Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - March 6, 1995

In the wake of the murder of Vladislav Listev, the Security Council is meeting on 6 March to discuss ways to tackle organized crime and corruption, which even President Boris Yeltsin has acknowledged is pervasive in Russian political and economic life, agencies reported. Yeltsin has also urged the State Duma to quickly approve the draft law on organized crime, scheduled to receive its third reading later in March, according to a 3 March RFE/RL correspondent's report. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

According to NTV, quoting unnamed Kremlin sources, President Yeltsin has decided to let Moscow Prosecutor Gennady Ponomarev and Moscow MVD chief Vladimir Pankratov -- who were dismissed following Listev's assassination -- stay on if they meet an unspecified deadline for solving the case. In a 2 March speech, Yeltsin had blamed Ponomarev for failing to stop the mafia's growing power in Moscow. Meanwhile, employees of the Moscow Prosecutor's Office held a meeting on 3 March to protest Ponomarev's imminent dismissal, Interfax reported. In a message to Yeltsin and parliamentary leaders, the prosecutor's office employees said that firing Ponomarev "will not only fail to help the [Listev] investigation, but will play into the hands of the forces destabilizing legal order." Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov called Yeltsin's order an emotional reaction to the killing, because firing Ponomarev would only be welcomed by gangsters, Interfax reported on 4 March. Duma deputies of various political orientations have defended Ponomarev, charging that he has been made into a scapegoat for the journalist's assassination and other problems in the prosecutor's office. Ponomarev himself was not present at his colleagues' protest, but has said that after crimes such as Listev's murder, "someone" should resign. -- Penny Morvant and Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc.

Many of Russia's top political figures, including Yeltsin's chief of staff Sergei Filatov, First Deputy Premier Oleg Soskovets, and Duma Deputy Speaker Artur Chilingarov, attended Listev's funeral, Interfax reported on 3 March. The public funeral was held at Ostankino's concert studio, and the line of people wishing to pay their last respects to the popular television journalist stretched for two kilometers outside the building. The funeral had to be postponed for several hours after an anonymous caller threatened to blow up the studio. (No bomb was found on the premises.) Listev was buried next to the legendary Russian folk singer Vladimir Vysotsky at Moscow's Vagankovo Cemetery. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc.

Talks in Ingushetia between Chechen military leaders and Russia's administrator for Chechnya, Nikolai Semenov, on implementing a conditional ceasefire agreement failed to take place as arranged on 4 March, Western agencies reported. An Ingush official told Interfax that Russian commanders had prevented the Chechen delegation from attending. Meanwhile Russian troops strengthened their hold over southern Chechnya on 3 March and on 4-5 March intensified artillery bombardment of the towns of Samashki and Argun where Chechen forces are concentrated, Western agencies reported. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

An OSCE diplomat has accused Russia of hindering the organization's latest mission to Chechnya, AFP reported on 3 March. He said, "The mission was taken for a ride" by the Russians. The mission could not travel to Dagestan or Igushetia to investigate the refugee situation there. The OSCE press release stated, "The mission's findings confirmed the seriousness of the human rights situation. It also confirmed that the most urgent problems are the distribution of relief goods and [Red Cross] access to Chechnya, the security of the civilian population, and refugee problems. The mission believes the fundamental issue remains a negotiated ceasefire as the condition for any substantial improvement." -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

The commanding officer of the 76th Guards Airborne Division, Maj.-Gen. Ivan Babichev, has been promoted to head an army corps, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 March. Babichev gained notoriety last December during the Russian attack on Grozny by halting the column he was leading when confronted by Chechen civilians. Western agencies reported him as saying he would not fire on civilians and telling the crowd that the military operation violated the constitution. Babichev, however, soon ordered his troops to continue their advance, and played a key role in the capture of Grozny. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

Col.-Gen. Anatoly Kvashin, the newly-appointed commander of the North Caucasus Military District, has been placed in command of the Russian armed forces in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 March, quoting a spokesman at the press center of the joint federal forces headquarters. On 1 February, the post had been turned over to General Alexander Kulikov, commander of the Russian Interior Troops. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

The body of radio engineer Igor Kaverin was found on the morning of 3 March in Primorsky Krai, Interfax reported. He was an employee of Free Nakhodka. Police said he was shot at point blank range and that they are seeking three 23- to 25-year-old men as the suspected assassins. Kaverin's murder is the second serious crime against media personnel in the Primorsky Krai in the last six months. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

Boris Fedorov, leader of the new Forward Russia party, called for a congress of democratic forces to work out common election tactics and agree on forming a coalition government after the elections, Interfax reported. Fedorov said he has long supported such a congress because a split in the democrats on the eve of the elections could lead to the restoration of dictatorship. Yegor Gaidar, Russia's Choice leader, has also called for such a coalition on numerous occasions. Speaking in Omsk on 3 March, Gaidar said he is worried about the elections and that it is difficult to predict their outcome, since "Russia has come to reconsider its priorities every now and then." -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

China has agreed to buy six Russian Kilo-class diesel powered submarines in addition to four others it recently acquired, the Hong Kong South Morning Post reported on 4 March. The paper quoted Beijing sources as saying the two countries had also finished preliminary discussions on the Chinese purchase of an additional 12 Russian submarines during the next five years. Western officials had voiced concern after the first submarine sale that Russia was upsetting the naval balance in the region. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

The Russian food crisis must be resolved immediately, Deputy Premier Alexei Bolshakov told Interfax on 3 March. Bolshakov said the government was taking all necessary measures to create a steady supply of food, develop a network of wholesale food markets, and restore relations with the CIS countries. According to Russian Trade Committee statistics, the production of meat fell 25% in 1994 against 1993, dairy products by 17%, butter by 33%, sugar by 36%, and flour by 14%. The agricultural sector is unable to meet the consumption needs of the population. As a result, the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations reported the nation had to import three times more meat and fish in 1994 than in 1993, 4.3 times more poultry, and two times more milk powder. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

The Russian ambassador to Austria, Valery Popov, announced on 3 March that President Yeltsin will not visit Austria in April as previously planned, Reuters reported. Popov said Yeltsin would be too busy for a visit in April. The Austrian president had invited Yeltsin, along with leaders of the US, Britain, and France, to Vienna to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the second Austrian republic. However, Russia had come under fire from Austrian politicians over Chechnya and its demand that Austria reaffirm its neutral status. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

In his first trip as the Foreign Ministry's military expert, Deputy Defense Minister Col.-Gen. Boris Gromov took part in the first high-level bilateral military talks between Russia and Japan on 3 March in Tokyo, ITAR-TASS reported. Gromov was a member of the delegation led by Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev. Gromov said Russia had offered Japan a long list of cooperative measures, including invitations to military exercises, personnel exchanges, aircraft overflights, and joint naval maneuvers and port visits. He said the main purpose of those initiatives was to "contribute, with due account of our agreements with the United States and China, to the . . . security of the Asia-Pacific region." -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

During his visit to Japan on 3-4 March, Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev said Russia should supply light-water nuclear reactors to North Korea as part of a program to allow inspections of its nuclear facilities, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 March. North Korea has rejected the proposal that South Korea supply the reactors. Meanwhile, Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono told Kozyrev that Japan will provide $500,000 to Russia for assistance to Chechen refugees. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

At a one-day summit in Dashkhovua, Turkmenistan to discuss ways to alleviate the shrinking of the Aral Sea, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev chided the other Central Asian states for a lack of effort, Reuters reported on 3 March. He said the international community has done its part, but that Central Asia has only paid 15% of its capital pledge into a fund for saving the Aral Sea. He noted that Kazakhstan has paid 30% of its initial pledge, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan 2%, and Turkmenistan and Tajikistan nothing at all. The meeting was to have been held at the CIS summit last month, but was put off because Turkmenistan's President Saparmural Niyazov failed to show up. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

Representatives of the Tajik opposition, the UN, and the OSCE held talks in Islamabad on 3 March to discuss the venue for the fourth round of UN sponsored talks on a settlement of the civil war, a Radio Liberty correspondent reported. In a 3 March interview with Interfax, the head of the Tajik opposition Islamic Revival Movement, Akbar Turadzhonzoda, said he did not recognize the 27 February elections as valid. He denied aspiring to seize power in Tajikistan and proposed that power be transferred to a new state council representing both the present leadership and the opposition. On 4 March, Turadzhonzoda sent a letter to the UN announcing that the ceasefire agreed to in September 1994 would be extended until 26 April, AFP reported on 4 March. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

Georgian parliament chairman Eduard Shevardnadze has demanded "severe punishment" for some 200 members of the paramilitary organization Mkhedrioni who briefly occupied the mayor's office in Rustavi on 3 March, Interfax reported on 5 March. The group was protesting planned measures to prevent the illegal extortion of motor vehicle drivers in transit through southern Georgia to Armenia and Azerbaijan. Mkhedrioni is reportedly deeply involved in the extortion. Shevardnadze stated that such actions undermine Georgia's statehood and could jeopardize parliamentary elections scheduled for autumn 1995. On 2 March, the Tbilisi deputy police chief was shot dead by a subordinate, according to AFP. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.


Georgian parliament chairman Eduard Shevardnadze held talks in Tbilisi with the chairman of the CIS Committee on Air Defense, Col.-Gen. Viktor Prudnikov, on 4 March, Interfax reported. They discussed how to develop the Georgian air defense system in light of an agreement reached at the CIS summit in February. The Georgian Defense Ministry said earlier that the Georgian air defense system had fallen apart after the Russians left and much of the equipment was stolen. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

Preliminary results of the Estonian parliament elections on 5 March indicate that the governing right-of-center Pro Patria was severely defeated by more leftist parties, Western agencies report on 6 March. Official results will be announced on 8 March, but the division of mandates in the 101-seat parliament already seems to have been determined. The clear winner is the Coalition Party and Rural Union (CPRU), with 41 seats. The Reform Party has 19 seats; the Center Party 17; Pro Patria seven; and the Moderates, the Rightists, and the Russian-speakers' coalition "Our Home Is Estonia" six each. Coalition Party chairman Tiit Vahi appears to be the future prime minister, but the CPRU will have to form a coalition either with the Reform or Center Parties or with two of the other winning parties. Nine parties and coalitions did not gain the required 5% of the vote to obtain seats. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

The Sejm on 4 March voted by 272 to 99 with 13 abstentions to approve the cabinet and government program presented by Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy, Gazeta Wyborcza reported. President Lech Walesa, who must still formally appoint the government, did not attend the Sejm session devoted to debate on the new cabinet, but its composition is a clear victory for him. The ruling coalition opted in the end to accept his candidates for the three "presidential" ministries: Andrzej Milczanowski (internal affairs), Wladyslaw Bartoszewski (foreign affairs), and Zbigniew Okonski (defense). Two factors prompted the coalition's decision to back down: the president's evident determination to have his way (as demonstrated in his rejection of all candidates proposed by Oleksy) and the coalition parties' assumption that presidential elections in October or November would remove Walesa. Oleksy, in his address to the Sejm on 3 March, appealed to the president to sign the 1995 budget. He pledged to cooperate with Walesa but also warned that the government could not be divided "into so-called presidential ministries or ministries belonging to one party or another." The new government's priorities, as listed by Oleksy, include strict budgetary discipline, fighting unemployment, rapid privatization, and pension and health insurance reform. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

Although party proportions remain roughly the same, the new lineup suggests that government policy may be more coherent and less oriented to the demands of the farmers' lobby. The new agriculture minister, Roman Jagielinski, is viewed within his own Polish Peasant Party (PSL) as a "landlord" (that is, a proponent of efficient large-scale farming, rather than small peasant holdings). Former Finance Minister Marek Borowski will head the public administration. The old Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) economic team remains largely intact. Grzegorz Kolodko stays on as finance minister, as do Wieslaw Kaczmarek as privatization minister, Leszek Miller as labor minister, and Barbara Blida as construction minister. Former communist youth activist Jerzy Jaskiernia takes over as justice minister from Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, who was elected deputy speaker of the Sejm. Jozef Zych of the PSL was voted Sejm speaker to replace Oleksy. New faces in the government include the PSL's Klemens Scierski (manager of a Katowice power plant) as industry minister and former Deputy Health Minister Jacek Buchacz (PSL) as foreign trade minister, replacing the discredited Leslaw Podkanski. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

Following three days of talks in Kiev between G7 and Ukrainian officials on the future of the Chornobyl nuclear power station, Ukraine is still refusing to close down the plant, AFP reported on 3 March. The G7 promised in July 1994 to provide $800 million to help Ukraine shut Chornobyl. Kiev has argued that the sum is insufficient and says it cannot close Chornobyl's Nos. 1 and 3 reactors until alternative energy supplies are secured. The oldest reactor, No. 2, is to be brought back into service in 1996. Meanwhile, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Ihor Mityukov said Ukraine will repay a 1992 EU loan worth $35 million to buy medicine, Interfax reported on 4 March. The EU sent a letter in mid-February to the Ukrainian Finance Ministry demanding payments on the credit. Failure to make those payments would have jeopardized a new 85 million ecu ($111 million) credit from the EU. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Interfax on 3 March reported that deputy Uladzimir Hribanau has voiced concern over the fact that not a single diplomat on the staff of the Belarusian embassy in Russia is a Belarusian citizen. Hribanau said the problem stems from legislation on foreigners and state-less persons adopted in 1991. Stateless people continue to hold high positions, even though this contravenes the constitution. Hribanau went on to say that the current state of affairs explains why "Russia handles Belarus as part of itself." Meanwhile, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has issued a decree appointing four non-Foreign Ministry officials as ambassadors, Belarusian Radio reported the same day. The first deputy parliament speaker and head of the Belarusian Socialist Party, Vyacheslau Kuznyatsou, was named ambassador to China; Mayor of Minsk Alyaksandr Heramsimenka, ambassador to Bulgaria; deputy Mikalai Vaitsyankou, ambassador to the Czech Republic; and the chairman of the Mahileu Regional Council, Mikalai Hrineu, ambassador to Moldova. Deputy Foreign Minister Pyotr Belyayeu said he saw no problem with the appointment of non-professional diplomats, since there was a shortage of trained career diplomats in Belarus. He also said the appointments corrected several anomalies, citing the fact that since early 1992, Belarus has had no ambassador to China even though the Chinese have had representatives in Minsk. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Czech Deputy Prime Minister Jan Kalvoda was re-elected chairman of the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) at its 4-5 March congress, Lidove noviny reported. As sole candidate for the post, Kalvoda received 174 of the 231 votes. The only changes in the party leadership were the election of Privatization Minister Jiri Skalicky as a deputy chairman and the failure of two incumbent deputy chairmen to retain their posts. Several delegates criticized the way Kalvoda and other party leaders have handled various issues, including repayment of the ODA's 52 million koruny debt to a now-bankrupt bank and Kalvoda's public assertions that the secret service (BIS) illegally spied on his and other parties. Those assertions have not been proved. During the month after the BIS affair broke, the ODA, a junior partner in the four-party coalition government, lost almost one-third of its support among voters. -- Steve Kettle, OMRI, Inc.

Michal Kovac has accepted the resignation of Slovak Information Service Director Vladimir Mitro, despite the fact that a new director has not yet been named, Sme reported on 5 March. Several members of the government parties have announced support for a proposal that would shift the power to appoint and remove the SIS director from the president to the cabinet. Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, speaking on Slovak Radio on 3 March, said "it would be correct if the control and guarantee of impartiality were governed by the cabinet, which is under the control of the parliament and not the president, who considers himself an individual beyond the control of the parliament." He added that "the system of control through the government would be significantly more democratic and safe." -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

Vladimir Meciar, during a one-day visit to Vienna on 3 March, said he is prepared to discuss alternatives to completing Slovakia's nuclear plant at Mochovce, which is already 80% finished, AFP and Reuters reported. His statement came after Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitzsky offered Slovakia 500 million schillings ($50 million) to convert the plant into a gas-powered facility. Meciar called the offer inadequate, noting that "it would take three to four gas-powered plants to replace Mochovce," and said if the other options are found unacceptable, the plant at Mochovce will be completed. Austria is worried about safety at the new plant and has strongly opposed its completion, causing friction in otherwise good bilateral relations. Meciar noted that the problem of Mochovce will not disrupt Slovak-Austrian relations and that the visit helped "strengthen mutual trust," TASR reported. The EBRD is expected to decide by the end of March whether to offer Slovakia a DM 412 million ($274 million) loan to help complete Mochovce. The European Parliament on 16 February voted to suspend funds to complete the project. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

Austrian and Slovak environmentalists on 4 March stretched a 70 kilometer-long banner from Bratislava's main square to Vienna's St. Stephen's Cathedral, TASR and dpa reported. The banner contained the signatures of some 1.2 million citizens opposed to the completion of the Mochovce plant. Protesters then delivered a letter to the French Embassy in Bratislava, urging French investors to consider backing alternative energy projects. (The plant is being constructed by Slovensky Elektrarne and Electricite de France.) Meanwhile, returning on 3 March from a two-day visit to the U.S., Austrian Environmental Minister Maria Rauch-Kallat said the U.S. Department of Energy has promised to intervene to delay the EBRD's decision on granting the loan for Mochovce. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

The World Federation of Hungarians, together with representatives of the Hungarian minorities in Romania and Slovakia, has called on the Hungarian government to sign only treaties with Romania and Slovakia that guarantee "administrative autonomy" for Hungarian-populated areas, MTI reported. The Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania and the Hungarian Coalition in Slovakia said the basic treaties should be approved by ethnic Hungarians living in those countries. They stressed that reconciliation between peoples was impossible without guarantees of minority rights. The WFH warned that "bad or hasty" treaties would stand in the way of solving the problems of ethnic Hungarians. -- Edith Oltay, OMRI, Inc.

International media reported on 5 March that Bosnian Serbs let through a convoy with 30 tons of food to peacekeepers in the besieged enclave of Srebrenica, in eastern Bosnia. The 500 or so Dutch UNPROFOR troops had run out of food in the UN-declared "safe area." But the Serbs did not let a medical convoy pass. Nor have Serbs or Muslim rebels allowed any relief vehicles through to Bihac, in western Bosnia, where some 200,000 people are threatened by starvation. News agencies on 4 March quoted a UN spokesman as urging the combatants to show "maximum restraint" toward civilians and peacekeepers. He also said that the organization will not tolerate the Serb blockade against Srebrenica, Zepa, and Gorazde. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Macedonia and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development signed a loan agreement in Ohrid on 4 March, Vecher reported. Macedonia will receive $42.5 million over the next ten years to modernize its telecommunications system. Ivan Ginovski, director of the Macedonian Post and Telecommunications Company, said some 340,000 new telephone lines will be installed and 100,000 old telephones replaced. Finance Minister Jane Miljovski was cited as saying he is pleased that the EBRD is helping Macedonia "at one of the most difficult moments." -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

AFP on 4 March reported that Slovenian Foreign Minister Zoran Thaler has welcomed a decision by Rome, announced the previous day by Italian Foreign Minister Susanna Agnelli, to drop its veto against Slovenian attempts to negotiate associate member status in the European Union. The news agency quoted one unnamed Slovenian Foreign Ministry source as saying the Italian government's decision will help lay the foundation for "a positive and relaxed atmosphere" in which, it this hoped, both parties will be able to advocate "balanced solutions to problems." -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

Ion Iliescu, on the occasion of his 65th birthday, said that he has no intention yet "to lay down arms" and that he "felt duty-bound to the country" to "stay true for the rest of my life" to his "publicly expressed credo," the independent daily Evenimentul zilei reported on 4 March. Those remarks may have been an allusion to his intention to run for an additional term in 1996. Adrian Nastase, the executive president of the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania, was quoted by Evenimentul zilei as saying that the party's presidential candidate in the next elections will again be Iliescu. But it is unclear whether Iliescu's candidacy would be constitutional. The basic law, approved in a December 1991 referendum, limits the presidential terms to two; Iliescu served as elected president between 1990 and 1992 and was re-elected to that post in 1992. Proponents of Iliescu's third candidacy claim the provision should not apply retroactively to the approval of the constitution. Some 2,000 people, including leaders of the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania, came to the presidential palace on 3 March to congratulate Iliescu. The celebrations were covered extensively by Romanian Television. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

Arntraud Hartman, the World Bank representative in Bucharest, told a press conference on 3 March that the second installment of a loan to Romania will be released only if privatization is accelerated, the independent daily Romania libera and international media reported on 4 March. Hartman said the World bank was eager to see what results from the current debate in the parliament on the privatization bill. But she added that the mere passage of the law will not be enough and that the bank wants assurances in the form of "concrete mechanisms" to achieve privatization targets. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

Preliminary results of the 5 March referendum in five Moldovan districts on whether to become part of the Gagauz autonomous region suggest that not only the Gagauz but also other ethnic groups voted in favor of joining, international agencies reported. Moldovan Radio said voter turnout was 79%, exceeding the required 60%. The final results are expected on 6 March. Villages in which the Gagauz make up more than half of the population will automatically become part of the autonomous region, whose creation was approved by the parliament in December 1994. The referendum, which was monitored by observers from the Council of Europe, the OSCE, and Turkey, is to determine which other areas become part of that region. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

Eduard Selami was dismissed at the Democratic Party's extraordinary party congress on 5 March, AFP reported the next day. President Sali Berisha had called for his dismissal, saying that Selami had "obstructed" party policy. Selami had demanded that the posts of party leader and prime minister be combined, arguing that the government was not properly implementing the party program. He had also opposed Berisha by demanding that the new Albanian constitution be adopted by the parliament and not through a referendum. An earlier referendum in November 1994 was defeated. Meanwhile, a committee composed of representatives of the Socialist Party, the Social Democratic Party, Aleanca Demokratike, and the Party for Human Rights has published a proposal for a new Albanian constitution, the Albanian-language service of Deutsche Welle reported on 2 March. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

Greece on 3 March announced that it has lifted its veto against a customs union between the EU and Turkey, Reuters reported the same day. Greek government spokesman Evangelos Venizelos said Greece was ready to accept the agreement because all EU members are committed to starting membership talks between the union and Cyprus six months after an intergovernment meeting scheduled for 1996. Greek European Affairs Minister Georgios-Alexandros Mangakis was quoted as saying that "the agreement satisfies Greek demands" and that the government of the Republic of Cyprus, "as the sole voice of the Cypriot people, including the Turkish Cypriots, has the responsibility to negotiate Cyprus's entry [into the EU]." Under the agreement, another Greek condition for lifting the veto, namely financial support for its textile industry, will be examined in 1996. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave