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Newsline - February 13, 1995

Chechen military commander Gen. Aslan Maskhadov said his forces are ready to negotiate a cease-fire with Russia, AFP reported on 13 February. Maskhadov said negotiations could also deal with an exchange of prisoners, as proposed by Ingush Vice President Boris Agapov. Meanwhile, Chechen leaders claimed their forces had blown up a former Soviet missile-launching site controlled by Russian troops, causing heavy casualties. On 11 February, Russian forces inflicted heavy artillery bombardment on the city of Argun, about 15 kilometers east of Grozny. There was further fighting the next day in parts of Grozny itself, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported on 13 February, noting that the campaign is far from over. -- Victor Gomez and Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

The Federation Council has asked the Constitutional Court to rule on the constitutionality of Yeltsin's decrees ordering the use of force in Chechnya. The request focuses on three specific presidential directives issued on 1, 9, and 17 December. Seventy-two deputies supported the motion, while according to the constitution, only 36 votes are required to get the court to review a presidential decree. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

Another gathering was held on 11 February on Moscow's Pushkin Square to protest against the Chechen war, Russian TV and Interfax reported. The event, organized by the human-rights "Memorial" society, Democratic Russia party, and the Soldiers' Mothers Committee, was the first in a series of actions planned by signatories of the agreement, "For Peace and Freedom, Against Bloodshed in Chechnya." "Memorial" activist Aleksandr Daniel said as many as 102 organizations had signed the document by the day of the protest action. The signatories represent groups from across the political spectrum, including the radically anti-communist Democratic Union and the "internationalist" faction of the Russian Communist party. On the eve of the meeting, Russian TV's "Podrobnosti" reported that the Soldiers' Mothers Committee intended to prevent next spring's military service draft and planned to dismantle the North Caucasian railway line. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc.

A decree by President Yeltsin to computerize the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections could give the secret police control over the elections, according to a full front-page article in the 10 February issue of Izvestiya. The decree calls for the Central Election Commission in Moscow to collect data from all constituencies which will then destroy their ballots. The newspaper speculates the system will give control of the process to the Federal Agency on Government Communications and Information (formerly a KGB department). Other agencies that will be involved in the election are entirely dependent on the president, who appoints both administration heads and the electoral commission while representatives of the legislature or political parties will have no control over ballot casting, Izvestiya claimed. The daily implied that the December 1993 election and referendum were rigged, and the election commission is reluctant to publish a detailed report on the results. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc.

Russia's Choice leader Egor Gaidar has called for the creation of an electoral bloc of all democratic factions, Interfax reported on 11 February. He indicated his willingness to form a coalition with Grigorii Yavlinsky's Yabloko party, warning that democrats must not repeat "the mistakes they made during the previous elections, when many hoped that they would be able to achieve much by working separately." The Yabloko faction has been opposed to the president's policies, while Gaidar had supported them until Chechnya. Gaidar said the democrats must unite now because the preservation of the free market and democracy in Russia is at stake. Yavlinsky told Moskovsky Komsomolets that a coalition cannot be created at once, but added that "Gaidar is a professional economist and it is always possible to find common ground with a professional economist." -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, has proposed linking his party with the Communist Party of the Russian Federation in preparation for the upcoming legislative and presidential polls, AFP and Interfax reported on 12 February. A letter signed by Zhirinovsky instructed his regional party leaders "to work with communist trade unions and parties, and in particular, the Russian Communist Party led by Gennadii Zyuganov." Prospects for such a union seem dim, however, as both Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky are planning to run for president. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

Russian Economy Minister Yevgeni Yasin told parliament on 10 February that food shortages in grain, meat, butter, and vegetable oil were particularly alarming and urged the government to change its food policy, Interfax reported. Yasin called for an increase in customs duties on cheaper imported products and a ban on exports of certain farm goods in order to create a "favorable environment for Russian producers". Yasin said his ministry wants to ban wheat exports because it predicts shortages will be at least 3.5 to 4 million tons in 1995. Yasin emphasized that the country has a good overall supply of food, but resources are unequally distributed among different areas and certain regions will experience shortages as early as March. As of 1 January, only 101,000 tons of meat were available, in comparison to 316,000 tons a year ago, and 12,000 tons of butter were available, down from 88,000 tons. Only 800,000 tons of vegetable oil were available while Russia needs 1.7 million tons to satisfy consumers. More alarming, if oil producers sell 2.5 million tons of oil yielding seeds as planned for 1995, production will fall to as low as 30,000 tons, making the shortage even more severe, according to Yasin. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

The upper house of parliament voted on 10 February to raise the minimum wage from 20,500 rubles to 54,100 rubles ($13), agencies reported. The minimum wage is used as a basis for calculating benefits and pay for all public employees. Labor Minister Gennadii Melikyan told ITAR-TASS the increase would cause major problems for the government, but he admitted in an interview with Trud that the minimum subsistence level was 240,000 rubles ($57) a month. The draft law is a major obstacle to a $6.4 billion standby loan from the IMF, which is included in the draft 1995 budget. The president is likely to veto the increase, just as he did a proposed hike in the minimum pension, but parliament can overrule him with a two-thirds majority. The deputy head of the reformist government commission on economic policy, Maksim Boyko said, "This wage increase would undermine the budget and destroy our prospects of an agreement with the IMF," the Financial Times reported on 11 February. -- Penny Morvant and Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

The State Duma passed legislation on 10 February prohibiting commercial agencies from dealing in adoptions and increasing the categories of children eligible for adoption by foreigners, AFP reported. The law is a compromise worked out after President Yeltsin vetoed legislation in December that banned the use of intermediaries in the adoption process, in effect precluding adoptions by foreigners. Under the new law, families can be represented by non-profit agencies registered with the Russian government, but paying fees to obtain children is forbidden. The new legislation also makes any child for whom no Russian family can be found eligible for foreign adoption. At present, only children with medical problems, those with alcoholic or mentally ill parents, or non-Russian children who are older are eligible--a restriction that has led would-be parents to bribe middlemen or orphanage directors to reclassify healthy children. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

The Duma passed the law on state service in its third reading, Interfax reported on 10 February. The draft legislation bars civil servants from simultaneously serving on federal or local legislative bodies, and holding other positions apart from teaching, research, and similar "creative" jobs. They are also forbidden from accepting payment for publications or speeches that are part of their duties and are required to submit a yearly declaration of income. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

Russia has signed a deal to deliver several Kilo-class diesel submarines to China, a Russian Navy spokesman said on 10 February. He denied, however, that the sale would alter the balance of power in the region, Interfax reported. The spokesman also said the first submarine had been built, but not yet delivered to China as claimed in Western media. He also charged that the Americans were dramatizing the sale because "they feel hurt about the sale of our diesel submarines, which are known for their noiselessness and are capable of neutralizing American submarines." -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

The Foreign Ministry denied that a Russian-made aircraft which landed in Brazil on 8 February had any connection with the government, according to a statement released on 11 February. The plane was suspected of carrying arms destined for Peru. The statement said, "competent Russian agencies responsible for trade in armaments have nothing to do with the cargo carried by the aircraft," Interfax reported. Moscow has provided Peru with many of its weapons, and several weeks ago a government spokesman confirmed trade would continue "depending how the situation in the region develops." -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

The CIS summit ended on 10 February with only a few pieces of paper to show for its efforts. Viritually every proposal was either rejected or watered down, international agencies reported. The pact on peace and stability became a non-binding memorandum which simply provides principles for signatories to apply in mutual relations. Before the summit, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said, "I am clearly and fully aware that a shapeless organization like the CIS has no future," Reuters reported. A peacekeeping operation for Tajikistan under UN aegis was agreed to by the summit participants. Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Russia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan also approved guidelines for a joint air defense system. Yeltsin failed to attend the post-summit news conference, and was seen stumbling and supported by aides. His speech was slurred and he appeared ill. The next CIS summit is expected to take place on 26 May in Minsk. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

Some bilateral and multilateral deals were concluded on the sidelines of the CIS summit, international agencies reported. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan agreed on 10 February to provide greater institutional substance to their "common economic space" agreement of1994. They intend to form an interstate council to coordinate governmental relations in the economic sphere and to provide seed capital for a Central Asian Bank to be based in Almaty. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev said, "The task is to draw up, by 1996, a six-year integration plan, taking into account the potential of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan." -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

Russian Duma Deputy Sergei Glotov has called upon the legislature to examine the treaty on Russian-Ukrainian friendship and cooperation initialed in Kiev on 8 February, Ukrainian radio reported on 11 February. Glotov believes several articles in the treaty contravene earlier resolutions of the Russian parliament. In particular, Glotov said this applies to items dealing with the Black Sea Fleet. The Duma has appointed two committees--one dealing with CIS affairs and the other with foreign affairs--to analyze the text of the agreement and report their findings to the chamber. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

The Polish Peasant Party (PSL) voted on 10 February to approve the ruling coalition's decision to replace Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak with Jozef Oleksy of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). But while the PSL endorsed its chairman's recommendations, it selected a negotiating team that excluded Pawlak's closest advisers (a sign of rising dissent within the party). The SLD predicted optimistically that the new government would be ready by the end of this week, Rzeczpospolita reports. But President Lech Walesa let it be known that he will attempt to engineer the formation of an entirely new ruling coalition, which would exclude the PSL. Presidential legal adviser Lech Falandysz told journalists on 9 February that "the enlightened postcommunist element and the best people from the [Solidarity] opposition must join together in a single government"--meaning a coalition between the SLD and the opposition Freedom Union (UW). In comments meant to inspire a renewed sense of vulnerability among coalition politicians, Falandysz also claimed that the constitution gives the president the right to block the appointment of any government approved in a parliamentary "constructive no-confidence vote." As in the case of earlier threats to dissolve the parliament, this argument distorts the sense of the Constitution (which says simply that "the president appoints" a government formed in this fashion). But it suggests that Walesa is determined to obstruct the coalition's attempts to build a new cabinet. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

New parliamentary elections appear likely should the two ruling parties fail to agree quickly on the composition of a new cabinet. SLD leaders indicated privately that new elections would be inevitable if Jozef Oleksy fails in his mission, Gazeta Wyborcza reports. Meeting on 12 February, the opposition UW adopted a strategy of maintaining "equal distance" from both the ruling coalition and President Lech Walesa. UW floor leader Bronislaw Geremek compared the coalition upheaval to "stirring the tea without adding sugar." The party leadership instructed UW deputies to be prepared either to propose the creation of a non-party government to serve until new elections, or to lodge a no-confidence motion to clear the way for the dissolution of the parliament. Walesa indicated on 12 February that, in the event of new parliamentary elections this year, he would attempt to postpone the presidential elections due this November. UW leaders revealed that Walesa last month said he would try to strike a bargain with any new Sejm to put off presidential elections by a year. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Andrzej Olechowski (who is still waiting for the president to accept his resignation) announced that he is withdrawing from political life and will not serve in a new government. He added that he will not run for president if Walesa is a candidate. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

The recently-completed sixth reactor at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, considered the largest in Europe, will not be brought on line until the second quarter of the year instead of the first quarter as planned because of a breakdown in state financing, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 12 February. Mikhail Umanets, head of Ukraine's civilian nuclear energy agency, told Interfax the government had failed to provide the more than one billion karbovantsi they promised last year in time to bring the sixth block on line for testing this quarter as scheduled. The delay means that the unit will not be fully operational until December. The other five reactors at the plant, built in the 1980s, generate about 6% of the energy produced in the country. The sixth block was one of three reactors in Ukraine that were only partially constructed at the time of the USSR's breakup and was only recently completed in Ukraine's campaign to further develop the nuclear industry in light of its heavy energy dependence on Russia and other CIS states. -- Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.

The sole working prototype of the Antonov AN-70, which Ukraine was developing jointly with Russia and Uzbekistan, crashed in a mid-air collision on 10 February, killing all seven crew members, international agencies reported. The monitoring aircraft with which it collided, an AN-72, landed safely. In other news, Interfax reported on 12 February that the Ukrainian State Committee for Nuclear Energy plans to invite US, French, German and Russian firms to take part in a tender to design a factory producing nuclear fuel for its reactors. Ukraine currently relies entirely on Russia for its supplies. An official from Ukraine's Space Agency has said that Ukraine plans to participate in this year's air show at Le Bourget where it will display a small scale model of an aerospace complex. The project, known as the Svityaz, will cost $500-600 million and will be capable of launching an 8-ton payload to a near earth orbit, and a one-ton payload to a geostationary orbit. On 10 February, Ukrainian radio reported that US President Bill Clinton has refused Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's request to remove a permanent delegation of Americans monitoring Ukraine's Pavlohradsk mechanical plant, which previously produced ballistic missiles. Kuchma made the request because he said the country could not afford the upkeep of the delegation. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 10 February summoned Juri Kahn, Estonia's ambassador to Moscow, to hand him an official protest about the debate in the parliament on a resolution entitled "On the Right of Self-Determination of the Chechen Nation," Western agencies report. The protest called the debate "barefaced interference in domestic affairs of the Russian Federation, fresh evidence of Estonian authorities' support for the Dudaev regime and of their attempts to undermine the foundations of Russian statehood." The ambassador was warned that "if Tallinn continues its anti-Russian activities, it will have a serious impact on Estonian-Russian relations." -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

Interior Minister Janis Adamsons said on 11 February that Russian military soldiers who retired after 28 January 1992 and remained in Latvia in defiance of the troop withdrawal agreements have to register by 15 February to obtain residency permits or face expulsion, Interfax reports. The soldiers were supposed to have left by 31 August 1994, but primarily due to a housing shortage remained in Latvia. Adamsons noted that only 602 Russian retirees were registered as of 8 February. Latvia claims that there are about 4,000 such retirees while Russia says they number only about 1,000. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

A "new Yalta" or division of Europe could happen if the West accepts that certain, particularly Central European, countries belong to Russia's sphere of influence and thus should not be allowed to join NATO, Czech President Vaclav Havel said. In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel published on 13 February, Havel said the opening up of NATO will serve the interests not just of the reforming states of Central and East Europe who want to join, but also benefit the West. Russia does not have the right to dictate to NATO who it should accept as members and who not, he added. Havel said the admission of new countries to NATO is a logical and natural way to overcome a security vacuum in Central Europe, and for the Czech Republic admission to NATO is a more urgent concern than joining the EU. -- Steve Kettle, OMRI, Inc.

A hearing on Slovakia's nuclear plant at Mochovce was held in Budapest on 10 February. Participants included officials from the Hungarian Environment Ministry, members of the Slovak and Hungarian Green Parties, as well as representatives of the two firms building the plant, Slovenske Elektrarne and Electricite de France. The Greens criticized the project, expressing concern about nuclear waste and safety, TASR reports. A public hearing scheduled in Vienna in January was canceled after the two firms building the plant refused to attend; however, a panel discussion is expected to take place there on 14 February. According to a Financial Times report on 11 February, the Austrian parliament voted unanimously on 9 February to ask the government to consider pulling out of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development if the bank chooses to give Slovakia the loan it needs to finish the project. The EBRD will vote on the decision in April. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

The BBC's Serbian and Croatian Services reported on 13 February that the UN ruled that all sides in the Bosnian conflict have broken flight restrictions in that embattled republic but that the Bosnian Serbs have been "especially active." The report noted daily flights from Serb airfields in Banja Luka and in Krajina in the past two weeks. The Bosnian Serb news agency SRNA quotes Radovan Karadzic as saying that if Croatia attacks the Krajina Serbs, his men will defend them, and that this would be the first practical step toward the unification of the two rebel Serb states. The latest UN report and the course of fighting around Bihac, however, help recall that the two groups have long been working hand-in-glove and in cooperation with authorities in Serbia proper. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

International media report on 13 February that combat in the Bihac pocket intensified over most of the weekend and that Krajina Serb land reinforcements have arrived. The Bosnian government singled out the situation around Bihac as demanding immediate attention if the ceasefire that is largely holding elsewhere is to be maintained. UN commander Lieutenant-General Rupert Smith met on 12 February with his Bosnian government counterpart General Rasim Delic and now wants to see Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic. The 13 February Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung notes fighting on three fronts: Bihac itself, Velika Kladusa, and Bosanska Krupa. Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic, for his part, already seems to have soured on the ceasefire, saying it should not be extended when it expires on 1 May. He charged that an extension "would serve the purpose of our enemies, and that is to keep the status quo here forever." -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Among the worst victims of the Croat-Muslim war of 1993 were the Croats of Bosnia, who, unlike those of Herzegovina, live in widely scattered communities that are frequently far from Croatia or other solid areas of Croatian settlement. Vecernji list of 13 February quotes Bishop Franjo Komarica of Serb-held Banja Luka as saying that his people are frightened and confused, wanting only to get out. He laments, however, that the continued exodus on top of the Serbs' own ethnic cleansing could mean the end for many age-old Croatian communities in Bosnia. Meanwhile in northern Bosnia, on 12 February the cantonal legislature of Posavina met in Orasje amid the presence of many Bosnian and Bosnian Croat dignitaries, including federal President Kresimir Zubak. The session dealt with a number of questions in Croat-Muslim relations and marks a step toward the normal functioning of the joint federation in northern Bosnia. The region has its own distinct profile, and the Croats in nearby Gradacac kept their alliance with the Muslims even in 1993. Many Posavina Croats suspect, moreover, that the Zagreb and Herzegovinian authorities have repeatedly sold out their interests. Croatian President Franjo Tudjman has often tried to mollify the angry people of Posavina, many of whom feel he deliberately abandoned their city of Bosanski Brod in a secret deal with the Serbs. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Tanjug reported on 11 February that five persons were killed and one seriously injured in a blast at a factory at Lucani, some 140 kilometers southwest of Belgrade. AFP accounts suggest the victims worked for a firm which produces chemicals for the military. In other news, the international sanctions applied against the rump Yugoslavia continue to receive media attention; on 12 February Reuters reported that Belgrade's UN ambassador, Dragomir Djokic, told a local radio broadcaster in Kragujevac that same day that in his opinion sanctions may be eased, on humanitarian grounds, to allow for the importation of gas from Russia. -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

Emil Constantinescu, the chairman of the Democratic Convention of Romania, the country's main opposition alliance, on 11 February warned the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania that further cooperation depended on the HDFR leadership making a "clear and unequivocal" statement that it was prepared to respect Romania's Constitution and legislation. The HDFR, which is the main political organization of Romania's large Magyar minority and a DCR member, recently stirred controversy by suggesting that it favored a higher degree of autonomy for ethnic minorities. In a separate development, a seven-person delegation from Romania, including HDFR leaders Bela Marko and Laszlo Toekes, arrived in Atlanta, Georgia, to take part in a seminar on ways to defuse interethnic tension, staged by the Princeton-based "Project on Ethnic Relations" and the Carter Foundation. On 10 February, the HDFR threatened to boycott the conference if a deputy for the chauvinistic Party of Romanian National Unity attended. -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

The Foreign Minister of the Republic of Moldova, Mihail Popov, was quoted by Interfax on 11 February as saying that close ties with Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are top priorities for his country's foreign policy. Popov added that this was the core of a foreign policy concept approved by the Moldovan parliament a few days ago; he also suggested that closer cooperation with the three countries was the only way for Moldova to overcome its current economic problems. Among Moldova's other foreign policy priorities, Popov listed Romania and several Western countries, including the US, Germany and France. Popov stressed that neutrality was the main principle of Moldovan foreign policy and expressed the belief that the agreement on the withdrawal of the 14th Russian army from Moldova, which was initialed in October 1994, will be signed and implemented in due time. -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

The Bulgarian Parliament on 9 February extended a 1992 measure protecting tenants from being thrown out of restituted property for a further three years, Reuters reported the following day. Krasimir Premyanov of the Bulgarian Socialist Party said "the law aims to attain greater social justice," as without it there is "fear that 120,000 people will be left on the streets." The opposition sees it as a step back towards communism, arguing it was unjust. Aleksandar Dzherov of the People's Union said it "means an explicit restriction of the rights" of owners of homes due to be restituted. The ban on the reclamation of property nationalized after 1944 would have expired on 24 February. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

The Macedonian government on 10 February said it rejected an offer by Greece to establish secret contacts, AFP reported the same day. Macedonian Interior Minister Ljubomir Frckovski said Greek envoys came to Skopje at the end of January to propose secret contacts, adding that Macedonia has no interest in them for the time being. Macedonia agrees to discuss technical questions such as visa problems or contacts between firms "on a professional level," but the Greek envoys soon raised political subjects such as the controversy over Macedonia's name and flag. Greek government spokesman Evangelos Venizelos on 10 February denied that Greece proposed any such meetings and said that Frckovski's declarations "are purely a product of his imagination." Greece never had any intention and no reason to make any proposals to Macedonia, AFP cited Venizelos as saying. Meanwhile, Greek Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias and his rump-Yugoslav counterpart Vladislav Jovanovic met in Thessaloniki the same day. Nasa Borba reported on 11 February that the Macedonian question was the main subject of their talks, but gave no details. The same day AFP cited Papoulias as saying that Greece supports moves to lift the UN sanctions against rump-Yugoslavia because "we believe that the international community's attitude towards Slobodan Milosevic is unjust, considering the decisive contribution he has made to peace in the region." -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

Twenty-seven legislators, mainly from the opposition Socialist Party and Democratic Alliance, initiated a no-confidence vote against President of Parliament Pjeter Arbnori, Aleanca reported on 11 February. Also among the deputies who signed the petition were Abdi Baleta from the ruling Democratic Party and Kosta Makariadhi from the ethnic Greek party Omonia. The legislators claim that Arbnori deliberately broke parliamentary rules and did not make regular reports as he is obliged to do. They also accused him of exceeding his authority and using state funds for personal purposes, including using a helicopter to travel to Saranda to launch his new book. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Steve Kettle