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Newsline - March 21, 1995

The State Duma commission investigating the causes of the Chechen war examined Dzhokhar Dudaev's fall 1991 rise to power, Interfax reported on 20 March. Sergei Bekov, Chechnya's former prime minister, said that contrary to Dudaev's assertions, his cabinet did not back the August 1991 Moscow coup nor provide any money for the election of Dudaev as republican president. Doku Zavgayev, former chairman of the Chechen-Ingush republican legislature and now in the Russian president's administration, said the dissolution of the republic's parliament on 15 September 1991 was planned in Moscow. He asserted that Dudaev held "intensive telephone talks" with Russian parliamentary leaders and that several carloads of weapons were delivered to Dudaev from Moscow. He also said that on 25 August 1991, former Russian Supreme Soviet Chairman Ruslan Khasbulatov sent him a telegram accusing him of supporting the Moscow coup and demanding that he convene parliament to elect a new chairman, otherwise the parliament would be dissolved. Khasbulatov, present at the Duma hearing, admitted that he had sent such a telegram. He said it was at President Boris Yeltsin's initiative but did not remember who in Yeltsin's team had originally proposed the idea. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

Sergei Blagovolin, an economist with the analytical center of Russian Public Television, has been appointed to succeed Vladislav Listev as the new company's executive director, Reuters reported on 20 March. Blagovolin also serves on President Yeltsin's advisory council. Russian Public Television is scheduled to take over broadcasting on Channel One from Ostankino on 1 April. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc.

Meanwhile, staff at the Moscow Ostankino station produced a 10-minute special program that was broadcast during the evening news on 20 March, Ostankino television reported. The program, entitled "Ostankino--SOS," featured an appeal to Yeltsin to revoke his November 1994 decree on reorganizing Ostankino into Russian Public Television. The restructuring plan has been criticized for auctioning 49% of Ostankino's shares to selected corporations in secret under the supervision of a small group of cadres. The Moscow Ostankino employees also denounced Alexander Yakovlev, who resigned as Ostankino chairman on 16 March and will be the chairman of the board of Russian Public Television. On 10 March, the State Duma passed a draft resolution to suspend all privatization of state television for the next five years. However, Russian Public Television still plans to start broadcasting on 1 April. The Duma is scheduled to hold more hearings on the privatization of Russian television on 21 March, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc.

President Yeltsin's reorganization of Ostankino is an attempt to control the electoral process, according to an article in Nezavisimaya gazeta on 21 March. If the elections are held, Yeltsin will need to conduct a media campaign to elect sympathetic candidates; if they are canceled, he will need to explain that move to the population. The article speculates, however, that Yeltsin is unhappy with both Ostankino and Russian Public Television, which will succeed it. Accordingly, he may use the parliament's opposition to the reorganization as a face-saving measure to back away from his earlier plans. The article also suggests that board chairman Yakovlev may not fully support the president. It paraphrased Yakovlev as saying that his new Russian Party of Social Democracy might not support Yeltsin for reelection because of the increasing danger that he will impose a totalitarian regime. The article contradicts the current wisdom about Yeltsin's intentions and Yakovlev's support for the president. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

The Russian government held a closed-door meeting on 18 March to discuss the economic reform program for 1995-97, Segodnya reported. According to government sources, Economics Minister Yevgeny Yasin delivered a report outlining the program's key provisions. Those include slashing the pace of inflation by 1-2% per month, cutting the budget deficit to 5-6%, and raising at least $10 billion in currency reserves. On 20 March, Yasin commented to news agencies that the government's key goal is to attain financial stability within the economy. Reduced inflation will be achieved by giving up Central Bank funding of the budget deficit and turning instead to the domestic bond market and international lenders, he said. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

U.S. President Bill Clinton has agreed to attend celebrations in Moscow on 9 May marking the 50th anniversary of the allied victory over Nazi Germany, international agencies reported on 21 March. His attendance had long been in doubt and the decision to go ahead seems to have been based in part on Russia's agreeing to tone down the military aspect of the parade and simply display World War II vintage equipment. In addition, Russia has also agreed in principle to allow a permanent OSCE mission to be stationed in Chechnya. Clinton has come under fire from the Republican Party for his decision. The head of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jesse Helms, said the visit "will be perceived as an implicit show of support for the policies of the Russian government" and provide an implicit endorsement of "Russian aggression in Chechnya, nuclear sales to Iran, and meddling by Russian agents in the affairs of former Soviet Republics." -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

General Mikhail Kolesnikov, chief of the Russian General Staff, told a German newspaper recently that the General Staff fully supported President Yeltsin's resistance to the eastward expansion of NATO and, in fact, was demanding that the western alliance be immediately dissolved. His remarks were published in Die Welt on 20 March. Kolesnikov recognized that NATO had been important to the West during the Cold War but said that today its existence was "absolutely pointless." Speaking on Deuschlandfunk radio the same day, German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel rejected Kolesnikov's demand as "totally absurd." -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

A Russian government commission on foreign debts and assets approved the basic conditions on restructuring debts for deliveries of foreign goods to the former USSR before January 1992, the Financial Information Agency reported on 20 March. Mikhail Kasyanov, a Finance Ministry representative, said "the final terms of restructuring and repaying debts to companies will be negotiated with regional creditor clubs." He said more than 80% of the foreign companies with financial claims on Russia have formed regional clubs, the biggest of which are located in Germany, Japan, Italy, Britain, Austria, and Finland. Kasyanov also noted that after the IMF agreement and the final approval of the federal budget, there is every reason to believe that by the end of 1995, Russia will manage to resolve its problems related to restructuring Soviet foreign debts. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

The Russian ruble lost 19 points in MICEX trading on 20 March, closing at 4,807 rubles to $1, the Financial Information Agency reported. A total of $14.92 million was sold, with the initial demand at $64.97 million and the initial supply at $50.05 million. Forty-six commercial banks participated. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

The deputy chairman of the Independent Union of Vorkuta Miners, Viktor Semenov, said 38,000 Vorkuta pensioners have become "hostages of the north," Interfax reported on 19 March. One of the local union's demands is for a state program to move former mine workers from the polar region. Twenty of the union's activists began a hunger strike on 16 March. The miners' main grievance is nonpayment of wages. Interfax on 20 March quoted Yury Vishnevsky, the chairman of the Vorkuta branch of the Russian Coal Workers' Union, as saying the activists are ready to compromise and are currently waiting for the arrival of an interdepartmental commission on labor disputes and a Fuel and Energy Ministry commission. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

Addressing law enforcement officials in Baku on 19 March, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev claimed foreign intelligence services were involved in last week's failed coup, Interfax reported on 20 March. In that connection, Aliyev named a Turkish national who served as an adviser to the Azerbaijani parliament. Aliyev further claimed that "forces that wish to change the political situation" are still operating both within and outside Azerbaijan. Prosecutor-General Eldar Gasanov said 38 people were killed in the fighting including six civilians, which are lower figures than Western correspondents' estimates. He said 362 people have been arrested. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

The World Bank is to provide Uzbekistan with $32 million to help save the Aral Sea, and it is considering additional loans totaling $200 million over the next three years, international news agencies reported on 20 March. Under the program, experts from several countries will be invited to assess the extent of the disaster. The World Bank will help fund analyses of new ways to handle water resources, deal with soil salinity, restore the deltas of the Amu and Syr Darya rivers, and improve the health of local people. The Aral Sea, once the world's largest inland body of water, has shrunk dramatically due to over-exploitation of the Syr and Amu Darya rivers which feed it. Some 10 million people are believed to have been affected by the ecological disaster. -- Lowell Bezanis, OMRI, Inc.

The OSCE talks on a settlement of the Karabakh conflict, scheduled to take place in Stockholm on 20-24 March, have been postponed, Interfax reported on 18 March. Various explanations have been given: an OSCE spokesman said conditions for a dialogue have not been created; an Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman told Interfax that Azerbaijan had requested a postponement because of domestic political instability; while Karabakh presidential spokesman Alexandr Grigoryan told journalists on 20 March that the mediators were to blame for failing to propose a mutually acceptable solution. Die Presse on 16 March quoted a Western diplomat involved in the OSCE Karabakh mediation as complaining that every time a breakthrough appears imminent, one of the conflicting parties backs down. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.


Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets arrived in Kiev for further negotiations on the Russian-Ukrainian friendship and cooperation treaty, international agencies reported on 20 March. One of the main issues on the agenda was a rescheduling of Kiev's $2.7 billion debt to Moscow. The Russian government proposed that Kiev repay one-fifth of the debt annually until 2001, but reserved the right to annul the agreement if Ukraine missed payments. Under the current agreement, Ukraine is obliged to pay Moscow $635 million in 1994 and $485 million in 1995 and 1996. The issue of the Black Sea Fleet reportedly remains unresolved. Russia continues to insist that its navy alone be based in Sevastopol and that the Ukrainian Navy move to Donuzlav. The Ukrainian Navy says it will not abandon Sevastopol and the base will have to be shared. At the end of the meeting Soskovets signed agreements on debt restructuring with his Ukrainian counterpart Yevhen Marchuk. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev arrived in Tbilisi on 20 March to discuss bilateral military and technical cooperation within the parameters of the CIS Collective Security Treaty, Interfax reported. Serious disagreements exist within the collegium of the Georgian Defense Ministry over the issue of Russian military bases in Georgia, according to Interfax on 17 March. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

Ministers from the 52 member states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe signed an EU-sponsored Stability Pact on 20 March, international agencies reported. The purpose of the pact is to "render irreversible the advances of democracy and institute durable good-neighborliness in Europe." The pact was signed on the first day of the final session of the EU Conference on European Stability, which has focused on resolving territorial disputes and the question of minority rights. The EU has insisted that these issues be settled before applicants from Eastern Europe can join. More than 90 bilateral and multilateral agreements included in the treaty have been negotiated since the Conference opened last year. The most significant of these agreements is the bilateral treaty signed by Hungary and Slovakia on 19 March in Paris. The implementation of the stability pact will be overseen by the OSCE. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

Nicolae Vacaroiu and Gyula Horn signed a joint declaration "five minutes before the opening" of the EU Conference on the Pact of Stability in Paris, Radio Bucharest reported on 20 March. The two leaders said that negotiations on a basic treaty between their countries were "nearly concluded" and would resume in April. Vacaroiu, addressing the conference, pledged to establish good-neighborly relations with Hungary. He began his official visit to France the same day, meeting with French Premier Edouard Balladur, who said he was "satisfied" with the joint Romanian-Hungarian declaration. Vacaroiu also held talks with Slovak Premier Vladimir Meciar, saying that Slovakia's acceptance of Recommendation 1201 will put other countries under pressure to approve it. But he added that Romania was "adamant" in its rejection of the recommendation. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

Hungary's opposition parties, in a heated parliament debate on 20 March, accused the government of hurting the interests of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia by signing a bilateral treaty with that country, MTI and Western news agencies report. The opposition parties said the treaty could not be enforced as it contained no provision for monitoring the observance of minority rights. They also charged that Slovakia interpreted the treaty differently from Hungary, pointing out that, according to Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, the treaty does not give political autonomy to ethnic Hungarians. Jozsef Torgyan, chairman of the Independent Smallholders' Party, criticized the government "for selling the basic rights of Hungarians." -- Edith Oltay, OMRI, Inc.

Democratic Union deputy and former Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan on 20 March said the Slovak-Hungarian treaty exceeds European standards and allows for multiple interpretations, particularly of the Council of Europe Recommendation 1201, which grants minorities the right to set up autonomous organizations. Christian Democratic Movement Chairman Jan Carnogursky expressed support for the treaty but noted that just last year, Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar and his allies were accusing the Hungarian minority of betraying Slovakia. Slovak National Party Chairman Jan Slota, whose party is a member of the governing coalition, expressed concern in interviews with Pravda and Slovenska Republika about the inclusion of Recommendation 1201, which he called "unsuitable." He also expressed sympathy with the standpoint of the Romanian government, which has delayed signing the agreement. Meanwhile, Meciar, attending the Conference on the Pact of Stability in Paris, said that autonomy for minorities is unacceptable. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

The Presidium of the Crimean legislature on 20 March announced it will ask deputies to approve its plan to send a five-member delegation to Kiev for talks with the Ukrainian parliament over its recent moves to annul Crimea's constitution and abolish its Presidency, Interfax-Ukraine reported the same day. Serhii Tsekov, recently reinstated as parliament speaker, said the Crimean legislators would continue drafting a bill on the Crimean Presidency, despite Ukraine's move. Meanwhile, Crimean President Yurii Meshkov has claimed he is still in charge of the region, and he called the Ukrainian parliament's decision unconstitutional. Meshkov, who is under criminal investigation for promoting Crimea's secession from Ukraine, was ordered on 20 March to turn over weapons he had been given for his personal protection. The situation in Crimea is generally calm, despite the standoff. Some 40 Crimeans lined up outside the newly opened Russian consulate in Simferopol on 20 March to apply for Russian citizenship, although dual Ukrainian-Russian citizenship is illegal. -- Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.

Belarusian Television on 19 March reported that Alyaksandr Lukashenka has issued a decree dismissing Iosif Syaryedzich, chief editor of parliament news- paper Narodna hazeta. The report did not say why Lukashenka had dismissed Syaryedzich but noted that the president had met with the newspapers editors and told them "We will be sued." Lukashenka's government came under severe criticism in December for censoring newspapers that reported on a sensational speech by a parliament deputy on corruption in his administration. Interfax reported on 20 March that the parliament opposition had included Syaryedzich's dismissal on the session's agenda, saying it was illegal. According to deputy Uladzimir Zamyatalin, Syaryedzich was dismissed for publishing an anonymous letter calling for civil disobedience. Zamyatalin said Lukashenka did not have the right to dismiss Syaryedzich since he had been appointed by the parliament. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

The Estonian parliament elected on 5 March held its first session on 21 March, BNS reported. Reform Party deputy Toomas Savi was elected chairman, defeating rightist deputy Ulo Nugis by a vote of 52 to 48. The government of Prime Minister Andres Tarand will continue to work until a new government is approved by the parliament. Meri has two weeks to nominate a new prime minister, who will then form a government. Slightly less than half (48) of the 101 deputies were members of the former parliament and 23 members of the former Soviet Estonian Supreme Council. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

Prime Minister Maris Gailis has asked Latvia's Way parliament deputy Raimonds Jonitis to become the first Industrial Policy and Privatization State Minister at the Economics Ministry, BNS reported on 20 March. Gailis had proposed that the Privatization Ministry be abolished, but his coalition partner, the Political Union of Economists, was opposed. A compromise was reached by his agreeing to combine the post with that of the industrial policy minister. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

Polish President Lech Walesa on 20 March complained that Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy's government has so far "done nothing" to solve the problems facing Poland. The president said he would give the government one to two months to sort things out; if it failed to meet this deadline, he would impose his own solutions. Such reprimands have long been Walesa's custom, but this latest example comes relatively early in the new government's tenure. In remarks to Radio Warsaw, Oleksy described Walesa's comments as "an attack on a government that has been in office for fifteen days." If relations with the president were to continue on this course, "things will become really interesting," Oleksy said. Walesa also endorsed the Polish episcopate's stance on Church-state relations in the new constitution. He argued that the constitution must respect national traditions, noting that whereas the communists had ruled for only half a century, the Church had been present in Poland for a millennium. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, in an attempt to end the confusion over Poland's stance on tank sales to Iran (see OMRI Daily Digest, 16 March 1995), has said that current orders will be carried out but new contracts will likely not be sought. Gazeta Wyborcza reported that some government officials were dismayed by Bartoszewski's public disclosure of the decision by the previous government to end the tank sales, apparently under U.S. pressure. As Bartoszewski was meeting with reporters, some 2,000 Solidarity unionists from the arms industry staged a protest march in Warsaw to demand new government contracts and free shares in their enterprises. Unionists said that roughly half of arms industry employees have lost their jobs since 1990. Polish arms exports declined from $400 million in 1990 to $100 million in 1993 before rising slightly to $150 million last year, according to Gazeta Wyborcza on 18-19 March. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

More than 22,000 Czechs have applied for grants since a special government fund to compensate victims of the wartime Nazi occupation was set up in early 1995, Mlada fronta dnes reported on 21 March. The paper quoted Labor and Social Affairs Minister Jindrich Vodicka as saying the fund has paid out almost 644 million koruny to some 11,000 people and a further 6,700 claims are being processed. The deadline for claims to be lodged is the end of May. -- Steve Kettle, OMRI, Inc.

International media on 21 March reported that Bosnian government forces the previous day launched a two-pronged thrust in the center and the north of the republic. They attacked the strategic Mt. Vlasic, north of Travnik, which the Serbs then shelled in response. The government's Second Corps based in Tuzla moved against Mt. Majevica, which controls access to the Posavina land corridor linking Serbia with its territorial conquests in Bosnia and Croatia and which is the site of a key communications tower. The Serbs responded by shelling Tuzla as well, killing 30 government soldiers and wounding 80, according to Vjesnik. The BBC quotes Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic as saying that the government had no choice but to attack since the Contact Group's diplomatic efforts have run out of steam. The New York Times suggests that the move may have come out of desperation or out of confidence that the Serbs can be beaten. A UN spokesman called it the worst fighting since the current four-month cease-fire began on 1 January. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

The New York Times on 21 March says that Serbian forces have effectively sealed off the Bosnian capital after shelling the airport and closing the Mt. Igman road over the weekend. The paper suggests that Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic is impatient and fears that time is on the side of the more numerous and better organized Muslim-Croatian alliance forces. It also speculates that Karadzic may now be tempted to move against the eastern Muslim enclaves of Gorazde, Zepa, and Srebrenica. News agencies on 20 March reported that government and Serbian forces nonetheless went ahead with a planned prisoner swap on Sarajevo's Brotherhood and Unity Bridge, which involved about 30 people. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Nasa Borba reports on 21 March that Krajina Serb leader Milan Martic told UN mediator Thorvald Stoltenberg in Belgrade that Knin rejects any changes in UNPROFOR's mandate that would place peacekeepers on Krajina's borders with Serbia and Bosnia. Martic added that Knin also opposes the proposed new name for the peacekeepers, namely United Nations Forces in Croatia (UNFIC). Martic argues that this name assumes a political settlement, namely, that Krajina is indeed part of Croatia. The Serbs there declared their independence in 1991 as the Republic of Serbian Krajina. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Rump Yugoslav authorities appear to be intensifying their attacks against charitable organizations, notably the Soros Foundation (see OMRI Daily Digest, 13 March 1995). The government daily Borba on 20 March ran the headline "Ban the Soros Foundation." The same day Soros Foundation head in Belgrade Sonja Licht vowed at a press conference that the organization would continue its charity work, adding "We are determined to keep going as long as possible." Licht added that the foundation is considering legal action. -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

Macedonia will not hold direct talks with Greece unless Athens first lifts the embargo imposed in February 1994, AFP reported on 20 March. A Macedonian Foreign Ministry spokesman was quoted as saying that "true negotiations...cannot be held if an embargo is still in force." The Foreign Ministry statement said that the name of Macedonia will not be changed, but "all the rest is open to discussion." Greek Government Spokesman Evangelos Venizelos said he sees hopes for lifting the embargo, as there are signs that Macedonia is ready to make concessions. On 19 March, Greek Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias had announced that direct talks between the two countries will begin in April, but he said that the embargo would remain in force during the talks. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

The Consultative Group for Moldova, meeting in Paris on 20 March under the chairmanship of the World Bank, agreed to cover Moldova's $290 million debt-financing requirements for 1995 and to provide additional "significant sums" for technical support and investments in infrastructure. The group's chairman, World Bank official Basil Kavalsky, said Moldova has put in place "a solid framework of policy reforms," including price liberalization, accelerated privatization, and significant improvements in the social safety net. Moldovan Prime Minister Andrei Sangheli told the group that Moldova's economic reforms are irreversible. In a related development, Western agencies reported on 20 March that at a meeting of the EU's finance ministers in Brussels, it was decided to lend Moldova an additional 15 million ecus ($19 million). -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

Valery Yefimets, who is information and communications minister in the self-styled Dniester republic, told Reuters on 20 March that Moldovan authorities were cutting most direct-dial telephone links from the region for political reasons. Moldova's move comes five days before scheduled local elections. But Director-General of Moldtelecom Vasile Grumeza said the lines were cut to force the authorities in the breakaway republic to pay their bills. He said the region owes Moldtelecom some 8 million Moldovan lei ($1.8 million). The Dniester authorities have offered to pay the phone bills with their own coupon currency, introduced in August 1994. But Moldova does not recognize the coupons and says payments must be made in the Moldovan currency. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

More than 20 parties from the extreme Left and Right met in Sofia on 20 March to form a coalition, Standart reported the following day. Slavomir Tsankov, chairman of the Union of Democratic Parties and Movements ERA-3, proposed that the extra-parliament parties unite in response to a draft bill stipulating that all parties that received less than 1% in the last elections have to re-register and must collect 5,000 signatures in order to do so. Meanwhile, the new Party of the Democratic Center said it will support President Zhelyu Zhelev in the next presidential elections. Party leader Ventseslav Dimitrov met with Zhelev on 20 March. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

The head of the Bulgarian Air Force, Lt. Gen. Mikho Mikhov, warned that his aircraft may be grounded before the end of the year unless the service receives more money. He was quoted by BTA on 17 March as saying that the air force needed 17 billion leva in 1995, while that amount would probably be budgeted for the entire armed forces. Mikhov said that 47% of Bulgaria's combat planes were non-operational and the percentage of grounded helicopters was even higher. Most pilots have only 20 flight hours per year, instead of the planned 80, leading to a higher accident rate. Mikhov revealed that three planes were lost in 1994, compared with none in 1993. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

Greek police arrested seven armed men near the Albanian border on 19 March, international agencies reported the next day. According to the police in Ioannina, four of the men were ethnic Greeks from Albania. The other three men were reportedly Greek citizens from Athens, including a former military officer and a former police officer. Police found six Kalashnikovs and other paramilitary gear in a car. They later raided houses in Athens where they discovered pamphlets of the Northern Epirus Liberation Front. Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou, at an emergency meeting with his foreign and internal affairs ministers, said Greece is determined to neutralize ultra-nationalist groups. Albanian authorities called the arrests a new sign of Greek goodwill. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave