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Newsline - March 7, 1995

At a meeting on 6 March chaired by President Boris Yeltsin, the Security Council condemned the Interior Ministry, the Federal Counterintelligence Service, and the Prosecutor's Office for failing to take adequate steps to combat crime, agencies reported. "This situation discredits the power of the state, diminishes faith in it, and threatens the national security of Russia," said a statement issued by the President's Office after the meeting, which was prompted by the murder last week of TV journalist Vladislav Listev. The statement went on to say that implementation of the anti-crime program adopted in June 1994 was at risk because of insufficient funding. The council reportedly drew up a series of proposals aimed at making the fight against crime more effective, but no details were given. The Interior Ministry has set up a task force headed by Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Kulikov to help Moscow law enforcement agencies solve serious crimes, especially contract killings, Interfax reported on 6 March. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

Before the Security Council meeting, acting Prosecutor-General Alexei Ilyushenko formally dismissed Moscow Prosecutor Gennady Ponomarev, despite earlier reports that Yeltsin had rethought his decision to sack him. Ponomarev subsequently told Interfax he feared that a crackdown on crime could lead to police lawlessness, warning that emergency measures should not be taken without guarantees that the constitution would be respected. His replacement, Sergei Gerasimov, described Ponomarev's removal as unjust, telling Russian TV that it "destabilizes the situation and plays into the hands of criminals." A deputy Moscow prosecutor, meanwhile, expressed doubt that Listev's murder would be solved, and a Moscow police official said he thought that although the men who killed Listev might be caught, those who ordered his assassination would go free, Interfax reported. Also on 6 March, Interior Minister Viktor Yerin went ahead with a recommendation by Yeltsin to dismiss Moscow police chief Vladimir Pankratov, appointing Nikolai Kulikov to act in his stead. Kulikov, hitherto the head of the criminal investigation division of the capital's police force, said he planned no major policy changes. Yeltsin's decision to fire Ponomarev and Pankratov has been harshly criticized, in particular by Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov. Reuters cited an official in the presidential administration as saying the situation "could lead to a full-blown political crisis. Luzhkov is too powerful to be treated like this." -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

Rossiiskaya gazeta, a heavily-subsidized organ of the Russian executive branch, accused the State Duma's Yabloko faction of exploiting Listev's murder on 4 March. Yabloko has advocated Yeltsin's resignation and acts of civil disobedience if the killers of Listev and Dmitry Kholodov (the investigative reporter who was murdered in October 1994) are not found within a month. Rossiiskaya gazeta charged that Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, who "seems to give the impression of an educated and intelligent man," knows that such investigations take time and is using Listev's death to further his own presidential aspirations. The article also attacked unnamed journalists who called for a week-long media strike to protest violence against their colleagues, saying subscribers who have paid for daily news coverage "may easily take the strikers to court." -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc.

The Security Council has failed in its original purpose of balancing political and economic interests against the demands of the military, security agencies, and police within the government, Tamara Zamyatina, an ITAR-TASS commentator, wrote in Rossiiskie vesti on 7 March. It failed to play that role when the power ministries began to dominate the political situation. The council's real power lies in its 10 interdepartmental commissions, rather than in its occasional meetings. Deputy Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rubanov said the main cause for the disastrous Chechnya policy was that the regional policy committee, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai, had no sense of guiding principles on how to conduct relations between Moscow and members of the federation. The article also criticized the council for its secretive decision-making procedures, conjecturing that council members do not want any publicity so that they can avoid taking responsibility for their actions. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

In the same issue of Rossiiskie vesti, Security Council press secretary Valery Kadzhaya denounced the media's numerous "false reports" in recent months. He noted errors in newspaper accounts of the council's investigation following last October's ruble crash. He called media coverage of the Chechen crisis "disgraceful," saying it damaged the soldiers' morale, but denied the council had ever accused reporters of being "Dudaev's accomplices." He blamed reporters in the mass media for citing nonexistent documents "instead of the established facts," especially in speculative "behind-the-scenes" stories on the council. In particular, Kadzhaya faulted journalists for relying on anonymous sources, whom he compared to the "informers" of the past. Only those "without a clear conscience" insist on anonymity, he wrote, while "decent" and "honest" people are not afraid to speak on the record. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov set three conditions for NATO expansion eastward during talks with US officials at the end of February, AFP reported on 6 March. According to diplomatic and military sources, Russia wants a formal permanent body set up to hold consultations with NATO. Russia also wants no additional troops and no nuclear weapons deployed on new members' territory. On the first point, U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry has suggested a less formal consultative body. NATO has reacted coolly to any troop and nuclear weapons restrictions. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

EU foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels on 6 March, decided to postpone the implementation of an interim trade accord with Russia, international agencies reported. The ministers had decided to go ahead with the accord in January but reversed that decision largely because of the Chechen war. They told French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe to inform the Russian leadership during an 8-10 March visit that the pact will only go ahead after the EU is satisfied that human rights are being respected. Juppe said, "We do not want to isolate Russia, we do want to make it clear Russia has to respect commitments entered into with the EU." Although British Defense Minister Douglas Hurd said the EU is not issuing an ultimatum, he did mention three areas in which it is looking for improvement: progress on a political settlement, a stronger OSCE presence, and better humanitarian aid access. The Financial Times reported that the meeting was tense, with one official saying, "Germany is fearful of doing anything that could drive Russia away. But others, such as Denmark and the Netherlands, want to hold up the trade pact to send a strong message to Moscow." -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn denounced human rights abuses in Chechnya prior to meeting with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in Moscow on 6 March, international agencies reported. Horn was accompanied by his foreign minister, Laszlo Kovacs, who currently holds the rotating OSCE chairmanship, and Istvan Gyarmati, who headed an OSCE mission to Chechnya in late January. Horn's talks with Chernomyrdin are expected to include discussions on Chechnya and bilateral economic matters. Chernomyrdin said Russia and Hungary have no political disagreements and "we are great partners and we have a potential for very important economic development." -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Alexei Strakhov criticized the local Duma for trying to schedule elections for governor, Interfax reported on 6 March. He said his administration is not afraid of standing for election but that he does not consider it necessary to do so before the adoption of appropriate legislation on the federal and local levels. At present, Yeltsin appoints all governors. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

President Yeltsin may leave on a two-week vacation in the second half of March, a Kremlin source told Interfax on 6 March. The source said Yeltsin will probably spend time on the Black Sea coast, as he did in 1993 and 1994. He will use the time away from Moscow to develop strategic plans in the areas of the economy, formation of political institutions, and local governments. The source said he is likely to pay special attention to military reform. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

Russia's inflation rate has slowed to 11%, down from January's 17.8% level, the government's Business Conditions Center reported to Russian sources on 6 March. The lowest monthly inflation rate in five months, the number shows that "the measures adopted by the government are starting to be felt," a center representative said. First Deputy Premier Anatoly Chubais said the "inflation dynamics have been broken" and expected further decreases in future months, AFP reported. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

The ruble lost 27 points in MICEX trading on 6 March, closing at 4,585 rubles/$1, the Financial Information Service reported. The initial demand dropped by $53.94 million compared with the previous trading session to $63.95 million. The initial supply was $50.25 million. According to currency dealers, when the mid-trading rate was at 4,582 rubles/$1, the Central Bank withdrew bids for $3.68 million and then at 4,583 rubles for $5 million more. Toward the end of the session, the Central Bank intervened in the market and offered $5 million for sale. Same-day contract settlement rates were 4,584-4587 rubles/$1, with one-day spot rates at 4,593-4596 rubles/$1. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said American inspectors had been satisfied at the three strategic nuclear missile bases they inspected during the last several days, Interfax reported on 6 March. The inspectors looked at a rail-mobile SS-24 base near Kostroma in European Russia and two bases in Siberia: a road-mobile SS-25 base near Irkutsk and a base near Yasnya which once held SS-11 ICBMs. The spokesman said two additional American teams arrived in Moscow on 5 March. A team of Russian inspectors flew to the United States on 4 March to conduct similar inspections. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

Seventy per cent of the conscripts from military districts in Western Russia do not want to serve in the armed forces, according to the Russian Youth Committee. The committee also said 50% of the youths thought that notions such as military honor were part of the past and "now lack sense," Interfax reported on 6 March. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

The first auction to sell off blocks of shares in large and medium-sized state-owned enterprises in Armenia will take place on 12 March, according to a spokesman for the Armenian State Commission for Privatization, Interfax reported on 2 March. Residents and foreign investors will have the same right to acquire shares. Non-residents will be able to exchange foreign currency for Armenian drams at a special rate on the day of auction. Before the end of 1995, 46.89% of all government-owned enterprises are to be privatized. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.


Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets said serious differences remain between Russia and Ukraine over the treaty on friendship and cooperation initialed on 8 February in Kiev, Reuters reported on 6 March. Russia continues to demand that Sevastopol serve as a base for its share of the Black Sea Fleet, while Ukraine insists the base be shared with the Ukrainian Navy. There has also been little progress on resolving Ukraine's $2.5 billion energy debt to Russia. The problem of dual citizenship was left out of the treaty altogether and is to be addressed in a separate document. When the treaty was initialed by the first deputy prime ministers of the two countries, it was reported that Yeltsin would visit Kiev to sign the agreement in late March. However, reports that Yeltsin plans a two-week vacation at the end of this month have cast doubts on the planned visit. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

President Lech Walesa formally appointed Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy and the new cabinet on 6 March, Radio Warsaw reported. In what a spokesman called a "good-will gesture," the president also announced he was withdrawing his constitutional complaint against the 1995 budget, which, he said, he would sign into law. The budget still violates constitutional norms, the spokesman argued, but the president had decided to give the new government a chance. Walesa said that he "did not intend to limit the government's independence" but noted that "the Presidency is also an institution of executive power." Also on 6 March, the president vetoed a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the Sejm to remain in session until new elections in the event of the dissolution of the parliament. Under current law, the parliament ceases to meet. The legislation was adopted when Walesa's threats to dissolve the parliament were most pronounced. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

The new prime minister's first decisions signaled an end to the decision-making paralysis that plagued his predecessor. Oleksy on 7 March appointed Jerzy Stanczyk, the candidate endorsed by the internal affairs minister, as commander of the national police force. The post had been vacant for nearly a month, and the police had effectively lacked leadership since the ousted commander was implicated in a corruption scandal last year. The prime minister also announced the formation of a special task force on crime. The new government's concern for good public relations was clear in Oleksy's selection of former TV reporter Aleksandra Jakubowska as press spokesman. Jakubowska said journalists would always be welcome at government headquarters. Friction between the two coalition partners was also immediately evident: the Polish Peasant Party protested Oleksy's decision to appoint Labor Minister Leszek Miller of the Democratic Left Alliance to head the government's social policy committee. At Oleksy's request, all cabinet members signed a statement saying they could not be implicated in any crimes or scandals. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

The Crimean parliament on 6 March nearly reinstated its chairman, Serhii Tsekov, only days after it pressured him to resign, Reuters and Interfax-Ukraine reported the same day. Tsekov, who served as intermediary during the power struggle last fall between Crimean President Yurii Meshkov and the legislature, fell one vote short of the absolute majority he needed in the 98-member parliament to regain his post. The other candidate was Mykhailo Shumakov, a factory manager. A second round of voting is expected later in the week. The power vacuum on the peninsula following Tsekov's resignation last week and the stripping of most of the Crimean president's powers by parliament last autumn has prompted calls for early elections to the Crimean legislature. -- Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.

Alyaksandr Lukashenka flew to the Belgian capital on 5 March for a three-day visit with heads of the European Union, Belarusian Radio reported. Before his departure, Lukashenka said this was probably his most important visit in the past six months. He stressed its economic significance, saying that the EU accounted for 35% of Belarusian exports, or almost all exports outside the CIS. Asked about the possibility of meeting with NATO officials, Lukashenka said it was necessary to inform the organization of the financial difficulties Belarus was encountering in scrapping military hardware, as required by the CFE treaty. Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimir Syanko said the visit demonstrated that Belarusian foreign policy is multifaceted and not solely Russian-oriented, as many people believe. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Alyaksandr Abramovich, head of the Central Electoral Commission, said on 3 March that there will be 260 electoral districts in the parliament elections scheduled for 14 May, Belarusian Radio reported. In order to nominate a candidate, a support group must collect 500 signatures from among the electorate. Candidates may be nominated by both political parties and the public. Judges, ministers, and other officials appointed by the president cannot run for the parliament. The registration of candidates will last one month, after which the election campaign kicks off. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Elections results released in the late afternoon of 6 March differed slightly from those issued in the morning, BNS reported. Pro Patria won eight and not seven seats and the Center Party 16 not 17. Coalition Party Chairman and likely prime minister Tiit Vahi refuted claims that the results indicated "a victory for the Left and a return of the former communists." He pointed out that the number of communists in his alliance was no greater than in many other alliances. Vahi also said he will hold talks with the right-of-center Reform Party, the Center Party, and the Rightists as possible coalition partners. Voter turnout in the 5 March parliament elections was 69.1%. The 52 international observers found no serious faults in the organization of the elections and no gross violations of the election law. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

The State Statistical Committee reported that in 1994, Latvians consumed an average of 7.77 liters of absolute alcohol, BNS reported on 3 March. That figure was broken down as follows: 4.96 liters of vodka, 0.98 liters of wine, 0.30 liters of cognac, 0.30 liters of champagne, and 1.23 liters of beer. Per capita consumption of absolute alcohol was 5.23 liters in 1992 and 6.4 liters in 1993. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

Paavo Rantanen flew to Vilnius on 3 March on a one-day working visit, BNS reported. Talks with Lithuanian Foreign Minister Povilas Gylys focused on improving bilateral relations. The two leaders discussed visa-free travel between their countries, which will depend on Lithuania's control over its borders. Rantanen expressed support for Lithuania's effort to gain associate membership in the European Union and said he hoped that a major stumbling block, the ban on the sale of land to foreigners, will be resolved. The parliament began discussing a constitutional amendment to allow foreign ownership of land, but the amendment will have to be approved by the opposition because passage requires a two-thirds majority vote. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

Movement for a Democratic Slovakia deputy Dusan Macuska on 6 March proposed to the parliament that the power to remove and appoint the director of the Slovak Intelligence Service be transferred from the president to the government, Narodna obroda reported. Macuska said the proposal is logical because the SIS director is responsible to the Council of State Defense, of which the president is not a member and of which the prime minister is chairman. He said it does not make sense that the power to name the SIS director remains in the hands of the president, "who does not have the support of the parliament or even of the majority of the population." Rejecting claims that the proposal will lead to a concentration of power, Macuska said it is a move against such a concentration "in the hands of the president." Of the 79 deputies present (those from the opposition did not attend the session), 75 voted in favor and four abstained. The parliament also began to discuss the cabinet's 1995 budget draft, which Party of the Democratic Left Deputy Chairwoman Brigita Schmoegnerova called "more restrictive" than that of the previous government. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

A number of Slovak dailies--including Sme, Pravda, Praca, and Narodna obroda--on 6 March printed a front page featuring a single statement entitled "Anxiety." The statement, dated 3 March, was signed by leading dailies (both national and regional), magazines, the Presidium of the Association of Publishers of the Periodical Press (ZVPT), and the Slovak Syndicate of Journalists. It begins: "We express anxiety concerning the efforts to raise value-added tax for periodical and non-periodical press; to discriminate against foreign capital in this area; to limit advertising revenues, which would raise prices; and other efforts to exacerbate the already difficult situation of newspapers and magazines." The parliament caucuses of the governing parties, reacting to the statement, said the proposal to raise taxes has not been submitted for discussion in the current session of parliament, Pravda reports. Deputy Premier Katarina Tothova said she met on 3 March with members of the ZVPT Presidium and assured them that neither the government nor the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia wants to bring such a proposal before the parliament. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

International media on 7 March reported that the governments of Croatia and the Croatian-Muslim federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina announced a new military alliance the previous day. It is not clear whether this is a concrete measure or one of mainly symbolic value, but it comes three weeks after the Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia took a similar step. The Boston Globe notes that Croatian Television ran the story about the Croatian-Muslim command in its 6 March newscast right behind one on talks between US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke and President Franjo Tudjman. The media speculated that Holbrooke had wanted to present new ideas to Tudjman on possible ways to extend UNPROFOR's mandate in Croatia, but Croatian sources later said that the two men talked only about what would happen when the peacekeepers left. In any event, Croatian Chief-of-Staff General Janko Bobetko's announcement that the joint command will "defend the Croatian-Muslim federation" is one more sign that a renewed conflict in the area may be in the offing. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Bosnian Serb commander General Ratko Mladic said on 6 March that the peacekeepers are not welcome in that republic if Tudjman evicts them from Croatia, the BBC reported. Meanwhile in Brussels, the EU foreign ministers endorsed a British and French proposal to link talks with Zagreb on a future cooperation agreement to Tudjman's allowing UNPROFOR to stay. Germany, Austria, and the EU Commission had wanted to start talks without reference to UNPROFOR, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported on 7 March. In Bosnia itself, Vjesnik reported that Pale has levied a monthly per capita tax of about DM 200 on Bosnian Serbs working abroad. All sides in the former Yugoslavia have regularly "passed the hat" among the guest workers. And in London, Bosnian Foreign Minister Irfan Ljubijancic told the BBC that the West is wasting its time making political offers to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, because "the only language he understands is force." Nasa Borba adds that the minister warned that an expanded war is approaching. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Nasa Borba on 7 March reported that representatives of the international Contact Group will resume talks in Paris the same day in what appears to be a renewed bid to avert a new war in the former Yugoslavia. One unnamed British official, quoted by Reuters, summed up the mood by observing "The clock is ticking. . . . It's a question of getting all hands on deck." Meanwhile, a report by Thorvald Stoltenberg and Lord Owen states that the international sanctions monitoring team stationed along the Serbian-Bosnian border is running out of funds, which may force the operation to close down. -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

International media reported on 6 March that the European Union has given the go-ahead for officials to begin negotiations with Slovenia on an association agreement. The announcement came in the wake of Italy's agreeing to drop its veto on an EU agreement with Ljubljana. AFP reported that the Slovenian capital has responded to Italy's move with a commitment "to modify by the end of its negotiations with the European Union, articles in its constitution discriminating against its large Italian minority." An association agreement offers the possibility of eventual EU membership. -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

Ferenc Somogyi, secretary of state at the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, began a two-day visit to Bucharest on 6 March, Romanian media reported the same day. Somogyi and his Romanian counterpart, Marcel Dinu, are expected to sign a document accompanying the basic treaty between the two countries. Expert-level negotiations on the treaty resumed in Budapest at the same time. Radio Bucharest, quoting MTI, reported on 7 March that the only outstanding issue to be resolved is that of national minorities. The previous day, Radio Bucharest reported that two new ethnic Hungarian organizations in Romania had issued a declaration noting the worsening situation of Hungarian minorities in "neighboring countries where aggressive nationalism is growing" and claiming that those minorities are facing a process of "assimilation and cultural genocide." The International Transylvanian Committee and the National Union of Transylvanian Circles insist that the "right to self-determination" for the Hungarian minorities must be included in basic treaties. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

Romanian Industry Minister Dumitru Popescu told Rompres on 6 March that two officials in charge of the construction of the nuclear power plant at Cernavoda have been dismissed and that the administrative council of the state electricity company RENEL has ceased to function. A new council will be appointed within five days. Popescu said that there were "unjustified delays" of three to four months in the construction at Cernavoda. He also accused the dismissed officials of delaying negotiations with the Canadian-Italian consortium supervising the work. The talks were to focus on the financing of a second unit at Cernavoda. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

The commission responsible for implementing the special status of the Gagauz autonomous region announced on 6 March that at least 27 of the 36 ethnically mixed districts that participated in the 5 March referendum have voted to join the region, Interfax reported According to the same source, seven districts have decided not to join and the results from two districts are not yet available. But Reuters, quoting Moldovan officials, said 30 districts have decided to join. In some districts, the vote in favor was close to 90%. Observers from the Council of Europe praised the referendum as fair and said they hoped it will enable Moldova to speed up its membership in the council. One observer said that if other ethnic groups in other countries "could live together as well as you live in this country, the world would be more peaceful." Fears that other ethnic groups in southern Moldova would boycott the vote proved unfounded. Gagauz leader Stepan Topal told Interfax that the districts joining the autonomous region will not participate in the local elections scheduled elsewhere in Moldova for 16 April. Elections in the autonomous region are set for May. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

The European Union and Turkey on 6 March signed a customs union agreement, AFP reported the same day. The accord, which will take effect on 1 January 1996, virtually incorporates Turkey into the EU's single market. Some Turkish industries will remain protected from EU competition, and Turkish agricultural exports will still face restrictions. Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller said the deal is a "crucial turning point" in the country's history, adding it will "pave the way for political and financial integration with Europe." Politicians and diplomats from EU member states agreed that the customs union will mean closer Turkish ties to the West and may prevent that country from sliding toward Islamic fundamentalism. Greece lifted its veto against the customs union on 3 March in return for an EU commitment to start membership talks with Cyprus, probably in 1997. The customs union can still be overruled by the European Parliament, which has threatened to vote it down because of Turkey's poor human rights record. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave