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Newsline - February 21, 1995

Western journalists in Grozny reported renewed small arms fire and sporadic shelling in the south of the city on 20 February, following the expiration of the cease-fire. In an appeal carried by ITAR-TASS, the commander of Russian federal troops in Chechnya, Col.-Gen. Anatoly Kulikov, called on the Chechen population to cease hostilities immediately, release all hostages and prisoners, and surrender heavy weapons. He then advocated the formation of new bodies of self-government and talks with federal representatives. Chechen presidential spokesman Movladi Udugov said the Interior Ministry commander of Russian troops in Chechnya, General Kvashnin, had held talks with Chechen military Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov and that the two men had agreed to avoid further fighting, Ekho Moskvy reported on 20 February. They also agreed that further talks on a settlement should be conducted by politicians rather than military representatives. Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 20 February, the head of the Chechen government of national revival, Salambek Khadzhiev, asserted that there was no point in conducting peace talks with Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev. He claimed that he controlled seven of Chechnya's 12 raions, but admitted only new elections could restore "legitimate power" in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

The first open session of the Duma commission investigating the Chechen conflict, turned into a parade of former top Soviet and Russian officials, Russian TV reported. None of the officials still in power in Russia has agreed to address the session. The hearing opened with a film showing scenes from the war zone. Valery Tishkov, the former chairman of the Russian state committee on nationalities, said military intervention was not necessary, because Dudaev had been willing to negotiate with the Russian government on the eve of the attack. Former Russian parliamentary speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov predicted the entire North Caucasus would secede because of Yeltsin's mishandling of the Chechen crisis. On the eve of the first Russian operation against Grozny on 26 November 1994, Khasbulatov said Dudaev had been immensely unpopular in Chechnya, but the intervention has made him a national hero. The possibility of using force against Dudaev had been raised as early as November 1993, according to former acting Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar. Gaidar said he had managed to convince Yeltsin at the time, that such an option could lead to major bloodshed and a guerrilla war in the Caucasian mountains. Human Rights Commissioner Sergei Kovalev, claimed the military attacks on civilians in Chechnya had caused tens of thousands of deaths during the first two months of fighting. The head of the pro-Moscow puppet Chechen government, Khadzhiev, was the only speaker at the session who said that achieving a truce with Dudaev was impossible. All the rest demanded a stop to the fighting. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc.

Many speakers at the Duma hearings offered opinions on who was to blame for the Chechen crisis.
Vladimir Kryuchkov, last Communist chairman of the KGB and a leader of the August 1991 coup against former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, said the KGB detected signs of a potential explosion in the republic before August 1991, when radicals in President Boris Yeltsin's entourage began promoting Dudaev because of his opposition to the coup plotters. Yusup Soslambekov, former Chechen parliament speaker under Dudaev, said the Chechen president owed his power to Yeltsin's top democratic allies at the time--namely, Gennady Burbulis, Mikhail Poltoranin, and Galina Starovoitova. Soslambekov suggested that Russian forces be replaced by peacekeeping troops, to be made up of Tartar, Backer, Calmed, and North Caucasian soldiers. Former Russian Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi said Yeltsin must be held responsible because he prevented the declaration of a state of emergency in Chechnya in November 1991, before Dudaev began forming his army. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc.

Russian airborne commander Gen. Yevgeny Podkolzin said lack of preparation caused the large initial losses in the Chechen operation, Interfax reported on 20 February. He also cited the failure to prepare public opinion properly, the lack of better trained troops caused by the seasonal rotation of servicemen in November, and the weather factor which caused aircraft to fly higher and drop bombs with less accuracy. He added that the Federal Counterintelligence Service (FCS) could have provided better information for the operation. The FCS later dismissed Podkolzin's charges as "personal opinion" in a statement read on Ostankino Television. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

The Russian military showed restraint in its initial attack on Grozny in order to limit casualties, according to Gen. Gennady Ivanov, who was representing Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev at the Duma hearings, ITAR-TASS reported. He said Grozny was assaulted because the military leaders feared a rear attack after moving into Chechnya. He added, "There was no storming of Grozny, only slow pressure" by Russian forces. A full scale assault on Grozny would have required first mass air and artillery barrages. Only then would troops have entered the city "where there would have been no one left to shoot and no place to shoot from." He said the Chechen forces numbered 30,000 initially, backed by 7,000 fighters from elsewhere. Russians troops at the beginning of the campaign numbered less than 11,000, although they had clear superiority in equipment. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

