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Newsline - February 14, 1995

After several hours of "difficult, but business-like and calm" talks in Ingushetia on 13 February, Chechen military commander Aslan Maskhadov, and the commanders of the Russian army and interior ministry troops in Chechnya agreed on a ceasefire to take effect that evening, Interfax and Western agencies reported. The talks were proposed by Ingush Vice President Boris Agapov, who attended as an observer. No details were provided concerning the duration of the ceasefire nor how it is to be implemented. Meanwhile, a group of people including "residents of Daghestan and Azerbaijan" were apprehended in Gudermes on 12 February, Interfax reported. Chechen Presidential spokesman Movladi Udugov said they were planning to assassinate President Dzhokhar Dudaev on his arrival in Gudermes the same day to meet with local leaders. * Liz Fuller

The Judicial Chamber on Information Disputes, which opereates under presidential aegis, is set to condemn government press services for misinforming the public on the Chechen conflict, according to its chairman, Anatolii Vengerov. At a 13 February press conference broadcast on Russian TV, Vengerov said the federal government had lost "the information war" with Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev, whose propaganda was allegedly more effective. However, Vengerov rejected claims by Yeltsin and his "power" ministers, that Russian journalists had been bought with "Chechen money." In the early stages of the war, Vengerov recalled, Russian authorities had barred journalists from covering the Russian side, while official press services had supplied the public with inaccurate information. Later, journalists could communicate with Russian soldiers and police freely, but reports from military and government press agencies were still inaccurate, Vengerov said. He added that the chamber would open a special hearing on the fact that official information on the conflict lacked credibility. * Julia Wishnevsky

The Constitutional Court resumed its work on 13 February, by electing Vladimir Tumanov as chairman and Tamara Morshchakova as deputy chairwoman. Tumanov, 69, enjoys a reputation as one of the most distinguished legal experts in Russia. The Federation Council approved his nomination to the court in the first round of the eight-month-long process of appointing the new judges. In that time the council rejected eight out of 14 candidates nominated by Yeltsin. A member of the International Academy of Comparative Law, Tumanov is believed to be a co-author of the constitution, which is routinely criticized by former supporters for giving the president too much power. Unlike Tumanov, Morshchakova served as a judge on the court before Yeltsin suspended its activities on 7 October 1993. Morshchakova belonged to the minority of pro-reform judges who refused to condemn Yeltsin's decree to dissolve the parliament. * Julia Wishnevsky

President Boris Yeltsin has signed a decree naming Col.-Gen. Boris Gromov "a chief military expert at large" in the Foreign Ministry, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 February. Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev said he was grateful for the new appointment, Interfax reported. He said he had visited many hot spots with Gromov in the past, and had agreed with Defense Minister Pavel Grachev that Gromov was the best man to ensure close relations between the defense and foreign ministries. Kozyrev said Gromov would handle relations with NATO, strategic stability in Europe, and military cooperation between CIS countries. While members of Gromov's staff stressed he had not been dismissed as a deputy defense minister, Kozyrev indicated that it would be decided later whether or not Gromov would retain that title. * Doug Clarke

A new faction in the Duma that will be loyal to the president and supported by Moscow banks, such as National Credit and Menatep, is being planned, according to a "well-informed source" in the Duma, Interfax reported on 13 February. About 35 deputies held a conference in Desna, near Moscow, on 8-9 February to discuss the plans. Presidential aides Georgy Satarov and Alexander Lyvshytz attended the session. The new faction will bring together deputies who have left other factions such as the Party for Russian Unity and Concord, Democratic Party of Russia, Russia's Choice, Yabloko, New Regional Policy, and the 12 December Liberal Democratic Union. Interfax recently reported that 69 deputies in the Duma are currently unaffiliated. Satarov and Lyvshytz told Interfax they attended the conference to talk to the deputies about the president's upcoming annual address to parliament and did not know what conclusions the deputies reached on the proposed faction. A Menatep spokesman said he was aware of the meeting in Desna, but that no representative of his or any other bank took part. He said a movement preaching "stability, statehood, and commitment to reforms" could find "civilized and lawful support from financial circles." * Robert Orttung

Finance Minister Vladimir Panskov said he is sure the president will block the minimum wage increase from 20,500 to 54,100 rubles recently approved by the Federation Council, Interfax reported on 13 February. Panskov said his ministry, the Labor Ministry, and the Central Bank were preparing a detailed letter to the president explaining why he should veto the bill. According to a paper given to the Financial Information Agency by the Finance Ministry's budget department, the wage hike would raise direct federal budget expenditures by 67.1 trillion rubles in 1995, although only 6.6 trillion could be financed from the budget as it stands now. The measure would also increase regional spending by 75 trillion rubles and reduce revenue to the government from profits tax by 22.5 trillion rubles. Economics Minister Evgenii Yasin said the bill would cause a jump in retail prices that would affect low income families the most. * Penny Morvant

The monthly pace at which the ruble loses value is far behind the rate of inflation, acting Central Bank Chairwoman Tatiana Paramonova said at a session with the State Duma on 10 February, Interfax reported. The fall in the ruble exchange rate was 10% in December while the inflation growth rate exceeded 16%. In January, the ruble index was 14% with inflation at 17.8%, Paramonova said. During the past three years, consumer prices on the domestic market have risen 778 times while the exchange rate of the ruble versus the dollar has fallen by less than 20 times. The central banker said she believes this is an indication that the real exchange rate of the ruble is stabilizing. Central bank experts said the purchasing power parity of the ruble against the dollar had risen by 14% in 1994. At the same time, Paramonova said the situation on the domestic currency market is "far from stable." She explained that the exchange rate of the ruble is falling due to an increase in money supply as well as non-economic factors such as inflationary expectations and a nebulous budget policy. Paramonova said recent unpopular measures taken by the bank, such as raising the refinancing rate to 200%, decreasing the currency position for commercial banks by 30%, and introducing compulsory hard currency reserves with the central bank, along with the government's wider use of non-inflationary sources for financing the budget would "pave the way" for stabilizing the ruble and preventing its accelerated devaluation. Paramanova said the introduction of a fixed-ruble exchange rate against the dollar can only be discussed in theory at the moment. She said the government had introduced a single floating currency exchange rate to the ruble in July 1992. Meanwhile, the ruble lost 21 points against the dollar in MICEX trading on 10 February, closing at 4,191 rubles to $1. * Thomas Sigel

Russia's energy prices went up by 27.7% in January, according to Government Market Research Center (MRC) statistics which were reported to the Petroleum Information Agency on 13 February. Oil products were up 35.7% with raw energy sources increasing by 35% and electricity by 17.3%. With a 54.8% rise, the price of coal was the greatest. Coke and fuel coal prices rose to an average of 74,000 rubles ($17.62) and 39,000 rubles ($9.29) per ton respectively. Crude oil was up 34.2% but oil producers in the Urals and Northern Caucasus increased prices by 58.8% and 54.7% respectively, with an average price of 135,000 rubles ($32.14) per ton. A ton of crude in the Far East cost 206,000 rubles ($49.05) compared with 103,000 rubles ($24.52) in the Northern Caucasus. Natural gas went up by only 2.3%, but gas prices more than doubled in the north. Gas producers sold fuel at an average rate of 6,900 rubles ($1.64) per cubic meter though prices ranged from 50,000 rubles ($11.90) in the Volga region to 6,000 rubles ($1.43) in Western Siberia. Oil products rose by 35.7%, a record high since July 1993, when their price increased by 70.4%. Fuel, oil, diesel fuel, and A-76 grade gasoline were up 44.4%, 35.9%, and 34.9% respectively. Producer prices of gasoline were in excess of retail prices by 31.2% and 26.3%, respectively. Gasoline cost an average of 762 rubles (18 cents) per liter, three times higher than wholesalers' prices. Retail and wholesale gasoline prices in Moscow ran at 1,270 rubles (53 cents) and 282 rubles (.067 cents) per liter, the widest gap in the country. * Thomas Sigel

