49% of the country to the Bosnian Serbs. While Serbia's President Slobodan Milosevic and his Socialist Party of Serbia endorsed this plan, the opposition parties' decision to side with Karadzic has done little to change the regional balance of political power, notes the article. In conclusion, it observes that the opposition is too "weak and disunited . . . and shall remain that way for the foreseeable future" for Milosevic to seriously worry about its activities, a fact which is "impossible" for Karadzic to miss. -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

At a rally on 17 January in the western Romanian town of Resita, some 2,000 workers demanded better pay and improved working conditions. Their claims included a minimum net monthly wage of 300,000 lei, a 13th monthly salary, and the payment of back wages. According to Radio Bucharest, the meeting was staged by the trade unions at the local machine building factory. In December Resita was the scene of strong labor protests, which ended only after Premier Nicolae Vacaroiu agreed to an aid package for the town's ailing metal industries. Participants in the rally said the government has failed to meet its pledges. A spokesman for the demonstrators said more protests are planned. -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

In a statement broadcast by Radio Bucharest on 17 January, the National Council of the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania "firmly rejected" recent statements of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania on possible autonomy for the country's ethnic Magyar population. The communique spoke of an "anti-constitutional" approach, which might seriously affect the rule of law in Romania. The PSDR also expressed surprise over the setting up of a Council of HDFR mayors and counselors at Sfantu-Gheorghe in southern Transylvania. It asked HDFR leaders to "renounce a policy that leads to manifestations of extremism, irredentism and chauvinism." Most political parties, including the HDFR's allies from the Democratic Convention of Romania, have already criticized that party's statements on territorial autonomy based on ethnic criteria. -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

Chairman of the Bulgarian Socialist Party Zhan Videnov was asked on 17 January by President Zhelyu Zhelev to form a new government, Standart reported the following day. The Executive Bureau of the BSP will decide on the structure and the program of the government on 19 January. The names of the ministers will be presented to Zhelev on 23 January and to parliament on the 25th. The new cabinet will include four deputy prime ministers, who will supervise the economy, infrastructure and investments, social questions, and culture, respectively. Videnov admitted that he has problems in finding appropriate candidates for the economic positions, as he does not want to include ministers from former cabinets. On foreign policy, he said that parliament and the Foreign Ministry should play a bigger role, implying that there might be frictions between government and president. "We will make all efforts to build up regional, continental and global security structures of the Euro-Atlantic type," Reuters quoted Videnov as saying on 17 January. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

The National Coordinating Council of the UDF on 17 January issued a declaration on cooperation among opposition parties, Demokratsiya reported the following day. UDF chairman Ivan Kostov said that everyone voting against a socialist government is part of the opposition. The aim of the UDF is to effectively oppose the BSP if it acts against reforms and national security, Standart said on 18 January. The UDF also wants to reach an agreement on joint legislative initiatives, the paper reported. The UDF leadership also discussed possible changes of its statutes, which will be decided on 24 January. These changes would turn the UDF into a party, although its present status as a coalition of parties would be officially retained, Standart said. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

Negotiations with Germany on Bulgaria's debt will continue after the formation of the new government, Standart reported on 18 January. Bulgaria owes Germany 532 million transfer rubles, or about DM 1.2 billion. Part of the sum includes Bulgarian debts to the GDR, which stopped buying Bulgarian products while Bulgaria was still importing goods from it. Officials of the Bulgarian Finance Ministry said the obligations should be covered by increasing trade with Germany, exporting tobacco, wine and products of "Balkancar". -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

Ten people have been killed in a week of blood feuds around Albania, Gazeta Shqiptare reported on 18 January. Meanwhile, police have caught three out of 20 prisoners who escaped from Tirana prison in the night from 15 to 16 January, the newspaper added. According to a declaration of the Ministry of Justice, published in Rilindja Demokratike on 17 January, among those who fled were dangerous criminals who had been sentenced for murder and rape. Bedri Como, deputy director of the country's prisons, said the escape was well-organized and the prisoners received outside help, Reuters reported on 16 January. A reward of 100,000 lek (or about $950, which is twice the average annual salary) has been offered for information leading to the prisoners' recapture. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

Rasim Ljajic, General Secretary of the mainly Muslim Party of Democratic Action of Sandzak, was dismissed at a party congress on 14 January, the independent Borba reported on 17 January. Ljajic had offered to leave already last July. Borba said that the resignation had to do with Ljajic's unhappiness with leading trends in the party. According to Politika on 18 January, Ljajic opposed the idea of a separation of Sandzak from rump-Yugoslavia as advocated by party leader Sulejman Ugljanin. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

Albania will hold its first joint military exercise with NATO in the context of Partnership for Peace at the end of January, Reuters reported on 17 January. The exercise, code named Sarex 95, will be held on the Albanian coast with a unit of the US 6th Fleet. According to Defense Ministry spokesman Pandeli Ristani, Italy, Britain and Germany have confirmed their participation with ships, helicopters and troops. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Pete Baumgartner and Steve Kettle