The Defense Ministry has notified the State Duma that it faces "a catastrophe" in recruiting unless the present rules on deferments and length of service are changed, Interfax reported on 20 February. The military reported that only one-fifth of the men in the draft pool are actually drafted, with the rest taking advantage of one of the 21 reasons for deferment. Unless the rules are changed, the ministry predicted it would induct no more than 100,000 men this year--only 60% of its requirements. To remedy this problem, the ministry proposed that vocational school students, men having young children, and those with elderly parents no longer be allowed to escape the draft. It also proposed that army service for inductees be increased to 24 months from the present 18. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

The Russian Defense Ministry has called off plans for a joint German-Russian peacekeeping exercise originally scheduled for this summer, Interfax reported on 20 February. A Russian military official cited comments on Chechnya by the Bundeswehr command and German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe as the reason. He said Ruehe's statements "can be considered only as interference in Russia's domestic affairs." -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

President Bill Clinton has no reason to put off a visit to Russia, President Yeltsin's spokesman Vyacheslav Kostikov said on 20 February in reaction to reports that the U.S. president would not come until after the Chechen conflict is resolved, AFP reported. The spokesman said there would be no reaction from Yeltsin. The Russian government had invited Clinton to a summit to coincide with the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany on 8 May. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

Russia's Constitutional Court passed a resolution on 20 February creating two equal chambers, Interfax reported. Although one chamber has ten members and the other only nine, both chambers are empowered to judge the constitutionality of federal laws and presidential or governmental decisions. Members of the larger chamber are: Judges Marat Baglai, Nikolai Vitruk, Gadis Gadzhiev, Anatoly Kononov, Tamara Morshakova, Yury Rudkin, Nikolai Seleznev, Oleg Tyunov, Boris Ebzeev, and Vladimir Yaroslavtsev. The smaller chamber is composed of: Judges Ernest Ametistov, Nikolai Vedernikov, Yury Danilov, Valery Zorkin, Viktor Luchin, Vladimir Aleinik, Vladimir Strekozov, Vladimir Tumanov, and Olga Khokhryakova. Both chambers will have a rotating chairmanship. Ametistov told Interfax that the court considered "about one third of seventy [pending] appeals" on 20 February. Most of the cases were simply sent back to the archive. Ametistov expects the court to finish reviewing the other applications in the next several days. He told Interfax that no appeal had been filed to consider the constitutionality of the president's decrees authorizing the use of force in Chechnya. On 10 February, the Federation Council had voted to ask the court to look into this matter. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

The state-run TV channel Ostankino announced on 20 February that it would stop broadcasting commercials until there are strict rules to regulate them in the interests of "the economic development of society and ethical standards." The statement did not say how the station would compensate for the resulting huge loss of revenue. Two days earlier, Yeltsin imposed a ban on media advertising of tobacco and alcohol, which advertising executives estimate could cost Russia as much as $1 billion in direct investment over the next five years, agencies reported. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

The Russian ruble lost 25 points on MICEX trading, closing at 4,339 rubles to $1 on 20 February, the Financial Information Agency reported. A total of $53.5 million was sold, with initial demand at $53.52 million and initial supply at $40.32 million. Forty-two commercial banks participated. The Central Bank of Russia was the most active trading participant, selling $13 million. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

Since 16 February, the Central Bank of Russia has recalled the licenses of 10 commercial banks which have violated policies, including issuing risky credit, Interfax reported on 20 February. From January to November 1994, the central bank recalled licenses from 52 commercial banks. There are about 2,500 commercial banks officially registered in Russia. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

A press briefing scheduled to announce the preliminary results of the Kyrgyz runoff elections on 20 February was canceled following complaints from dissatisfied candidates and allegations of widespread irregularities, Interfax and Reuters reported. Voter participation was only 61%. A Central Electoral Commission spokesman said another round of voting is scheduled for 26 February in those constituencies where less than half the registered voters participated, Interfax reported. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.


President Yeltsin arrived in Minsk on 21 February to sign a comprehensive treaty on friendship and cooperation with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, international agencies reported. Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimir Syanko stressed that the agreement was not merely an arrangement to enable Belarus to receive energy supplies from Russia at reduced prices. Rather, he said that it would ease trade barriers and that any documents which infringed upon Belarusian sovereignty would not be signed. The nationalist opposition Belarusian Popular Front has said it will denounce the treaty if its members win a majority of parliamentary seats in the May elections. Belarusian Communist Party leader Viktar Chikin also criticized the agreement, but for different reasons, Interfax reported. "It [is] unusual for parents and children to sign friendship and cooperation treaties," he said. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

An internal European Union Commission document, leaked to the news agency Reuters, states that Eastern Europe lacks the institutions and infrastructure to join the EU. Reuters on 17 February reported the document as saying that attempts by the East European countries to adopt EU rules "would be an empty exercise if the organizational and institutional structures which must underpin the measures are absent." -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Vitaliy Masol, in an interview with Ukrainian Television, said he supported President Leonid Kuchma's efforts to win strong executive powers and implement political reforms, but he could not agree with the president on the need to maintain the post of prime minister, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 20 February. Masol said a prime minister would not be necessary if a strong Presidency were established by the constitutional bill on the separation of government powers proposed by Kuchma. Kuchma has said that he favors keeping the post within a reformed government. The prime minister also voiced frustration over the lack of a new Ukrainian Constitution, which has fueled a political struggle between parliament and the president." He said the constitutional bill on the division of powers was only a temporary solution and stressed the need for a new constitution to be approved within a year. -- Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.

The Ukrainian government is planning to issue state bonds worth $100 million this spring to finance the country's budget deficit, Viktor Pynzenyk, deputy premier in charge of economic reforms, told the UNIAN agency on 20 February. Pynzenyk said the bonds would have a monthly interest rate of 5-10% and would be backed directly by the state budget. The Ministry of Finances is currently determining how and where the bonds will be sold. -- Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.

Lieut.-Gen. Mikhail Lopatin, head of the Ukrainian Air Defense Forces, told a Kiev news conference on 20 February that up to 40% of his interceptors were unable to fly because of a shortage of money. Interfax quotes him as saying that in 1994, his troops were provided with only 30% of the fuel and lubricants they required. But he nevertheless assessed the general state of Ukraine's air defenses as satisfactory. He praised the agreement on a united CIS air defense system, saying Ukraine would benefit in repairing equipment, buying spare parts, and using Russian training sites. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

AFP on 21 February reported that EU finance ministers have agreed in principle to a 75 million ECU economic aid package to Belarus, but the aid will be confirmed only after the EU has reviewed the criteria for granting assistance to countries that may not necessarily become members of the union. Several factors have prompted the review, including Germany's desire to set a new standard allowing aid to countries whose stability is of crucial importance to the union. Meanwhile, Ukrainian radio reported on 17 February that Ukrainian Finance Minister Petro Hermanchuk received a letter from Henning Christopherson, vice president of the European Commission, regarding a 130 million ECU credit to Ukraine. The letter demanded that Ukraine make payments on the credit and its interest, as agreed when the credit was issued. Ukraine has apparently failed to meet its 1994 obligations. So far, the Ukrainian Finance Ministry has not replied to the letter. This is jeopardizing credits from other international organizations--including a new 85 million ecu ($111 million) credit from the European Commission--and financing from companies in France, Italy, Germany, and other European countries. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

The congress in Jurmala on 17 February, attended by Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis and ambassador to Moscow Janis Peters, adopted a new party program describing the Farmers' Union as a center party whose main goal is "ensuring the welfare of Latvia's residents in a free and independent country," Labrit reported on 18 February. Former Agriculture Minister Janis Kinna said that talks will begin with Latvia's Christian Democratic Union and the Latgale Democratic Party on the formation of a pre-election coalition. The congress reelected Andris Rozentals as board chairman, with Ansis Grundulis as Central Revision Commission chairman, and Antonijs Zunda as secretary. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

Lithuanian National Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius told reporters on 20 February that members of the armed forces committed 4,296 infractions in 1994, RFE/RL's Lithuanian Service reports. There were 2,014 incidents of hazing by older soldiers. Ninety-six cases were taken to courts, 46 of which ended with convictions. Twenty-two soldiers died in 1994, of which five from beatings. Linkevicius said that discipline in the armed forces was improving and would be helped if the parliament passed a law on national defense and created a military police. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

The Polish National Bank, in an effort to fight a new surge of inflation, has raised interest rates for the first time in four years, Gazeta Wyborcza reported on 21 February. The rediscount rate rose from 28% to 31%, the Lombard rate from 31% to 34%, and the refinance rate from 33% to 35%. Prices climbed by 3.9% in January, far in excess of the government's initial forecast of 2.6%. Higher food prices (potato prices rose by 50% in a single month) were the chief cause. In light of anticipated high wage growth, NBP President Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz said the bank wanted to encourage the public to save rather than spend. The NBP slowed the monthly devaluation rate of the zloty from 1.4% to 1.2% on 16 February to fight the inflationary impact of growing hard currency reserves (which rose by $2.5 billion in 1994). The government approved an "anti-inflationary package," including duty-free imports of 1.5 million tons of grain and 100,000 tons of sugar on 7 February. But Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak delayed implementing these measures, apparently because his Polish Peasant Party's farming constituency is the chief beneficiary of higher food prices. In other economic news, the NBP reported that last year's 24.8% increase in exports helped reduce Poland's current account deficit to $944 million, from $2.329 billion in 1993. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

Juraj Schenk visited Bonn on 17 February to confirm Slovakia's Western orientation, Narodna obroda reported on 18 February. In a lecture to the German Foreign Policy Association, Schenk asked NATO to extend its security guarantees eastward to better protect Central European countries. Schenk also met with his German counterpart, Klaus Kinkel. Meanwhile, opposition parties have been critical of Slovakia's recent agreements with Russia, signed during Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's visit to Slovakia on 13-14 February. In a press conference on 20 February, Party of the Democratic Left Deputy Chairwoman Brigita Schmoegnerova said that some of the twelve agreements will have a positive effect, but she criticized others, including the accord on military-economic cooperation, Pravda reports. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

Economy Minister Jan Ducky on 20 February met with representatives of the Slovak Trade Union of Power Engineers. Union chairman Jozef Kollar told journalists following the meeting that discussions focused on the industry's privatization. Kollar said he opposes privatization through the coupon method--advocated by the government of former Prime Minister Jozef Moravcik--arguing that the firms should be managed by experts, not coupon holders. He also stressed that profits should be reinvested rather than distributed as dividends and that Slovakia should wait for 3-5 years to privatize the industry, Narodna obroda reports. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn and Alliance of Free Democrats chairman Ivan Peto on 20 February announced the nomination of Tamas Suchman as minister without portfolio in charge of privatization, MTI reports. Peto stressed that his party accepted Horn's decision but did not agree with Suchman's nomination, arguing that an expert and not a party politician should fill the post. Suchman is a member of the Hungarian Socialist Party parliament faction and is said to belong to circles close to Horn. According to Nepszabadsag of 8 February, Suchman has called for a greater role for the state in the economy and advocated closer supervision of the privatization agencies in order to combat corruption. -- Edith Oltay, OMRI, Inc.

OSCE High Commissioner for Minorities Max van der Stoel called for restraint following clashes between ethnic Albanians and Macedonian police sparked by the crackdown on the self-proclaimed Albanian-language University in Tetovo. Van der Stoel met with President Kiro Gligorov and advocated a more comprehensive law on higher education. He also met with Abdurrahman Aliti, leader of the Party of Democratic Prosperity, and other Albanian representatives, Flaka reported on 21 February. Following the police crackdown, one ethnic Albanian died in armed riots and seven were sentenced to 30 days in prison for disturbing the peace. The Democratic Forum of Gostivar on 20 February released a statement saying police raided the forum's office on 17 February, destroyed furniture, and arrested activists. Meanwhile, vandals demolished 30 tombstones in a Moslem graveyard in Kumanovo, international agencies reported on 20 February. Macedonian Radio linked the incident to the clashes in Tetovo. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

The Washington Post reports on 21 February about disputes between the UN and NATO over violations of the no-fly zone over Bosnia and Herzegovina. The newspaper points out that all sides use aircraft freely because they know there is no serious possibility that NATO planes will go after them. In the latest development, UN observers recently saw large transport aircraft of uncertain origin unload high-tech equipment for Bosnian government forces near Tuzla. NATO, however, said that no such mission took place and asked the UN to change its report. The newspaper suggests that NATO is trying to get the UN to cover up for its own incompetence. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Nasa Borba says on 21 February that Bosnian and Krajina Serbs set up a joint military council at Banja Luka the previous day. Their respective leaders, Radovan Karadzic and Milan Martic, announced the setting up of the Supreme Defense Council, which provides for joint defense and mutual assistance in keeping with a 1993 pact between the two rebel Serbian states. Elsewhere in Bosnia, international media report that Krajina Serbs on 20 February stopped a UN relief convoy heading for Bihac and forced it to Velika Kladusa, which is under the control of local kingpin Fikret Abdic. The Serbs had promised to let the relief vehicles through to the besieged town, where some 20% of the population is reportedly threatened with starvation. The BBC on 21 February said the UN is trying to negotiate the release and safe passage of the convoy. Finally, news agencies report a sharp increase in fighting on 20 February in the narrow but strategic Posavina corridor in northern Bosnia. The route provides a land bridge between Serbia, on the one hand, and Serb-held territories in Bosnia and Croatia on the other. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Vecernji list on 18 February reported that Prime Minister Nikica Valentic visited Istria to discuss the peninsula's economic development. Istria has a strong regional movement that is at odds with Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, who regards any form of regionalism as virtually identical with secession. The Constitutional Court last month struck out key passages of a regional statute that would have provided wide autonomy for Istria and its Italian minority. Valentic's visit was obviously aimed at repairing some of the political damage caused by the court's ruling. Meanwhile, Vjesnik on 20 February noted that the Roman Catholic Church would welcome the introduction of private television. The ruling Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) has tried to maintain a virtual monopoly on the electronic media, with most exceptions limited to entertainment programs. Also on 20 February, Novi list reported on the latest congress of the right-wing Croatian Party of [Historic] Rights, led by Dobroslav Paraga. He used the occasion to stress his party's historic support for an alliance of Muslims and Croats and to lambaste the HDZ. Two leading politicians from the left of center, Stipe Mesic and Silvije Degen, likewise railed against the ruling party. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

AFP on 17 February reported that Janez Drnovsek left Beijing the same day after an official four-day state visit to China. In meetings with high officials, including Drnovsek's Chinese counterpart, Li Peng, economic issues reportedly took center stage. Drnovsek was accompanied by 20 leading Slovenian businessmen. -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

Cluj county prefect Grigore Zanc harshly criticized the 18 February inaugural meeting of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania's National Council for Self-Administration, composed of locally elected HDFR representatives. Radio Bucharest on 20 February quoted him as saying the meeting was held without his knowledge and approval, which, he said, is proof of its "clandestine, tendentious, and anti-constitutional" character. Also on 20 February, Zanc released a communique--signed jointly with extreme-nationalist Mayor of Cluj Gheorghe Funar and the chairman of the Cluj county council--saying the council contravened both the constitution and the Law on National Security. They called on the Prosecutor-General's office to take legal measures against the council and ordered the Cluj county local authorities to ban its activities. Funar said in an interview with the Austrian daily Standard on 18 February that an armed conflict between Romanians and ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania cannot be ruled out. He also claimed that more than half a million of the 1.7 million Magyars in Romania were Gypsies, whom the HDFR has allegedly "blackmailed or bought" to register as ethnic Hungarians. In reality, he said "there are no more than 300,000 Romanians of Hungarian origin in Romania." -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

Nicolae Vacaroiu, beginning a two-day visit to Chisinau, met with his Moldovan counterpart, Andrei Sangheli, and President Mircea Snegur on 20 February. Vacaroiu handed Snegur a message from President Ion Iliescu reiterating "Romania's support for the consolidation of Moldova's independence," Radio Bucharest reported. He said it was necessary to continue the dialogue between the two countries in order to "eliminate suspicions and re-establish trust." He also noted that their joint aim was to "intensify the process of economic integration" and to "consolidate relations in the common cultural and spiritual space." He called for speeding up the process of drafting a basic treaty between Moldova and Romania. Snegur, for his part, said that regaining and safeguarding the Eastern markets was important for all former communist countries, including Romania. "Moldova cannot live in isolation" and the need for cooperation has prompted its "return to the CIS," he said. Interfax quoted Snegur as saying he favored the idea of establishing free-trade zones along the Romanian-Moldovan border. On the eve of Vacaroiu's departure to Chisinau, Radio Bucharest revealed that the premier and two of the ministers accompanying him were born in what is now the Republic of Moldova. The radio station, sounding an irredentist note, quoted one of the ministers as saying "we are going home." -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

Delegations from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank asked for further price hikes on electricity, according to the Bulgarian press on 21 February. Kontinent reported that the delegations, on a working visit to Sofia, asked for price increases twice as high as those announced by the Bulgarian government on 16 February. Bulgaria agreed to raise the price from 1.9 to 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. In return, the IMF and the World Bank agreed to lend Bulgaria $93 million for improvements in the country's power sector. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

Greece rounded up and deported 889 illegal Albanian immigrants on 18-19 February, Reuters reported. According to a police spokesman, the move followed an increase in the number of Albanians trying to cross illegally into Greece. Border patrols have reportedly been reinforced. About 300,000 illegal immigrants from Albania are working in Greece. Meanwhile, Albanian Deputy Foreign Minister Arjan Starova has confirmed that Greek Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias will visit Albania in March. Starova said he expects the talks to focus on Albania's Greek minority, Albanian immigrants in Greece, and border issues. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave