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Newsline - May 9, 1995

President Boris Yeltsin praised the WWII alliance as a model for international unity at the beginning of a military parade of veterans and soldiers 9 May, Russian and Western agencies reported. His speech differed from Soviet-era commemorations by highlighting the role of Russia's allies in the war effort. U.S. President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister John Major, and Chinese President Jiang Zemin along with more than 50 world leaders joined him on top of the Lenin Mausoleum. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov flanked Yeltsin in his first appearance on the mausoleum as president. The word Lenin was covered by decorations. Clinton only agreed to attend the ceremonies if there would be no military hardware or veterans from the Chechen fighting. However, Segodnya reported that at least two units from Chechnya would participate in the parade. A Defense Ministry spokesman told AFP that no complete units from the Chechen campaign participated, but "it can not be excluded that there may have been some officers." On 8 May, in a Kremlin speech, Yeltsin blamed unnamed groups for fanning fascism in the country, especially among the younger generation, and vowed to rid Russia of "the infection." * Robert Orttung

President Yeltsin said the West should not isolate Russia but should instead support new models of European and global security based on trust and equal cooperation instead of political confrontation, international agencies reported on 8 May. Speaking at a reception in the Kremlin on 8 May, Yeltsin said the lessons of the 20th century teach that "discrimination and isolation within blocs sooner or later exploded into wars or pushed us to the brink of a nuclear abyss." Although Yeltsin gave no specifics about his plans for future security structures, the OSCE is conducting a Russian-sponsored study of new security models for the 21st century. * Michael Mihalka

Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin, a prominent member of the Agrarian Party, said the party's leaders had agreed in principle to cooperate with a wide range of political forces, Russian agencies reported on 5 May. Rybkin named the Federation of Independent Trade Unions, the Union of Realists, and the Russian United Industrial Party as possible members of an Agrarian-led bloc. However, on the same day Rybkin missed a scheduled meeting with the Agrarian Party council, after which party chairman Mikhail Lapshin announced that the Agrarians would abide by an earlier decision to form an independent bloc only with other peasants' organizations, NTV reported. Lapshin, who has been campaigning in the regions, said he is puzzled that Rybkin is planning "to rely on purely Moscow political groups" for his bloc, Interfax reported. He added that Rybkin's place on the Agrarian Party list would be determined only after he "clarified" his position on electoral blocs. Rybkin missed a second planned meeting with Agrarian leaders on 8 May, according to Ekho Moskvy. * Laura Belin

Meanwhile, Rybkin denied allegations published on 5 May in Izvestiya, Russian agencies reported. Izvestiya charged that before returning from Washington on 3 May, Rybkin removed boxes of humanitarian aid for Russian children from his plane in order to make room for furniture he bought in the U.S. for his personal use. Rybkin's press secretary, Dmitry Biryukov, said cargo loaded onto the plane was furniture from the Russian embassy and not meant for Rybkin's personal use, Radio Rossii reported. Biryukov added that Rybkin's visit was paid for by the U.S.-Russian Business Council, not by Russian taxpayers, Interfax reported. Furthermore, Biryukov said, Rybkin could not accept the humanitarian aid, since the Duma had not requested him to do so. Nevertheless, on 6 May, the Duma Committee on International Affairs rejected Rybkin's explanation, expressing regret that for the first time, the Duma had been denied assistance in transporting humanitarian aid to Russia. * Laura Belin

The criminal case against MMM investment fund chief Sergei Mavrodi has been closed due to the Duma's decision not to strip Mavrodi of his parliamentary immunity, Russian agencies reported on 5 May. Acting Prosecutor General Alexei Ilyushenko extended the investigation into MMM seven times before it was closed, Interfax reported. However, Moscow police have already filed another criminal case against Mavrodi in connection with MMM. * Laura Belin

The presidential administration's analytical department is drafting a program to aid the country's most depressed areas, Presidential Council member Leonid Smirnyagin told Interfax on 7 May. On the basis of per capita income, falls in industrial output since 1991, and unemployment levels, the program will determine the republics, regions, and districts within those areas that are eligible for special assistance. Due to financial contraints, a maximum of only 26 regions, with a total population of about 20 million, can hope to receive aid. Those will probably include Ivanovo and Pskov Oblasts, Adygeya, Dagestan, Mordovia, and Chuvashia. If too many regions fall into the depressed category, a competition will be held and those presenting the best plans to increase living standards will receive federal funds. Smirnyagin said the program may be adopted by presidential decree and be included in the 1996 budget. It will cost an estimated 20 trillion rubles. * Penny Morvant

Environmentalists in Usinsk, the site of a massive oil pipeline leak last year, said oil released as ice and snow melts is causing considerable damage to the fragile environment. The president of the U.S. company Hartec, which is spearheading the clean-up operation along with an Australian company, says teams are working around the clock to try to contain the oil in areas already contaminated, but he criticized the Russian government's delay in seeking financial help. If funding had been secured earlier, he said, cleanup workers would not have been caught out by the early thaw, Reuters reported on 8 May. Meanwhile, Segodnya on 6 May expressed the fear that not all the money lent by the World Bank to fund the operation would be used for the purpose intended. "Our economic managers," the paper commented, "are too much in the `Soviet' habit of using `crisis money' to fill all their gaps." * Penny Morvant

The average monthly wage in March was 361,500 rubles (about $71), 13% higher than in February, Ekho Moskvy reported on 5 May. According to the State Statistics Committee, the highest wage--1.47 million rubles (about $286)--was paid in the gas industry, and the lowest--147,000 rubles (about $29)--in agriculture. * Penny Morvant

Russia seems to be altering its position on supplying nuclear aid to Iran, international agencies reported on 8 May. Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev said Russia will seriously address any evidence which suggests the Iran deal presents a real danger to nuclear nonproliferation, American television reported. A high-ranking Foreign Ministry official told Interfax on 6 May that U.S. concerns, along with those of "other partners," had convinced Russia to drop plans to train specialists in nuclear power engineering for Iran. However, the chairman of Federal Nuclear and Radiation Safety Inspection, Yury Vishnevsky, confirmed reports that the Nuclear Energy Ministry intended to supply gas centrifuges for enriching uranium to Iran, although no contract has yet been signed. Vishnevsky opposes the deal, not only because it would allow Iran to produce weapons grade fissionable material, but also because Iran is virtually insolvent and unlikely to pay the $800 million promised in the contract to complete the Bushehr reactors. Meanwhile, Interfax reported on 5 May that the Russian Nuclear Agency intends to sign a contract to supply an additional three nuclear power plants to Iran in a deal worth about $2 billion. * Michael Mihalka

The "full strength" of the Russian armed forces stands at 1,917,000 troops, Grachev told Interfax on 6 May. It is not clear if the defense minister was referring to the authorized strength or the actual number of personnel under arms. President Boris Yeltsin has decreed that the armed forces be reduced to 1.7 million troops by the end of this year, while the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated they were near that level in June of last year. Grachev said most units have been manned at only 60% but the latest changes in conscription legislation will enable the military to raise that to 80-85%. * Doug Clarke

A new draft import tariff was submitted to the Russian government for approval, according to Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Davydov, Segodnya reported on 6 May. The draft increases the average import tariff rate from 11% to 12-13%. On 5 May, Davydov met with representatives of the World Trade Organization in Moscow and noted that the document calls for a maximum duty rate of 30%, except for higher duties on alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and luxury goods. Import duty rates on all other commodities will range for nothing to 30%. Tariffs will not be levied on commodities and raw materials that do not exist in Russia, Davydov said. * Thomas Sigel
Following nearly a week of stabilization, the Russian ruble gained five points against the U.S. dollar on MICEX trading, closing at 5,125 rubles to $1 on 5 May, the Financial Information Agency reported. The initial supply was $108.95 million, exceeding demand by $44.68 million. The last time the ruble gained against the dollar was on 20 April when it increased 15 points in three days, from 5,066 to 5,051 rubles to $1. Currency dealers said the Central Bank purchased $33.36 million on 5 May. The dealers attributed the stabilization and the strengthening of the ruble to the fact that the price of the dollar on the exchange was in excess of the off-exchange quotations which caused a large inflow of dollars in MICEX trading. Additionally, commercial banks have been selling dollars to obtain rubles for their mandatory reserves in the Central Bank. Financial Information Agency experts attributed the ruble gains to a change in bank policy. Two months ago, the bank, which is the largest dealer in currency trading, worked to keep the exchange rate at pace with the inflation rate, but now it seems to be attempting to stabilize the ruble in order to reduce inflationary expectations. * Thomas Sigel

Uzbek President Islam Karimov called for the unification of all post-Soviet Central Asian states on 5 May, Interfax reported the same day. In a speech to parliament, he noted that the republics of the region live in fear of being deprived of their independence. "Turkestan must become a common home . . . If all five states of the region pool their efforts in this vast expanse, the threat from the outside will disappear by itself, as will the "elder brother' notion, which oppresses and alarms everybody," he said. Karimov has used the theme of Central Asian unification or Turkestan in the past, largely for domestic purposes; its current use appears to be for external consumption, part of a strategy to block Russian assertiveness in Central Asia and curry Western favor for doing so. * Lowell Bezanis

Informing parliament of the results of the March referendum on extending his term in office, Karimov asked legislators to consider the prolongation of his rule to the year 2000 to be his second term in office, which they rejected. The Uzbek Constitution does not permit one individual to hold more than two terms in office in a row; hence Karimov will be eligible for re-election in the year 2000. * Lowell Bezanis

President Leonid Kuchma said Ukraine's struggle to emerge from its current economic crisis can be compared to the challenges faced during World War II, Radio Ukraine and Reuters reported on 8 May. In an address to war veterans, Kuchma stressed that a new unity of purpose was vital in Ukraine's transformation to democracy and a free market economy, which he said was being complicated by "fierce resistance, intrigues and demagoguery" by political opponents to reforms. The president was scheduled to preside over a military parade down Kiev's main thoroughfare, the Khreshchatyk, on 9 May and then fly to Moscow to join commemoration ceremonies there and discuss with Russian President Boris Yeltsin the division of the Black Sea Fleet and other issues. The Ukrainian leader emphasized that Ukraine was the "epicenter" of the war on the Eastern front and the country lost more than eight million people. * Chrystyna Lapychak

The chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Miguel Martinez, said during a visit to Kiev that the procedure for Ukraine to enter the CE is in its "concluding stage" and the country could join this year, Interfax-Ukraine and Ukrainian Television News reported on 7 May. He said the lack of a post-Soviet Constitution would not hinder Ukraine's bid for membership because the existing much-amended document, adopted in 1978, does not contradict international standards. * Chrystyna Lapychak

The chief prosecutor of Belarus resigned on 6 May amid charges of backing trade in children by wanting to relax rules for foreigners seeking to adopt Belarusian children, Interfax-West and Reuters reported on the same day and on 7 May. Narodnaya Gazeta also accused Vasily Sholodonov of illegally privatizing two apartments for himself and his son, the agencies wrote. Some commentators connected the allegations to Sholodonov's growing criticism of recent government decisions. Stanislav Bubin, a senior education ministry official, said Sholodonov had only approved a memorandum, which carries no legal force, in favor of simpler adoption procedures. Foreigners are currently allowed to adopt only children with mental and physical disabilities. A new law is being drawn up for approval by the government and parliament. * Chrystyna Lapychak

Unknown attackers hurled a bomb from a passing car into the synagogue in Riga on 6 May, Reuters reported. There were no injuries, but damage was estimated at $30-40,000. The Interior Ministry press center reported that an anonymous caller to the police identified himself as the commander of the sabotage group "Rubiks" and said there will be more bombings if former Communist Party First Secretary Alfreds Rubiks is not discharged from prison within a week, BNS reported on 8 May. * Saulius Girnius

Laima Cernaite, director of the Inspection Department of the Bank of Lithuania, told Interfax on 6 May that only three of the country's 20 banks -- Vilnius, Hermis,and Snoras -- will pay their investors dividends for 1994; respectively, 15%, 20%, and 30%. Many banks paid dividends of 70-80% in 1993. Although Lithuania's banks had a net profit of 331 million litai ($82.75 million) in 1994, they ended the year with a shortfall of 167 million litai because a December 1994 law required them to transfer 498 million litai to the Bank of Lithuania for creating funds to cover unrepaid credits. During 1994 the joint-stock capital of Lithuania's commercial banks increased from 119 million litai to 262 million litai and hard-currency deposits increased by 110%. * Saulius Girnius

Polish President Lech Walesa on 8 May paid tribute to the Red Army for destroying Nazism but condemned Stalinist repression, the murder of Poles during and after the war by Soviet security forces and abuses committed under Moscow-imposed communism. In a speech to a joint session of the parliament, Walesa also reproached Poland's western allies for abandoning it to Nazi and Soviet aggression during the war and called for Poland to be accepted now into Western and European structures. Aleksander Kwasniewski, the leader of the ruling postcommunist coalition and possible rival to Walesa in the upcoming presidential election, criticized the speech as too divisive. * Jakub Karpinski

The Labor Union, a leftist party with 37 deputies in the 460-seat Sejm, on 7 May selected Ombudsman Tadeusz Zielinski as its presidential candidate, Polish and international media report. At the Union's congress, Zielinski, 69, received160 votes against 81 for Jacek Kuron, who has already been declared the candidate of another party, the Freedom Union. * Jakub Karpinski

Vaclav Klaus has admitted that his countrymen behaved unjustly and violently in the postwar expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia, Mlada fronta dnes reported on 9 May. "None of us can can mention these crimes without regret. It should not have happened," Klaus told an East-West forum in the Bavarian border town of Furth am Wald. "Everyone must begin (by looking at) himself, and not with what wrong was done to him but with how he did wrong," Klaus added. At a ceremonial concert in Prague on 8 May to mark the 50th anniversary of VE-day, Klaus said that the Czech Republic has successfully rid itself of the legacy of occupation and totalitarianism since the fall of communism in 1989. * Steve Kettle
The parliament on 5 May passed a no-confidence vote in Michal Kovac, Slovak media reported. Slovak National Party deputy Vitazoslav Moric proposed the motion, which was approved by 80 deputies representing the government coalition. One deputy from the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia abstained, while 40 opposition deputies voted against. There are no legal consequences of the vote, since the Constitution states that the parliament can only remove the president for activities "against the sovereignty or territorial integrity of Slovakia" or against the country's "democratic constitutional system." Even in that case, the vote requires a three-fifths majority (90 votes in the 150-member parliament). Kovac later called the vote unconstitutional and stressed that he will not resign. * Sharon Fisher

At a press conference on 5 May, Slovak National Party Chairman Jan Slota said his party supports neither the govern-ment's proposed amendments to the criminal law nor its draft law on conflicts of interest. He also said the decision of the SNP not to support the ratification of the Slovak-Hungarian treaty is final. Speaking on Slovak Radio on 5 May concerning the ratification of the treaty, Premier Vladimir Meciar said it is necessary to take preventative measures to avoid a government crisis but that he will begin discussions on the treaty with other political parties. * Sharon Fisher

Hungarian media and Reuters reported on 6 May that the country's Constitutional Court has rejected a call by the Smallholders Party for a national referendum on strengthening presidential powers. Hungary's presidency is now largerly a figurehead post with few executive powers. The court ruled that constitutional changes cannot be the subject of referendums. The Smallholders collected more than 156,000 signatures in support of a directly elected, strong presidency and said they would nominate their leader, Jozsef Torgyan, for the post. Hungary's presidents are currently elected by parliament. A referendum must be held if it is requested by more than 100,000 people. The ruling Socialists have indicated that they intend to reelect Arpad Goncz to the post when his term expires in July. * Jiri Pehe

On 9 May, international media report that Bosnian Serb forces have intensified attacks against a number of targets in Bosnia, including the two UN-protected cities of Tuzla and Sarajevo. Serb forces, violating UN heavy weapons exclusion zone regulations, used tanks against Bosnian government troops just north of Sarajevo in one of the first reappearances of tank attacks in over a year of the conflict. Meanwhile, on 8 May Hina reported that Serb forces from parts of Croatia's Krajina region launched an estimated 24 rockets at Coralici, western Bosnia, in the morning of the previous day. * Stan Markotich

A Serb mortar attack on a Sarajevo suburb on 7 May killed 11 persons. It was the worst such incident since the February 1994 mortar attack which claimed 68 lives and has come to be known as the "Sarajevo Market Massacre." On 8 May, UN officials in Zagreb ruled out calling for retaliatory NATO airstrikes on the grounds that such a move may have "possible repercussions," prompting strong reactions from US and Bosnian government officials. US Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright was quoted by Reuters as saying "I fail to understand the logic behind turning down such a request [for NATO air power] given the kinds of activities that have taken place in and around Sarajevo." * Stan Markotich

According to Croatian media accounts, official Zagreb is involved in a concerted effort to normalize life in the recently retaken territory of western Slavonia, formerly held by the country's rebel Krajina Serbs. On 8 May, Croatia's army chief-of-staff General Zvonimir Cervenko told a press conference that "I have assured the people in Pakrac area [in Western Slavonia] that the Croatian army will withdraw as soon as the police begin operating regularly." Meanwhile, Adalbert Rebic, Croatian minister and head of the government office for displaced persons and refugees, met with some 160 evacuated persons, mostly elderly and of Serb ethnicity, promising them that "You will go home in a few days as soon as the security condition allows such a move," Hina reported. In other news, Reuters on 9 May reports that, contrary to earlier accounts, a monument at Jasenovac to Serbs and Jews slaughtered by Croatian fascists during World War II as well as the Serbian Orthodox Church in the area survived intact the advance of the Croatian army in western Slavonia. * Stan Markotich

Romania's President Ion Iliescu on 5 May signed a decree replacing the culture and commerce ministers in Nicolae Vacaroiu's left-wing government, Radio Bucharest reported. The new culture minister, Viorel Marginean, is a painter and director of the National Arts Museum; he replaces the writer Marin Sorescu, who has been accused in the media of having mismanaged the cultural sector. The new commerce minister, Petru Crisan, replaces Cristian Ionescu, who had asked to be released from duty on health grounds. Both Marginean and Crisan stated that they have no party affiliation. At the swearing-in ceremony, Iliescu stressed that the changes in the government had no political connotation. On 8 May, the two ministers were officially installed in the presence of Prime Minister Vacaroiu. The media noticed that this was the fifth reshuffle since the fall of 1992, when Vacaroiu's cabinet took office. * Dan Ionescu

Between 4 and 6 May, the opposition Party of Civic Alliance (PAC) held its second nation-wide congress in the Transylvanian town of Alba Iulia, Radio Bucharest reported. The congress adopted a new party program and statutes and reelected Nicolae Manolescu as party president. PAC, which defines its doctrine as neo-liberal, supports the idea of reconstructing Romania's political elite, which had been destroyed under the Communists. This was the first national meeting of the organization since leaving the opposition alliance known as the Democratic Convention of Romania in March this year. * Dan Ionescu

Lieutenant- General Aleksandr Lebed on 6 May denied that he had submitted his resignation from the post of commander of the 14th Russian army headquartered in Tiraspol, Interfax reports. Lebed added, however, that he would soon announce his final decision on his future. At a press conference in Moscow on the same day, Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev said that Lebed, whom he described as "the army's capricious child," has been told to either carry out his superiors' orders or to quit the army. He accused Lebed of making statements "under the influence of different political groupings which seek to come to power" in Russia. Grachev further defended his ministry's recent decision to downgrade the 14th army. * Dan Ionescu

Michel Camdessus, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, paid a two-day visit to the Republic of Moldova, Interfax reports. On 7 May, Camdessus told President Mircea Snegur that his organization would continue to assist Moldova in getting Western credits for developing its industry. He also said that the IMF was supporting economic reforms in that country, which should be irreversible. He pleaded for structural reforms and price stabilization, and expressed the hopes that the fall in Moldova's industrial output will stop in 1995. * Dan Ionescu

Interior Minister Lyubomir Nachev on 5 May defended the government's proposal for new anti-crime measures, Reuters reported the same day. Nachev said the government plans to extend police investigative powers, tighten arms licensing, and curb the activities of private security firms. Private individuals will be allowed to carry arms only in exceptional cases, while private security guards will be allowed to carry them only while on duty. According to the minister, 49,775 crimes were committed during the first three months of 1995, of which 15,504 are unsolved. Crime rate growth has halved compared to the first quarter of 1994, and murder cases have fallen by 20%. Also on 5 May, Justice Minister Mladen Chervenyakov announced that the government will tighten residence permit requirements for foreigners in order to curb the spread of international crime into Bulgaria. * Stefan Krause

Illegal business activities in Bulgaria amounted to $9.5 billion in 1994, equivalent to the country's Gross Domestic Product, dpa reported on 8 May, citing an article in Trud the same day. The trade union newspaper referred to statistics of the Bulgarian National Bank. Illegal business includes drug trafficking, forged customs declarations, and trade with countries that are under an embargo. According to Trud, many private restaurants, hotels and casinos are just front businesses created in order to justify profits to the revenue office. * Stefan Krause

The International Monetary Fund on 5 May granted a $55 million loan to Macedonia, dpa reported the following day. The money is intended to assist economic reforms in the country. IMF officials in Washington said the loan was granted after the marked stabilization of Macedonia's state finances, which ended hyperinflation and lowered state debts. * Stefan Krause
The Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) has received agreement in principle from Greece and Macedonia to mediate the issue of Macedonian membership in the organization, international agencies reported on 8 May. The current chair of the OSCE, Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs, said: "During his recent visit, the foreign minister of FYROM [Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia] raised the issue and today Greece has also indicated that it would welcome OSCE playing a role in solving the problems." Greece has blocked Macedonia's entry into the OSCE because it objects to the country's use of the name Macedonia. Greek Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias, visiting Budapest for talks with Kovacs, said: "We want to overcome the crisis." * Michael Mihalka

Albanian police and army tightened up border and coast controls to cope with illegal immigration and emigration, AFP reported on 8 May. Interior Minister Agron Musaraj said that an additional 300 police, as well as helicopters and motorboats, have been mobilized to check boats on the Adriatic and stop Albanians and other citizens from illegally crossing the sea to Italy. The government also wants to stop illegal immigration to Albania. Musaraj said that 600 persons without valid documents were denied entry to Albania over the past two weeks. * Stefan Krause

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Steve Kettle