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Newsline - February 16, 1995

In his annual state of the nation address to a joint session of parliament on 16 February, President Boris Yeltsin said controlling government spending and curbing inflation were key priorities for 1995. "No one is entitled to make decisions which undermine the budget and boost inflation," he warned. He said the main condition for financial stability is strengthening the ruble. He also stressed the need to facilitate investment and modernize the economy, arguing that Russia's reliance on the raw material sector of the economy must be reduced. On social policy, Yeltsin spoke of the need to "fill economic reform with social substance" and said measures must be taken to ensure the timely payment of wages and allowances, and to restore the population's savings. He also said the government would have to support agriculture. While acknowledging that the media have become a powerful mechanism for democracy, the president was critical of some of their coverage, warning that criticism should not be turned into mockery of the state. He urged the parliament to strengthen Russia's judiciary, which he said was still "in deep crisis," and conceded that crime-fighting measures had not been fully implemented. He stressed the need to improve the professionalism of state officials, calling for strict limitations on their commercial activities, and described corruption in law enforcement agencies as "an ever bigger obstacle to normal work." He also expressed concern about the rise of fascism in the country. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

President Yeltsin called the Russian military "inefficient" and blamed its poor handling of the Chechnya operation for "big losses" and extensive "human rights violations," in his address to parliament on 16 February. He said the government had "underestimated" the situation in Chechnya. In a harsh criticism of the military's initial operation in Chechnya, he said, "Our state turned out to be unprepared for efficient power actions. At the initial stage, the hackneyed system of planning military operations was of such a scope that the uncoordinated activities of ministries made themselves felt. That is the reason for the big losses. That is the root of the human rights violations in the course of combat." He said, "The Armed Forces are not well prepared for settling conflicts of local character." He added that the military reform to date had been "unsatisfactory" and said that in 1995, he would work to raise its technical equipment and combat readiness to modern levels. A number of reasons made Russia put off the Chechnya operation, he said, among them, "a syndrome of the guilt of a society for the imperial past, the Afghan syndrome, and a protracted standoff between the legislature and executive." -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

The liberal Yabloko faction, led by the front-runner candidate for the next presidential election, Grigorii Yavlinsky, declared its intention not to attend the joint session of parliament to be addressed by President Boris Yeltsin, Russian TV's "Vesti" reported on 15 February. Earlier reports indicated that the Yabloko faction had made a joint request with the Communist Party asking that the legislature be provided with time to discuss the speech with Yeltsin in the second part of the session. All the Duma's factions signed the request, except Yegor Gaidar's Russia's Choice, Sovetskaya Rossiya reported on 11 February. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc.

The State Duma passed a controversial bill on radio and television which bans preliminary censorship in broadcasting, but also tightens state control over the national airwaves, Russian TV and news agencies reported on 15 February. The law, adopted in the third reading, provides for the establishment of the Federal Commission for Television and Radio which will distribute frequencies between various TV and radio companies, issue broadcasting licenses, and prepare a state register of license holders. The commission will consist of 25 members and a chairman. The latter and 15 members will be appointed by the president, while parliament will name the remaining 10. Under the new law, domestic productions must make up at least two-thirds of the films broadcast on Russian TV. That is a slight increase from the current 60% requirement. Meanwhile, the Moscow mayor's office has nationalized all cable TV stations in the capital, Komsomolskaya pravda reported on 9 February. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc.

Chechen and Russian military commanders reached agreement on a two-day cease-fire for all categories of weapons beginning at midnight on 15 February, Interfax and AFP reported. During the talks in Ingushetia, they also agreed on an exchange of dead and wounded. The deal extends a 13 February ban on the use of heavy weapons. Russian military commander General Anatoly Kulikov said the Chechens had rejected a Russian proposal on the exchange of prisoners, but would consider a second proposal to make Grozny a demilitarized zone. Also on 15 February, a group of influential Chechen clergymen asked Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to prolong the truce until the end of Ramadan on 3-5 March. Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev expressed doubt that the talks would lead to a lasting truce, Interfax reported. Yusup Soslambekov, chairman of the Chechen parliament dissolved by Dudaev in 1993, argued that the former legislature could help resolve the crisis by mediating between Dudaev and the Chechen opposition. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

The Communist Party of Russia (CPR) "has the right and is obliged to put forward its candidate" for the next presidential election in Russia, announced CPR Chairman Gennadii Zyuganov at a news conference in Moscow on 15 February, Interfax reported. Zyuganov said the CPR has joined an electoral coalition which includes the Agrarian Party, the Socialist Party of Workers, the Federation of Producers of Goods, and national patriotic forces. Zyuganov said such a bloc of national patriotic forces, if elected, would act "strictly within the limits of the law" and would prevent dangerous "Zhirinovsky-like" forces from gaining the upper hand in Russia. He also said the Russian president should not be elected by popular vote, but rather by an assembly of electors which would include "the whole national elite and people elected by corresponding institutions and bodies." Zyuganov spoke of the danger of the whole country turning into a large Chechnya if the current Russian leadership continued its "anti-popular course." -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

The ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) is trying to "reach the heart of every elector" in its election campaign, a source in the party's leadership told Interfax on 15 February. The LDPR, led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, has issued a leaflet entitled, "An Address to the Working People" which has been distributed throughout Russia. The leaflet called the party "the only political organization representing the interests of the entire nation" and accused the government of indifference to the interests of the working person. It rejects "development schemes" that the party claims are forced on Russia by the West, but, at the same time, does not call for the country to "revert to the past." In an interview with Interfax, Zhirinovsky said if Russians listen to reason and vote for the only honest party, the LDPR, they will have "a great Russia which belongs to all of them". -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

The State Duma committee for budget, taxes, banks, and finances found another 12.4 trillion rubles (4,224 rubles to $1) to finance budget expenditures by cutting allocations to the military and Interior Ministry, the Financial Information Agency reported on 14 February. The committee decided to reduce the armed forces by 400,000 troops in order to slash expenditures on maintaining servicemen by 1 trillion rubles. The money will be used to purchase weapons and combat equipment. The committee also cut allocations to the Interior Ministry by 500 billion rubles, which will instead be used to maintain border guards, intelligence, and counterintelligence. The committee proposed to cut expenditures on state machinery by nearly 700 billion rubles by abolishing government structures such as the Economics Reform Center, the Center for Economic Trends, and the government press office. The committee said subsidies to the Moscow government could be reduced by nearly 1 trillion rubles. According to committee chairman Mikhail Zadornov, the group will have to discuss more than 500 amendments in the next few days in order to submit a modified draft budget for a third reading on 17 or 22 February. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev warned against a "hasty" NATO expansion, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 February. Nevertheless, he spoke of a need to repair relations with NATO which had deteriorated since Russia refused to initial its individual Partnership for Peace work program in December. He said he is still waiting for an explanation of why NATO changed its plans from partnership to expansion. He added, "In the existing situation it is necessary to find a new, expanded formula of developing the partnership with NATO which will take into consideration the Russian role in international affairs and the interest of Moscow to create such a system of European security which would not isolate it from the rest of the continent." President Yeltsin spoke out against the expansion of NATO to the east in his speech to parliament on 16 February, ITAR-TASS reported. A well-informed source told the agency, "The president believes that such an expansion would be detrimental to joint efforts in creating a new model of genuine pan-European security." He added, "Boris Yeltsin does not want Europe and the world to return to old or new lines of division, and believes NATO has no grounds to build on Russian western frontiers a structure allegedly aimed to defend East European countries because Moscow has no 'black thoughts'" about them. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

Foreign Minister Kozyrev argued for an early implementation of the EU partnership accord with Russia, during a trip to Stockholm where he met with Swedish ministers and the British foreign minister, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 February. He was particularly critical of what he called discrimination against Russian exports to the EU. "The existence of such barriers impedes the promotion of new relations, creates a bad background for Russia, and contradicts the talk about Western assistance to Russian reforms," he said. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

A Russian foreign ministry diplomat said commercial and political interests lie behind U.S. efforts to block Russia from building a nuclear power plant in Iran, Interfax reported on 15 February. He said the U.S. is ignoring repeated confirmations from the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran does not have a military nuclear program. He said the U.S. was particularly irritated by close Russia-Iran contacts and needed to provoke world political opinion against them every six months or so. "Such tricks by Washington have two pragmatic goals. First, the Americans are using the 'Iranian threat' to preserve their own military presence in the Persian Gulf. Second, Washington is perfectly aware of the fact that the Iranian market, including the arms one, is extremely promising. Naturally, the Americans would like to gain the market back in the future and, at the same time, force competitors, primarily Russia, from Iran," said the diplomat. Meanwhile, a Russian Nuclear Energy Ministry spokesman said on 15 February that the deal would go ahead. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

No report today.

The Democratic Left Alliance (SDL) and the Polish Peasant Party (PSL) have signed a coalition agreement endorsing the candidacy of Sejm speaker Jozef Oleksy for prime minister, the PSL's Jozef Zlych for Sejm speaker, and an unnamed SLD member for Sejm deputy speaker (the press has tipped former Finance Minister Marek Borowski as the most likely candidate for this post). The agreement was signed after several hours delay because outgoing Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak abruptly disappeared. Rzeczpospolita speculates that Pawlak changed his mind about leaving office and that PSL negotiators had to persuade him to sign the agreement. Gazeta Wyborcza's hypothesis was that Pawlak wanted to delay the agreement in order to weaken challenges to his own position within the PSL. The SDL will reportedly have nine posts in the new cabinet, the PSL eight. Most serving SLD ministers are expected to stay on, while most PSL ministers will leave. The PSL's Aleksander Luczak (currently education minister) will likely be deputy prime minister without portfolio. SLD leader Aleksander Kwasniewski told reports that Oleksy would consult with the president purely out of "courtesy" rather than constitutional necessity. Gazeta Wyborcza quotes an unnamed presidential adviser as saying that Oleksy's stance "means war." -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

Lech Falandysz, the president's chief legal adviser, has submitted his resignation. Gazeta Wyborcza attributes the move to a conflict with Minister of State Mieczyslaw Wachowski, the president's right-hand man. A spokesman said Lech Walesa will decide whether to accept the resignation when he returns from a week-long trip to Latin America, which begins on 18 February. Falandysz, who has worked in the president's office since November 1991, is the author of recent controversial interpretations of the constitution. The term "Falandyszation" is widely used in Poland to describe Walesa's self-confessed method of "balancing on the margins of the law." -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

The Ukrainian parliament on 15 February urged President Leonid Kuchma to consider firing his influential chief of staff, Dmytro Tabachnyk, exacerbating tensions between the reform-minded president and conservative legislature, Reuters reported the same day. A resolution, approved without debate, ordered the Chief Prosecutor's Office to investigate the claim that Tabachnyk was responsible for barring several deputies from a 30 January hearing on organized crime, chaired by Kuchma. The legislators stopped short of adopting a resolution demanding Tabachnyk's resignation, although many accused him of assuming too much power. Kuchma, who is on vacation in western Ukraine, has not commented on the move. The president and parliament have been at odds over Kuchma's proposed political reforms and his request for increased executive powers to implement economic reforms. Some deputies say they will not agree to giving up their right to appoint and sack key ministers. -- Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.

Reuters on 15 February quoted the commander of the Ukrainian air force, Volodymyr Antonets, as saying Ukraine cannot maintain its 19 TU-160 strategic bombers and since 1993 has been negotiating with Russia the sale of these and the smaller TU-95 bombers. Antonets said the two sides have been unable to agree on a price. He noted that the TU-160s are comparable to U.S. B-1 bombers, which cost $300 million each. As Ukraine has ratified START-1 and acceded to NPT as a non-nuclear state, there is no reason for it to maintain the bombers, which are equipped to carry a dozen nuclear missiles and are too expensive to convert into non-nuclear aircraft. Meanwhile, Ukrainian Radio reported that Ukraine plans to participate in the 19-23 March arms fair in Abu Dhabi. It currently exports there naval arms and equipment for conventional ground forces, particularly the T-84 tank. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

A spokesman for Kiev's Antonov aircraft plant told Interfax on 15 February that the company will build a second prototype of the AN-70 medium-range military transport this year. The first aircraft was lost on 10 February after a mid-air collision. The spokesman said Antonov will work hard to save the project, which has been 15 years in the making. The company hopes to sell as many as 1,500 turbo-prop planes. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

Andres Tarand met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Vitalii Masol, in Kiev on 15 February, Ukrainian Television reported. The two leaders discussed an agreement on bilateral free trade and other issues. Tarand said Estonia views positively Ukraine's role in Europe as a balancing factor. He also said he was interested in Ukraine's attitude toward the 50,000 Ukrainians living in Estonia, who make up 3% of the country's population. He said he would like them to have Ukrainian schools but that Estonia would need Ukraine's support to achieve this goal. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Reuters on 14 February reported that the Belarusian parliament has once again challenged President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Lukashenka presented the parliament with a bill for 5 billion Belarusian rubles ($450,000) for the use of the parliament building, which belongs to the Presidency. Deputies opposed the move. Deputy Uladzimir Hrybanau said "Lukashenka is again trying to show parliament who's boss." The president has been at odds with the parliament over a law restricting his powers and allowing for his removal under certain conditions. He has so far refused to sign it. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Chairman of the Belarusian Supreme Soviet Mechyslau Hryb has said the Cabinet of Ministers was too "hasty" in bringing into effect the January agreement with Russia, Belarusian Radio reported on 14 February. He was referring to the accord signed by Belarusian Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir and his Russian counterpart, Viktor Chernomyrdin, on creating a customs union between the two countries and allowing Russian troops to use strategic bases in Belarus for 25 years. Hryb said he believed the cabinet had overstepped its powers in signing the agreement and had violated Belarusian law on the stationing of foreign troops on Belarusian territory. Belarus is officially a neutral state. All Russian troops were to withdraw in 1996. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

The Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA), the second-strongest party in the Czech coalition government, has lost almost one-third of its voter support since its leader alleged that the secret service spied on political parties, according to an opinion poll published on 16 February. The poll, conducted by the Center for Empirical Research, shows that the ODA's rating dropped from 12.2% in January to 8.2% this month. For the first time since the June 1992 elections, the ODA fell to fourth place in voters' choice of parties. ODA leader Jan Kalvoda in January accused the counterintelligence service BIS of spying on his and other parties. But the government rejected Kalvoda's claims and a senior member of the ODA left the party, saying that Kalvoda invented the BIS affair to cover up a continuing scandal over ODA finances. Premier Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODS) has apparently benefited most from the ODA's fall: its support rose from 26.9% to 30.4% in the February poll. The opposition Social Democrats also increased their support, from 17.0% to 20.8%, and the Communist Party moved into third place with 10%. -- Steve Kettle, OMRI, Inc.

The 1995 Slovak budget, passed on 15 February, provides for a 5% growth in GDP, a 10% inflation rate, a 14% unemployment rate, and a budget deficit amounting to 3% of GDP, Sme reports. The cabinet also approved the 1995 general agreement between the government, the unions, and the employers' association. The initial draft agreement was approved on 2 February after the government dropped demands for wage regulation. But at its congress on 14 February, the Slovak Confederation of Trade Unions instructed union president Alojz Englis not to sign the agreement until the state budget was approved by the parliament. The unions criticized the fact that the cabinet's draft budget included a proposal for wage regulation, despite government promises to the contrary. Deputy Premier Jozef Kalman, in an interview with Pravda on 16 February, said he and other cabinet members were "surprised" by the unions' decision. He said the proposals for wage regulation were dropped from the final version of the budget draft. Slovakia is currently using a provisional budget. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

National Democratic Party Chairman Ludovit Cernak on 15 February said Slovakia needs to find a compromise solution over the controversial nuclear plant under construction at Mochovce, Pravda reports. Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar announced the previous day that the plant will be completed with Russian assistance, even if the EBRD fails to provide a loan. Meciar criticized Vienna's "hysteria" over Mochovce, saying that the Czech plant at Temelin did not attract similar attention. He also asked if Austria wants to lose Slovakia as its "political friend." Democratic Union Deputy Chairman Roman Kovac stressed that Austria is a key partner for Slovakia in terms of EU integration. He noted that Meciar's statements were "improvised" and that it will take some time for diplomats to correct them. The European Parliament will begin debating Mochovce on 16 February. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

The latest round of Hungarian-Slovak talks on a new basic treaty ended on 15 February in Budapest, MTI reports. Hungarian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabor Szentivanyi commented that while the two sides came closer to reaching agreement on some issues, substantial differences remain over the clause on minority rights. The next round of talks are scheduled to be held in Bratislava on 27 and 28 February. -- Edith Oltay, OMRI, Inc.

The Budapest Military Court on 15 February dropped charges against retired border guard Colonel Istvan Dudas and three former rank-and-file border guards accused of committing crimes against humanity in 1956, MTI reports. The court said there was no evidence that the four men were responsible for firing on a crowd of peaceful demonstrators in Mosonmagyarovar. Fifty people died and a large number were wounded in the shooting. Hungarian courts have so far sentenced only two members of the former communist militia for their role in killing civilians in 1956. Hungarian President Arpad Goncz, who was jailed after 1956 on charges of treason and served six years of a life sentence, said the sentencing of the two men will not revive the victims, nor will it help find those who gave the order to shoot, Western news agencies report on 15 February. -- Edith Oltay, OMRI, Inc.

Minister of Industry and Trade Laszlo Pal announced on 14 February that Hungarian exports in 1994 grew by 20% to $10.7 billion, while imports were up 16% on the 1993 level, at $14.6 billion, MTI reports. He said that 72% of exports went to developed countries, especially to EU member states, and 24% to former communist countries. Exports to CIS countries declined by 8%. Of the products exported, the largest increase was registered by consumer goods (27%), followed by agrarian products (16%) and machinery (12%). -- Edith Oltay, OMRI, Inc.

Reuters on 15 February quoted Radovan Karadzic as calling the international Contact Group "a bewildered bunch that does not know how to solve the war." He also told a crowd in Grahovo that the Bosnian Serb army will "no longer strike [the enemy] in forests and villages but where it will hurt them most." AFP noted that he threatened to "smash" government forces if they launch a new offensive in the Bihac pocket. His authorities imposed a news blackout on the Bihac area, leading one Bosnian Serb journalist to suspect that "something serious is going on in the Bihac pocket." -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

The first aid convoys in some time headed to the Bihac area on 15 February as part of a deal to ensure that relief reaches all sides, AFP reports. The news agency also notes that Bosnian Serb forces have complained about flights reaching Tuzla airport, suggesting that government forces are being resupplied by air, despite the UN's "no-fly zone" over the embattled republic. The Serbs have been under strong UN criticism recently for staging military flights from Serbia and in several parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The UN is investigating the Serbs' charge regarding Tuzla. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Nasa Borba on 16 February reports that the leaders of four main opposition parties in the rump Yugoslavia--Vuk Draskovic of the Serbian Renewal Movement, Zoran Djindjic of the Democratic Party, Vojislav Kostunica of the Democratic Party of Serbia, and Vojislav Seselj of the Serbian Radical Party--have offered their support to the independent media, currently under attack by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's regime. The four opposition leaders, in a meeting with Studio B director Dragan Kojadinovic, pledged their deputies will walk out of the federal, republican, and municipal legislatures if the authorities do not abandon policies designed to "strangle the independent media." -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

Macedonia's unofficial Albanian-language university opened in Tetovo on 15 February, Reuters reported the same day. The opening ceremony followed a political battle with the Macedonian authorities, which have proclaimed the university illegal because Macedonian law does not yet provide for higher education in Albanian. Police raided the university in December, destroying parts of the wooden building. Rector Fadil Sulejmani warned the authorities not to repeat the attacks, saying that "the people will defend me. If police try to prevent us working, 200,000 Albanians will rise to our defense, and they have guns and grenades." He called on the authorities to avoid a confrontation, adding that "it would take us directly to war." Flaka on 16 February reports that representatives of all Albanian political parties in Macedonia were present at the opening ceremony, attended by more than 10,000 people. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

A Ukrainian delegation, led by First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Tarasiuk, ended its three-day visit to Romania on 15 February. The delegation was received by President Ion Iliescu on 14 February and held talks with Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu the following day. Tarasiuk, in an interview with Radio Bucharest on 14 February, said that the two countries will soon start negotiations on concluding a bilateral treaty and that the document may be signed later this year. He added that the treaty will be accompanied by what he described as a "joint political declaration." A spokesman for the Romanian Foreign Ministry said one of the sticking points was the inclusion of a clause on the "effects of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact." Tarasiuk also met with representatives of the Ukrainian minority in Romania. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian embassy in Bucharest was quoted by an RFE/RL correspondent in Kiev as saying that in the long term, Romania is trying to assimilate ethnic Ukrainian and other minorities. -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

Mircea Snegur on 15 February met in Tiraspol with Igor Smirnov, leader of the self-proclaimed Dniester Republic, Interfax and a Radio Bucharest correspondent in Chisinau report. According to a communique released after the five-hour, closed-door meeting, the two sides discussed issues of mutual interest, including a special status for the breakaway region. A document detailing this status is currently being drafted under the mediation of the OSCE mission in Moldova and a special envoy of the Russian president. Sources in Tiraspol were quoted as saying that the meeting also focused on ways to restore normal economic ties between the two regions. -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

The Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) on 15 February said it will support Kostis Stephanopoulos as presidential candidate, Reuters reported the following day. Stephanopoulos, a conservative nominated by the nationalist Political Spring party, said he will accept the candidacy if at least two parties support him. Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou said Stephanopoulos is the candidate who has the "widest public acceptance." Stephanopoulos was a minister in governments led by the New Democracy party between 1974 and 1981. After losing a fight over the chairmanship of the ND to Konstantinos Mitsotakis in 1985, he formed the Political Renewal party. He disbanded that group in 1994 after failing to win a single seat in national and European elections. Greek presidential elections are due in April but are now likely to be held in early March. The votes of 200 out of 300 deputies are needed in the first two rounds, and 180 in the third to elect a president. PASOK has 170 seats, and Political Spring 11. If no candidate wins the required number of votes, the parliament has to be dissolved and new elections held within 45 days. PASOK's support for Stephanopoulos is generally seen as a move to avoid early general elections. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave