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Newsline - February 23, 1995

Defense Minister Pavel Grachev said "several more years might be required for eliminating all bandits in Chechnya," Interfax reported on 22 February. He discounted the possibility that Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev's forces are capable of carrying out a significant military operation on 23 February, the anniversary of the deportation of the Chechen people from their homeland by Josef Stalin. The National Congress of the Chechen People had earlier declared that 23 February would be a day of popular retribution. Grachev said all organized Chechen units had been defeated in the fight for Grozny. Only gangs of 10 to 15 men remain, with some of them under no one's command, he claimed. Artillery shelling of Grozny's southwest suburbs, which are controlled by Dudaev's supporters, has practically stopped, Interfax reported. * Robert Orttung

Deputy Nationalities Minister Andrei Chernenko announced that Grozny has been divided into 28 sectors, each of which will receive aid from an individual region in Russia, Interfax reported on 22 February. Additionally, the State Committee for Higher Education has set up a system to transfer students from Grozny's universities to other institutions around the country. * Robert Orttung

An OSCE human rights mission departed on 22 February for talks in Moscow and the Chechen region, according to an OSCE press release. The group will conduct talks on how to provide humanitarian assistance to the region and the possibility of setting up a commission to investigate human rights violations during the Chechen war. It is the second OSCE mission to the region. The group will hold talks with Justice Minister Valentin Kovalev and senior officials at the Foreign and Emergency ministries on 23 February, and move on to Chechnya two days later, Interfax reported. Recently, Russia denied visas to a human rights mission from the European parliament. * Michael Mihalka

The Russian Prosecutor-General's office has responded to demands for information from Stanislav Govorukhin, chairman of the State Duma's commission to investigate events in Chechnya. In a declaration published in Rossiiskaya gazeta, the office informed deputies that the "new tone of threats and ultimatums they have adopted in communications with state institutions will hardly add to their authority or promote fruitful cooperation." However, the prosecutor's office pledged to turn over all relevant materials to the Duma commission "in full accordance with legislation on criminal legal procedures." * Laura Belin

Franz Klintsevich, chairman of the Union of Afghan War Veterans, dismissed as "a provocation" reports that the union had voted to nominate Gen. Aleksandr Lebed as its candidate in the next presidential election, Russian TV reported on 22 February. The reports had appeared a day earlier in various Russian and Western media, including Ostankino TV (see also OMRI Daily Digest of 22 February). Klintsevich said the issue was not even discussed at the union's recent congress. Meanwhile, Col. Matvei Bergman, the Tiraspol army garrison commander and Lebed's right-hand man in the 14th Army, said Lebed had agreed to run in the election as a candidate for the Afghan war veterans, Russian TV's "Vesti" reported. As usual, Lebed denied any intention of becoming Russia's second president. * Julia Wishnevsky

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said his decision on whether to run for president in the upcoming election depends on the wording of an electoral law to be passed by parliament, Interfax reported on 22 February. Gorbachev was concluding a four-day visit to Novosibirsk in what Interfax described as the opening of his campaign. The agency reported that Gorbachev was invited to the city by the local branch of the Democratic Russia Movement, the same organization of radical anti-communists who had assisted President Boris Yeltsin in his struggle for power against Gorbachev in 1990-91. Meanwhile, the Derzhava (Great Power) movement nominated its leader, former Russian Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi, as its presidential candidate. * Julia Wishnevsky

The State Duma overrode a presidential veto of a new law on demonstrations, Interfax reported on 22 February. A total of 309 deputies -- nine more than the 300 required for a two-thirds majority -- voted to approve the law without the presidential amendments. The Duma rejected an attempt by Yeltsin to ban gatherings of people in the immediate vicinity of public buildings. Deputies Alevtina Aparina and Tatyana Gudima protested that the purpose of demonstrations is to make public opinion known to government officials and that in many Russian cities, the central and only square is right outside a government building. For the override to take effect, two-thirds of the upper house must also reject Yeltsin's amendments. * Robert Orttung

