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Newsline - February 22, 1995

Russian troops launched a new offensive against the last pockets of Chechen resistance in the northeast and south of Grozny as well as in Argun and Gudermes, Western agencies reported on 21 February. They succeeded in gaining control of the last road leading into Grozny. Meanwhile, three separate proposals by the Chechen leadership to Russian military headquarters in Mozdok to cease hostilities remained unanswered, ITAR-TASS reported. A Russian military spokesman denied Chechen presidential spokesman Movladi Udugov's statement of 20 February that Chechen and Russian commanders had agreed not to resume hostilities, Interfax reported. In Moscow, Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev said no talks would be held with Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev's representatives, ITAR-TASS reported. A Chechen delegation headed to Nazran for a further round of Ingush-mediated talks with the Russian federal military command was intercepted at the Chechen-Ingush border by Russian Interior Ministry troops and refused permission to enter Ingushetia. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

Around 8,000 soldiers and officers have been wounded in Chechnya, according to Col.-Gen. Yevgeny Vysotsky, head of the Defense Ministry's Personnel Department, Interfax reported on 21 February. He said those servicemen would be offered new jobs "corresponding to their physical ability." Vysotsky said most of them might end up in administrative jobs. The individual's requests would be considered and they would be sent to units near their homes. He also indicated that many wounded enlisted personnel would be promoted to warrant officer. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

Russian Human Rights Commissioner Sergei Kovalev estimates that some 24,000 people in Grozny and the surrounding area died between 25 November 1994 and 25 January 1995, the Czech daily Lidove noviny reported. Kovalev said most of those were unarmed civilians, including 3,700 children under the age of 15. He said a special method was used to arrive at the estimates and the numbers could be off by up to 20%. An estimated 400,000 people have been displaced by the war in Chechnya. Kovalev attacked the UN commission for human rights for adopting an attitude of "indifferent cynicism" towards the war. He said he is preparing for another trip to the republic. -- Victor Gomez, OMRI, Inc.

First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets has been appointed head of the state commission for restoring the economy in Chechnya, Interfax reported on 20 February. In line with a Russian government resolution, signed by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, the commission includes leaders of all federal ministries and departments, including the Federal Counterintelligence Service and the Federal Border Service. Soskovets said the commission will "take decisive measures to restore Chechnya's economy." Among the first steps to restore normal life, he said, is to resume paying wages to the republic's inhabitants. In addition, Soskovets announced that a number of enterprises in Chechnya will be privatized by auction and the money obtained will be used to help the republic's economy recover. Soskovets noted that Chechnya's oil complex will remain state-owned for some time. He also mentioned that the company Lukoil is showing interest in the restoration of oil-producing and refining installations in Chechnya. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

Grigory Yavlinsky, the most popular politician in Russia according to recent polls, appeared on the 21 February edition of Ostankino TV's "Rush Hour." The interview, conducted by the station's director, Vladislav Listev, appeared to be an ice-breaking event, given that both major Russian TV channels have so far been reluctant to cover Yavlinsky's campaign for the presidency. Yavlinsky, an economist who heads the liberal Yabloko faction in the State Duma, reasserted his doubts on whether the forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections would be fair. He also reaffirmed his party's unwillingness to form a coalition with former acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, unless he "recognizes the fatal political errors" of the past few years. Speaking in an unusually frank manner by Russian standards, Yavlinsky revealed that his father was Russian and his mother is Jewish. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc.

The congress of Afghan war veterans almost unanimously nominated Gen. Aleksandr Lebed as its candidate for the next presidential election, Ostankino TV's "Vremya" reported on 21 February. Lebed, the controversial commander of the 14th Russian Army stationed in the self-proclaimed Dniestr republic of Moldova, served in Afghanistan during the Russian invasion of that country in the 1980s. The congress was attended by many important Russian politicians, such as Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov, who also served in Afghanistan, and former Soviet Deputy Defense Minister Valentin Varennikov. Despite the conservative mood that prevailed at the congress, the veterans adopted a resolution condemning the Russian Army's intervention in Chechnya, Ostankino reported. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc.

The Democratic Party of Russia will draw up its own list to contest the parliamentary elections, according to Yevgeny Malkin, the party's political council chairman, Interfax reported on 21 February. The party will launch its election campaign and adopt a new program at a conference to be held in May, the fifth anniversary of its founding. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

Alexei Yablokov, chairman of the Security Council commission for ecological security, said the nuclear plant in Bushehr, Iran, that is to be rebuilt with Russian help, will be capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 February. His remarks contradict assurances given last week by a Nuclear Power Ministry spokesman that the reactor could not produce weapons-grade material. Another Russian official, Yury Vishnevsky, head of the government's nuclear oversight committee, said Iran could use the reactors to generate electricity and pay a third country to produce plutonium with the spent fuel rods. The U.S. is urging Russia to cancel the Bushehr project to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

The Russian military is not satisfied with the budget submitted to the State Duma for consideration, Defense Minister Grachev said at a Minsk news conference on 21 February. He claimed it amounted to only one-third of the military's needs. Grachev added that the military was not a creation of its military leaders but "a powerful state institution meant for the provision of Russian security. The country will have order only when everyone starts working for that institution and quits saying it consumes the whole budget and Russia is weak," ITAR-TASS reported. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

The government does not plan to consider a Defense Ministry proposal to draft students into the military and to extend the term of military service, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin said, addressing a meeting of the Women of Russia faction in the State Duma on 21 February. The previous day, the ministry said the armed forces faced "a catastrophe" unless such measures were taken, Interfax reported. The military plans to sharply reduce the number of educational institutions with military faculties which entitle students to receive deferments. Their number would drop from 256 to 80. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

The State Duma budget committee will propose that the Russian parliament allocate another 20 trillion rubles for top-priority branches of the economy on 22 February, Interfax reported on 21 February. According to the Financial Information Agency, the committee expects to obtain the money by cutting about 14 trillion rubles (4,357 rubles/$1) in miscellaneous expenditures and half a trillion rubles in maintenance of the state apparatus. In addition, a special 1.5% tax could generate 5.3 trillion rubles. Committee chairman Mikhail Zadornov told a news conference that the additional funds would be used to finance investment programs (3.356 trillion rubles), offset last year's agricultural debt (1 trillion rubles), repay a debt to the defense ministry for purchases of arms and equipment in 1994 (2 trillion rubles), and subsidize the coal mining industry (1 trillion rubles). It is proposed to use part of the money to finance culture (150 billion rubles), health care (250 billion rubles), and support elite universities (300 billion rubles). -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

An environmental group in Komi said that between August 1994 and January 1995 the republic's Usinsk region was contaminated by 400,000 tons of oil-containing liquid, Russian and Western agencies reported on 21 February. Last year, an estimated 60,000-100,000 tons of oil leaked from defective pipelines in the republic, polluting the Pechora River basin which flows into the Arctic Ocean. There were two more accidents in January, but those caused less damage. The World Bank has offered the Komineft corporation a $100 million loan to replace the Vozei-Usinsk pipeline and finance the clean-up operation. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

The CIS countries have run up a 15-trillion-ruble debt with Russia as of 1 January 1995, Deputy Minister for CIS Cooperation Vladimir Pokrovsky said on 20 February, Interfax reported. Gennady Galakhov, the head of the Russian Government Department for Relations with the CIS Countries, said Russia exported 31 trillion rubles worth of goods to CIS countries but imported only 28 trillion rubles in 1994. The trade and debt picture are determined largely by the export of oil to Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. Pokrovsky also said the process of putting together the executive bodies of the CIS economic committee was moving slowly because several CIS countries have yet to appoint a representative. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

No report today.

Russian President Yeltsin and his Belarusian counterpart Alyaksandr Lukashenka signed three treaties in Minsk on 21 February, international agencies reported. The first was a broad accord on friendship and cooperation valid for ten years and then renewable upon mutual assent. The two men also signed an agreement on customs regulations and an agreement on the joint protection of borders. Despite the fanfare attached to the agreements, preliminary analysis indicates they do not represent any real steps toward integration. Earlier agreements, such as the one on monetary union signed in 1994, have not been implemented. The latest accord has been opposed by the Belarusian nationalist opposition and watered down so that the country receives few of the benefits it hoped for, reducing it to a letter of intent for future cooperation. So far Russia has not lifted customs restrictions on Belarusian imports and has continued to heavily tax oil shipped to Belarus. As for any military coalition, Russian Defense Minister Grachev said it is too early to speak of Russian-Belarusian coalition forces, but that two early-warning systems on Belarusian territory will be under Russian jurisdiction. On the issue of joint defense, the agreement only calls for consultations in the event that one of the two countries is attacked. Previously, Belarusian politicians have resisted any alliance that would require their forces to serve outside the country. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has hesitated over signing an agreement with the IMF which would release $1.3 billion in standby credits, Western agencies reported on 22 February. Ukraine needs the credits to finance a balance of payments deficit estimated to be $5-6 billion for 1995, but Kuchma appears reluctant to agree to two IMF demands. One is that Ukraine's budget deficit be limited to 5% of GDP. This would mean cutting subsidies to unprofitable state industries and the agricultural sector. Such a move is strongly opposed by the industrial lobby and Ukraine's leftist-dominated parliament. The other condition is the liberalization of foreign trade. Ukraine's foreign trade ministry has been unwilling to relinquish control over trade and exporters must register every deal with the ministry and have an "indicative price" ascribed to it by the state. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Members of left-wing parties and organizations are planning to picket outside Ukrainian Television and Radio's broadcasting facilities in Kiev on 22 February to protest what they call an anti-communist bias in its programming, Interfax-Ukraine and Radio Ukraine reported on 21 February. Organizers of the protest have accused the state broadcasting company of violating their civil rights by denying them fair and equal access to the airwaves, especially the right to respond to what they say is the prevalent nationalist and even fascist propaganda in its programs. Leftist forces have complained that there were too few programs in Russian and that many broadcasts tended to distort historical events and ignored the positive aspects and achievements of the Soviet era. -- Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.

The Commander of the Ukrainian Navy, Vice Admiral Volodymyr Bezkorovainy, has said that Balaklava Bay near Sevastopol is being considered as a potential base for Ukraine's navy, Interfax reported on 21 February. According to Bezkorovainy, the bays of Sevastopolskaya and Yuzhnaya in the city of Sevastopol will be leased to the Russian navy while Ukraine may base its vessels in the bays of Kazachya, Streletskaya and Karatinnaya within city limits. Russian naval commanders had earlier opposed sharing Sevastopol as a naval base with Ukraine's navy, while Ukrainian commanders were hostile towards leasing bays in Sevastopol for the Russian share of the Black Sea Fleet. The latest statement indicates that both sides have compromised over the issue. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Grzegorz Kolodko criticized the decision by the National Bank of Poland to raise interest rates on 21 February, Radio Warsaw reported. Kolodko said the move was counterproductive, as it would merely heighten inflationary expectations. He also condemned the rate rise as a "political decision" and charged that the central bank had become a fourth "presidential ministry." President Lech Walesa nominated National Bank President Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz for the banking post; she had supported Walesa in his presidential election campaign. Responding to Kolodko's comments, Gronkiewicz-Waltz said that "whenever someone lacks economic or substantive arguments, politics is always to blame." Prime minister candidate Jozef Oleksy had more temperate criticism of the bank, arguing that the government should have been consulted. He called the bank's autonomy disturbing. Meanwhile, coalition talks on the new cabinet bogged down amid new personnel conflicts, and Oleksy admitted that he had no idea when they would likely conclude. A day earlier Oleksy had estimated his chances of forming a government at 60%. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, Confederation of Slovak Trade Unions President Alojz Englis, and Association of Employers President Michal Lach signed a three-party General Agreement for 1995 on 21 February, Praca reported. The agreement was originally to be signed on 15 February; however, controversy between the cabinet and trade unions over wage regulations led the unions to delay signing the agreement. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

The Slovak cabinet named at its 21 February session the members of the government's new council for mass media, which will be an advisory organ without decision-making powers. Deputy Premier Katarina Tothova will serve as council chairwoman, and Minister of Culture Ivan Hudec will be deputy chairman. Aside from the two government members, the 20-member council includes three parliamentary deputies from the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia; the directors of Slovak TV, Radio and the state news agency TASR; and four members of the Association of Slovak Journalists (formerly known as the Club for a True Picture of Slovakia). Only one member of the Slovak Syndicate of Journalists is represented, Sme reports. Still, Tothova said the members represent "a wide spectrum of experts." The cabinet also approved the creation of a new Ministry of Construction and Public Works, which was pushed forward by the Association of Slovak Workers. Jan Mraz of the ASW was appointed minister in December. The Ministry of Transportation, Communications, and Public Works will be changed to the Ministry of Transportation, Post, and Telecommunications, Narodna obroda reports. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

The results of an opinion poll conducted by the Center for Empirical Studies (STEM) published in Czech media on 21 February indicate that the popularity of President Vaclav Havel has grown in recent weeks, while the popularity of Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus has dropped. About 75% of the poll's respondents said they trusted Havel, 7% more than in October 1994; only 54% said they trusted Klaus, 10% less than in October. According to STEM researchers, the president has support among members of all political parties, whereas support for Klaus has diminished among those who are not members of his Civic Democratic Party. The drop in the premier's popularity is thought to be have been caused by growing tension within the ruling coalition. -- Jiri Pehe, OMRI, Inc.

