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Newsline - January 31, 1995

Russian troops are preparing for the "final assault" on Grozny, according to a Russian government press service statemetanuary. The statement comes six days after Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev claimed the army had liquidated Chechen resistance in the city. One third of Grozny is estimated by Western correspondents and Chechen officials to remain under Chechen control. Russian artillery bombardment of the city continued on 30 January. In addition, Russian reinforcements were being deployed south of Grozny in an apparent attempt to seal off the city, AFP reported. In an interview given to a Kuwaiti weekly paper and summarized by ITAR-TASS on 30 January, Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev affirmed that continued resistance to Russian forces had been planned "on a scientific basis," and the center of Chechen resistance would be relocated from Grozny to the mountains. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) fact-finding mission returned to Moscow from Grozny on 30 January, the Los Angeles Times reported. Delegation member Audrey Glover said she had never seen anything as horrific as the consequences of the Russian attack on the Chechen capital, the Czech daily Lidove noviny reported. "It is only possible to compare Grozny to the state Dresden was in after the Second World War," she said. Delegation head Istvan Gyarmati specifically condemned Russian bombing of Chechen cities, which have killed thousands of people. However, he found no evidence that Russian soldiers are torturing and summarily executing Chechen prisoners. Gyarmati said both the warring sides had agreed to allow representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit their prisoners of war. This was the first international mission to Chechnya during the seven-week war, and its conclusions were at odds with Moscow's official version of events. -- Victor Gomez and Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

Reconstructing most important industries in Chechnya will require a special effort because of the flight of many qualified workers from the republic, the new Russian governor of Chechnya, Nikolai Semenov, said at a 30 January news conference broadcast on Russian TV. Semenov called for an end to artillery bombardment and advocated negotiations with all local political powers. According to "Vesti," Semenov also said he did not intend to talk with Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev. He added that it is up to the military to stop the fighting. Semenov said he intended to rely in his work on a so-called National Salvation Committee that he has begun forming, presumably comprised of members of the pro-Moscow opposition to Dudaev. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc.

Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai D. Egorov provided the first push for the military campaign in Chechnya, Fedor Burlatsky charged in Nezavisimaya gazeta on 31 January. According to Burlatsky, Egorov was probably influenced by the emotions of Cossacks who suffered from living next door to a criminal zone. In this scenario, the president's advisers prepared the decision, but the president himself made it, and the Security Council was only a deliberative body. However, when the decision was made, no one considered the character or the consequences of the war. Burlatsky claimed the decision-making process for Chechnya was the same as Josef Stalin's decision to start the Korean War and Nikita Khrushchev's decision to place missiles in Cuba. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

In the same article, Burlatsky argued that the Security Council plays a necessary role that the media has not understood. He denied that the recent inclusion of parliamentary leaders in the body limits their ability to control the executive branch. Russians, he charged, are too concerned about the idea of a separation of powers. Such a separation cannot work when politicians refuse to cooperate with each other. "Therefore it is necessary to have an institution in which the main figures come together and collectively resolve the most important problems." The speakers of both houses can use their position effectively to represent the collective will of the legislature in the Council, he claimed. He advocated the adoption of a new law on the Security Council which would restrict its decision-making power to protecting state security at home and abroad, and fighting armed groups, the mafia, and corruption. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

In a letter to President Yeltsin, Federation Council Speaker Vladimir Shumeiko proposed the convocation of an all-Russian conference on the future of parliament, Izvestiya reported on 31 January. He warned that the level of disagreement about how to elect a new parliament was so high, that without the conference, the country might fall into another constitutional crisis. The events in Chechnya have deflected the country's attention from the fact that, in a year when parliamentary elections will be held, the country has no electoral law. "Now there is no hope that the parliamentarians will be able to find a quick solution in the eleven months before the elections," Izvestiya wrote. In the Duma, the current members want to protect their interests by preserving the seats elected by party lists. One consequence of this system has been that many members come from the Moscow area. Many Federation Council deputies are unhappy with the president's policies and with their own inability to influence them. The council's impotence has raised concerns that important regional elites will not be interested in it or in the electoral law used to choose its members. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

A Russian Foreign Ministry official said his department had twice passed on advance information to the Defense Ministry regarding the 25 January launch of a Norwegian research rocket. The military at first thought the missile might be headed toward Russia and while it was in flight, President Yeltsin consulted with top military officials using his "black box" emergency communication equipment. Yuri Fokin, Russia's new ambassador to Norway, said the confusion was caused by "a misunderstanding which must not be repeated," Interfax reported on 30 January. Fokin confirmed that Norway had complied with the usual notification procedures regarding the rocket launch. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

Seven organizations of Russian writers have protested against planned festivities to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Union of Soviet Writers, Russian TV's "Vesti" reported on 30 January. Formed in August 1934 by Josef Stalin's chief ideologist Andrei Zhdanov, the Writers' Union played a key role in the oppression of Soviet writers and the suppression of artistic freedoms in the former USSR. The writers' union jubilee is scheduled for next month in the highly prestigious Column Hall of the Unions' House. The gala event will be presided over by 82-year-old poet Sergei Mikhalkov, a co-author of the Stalin-era Soviet anthem. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc.

Federal Employment Service head Fedor Prokopov said more than 2 million jobs will be lost in 1995 and the number of officially registered unemployed will rise to 3,600,000, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 January. He expects half a million jobs to be lost in industry, another half a million in agriculture, and 200,000 in construction; only the service sector is expected to expand. On 29 January, a representative of the union of textile and light industry workers told RIA that 400,000 people could lose their jobs in these industries by the end of February, largely because of shortfalls in cotton imports from Uzbekistan. Also on 29 January, Interfax reported that the richest groups in society now earned 15 times as much as the poorest groups. In 1991, they earned only four times as much as the poorest sector. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

After a two-week halt in production, ZIL, Russia's leading mid-range truck manufacturer, resumed operations on 30 January, Interfax reported. The Moscow company temporarily ceased production due to a cash flow crisis resulting from debtors' inability to pay ZIL for truck parts. Interfax said ZIL is counting on state aid and planned to produce 100-150 trucks a day over the next two weeks, down from a daily average of 200 vehicles over the past two months. Last year, the factory produced 30,000 trucks, a fraction of its 250,000 vehicle capacity. ZIL is best known for its black limousines, which, in the Soviet heyday, were reserved for the highest ranking government officials. But it also came close to bankruptcy in 1994. Consequently, a restructuring plan was implemented which resulted in layoffs for 20,000 of its 85,000 employees. The government promised to give the troubled company a boost by offering a subsidy of 180 billion rubles ($44.5 million). That subsidy has yet to be seen. According to Interfax, ZIL's chief executive, Valerii Satkin, said the factory's total debt is 420 billion rubles (about $104 million). -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

The Samara-based Aviakor aircraft company plans to sell ten Tu-145M airliners to the British leasing firm TTG, in a deal worth about $50 million, an official from the Russian plant announced on 26 January. Vladimir Safronov told Interfax this would be the first major sale of Russian aircraft to a West European country. The former Samara Aircraft Plant was one of the largest producers of Tu-154s in the USSR, but only sold two of its planes in 1994. Last July, it entered bankruptcy hearings and sent most of its workers on forced leave. The hearings were later suspended for one year. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.


The energy situation in Kazakhstan improved 30 January as some coal miners, who had been on strike for 17 days, returned to work, Reuters reported. Deliveries of coal to the massive steelworks at Karmet, which had been threatened with shutdown, resumed after the company agreed to pay part of its debt for past deliveries. About 100,000 coal miners from the Karaganda field went on strike to demand payment for wages due to them since autumn. Although miners returned to one pit, most of the other pits remained on strike. Strike leader Vyacheslav Sidorov said the situation is tense. "The mood of the miners is still to take to the streets." Job security is the miners' main concern as the government intends to close the smaller, unprofitable pits. "Payment of wages is only a partial solution--the main problem is the fate of the Karaganda coal basin," Sidorov added. Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mette was expected in Karaganda, 800 km north of the capital Almaty, on 30 January to hold talks with the miners. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev called for increased Western investment in his country's energy sector, AFP and ITAR-TASS reported on 30 January. Nazarbaev stressed that at present, only about 1% of Kazakhstan's oil potential is being exploited. The country has an estimated 4.5 billion tons of oil and 5.9 trillion cubic meters of natural gas in reserves. Western investment in the Russian and Kazakh energy sectors would be mutually beneficial and reduce Western dependence on OPEC, he argued. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.


US mediation over the issue of Ukraine's energy debt to Russia is "unreasonable and out of place," according to a statement issued by the Russian Petroleum Information Agency on 30 January. Last December, Thomas Pickering, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, proposed that his country act as a mediator in resolving the debt problem. The agency statement said Russia views Ukraine's debt as a bilateral issue between the two former Soviet republics. It also said Russia supports a plan for Ukraine to use western credits in paying off its energy debts. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

President Lech Walesa has demanded that Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak appoint new defense and foreign affairs ministers by 3 February, Gazeta Wyborcza reports. The president also insisted that Pawlak name a new ambassador to the Vatican; this post has been vacant for nearly a year. During a meeting with the president on 30 January, Pawlak again reneged on previous pledges to present candidates for the vacant cabinet posts. Press spokesman Leszek Spalinski warned that the president would take "decisive steps to prevent the paralysis of government" if the new deadline was not met. He did not specify what steps the president had in mind, but acknowledged that Walesa had telephoned Sejm Speaker Jozef Oleksy on 26 January to propose the "self-dissolution" of the parliament. Parliamentary leaders nervously contemplating Walesa's next move on the budget nonetheless took heart in the president's decision to agree to meet with them on 6 February. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

A rapid response to the president's ultimatum seems unlikely, as Pawlak departs on 31 January for an unofficial visit to the US, returning only on 3 February. The normally taciturn prime minister made an initial attempt to shore up the government's sagging popularity with an unscripted television address on 28 January. In announcing his decision to accept the resignation of national police commander Zenon Smolarek, Pawlak praised both Smolarek and the police, and made no reference to the corruption charges that prompted the resignation. Gazeta Wyborcza found the prime minister's phrasings so obscure that it provided readers with explanatory footnotes. Virtually all political forces criticized the speech as an inadequate response to corruption allegations hanging over prominent members of the ruling coalition. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

Deputy Defense Ministers Jonas Gecas (Lithuania), Janis Davidovics (Latvia), and Tarmo Molder (Estonia) on 30 January in Vilnius signed an agreement on financing the Baltic Peacekeeping Battalion (BALTBAT) exercises at the Adazi training center in Latvia, RFE/RL's Lithuanian Service reports. Gecas said that Lithuania earlier this month sent 36 officers to Adazi for courses in English-language and officer training that will last six to eight months. The officers will then train 110 Lithuanian soldiers who, joined by similar sized groups from Latvia and Estonia, will later form the battalion. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

The Society of Lithuanian Political Prisoners and Exiles was formed on 28 January in Vilnius as an "independent patriotic social organization," RFE/RL's Lithuanian Service reported on 30 January. Parliament deputy Antanas Stasiskis was elected its chairman. The creation of the society had been prompted by the conversion during the summer of the Union of Political Prisoners and Exiles from a social organization into a political party, thus leaving out members who belonged to other political parties. Lithuanian press reports that no representatives of right-wing political parties attended the constituent assembly were incorrect: Homeland Union Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis arrived before its closing to give a speech. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

Operators at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant panicked after noticing a small leak in an emergency cooling system and shut down a reactor late on 29 January, with no evident release of radiation, international media reported on 30 January. Ukrainian authorities attributed the sudden shutdown to an overreaction by tired workers, who took the station's no. 3 reactor off line after an alarm signaled a problem. The operators were apparently uncertain of the seriousness of the incident. A similar accident shut down the same bloc last October. The shutdown left Chornobyl, which provides about 7% of Ukraine's energy, with a single operating reactor. Reactor no. 2 has been closed since a fire in 1991, while reactor no. 4, which exploded in April 1986 also due to operator error, remains enclosed in a deteriorating steel-and-concrete sarcophagus. The Ukrainian Parliament is scheduled to debate a bill on nuclear energy usage and safety during the week beginning 5 February, Radio Ukraine reported on 30 January. -- Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.

A Ukrainian delegation led by Deputy Economics Minister Lada Pavlykovska visited Prague this week to discuss technical aid from the Czech Republic and expand cooperation between the two countries, Ukrainian television reported on 30 January. Pavlykovska said that Ukraine looked to the Czech Republic as an example of the economic reform process which transformed it from a command economy to a market one. She said that while Ukraine welcomed the advice of experts from the US, England and France, these countries did not truly understand Ukraine's problems, while Czech experts have a better understanding, having gone through the same process themselves. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

The Ruthenian Revival, a cultural organization of Ruthenians living in Slovakia, held a ceremony on 27 January to celebrate the codification of the Ruthenian language, Smena reported on 28 January. Meanwhile, Ukrainian groups in Slovakia have protested the move, claiming that Ruthenian is only a dialect of the Ukrainian language and that the Ruthenian nation does not exist, TASR reported. In the 1990 census, 17,000 people in Slovakia declared Ruthenian nationality, compared with 14,000 who said they were Ukrainian. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

According to a study by the Forecasting Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, the macroeconomic indicators which form the base of the government's program declaration are overly optimistic. While the government plans for GDP growth of 5%, lowering of the inflation and unemployment rates below 10% and a budget deficit of less than 3% of GDP, the institute predicts that the recovery is still "very weak." According to the study, GDP growth should reach between two and 4.3 percent in 1995, but is dependent on the continuation of the current economic policy, stress on the currency's stabilization, a lowering of the inflation rate and a continuation of the positive trade balance, Sme reported on 28 January. According to figures released by TASR on 27 January, Slovakia's exports grew to 215.52 billion koruny in 1994, while imports reached 211.46 billion koruny. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

A joint communique issued by the leadership of the ruling coalition parties, the Hungarian Socialist Party and the Alliance of Free Democrats, states that the resignation of Finance Minister Laszlo Bekesi will not result in any changes in government policy, Magyar Hirlap of 31 January reports. It declares that economic policy will continue to focus on stabilizing the economy by cutting budget and balance of payment deficits. The communique states that any modifications to the draft law on privatization, which has already been submitted to parliament, requires the consent of both coalition parties. The statement also promises quick government action to end long delays in appointing public officials and in submitting vital legislation to parliament. Prime Minister Gyula Horn is to disclose the names of his candidates for unfilled government posts and for the president of the Hungarian National Bank within two weeks. The coalition parties pledge to make every effort to appoint ombudsmen and new constitutional judges and to restart negotiations on the draft law on the media. -- Edith Oltay, OMRI, Inc.

Dailies in Serbia and Croatia on 31 January follow closely the latest efforts by international diplomats to find a political arrangement for the third of Croatian territory held by rebel Serbs. US Ambassador Peter Galbraith and his colleagues known as the Z-4 group met the previous day with Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and also with Serb leaders in Knin. Vecernji list quotes Tudjman as saying he will study the diplomats' latest proposal, but it seems clear that his government and the Serbs still have very different expectations. Zagreb insists on the full reintegration of the territories into Croatia and is prepared to give the Serbs only local autonomy in the Knin and Glina districts, where they made up a majority before 1991. The Serbs, however, want recognition as an independent state with its own currency and police force. The also want UNPROFOR to stay and make the renewal of its mandate a precondition for any agreement with Tudjman. Politika quotes top Croatian officials as saying they will not tolerate a "state within a state," and that autonomy on the model of South Tirol is the best they can offer. The BBC's Croatian Service, meanwhile, reported at length on the international diplomats' proposals and suggests that the key to any solution lies with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Vecernji list on 31 January quotes Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic as saying that he does not expect any new conflict to break out between Muslims and Croats and stresses that Bosnia needs its Croats and Serbs in order "to be Bosnia." He does not, however, see any future for his people or for Macedonians in a reconstituted Yugoslavia under Milosevic, saying that the Muslims and Macedonians would have no more rights than the Sandzak Muslims or Kosovo Albanians have today. Elsewhere, the BBC's Croatian Service reports that Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic repeated Izetbegovic's call for the Bosnian Serbs to be given a three-month deadline to accept the Contact Group's peace plan, which would roughly coincide with the end of the current cease-fire period. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Sarajevo on 31 January will play host to German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, international media report. The previous day he visited Zagreb, where he tried to convince Tudjman to extend UNPROFOR's mandate. He was probably given a polite hearing, but Germany no longer carries the diplomatic weight it did in Croatia when Hans-Dietrich Genscher was foreign minister. Washington now is probably Zagreb's most important partner ahead of Bonn, with Vienna and the Vatican also playing important roles. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Politika on 31 January reports on controversial comments made by rump Yugoslav Foreign Minister Vladislav Jovanovic. According to the account, Jovanovic, in a recent interview with an Italian paper, described at least portions of Istria as territory which Croatia "holds under occupation" but which is rightfully Italian. In other news, the same Belgrade daily reports that a group of former federal parliamentary deputies, who last year broke with opposition leader Vuk Draskovic, have formed a new political party, Narodna saborna stranka, with their colleague Slobodan Rakitic as its first president. Finally, the state-run Borba, under the headline "Bulgarians Wish to Go to Serbia," announces that a protest meeting will be held in the Bulgarian city of Vidin on 6 February because of imposed travel restrictions to Serbia. -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

Mirjana Markovic, wife of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, was greeted with jeers and anti-Serbian posters in the city of Plovdiv on 30 January, 24 chasa reported the following day. Participants in a demonstration for the rights of the Bulgarian minority in Serbia carried posters saying "The Neuilly Treaty is dead", "Freedom for the Bulgarians in Serbia" and "The Western Regions [former Bulgarian territories which Serbia acquired in 1919] are ours." Markovic was in Plovdiv to present the Bulgarian edition of her new book at the invitation of the "Slavyani" foundation. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

A spokesman for President Ion Iliescu read out at a press conference on 30 January a presidential statement on the war of words between the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania and the extreme-nationalist Party of Romanian National Unity over the issue of broader autonomy for Romania's Magyar minority. Iliescu put the blame for the recent escalation of ethnic tension in Romania on HDFR's policies, and accused some of the party's leaders of "diabolic perseverance" in promoting the idea of "ethnic-territorial autonomy." On the other hand, however, Iliescu denounced as "irrational" and "ill-timed" recent statements by PRNU chairman Gheorghe Funar, which, he said, included insulting remarks aimed at the Hungarian people. Funar, who asked Iliescu on 27 January to declare a state of emergency in three counties with large Hungarian populations, rejected Iliescu's criticism. Also on 30 January, the Council of the Democratic Convention of Romania, the country's main opposition alliance and which includes the HDFR, discussed the implications of the recent polemics. Radio Bucharest said that apparently no consensus could be reached within the DCR, with the Party of Civic Alliance and the Romanian Social-Democrat Party taking a more critical stance against the HDFR. -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe, on a two-day visit to Bucharest, said on 30 January that his country will support Romania's efforts to join NATO, Reuters reports. Ruehe added that Germany will join in military exercises to be held in Romania later this year as part of NATO's Partnership for Peace program. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

The President of the Republic of Moldova, Mircea Snegur, who started an official visit to the United States on 28 January, was received on 30 January by President Bill Clinton. The US administration assured Snegur that it will continue to support economic reforms in Moldova and pledged to give that country another $22 million in technical assistance. Snegur asked the US to support Moldova in its efforts to seek the withdrawal of the 14th Russian Army from Moldova's territory. He suggested that international monitoring was necessary to ensure that the withdrawal would take place on schedule and under "normal conditions." Western sources reported that Snegur met on the same say with US Defense Secretary William Perry. He also had talks with representatives of the State Department, Congressional leaders and senior officials from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

Zhan Videnov said that Bulgaria will follow a "pragmatic, transparent and open" foreign policy with neighboring countries, Duma reports on 31 January. The Socialist newspaper cited an interview published in the Greek weekly To Vima on 29 January. Videnov stated that Bulgaria's Balkan policy is a continuation of its European policy, and that the aim is to "establish European standards in the conduct between the Balkan countries," adding that the formation of blocs and spheres of influence will lead the Balkan countries into confrontation. In an interview with Trud, Foreign Minister Georgi Pirinski said that the government's decision to attach economic priorities to Bulgaria's foreign policy does not mean subordinating it to foreign trade. Forms and means will be worked out, however, by which foreign policy will assist the economic development of Bulgaria, Pirinski added. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

Some 50 scholars and employers of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences protested against the election of Ilcho Dimitrov as Minister of Education and Science, Demokratsiya reported on 31 January. In an open letter, they said that Dimitrov's appointment will effect not only education and science but also domestic and foreign policy and Bulgaria's international standing. Dimitrov "contributed to the division of the nation" during the first time he was Education Minister in the 1980s, the authors say, adding that they will do everything to alert the Bulgarian and international public if there are any "attempts to restore totalitarianism in Bulgaria." The ethnic Turks' Movement for Rights and Freedom also repeatedly protested against the election of Dimitrov. The last MRF declaration, published on 30 January, accuses the BSP of hostility towards the ethnic minorities and of trying to restrict their rights and says the MRF will resist any attempt of the "xenophobic minister" to deprive the minorities of their rights in the field of education and culture. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

The leader of the ruling Democratic Party, Eduard Selami, has offered his resignation, Gazeta Shqiptare reported on 31 January. The paper says that Selami has criticized the government for failing to carry out certain points in the party program. Selami has proposed that the party leader should also be prime minister, arguing that this would help promote the party's interests. He argues that the government is making a mistake by "not listening to the voice of the party" and adds that "there is a gap between the government and the Democratic Party, which is in power and must carry out its policies." The Democratic Party has decided that its most pressing aims are passing laws on social insurance and on buying and selling land, and implementing rapid privatization by issuing stocks and starting the restitution of real estate. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Steve Kettle