Sergei Filatov, President Yeltsin's chief of staff, published an article in Rossiiskie vesti calling for "constructive dialogue" among democratic political forces in Russia. Filatov described the lack of unity in the democratic camp and the weakness on the leftist side of the democratic political spectrum as "alarming." He appealed to Russia's democratic forces not to respond to the crisis in Chechnya with "banal, and at times vulgar, sloganeering." Differences between the government and democratic political parties are "natural," wrote Filatov, but opposing views, "even on the most critical problems, are no reason to cut off dialogue and cooperation." Filatov praised the newly-formed Russian Social Democratic Party and its leaders, which suggests that Yeltsin hopes the RSDP will create a political base for him. * Laura Belin

Russia's State Duma has delayed a crucial vote on the 1995 draft budget until 24 February, Russian and Western agencies reported on 22 February. Budget approval is one of the conditions Russia needs to secure a $6.25 billion IMF loan. The draft budget foresees a deficit of 73 trillion rubles ($17 billion), according to levels set on 25 January, or less than 8% of GDP. In a concession to the powerful Agrarian Party, deputies voted to reallocate one trillion rubles ($230 million) to fund the economically ailing farm sector and the coal mining industry which has been hit by strikes. The agrarians had threatened to withhold support unless more funds were allocated to the agro-industrial complex. The parliament budget committee chairman said revenues earlier calculated at 175 trillion rubles ($40 billion), would rise by 17.6 trillion rubles ($4 billion) and noted the money would come from various sources including 2.6 trillion rubles ($600 million), previously allocated to service government domestic debt, and a 1.5% value added tax proposed by the agrarians. Duma Chairman Ivan Rybkin said time is running out for final approval of the budget. The Duma has so far only adopted a law covering state financing for the first quarter. * Thomas Sigel

Russia will increase its trade turnover with foreign countries by at least 8% in 1995, Foreign Economic Relations Minister Oleg Davydov said in an Interfax interview on 22 February. He said Russia had already increased its foreign trade turnover with all countries in January to $6.7 billion, exceeding the 1994 level by 5.1%. Davidov noted that January exports from Russia grew 6.8% compared with December 1994 and reached $4 billion. Russia also increased its imports in January to $2.7 billion, exceeding last year's level by 6.8%. As much as $2.2 billion of this amount represents trade with non-CIS countries, he said. * Thomas Sigel

Miners in the northern republic of Komi announced on 21 February that they would begin a political strike on 1 March, Interfax reported. Yury Vishnevsky, the leader of the Vorkuta miners, said they were demanding early presidential elections, the government's resignation, and a new social policy. They are also calling for immediate payment of 28.7 billion rubles in wage arrears. Vitaly Budko, chairman of the Russian Coal Industry Workers' Union, described the Vorkuta miners' announcement as hasty. He said some progress had been made in negotiations with First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais on miners' demands. The union held a 24-hour national strike on 8 February. The Vorkuta miners held a separate warning strike two days earlier. On 23 February, the Coal Industry Workers' Union will decide whether to launch an indefinte strike on 1 March. * Penny Morvant

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Christine Shelly said the Clinton administration opposes halting aid to Russia, even if it followed through with supplying nuclear reactors to Iran, Reuters reported on 22 February. Although the U.S. is against the Russian-Iranian deal, Shelly said, "The main purpose of our aid to Russia is to support Russia's transition to a democratic government and to a market economy, which are the key foreign policy objectives of this administration . . . Conditioning U.S. aid to Russian actions would be counterproductive to accomplishing these objectives." The U.S. speaker of the lower house, Newt Gingrich, has said such aid should stop if Russia goes ahead with the deal. On 23 February, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov will conclude talks in Washington on Russia's role in European security and the Iranian deal. * Michael Mihalka

Russia has announced plans to supply another nuclear reactor to India, Interfax reported on 22 February. The Russian Nuclear Energy Ministry said a detailed contract would be signed in the near future. The ministry dismissed concerns expressed by the Nuclear Suppliers' Group that India does not adhere to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty saying the intended reactor's design does not permit the "industrial production of war plutonium." * Michael Mihalka

The EU Commission has announced plans to extend its technical aid program to the former Soviet Union beyond the end of this year when it is due to expire, Reuters reported on 22 February. Technical Assistance for the Commonwealth of Independent States (TACIS) is the EU's main aid program for the region. Between 1991 and 1994, $2.2 billion was allocated to the program and $596 million
has been budgeted for this year. Some new features have been attached to the aid, including provisions for "appropriate measures" to be taken should human rights or democratic principles be violated and encouragement for joint ventures between EU firms and small to medium-size businesses in the CIS. * Michael Mihalka

Russia has agreed in principle to buy Ukraine's 42 strategic bombers after having ascertained that the planes are in good condition, Kommersant reported on 22 February. Russia does not intend to pay for the 23 TU-95s and 19 TU-160s in cash, but is looking to write off part of Ukraine's energy debt in exchange for the aircraft. The Russian gas monopoly, Gazprom, which is owed over $1.5 billion by Ukraine, is reportedly opposed to the deal. The gas giant would prefer to be paid in cash or acquire Ukraine's gas facilities in lieu of the debt and gains nothing from Russia's acquisition of the bombers. * Ustina Markus

The Sejm leadership has scheduled the constructive no-confidence motion for 1 March, Rzeczpospolita reported on 23 February. The Sejm will vote simultaneously to remove Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak and confirm Jozef Oleksy as his replacement. Only after President Lech Walesa formally appoints Oleksy as prime minister can the proposed cabinet be submitted to parliament. No final cabinet lineup has been settled. Oleksy meets with Walesa for a fifth time on 27 February to discuss candidates for the disputed defense and foreign affairs portfolios. In public statements Oleksy has insisted that the coalition will propose its own candidates for confirmation regardless of presidential opposition. Rzeczpospolita reported, however, that Oleksy has privately told party colleagues that he will give up the mission if agreement is not reached on the two posts. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Grzegorz Kolodko has set conditions for remaining in office, including clear authority over decision-making and a coalition commitment to carry out long-delayed pension reform. Gazeta Wyborcza reported that Kolodko also wants to build a strong new economic policy team (to include Marek Borowski, Dariusz Rosati, and current Minister of Industry Marek Pol). Oleksy's determination to exclude ministers facing misconduct charges is meeting opposition from the Polish Peasant Party (PSL). Pawlak is particularly insistent that Foreign Trade Minister Leslaw Podkanski remain in office, and PSL officials have begun reciting arguments about the "presumption of innocence." * Louisa Vinton

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has ordered the establishment of a new government agency to combat growing organized crime in the country, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 22 February. Kuchma announced the measure after he reprimanded three top law enforcement officials, Prosecutor-General Vyacheslav Datsyuk, Interior Minister Volodymyr Radchenko, and Security Service Chief Valery Malikov, for unsatisfactory and inefficient performance in fighting extortion and racketeering. The new agency would serve to supplement the existing law enforcement agencies, but would focus mainly on "mafia activities." Select employees of the Ukrainian Security Service, the successor to the former KGB, are expected to undergo an additional year of special training to make up new specialized units within the new agency. * Chrystyna Lapychak

Over 500 members of communist and socialist parties and organizations picketed in front of Ukrainian Television and Radio's broadcasting facilities in Kiev on 22 February demanding more air time, Reuters and Ukrainian Television reported the same day. Organizers of the protest met with the management of the state-run television company to air their grievances, which focused on what they called an anti-communist bias in the station's programming. Management said it has carefully abided by Ukraine's law on the mass media, adopted by parliament, and has not favored any political group in its programming. The leftist leaders addressed the crowd of mostly older people by calling for new elections and a return of communists and socialists to power in Ukraine. In order to accomplish this, leftists need greater access to the media, organizers said. * Chrystyna Lapychak

The basic treaties currently under negotiation with Romania and Slovakia were the focus of discussion on 22 February in a parliamentary debate on foreign policy, MTI and Radio Budapest report. Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs and Prime Minister Gyula Horn stressed that the treaties would improve the situation of the Hungarian minorities and promote Hungary's integration into Western institutions. Alliance of Free Democrats foreign policy spokesman Matyas Eorsi also spoke out in favor of signing the treaties, stressing that they should be signed even if they do not contain guarantees for the minorities' cultural autonomy. Eorsi recently warned that Hungary should only sign treaties which contain adequate guarantees for minority rights. The opposition parties said the government would betray the Hungarian minorities if it made further concessions on minority rights. Describing the plight of Hungarian minorities as "dramatic," Hungarian Democratic Forum chairman Lajos Fur warned that by giving up guarantees on minority rights the government would "help sacrifice over three million Hungarians." (See related Romanian story in Southeastern Europe section). * Edith Oltay

The Czech government, during its session on 22 February, approved plans for official commemorations of the end of World War II, but disagreements emerged among government members and other politicians over whether German officials should be invited to participate. Both President Vaclav Havel and Parliament Chairman Milan Uhde said they were in favor of inviting Germans. Havel said on Czech television that "if a decision is made to invite representatives of major war powers, then the contemporary democratic Germany should also be represented." Transportation Minister Jan Strasky and representatives of the Czech Union of Freedom Fighters (war veterans) said they were opposed to German participation. Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus urged that the issue not be made into "a domestic political problem." * Jiri Pehe

The head of the Office of the President, Jan Findra, said at a press conference on 22 February that SIS Director Vladimir Mitro handed in his resignation to President Michal Kovac, Sme reports. The directors of intelligence and counterintelligence, Igor Cibula and Stefan Straka, respectively, also resigned from their posts but will work until 1 March if no replacements are found. In an interview with CTK, Cibula said he and Straka handed in their resignations to Mitro on 13 February, and on the same day Mitro handed in his resignation to Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. Cibula resigned because he does not have Meciar's trust, which he considers "the basic condition for the performance of the . . . director of intelligence." He said the SIS leadership resigned mainly to avoid confrontation with the government. According to Sme of 22 February, one of the candidates for SIS Director is Movement for a Democratic Slovakia parliament deputy Ivan Lexa, whom Kovac rejected for that post as well as that of privatization minister in 1993. According to the constitution, the president is responsible for removing and appointing the SIS director. * Sharon Fisher

According to Sme of 23 February, organizers of a petition "against the violation of freedom of speech in Slovakia" have collected 100,512 signatures. The petitioners are most concerned with the cancellation of three political satires which were among the most popular programs on Slovak TV: "An evening of Milan Markovic," "Apropo TV" and "Halusky." On 22 February they sent a letter to parliament chairman Ivan Gasparovic and STV Director Jozef Darmo asking for a meeting. * Sharon Fisher

Estonian Foreign Ministry Deputy Chancellor Priit Kolbre, the leader of his country's 17-member delegation for talks with the European Union in Brussels, said that Estonia would sign its association agreement with the EU without a transition period, BNS reported on 22 February. Estonia was also the only East European country to sign a free-trade agreement with the EU without a transition period. Estonian ambassador to Brussels Clyde Kull noted that by accepting such terms the EU recognized that Estonia's transition to a market economy is working. The associate membership agreement is expected to be initialed in March, signed by the end of June at the latest, and would go into effect after ratification by the Estonian and European parliaments. * Saulius Girnius

Eesti Sonumid published on 20 February the results of a telephone poll on the 5 March Estonian parliament elections, BNS reported. The poll was conducted on 14-15 February by the EMOR agency. The leading party, with 17% of the votes, was the Reform Party led by Bank of Estonia President Siim Kallas. The Center Party was second with 9%, followed by the Coalition Party and Rural Union (CPRU) electoral alliance with 8%, the Pro Patria and National Independence Party union with 6%, and Moderates and Rightists with 3%. An EMOR poll in late January had placed the Reform Party in fourth position with 9.4% behind the CPRU (28%), Moderates (13.6%), and the Center Party (11.6%). (OMRI Daily Digest, 7 February 1995). * Saulius Girnius

The BBC on 23 February reports on the fast-developing story surrounding the mysterious flights of C-130 transport planes over Tuzla on 14 February. The Washington Post broke the story two days earlier, and more discussion appeared in Nasa Borba on 22 February and Globus the following day. According to the BBC, it no longer appears that NATO denied UN reports that the flights had taken place in order to cover up its own incompetence. Instead, it seems that the U.S. may be trying to mask its own operations to supply the Bosnian army or to protect other countries engaged in such an effort. The BBC concluded that what had taken place over Tuzla was a low-altitude supply drop of a kind that only the U.S., British, or French air forces have the technology to make. * Patrick Moore

Nasa Borba on 23 February carried several stories reflecting the general anticipation that a new Serb-Croat conflict could break out once UNPROFOR leaves by 30 June. Croatian Prime Minister Nikica Valentic said that peace is possible by the end of the year provided UNPROFOR gets out. This reflects President Franjo Tudjman's belief that ending the peacekeepers' mandate will provide the necessary impetus for a negotiated settlement, but the remarks could also be taken another way. The paper goes on to cover a visit by Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to the embattled Posavina corridor connecting Serbia with Serb-held territories in Bosnia and Croatia. His parliamentary speaker, Momcilo Krajisnik, told crowds that "without Posavina there is no [Bosnian] Serb Republic, and without that it is not possible for all Serbs to live in one state." Meanwhile, prominent Krajina politician Milan Babic said that the recent decision of Krajina and Bosnian Serbs to set up a Supreme Defense Council is a step toward a greater Serbian federation. Nasa Borba, for its part, suggests that the purpose of the agreement may have more to do with putting political pressure on Croatia than with real military aims. That paper pointed out the previous day, moreover, that Bosnian Serb "foreign minister" Aleksa Buha was in Belgrade on a visit to meet top Serbian officials, probably including President Slobodan Milosevic. * Patrick Moore

International media reported on 23 February that a 10-truck relief convoy finally entered Bosnian government-held territory in the Bihac pocket the previous day after being held up by Serbs and their allies. AFP notes that fighting continued in the Velika Kladusa and Bosanska Krupa areas, with tensions rising around Srebrenica as both sides dig more trenches. Not all is gloomy, however. Vjesnik reports on the meeting between Croatia's Cardinal Franjo Kuharic and the Serbian Orthodox Metropolitan Jovan Pavlovic, who is responsible for "Zagreb, Ljubljana, and all of Italy." Nasa Borba notes that Roman Catholic Bishop Ratko Peric has gone to Trebinje in Serb-held eastern Herzegovina to bring some relief supplies and to hold talks with Serbian Orthodox leaders. * Patrick Moore

Nasa Borba on 23 February carries a story which reports on speculation entertained in some political circles that National Bank Governor Dragoslav Avramovic has been "removed from public life" for about the past two months, and not only because of personal, especially health, reasons, but because there may be serious disagreements within official circles over the further implementation of Avramovic's economic reform programs. Avramovic has been widely credited within the rump Yugoslavia for effecting an economic miracle, when in January 1994 he stemmed hyperinflation raging at a monthly rate of 315 million%, bringing it down to low single digits by pegging the value of the dinar to the German mark and the country's hard currency reserves. * Stan Markotich

Nasa Borba on 21 February reported on recent studies and polls regarding the state of Croatian society. The prognosis is poor, with every fifth person living below the poverty level. Some 30% of the population eat meat only once a week, and half of the people have only one meal per day. Another 45% view their future as uncertain, and over 100,000 people have emigrated in the past four years. Deteriorating social conditions have apparently given the lie to President Franjo Tudjman's 1992 campaign slogan: "From victory to prosperity," although the war and the accompanying dislocation and devastation have been as much to blame as any policy that the government has or has not followed. One last statistic: with 25 suicides per 100,000 people, Croatia has the fifth-highest suicide rate in Europe. * Patrick Moore

A spokesman for the Romanian Foreign Affairs Ministry said on 22 February that experts from the ministry and from the Hungarian Foreign Affairs Ministry had finalized the aide-memoire which is to accompany the basic treaty between the two countries, Radio Bucharest reported. Mircea Geoana said the aide-memoire will be signed by the two sides at the end of the month or in early March. Romania had hitherto said there was no need for any other document to accompany the basic treaty. The new round of negotiations began in Bucharest on 21 February. On the treaty itself, Geoana said some progress has been made but it was too early to "make a global judgment." (See related Hungarian story in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE section) * Michael Shafir

Geoana told Reuters on 22 February that NATO plans to offer Russia a broad new security relationship, which would allow NATO to expand eastwards. He said he learned about the plan from German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe when he visited Bucharest last month. Geoana did not give details of the proposal, but said Romania supports it because it believes that a partnership relationship between Russia and an enlarged NATO would bring "stability and security." * Michael Shafir

The Supreme Soviet of the self-styled Dniester republic has decided to hold a referendum on the withdrawal of the Russian 14th army, Radio Bucharest reported on 22 February. The referendum will be held concomitant with the local elections scheduled for 26 February. In a press release, the Dniesterian Supreme Soviet says the accord initialed between Chisinau and Moscow on the withdrawal of the 14th army had been concluded without the participation of Tiraspol and without taking into consideration its opinion. * Michael Shafir

Zhelyu Zhelev returned an amendment to the restitution law to parliament on 22 February, Pari reported the following day. The amendment, which was passed on 9 February, provided that tenants can stay another three years in restituted property. Zhelev was cited as saying that the new law is the easiest way of doing something, but that it does not solve the problems. A law defending the rights of the tenants as well as those of the owners is necessary, the president added. Zhelev also rejected the law on formal grounds, as both the first and second reading took place on the same day. Krasimir Premyanov, leader of the Socialist parliamentary faction, said that the BSP was dissatisfied with Zhelev's decision, and that he hoped the law would be passed a second time by 24 February, the day the old reclamation ban expires. * Stefan Krause

Georges Ganchev's election as deputy might be declared null and void, Demokratsiya and Pari report on 23 February. According to the Bulgarian constitution, only Bulgarian citizens without another citizenship can be elected to parliament or as president. According to Demokratsiya, the US embassy in Sofia confirmed that Ganchev is still a U.S. citizen. Chief State Prosecutor Ivan Tatarchev declared that in this case he will ask the Constitutional Court to annul Ganchev's election. Ganchev had declared that he gave up his U.S. citizenship in order to run for president in the 1991/1992 elections. The U.S. embassy said it never received the respective documents. Ganchev did not comment on the reports, telling journalists "do not bother me with nonsense." * Stefan Krause

Democratic Party leader Eduard Selami said that he is under pressure to resign from within his own party, Koha Jone reported on 22 February. Selami had offered his resignation in late January after criticizing the government for failing to realize certain points in the party program. Selami then demanded that the party leader should also be prime minister, arguing that this would help promote the party's interests and adding that there is a gap between the government and the party. In early February, however, the party leadership, including Albanian President Sali Berisha, rejected Selami's resignation, but meanwhile Selami said that Berisha called for his resignation after a meeting of the party's national council on 21 February. The president's spokesman said that Selami's demands for a change of government were unacceptable, Rilindja Demokratike reported on 22 February. An extraordinary party congress on 5 March will decide on Selami's future. * Fabian Schmidt

[As of 12:00 CET]
Compiled by Victor Gomez and Pete Baumgartner