In his hour-long annual address to the parliament on 21 February, Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas noted that Lithuania's Gross Domestic Product increased in 1994, the first time that had occurred in five years, RFE/RL's Lithuanian Service reported. He added that inflation was less than 5% of what it was in 1992, and said that trade with the West was greater than with the CIS, although Russia remained Lithuania's main trading partner. Brazauskas said exports must be increased to diminish the existing foreign trade deficit. Implementation of laws and resolutions was the weakest part of the government, he noted. Speaking on foreign policy strategy, he said that the primary focus will be greater integration into European political, economic, and defense systems. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

By a 35-1 vote (with two abstentions) the Estonian parliament on 21 February passed a new language law, based on similar legislation in 1934, BNS reported. The law will go into effect on 1 April, replacing a 1989 law that State Law Commission Chairman Mart Nutt described as "a law of the Estonian SSR that was not fit for an independent country." The law defines Estonian as the official language and requires its use by the Estonian armed forces. In areas where an ethnic minority comprise the majority of the residents, its language can be used as an internal administration language in local government bodies. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski accused Albania of interfering in its internal affairs, Western agencies reported on 21 February. Crvenkovski said at a news conference that by supporting the self-proclaimed Albanian-language University in Tetovo, the Albanian government "encourages illegal acts, even if only verbally." Albania sharply criticized the conduct of the Macedonian government after police cracked down on the university on 17 February. One ethnic Albanian died in a subsequent riot. Meanwhile Albanian Deputy Foreign Minister Arjan Starova said that the Albanian government will "reconsider the political course towards Skopje," Gazeta Shqiptare reported on 22 February. Relations between both countries had improved in the past three years, but mutual confidence suffers from the Albanian minority conflict in Macedonia. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

The Los Angeles Times reports on 22 February on the Croatian visit of EU external affairs commissioner Hans van den Broek, which is one of a series of high-level contacts underway or soon to take place between Zagreb and Brussels or Strasbourg. Commenting on President Franjo Tudjman's decision to end UNPROFOR's mandate when it expires on 31 March, van den Broek said that "it was quite clear that his decision was irreversible." A UN spokesman added that there is "a real danger of an immediate return to war" as a result of both sides trying to take strategic positions once UNPROFOR abandons them. This view was echoed by Dobroslav Paraga, the leader of the right-wing Croatian Party of [Historic] Rights. Nasa Borba quotes him as saying that "the departure of UNPROFOR from the occupied territories would just be the lead-in to a big war with the Krajina Serbs, who would be backed by Karadzic's Bosnian Serbs, and then the [rump] Yugoslav army." -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

The ambassadors to the UN from Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina jointly protested to the world body against Serbia-Montenegro's claim to be the legitimate successor to Tito's Yugoslavia, Hina reported on 21 February. Belgrade made the demand in order to automatically acquire seats in international organizations and valuable properties around the world. Zagreb, Ljubljana, and Sarajevo point out that federal Yugoslavia has long ceased to exist and that all successor states must be treated equally. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Back in Krajina, UN negotiator Yasushi Akashi held talks with rebel Serb leaders on 21 February to try and persuade them to stop holding hostage 10 relief trucks headed for Bihac. He told Reuters that he saw "a glimmer of hope" and that "there is a willingness to commence fruitful dialogue and that's the first time they have made an indication of that kind." A UN refugee spokesman saw things a bit differently, saying that "the bottom line is both the Abdic forces and the Krajina Serbs are using food as a weapon of war, trying to deny food to the people of Bihac." Meanwhile, the Serbs still have the trucks. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

On 22 February Politika reports on the apparent growing cooperation between three of Serbia's main opposition parties--the Democratic Party (led by Zoran Djindjic), the Democratic Party of Serbia (led by Vojislav Kostunica), and the controversial Serbian Radical Party (led by the accused war criminal Vojislav Seselj), which now includes "an opposition agreement on the defense of the independent media." In other news, on 22 February The New York Times reports that the UN Security Council appears to have "reached an agreement that could allow a steady flow of Russian natural gas into both the capital of Bosnia and to Yugoslavia, which includes Serbia and Montenegro." -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

Csaba Takacs, executive president of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania, told an RFE/RL correspondent in Bucharest on 21 February that the HDFR will quit the Democratic Convention of Romania if the alliance does not give up its commitment to the "national character" of the Romanian state. The Constitution defines Romania as a "unitary and national state" and the HDFR says the definition ignores the existence of national minorities. On 17 February the DCR leadership demanded the HDFR explicitly state its respect for the constitution, including the provision on the state's national character. Tackacs accused the DCR of long ignoring and failing to support the Hungarian minority's demands, and said this neglect had its roots in Romanian history. The HDFR refused to sign the modified protocol of the DCR on 17 February and, if it does not do so within 30 days, will be considered by the DCR as having left the alliance. Three other parties, the Party of Civic Alliance, the Liberal Party '93, and the Romanian Social Democratic Party, refused to sign the protocol. The PCA and the RSDP wanted the convention restructured, to distinguish between parties and civic movements. The Liberal Party '93 objects to having joint electoral lists in the forthcoming local and general elections. The RSDP decided on 18 February to leave the alliance and protested against what it called "the dictatorship" of the National Peasant Party-Christian Democratic over other members. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Vacaroiu ended a two-day visit to Moldova on 21 February, Radio Bucharest reported. Vacaroiu and
Moldovan Prime Minister Andrei Sangheli signed agreements covering taxation, tourism, and rail transport, as well as several other accords on 21 February. After a joint press conference with Sangheli, Vacaroiu was received by the president of the Moldovan parliament, Petru Lucinschi and met with representatives of parliamentary parties. Vacaroiu reiterated that the two countries must do away with the lack of trust that had impaired their relationship and turn bilateral relations into "something special." Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu said at a press conference in Chisinau that the two countries are about to begin high level talks on a basic treaty. He said drafts had been exchanged in the past but no discussions have yet taken place. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

A Romanian official was quoted by Reuters on 21 February as saying his company was in the advanced stages of negotiations for an agreement to build French air-to-air missiles in Romania. Col. Costica Laptes, head of Grupal Industrial al Armetei RA (GIA), said Romania planned to adapt Matra's Magic 2 missile for its fleet of MiG-23 fighters. Initially, Romania would import 20% of its requirements and produce the remaining 80%. Laptes said that GIA was also negotiating with Euromissile to produce an "advanced" missile based on the French firm's Mila 2T anti-tank missile. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

Gerasimos Arsenis arrived in Sofia on 21 February on an official visit, Demokratsiya reported on 22 February. The Greek Defense Minister held talks with his counterpart Dimitar Pavlov, Chief of General Staff Gen. Tsvetan Totomirov, President Zhelyu Zhelev, Prime Minister Zhan Videnov, and Foreign Minister Georgi Pirinski. Arsenis denied speculations aired in the Greek press that the formation of an "Belgrade-Sofia-Athens axis" is being prepared, saying that this is an outdated understanding and that Greece and Bulgaria will cooperate for stability in the Balkans. Duma cited Arsenis as saying that a "gray zone" of security would be created in the region if the Balkan countries are not admitted into NATO together with the Visegrad states. During talks between the defense ministers, an agreement on joint military maneuvers was reached. The Greek navy will take part in maneuvers in Bulgarian territorial waters, while Bulgarian troops will participate in maneuvers in Greece in May, to be held in the framework of NATO's Partnership for Peace program. No official documents were signed, but Bulgaria proposed a meeting of the Bulgarian, Greek, Romanian, and Turkish defense ministers. Arsenis, however, expressed the opinion that the preconditions for such a meeting do not yet exist. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

After the shooting of an Albanian trying to enter Greece illegally, Athens and Tirana put blame for the incident on each other, Reuters reported on 21 February. The incident took place on 18 February near the village of Vidohova. An Albanian Interior Ministry spokesman said the group of Albanians was still "ten meters inside Albania when the Greek opened fire without warning and then followed them 57 meters inside our territory," whereas Greek government spokesman Evangelos Venizelos claimed that they were already on Greek territory. He said a Greek army border patrol opened fire when the Albanians refused to stop and called the incident "common." Venizelos said that the injured Albanian was taken to a Greek hospital and will either be returned to Albania or seek a legal visa and remain in Greece if he wishes. Venizelos also told the press that Greece and Albania will try to reach an agreement over the status of Albanians living and working illegally in Greece. The question will be discussed during a scheduled visit by Greek Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias to Tirana in March. More than 100,000 Albanians are estimated to live in Greece, while Athens has expelled another 50,000 after the conviction of five ethnic Greeks on charges of espionage and illegal arms possession in 1994. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Pete Baumgartner