The Abkhaz delegation to the latest round of UN-mediated talks in Geneva has retracted its demand for total independence from Georgia and agreed to recognize the frontiers of Georgia as they existed in December, 1991, UN mediator Eduard Brunner said on 10 February. Brunner explained that international reaction to the Chechen conflict made the Abkhaz leadership realize they could expect only minimal support for their separatist policies. Georgia's chief negotiator, Dzhaba Ioseliani, told Interfax on 11 February that the Abkhaz had agreed to a federation with Georgia. But Abkhaz Parliament Chairman Sokrat Dzhindzholia said the next day that Abkhazia would insist on being an equal partner within a Georgian confederation. The talks made no progress on a schedule for the repatriation of Georgian refugees to Abkhazia. * Liz Fuller


The Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) opposition party has launched a campaign against the 6 January Russian-Belarusian agreements, Vek reported in its 10-16 February issue. The BNF shadow cabinet said the agreements go against the interests of the state and threaten Belarus' sovereignty. BNF members called one article of the agreement, which requires Belarus and Russia to coordinate foreign trade policy, an attempt to turn the country into a satellite. Party members also criticized articles on the establishment of joint working groups to deal with financial and industrial issues and on renting military installations to the Russian army. According to the BNF, the working groups will only serve to bureaucratize economic relations, while allowing Russian troops to remain in Belarus could drag the country into "military ventures." The party called for all of the agreements to be ratified by parliament and the prosecution of those who drafted and signed them. * Ustina Markus

Leaders of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and the Polish Peasant Party (PSL) announced after meetings on 13 February that they reached agreement on the basic aims of the new government to be headed by Sejm speaker Jozef Oleksy, Rzeczpospolita reports. They are: to maintain economic growth on the basis of the "Strategy for Poland" (drafted by current Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Grzegorz Kolodko); to reform the public administration and strengthen local government; to streamline social welfare policy; and to take active steps towards Poland's integration into European structures. The only specific detail agreed upon, however, was the appointment of a government press spokesman (the SLD has long lamented Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak's lack of skillful public relations). Oleksy told reporters not to expect any "revolutionary reversal" from the new government as, he argued, Pawlak continued the reform process without "ruining anything in an obvious fashion." * Louisa Vinton

Oleksy also cautioned that he has still not decided whether to undertake the task of forming a government, and again hinted that the president's signing of the 1995 budget is a precondition. New sources of disagreement between the coalition partners are emerging daily. The SLD has proposed using the government overhaul to consolidate the economic ministries and create a new "state treasury," but the PSL opposes this idea as premature. The PSL wants most of the SLD economic ministers ousted, and former Justice Minister Aleksander Bentowski (PSL) argued that only two ministers from the outgoing cabinet should remain in office. Many SLD activists favor removing Kolodko on the grounds that he is "difficult" and replacing him with the economist Dariusz Rosati, whose candidacy for the finance ministry was vetoed by President Lech Walesa early in 1994. Labor Minister Leszek Miller (SLD) told reporters in Lodz on 13 February that the SLD may also demand control of the Senate speaker's post, currently occupied by Adam Struzik of the PSL. SLD leaders admitted on 13 February that the coalition was unlikely to propose a constructive no-confidence vote before the Sejm's 1-3 March session. * Louisa Vinton

A NATO delegation headed by the Chairman of its Military Committee, Field Marshall Richard Vincent, arrived in Kiev on 13 February for meetings with Ukrainian Defense Minister Valerii Shmarov, Chief of Staff Anatolii Lopata, and other defense officials, Ukrainian television reported. After the meetings, Shmarov told reporters that the expansion of NATO was discussed, that Ukraine's non-aligned status is the right policy at this juncture and that the issue of NATO's expansion is a very complex problem which could lead to confrontation. "Today it would not be right to enlarge the circle of NATO countries," international agencies quoted Shmarov as saying. Vincent said NATO has no plans for early expansion, adding, "It is something that has to take place in a constructive and evolutionary manner." * Ustina Markus and Michael Mihalka

Ukrainian radio reported on 13 February that the country's armed forces are to be reduced by a further 60-65,000 this year because of insufficient funding for the military. According to the head of the financial-economic department of Ukraine's armed forces, Major General Hryhorii Kukharsky, the military received only 16.9% of the funds in required for 1995. These funds, Kukharsky said, will only cover the military's grocery bills. * Ustina Markus

President Leonid Kuchma told a news conference on 13 February that Ukraine cannot shut down the Chornobyl nuclear power plant until alternative energy sources are found, AFP and Interfax-Ukraine reported on the same day. The president asked for Western aid to help build two new modern nuclear power stations at Slavutych, a town about 28 miles from Chornobyl that was built to accommodate plant employees and their families evacuated after the April 1986 nuclear disaster. The G-7 group of leading industrialized nations have withheld offers of badly-needed financial aid to Ukraine until it agrees to shut down the two remaining operating reactors at Chornobyl, which they say are unsafe and endanger Europe. Heavily dependent on Russia and other CIS states for energy supplies, Ukraine has been experiencing an energy crisis and has begun to rely more on its five nuclear power plants. The Ukrainian government has said it needs to keep Chornobyl in operation until the end of the decade because it provides 7% of the country's energy and employs 7,000 people. Mikhail Pavlovski, chairman of the Parliament's nuclear policy commission, said the West should help finance the construction of the new reactors, which would cost around $7 billion. * Chrystyna Lapychak

Prime Ministers Adolfas Slezevicius (Lithuania), Maris Gailis (Latvia), and Andres Tarand (Estonia) met in Riga on 13 February and adopted the Baltic Council of Ministers' action plan for 1995 that envisions joint activities in defense, environmental protection, and harmonization of laws, BNS reports. They founded four new committees: Information Technology, Culture, Customs, and Border Guarding to supplement the council. The premiers also adopted resolutions on the Via Baltica roadlink and on the establishment of the Baltic Customs Union by 1 January 1998. They failed, however, to sign an anticipated trilateral agreement on agricultural trade. Lithuania will take over from Latvia the rotating presidency of the council on 1 July. * Saulius Girnius

The Estonian parliament on 13 February by a vote of 50-0 called for the recognition of Chechnya "at the first available opportunity as soon as the international situation makes it possible," Reuters and Interfax report. The resolution criticized international organizations for their inability to react swiftly to human rights violations during the Chechnya campaign. It views Russia's military operations in Chechnya as a violation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Code approved by the December 1994 summit meeting in Budapest. The parliament also called on its Russian counterpart to end "the Moscow-waged war in Chechnya and ensure the quickest return of refugees to their places of permanent residency." * Saulius Girnius

Czechoslovakia's last communist Interior Minister, Frantisek Kincl, was released from jail on 13 February after serving 19 months of a three-year sentence for abuse of power. In agreeing to release him early, a court in Brno put Kincl on two years probation, Czech media report. Kincl was sentenced in October 1992, along with two other senior officials, for organizing special police actions against dissidents and demonstrators in 1988 and 1989. His deputy Alojz Lorenc, who acted as head of the communist security services, has yet to serve his sentence; since the break-up of Czechoslovakia, decisions of Czech courts are not valid in Slovakia, where Lorenz lives. Last week, Czech authorities handed over the court files on Lorenz to their Slovak counterparts with a request that he be tried there. * Steve Kettle

Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin began a two-day official visit to Slovakia on 13 February to meet with his Slovak counterpart Vladimir Meciar, President Michal Kovac, parliament chairman Ivan Gasparovic as well as business representatives, Slovak and international media report. Twelve agreements were signed on the first day of the visit, covering such issues as trade; cooperation in culture, education, science and technology; legalization of employment in the other country; cooperation in nuclear energy and in the production of aircraft; and provisions for visa-free visits. Russian-Slovak debt settlement as well as Slovakia's large trade deficit with Russia are major issues of bilateral concern, as is Russia's opposition to membership of former Soviet bloc countries in NATO. On 11 February, the Russian-Slovak intergovernmental commission for coop- eration in trade, economy, science and technology concluded a three-day session, led by Slovak Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Sergej Kozlik and Russian Deputy Premier Yuri Yarov, during which several agreements were finalized for signature by the two countries' premiers. After the meeting Kozlik said Russia would invest $150 million in materials, fuel and credit to assist Slovakia in completing its controversial nuclear power plant at Mochovce, AFP reported. Chernomyrdin is expected to visit Warsaw on 17-18 February despite political uncertainty there. * Sharon Fisher

Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn said during his visit last week to Brussels that Hungary could become a member of NATO as early as 1996, Reuters reports on 14 February. "The relevant NATO decision, even if of merely orientational character, could come at the end of this year or in the first half of next year." Horn said. "In this case it is not completely excluded that we will be members of the North Atlantic Organisation as early as 1996." NATO is expected to complete its year-long study on the requirements for membership in December. Horn said meeting the European Union's requirements would be tougher and only under an optimistic scenario would Hungary join before the year 2000. * Michael Mihalka

An opinion poll, conducted by the National Marketing Institute in the week following the resignation of Finance Minister Laszlo Bekesi, registered for the first time since September 1994 a significant drop in public satisfaction with the work of the government, Nepszava reports on 14 February. Public satisfaction with the government's work, which was not high to begin with, dropped by 6% to 26 points on a scale of 100, and trust in the government dropped by 7% to 35 points. The poll showed that the president of the republic continues to enjoy the highest public trust with 68 points followed by the Constitutional Court with 55 points. * Edith Oltay

The 14 February Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports that UN personnel have observed yet more flights over Bosnia in recent days by "Serbian combat aircraft," this time around Tuzla. Previously, Serbian helicopters and airplanes had been detected in the Bihac and Srebrenica areas. The UN reported its findings to NATO headquarters in Naples, but the Atlantic Alliance once again claimed to have found no trace of the Serbs on its radar screens. * Patrick Moore

News agencies on 13 February noted that some 1,000 Serb fighters have arrived in northwest Bosnia from Krajina. It is not clear whether they are Croatian Serbs coming to help their allies or Bosnian Serbs who have been training in Krajina. In any event, this and other developments underscore the close connection between the Bosnian and Croatian Serb forces, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says on 14 February. Meanwhile, UN officials warn of growing starvation in Bihac, with the most vulnerable already dying and even the better off now in danger. * Patrick Moore

The 14 February Washington Post reports that US envoy Charles Thomas will leave his full time position as representative to the Contact Group and will be replaced by a part-time appointee. Thomas will concentrate instead on helping reinforcing the Croat-Muslim alliance. Thomas was active in recent direct negotiations with Pale, which Washington has now "concluded . . . were not leading to any productive discussion." The paper also notes that US Ambassador to Bosnia Victor Jackovich has been reassigned to Slovenia. Jackovich was reportedly unhappy with the Clinton administration's talking directly to the Bosnian Serbs in violation of a UN ban on such contacts as long as the Serbs reject the peace plan. * Patrick Moore

War is not the only source of news in the former Yugoslavia, and recent days have featured crime in the limelight. The Croatian media have been reporting at length about a weekend drug-bust, in which police confiscated some 30 kilograms of heroin. It was one of the biggest drug seizures ever reported in Croatia. Elsewhere, Nasa borba notes on 14 February that the Hungarian airline Malev has sacked 11 employees for stealing money from airmail letters being sent by citizens of rump Yugoslavia via Malev. The full extent of the thefts is still being investigated. * Patrick Moore

Nasa borba reports on 14 February that on the previous day opposition leaders from the Democratic Party (DS), the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), and the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), signed an agreement which details how the opposition will cooperate in future local and parliamentary elections. Leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) Vuk Draskovic has not, at least yet, signed the accord and AFP quotes controversial SRS leader Vojislav Seselj as saying the purpose of the pact is to effect "the overthrowing of the ruling Socialist Party and [Serbia's President] Slobodan Milosevic, starting from the local level." In other news, international media report that the UN tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has issued arrest warrants for 21 Serbs, including Omarska camp commander Zeljko Meakic, suspected of a host of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Bosnia and Herzegovina. At present, only one of those charged is in custody. * Stan Markotich

Romania's Senate on 13 February adopted by a 103-1-5 vote a declaration voicing "perplexity and concern" over statements made by Bela Marko, chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania, during a recent visit to London. The declaration, of which large excerpts were broadcast by Radio Bucharest, said that Marko's statements on the current status and situation of Romania's Hungarian minority were in "evident contradiction" to reality and were trying to "spread untruths." Marko was quoted as rejecting the 1991 Constitution's definition of Romania as a "national state" as detrimental to ethnic minority rights. Also on 13 February, the Chamber of Deputies adopted a separate declaration on the same issue. In another development, a spokesman for the National Peasant Party--Christian Democratic, one of the main forces in Romania's opposition, said on 13 February that the decision to withdraw the party's representatives from a planned seminar on interethnic relations in Atlanta, Georgia, had been made by NPP-CD Chairman Corneliu Coposu. The spokesman said Coposu opposed the idea of having "a dialogue between Romanians and Hungarians staged abroad," since "this could convey the impression of arbitration by a foreign power." * Dan Ionescu

Romania's Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu started a four-day visit to Syria and Lebanon on 11 February, Radio Bucharest reports. In Damascus, Melescanu attended the first meeting of the joint Romanian-Syrian economic cooperation commission since 1988, and, on 12 February, co-signed a bilateral economic cooperation agreement. On 13 February, he was received by Syria's President Hafez al-Assad and held talks with his Syrian counterpart Farouq al-Shara. Melescanu expressed his country's support for Syria's call for a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights and offered Romanian participation in a possible future peace-keeping force to separate Syrian and Israeli troops. On the say day, he went to Beirut for talks with high-ranking Lebanese officials, including the president, the premier and the foreign minister. He reiterated Romania's interest in participating in Lebanon's economic reconstruction. * Dan Ionescu

Zhelyu Zhelev and US President Bill Clinton on 13 February signed a declaration of principles stressing the importance of democracy and human rights, international news agencies reported the following day. The declaration asserts that the security of Bulgaria and other countries in the region "is inseparably linked to that of the United States." The signing took place during talks the Bulgarian delegation had with Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Secretary of State Warren Christopher and National Security Adviser Anthony Lake. Clinton said the US supports Bulgaria's progress towards democratic and economic transition. He briefed Zhelev on details of a $7 million loan program for Bulgaria to support small and medium-sized private business, especially in rural areas. Zhelev stressed the importance of US support for his country, while he also pointed to Bulgaria's problems caused by UN sanctions against rump-Yugoslavia. Zhelev, who is on a three-day visit to the US, is accompanied by Foreign Minister Georgi Pirinski, Defense Minister Dimitar Pavlov and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Economic Development Rumen Gechev. On 13 February, Zhelev met with Defense Secretary William Perry in the Pentagon. * Stefan Krause

More than 7,000 families in Tirana are homeless, Aleanca Nacionale reported on 14 February. The paper adds that about 1,500 families will have to give up their flats by the end of 1995, when a restitution law takes effect. Meanwhile, the staff of Tirana's state- run bread shops, most of whom are women, went on hunger strike on 13 February, Populli Po reported on 14 February. The hunger strikers are protesting against the restitution of the shops, arguing that the delivery of cheap bread by state shops would be endangered if too many shops have to close. The strikers also fear for their jobs. Elsewhere, the Council of Ministers discussed issuing privatization bonds, Rilindja reported on 14 February. The Ministry of Finance will distribute the bonds among all Albanians who were 18 years old by 1 August 1991. Rilindja said issuing the bonds would provide "the legal basis for a massive privatization of state enterprises." * Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Steve Kettle