Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - March 2, 1995

Popular television journalist and director of Ostankino TV Vladislav Listev, 38, was assassinated outside his apartment building as he came home from work on 1 March, news agencies reported. Listev was appointed director-general of Ostankino in November 1994, when President Boris Yeltsin reorganized Ostankino channel one into Russian Public Television Ostankino. Although the reasons for the killing remain unclear, early speculation points toward financial motives. Ostankino is now 51% state-owned, with a small group of corporations and commercial banks controlling the rest. Alexander Yakovlev, chairman of the board of Ostankino, told Interfax, "Privatizing Ostankino has badly affected someone's economic interests." Yakovlev drew particular attention to Ostankino's decision last week to ban advertising, effective 1 April. Listev is said to have supported the ban, which was announced as a temporary measure until regulations are adopted on ethical standards in advertising. The proposed ban has enormous financial implications for businesses, as Ostankino is the only television network broadcasting throughout the former Soviet Union. A one-minute commercial during prime time now costs about $50,000. During the Gorbachev era, Listev became a symbol of democratic reforms as a host of the popular news show "Vzglyad" (View). In January 1995, he was honored by the Union of Journalists for his more recent work on the interview shows "Tema" (Theme) and "Chas Pik" (Rush Hour). * Laura Belin

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, in London for talks with the British government, said he was "deeply shocked" by the murder of Listev, ITAR-TASS reported. He said Listev belonged to "that generation of journalists who not only accepted democratic changes with all their hearts, but did a great deal to ensure reform became a reality." Russian Public Television Chairman Yakovlev described Listev's assassination as "a contract killing and the mafia's doing." His remarks were echoed by Lev Novozhenov, a talk show host for NTV, who said, "there is no longer any doubt that Moscow and Russia are run by the mafia." Russian TV began its evening newscast with a moment of silence in honor of Listev, broken by the presenter asking "Who will be next?" Listev's assassination is the latest in a string of murders of prominent journalists, politicians, and businessmen. In October 1994, Dmitry Kholodov, an investigative journalist for Moskovsky komsomolets, was killed by a booby-trapped suitcase while he was investigating corruption in the military, and three Duma deputies have been murdered since the December 1993 elections. Following Listev's murder, the public flooded television channels with calls demanding the government take steps to prevent widespread lawlessness and violence in Russian society. According to Interior Minister Viktor Yerin, there were 32,000 murders in 1994, about 10,000 more than in 1993, Ostankino reported. * Penny Morvant

Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev assured his Chinese hosts that Russia would stand by the treaty demarcating the Eastern border between the two countries, Reuters reported on 1 March. Earlier, Yevgeny Nazdratenko, governor of Russia's Primorsky Krai, had said the treaty signed in 1991 and ratified in 1992 is unjust and Moscow should scrap it. The dispute is over three small islands the Soviet Union seized in the mid-1930s and Russia has since given back. Kozyrev said he hoped the Russian parliament will soon ratify a second accord on defining Russia's 2,700 mile border with its neighbor. Nevertheless, Izvestiya on 2 March reported the problem may be more complicated than Kozyrev is willing to admit. The newspaper said the leadership of Chita Oblast, which borders China, is also concerned about the treaty and may not support its implementation. On 1 March, Interfax and AFP reported that Russia had expelled more than 1,000 Chinese citizens from the Russian Far East for carrying counterfeit passports or expired visas. * Robert Orttung

A committee appointed by President Yeltsin is to discuss a draft plan for dividing Chechnya into two zones, according to Yusup Soslambekov, chairman of the Chechen parliament which was forcibly dissolved by President Dzhokhar Dudaev in 1993, Western agencies and Ekho Moskvy reported on 1 March. The northern zone would be controlled by Salambek Khadzhiev's government of national revival and the southern one by Dudaev. On 25 January, Russian Security Council secretary Oleg Lobov had officially denied the existence of any such plan to split Chechnya, affirming that further territorial divisions within the Russian Federation are inadmissible. Also on 1 March, Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev predicted that Russian forces would have no problems in capturing the Chechen resistance strongholds of Argun, Gudermes, and Shali, ITAR-TASS reported. * Liz Fuller

Grachev has revealed an important tactical shift in the campaign against the three remaining major Chechen strongholds, Interfax reported on 1 March. Even though those Chechen defenders are not as well-equipped or numerous as the ones in Grozny, Grachev is proposing to rely more heavily on psychological war techniques and to use regular troops, rather than Interior Ministry forces, in the initial assaults. Grachev has come under heavy criticism within the Russian military for using green conscripts in the assault on Grozny. * Michael Mihalka

"At every level of the military, people are emerging who openly disagree with the president and the defense minister over reforms in the army and the country's military policy," reads an internal Russian Defense Ministry document obtained by Reuters on 1 March. It mentioned "the growing flood of coffins coming in from Chechnya and Tajikistan" and added "even the eyes of the most indifferent start opening." It also said, "They link the name of the defense minister to the danger of an increasingly likely death." The authorship and purpose of the document are unclear and the Defense Ministry declined to comment. Many senior and junior officers have expressed their opposition to how the military campaign has been run in Chechnya. * Michael Mihalka

President Yeltsin's chief of staff Sergei Filatov bitterly denounced the head of the presidential security service, General Alexander Korzhakov, saying he was creating an increasingly unhealthy atmosphere in the Kremlin, AFP reported. Filatov told the weekly Argumenty i fakty that he is not familiar with "the function or structures" of the presidential security service and cannot say what it does. Filatov said Korzhakov is working to increase his influence inside the Kremlin and is using former KGB methods, though he did not specify precisely what that means. Filatov's statements reflect increasingly bitter differences within Yeltsin's inner circle. * Robert Orttung

Russia's Choice chairman Yegor Gaidar told local party leaders in Barnaul it is too early for the democrats to nominate a presidential candidate. He said such a move would split possible allies and prevent the establishment of a democratic coalition, which is "necessary and possible," Interfax and Russian television reported on 1 March. He said the coalition's main goal should be to unify its support behind candidates in the races decided by single-member districts rather than party lists. * Robert Orttung

In an effort to extend economic reforms and increase the effectiveness of the market economy, President Yeltsin signed six decrees on 1 March which give him unprecedented control over government spending and tax exemptions, Russian and Western agencies reported. The decrees are intended to help Russia keep its budget deficit down to less than 8% of GDP, one of the conditions put forth by the IMF, which is in the last stage of negotiating a $6.2 billion standby loan for the country. The decrees allow for a further liberalization of internal state- regulated tariffs; the establishment of prices on production and technical facilities, and on consumer goods and services; accountancy of subsidies associated with tariffs in relation to the federal budget; a crackdown on enterprises and organizations that violate price regulation; and proposals on levying sanctions for violations of tariff legislation. The decrees will allow Yeltsin and a credit commission that includes First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais to oversee spending decisions made by other parts of the government. The decrees should also help reduce interest group corruption and heavy lobbying. * Thomas Sigel

Russian Agriculture Minister Alexander Nazarchuk is meeting with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington D.C. this week to sign new documents defining the legal-contractual basis of U.S.-Russian cooperation in agriculture, Intefax reported on 1 March. Nazarchuk will also meet with World Bank representatives to discuss a possible $240 million credit to support the Russian agro-industrial sector in developing market infrastructure and cultivating seed production. Nazarchuk hopes to discuss a potential $500 million credit for creating systems to produce, process, and sell food in six Russian regions. Although there is no official word, some speculate that Nazarchuk will be negotiating grain imports on his visit. In February, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zaveryukha told Interfax that Russia could import up to 2 million tons of wheat this season. Economics Minister Yevgeni Yasin said Russia's wheat shortage would be at least 3.5 to 4 million tons. He warned that some Russian regions could already face wheat shortages this March. * Thomas Sigel

Prime Minister Chernomyrdin held talks with British Prime Minister John Major in London on 1 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Topics included Chechnya and the future of European security, but the main subject was the Russian economy. Chernomyrdin emphasized Russia's continuing commitment to reforms and said he thought the latest round of IMF negotiations, which began last Friday, would succeed in closing a deal this month. On security matters, Chernomyrdin reiterated the Russian stance that it should not be excluded from decisions about Europe's future, even though it is not an EU or NATO member. * Michael Mihalka

Prime Minister Chernomyrdin gave the Bank of England a $100 million check on 1 March for interest arrears due to Western banks, Russian and Western sources reported. The payment represented the first installment of $500 million in interest alone due from 1992-93. Although a relatively small amount, the payment symbolizes Moscow's readiness to service its external debt. Russia's total debt to Western creditors is more than $120 billion according to government officials. * Thomas Sigel

Austria has rejected Russian calls for a renewal of its neutral status, Reuters reported on 1 March. Austrian President Thomas Klestil said on 27 February that Moscow was insisting Austria issue a declaration reaffirming the 1955 state treaty and the constitutional law which denoted Austria's permanent neutral status, before President Yeltsin's scheduled visit in April. Klestil called the demand "unacceptable." Yeltsin, along with representatives of the other post-war occupying powers, has been invited to a ceremony in Vienna on 27 April to mark the 50th anniversary of the modern Austrian Republic's establishment. * Michael Mihalka

No report today.

In a 24 February resolution, the Russian government approved the creation of a Russian-Ukrainian financial-industrial group, called Mezhdunarodniye Aviadvigateli, for their aircraft engine manufacturing enterprises, Interfax reported on 28 February. The group will probably produce engines for the AN-70 cargo plane, which is still in its development stage. The draft agreement stipulates that Russian, Ukrainian, and foreign banks and companies are entitled to join the group. The group is to include financial, credit, insurance, and trading companies and will encompass some 50 Ukrainian enterprises including the former Soviet Union's largest engine manufacturing plant, Motorish, in Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine. * Ustina Markus

The Sejm on 1 March voted 285 to 5 in favor of the constructive no-confidence motion to replace Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak with Sejm speaker Jozef Oleksy, Radio Warsaw reports. There were 127 abstentions from opposition deputies. In sarcastic parting remarks, Pawlak wished his "colleagues from the Democratic Left Alliance, who so willingly acceded to the president's demands, harmonious cooperation with Lech Walesa." But the president refused to meet with Oleksy until the premier-designate resigned his post as Sejm speaker. He also refused to accept Pawlak's resignation. Oleksy duly submitted his resignation on 1 March; the Sejm will consider it only after the new government is formed. A spokesman indicated that Oleksy will present three candidates each for the defense and foreign affairs posts, "whenever the president finds the time." The constitution gives Oleksy 21 days to present his cabinet to the Sejm for approval. If the government wins majority support, "the president appoints [it]." Oleksy is required to seek the president's opinion on the three security portfolios. Walesa argues that his views are binding; the coalition disagrees. The constitution sets no time limit for the president to express his views. * Louisa Vinton

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Vitaliy Masol, removing a major obstacle to badly needed economic reforms and international aid, Interfax-Ukraine and Western agencies reported on 1 March. Presidential spokesman Mykhailo Doroshenko and a number of his close aides confirmed that Kuchma told the Cabinet of Ministers that the 68-year-old Masol, who was also Ukrainian premier during the Soviet era until anti-government student protests in 1990 forced him to resign, had decided to retire. Under the Ukrainian Constitution, his resignation must be approved by the Ukrainian parliament. Kuchma has appointed First Deputy Premier Yevhen Marchuk, former chief of the Ukrainian Security Service, as acting prime minister. A former leader of the dominant leftist faction in the Ukrainian legislature, Masol resisted many of Kuchma's measures to reform the country's Soviet-style economy, but he was viewed as increasingly isolated within the government, dominated by Kuchma's hand-picked reformers. Shortly after Masol's resignation, the government adopted the 1995 budget, which cuts the budget deficit to 6.4% of GDP by slashing social entitlements and subsidies to failing industries. It also pledged to submit a memorandum this week to the IMF in its efforts to obtain a $1.3 billion standby loan. The draft budget must still be approved by the Ukrainian Parliament in order to become law. * Chrystyna Lapychak

Former Belarusian Prime Minister Vyachelsau Kebich has said that he will run in the May parliament elections as an independent candidate in the Barysau district, Belarusian Radio reported on 28 February. He noted that it will be easy for him to run his election campaign because the new government has made many mistakes. The former premier was President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's main opponent in the presidential elections, but he lost the contest, with a mere 14% of the vote to Lukashenka's 80%. It was also reported that former Defense Minister Pavel Kazlouski is considering running for parliament in the Pruzhansk raion. Kazlouski was dismissed by Lukashenka after the latter's election as president. During the presidential campaign, Lukashenka accused Kazlouski of corruption, prompting Kazlouski to file a libel suit against him. * Ustina Markus

Estonian Foreign Minister Juri Luik on 1 March signed his country's individual cooperation program for NATO's Partnership for Peace, AFP reported. After meeting with the NATO Council in Brussels, Luik told reporters that the signing was a step toward full NATO membership but warned: "If NATO is enlarged, it should be done by thinking about the security of all eastern partners in Europe. We are facing a security grey zone, a dangerous zone of instability." Of the 25 countries that signed up for PFP, Estonia was the twelfth to sign an individual program. * Saulius Girnius

President Algirdas Brazauskas, in his address to the Israeli Knesset (parliament) on 1 March, apologized again to the Jewish nation for participation of Lithuanians in World War II crimes against it, Western agencies reported. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said Brazauskas's visit was "the first sign promising a spring in our relations." Brazauskas also visited Bethlehem and met with Israeli businessmen in Tel Aviv. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Povilas Gylys signed an agreement on visa-free entry for holders of diplomatic passports, and Health Minister Antanas Vinkus concluded an accord on cooperation in health care. * Saulius Girnius

Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, addressing businessmen in Brno on 1 March, said he expects economic growth to speed up in 1995, inflation to fall only slowly, and the Czech Republic's low unemployment rate to increase gradually but only by 2% over the next two years, Hospodarske noviny reported. He also said the stability of the Czech koruna could be maintained, even if the country registers a trade deficit (the 1994 deficit was 12.5 billion koruny, according to official figures). The koruna's stability will be "our conscious policy, and it could be our formal anchor and a significant stabilizing element," Klaus said. Meanwhile, the Czech Statistical Office reported that GDP grew by 2.7% in real terms in 1994, with a sharp increase of 4.7% in the last three months--the best quarterly result since the economic transformation began. At current prices, GDP reached 1.036 trillion koruny last year. * Steve Kettle

Michal Kovac on 1 March commemorated the second anniversary of his inauguration with an international press conference at Bratislava's Hotel Forum, Slovak media reported. He said his relations with Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar were influenced by differences not in the direction and goals of their policies but rather in their political style. Stressing that not only friends and allies are involved in politics but also people who have differences, Kovac said that even the latter are obliged to cooperate. With regard to relations between the president, parliament, and government, Kovac said he has made enough effort but that he sometimes feels that others do not meet him half-way. Kovac characterized the reductions in the presidential office's 1995 budget, as stipulated in the state budget draft for this year, as "drastic." According to Kovac, the effort to limit the activities of the president and his office to a minimum are incomprehensible since it does not serve Slovak interests. "The president is not the head of the coalition, the opposition, or another part of the state. He is the main representative of the entire republic," Kovac said. * Sharon Fisher

Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn on 1 March discussed with representatives of the Hungarian minorities in Romania and Slovakia the basic treaties currently being negotiated with those countries, MTI and Radio Budapest reported. The minority representatives raised no objections to the Hungarian draft of the treaties but want those documents to include increased guarantees for the protection of minority rights. Miklos Duray, chairman of the Coexistence movement in Slovakia, said that the Slovak side will have to make a "political turnabout" if the treaty is to be signed by 20 March. Bela Marko, chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania, stressed that the basic treaty must go a long way toward solving the problems of Hungarians in Romania. Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs told reporters that the Hungarian side will make every effort to sign the treaties by 20 March. * Edith Oltay

The Croatian Defense and National Security Council met at the Presidential Palace on 1 March, Hina reports. An official statement on President Franjo Tudjman's decision to end UNPROFOR's mandate as of 31 March states: "The Council is determined to stick to the decision . . . The mandate will not be extended. As proof of its determination to achieve a peaceful solution and the reintegration of the occupied areas, Croatia is willing to accept the presence of international monitors on its internationally recognized borders with Serbia and Bosnia. Croatia will not accept a new UNPROFOR, or the deployment of any forces in the disengagement zone in Croatia [that is, along the current battle lines between Croatian and Krajina Serb forces]." Zagreb charges that the UN presence along those lines has served only to protect Serbian conquests. Novi list on 2 March quotes Chief of the General Staff General Janko Bobetko as saying that control of Croatia's borders with Serbia and Bosnia would "solve the crisis" in Zagreb's view. Nasa Borba, however, cites Defense Minister Gojko Susak as arguing that if a new war should break out, "the international community will not react if we work professionally and quickly, as our army is capable of doing." * Patrick Moore

This is how a UN spokesman on 1 March summed up the expulsion from the Banja Luka area of 679 Muslims and Croats, whose houses were dynamited. Nasa Borba on 2 March reports that the Banja Luka Serbs also arrested six employees of the Muslim charity organization Merhamet. The Serbs had previously detained three other Merhamet workers elsewhere in Bosnia. UN officials on 1 March said that both government and Serbian forces are hindering movement of UN personnel. AFP added that for the first time, the Serbs have issued a blanket ban on all UN refugee agency convoys heading for Sarajevo. In other news, Vecernji list on 2 March reports that a large contingent of Zagreb doctors has arrived in Nova Bila, in central Bosnia. The historic monastery has a hospital that was all but destroyed in the fighting between Croats and Muslims in 1993, during which the Bosnian Croats often complained that Zagreb had abandoned them. * Patrick Moore

Representatives of the international Contact Group met in Belgrade on 1 March with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. According to international news agencies, the purpose of the latest meeting was to secure Milosevic's backing for a peace plan and to sound out his views on the situation in the former Yugoslavia. Milosevic has been unwilling so far to endorse a plan whereby Belgrade would recognize Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in exchange for the lifting of sanctions against the rump Yugoslavia. According to a Reuters account, Contact Group delegates were tight-lipped after the meeting. Members of the group are slated to hold an emergency meeting in Paris on 2 March. * Stan Markotich

Tanjug on 1 March reported that Col. Ljubodrag Stojadinovic, head of the rump Yugoslav army's propaganda division, was dismissed the same day, following trial by military tribunal on charges of impugning the president and the military. According to Belgrade's independent Radio B 92, Stojadinovic's dismissal may have far-reaching consequences, signaling to other alleged pro-Bosnian Serb nationalists that they, too, may be purged. * Stan Markotich

The U.S. administration is considering sending more troops to Macedonia, the Baltimore Sun reported on 2 March. A senior administration official said 500 to 10,000 additional soldiers could be stationed there. Between 300 and 600 U.S. army soldiers have been part of the 1,100-strong UN peacekeeping force in Macedonia since 1993. National Security Adviser Anthony Lake told reporters on 1 March that sending additional troops to Macedonia is being considered because of the danger of a widening Balkan war. "Macedonia becomes extremely important because of its ethnic mix and because of Greece's interest in Macedonia," Lake was cited as saying. U.S. officials fear that a possible Serbian move against Macedonia may lead to a Balkan war involving neighboring countries. * Stefan Krause

Aftab Shaaban Mirani, during his visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina on 1 March, celebrated the Bajram holiday with the 3,000 Pakistani UNPROFOR soldiers stationed there and met with President Alija Izetbegovic. He is to arrive in Albania on 3 March for a three-day visit, Gazeta Shqiptare reported the previous day. Mirani is scheduled to meet with Defense Minister Safet Zhulali and will also visit Croatia. Meanwhile, Albanian President Sali Berisha said Tirana is ready to improve relations with Greece, despite the recent killing of two illegal Albanian immigrants by Greek border guards, Reuters reported on 1 March. Greek Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias will visit Albania on 13 March. According to Deutsche Welle's Albanian-language service on 1 March, the Greek government is preparing a law to regulate migration from Albania to Greece. * Fabian Schmidt

The Romanian Senate and Chamber of Deputies, in a joint session on 1 March, approved the 1995 state budget by a vote of 244 to 102 with 34 abstentions, Radio Bucharest and Western agencies report. The budget's revenues are expected to total 14.68 trillion lei ($8.1 billion) and expenditures 16.62 trillion lei ($9.2 billion), with a planned deficit of 1.93 trillion lei ($1.1 billion). Health is allocated 2.49 trillion lei ($1.4 billion), education 2.05 trillion lei ($ 1.1 billion), and defense 1.77 trillion lei ($976 million). The budget, which is generally seen as an austerity measure, was criticized by opposition deputies, including Ion Ratiu of the National Peasant Party-Christian Democratic. He called it "unrealistic," saying it is based on the assumption that the economic situation is improving, which, he noted, is definitely not the case. But representatives of the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania praised the budget, saying it was more balanced than last year's. PDSR Deputy Chairman Ion Solcanu claimed that most revenues would come from company profit rather than high public taxation. Romania's estimated GDP for 1995 is 70.34 trillion lei ($38.7 billion). * Dan Ionescu

The first meeting of parties interested in setting up a "grand coalition" of Romanian opposition forces took place in Bucharest on 1 March, Radio Bucharest reported. The idea of the new alliance stems from Sergiu Cunescu, chairman of the Romanian Social-Democratic Party. The meeting was attended by leading figures in the Democratic Party-National Salvation Front (PD-FSN), the Liberal Party '93, and the Party of Civic Alliance. All formations participating in the talks, with the exception of the PD-FSN, were members of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) until recently but refused to sign the alliance's revised protocols. The new "grand coalition" is aimed at offering an umbrella to those political parties that already have or are about to quit the CDR. It is designed to be a loose political alliance with neither a president nor statutes. * Dan Ionescu

Western agencies reported on 28 February that the Russian gas company Gazprom has reduced gas supplies to Moldova until the country starts paying off its debts. Mihai Lesnic, general director of Moldova's state gas company, said supplies were halted on 26 February. He was quoted as saying that his country, which is dependent on Russian gas, owed Gazprom $220 million. He also noted that local enterprises are receiving no supplies, while the public continues to be "more or less supplied" with gas still in the pipe. A Moldovan delegation, including a representative of the breakaway Dniester region, are expected in Moscow on 2 March to negotiate with Gazprom. The self-styled Dniester Republic has not been paying for Russian gas since 1993. It accounts for at least 50% of all Moldovan debts to Gazprom. * Dan Ionescu

The Republic of Moldova on 1 March began issuing its own passports and identity cards to replace Soviet-era documents, Western agencies reported. An official at the Moldovan Interior Ministry, who described the new documents as "another symbol of Moldova's independence and statehood," was quoted by Reuters as saying that the new passports could easily be read by computer and were "almost impossible to forge." Moldovan citizens will have to pay the equivalent of about $25 to obtain a new passport (the average monthly wage in Moldova is about $40). Old passports will remain valid until 1 January 1997. * Dan Ionescu

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave