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Newsline - February 9, 1995

Russian forces gained ground in Grozny on 8 February, advancing toward the city's southern fringe as artillery and warplanes continued to bomb Chechen positions, AFP reported. Chechen military spokesman Aslan Maskhadov insisted that his men have no plans to abandon Grozny. A Chechen presidential spokesman told Interfax on 8 February that Dzhokhar Dudaev's forces still possess "substantial amounts" of heavy military equipment. He reiterated that Dudaev is ready to conduct negotiations with the Russian leadership "at the corresponding level." -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

The State Duma failed to garner the two-thirds majority vote necessary to overcome President Boris Yeltsin's veto on amendments to the media law, Russian TV reported on 8 February. The amendments would have barred state bodies from setting up their own newspapers and journals. The Duma lacked the votes because Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party boycotted the session. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky's faction staged a walkout at the Duma's 8 February session to protest the legislature's disapproval of proposals put forward in connection with the death of LDP Deputy Sergei Skorochkin. Zhirinovsky had urged that Minister of Internal Affairs Viktor Erin and Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin be removed from their posts for failing to protect Skorochkin and two other deputies who have suffered violent deaths in the past nine months. The Duma did accept a motion to discuss Erin's performance, but only in the minister's presence. Erin has gone to Chechnya. The LDP chairman said his party would boycott only plenary sessions, while continuing to participate in committees and commissions. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc.

The Federation Council voted down a courts of arbitration bill on 8 February, Russian TV reported. While many observers consider the legislation essential for Russia's transition to a market economy, it was rejected by the council which is composed of Russian republic leaders. The courts settle economic disputes. Isa Kostoev, chairman of the chamber's legislation committee, told "Vesti" the vote reflected a conflict of interest between republican leaders, who want the power to appoint judges on their own, and the federal executive powers. According to the constitution, the naming of judges is a presidential prerogative. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc.

President Yeltsin appointed Professor Mikhail Krasnov as an aide to provide legal backing to the president's legislative initiatives and other legal acts worked out by the administration, Interfax reported on 8 February. Krasnov, a well-known 45-year-old lawyer, had worked for Yeltsin's National Security Adviser Yury Baturin and was a department head at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of State and Law. Yeltsin had nominated him for a seat on the Constitutional Court, but the Federation Council refused to confirm him. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

President Yeltsin signed orders to convene a conference on local government to take place in Moscow on 17 February, Interfax reported on 7 February. Yeltsin did not specify if he would attend, but parliament, government, various regions, public groups, and research institutions will be represented, AFP reported. According to Sergei Filatov, the president's chief of staff, the Duma is now considering a variety of bills on local government. One bill proposes the restoration of the Soviet system abolished by Yeltsin in October 1993. Yeltsin's bill guarantees the local bodies control over property and revenue. Filatov also claimed federal bodies will not be allowed to interfere in local affairs without the consent of local bodies. However, he reiterated his warning that "local leaders are still trying to grab more powers from federal authorities." He did not elaborate. Federation Council Chairman Vladimir Shumeiko strongly believes parliament should leave behind a package of laws on power sharing before its term expires. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

Russia's Choice is pushing for an amendment that will increase the legislature's control over the executive branch, Boris Zolotukhin, vice-chairman of the parliamentary faction, told Interfax on 8 February. The amendment would change article 101 to include a provision giving parliament the right to set up commissions "for investigating issues of special interest." It also proposes that officials in question be required to attend sessions of parliamentary commissions and present any documents requested. The motion has 40 deputies' signatures and needs a total of 90 to get on the Duma agenda. Zolotukhin is a member of the Duma commission investigating the causes of the Chechen conflict whose work Yeltsin has declared unconstitutional. The parliament has also had trouble inducing government officials to testify at its hearings. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

Half a million miners at about 200 pits throughout Russia staged a 24-hour warning strike on 8 February to demand payment of wage arrears and a 10-trillion-ruble subsidy for the coal industry, agencies reported. Union officials estimated the stoppage would cost Russia 1 million tons in lost coal production. Yeltsin's economic adviser, Aleksandr Livshitz, said the debt to the miners will be paid back shortly and "the miners' fair demands will be met," Interfax reported. However, he said the debt is 1.5 trillion rubles, a trillion less than the miners calculate, and cautioned that promising privileges to the industry when virtually every branch of the economy is underfunded "would be tantamount to cutting other vitally important branches and putting up with a dangerous growth in the budget deficit." If their demands are not met, the miners plan to picket government buildings in Moscow for three days at the end of February, prior to launching an indefinite strike on 1 March. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

A French Foreign Ministry spokesman said a new Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe fact-finding delegation should be sent to Chechnya, AFP reported. Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev has been very supportive of the organization. "We understand that the Chechen conflict casts a shadow on Russia's foreign policy. Nevertheless, Russia is seeking closer interaction with international organizations, including the OSCE. This organization is gaining momentum and we intend to expand our cooperation with it," he told ITAR-TASS on 8 February. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

Former acting Prime Minister Egor Gaidar said his Russia's Choice party supports the creation of a smaller but more efficient military. He said the operations in Chechnya highlighted the "amazing incompetence" of Russia's senior military officers, Interfax reported on 7 February. Gaidar charged that real reform of the armed forces had yet to begin and said, "building an army adequate for our current objectives and capabilities is not just the problem of the military. It is Russia's strategic task." -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

The state should pay the debts it owes the armed forces and defense enterprises, First Deputy Defense Minister Andrei Kokoshin told the Duma on 7 February. According to Interfax, the Duma's Defense Committee estimates the government owes 3.2 trillion rubles for arms purchases and research alone. The report said the government was allowing the Defense Ministry to sign contracts for up to 80% of the money allotted to it in the draft budget, so as to not disrupt 1995 procurements. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

In a move to speed up Russia's privatization process, President Yeltsin appointed Sergei Belayev, previously head of the Federal Bankruptcy Agency, as chairman of the State Property Committee, Russian and Western agencies reported on 8 February. Belayev replaces acting chairman Pyotr Mostovoi, who himself replaced Vladimir Polevanov, who was fired last month for suggesting that key industries, such as oil and aluminum, be renationalized. Polevanov had also barred Western advisers and their Russian employees from entering the State Property Committee. Belayev, an ally of reformist First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, has already been involved in carrying out Russia's privatization agenda. He aided Chubais in devising and implementing the ambitious voucher sell-off campaign which transferred more than 15,000 medium and large state firms, representing 60% of the work force, into private hands. In his new job, Belayev will have to deal with a parliament that is largely hostile to Chubais' privatization program. The legislature has yet to approve the government's plans for the program. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

Russia's foreign exchange revenues from exports to countries outside the former Soviet Union increased from $22.1 billion in 1993 to $36.8 billion last year, Vice-Premier and Foreign Trade Minister Oleg Davidov said on 8 February, Interfax reported. The positive trend follows a substantial cut in barter trade and more effective currency and export controls, Davidov said. Last year's volume of exports ran at $48 billion, an 8.4% increase over 1993, and was attributed to growing exports of unfinished products and raw materials. Exports of crude oil and oil products were up 11.3% and 10.6% respectively. Last year's imports rose only 5.4%, reaching $28.2 billion, according to the minister. Davidov said any further increase was "constrained by higher import tariffs and taxes, as well as the ruble rate which started to plummet in the second half of 1994." -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

No report today.

Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets and his Ukrainian counterpart Yevhen Marchuk initialed a comprehensive agreement on friendship and cooperation in Kiev on 8 February, international agencies reported. The sticking points of dual citizenship and the Black Sea Fleet had held up the agreement for months. The accord was initially meant to be ready for signing by President Yeltsin in October 1994, but was delayed. Reports indicate the touchy issues were not actually dealt with in the initialed text. The problem of dual citizenship will be addressed within a separate agreement and the fleet issue was not definitively resolved. In addition, the problem of Ukraine's $4.3 billion energy debt was left out of the treaty. A number of other agreements concerning the easing of trade restrictions, cooperation in rocket and space technology, the simplification of border crossings, and a common taxation pact were agreed upon. Soskovets said Yeltsin should visit Ukraine in March to sign the treaty. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

While it was agreed that Russia would lease Sevastopol as the main naval base for its share of the Black Sea Fleet, it did not specify a timetable for the division of the fleet and did not say whether Sevastopol would also be the Ukrainian navy's headquarters. Previously, Russia had been opposed to both countries sharing the base. In April 1994 it had been generally accepted that Ukraine would take only 20% of the fleet and sell the rest of its share to Russia to pay off energy arrears. Comments by the Ukrainian defense minister, Valerii Shmarov, indicate the issue has not been fully resolved. Shmarov was quoted as saying he hoped for a resolution by the end of 1995. In contrast, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets said the two sides had "made considerable progress in bringing our positions closer together," ITAR-TASS reported. -- Ustina Markus and Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

Presidential spokesman Leszek Spalinski told reporters on 8 February that Lech Walesa has "voiced no objection" to the selection of Sejm Speaker Jozef Oleksy to replace Polish Peasant Party leader Waldemar Pawlak as prime minister. The president is to meet with Oleksy on 9 February. Spalinski stressed that Walesa expects the coalition to respect his prerogatives when selecting the new cabinet (the president has the constitutional right to supervise defense and security policy). Democratic Left Alliance leader Aleksander Kwasniewski has taken pains to avoid antagonizing Walesa on this issue. While arguing that the defense, foreign affairs, and internal affairs portfolios are "incorrectly" known as "presidential" ministries, Kwasniewski has indicated that the coalition will seek to find candidates acceptable to the president. (He has already indicated that Andrzej Milczanowski will stay on as internal affairs minister.) Walesa would like Andrzej Olechowski to return to his former post of foreign affairs minister, Rzeczpospolita reports, citing unofficial sources. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) leader Aleksander Kwasniewski told reporters that talks on the new cabinet could be concluded in a matter of days. But conflicts have already emerged and could delay a Sejm vote to approve the new cabinet. Leading SLD members have argued that President Lech Walesa should withdraw his constitutional challenge to the 1995 budget and sign it into law before Waldemar Pawlak is removed from office. But the president's spokesman has argued that the budget is an entirely unrelated issue, and he recommended that the coalition open talks with Walesa on the budget. Leading figures in the Polish Peasant Party (PSL), for their part, have argued that a new coalition agreement should be completed before Jozef Oleksy proposes a new cabinet to the parliament. They insist that the new deal give their party control over the economic ministries run by the SLD under the old agreement. Kwasniewski has argued that ministerial posts should be divided up in proportion to the two parties' relative strength in the Sejm (the SLD has 167 of the 460 seats and the PSL 131). Meanwhile, Freedom Union leader Tadeusz Mazowiecki stressed that his party will remain in opposition. Mere personnel changes, Mazowiecki said, cannot solve the country's political crisis. Other opposition forces likewise dismissed the coalition's moves as mere "cosmetic" changes. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

NATO Secretary-General, Willy Claes admits the Chechen war has put increased pressure on its Eastern flank. Claes, who has recently been meeting with representatives of East European and Central Asian countries, said "NATO expansion was the most important item on the agenda--so no doubt there's more pressure, and I've told the Russians this." He added, "The more President Yeltsin makes strong speeches against enlargement, the more the nations of CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE are knocking at my door." Poland's ambassador to Belgium, Andrzej Krzeczunowicz, said, "Chechnya won't change the pace of expansion...but [it] has changed the climate. People are more aware that the political environment is unstable and that changes in Russia may not be irreversible," The New York Times reported. But Claes cited the Caucasus situation as one reason to redirect NATO's interest southward. "The situation in the Middle East and in the southern parts of the former Soviet Union is so serious that we have to increase our efforts to cooperate with the countries around the Mediterranean Sea," Claes told the Belgian newspaper Tijd. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

The Ukrainian parliament has authorized a cash emission worth 25 trillion unbacked Ukrainian karbovantsi to meet outstanding payments for energy and fuel imports, pay wages and pensions, and finance this year's spring sowing, UNIAR News reported on 8 February. Viktor Pynzenyk, deputy premier in charge of economic reform, said the government was forced to request the emission after the parliament threatened a vote of no confidence if the government did not pay off the debts of state enterprises. Legislators have yet to review the 1995 draft budget submitted by the government, which calls for tight fiscal measures and deep cuts in state subsidies to businesses and in social expenditures. The emission is expected to further devalue the karbovanets and double inflation to around 30% in February. -- Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.

Russia was Ukraine's most important trade partner in 1994, Interfax reported on 5 February. No less than 39% of Ukraine's exports were to Russia and 30% of its imports came from that country. Former Soviet republics accounted for two-thirds of Ukraine's trade. Belarus accounted for 6% of its exports and 3% of its imports; Moldova, 5% and 1%; Turkmenistan, 3% and 7%; and Kazakhstan, 1% and 2%. Overall, Ukraine exported more than it imported. Among its non-CIS trading partners, China was the largest, accounting for 6% of Ukraine's total trade. The U.S. and Switzerland followed with 3% each; and Hungary, Italy, and Germany, 2% each. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Baltic Presidents Lennart Meri (Estonia), Guntis Ulmanis (Latvia), and Algirdas Brazauskas (Lithuania) officially inaugurated the activities of the Baltic Peacekeeping Battalion (Baltbat) at the former Soviet army base at Adazi, Latvia, Western agencies report. Ulmanis told a press conference that Baltbat was important for Baltic security and a clear example of Baltic cooperation. The presidents, after a meeting in Jurmala, issued a statement urging Western nations not to put the Baltic States on the slow track to NATO membership. "The criteria for admission to the North Atlantic Alliance need to be equal for all prospective members," the statement said. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

Latvian Defense Minister Janis Trapans, at a meeting with the NATO Council in Brussels on 8 February, concluded an agreement making Latvia the 11th country to sign an individual Partnership for Peace cooperation program, AFP reports. Trapans told a press conference that the agreement has symbolic and practical value, since it marked Latvia's return to the family of European nations and would help develop the country's military structures. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

The Lithuanian Radio and TV Committee on 8 February discussed use of the TV channel on which the bankrupt private company LitPoliinter TV had broadcast until the previous day, RFE/RL's Lithuanian Service reports. LitPoliinter TV owes 800,000 litai ($200,000) to the state and would need another 1 million litai as security to regain the right to broadcast. The committee decided to accept until 8 March offers from companies to use the channel. The applicants have to present programming schedules and a statement from a commercial bank guaranteeing their ability to pay necessary expenses. The committee also decided that the successful applicant will have to reach an agreement to continue rebroadcasting programs from Russia's Ostankino Television. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

The Czech government on 8 February banned state-owned firms from giving donations to political parties, Czech media reported the following day. According to changes in legislation to be submitted to the parliament, companies in which the state has a majority interest or which receive state subsidies will be allowed to make donations only to charities and social welfare organizations. The changes were prompted by a fund-raising dinner organized by Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODS) in November. The ODS invited industrialists, including several directors of state-owned companies, who paid up to 250,000 koruny (some $9,000) to attend. A public outcry followed, and other parties in the governing coalition charged that the ODS was effectively receiving hidden state subsidies. -- Steve Kettle, OMRI, Inc.

More than half of Czech parliament deputies signed a petition protesting a court decision to hand over St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague to the Catholic Church, Czech media report. The medieval cathedral, the principal place of worship in the capital and a major tourist attraction, is part of Prague Castle and was expropriated by the Communists in the 1950s. A Prague court ruled recently that it should be returned to the Church. The petition, delivered on 8 February to President Vaclav Havel's office in the Castle, called on the Castle authorities to appeal the decision because the cathedral has always been considered public property. Some 12,000 people signed the petition, among them 107 deputies and Transportation Minister Jan Strasky. The deadline for lodging an appeal is 10 February. -- Steve Kettle, OMRI, Inc.

The Slovak Statistical Office, at a press conference on 8 February, revealed that real wages in 1994 grew by 3.3% in industry, 2.1% in construction, 1.1% in trade, and 6% in transport, compared with 1993. Real industrial production rose 6.4%, while the private sector's share in retail trade reached 88.5%, in construction 73.6%, in transport 56.3%, and in industrial production 53.7%. Foreign investment increased by 53.8%, reaching 16.5 billion koruny. Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, the U.S., and France are the largest foreign investors in Slovakia, Narodna obroda reports. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

The BBC reports on 9 February that the Krajina Serb legislature has set up a military alert and that observers in the area have already detected signs of mobilization. A correspondent noted the "fear of a drift toward war." The government-controlled Belgrade press already seems to have started a campaign promoting war hysteria. One headline in the pro-Milosevic Borba reads: "Germany prepares for war." The Krajina legislature also suspended all political and economic contacts with Zagreb either until Croatian President Franjo Tudjman takes back his decision to cancel UNPROFOR's mandate or until the UN finds a way to keep on UNPROFOR with or without Tudjman's approval. Economic contacts between the two sides have been increasingly promising, but neither party is happy with the current political agenda, which is topped by a plan from international mediators. Both Zagreb and Knin will probably be glad if it now dies a quiet death. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Newsday reports on 9 February that U.S. officials are continuing to show great concern over UN accounts of some 62 military helicopter flights from Serbia to Bosnian Serb forces at Srebrenica last week. The newspaper also notes that Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic has charged that Serbia recently sent some 90 tanks and 8,000 "volunteers" to help its beleaguered allies. Newsday also reports on the French proposal for an international conference on the Yugoslav crisis, which has drawn mixed responses from around the globe. One French diplomat said in its defense: "If not this, what else can we propose?" Meanwhile, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic is quoted in the Belgrade dailies as saying that his side will not be bound by any decisions of the conference if he is not invited. French officials deliberately left him off the guest list in a move to increase his isolation because of his continued refusal to accept the current peace plan. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

The BBC's Serbian Service reports on 9 February that railway transport has restarted in the Bosnian capital for the first time in almost three years. A German locomotive pulled two cars into the city the previous day, but plans are under way to reopen soon the key route running south to Mostar and on to Ploce on the Adriatic. Elsewhere, UN spokesmen reported alarm at what they said was an increase of fighting in the Bihac area. Agencies quoted them as calling troop movements of hundreds of Krajina Serbs "alarming." -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Nasa Borba on 9 February reports that the independent Belgrade-based Studio B, which has both radio and television broadcast facilities, may become the latest victim in the Serbian government's crackdown on the free media. The daily notes that the same pattern is evident as in other recent cases, including that of the independent daily Borba (reincorporated last month as Nasa Borba). The authorities on 8 February challenged Studio B's legal status or incorporation in what appears to be the first step in a takeover bid. Studio B director Dragan Kojadinovic remarked that his company may exist for no more than 20 days. -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

Reuters on 8 February reported that Slovenian Foreign Minister Zoran Thaler met in Rome with his Italian counterpart, Susanna Agnelli. The meeting was described as one of "goodwill," with such divisive issues as a property dispute that has prompted Italy to block Slovenian efforts at EU membership being kept off the agenda. Thaler told reporters that discussions focused on how to develop "[bilateral] relations that are closer and not based on hate." -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

Romanian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mircea Geoana said at a press conference on 8 February that the teams of experts that met in Budapest from 6-8 February still disagree over two points in the basic Hungarian-Romanian treaty. These concern minority rights and collaboration to achieve Romania's admission as a full member of the Central European Initiative and the Central European Free Trade Association. Geoana was quoted by Radio Bucharest as saying that Hungary has submitted new proposals, which he described as representing "some steps forward but also some backward." Responding to Hungary's proposal that the treaty be accompanied by a separate document detailing minority rights, Geoana said there should be no linkage between such a document and the basic treaty. He added that the proposal was not in line with what had been agreed by the two countries' foreign ministers a few days earlier in Strasbourg and during Theodor Melescanu's visit to Budapest last September. The Romanian side will make its own proposals at the next round of negotiations at expert level, to be held in Bucharest later this month. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

Lieutenant-General Aleksandr Lebed, commander of the Russian 14th Army, told Interfax on 8 February that a decree issued by the president of the self-styled Dniester Republic banning the removal of Russian military assets from the republic's territory does not apply to Russian military forces. He said the decree detailed "equipment, property, and other material resources purchased from the Russian 14th Army," which he interpreted as applying only to Dniester Republic residents who have purchased property from the army. He said vehicles, including general purpose trucks, have been sold after their term of service expired. He noted that he had received no instructions about the removal of 14th Army units from the region and suggested that discussion on the issue was superfluous at this stage. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

Bulgarian police dispersed about 200 protesters who blocked work on a water pipeline project in the town of Sapareva Banya, Reuters reported on 8 February. Some 21 demonstrators were arrested. Construction of the pipeline, linking rivers in the Rila Mountains to the Iskar dam, has been stopped since residents of the Sapareva Banya region formed a human chain on 23 December and prevented workers from entering the construction site. The government on 6 February ordered work on the project to be continued. Meanwhile, international news agencies reported on 7 February that the persisting water shortage in Sofia is severe enough to justify evacuation of some of the capital's residents. A government spokesman said "the introduction of a state of emergency in Sofia and surrounding areas" cannot be excluded, since the shortage "threatens the health of the 1.5 million Sofia residents." -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

Bulgarian Minister of Education and Science Ilcho Dimitrov announced on 8 February that the government plans to revise a law barring former communists from higher academic posts, Reuters reported the same day. Under the present law, introduced in 1992, former senior communist functionaries are barred from governing bodies of universities, research institutes, and the Central Examination Board. Dimitrov called the law "absurd" and fascist." He added that he is allowed to be minister and run the whole educational system but cannot be a member of his university's faculty council. The law has been criticized by international human rights organizations. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

Albanian Chief Supreme Court Judge Zef Brozi has suspended the prison terms of four ethnic Greeks sentenced to between six and eight years by a lower court last summer, international agencies reported on 8 February. They were found guilty of espionage and illegal possession of firearms, but their terms were later reduced. A fifth was released in an amnesty last fall. The Prosecutor-General's Office immediately protested the court ruling to release the four prisoners. As a result, they were freed only some nine hours after the ruling. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

[As of 1200 CET]
Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave