Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - February 1, 1995

Despite intensified Russian artillery bombardment of Grozny, the Chechens yielded no ground on 31 January, Western agencies reported. A spokesman for the Russian Interior Ministry affirmed that the Chechens had switched to guerrilla tactics, ITAR-TASS reported. Fierce fighting was also reported in the village of Samashki west of Grozny, where, on 30 January, Chechen forces had repelled a Russian armored column attempting to advance on the capital, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, Russian troops were concentrating in the village of Gudermes, east of Grozny, on the main highway to Dagestan where Chechen defenders control a strategic bridge, AFP reported. In an interview given to Argumenty i fakty and summarized by ITAR-TASS on 31 January, Federal Counterintelligence Service (FSK) Director Sergei Stepashin argued that the Russian leadership had no alternative to the use of force in Chechnya. While terming the prospect of a prolonged partisan war remote, Stepashin disclosed that his agency plans to establish a department of up to 800 men in Chechnya to "confiscate weapons and detain gangsters." Ingush President Ruslan Aushev denied earlier Russian statements that Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev was in Ingushetia under his personal protection, Ekho Moskvy reported on 31 January. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.


The Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) fact-finding mission has condemned the "disproportionate and indiscriminate" Russian use of military force against Chechnya. The head of the mission, Hungarian diplomat Istvan Gyarmati, said the situation in Chechnya borders on "catastrophe," according to international agencies. The delegation will report to OSCE headquarters on 2 February. Gyarmati has said he will urge early elections in Chechnya, so that "the Chechen people's legitimate representatives can hold talks on the status of the republic within the Russian Federation." Russian authorities have fully cooperated with the OSCE, according to Gyarmati. Speaking on 31 January with Willy Wimmer, deputy chairman of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, State Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin defended the Russian military by stressing that when troops "came into contact with the most modern weapons," they "were forced to respond accordingly," ITAR TASS reported. Some Russian media also took a different view of the OSCE mission than the Western press. The daily Izvestiya ran this headline on 31 January: "After Chechnya, OSCE Delegation 'Sympathizes' With Russia." The article stressed Gyarmati's comment that the territorial integrity of Russia must be preserved. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

The Council of Europe (CE) will hold a special session on 2 February to debate the Chechnya situation, Reuters reports. The CE's political questions committee proposed draft legislation on 30 January that would defer consideration of Russian membership until the situation in Chechnya is cleared up. The resolution specified: "Only when Russia's president, government, and parliament offer a full report on how the conflict will be ended and how its consequences will be remedied will the (membership) procedure be taken up." Russian official reaction to the delay was highly critical. According to Interfax, Duma Speaker Rybkin said a rejection of Russia's request for membership would be "a gross political error." Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai said the CE would "freeze its own transformation into an organization for all Europe" if it continued to stall on Russia's application. He also called Russian Human Rights Commissioner Sergei Kovalev "a religious fanatic." Kovalev, who was in Strasbourg where the CE is meeting, said: "As long as blood is being spilt in Chechnya, it is absurd, immoral, and blasphemous to discuss membership." -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

At least 735 Russian troops have been killed and 2,500 wounded in Chechnya, AFP reported on 31 January, quoting official sources. Those figures do not include unidentified bodies in morgues, nor the losses of the FSK. The casualty toll includes 395 members of the ground forces, 213 paratroopers, 68 Interior Ministry forces, 56 marines, and 3 frontier guards. These figures indicate that 182 servicemen have been killed since 20 January--the day Defense Minister Pavel Grachev declared the military part of the operation over. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

The intervention in Chechnya has weakened Russia's democratic forces and strengthened the military and intelligence service, said former acting Prime Minister Egor Gaidar in an interview with the German TV station ARD, cited by dpa on 31 January. Warning of "a very dangerous development" in Russia, Gaidar said: "[President Boris] Yeltsin's closest aides agree with everything he says and only pass on information that will not disturb him. However, in this way the servants are secretly taking over the regime." -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

Duma Speaker Rybkin attacked the behavior of Vladimir Zhirinovsky as "totally inadmissible," AFP reported 31 January. Rybkin was reacting to Zhirinovsky's comment at a Council of Europe meeting in Strasbourg on 30 January that Russia's most outspoken critic of the Chechen war, Sergei Kovalev, was "a scum" and that he belonged "in a concentration camp." Zhirinovsky also accused Kovalev of lying when he condemned human rights violations by the Russian armed forces in Chechnya. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

"Confrontational outbursts in the US Congress are fraught with the danger of seriously complicating our relations and do not reflect the national interests of the United States itself," said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigorii Karasin, according to a Los Angeles Times report on 31 January. Karasin's statement was in response to a bill, introduced last month by Rep. Gerald Solomon, that would make American aid dependent on Russia's arms control policies, its behavior toward its neighbors, and progress toward a free-market economy. Karasin warned that appeals to "punish Russia" were not acceptable. His remarks were a sign of the growing strain between the US and Russia since the Republicans took control of Congress in November and the beginning of the Chechen war in December. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

Aleksandr Ivanchenko, deputy chairman of the Central Electoral Commission, said elections to the lower house of Russia's parliament will be held in December, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 January. The December date is in line with the constitution, but Vladimir Shumeiko, the chairman of parliament's upper house, said only last week he believes the current parliament's term should be extended by another two years. --
Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Karasin said Russian arms sales to Peru would continue "in accordance with international law and depending on how the situation in the region develops," AFP reported on 31 January. Military skirmishes have erupted recently between Peru and Ecuador over a disputed border region. According to a Segodnya report, quoted by the agency, Russia had recently cut off its arms sales to Peru because the South American country had not paid for previous deliveries. But the report said contacts between Russian and Peruvian defense officials were renewed after the recent hostilities broke out. Peru has Russian jet fighters, attack helicopters, and tanks in its military. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

Russia has built the prototype for a revolutionary new main battle tank, according to the 25 January issue of Jane's Defense Weekly. It was said to have been first spotted at the Scientific and Research Institute for Armor and Technology at Kubinka, near Moscow, late last year. The magazine said the tank was fitted with an externally mounted, long-barreled gun which might have a caliber of 135-140 millimeters. This would give it a greater armor penetration capability than the 125 mm smooth-bore gun on the most modern Russian tanks in service. The new tank was said to have a three-man crew. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

Vladislav Listev, the new general director of Russian Public TV, formerly known as Ostankino, announced that he begins his tenure on 1 February and repeated that he will turn the station into the best channel in the country. Listev reminded viewers of "Vremya" on 31 January that the formerly state-owned broadcasting company was made "public" by a presidential decree in 1994. In fact, this means it became a joint-stock company with the state retaining a 51% stake. Listev said Ostankino starts functioning as a public TV station on 1 April. Listev founded and hosted some of Russia's most popular political and entertainment shows. A few of them, however, have become considerably less popular under Listev's hand-picked successors. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc.

All 26 mines of the Rostovugol coal mine complex in southern Russia went on strike on 1 February because of pay delays, trade union officials reported to AFP. Ivan Mokhnachuk, a coal union representative, told AFP that the government owed Russian miners back pay totaling 893 billion rubles ($220 million) in 1994 and 600 billion rubles ($150 million) so far this year. Yurii Malyshev, chairman of the Rosugol coal production enterprise, said he would meet government officials to seek a solution to the crisis. Coal mining enterprises are owed more than 2.1 trillion rubles ($523 million). The larger part of that is owed by industrial consumers, mainly electricity producers, while the rest, about 850 billion rubles ($212 million), is owed by the government from budget allocations. Meanwhile, miners in the northern Russian town of Vorkuta and the town of Perm in the Ural Mountains warned that they were also prepared to halt operations, Interfax reported. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

Russia's new acting privatization chief, Petr Mostovoi, stressed that the privatization process will continue and recently privatized firms will not be nationalized, according to Russian and Western agencies on 31 January. Mostovoi replaced Vladimir Polevanov, who was dismissed on 24 January for urging the reversal of some recent privatizations in the fuel and aluminum industries. Mostovoi said Russia must "emphasize that our relations with foreign investors remains on the same basis as they were before Polevanov." Investors in Russia's small securities markets panicked in mid-January when Polevanov suggested that some firms be renationalized. Share prices fell sharply as foreign investors shied away from the market. Mostovoi, formerly a deputy to reform chief Anatolii Chubais, said the "participation of foreign investors in Russia is a factor in the integration of Russia in the world community . . . one which promotes positive economic process, both in our country and in countries from where capital comes." Russia's current priorities in the field of privatization include the creation of a favorable investment climate, financial stabilization, clear rules on tax and investment policies, and clarification of the state's role in the privatization process. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

President Yeltsin vetoed a law passed by parliament which would have raised the monthly minimum pension to 54,100 rubles and indexed pensions to cost of living increases, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 January. The president admitted pensioners need the extra money but said the country cannot afford it. Instead, Yeltsin issued a decree doubling the minimum pension from 19,660 to 39,360 rubles a month to compensate for price hikes in the last quarter of 1994. The parliament has also voted to triple the minimum wage, which critics say will unduly increase the budget deficit. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

No report today.

Association agreements between the European Union and the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria go into effect on 1 February, international agencies report. The next step for those countries is to apply for full EU membership. The Czech government has not yet decided when to submit its application but plans to do so sometime next year. Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec told Hospodarske noviny on 1 February that the question of the precise date for application is "irrelevant and unimportant." Slovakia plans to submit its application by 30 June 1995 and hopes to join the organization by the year 2000. Both the Czech and Slovak agreements replace a preliminary accord drawn up before the split of Czechoslovakia in December 1992. The Romanian government, in a statement released on 27 January, said it was working out a "national strategy" for joining the EU as a full member. The statement added that Romania planned to apply officially for full membership in the near future. --
OMRI Staff, OMRI, Inc.

Germany has finished building the fourth and final apartment complex in Ukraine to house Ukrainian troops returning from Germany, Reuters reports on 31 January. The Ukrainian housing complexes cost the German government some $500 million and were part of a larger project worth more than $5 billion to build housing throughout the former USSR for servicemen returning from Eastern Europe. German Finance Minister Theo Waigel, who attended the opening ceremony at the housing complex, said Germany will not abandon Ukraine in its economic reform efforts. Germany is Ukraine's largest aid donor, providing some $1.7 billion in export credits, technical assistance and other projects. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

President Leonid Kuchma has appointed Serhii Osyka deputy prime minister in charge of CIS relations, Interfax reported on 30 January. Osyka will continue in his post as minister of foreign trade. He was an adviser to Kuchma when the latter was prime minister in 1993. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Belarusian TV reported on 30 January that Supreme Soviet Chairman Mechyslau Hryb rejected deputy Syarhei Antonchyk's offer to give another report on corruption. Hryb explained that an investigation into the corruption charges made in Antonchyk's first report had not yet been completed. The parliament was to have heard the results of that investigation on 1 February, but Uladzimir Paulau, deputy head of the investigative commission, asked for the hearing to be postponed until 21 February, saying the fuzziness of some of Antonchyk's charges had delayed the commission's investigation. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka attended a meeting of the Interior Ministry, Belarusian TV reported on 30 January. One of the main issues discussed was the growing crime rate in Belarus. Valeri Izotau, first deputy minister of the MVD, said more than 120,00 crimes were reported in 1994, up 17,000 on the previous year. Lukashenka called on the militia to take measures to combat growing crime. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Enn Tupp tendered his resignation on 31 January citing a "slander campaign" in his own office, BNS reports. Defense Ministry Chancellor Tarmo Molder asked the Security Police at the end of December to examine the minister's actions in a long-running court case and scandal over military equipment purchased from Russia in 1991. Tupp had tried to sack Molder in November saying the chancellor was unable to solve problems arising from the takeover and use of former Russian military facilities. But Prime Minister Andres Tarand had urged Tupp to retain Molder for the sake of "domestic peace." After Tupp's resignation announcement, Tarand said he had not yet decided whether to try to nominate a new minister for the period remaining until the March parliament elections. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly on 31 January voted unanimously to accept Latvia as a member, an RFE/RL correspondent in Strasbourg reports. The only speaker opposed to Latvia's entry was Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who claimed Latvia was not an independent state but part of Russia. The council is expected to admit Latvia formally as its 34th member on 6 February. Latvia applied for membership in September 1991, along with Estonia and Lithuania, which were admitted as members in May 1993. Latvia's membership was approved only after the country passed legislation on national minority rights that was acceptable to the council. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

The Lithuanian parliament passed the State Language Law on 31 January, RFE/RL's Lithuanian Service reports. The requirement that officials pass examinations in the Lithuanian language as a condition for holding government posts went into effect on 1 January 1995. Amendments proposed by Polish deputies to establish Polish as an official language in the Polish-populated southeast raions of Lithuania were defeated. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

The Polish president's office announced on 31 January that President Lech Walesa has accepted candidates proposed by Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak to head the Defense and Foreign Affairs Ministries. The names of the candidates are to be keep secret until Pawlak officially nominates them. Walesa's spokesman said the president would agree to meet with the ruling coalition only if the two ministers took office by 3 February. Parliamentary speculation pointed to acting Defense Minister Jerzy Milewski (the president's former security adviser) and presidential office chief Janusz Ziolkowski as the likely ministerial choices, but Gazeta Wyborcza on 1 February tips right-wing politician Romuald Szeremietiew for the defense post. Pawlak's maneuver left the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) speechless, as the prime minister had previously agreed to propose candidates approved jointly with his coalition partners. One SLD leader commented that by violating this agreement, Pawlak has "lost his instinct for self-preservation." But Pawlak has successfully outmaneuvered the SLD before. The real beneficiary of the move would be Walesa, however, as it would reconfirm his control over the three "presidential" ministries. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

The Czech government is preparing legislation requiring the state-owned news agency CTK to publish government press statements in full, Czech media report on 1 February. Deputy Culture Minister Michal Prokop said amendments to the law establishing and regulating CTK will be discussed before the end of this week. Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus has several times complained about CTK's editing of his speeches. His Civic Democratic Party recently criticized the agency for not publishing in full a statement by the head of the counterintelligence service on allegations of spying on political parties. Although financed largely by the state, CTK has recently sought to become independent. CTK editor-in-chief Petr Holubec responded to Prokop's statement by saying "CTK's service should stem from the needs of the media, not those of politicians." -- Steve Kettle, OMRI, Inc.

Michal Vala was sworn in on 31 January as Slovak attorney-general. Former Attorney-General Vojtech Bacho was removed by the parliament in early November and replaced by Ludovit Hudek, who was named interior minister when the new cabinet was formed in December. In an interview with Sme on 1 February, Vala said he is not preparing personnel changes, although some staff members could be removed for what he called technical or moral incompetence. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

Two members of the former Hungarian communist militia were sentenced to five years in prison for their role in shooting and killing at least 46 unarmed demonstrators on 8 December 1956 in Salgotarjan, MTI reports. The judge cited the New York Convention of 1968, according to which crimes against humanity committed in peace time must also be prosecuted. These are the first convictions for crimes committed during the 1956 revolution. Seven of the 12 men charged with the killings were acquitted because of lack of evidence; and charges against three others were dropped. Both the prosecution and the defense have the right to appeal. The Budapest Military Court on 27 January dropped charges against two military officers accused of ordering a pilot to shoot into a crowd of unarmed demonstrators in Tiszakecske on 27 October 1956. The court ruled that the 1949 Geneva International Convention on crimes against humanity did not cover internal conflicts. It is estimated that some 1,000 unarmed demonstrators were killed by communists in 1956. -- Edith Oltay, OMRI, Inc.

The European Court on 1 February is to begin proceedings against Greece, AFP reported the previous day. The EU Commission accuses that country of violating EU rules by maintaining an economic embargo against neighboring Macedonia. The blockade was decreed by Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou in February 1994 to force Macedonia to change its name, flag, and constitution, which, Greece argues, imply territorial claims to the northern Greek province of Makedonia. After the Greek refusal to lift the blockade, the EU Commission began legal proceedings last April. Greece insists that Article 224 of the EU treaty--which allows an EU member to take measures in case of internal unrest, war, or serious international tension constituting a threat of war--supports the embargo. Greek European Affairs Minister Georgios-Alexandros Mangakis said Greece is optimistic that the court will decide in its favor. He noted that a ruling against Greece would set a "serious precedent." A verdict is not expected until May, but Greece has already said it will ignore the ruling. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

International media reported on 31 January that Croatian Serb rebels and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic would not meet with diplomats representing the Z-4 (Zagreb four) group. The mediators are promoting a package aimed at solving Croatia's Serbian question and ending the armed Serbian occupation of one-third of the republic's territory. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 1 February notes that the Z-4 program stresses practical ground rules rather than political formulations. Many observers feel Milosevic holds the key to peace, but neither he nor the Krajina leaders will see the diplomats without advance assurance that UNPROFOR will remain in Croatia. Croatian President Franjo Tudjman has said it must leave by 1 July. The BBC's Serbian Service quoted The Times as saying that Milosevic's behavior actually encourages those Krajina Serbs bent on continued conflict. The broadcast also cited the US ambassador in Zagreb as calling the present situation "dangerous." -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Haris Silajdzic, on a visit to Washington, said the world community is displaying "impotence" in failing to end the Bosnian conflict, The New York Times reports on 1 February. He told CNN that the UN's refusal to lift the arms embargo against his country recalls the Allied failure to bomb the railways leading to Auschwitz. Silajdzic added that the least the international community can do is to provide air strikes and sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs if they continue not to accept the Contact Group's peace plan, the BBC's Croatian Service reports. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told Le Monde on 31 January that leaders of former Yugoslav republics and international representatives should convene new conferences to help end the conflict. He said this is a "last chance scenario" before the war spreads to Krajina or elsewhere in the Balkans. The New York Times, however, quotes U.S. diplomats as saying they do not feel this is the right time for another conference. Past summits have largely been grandiose talking shops at which participants from the former Yugoslavia made vague promises that were never kept. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

The BBC said on 31 January that the Serbs and Muslims in that UN-designated "safe area" have for the first time made and kept an agreement. The issue was the evacuation of sick and wounded Muslims to Sarajevo and Serbs to Kopaci, which is under way. The New York Times, meanwhile, quotes a UN spokesman as saying that the fighting in the Bihac area was the worst there since the current cease-fire took effect on 1 January. Local kingpin Fikret Abdic and his Krajina Serb allies have not signed that document, despite repeated pleas from the UN to do so. Elsewhere, observers have expressed concern lest fighting break out in the "safe area" of Srebrenica, in eastern Bosnia, which is swollen with mainly Muslim refugees, as is nearby Gorazde. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Editors of the independent Nasa Borba--successor to the independent Belgrade daily Borba, which fell victim to a government take-over bid--have announced that their newspaper will appear for the first time on 1 February. The Novi Sad-based paper was incorporated on 19 January but has been kept out of circulation by a newsprint shortage. Nasa Borba staff claim the shortage is government-manufactured to keep the daily off the presses. Meanwhile, Reuters, citing Tanjug, reported on 31 January that rump Yugoslav authorities wish to close down the Josip Broz Tito Memorial Center, built 13 years ago to honor the former president of socialist Yugoslavia, because "it is no longer needed." The government is expected to take over all assets belonging to the center. -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

Ion Iliescu met with German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe at his Bucharest residence on 31 January. The meeting was also attended by Romanian Defense Minister Gheorghe Tinca, State Secretary for Defense Ioan Mircea Pascu, Gen. Vasile Ionel, and presidential spokesman Traian Chebeleu. Iliescu and Ruehe discussed, among other things, Romania's participation in NATO's Partnership for Peace program and their countries' efforts to join UN peacekeeping missions. Radio Bucharest quoted Chebeleu as saying Romania was interested in the closest possible cooperation with Germany as part of the larger process of integrating into European and Euro-Atlantic structures. Ruehe visited the same day a Bucharest-based battalion that will take part in UN peacekeeping operations. He also observed an exercise staged by Romanian mountain corps in the town of Predeal. -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

Moldovan President Mircea Snegur on 31 January met with senior officials from the U.S. Agriculture Department, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reports on 1 February. Snegur, who headed a delegation including Moldovan Deputy Minister of Agriculture Andrei Cheptine, stressed Moldova's interest in closer cooperation with the U.S. in the agricultural sector and especially in attracting US investment for agricultural industries. Agriculture is Moldova's most important economic sector, accounting for some 42% of its economy. An Agriculture Department official said the U.S. has been helping Moldova by providing advanced training for agricultural specialists. He added that his department was working with the U.S. Trade Development Agency to explore trade and investment opportunities in Moldova. Snegur, who is on a four-day working visit to the U.S., met the previous day with President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, and Secretary of State Warren Christopher. -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

The Bulgarian government has announced price hikes for fuel, energy, and other goods, including flour, as of 1 February, Bulgarian media report. The price of electricity is expected to rise by 70-200%. The Bulgarian Socialist Party is considering distributing vouchers among lower income earners to cover higher electricity and heating costs, Duma and Kontinent cited BSP deputy Atanas Paparizov as saying. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

The Albanian Helsinki Committee published a declaration on 30 January raising doubts about the legality of the possible lifting of Chief Supreme Court Judge Zef Brozi's immunity, Gazeta Shqiptare reported the next day. The committee stated that "the case involving Brozi may violate the legal basis of the state." Brozi is accused of wrongdoing by releasing a Greek citizen involved in a drug case, but the judge claims he is the victim of a campaign by President Sali Berisha and Chief Prosecutor Alush Dragoshi. The Helsinki Committee backed Brozi, saying the accusations against him are far removed from "legal regulations defining criminal acts." -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave