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Newsline - February 17, 1995

Grozny was mostly quiet on 16 February although artillery fire was observed south and west of the city, Russian and Western agencies reported. A Russian military spokesman in Mozdok said Chechen forces were taking advantage of the cease-fire to regroup. Shamil Basaev, leader of a Chechen battalion that distinguished itself fighting on the Abkhaz side during the hostilities there in 1992-1993, rejected a Russian proposal to declare Grozny a demilitarized zone. Meanwhile, President Boris Yeltsin has signed a decree to create a State Commission on Restoring the Chechen Economy, to be headed by a deputy premier appointed by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Interfax reported on 16 February. Yeltsin has also appointed First Deputy Premier Oleg Soskovets temporary presidential envoy in Chechnya. In an interview to be broadcast on Ostankino Television on 17 February and previewed by Interfax, Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev argues that Chechnya is the only legitimate state in the former USSR. He also denies the existence of a Chechen mafia. * Liz Fuller

Col.-Gen. Anatolii Kulikov, the commander of Russian troops in Chechnya, said operations in the republic would be "selective" from now on, ITAR-TASS reported. "The Chechen developments have passed to another phase . . . priority will be given to the solution of economic tasks." * Michael Mihalka

In a separate document passed out to the Russian parliament before his 16 February address to that body, President Yeltsin said he foresees more Chechnya-type situations in the future, Reuters reported on 16 February. He said Moscow would encounter "special danger from armed conflicts breaking out in Russia and on its borders, on the territory of the former Soviet Union, because of aggressive nationalism and religious extremism." In the document, Yeltsin said a program for military reform to reflect the lessons learned in Chechnya would be forthcoming in a few months. In his view, Russia must defend itself against "social, political, economic, territorial, regional, national-ethnic, and other contradictions . . . ambitions of other states and political forces to solve conflicts by use of armed struggle." The document also said the country's security interests may require the presence of Russian troops in other CIS states to prevent destabilizing developments. "We will, and want to, act jointly [with other CIS states]. But Russia remains, for the moment, the only force capable of keeping feuding sides apart on the territory of the former USSR, and bringing them to the negotiating table." * Michael Mihalka

Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev characterized as "fair" Yeltsin's criticism of the military in Chechnya during his 16 February address to parliament, Interfax reported. "However, even under the difficult financial conditions, the army fulfills its goals ensuring the country's security. When there are new laws and budget funds, the army will be much stronger and mobile," Grachev added. * Michael Mihalka

President Yeltsin signed a decree lifting the state of emergency imposed on parts of North Ossetia and Ingushetia following inter-ethnic clashes in 1992, AFP reported on 16 February. The decree also provides for the creation of an ad hoc committee to oversee the repatriation of some 35,000 Ingush made homeless during the fighting. The committee supersedes the Temporary Administration headed by Vladimir Lozovoi, which has been repeatedly criticized as ineffective by Ingush President Ruslan Aushev. A 4 February Yeltsin decree to extend the state of emergency was twice rejected by the Federation Council. * Liz Fuller

Sergei Baburin, a former arch-enemy of President Yeltsin and leader of the ultranationalist Russian Path group in the Duma, appears to have been the only independent politician who approved of the president's address to parliament. In his reaction to the speech, Baburin depicted Yeltsin as a truer president in 1995 than he was at the time of his election in 1991, Russian TV and news agencies reported. Grigorii Yavlinsky, head of the liberal Yabloko group in the Duma, was not available for comment. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov and Mikhail Lapshin of the Agrarian Party condemned the address as being hollow and lacking in new ideas. Vladimir Zhirinovsky predicted it would be forgotten before the end of the day it was delivered. Sergei Glazev, of the centrist Democratic Party of Russia, said he did not believe Yeltsin would back his statement with actions. And former allies, Yegor Gaidar and Ella Pamfilova of Russia's Choice expressed regret that Yeltsin did not condemn the military's actions in Chechnya. But those occupying executive positions, such as Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai, praised Yeltsin's address. Duma Chairman Ivan Rybkin also responded positively. * Julia Wishnevsky

Despite events in Chechnya, momentum is building in NATO circles for a bilateral security treaty with Russia to form a "strategic partnership," international agencies reported on 16 February. German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe told the Bundestag defense committee on 15 February that a formal exchange of letters could take place within the next six months. Although he said the intent was not to grant Russia special status within NATO, he added the alliance's relationship with Russia has to be given special consideration when talking of expansion eastward. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe recently broached the idea of a special NATO-Russia treaty as part of a "quid pro quo" for NATO and Western European Union expansion eastward. President Yeltsin warned of the consequences of such an expansion in his major address to the Russian parliament on 16 February. In it, he repeated a theme he has raised over and over again. "This continent . . . has already generated two global military catastrophes, and we do not want Europe and the world to return to old or new division lines." Picking up on that theme, NATO Secretary-General Willy Claes said in an interview with Le Monde that NATO should avoid isolating Russia over the Chechen war. * Michael Mihalka

Russia's private sector accounted for 62% of GDP last year, according to Yeltsin's address to parliament on 16 February, AFP reported. The president said the banking, capital markets, commercial, and insurance sectors have helped to open and develop the Russian economy. He stressed, however, that there must be guarantees for private ownership of property rights, share holders rights, and rights of creditors to use assets as collateral. "The state is obliged to protect the population against dishonest entrepreneurs," he said. * Thomas Sigel

Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky attacked the Yeltsin administration at a 16 February news conference, saying it had destroyed the country, Russian TV reported. He suggested sealing Russia's borders for five to 10 years to prevent the Baltic States and countries in the south from capitalizing on the country's natural wealth. Zhirinovsky also proposed the expulsion of all ethnic Chinese and Japanese from the Russian Far East. Claiming the army is the only reasonable center of power in the country, he added that holding parliamentary or presidential elections in Russia would be superfluous. Later that day, Zhirinovsky celebrated the release of his novel, titled Last Train North. The book includes a preface in which the author suggests that many Russian politicians, including former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, his liberal adviser Aleksandr Yakovlev, as well as Yeltsin and his entire team, be sent to the sites of the former Stalinist camps. * Julia Wishnevsky

President Yeltsin has appointed Valery Serov, a former senior Soviet official, as minister for cooperation with the CIS, Interfax reported on 16 February. Serov served as deputy premier in charge of construction in Nikolai Ryzhkov's Soviet government of the late 1980s. Most recently, he headed the International Union of Builders. His new job was created late last year when Russia's committee for cooperation with CIS countries was converted into a ministry. * Thomas Sigel

The steady decline in Russia's industrial production leveled off last month amid increasing indications that the slump is bottoming out, Goskomstat announced on 15 February, according to Russian and Western sources. January output was down only 0.7% from one year ago, the smallest decline since the onset of reforms in 1992. GDP was down only 4% from 1994 figures, the report indicated. For the whole of 1994, industrial production fell 21% from 1993, while GNP was down 15%, the sharpest decline since reforms began. The monthly figures on industrial production indicated stabilization, or even slight increases in recent months. However, state figures on industrial output are not totally accurate since they do not account for much of the private sector activity. * Thomas Sigel

In a speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in Moscow, Mikhail Gorbachev urged the U.S. political and business communities to extend to Russia the same help they gave to Mexico in helping remedy that country's financial crisis, Russian and Western agencies reported on 16 February. The former Soviet president said even though the Clinton administration has been taking "a responsible attitude to cooperate with Russia," U.S. aid and declarations of support are "not enough" to boost the ailing nation. A critic of President Yeltsin, Gorbachev called for early elections to help Russia emerge from its crisis. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for December and presidential elections are slated for the summer of 1996. Gorbachev said that without political change, Russia will not be able to create favorable conditions for economic growth and Western investments. * Thomas Sigel

The Duma passed a bill "On Federal Security Service Bodies" on its second reading, on 15 February. The draft changes the name of the Federal Counterintelligence Service to the Federal Security Service--the fourth such change since the KGB was split after the collapse of the USSR. It gives the security service sweeping powers, allowing it to carry out operations in almost total secrecy, Western agencies reported. All information about service employees will be classified as state secrets, and methods used in countering crime and espionage, including the use of video and audio surveillance systems, will be kept secret from the General Prosecutor's Office which is in charge of all law enforcement bodies. * Penny Morvant

In a report on the trial of a Navy lieutenant colonel convicted of stealing nuclear fuel rods, a British TV program quoted Russian investigators as saying the theft "was easier than taking a sack of potatoes," Reuters reported on 15 February. Lt.-Col. Aleksei Tikhomirov said he just walked into the storage area at the headquarters of the Russian fleet in Severomorsk and forced a padlock on the door. He took several canisters of fuel rods containing 20% uranium-235. Western governments, concerned that weapons-grade material could end up in the hands of terrorists, have frequently criticized the poor security at Russian nuclear installations. * Penny Morvant

No report today.

President Lech Walesa and Sejm speaker Jozef Oleksy, meeting on 16 February, failed to reach agreement on candidates for the defense, foreign affairs, and internal affairs portfolios, Rzeczpospolita reported. Oleksy commented afterward that the discussion was "extraordinarily interesting" and that Walesa reacted "analytically" to his proposals. This circumspect phrasing reflects the Democratic Left Alliance's determination to avoid any appearance of conflict with the president, while pressing ahead with the formation of a new cabinet. The coalition did not reveal the names of its candidates for the three strategic posts. Oleksy said he expected to hold further consultations but added that the Sejm would vote the coalition's choices into office even if no agreement were reached with the president. Meanwhile, the opposition Freedom Union sharply criticized the clause in the new coalition agreement saying that the two parties will decide jointly on appointments to "economic and social institutions in which personnel decisions are not the direct responsibility of the parliament and the government." A statement by the Freedom Union said that approach reflected a return to the worst nomenklatura practices of the communist past. * Louisa Vinton

Presidential legal adviser Lech Falandysz read a one-sentence statement at a press conference called on 16 February to explain his resignation: "I am no longer able to acquiesce to the methods and style of work of . . . Minister of State Mieczyslaw Wachowski." Falandysz's resignation is the latest in a long series of departures from the president's entourage attributed to intriguing by Wachowski. Rzeczpospolita reports that several former presidential associates are drafting a letter expressing their willingness to resume cooperation with Walesa, provided Wachowski is removed. * Louisa Vinton

A special commission composed of members of the Ukrainian parliament and administration officials has completed its review of the constitutional bill on the separation of powers proposed by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Radio Ukraine reported on 16 February. But the commission failed to resolve key differences between legislators and the president. Oleksander Lavrynovych, deputy head of the special commission, said the final draft of the bill will be debated soon by the parliament. Kuchma has requested sweeping executive powers, including the right to appoint and sack ministers and dissolve the parliament under certain conditions. In a related development, Albert Korneyev, chairman of the constitutional commission, told Radio Ukraine the same day that a final draft of the new Ukrainian basic law should be completed by the end of March. But he added that its completion depends on the resolution of the dispute between Kuchma and the legislature over the division of powers. Korneyev said the need to maintain the post of prime minister and a strong president as head of the government remains a major sticking point in the draft. Another unresolved issue is the mechanism for ratifying the new Ukrainian constitution. The commission is debating three proposals: ratification by the Ukrainian parliament, by a constitutional assembly, or by a national referendum on its basic principles. * Chrystyna Lapychak

An Uzbek delegation headed by Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Paihin arrived in Kiev on 16 February for talks on bilateral trade relations, Ukrainian Radio reported. The delegation met with Anatolii Dyuba, the Ukrainian deputy prime minister in charge of the energy complex, Minister of Industry Anatolii Holubchenko, and other officials. Talks focused on increasing trade and transporting Turkmen gas through Uzbekistan. Meanwhile, following a visit by a Ukrainian delegation to Romania from 13-15 February, Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister Borys Tarasyuk said that Ukraine and Romania realize it is time to resolve their outstanding differences. Tarasyuk was optimistic that the issue of renouncing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which incorporated northern Bukovina into Ukraine, will soon be resolved. He noted that Romania is seeking entry into NATO and that a condition for joining the alliance is giving up territorial claims on neighboring countries. Tarasyuk also said that the two sides have agreed to work out a series of accords ensuring the rights of each other's minorities. * Ustina Markus

Eighty-nine Kurdish refugees were sent by ship to Finland from Estonia on 16 February, Interfax reported. The refugees were detained in January for illegally entering Estonia. Estonian Prime Minister Andres Tarand on 31 January sent a letter to his Finnish counterpart, Esko Aho, officially requesting Finland to accept the refugees on humanitarian grounds. The Finnish government agreed to the request, accepting the refugees as part of its annual admission quota of 500 refugees. But it noted that this acceptance was "a one-time only ruling." * Saulius Girnius

Brigita Dahl led a Swedish parliament delegation to Riga for talks on 15 February with leaders of the Saeima's factions, BNS reported. The talks focused on Latvia's internal policies and integration into Europe, Prime Minister Maris Gailis asked Dahl to support Latvia's request to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The two leaders agreed to cooperate on curbing illegal immigration and meeting requirements by European organizations for Latvia's legislation. Dahl, in a 16 February address to the Saeima focusing on the significance of collaboration between the Nordic nations and the Baltic States. She concluded the address with an invitation to Saeima Chairman Anotilijs Gorbunovs and a Saeima delegation to visit the Swedish parliament. * Saulius Girnius

Gen. Jorgen Lyng on 15 February held talks in Vilnius with his Lithuanian counterpart, Gen. Jonas Andriskevicius, and head of the General Staff Col. Valdas Tutkus, BNS reported the next day. Lyng told journalists that the creation of a Baltic States' defense union could reduce defense expenses but would lessen the mobility of the individual armies. He recommended that the Baltic States look for defense partners among larger states. Lyng also met with National Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius on 16 February. He had held talks on military cooperation with ranking Latvian officials on 13-15 February. * Saulius Girnius

A seven-member parliament commission overseeing the Czech secret service BIS on 16 February rejected charges that the BIS spied on political parties. The issue has dominated domestic politics for the past month and heightened tensions among the governing coalition parties. Five members of the commission--from both government and opposition parties--decided the allegations could not be proven. The other two members, from the coalition parties the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) and the Christian Democratic Union (KDU-CSL), voted against that decision. ODA leader Jan Kalvoda charged the BIS with spying in January and was originally supported by KDU-CSL chairman Josef Lux, but after a brief investigation, the government ruled that nothing was proven. Kalvoda called the commission's findings "premature" and said a decision on whether he remains as ODA chairman will likely be made soon, Czech media report. * Steve Kettle

Safety concerns have prompted the European Parliament to call for the suspension of further funds to complete construction of the Mochovce nuclear power plant in Slovakia, AFP reports on 16 February. The resolution adopted by the parliament said that "safety is not negotiable" and that the funds allocated so far were in any case inadequate to bring Mochovce up to Western safety standards. It also noted that Slovakia could better meets its energy needs from other sources. Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitzky, continuing his harsh criticism of the plant, said Slovakia has failed to meet any of the conditions set by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development for approval of the financing package. A EBRD spokeswoman on 16 February said that the bank continues to support the loan and will meet to discuss it by the end of next month. Approval would depend on Slovakia's closing two "more dangerous" nuclear plants in Bohunice. * Michael Mihalka

Matyas Eorsi, foreign policy spokesman for the Alliance of Free Democrats, told a press conference on 16 February that Prime Minister Gyula Horn has "created illusions" by agreeing with Slovak Premier Vladimir Meciar to sign a basic treaty by 21 March, Magyar Hirlap reported on 17 February. Eorsi said it was impossible to sign such a document by that date because of the gulf between the two sides' views on minority rights. He added that the Hungarian side was not in a position to make further concessions. Eorsi also said that if Horn chooses to sign the treaty, Hungarians in Slovakia will feel they have been betrayed. But at the same time, he admitted that if there is no treaty, Western countries will probably make both sides responsible for the fiasco. * Edith Oltay

This is the title of a 16 February editorial in The New York Times that is sharply critical of the Clinton administration's latest Bosnian policy. The administration's approach hinges on offering Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic the reward of lifting the sanctions against his rump Yugoslavia if he recognizes Croatia and Bosnia in their Tito-era frontiers, tightens his shaky embargo against the Bosnian Serbs, and helps isolate the group around Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic in Pale. The newspaper adds that "the latest offer to Belgrade comes as evidence mounts that Serbia has not lived up to the last deal it made" with the international Contact Group. Nasa Borba on 17 February notes that American reaction to the latest flip-flop in Washington's Bosnian policy has generally been negative. Britain's The Independent the previous day summed things up with the comment: "Powers run out of steam over Bosnia plan." The BBC's Croatian Service on 17 February describes The Guardian as painting a bleak picture of the region, with the daily arguing that the "chances for a broader war have never been greater." * Patrick Moore

In the wake of President Franjo Tudjman's decision not to extend UNPROFOR's mandate beyond 31 March, preparations for a renewed Croatian-Serbian conflict have been taking place on both sides. Nasa Borba writes on 17 February that Karadzic met with his Krajina counterpart, Milan Martic, two nights earlier to discuss joint military plans. The two rebel Serbian states have a military cooperation agreement dating back to 1993 and are currently waging a joint campaign against Bosnian government forces around Bihac. AFP on 16 February reports on military activity on both sides of the border--between Dubrovnik and the Prevlaka region on the Croatian side and between Serb-held Bosnian territory and Montenegro on the other. The Serbs have built up their artillery batteries with which they ravaged the medieval town already in 1991. The rump Yugoslav navy has staged maneuvers in the Bay of Kotor nearby, while the Croats have been building bunkers in Glavica, close to the Montenegrin border. Tudjman has periodically hinted that he may be willing to exchange Prevlaka for some of the strategic high ground above Dubrovnik, but he met with fierce domestic political opposition to giving up Croatian territory. The latest military preparations suggest that neither side regards the question of borders in that narrow region as closed. * Patrick Moore

Macedonian police on 16 February stopped lectures at the Albanian-language university in Tetovo only hours after it was opened, Reuters reported the same day. No violence was reported, although Fadil Sulejmani, the rector of the university, had warned that a police raid could lead to armed riots. A police spokesman quoted Sulejmani as saying that "the university will continue to work, no matter what the price." Macedonian government spokesman Djuner Ismail said the opening of the university was a "flagrant violation of the state's constitution," adding that it was a political act and had little to do with education. The Albanians are demanding higher education in the Albanian language. The universities in Skopje and Bitola hold classes only in Macedonian. * Fabian Schmidt

Ion Iliescu, in an interview with the German weekly Die Zeit on 17 February, said that anti-Hungarian campaigns by Romanian nationalist parties are "a burden for the country's integration with the West." He noted that he has condemned statements by Gheorghe Funar, chairman of the Party of Romanian National Unity, who has called for a ban on the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (the main political organization of the country's large Magyar minority). But Iliescu added that Funar has attracted attention because ethnic Hungarian politicians have demanded "ethnic-territorial autonomy, which would lead to Romania's division." He also said that Romania respects the cultural identity of ethnic minorities but opposes the idea of "ethnic autonomy." * Dan Ionescu

Gerasimos Arsenis began a three-day official visit to Romania on 16 February, Radio Bucharest reported. He met the same day with his Romanian counterpart, Gheorghe Tinca, President Ion Iliescu, and Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu. The two defense ministers signed an agreement on bilateral military cooperation, including joint military exercises within the framework of NATO's Partnership for Peace program. Arsenis said at a press conference that Greece will support Romanian efforts to join NATO and the Western European Union (Greece is a member of both). An RFE/RL correspondent in Bucharest quoted Tinca as saying that Romania will not get involved in actions hostile to Russia even if it joins NATO. * Dan Ionescu

Greece marked the first anniversary of the trade embargo against Macedonia on 16 February by turning down offers from Skopje to hold talks under UN guidance, AFP reported the same day. Greek government spokesman Evangelos Venizelos called the blockade a success and noted that it had reduced trade at Thessaloniki port by 60% and fuel transports to Macedonia by 90%. But he stressed the embargo was "only a temporary measure" and that Greeks have the "friendliest" feelings toward their northern neighbor. Meanwhile, Greek Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias announced on 16 February that he will visit Albania in early March, Reuters reported the same day. He thanked the U.S. for helping secure the release of four ethnic Greeks, who were convicted last year on charges of spying for Greece and illegal possession of firearms. Until their release, on 8 February, Greece had frozen contacts with Albania. * Stefan Krause

Zhelyu Zhelev, returning from a three-day visit to the U.S. on 16 February, told a reporter from Bulgarian Radio Horizont that the trip was a success. He said all the requests made by the Bulgarian delegation were met with "at least a promise." But he admitted that keeping those promises is a "completely different matter." The president stressed the importance of the declaration on cooperation, signed on 13 February, noting that it contains the basic principles of cooperation in all areas. Foreign Minister Georgi Pirinski said the visit demonstrated that the president and the government "will work in harmony and cooperate" in the field of foreign policy. * Stefan Krause

Col. Valentin Popinski, former head of the Defense Ministry's trade department, was charged on 16 February in connection with an alleged arms deal with Albania, international news agencies reported the same day. Military prosecutor Col. Nikolay Kolev said Popinski acted "to the detriment of his country," but he refused to say more. Popinski was dismissed by former Defense Minister Valentin Aleksandrov last year and is under arrest. If convicted, he faces between five and 15 years in prison. The Bulgarian press claims that 100 mortars were involved in the Albanian deal and speculated that they might have ended up in the former Yugoslavia. Gen. Agim Baruti, Albania's deputy chief of staff, was quoted by 24 chasa as saying no mortars were ordered by the Albanian Defense Ministry. * Stefan Krause

Prices for electricity and heating will sharply rise as of 1 March, Demokratsiya reported on 17 February. Government spokesman Nikola Baltov announced that heating prices will go up by 80%, while electricity for industry will increase by 28.4% and for private households by 47%. Almost all fuel used in Bulgaria's state-owned power industry has to be imported. The World Bank, which has lent Bulgaria $93 million for improvements in the country's power sector, criticized the government for keeping down electricity prices. The government has set aside 583 million leva ($8.8 million) to help 350,000 of the poorest households cope with the hikes. * Stefan Krause

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave