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Newsline - January 26, 1995

Russian troops continued their artillery bombardment of Chechen-held areas in southern Grozny on 25 January, Western agencies reported. Chechen fighters, quoted byThe Washington Post on 26 January, said they expect a new Russian offensive at any moment. Russian Security Council Secretary Oleg Lobov told journalists after a session of the Council on 25 January that Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev "still has a chance to emerge unscathed" provided he lays down his arms, but that if resistance continues, he will face criminal charges "as the main perpetrator of the bloodshed," Interfax reported. Lobov also said elections for a new Chechen parliament could be held later this year. Meanwhile, Chechnya will be administered by a National Salvation Committee, which he claimed is already functioning in eight raions. Lobov denied the Security Council is planning to divide Chechnya into northern and southern regions. * Liz Fuller

At the Security Council meeting, chaired by President Boris Yeltsin, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev was congratulated on the successful completion of the Chechen campaign, despite criticism leveled at his ministry for its handling of the conflict and continued fighting in the republic, agencies reported. Security Council Secretary Lobov said that restoring order in Chechnya, the second stage of the operation, will be directed by the Interior Ministry. The council also discussed priority measures for the social and economic reconstruction of the republic, which Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin estimated would cost 5-6 trillion rubles. About 80,000 civilians are said to remain in Grozny and to be experiencing "a serious shortage of food, heat, medicines, and clothes," Interfax reported. * Penny Morvant

A group of Russian public organizations have suggested that the initiators of the Chechen war be put on trial, Russian TV's "Vesti" reported on 25 January. The idea was raised at a news conference by a number of prominent public figures, including Aleksei Simonov, chairman of the Foundation for the Defense of Glasnost, Sergei Grigoryants, a former Soviet political prisoner, and Valerii Borshchov, a deputy for the Yabloko faction in the State Duma. At the conference, the speakers asserted that Russia has violated a number of key international agreements in Chechnya, including the Geneva Convention. They argued that, although prosecutions are unlikely, a public trial would expose discrepancies between Russian and international laws. Simonov called on journalists to send the tribunal video and audio tapes which could be used as evidence. * Julia Wishnevsky

The Duma dropped a scheduled discussion on the performance of Defense Minister Grachev on 25 January and held a debate on Human Rights Commissioner Sergei Kovalev instead, Russian TV and RFE/RL reported. The change in agenda was suggested by Yurii Kuznetsov, a member of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party. On his request, Kovalev addressed the legislature with a report on his mission in Grozny and suggested that it adopt a resolution condemning the use of military force in Chechnya. In turn, Kuznetsov said the Duma should call on Yeltsin to replace Kovalev as the president's human rights envoy.
Kuznetsov's speech was followed by heated debates, during which the Communists attacked Kovalev for supporting the decision to send tanks against Russia's parliament building in October 1993, while the democrats lashed out at members of Zhirinovsky's party. A decision was postponed until 27 January. * Julia Wishnevsky

Maj.-Gen. Ivan Babichev has been appointed to command the 44th Infantry Corps deployed in Chechnya, Russian media reported on 25 January. Babichev was the commanding officer of the 76th Guards Airborne division based in Pskov. He led one of the columns advancing on Grozny in mid-December and, at one point, refused to continue his advance when blocked by civilians. The announcement said the Defense Ministry had proposed that he be awarded the Hero of Russia medal. * Doug Clarke

Former Minister of Justice Yurii Kalmykov denounced the Security Council and the leaders of parliament in a Komsomolskaya pravda article titled "The Security Council--The Politburo of our time," published 26 January. Kalmykov wrote that the council is operating unconstitutionally. According to the constitution, the status of the Security Council should be determined by federal law. But parliament has never adopted such a law, so the Council's authority derives purely from a presidential decree signed 3 June 1992. As a result, the Security Council "does not have the power to issue orders to anyone." Additionally, Kalmykov denounced the heads of both chambers of parliament, Ivan Rybkin and Vladimir Shumeiko, for joining the "secretive" body and thereby violating arrangements for a division of power. By their actions, "they are willfully or unconsciously creating a body which is beginning to replace and subordinate parliament and the government and will carry out the will of one person." He speculated that the executive and legislative branches came to an agreement in the Security Council over the Chechen war to avoid having to call a state of emergency which, according to the constitution, must be ratified by the Federation Council. * Robert Orttung

Former Georgian Defense Minister Giorgii Karkarashvili was seriously injured and ex-Deputy Defense Minister Paata Datuashvili was killed by automatic rifle fire at close range as they were leaving their Moscow apartment on 25 January, Russian and Western agencies reported. The unidentified attackers escaped. Despite his resignation in February 1994 to protest an agreement on maintaining Russian military bases in Georgia, Karkarashvili was one of a group of top Georgian generals sent to Moscow to study at the Russian General Staff Academy. A spokesman for the Georgian Embassy in Moscow said there was no obvious motive for the attack, ITAR-TASS reported. * Liz Fuller

An erroneous report published by Interfax on 25 January indicated that Russian air defense forces had shot down a missile aimed at the country from Western Europe. Western agencies quickly revealed that Norway had launched a civilian research missile from Andoya, in northern Norway, to investigate the Northern Lights (aurora borealis) over Svalbard--a group of islands some 650 kilometers north of the country. Three Russian radar sites observed the missile, but it did not cross Russian territory and was not fired at by air defense forces. A Norwegian scientist at the test range said the program had launched a total of 607 rockets over the last 32 years, Reuters reported. * Doug Clarke

In a prime time broadcast on Russia's largest television station, controversial lawyer Dmitrii Yakubovsky lambasted former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev for allowing the "velvet revolutions" in Eastern Europe, as well as the reunification of Germany in 1989. The 23 January broadcast on the state-owned Ostankino station was the first of a three-part documentary series. While it is not unusual for the Russian media to criticize Gorbachev, accusations that he had "given away" Eastern Europe have not been broadcast to a nationwide audience since the end of the Soviet communist party's rule in August 1991. "Gorbachev claimed that he was unpopular because of his policy of perestroika [liberalization of Soviet society]," Yakubovsky argued on the show. "But in fact, the Russian people hated Gorbachev because he gave away Eastern Europe, which was not at all necessary." Yakubovsky was arrested in 1994 for allegedly stealing rare manuscripts from a St. Petersburg museum. He is now locked in the local Kresty prison. * Julia Wishnevsky

The Russian State Duma on 25 January passed the 1995 budget in a second reading with a 268-88 vote and two abstentions, Russian and Western news agencies reported. The budget, which had been rejected earlier in the day, was finally adopted after a concession from First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, who agreed to raise a value-added tax from 20% to 21.5%, bringing in an extra 5.7 trillion rubles ($1.4 billion) in revenue. These funds will be used to support the agriculture sector and to improve the financing of social and other programs. The budget must still be brought before the Duma for a third reading and then before the Federation Council. The budget provides for revenues of 169.8 trillion rubles ($42.45 billion) and spending of 243 trillion rubles ($60.75 billion), leaving a deficit of 73 trillion rubles ($18.25 billion) which amounts to 7.7% of Russia's GNP. Following the budget's approval, Duma deputies agreed to increase the minimum monthly wage by 163%, from 20,500 to 54,100 rubles ($5 to $13), beginning 1 February. However, Finance Minister Vladimir Panskov warned that such an increase in the minimum wage would swell the budget deficit and fuel inflation to around 20-25%. The wage hike, which is an important factor in determining the final budget for 1995, must still be approved by the Federation Council. Opposition to the budget came from deputies who did not accept the cost estimates of the Chechen war. * Thomas Sigel

Russian Economics Minister Yevgenii Yasin announced, in a meeting with the ministry's board, that Russia's economic crisis in 1994 was deeper than experts expected, Interfax reported on 25 January. Yasin said the gross domestic product (GDP) declined by 15% in 1994, compared to a decline of 12% in 1993. The volume of industrial production fell by 20.9% last year, compared to 14.1% in 1993. Agricultural production dipped 9% compared to 4% in 1993. Yasin said the main decline took place in the first quarter, but some stabilization and growth took place by the end of the year. Summarizing the overall economic picture, Yasin said, "we have lost at least six months or even a year in movement forward." The main task in 1995 is to raise the efficiency of production and attract highly efficient investments which could cover initial expenses. Also, the budget deficit must be kept in line, he said. * Thomas Sigel

No report today.

Following the CIS summit meeting in Moscow on 25 January, Ukraine's Foreign Minister Hennadii Udovenko voiced concern about the attitude of some Russian deputies toward a reconstituted union, Ukrainian radio reported. According to Udovenko, who participated only as an observer at the summit, the Russian Duma's intention to review the Belavezha agreement of 1991, which ended the USSR and established the CIS, would bring instability to CIS countries. Udovenko said the CIS should be a more efficient structure with renewed economic ties, but outdated structures should not be resurrected. Interfax reported that Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan were not prepared to sign an agreement on cooperation in protecting the external borders of the CIS. * Ustina Markus

The Sevastopol Popular Assembly held a rally at which it demanded that Russia restore federal status to Sevastopol and Crimea to avoid a Chechnya-type tragedy on the peninsula, Interfax reported on 23 January. The Popular Assembly also supported Russia's actions in Chechnya and called upon Crimeans to resist Ukrainian separatists unless the region is returned to Russia or joins it as one "indivisible country." In other news, Ukrainian radio reported on 15 January that there are doubts as to whether Russia can afford the estimated 100-billion-ruble cost of maintaining the Black Sea Fleet personnel or the cost of supplying Sevastopol with gas. The issue of gas supplies was discussed in a meeting between the head of the Sevastopol city council, Viktor Semenov, Ukrainian Prime Minister Vitalii Masol, and Ukrainian Parliamentary Speaker Oleksander Moroz. * Ustina Markus

The Slovak parliament on 25 January issued a document criticizing President Michal Kovac over his response to a letter from William Orme, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Orme in November expressed concern about the state of the media following the first two sessions of the new parliament. Kovac responded by saying he believed the situation in the Slovak media after the 1994 elections was "only temporary" and that Slovak journalists would soon "be able to work once again according to the principles of democracy and plurality." Slovak National Party Chairman Jan Slota announced on 13 January that a group of deputies from the SNP and the Association of Slovak Workers had asked parliament chairman Ivan Gasparovic to request the president explain himself before the legislature. Christian Democratic Movement Chairman Jan Carnogursky and other opposition members said that calling Kovac before the parliament would damage not only the president's prestige but also Slovakia's. The parliament expressed regret that Kovac declined to explain himself to parliament deputies and said Kovac's statements "damage the good name and interests of Slovakia," Sme reports. * Sharon Fisher

Gyula Horn and his Slovak counterpart, Vladimir Meciar, told a press conference in Budapest on 25 January that they expected to sign the basic treaty between their two countries by 21 March. They noted that the treaty would include clauses on the inviolability of existing borders, the renunciation of territorial claims, and a statement of general principles on minority rights, MTI reports. The two leaders said they would also sign the European Council's convention on the protection of minorities in Strasbourg on 1 February. In addition, Meciar agreed to increase the water flow into the Danube to counter ecological destruction caused by the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros hydroelectric project. * Edith Oltay

The Czech government on 25 January rejected Deputy Prime Minister Jan Kalvoda's allegations that the counterintelligence service BIS illegally collected information on political parties. Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus told a press conference that the cabinet decided Kalvoda's charges were unfounded and that only one minister voted against this decision. This suggests that ministers from Kalvoda's Civic Democratic Alliance broke ranks with their party leader and that he was also deserted by the Christian Democratic Union. KDU leader Josef Lux previously joined Kalvoda in accusing the BIS of spying. Stanislav Devaty, the head of the BIS, on 25 January denied that his agency has been involved in illegal activities. He said he will resign if Kalvoda's charges prove to be correct, Mlada fronta dnes reports. * Steve Kettle

Poland's two ruling parties are again trading accusations of disloyalty in the wake of press reports on the impending dismissal of national police commander Zenon Smolarek. The major Polish dailies reported on 25 January that Smolarek has submitted his resignation for the third time in a year in connection with corruption allegations over the "sponsorship" of the Poznan police force by private businesses. After Gazeta Wyborcza broke the story in March 1994, a drawn-out conflict between Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak and President Lech Walesa over the choice of a successor ensued. The stand-off led Pawlak to reject Smolarek's resignation in October, but a cloud of corruption continued to hang over the police. The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) on 25 January enthusiastically endorsed Internal Affairs Minister Andrzej Milczanowski's proposal to remove Smolarek. Pawlak commented that there were "more important issues" facing the coalition, and the Polish Peasant Party expressed outrage at the SLD's stance. * Louisa Vinton

Ukraine's Ministry of Agriculture told Interfax on 25 January that the European Union will grant Ukraine a 5 million ecu credit to work out a development program for the country's agricultural sector. The grant will be used to pay foreign experts to reorganize the management system of Ukraine's agricultural complex. Ukrainian experts will also participate in the project. The EU in November 1994 granted Ukraine some $6.5 million to draw up a food products program. Most of the grant went to a consortium of Western firms made up of Agrer (Belgium), Eurosiris (France), Secofisa (Spain), and Ogilvy Adams & Rienhart (Germany). The Ukrainian press has repeatedly criticized the practice of using foreign credits to pay Western consultants. * Ustina Markus

The National Bank of Ukraine has scheduled this year's first closed auction of credits to commercial banks for 31 January, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 25 January. The initial rate for banks operating for at least a year will be 252% annually or 21% monthly. The minimum credit line available for commercial banks has been set at 10 billion karbovantsi for 30 days. Government statistics reveal that the monthly inflation rate in Ukraine in December was 28.4%, compared with 72.3% in November and 22.6% in October. An IMF report estimates Ukraine's annual inflation rate in 1994 at 842%. * Chrystyna Lapychak

Interfax on 25 January reports that a World Bank delegation arrived in Belarus for a three-day visit to discuss improving oil production and the overall performance of the Belarusian energy complex. The delegation will discuss projects to be partly financed by the World Bank, including turning Belarusneft, the republic's largest oil-producing complex, into a joint-stock company. Also on the agenda is the liberalization of Belarusian oil prices and improving the taxation system. * Ustina Markus

Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs, attending border talks with Russia in the east Latvian town of Balvi on 25 January, said Latvia was unlikely to regain the Abrene district, which it lost to Russia after World War II, BNS reports. He noted that even though Russia claims to have no border problems with Latvia, it was advisable to continue talks to prevent Russia unilaterally drawing the border and to try to get back former land and real estate of Latvians in the district. * Saulius Girnius

Konstantin Zatulin, chairman of the Russian Duma's Committee for CIS Affairs and Relations with Compatriots, said Lithuania's planned deportation of four ex-Soviet activists would lead to a "considerable deterioration" of Russian-Lithuanian relations, especially in the economic sphere, BNS reported on 25 January. The four ignored a request to leave Lithuania by 22 January (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 January 1995). Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister Albinas Januska pointed out that the 18 November 1993 agreement granting mutual most-favored-nation trade status made no provisions for its ratification by the respective parliaments. He said Zatulin's suggestion that the Duma would not ratify the agreement if Latvia went ahead with the deportations should not have any bearing on the agreement. * Saulius Girnius

By a vote of 138 to 91 with two abstentions, Zhan Videnov, chairman of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, was elected prime minister, BTA reported on 25 January. Videnov, in a speech on his government's program, announced what he called an "anti-crisis program" and pledged to cut unemployment and inflation. He said the new government will also speed up privatization and agricultural reform and continue to develop ties with international lending organizations. With regard to foreign policy, Videnov said the new government will promote Bulgaria's integration into Europe and continue to take part in NATO's Partnership for Peace program. He promised to present a four-year legislative program within 100 days and said the 1995 budget would be approved by the end of March. Opposition deputies claimed the new cabinet is a continuation of the former communist elite, Reuters reports. The main target of their attacks was Education Minister-designate Ilcho Dimitrov, whom the largely ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom blames for the forceful Bulgarization campaign in the 1980s. * Stefan Krause

Reuters reports on 26 January that the U.S., British, and French diplomats from the international Contact Group have reversed plans to leave Bosnia and are staying on for more talks. They originally wanted to leave after the Serbs refused again to accept the current peace plan as the basis for a settlement. The German and Russian representatives have left for previous engagements, and it is unclear whether their governments agreed to continue the talks. The Serbs appear willing to talk with an open agenda but balk at the idea of first "accepting" the plan, although the Contact Group has assured them that nothing is binding until a final settlement is signed. Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, however, wants a deadline imposed on the Serbs to accept the project. He says the Serbs should have two months to say "yes," plus an additional month for final talks, the Los Angeles Times reports. That would mean a deadline of around 1 May, when the current cease-fire is slated to expire. The Frankfurter Rundschau nonetheless says the Contact Group's negotiations have reached "a dead-end street." * Patrick Moore

The BBC reported on 25 January that Bosnian government negotiators are boycotting a meeting slated for 26 January to discuss implementing the cease-fire agreement. They are protesting a lack of progress toward implementing the pact's provisions, but UN spokesmen charged that the Muslims' action will hold up progress even more. Meanwhile in Bihac, news agencies note further heavy shelling of government positions by Krajina Serbs and forces loyal to local kingpin Fikret Abdic. Hina on 24 January reported that Serbs are continuing to expel Croats and Muslims from the Banja Luka area and have arrested 21 mainly elderly Croats near Livno and apparently taken them to the Kamenica detention camp. Finally, dpa on 26 January reports on the plight of seriously ill children in Sarajevo who cannot be evacuated for treatment because of a lack of money. * Patrick Moore

AFP reports on 26 January that the Zagreb and Sarajevo governments have asked Washington to set up a three-way meeting to discuss problems in implementing the Croatian-Muslim federation. Elsewhere, Reuters and Croatian media announce that the newly repaired Adria pipeline connecting the Croatian coast with Central Europe is slated to start pumping oil again. Hungary and the Czech Republic are expected to be the big beneficiaries of the reopening, which is the result of last month's Croatian-Serbian economic agreement. Croatia will profit mainly from transit fees. Hina reports that Milorad Pupovac has announced that a new ethnic Serbian party in Croatia, the Independent Serbian Party (SSS), will be founded on 29 January. Pupovac is a professor and a prominent figure among those Serbs living in areas under Croatian government control. The SSS is the latest in a series of his efforts to establish strong Serbian representation in what most Serbs regard as a repressive atmosphere. * Patrick Moore

AFP on 26 January reports on protests throughout rump Yugoslavia over the government's decision to implement power cuts, which have left millions of residents without electricity or heating for long periods. Among the hardest-hit centers is Belgrade, where residents have taken to the streets to protest the measures. Members of Serbia's government claim the measures are warranted by overconsumption. Critics of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's regime, however, argue that the power cuts are part of Belgrade's policy to export electricity to neighboring countries in exchange for oil. AFP observes that part of Belgrade's defense strategy is to argue that the country's energy supplies will improve in the near future, when the "hypothetical go-ahead from the United Nations" results in the further easing of sanctions against the rump Yugoslavia. Politika on 25 January quoted rump Yugoslav Prime Minister Radoje Kontic as saying that 1995 would witness "the gradual, albeit certain removal of [international] sanctions against our country." * Stan Markotich

Lawyers representing 10 ethnic Albanians accused of plotting an armed uprising have demanded that the charges be dropped and their clients released, Flaka reported on 26 January. The accused, including two former deputy government ministers, were sentenced to between five and eight years in prison by the Skopje Communal Court in June 1994. They were arrested in western Macedonia in December 1993, having been found in possession of weapons and recruitment lists of ethnic Albanians. Abdurrahman Aliti, leader of the ethnic Albanian Party of Democratic Prosperity, called for the release of the prisoners at a meeting with Gerd Arens, coordinator of the working group on ethnic and national minorities at the Geneva Conference on the Former Yugoslavia. The two men also discussed possible solutions to the Albanians' demand for an Albanian-language university in Macedonia. Arens stressed that these questions must be solved by changing the law on higher education, which does not provide for Albanian-language education. Albanian professors and students, supported by ethnic Albanian parties, founded an illegal university in December 1994. * Fabian Schmidt

In a press release broadcast by Radio Bucharest on 25 January, Gheorghe Funar, leader of the extreme nationalist Party of Romanian National Unity, reiterated his party's intention to outlaw the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania. He said the PRNU has asked the government to seize "illegally obtained weapons" from members of the Hungarian ethnic minority; to punish those Romanian citizens who display Hungarian flags or sing the Hungarian national anthem on Romanian territory; to test the knowledge of the Romanian language and constitution among ethnic Hungarian state employees; and to sack or retire all members of the HDFR who work in the armed forces, the Interior Ministry, the Justice Ministry, and the Romanian Intelligence Service. * Michael Shafir

The Party of Social Democracy in Romania, the PRNU's coalition partner, said Funar's statement was "mistaken and dressed in extremist nuances," Radio Bucharest reported on 26 January. President Ion Iliescu was quoted by the same radio station as saying the PRNU's leader's statement contradicts government policy as well as the recent collaboration agreement signed by the PRNU, the PSDU, and two extreme nationalist parties. The agreement, he noted, excludes any form of "exclusivism and chauvinism." Meanwhile, in an interview with AFP on 25 January, Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn called on Bucharest to drop proposals to ban the HDFR. Horn said that Romanian Justice Minister Iosif Gavril Chiuzbaian's call for a ban "is contrary to all that has been said during our meetings, and the wording of such intentions does not help the improvement of ties." * Michael Shafir and Edith Oltay

The group that split from the Socialist Labor Party earlier this month to set up a splinter party has announced it will call itself the Socialist Party. Tudor Mohora, chairman of the "initiative committee" for setting up the new party, said in an interview with Radio Bucharest on 25 January that the Socialist Party wished to make an "important contribution to backing and promoting the interests of those who believe in the idea of social justice [and] in the values of socialism." Mohora said the Socialist Party wished to prevent "the two political parties that call themselves `socialist'" from becoming political adversaries. * Michael Shafir

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is expected to grant a $20 million credit to Moldova-Agroinbank in 1995, a representative of the bank told the Financial Information Agency on 25 January. He said the EBRD is expected to take a final decision on the loan by the end of January. The Moldovan bank plans to use the loan to grant long-term credits (eight to 15 years) to the farming and instrument-making sectors and to private businesses. The EBRD in 1994 granted the National Bank of Moldova a $30 million credit to develop the country's wine-making industry. * Michael Shafir

Sali Berisha on 25 January proposed setting up private radio and TV channels to offer a broader and more impartial dissemination of information, Reuters reported the same day. Berisha said the present state-run radio and TV stations should be turned into public institutions partly subsidized by the state but not responsible to it. He added that this measure "will also influence the quality of the existing media." Albanian Television has been broadcasting 16 hours a day via satellite since the beginning of 1995. The opposition claims that Albanian radio and TV are controlled by the ruling Democratic Party. Although current legislation does not permit private radio stations, several pirate stations are already broadcasting. * Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave