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Newsline - January 30, 1995

Russian artillery bombardment of Grozny and of towns to the east and south continued on 27-29 January, according to Western agencies. On 29 January, the Russian government issued an official statement dismissing as unrealistic Dudaev's threat to extend the war to Russian cities if the aggression against Chechnya continues, Western media reported. * Liz Fuller

An attempt by Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev on 27 January to arrange a new meeting between his envoys and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin failed, Russian media reported. After meeting with Chechen religious leaders in Moscow on 27 January, Chernomyrdin said elections could be held in Chechnya in 2-3 months. Also on 27 January, Russian President Boris Yeltsin appointed Nikolai Semenov, as federal representative in Chechnya, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Semenov, who was first secretary of the Grozny gorkom from 1976-1985, will replace Nikolai Egorov, who is hospitalized with pneumonia. On 28 January, Chernomyrdin named as Semenov's deputies Salambek Khadzhiev, head of the Moscow-appointed Chechen government, opposition Provisional Council chairman Umar Avturkhanov and warlord Beslan Gantemirov, ITAR-TASS reported. * Liz Fuller

Various Russian political and social organizations signed a joint document denouncing the war in Chechnya on 28 January in Moscow's Parliamentary Center. The state-owned ITAR-TASS agency reported that 40 organizations had taken part, but organizers told Russian TV there were 72 groups. The signatory parties included Russia's Democratic Choice, the Democratic Party of Russia and the human rights "Memorial" society. Human Rights Commissioner Sergei Kovalev addressed the session, saying that the agreement marked the emergence of a civil society in Russia. * Julia Wishnevsky

A mission from the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) to investigate human rights abuses in Chechnya arrived in Grozny 29 January on the final leg of a tour scheduled to visit Moscow, North Ossetia and Ingushetia, Reuters, AFP and Interfax reported. The military prevented the Human Rights Commissioner Sergei Kovalev from accompanying the mission because he didn't have a pass for the military airport. The United States has requested an explanation for this action. The five-member mission met with Chechen opposition leader Umar Avturkhanov on 28 January and held talks with local political and religious leaders opposed to Dudaev. Delegation head Istvan Gyarmati stressed that he had no mandate to mediate the conflict nor to investigate specific human rights violations. He said the OSCE considered a democratic resolution of the conflict important for Russian stability. Gyarmati added that the delegation was particularly eager to talk to Russian-held Chechen prisoners, especially since Russia has not allowed the International Red Cross to see them and does not recognize them as prisoners-of-war under the Geneva Convention. Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev said, on 26 January, that the OSCE mission made little sense because some members of the delegation couldn't speak Russian and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin was already mediating in Chechnya. * Michael Mihalka

The head of Yeltsin's security service, General Alexander Korzhakov, ranks number two on a list of the country's most influential people, according to a survey conducted by NTV's "Itogy," AFP reported 29 January. Every month the program asks politicians, political analysts, journalists and other opinion-makers for their top-ten listings of the country's most influential people, excluding Yeltsin. Only Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin ranked higher this time. Korzhakov ranked seventh in October, fourth in November, and third in December. The survey results reflect a growing perception in Moscow that Korzhakov has become a dominant figure in the president's inner circle of advisers. He has been accused of supporting the use of military force in Chechnya and opposing some aspects of economic reform. * Robert Orttung

Vladimir Semago, a Communist member of the Duma, denounced Yeltsin's statement in Lipetsk that it was unconstitutional for the Duma to set up a commission to investigate the causes of the Chechen crisis, Interfax reported 27 January. He characterized Yeltsin's remark as "a covert signal to bureaucrats" not to cooperate with the Duma and "the start of an open confrontation with the legislature." He warned that a confrontation between the president and parliament might degenerate into armed conflict. He stressed the need to complete the establishment of the Constitutional Court to prevent such an eventuality. * Robert Orttung

Manning the armed forces "has become the most acute problem of Russia's defense capability," according to Russia's Institute for Social and Political Studies, Interfax reported on 28 January. The institute cited a demographic crisis in the country and the large numbers of deferments as causes of the problem. The report noted that the number of people between the ages of 15 and 19 in the population had dropped by nearly 1.2 million in the past fifteen years. The law allows so many valid reasons for being deferred that 84% of draft-age men evaded conscription in 1994, compared to 48% in 1989. As a result, last spring's draft was said to have brought the armed forces up to 75% of their desired personnel, with ground forces able to fill just over half of their billets. * Doug Clarke

Unless more money is provided to Russia's space program, the country will lose its ranking as a great space power, warned top officials of the Russian Space Agency and one of Russia's largest rocket and space enterprises in a 26 January Interfax report. The space agency's director said 104 of the 177 Russian spacecraft currently in orbit have exceeded their design lifetime and could fail at any moment. In 1994, Russia was able to complete only 49 of 102 planned launches. Gen. Vladimir Ivanov, commander of military space forces, said at most, only half of the 72 space launches planned for this year could be achieved. The director of the Energiya Corporation declared that underfinancing over the past two years had caused the curtailment of several space programs and the loss of 7,500 specialists. Another 30,000 jobs were threatened without additional funding. * Doug Clarke

Speaking at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos on 27 January, Russian Minister of Economics Yevgenii Yasin said that once price stabilization occurs, the government will consider introducing a fixed ruble rate, Interfax reported. According to Yasin, a fixed rate would enable the Central Bank to keep the ruble in line with hard currency interventions. It would also reduce the scale of speculations. Yasin declined to indicate when stabilization would happen. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais said a fixed ruble rate could be introduced no earlier than three months from now. Russian bankers attending the event were skeptical that such measures could have a positive impact on currency stabilization and market reforms, Interfax noted. The president of Toko Bank, Viktor Yakunin, said a fixed rate would lead to "the death of the currency exchange and the emergence of a black market for currency." * Thomas Sigel

Russia's State Customs Committee has proposed an average one-third reduction of customs duties on 50 imported items, including tobacco, liquor, and cars, Interfax reported on 27 January. Customs committee Chairman Anatolii Kruglov told the press that current taxes do not meet today's consumer market requirements. An estimated 30% of all exports bypass customs because excessive duties are compelling people to smuggle goods, he said. Kruglov urged the government to set up a council for representatives of the customs committee, the Foreign Trade Ministry, and other departments to work out a balanced customs regulation policy. In 1994, the committee raised 14.14 trillion rubles for the state, amounting to 21.3% of the country's budget revenues. This year, the Committee is expected to contribute 23.3 trillion rubles to the budget. Last year, the customs committee initiated 25,000 suits on tax payment irregularities, issued 130 billion rubles in fines, and confiscated 40 billion rubles in goods. * Thomas Sigel

On 26 January emissaries of the newly combined Russian and OSCE Karabakh mediation missions, Anders Bjurner and Vladimir Kazimirov, held talks in Baku with Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Aliyev affirmed that his country will spare no effort to maintain the ceasefire, in force since May 1994, noting that it had held despite the absence of peacekeepers. On 28 January, however, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry issued a statement, reported by Interfax, registering official concern at alleged violations of the cease-fire by Armenian forces in the north of Nagorno-Karabakh. Bjurner and Kazimirov proceeded to Erevan on 28 January for talks with the Armenian leadership, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile Interfax on 28 January cited a Karabakh official as claiming that about 25,000 ethnic Armenians, who had fled the fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh in recent years, returned to their homes last month.* Liz Fuller

Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba linked the repatriation of ethnic Georgian refugees with the lifting of border restrictions, imposed by Russia in December 1994 to prevent Abkhaz militants from joining the Chechen fighters, Interfax reported on 26 January. The comments came at a meeting in Sukhumi between Ardzinba and a delegation from the CIS Inter-parliamentary Assembly and the CIS Committee of the Federation Council. On 28 January, the Russian delegation traveled to Tbilisi for talks with Georgian Parliament Chairman Eduard Shevardnadze, whose chief negotiator for Abkhazia, Dzhaba Ioseliani, subsequently told Interfax that the next round of UN-sponsored talks on a political settlement of the Abkhaz conflict would take place in Geneva on 7-9 February. In a statement probably meant more for domestic consumption than as a basis for negotiations, Ioseliani said Georgia would demand that repatriation of the estimated 200,000 Georgian refugees be completed before 15 May, when the mandate of Russian peacekeepers in the area expires. He reiterated that Georgia would offer a federal model for Abkhazia, guaranteeing "all political, economic and cultural rights," but not independence. * Liz Fuller

The 6 January agreement between Russia and Belarus represents a means for Russia to gain control over the Belarusian economy and the country's assets, according to Zyanon Paznyak, leader of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front (BPF).
At a 26 January press conference of the BPF shadow cabinet, reported by Belarusian radio, Paznyak attacked clauses in the agreement which allow Russian exports free transit across Belarusian territory and the stationing of Russian troops in the country free of charge. Paznyak said the agreement has a political character which is ruinous to Belarusian sovereignty and paves the way for the republic's incorporation into the Russian Federation. Shadow cabinet prime minister Uladzimir Zablotsky said Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir did not have the right to sign the agreement since it contravened the country's constitution and only the president can sign international accords. Paznyak also said the free-trade and customs union agreement would mean that Belarus is subject to any sanctions imposed on Russia because of the conflict in Chechnya. * Ustina Markus

Laszlo Bekesi announced his decision to resign at a meeting of the Hungarian Socialist Party's parliamentary group on 28 January in Siofok, MTI and Western news agencies report. Bekesi cited differences of opinion between himself and Prime Minister Gyula Horn over the pace of economic reforms and privatization. Earlier this month, Horn stopped a transaction to privatize a Hungarian hotel chain and dismissed the official in charge of privatization. Bekesi strongly disapproved and correctly predicted that Horn's intervention with the privatization process would send negative signals to foreign investors. Bekesi also rejected Horn's latest proposal to appoint a privatization minister and thereby take responsibility for privatization out of the domain of the finance ministry. The privatization minister is to report directly to the prime minister. * Edith Oltay

Bekesi's resignation was a further blow to the already divided HSP and Alliance of Free Democrats governing coalition. The AFD entered the coalition on the condition that Bekesi, the architect of the HSP's liberal economic program, be appointed finance minister. The AFD supported Bekesi in the coalition against the numerous HSP left-wing opponents of a liberal economic policy, and condemned Horn's meddling with privatization policy. While both Horn and AFD chairman Ivan Peto denied that Bekesi's resignation triggered a coalition crisis, tensions in the coalition clearly reached new heights. Peto warned the government against modifying the economic reform program formulated by Bekesi.
* Edith Oltay

President Lech Walesa has submitted a second constitutional challenge to the 1995 tax law, based this time on the principle that legislation cannot have retroactive effect. The bill was signed into law after the start of the current tax year, largely owing to the president's own delaying tactics. In comments to Gazeta Wyborcza (28-29 January), presidential legal adviser Lech Falandysz said the challenge would prevent Walesa from signing the 1995 budget before his 30-day deadline expires on 3 February. Falandysz argued that the new delay would give Walesa authority to dissolve the parliament. The constitution allows the president to dissolve the parliament if it fails to meet a three-month deadline (measured from the date the government submits the draft to the Sejm) for the "adoption" of the budget. The current political upheaval hinges on whether "adoption" takes place when the Sejm votes to approve the budget, or only when the president signs it into law. Constitutional Tribunal chairman Andrzej Zoll took the unusual step of pointing out on Polish TV that a previous tribunal ruling had defined the moment of adoption as the Sejm's vote. The president's office disputes this interpretation, insisting that "if the president does not sign the budget by 4 February, the parliament is not protected from dissolution." Such threats are likely intended to improve Walesa's bargaining position in advance of a meeting with coalition leaders (anticipated in the next few days) to discuss the appointment of new ministers of defense and foreign affairs. * Louisa Vinton

Vladimir Buzhko, a 36-year old locksmith from Vorkuta who hijacked a Russian plane from Syktyvkar to St. Petersburg in mid-November, hanged himself in a Tallinn psychiatric hospital on 28 January, agencies reported. Bozhko surrendered peacefully in Tallinn and sought political asylum. On 19 January, the Estonian government rejected his asylum appeal (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 January 1995) and on 26 January decided to deport him to Russia. Bozhko had threatened to commit suicide if he was returned to Russia. * Saulius Girnius

Police at the Medininkai customs post on 25 January detained a truck traveling from Briansk to Telsiai, which was emitting high radiation, agencies reported. They discovered about two tons of radioactive tungsten hidden in a secret compartment. The radiation levels inside the truck reached 3,600 microroentgens an hour, far in excess of the level of 15 to 20 microroentgens considered safe. Tungsten is not naturally radioactive so it is not clear whether the radioactivity was acquired from the truck ,which might have earlier carried some other radioactive cargo, or from a prior storage place. The radioactive cargo was delivered to the Ignalina Nuclear Power Station for safekeeping, Interfax reported on 29 January. * Saulius Girnius

Defense Minister Anatol Kastenka told a news conference in Minsk on 26 January that about 65,000 members of the armed forces will be shed under an on-going reform program. According to Interfax, he said that 96,000 servicemen and 64,000 civilians were currently in the armed forces. He did not break down the proposed reduction between military and civilian personnel. Kastenka said that the military will also give up jurisdiction over 15 defense plants, several hospitals, 59 housing departments and 140 military commissariats. He also indicated that two regiments of Russian strategic rocket forces remained in Belarus, fielding 36 mobile SS-25 ICBMs. These figures were unusual, in that an SS-25 regiment normally has only nine launchers. * Doug Clarke

Viktor Pynzenyk says the Ukrainian government wants to accelerate economic reforms, but cannot expect to succeed without international aid, dpa reported on 28 January. Pynzenyk told world business leaders at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that Ukraine will eventually be able to implement reforms without outside help. At the moment, however, the demand for imported products, especially vital energy sources, is high, according to the deputy prime minister, who is charge of the country's economic reform plan. If the demand is not met, the government could lose its mandate among citizens already tired of coping with severe hardships and a successor government may follow a different path, Pynzenyk said. * Chrystyna Lapychak

Interfax reported on 29 January that the director of the Kharkiv National Institute of Physics and Technology, Viktor Zelensky, said Ukraine has the capability to produce nuclear fuel and needs only funding to develop the industry. All Ukraine's nuclear fuel is currently processed in Russia. Zelensky would like to see Ukraine develop its own processing industry using Western technology which produces superior fuel to Russia's. In other news, the parliamentary chairman, Oleksander Moroz, said he will try to speed up the financing for the production of T-80UD tanks at the Malyshev plant in Kharkiv. The plant should begin producing the tanks by the end of 1995. The new models are considered to be better protected against anti-tank weapons, and are more mobile and quicker. Production has been slowed by financial problems. * Ustina Markus

The Civic Democratic Alliance, one of four parties in the Czech governing coalition, has been shaken up by the resignation of a senior member who accused the party's leader of damaging the country's interests. Tomas Jezek, a co-founder of the CDA and creator of the Czech Republic's mass privatization program, left the party on 27 January, saying accusations made by CDA leader Jan Kalvoda that the counter-intelligence service spied on the party were the last straw for him. He said Kalvoda was trying to divert attention from a continuing affair over a 52-million koruny debt the party has outstanding. The cabinet last week rejected Kalvoda's charges as not proven, with even CDA ministers voting against their party leader. Kalvoda said the CDA was stable and not in danger of an internal split, Czech media report on 30 January. But Trade and Industry Minister Vladimir Dlouhy told Czech Radio that Jezek's resignation was not a good sign for the party. "The alliance is not in an easy situation," Dlouhy added. * Steve Kettle

The Association of Slovak Workers, which is a member of the governing coalition, called for a referendum on membership in NATO and the EU during a meeting of its central council on 28 January. Party representatives also said that privatization has failed to rejuvenate the economy but has instead served to destruct industry, agriculture and the country's entire economic base, Narodna obroda reported. The party said it intends to revise privatization legislation and to prosecute those who misused it. The party also expressed support for the cabinet's program declaration, which stresses Western integration and a continuation of privatization. * Sharon Fisher

In an interview published in Sme on 28 January, Christian Democratic Movement leader Jan Carnogursky said he received an invitation from Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar to cooperate on foreign policy. The first offer dealt with participation in an informal group with several members of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia as well as the president to discuss foreign policy issues, the second was to take part in preparations for the upcoming visit of Pope John Paul II to Slovakia, and the third concerned political guarantees for foreign investors. Carnogursky said he rejected the first offer but accepted the second and third. * Sharon Fisher

The BBC reports on 30 January that the UN hopes to evacuate 194 seriously ill or wounded persons from Gorazde in the course of the day, but that final approval has not yet arrived from Bosnian Serb headquarters. International media said over the weekend that heavy fighting continued in the Bihac pocket between government troops and forces led by local kingpin Fikret Abdic with Serbian backing. The New York Times notes the official commemoration of the 1,000th day of the siege of Sarajevo, with mayors from around the world in attendance. The paper adds, however, that the prevailing mood in the city is one of "outrage," and that Sarajevans demand that Bosnian Serb leaders responsible for the war and "ethnic cleansing" be brought to trial. The daily reports that Sarajevans feel that the Serbs will never accept a negotiated peace because their leaders fear an international investigation of their crimes. Reuters on 29 January suggests, however, that the Serb leaders have little to worry about. It quotes a Western diplomat as saying that no outside power has the political will to bring to bear the necessary force to move the Serbs to a settlement. * Patrick Moore

Hina reports on 29 January on a meeting of cultural workers among the Croats of northeast and central Bosnia, whose communities were all but wiped out in the war with the Muslims in 1993. The session noted that the Croatian authorities have neglected the plight of the Bosnian (as opposed to Herzegovinian) Croats and that the Roman Catholic Church has been these people's strongest defender. It also mentioned that the Bosnian Croats in Tuzla, Travnik, Vares, and elsewhere are largely at the mercy of the Muslim authorities. * Patrick Moore

The BBC on 28 January said that Prime Minister Nikica Valentic announced some cabinet changes to help streamline government "at a difficult time for Croatia." The broadcast also noted that the Paris Club has suspended talks on postponing debt repayments in the wake of Croatia's decision not to renew UNPROFOR's mandate. Negotiations are slated between Croatian authorities and Krajina Serbs on 30 January, but neither side appears to have modified its stand enough to permit hope for a political settlement. The morning's British dailies devote much space to the question of a new war in Croatia when UNPROFOR leaves, the BBC's Serbian Service reports. Opinions suggest that the Croatian military is strong, but not strong enough to retake Krajina. President Franjo Tudjman nonetheless seems to be banking on the idea that neither Serbia nor the international community would take action should he try to "liberate the occupied territories." He is also counting on Belgrade to sell out the interests of the Krajina Serbs in order to get favorable terms in a Bosnian settlement. And while neither Zagreb nor the Serbs say they want a new war, incidents could take place that could escalate into major fighting. * Patrick Moore

The flamboyant leader of the opposition Serbian Radical Party (SRS), the ultranationalist and accused war criminal Vojislav Seselj, was released from prison on 28 January, international media reported that day. Seselj was sentenced to a month in jail on 29 September 1994 for spitting on parliamentary speaker Radoman Bozovic, but on the day he was due for release he was sentenced to an additional three months for his attempt to provoke a brawl in the federal parliament last May. Seselj reportedly walked out of Belgrade's central prison to be met by some 300 flag-waving SRS supporters, whom he greeted with pledges of remaining defiant against his one-time ally, now staunch opponent, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. * Stan Markotich

In a statement released on 27 January, Romania's government expressed "deep concern over recent actions" taken by the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania, the main political organization of the country's Hungarian minority. The communique accused the HDFR of seeking "ethnic autonomy," which it described as being alien to the spirit of the Romanian Constitution and the laws on local administration. The government, the statement added, was not prepared to make any concessions on the issue. Also on 27 January, Viorel Hrebenciuc, Secretary General of the Romanian government, returned from Budapest, where he had apparently tried to mend the bilateral ties affected by recent polemics over the future of the Hungarian minority in Romania. A meeting with Hungarian Premier Gyula Horn was canceled at short notice. In a separate development, Bishop Laszlo Toekes said at a press conference in Budapest that the anti-Magyar drive staged by nationalist and communist forces in Romania could "jeopardize the democratic process" in that country. He further said that accusations that he had collaborated with the communist secret police were a "calumny" and an attempt to crush the democratic opposition in Romania. * Dan Ionescu

Zhan Videnov on 26 January said that the main task of the new government is to revive the country's economy, dpa reported the same day. At his first press conference as prime minister, he said that the key to economic recovery lies in the "massive privatization " of state-owned companies, which still make up about 95% of Bulgaria's enterprises. The government wants to launch a privatization program in the second half of 1995, which will be based on the Czech coupon model. At the same time, the direct selling of enterprises will continue. The newly founded Ministry of Economic Development is supposed to promote privatization and to encourage foreign investments. * Stefan Krause

Former Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos on 27 January called on the Greek government to end the trade embargo against Macedonia, AFP reported the same day. In an television interview, Pangalos said that the ban should be lifted before 1 February, when the European Court opens proceedings against Greece in a lawsuit filed by the European Commission. He said earlier that the embargo was a "fiasco" and a "source of additional tensions" between the two countries, which only makes a settlement of the dispute more difficult. Greek government spokesman Evangelos Venizelos said on 25 January that lifting the trade ban was out of the question. Meanwhile, Greece blamed Poland for the decision of Greek Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias not to attend the commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz on 27 January, international news agencies reported. Venizelos stated that "it was an unfortunate event on the part of the Polish government" to raise Macedonia's flag at the ceremony. Papoulias canceled his visit to Auschwitz after Poland took this decision. * Stefan Krause

Two US Marines, taking part in the first training exercise with Albanian naval units, were shot and wounded while on a liberty call in the port city of Durres, Reuters reported on 29 January. They were evacuated to a US Army hospital in Germany. One is in a serious but stable condition after doctors removed his spleen and one of his kidneys. The other was discharged from the hospital. According to Albanian police, the shooting followed a bar-room argument about an Albanian girl and one person was arrested. The military exercises, involving Albanian, British, German and Italian troops, ended on 29 January. * Fabian Schmidt

The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights reported serious cases of torture and interrogation without lawyers present involving about 200 ethnic Albanians arrested since November 1994 in the Serbian province of Kosovo, Reuters reported on 29 January. Most of the arrested Albanians are former policemen, who were dismissed in 1990 following the abolition of Kosovo's autonomy. The policemen are suspected of forming an interior ministry for the self-proclaimed Republic of Kosovo. The arrests, however, follow a petition issued by Serb nationalists in Kosovo accusing Belgrade of failing to fulfill promises to check the Albanian political movement and to resettle Serbs in the province. In January, Belgrade announced a program offering potential Serbian settlers interest-free credits for building houses in Kosovo. * Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Steve Kettle