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Newsline - May 17, 1995


Vol. 1, No. 95, 17 May 1995
Presidential aides Georgy Satarov and Mikhail Krasnov indicated that President Boris Yeltsin will sign the law on parliamentary elections, although he is dissatisfied with its current form, Russian agencies reported on 16 May. On 11 May, over the objections of the Federation Council, the State Duma passed the final version of the electoral law, which maintains the current ratio of 225 deputies elected from party lists and 225 from single-member constituencies. Yeltsin's aides said the president will sign the law in order to allow the December 1995 parliamentary elections to be held on time. But Satarov said Yeltsin will recommend amendments to the law after he signs it, and if the Duma rejects them, the matter will be referred to the Constitutional Court, Ekho Moskvy reported. Krasnov told Interfax that the court appeal will concern provisions requiring candidates for the Duma to resign from their other jobs and the alleged discrepancy between rights enjoyed by party-list candidates in comparison with those running in single-member constituencies. If the court refuses to hear the case, then the December 1995 elections will be held according to the current form of the electoral law. * Laura Belin

Leaders of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR), the Russian United Industrial Party (ROPP), and the Union of Realists (SR) held talks on forming a center-left electoral alliance, Russian agencies reported on 16 May. Union of Realists leader Yury Petrov said the groups would work together "for the good of the people" toward common goals, including the revival of the Russian economy, Radio Rossii reported. Representatives said the new bloc will oppose Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's center-right movement Our Home Is Russia. Asked whether he would cooperate with a bloc led by Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin, FNPR Chairman Mikhail Shmakov told NTV, "it is difficult to work with something that does not yet exist." An anonymous source involved with the negotiations told Interfax that the bloc plans to coordinate its actions with the Agrarian Party and Women of Russia, although leaders of those parties have rejected recent offers to join a broad electoral alliance. * Laura Belin

Duma deputy Irina Khakamada, a member of Konstantin Borovoi's Party of Economic Freedom, announced the creation of the political movement Common Cause (Obshchee delo), Russian agencies reported on 16 May. The movement will unite the Liberal Women's Fund, the Russian Women's Association for a New Social Policy, the Liberal Youth Union and other students' groups. Khakamada said Common Cause would represent the interests of those in the "silent majority," Russian TV reported. She noted that the organization would appeal to those who otherwise would not bother to vote, especially young people and the "inactive intelligentsia," Radio Rossii reported. Khakamada said she liked the policies advocated by Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky and had held talks with him but said she was given to understand that it is "absurd" for a woman to participate in "great politics," Russian Public Television reported. * Laura Belin

Roman Artemev, an observer for Kommersant-Daily, discussed indirect methods of campaign financing on the 16 May episode of the NTV current events program "Segodnya." Artemev noted that even Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's bloc, which has considerable financial resources, cannot directly buy itself a nationwide victory: "for that the state budget is needed." He said the April 1993 referendum, in which Yeltsin's government achieved the outcome it wanted, demonstrated that using the budget to "give presents" to the population before a vote is an effective strategy. Artemev said the prime minister's position gives him a "trump card" to play in this "form of pre-election populism," but he predicted that in future campaigns, budget allocations will "inevitably" be used by opposing camps as well. * Laura Belin

Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin, a member of the Communist Party, has asked the Duma to examine the financing of the 12 May founding congress of Chernomyrdin's Our Home Is Russia bloc, NTV reported on 16 May. Ilyukhin proposed that the Duma ask the Prosecutor General's Office to conduct an audit on the congress and the banquet that followed to determine whether money from the state budget was used for campaign purposes. Ilyukhin said the Prosecutor General should then inform the deputies of the investigation's results. Chernomyrdin has denied that budget funds were used for his bloc's founding congress, which he said was paid for by donations from large enterprises. * Laura Belin

Russian security services in Chechnya maintain that Fred Cuny, a former adviser to the Open Society Institute who has been missing since April, may be alive and in the hands of the Chechen forces, Interfax reported on 16 May. They assert that the body found recently near Shali, which was originally believed to be Cuny's, is actually that of an exhumed Russian serviceman, whose face had been disfigured by nitric acid. Meanwhile, the body is apparently still in the village of Novyie Atagi, some 25 km south of Grozny. The Ingush Ministry for Emergencies contends that representatives of the Chechen separatists will agree to hand over the body only to members of the OSCE mission, who are refusing to go to the village because of ongoing combat operations. * Michael Mihalka

Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev said on 16 May that China is ready to cease nuclear testing, Interfax reported on the same day. On 15 May, Grachev had treated the recent Chinese test rather nonchalantly, saying on Russian TV, "We are not concerned about the Chinese nuclear tests, but we keep a watchful eye on them." Meanwhile, Grachev said China and Russia have agreed on the need to develop a collective security system in northeast Asia which would include Russia, China, the U.S., Japan, and North and South Korea. * Michael Mihalka

Grachev also told reporters on 16 May that the conclusion of an agreement on reducing Russian and Chinese armed forces along their mutual border is "unlikely" in the near future, ITAR-TASS reported. Fifteen rounds of the talks--that began between China and the Soviet Union and which now include Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan--have been held. The participants are aiming to reduce troops and arms within a 100 km wide zone running along each side of the border. Grachev said the ceilings suggested by China are "unacceptable" to Russia. He explained that very few Chinese armed forces are stationed close to the border, while geographic and climactic factors have led Russia to position virtually all of its armed forces in the region within this zone. In a related matter, the governor of Russia's Primorsky Krai announced that he was giving territory near the town of Khasan--100 km southwest of Vladivostok--to local Cossacks, Interfax reported. The territory is supposed to be turned over to China under a 1991 agreement, but the governor has demanded that Moscow denounce the agreement. The Cossacks will engage in farming and help guard the border. * Doug Clarke

In a closed session on 16 May, the State Duma Committee on Foreign Affairs questioned Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev on the Russian deal to provide nuclear aid to Iran, Interfax reported the same day. Vladimir Lukin, the committee chairman, said some of Kozyrev's comments were "too general and rather evasive" but expressed satisfaction that a dialogue has finally started between the parliament and the Foreign Ministry. Although Lukin agreed with President Boris Yeltsin that the deal should go through insofar as it doesn't violate Russia's commitments on non-proliferation, he was especially critical of the Nuclear Energy Ministry for concluding arrangements with the Iranians without the knowledge of Yeltsin or Kozyrev. * Michael Mihalka

The average monthly income in Russia measured in U.S. dollars fell from $87 in November 1994 to $72 in March 1995, a spokesman for the Economic Reforms Center under the Russian government told Interfax on 16 May. The population's average real income today is lower than one year ago by approximately 6%, a consequence of the government's tight monetary credit policy, the center reported. Meanwhile, Ekho Moskvy reported Goskomstat's latest figure: between January and April, some 30% of the population--44 million people--had monthly incomes below the subsistence minimum of 385,000 rubles ($45) a month. * Thomas Sigel

The Central Bank of Russia's Board of Directors lowered the refinancing rate by 5% to 195% on 16 May, the Financial Information Agency reported. Bank experts said the decision was prompted by the current financial market situation and the steadily declining inflation rate. The inter-bank market has been witnessing a large gap between interest rates on short-term credits and the bank's refinancing rate which considerably reduces the efficiency of the discount rate as an instrument of regulating the financial market. The bank's acting director, Tatiana Paramonova, told the agency that the bank would adhere to a positive discount rate (a rate exceeding the rate of inflation). "Only on this condition can we strengthen the national currency and create real investment potential which will be used to promote Russia's economic development," she said. * Thomas Sigel


Vol. 1, No. 95, 17 May 1995
Uzbek President Islam Karimov told an extended meeting of the republic's cabinet of ministers that the state will no longer finance insolvent enterprises, Interfax reported on 16 May. While noting that inflation has been steadily decreasing in 1995, he said managerial inertia is to blame for the republic's poor economic performance and its failure to privatize. Karimov also indicated that the only possible way to increase production in many cases is to turn state-owned businesses into joint stock companies. The government decided to ban the rescheduling of debts held by commercial banks on 1 June; debtor concerns will have to change ownership or will face the auction block. State enterprises responsible for light industry, fruits, vegetables, and wines, as well as oil and gas will also be able to sign contracts to export their products. * Lowell Bezanis

Agreements on cooperation in air transportation, avoiding double taxation, and visa-free diplomatic trips have been signed by Turkmenistan and Slovakia, Interfax reported on 16 May. A draft agreement for the establishment of a gas and oil pipeline in Turkmenistan has been submitted by the Slovak side; discussion also focused on the possibility of a tripartite Turkmen-Slovak-Ukrainian agreement that would involve Slovakia in the repayment of Ukraine's debt to Turkmenistan. A similar three-way barter agreement involving Ukraine, Turkmenistan, and Iran was proposed early last month. In other news, Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov was scheduled to begin a two-day official visit to Russia on 17 May, Interfax reported. * Lowell Bezanis


Vol. 1, No. 95, 17 May 1995


Mikhail Chihir said he fears the next round of elections to the country's first post-Soviet parliament may be delayed for an indefinite period, Interfax reported on 16 May. Only 20 out of 260 seats were filled in the 14 May ballot. Chihir, stressing that his government will provide only minimal financing for future votes, suggested that money could be saved by scrapping the requirement that a candidate win 50% plus one vote in his electoral district to gain parliament representation. He also said his government was in no rush to begin printing coins and bank notes with the Soviet-era emblem and flag, which the population voted to bring back in the 14 May referendum. The project would cost $7 million, he said. On the overwhelming popular support for economic integration with Russia expressed in the same referendum, Chihir said the first important steps were taken when Belarus and Russia signed a protocol last week on a customs union agreement. He said the process had entered a second stage in which the two countries would formulate a "single-price policy" and sign an agreement on a "payments union." * Chrystyna Lapychak

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Henadii Udovenko ended a two-day visit to Minsk on 16 May, Interfax and Radio Ukraine reported the same day. He and his Belarussian counterpart, Uladzimir Senko, told a press conference that 40 bilateral agreements had already been signed and an additional 14 were being prepared in anticipation of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's state visit to Belarus. The date of the Belarus-Ukraine summit will be fixed during the 26 May CIS summit in Minsk. Udovenko said the Belarusian defense minister had been invited to observe Ukrainian-American military exercises in western Ukraine scheduled for late May. * Chrystyna Lapychak

A G-7 delegation and representatives of the World Bank and EBRD are meeting with Ukrainian officials in Kiev to discuss the closure of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant, Interfax-Ukraine and UNIAR TV News reported on 16 May. Ukraine has pledged to close the plant by the year 2,000. Ukrainian officials presented the delegation with a list of expenses and a timetable for decommissioning the two still-functioning reactors at Chornobyl. The Ukrainians emphasized that the final costs of the shutdown would approach $4 billion. The G-7 delegation offered Ukraine $400-500 million in grants and $1.5 billion in loans for the project. The timetable calls for Unit No. 1 to be shutdown in 1997 and Unit No. 3 by the end of 1999. But Ukrainian officials say this deadline can be met only with substantial Western assistance. * Chrystyna Lapychak

The Latvian Interior Ministry has announced that the number of crimes registered in Latvia during the first four months of 1995 was down 6.8% on the same period in 1994, BNS reported on 12 May. Registered crimes in Estonia and Lithuania for the same period, however, increased by 6.4% and 18%, respectively. The crime rate per 10,000 inhabitants was 78.9 in Estonia, 54.8 in Lithuania, and 48 in Latvia. In the first quarter of 1995, crimes involving the use of weapons decreased by 18% in Latvia and 27% in Lithuania but increased by almost 50% in Estonia. The number of smuggling cases more than doubled in Latvia and Lithuania but increased by only 28.6% in Estonia. * Saulius Girnius

Lennart Meri, accompanied by Foreign Affairs Minister Riivo Sinijarv and State Chancellor Uno Veering, arrived in Helsinki on 16 May for an official three-day visit, BNS reported. Talks with Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari focused on security questions, energy cooperation, and trade issues. Estonia agreed to Finland's conditions for establishing visa-free travel between the two countries, and accords on jointly fighting crime and returning illegal immigrants were signed. Meri is scheduled to give a lecture at Turku University and visit a mobile telephone factory in Salo and the Arctic Center at Rovaniemi, the capital of Laplania. * Saulius Girnius

Arvydas Kostas Lescinskas was sworn in as energy minister on 16 May, Interfax reported. Lescinskas, a 48-year-old mechanical engineer, was a member of the Lithuanian parliament from 1990-1992 and deputy transportation minister from 1993-1995. He replaced Algimantas Stasiukynas, who resigned after raising electricity prices from 1 May from 0.16 litas ($0.04) to 0.2 litas per kilowatt-hour. Hot water prices are expected to be increased significantly in June. * Saulius Girnius

Members of the Political Advisory Committee at the Internal Affairs Ministry have asked the minister to convene a committee meeting to discuss the role of the State Protection Office (UOP) in the upcoming presidential elections, Polish media reported on 17 May. The committee members expressed concern about the UOP's "interest in public figures, including members of the ruling coalition." Aleksander Kwasniewski, chairman of the parliamentary Constitutional Commission, said on 16 May that he does not regard his current duties and presidential candidacy as incompatible. Polish law is unclear on whether officials holding high office may run for the Presidency. But some commentators have debated whether Supreme Court President Adam Strzembosz, and Ombudsman Tadeusz Zielinski should give up their posts while taking part in the presidential race. * Jakub Karpinski

Partly floating exchange rates for convertible currencies were introduced in Poland on 16 May, Polish media reported. The rates of exchange will be allowed to deviate by up to 7% from the rate established by the Central Bank, which is based on a 1.2% monthly devaluation. The zloty gained 1.5% on the U.S, dollar and 2.2% on the convertible-currencies basket on 16 May. * Jakub Karpinski

Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus on 16 May called a special meeting of ministers, police, and the chief state attorney to prepare tougher action against racist speeches and attacks, Czech media reported. The meeting was held in response to the murder four days earlier of a 42-year-old Roma in the town of Zdar nad Sazavou. A group of young skinheads broke into the Roma's home and, in front of his five children, beat him around the head with a baseball bat. "It's not a run-of-the-mill case," Klaus said, adding that the attack was completely unprovoked. Justice Minister Jiri Novak was instructed to prepare proposals that racist attacks be subject to greater punishment than at present. State attorneys will be urged to push for the highest possible penalties. Last year, 160 racist clashes--mainly between skinheads and Roma--were registered in the Czech Republic, Rude pravo reported. * Steve Kettle

Two Slovak opposition parties, the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and the Democratic Union, organized a demonstration in Bratislava on 16 May to express support for President Michal Kovac, Slovak media reported. The rally came in the wake of the parliament's recent no-confidence vote and the coalition parties' subsequent calls for his resignation. Bratislava Mayor Peter Kresanek as well as representatives of the Hungarian Christian Democratic Party and the Social Democratic Party joined the demonstrators, estimated to have numbered between 20,000 and 40,000. Meanwhile, following the lead of the Conference of Bishops of Slovakia, the Ecumenical Council of Churches issued a statement expressing concern about the tensions between the parliamentary majority and the president, Narodna obroda reported on 16 May. The council said it valued the efforts of the president to build broad cooperation, regardless of political or religious orientation. * Sharon Fisher

Ivan Lexa, director of the Slovak Information Service, has asked the Slovak attorney-general to begin criminal proceedings against his predecessor, Vladimir Mitro, as well as former SIS intelligence chief Igor Cibula. Lexa is accusing Mitro of acting against the security of the republic and of breaking his legal obligation to remain silent, Sme reported. Both Mitro and Cibula, who resigned from their posts in February claiming they did not enjoy the confidence of the government, have discussed their situation with representatives of the press. Lexa is a close ally of Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. * Sharon Fisher


Vol. 1, No. 95, 17 May 1995
Sarajevo and its surrounding areas came under heavy attack on 16 May, international media reported the following day. According to Vecernji list, it was one of the fiercest days of fighting between Serbian and Bosnian Muslim forces in the Bosnian capital. The same newspaper also reported that at present, there is no reliable information on casualties. Nasa Borba stressed that serious artillery duels have been taking place and that heavy weapons--banned within Sarajevo's exclusion zone limits--have been used by both sides. According to some agency accounts, Serbian forces just outside Sarajevo have also seized a UN weapons cache. * Stan Markotich

The BBC on 17 May reported that UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali has outlined four options for the future of UN peacekeeping operations in war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina. He noted that the recent intensification of fighting in the country may result in maintaining operations at their present level, using air strikes, pulling out, or scaling down. Boutros-Ghali, said he preferred scaling down. Bosnian UN ambassador Muhamed Sacirbey responded that any such move would amount to serious losses for the Bosnian government and people. NATO Secretary-General Willy Claes, for his part, rejected any ideas of scaling down or withdrawal, the BBC reported on 17 May. He argued that the UN has to get tougher to regain credibility. * Stan Markotich

This is one of the favorite mottos of Dutch peacekeepers in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Die Presse reported on 12 May. The men there have established a reputation for alcohol and drug abuse, as well as for violence against local prostitutes. But now Dutch opinion is scandalized by fresh reports that the force has used children lured with candy as guinea pigs to test for mine fields. Military and civilian authorities are investigating. Meanwhile, AFP on 16 May reported on the general malaise and feeling of uselessness among the UN peacekeepers in Croatia. * Patrick Moore

Croatian President Franjo Tudjman met with ranking German officials, including Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, in Bonn on 16 May, Vjesnik reported. Tudjman reiterated his promise that the Croatian army would withdraw from a UN buffer zone separating Croatian forces and rebel Krajina Serbs on 16 May. But the BBC reported the next day that it is unclear whether Croatian forces are pulling back in accordance with deadlines. In other news, Nasa Borba reported that Vuk Draskovic, leader of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement, is to arrive in Germany on 17 May at the invitation of Foreign Minister Kinkel. * Stan Markotich

Defense lawyers of the director of the self-proclaimed Albanian-language university in Tetovo Fadil Sulejmani have offered DM 50,000 for his release on bail, Flaka reported on 16 May. Sulejmani was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for "inciting resistance." His case is to reviewed by a court of appeal. Meanwhile, the trial of Nevzat Halili, leader of the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity-Party for the Peoples' Unity (PPD-PUPM) began in Tetovo the same day. Halili is charged with "participating in a rally interfering with public authorities, executing their duties" and with "organizing that rally." Like Sulejmani, he was arrested in connection with a riot that broke out after the police crackdown on the Albanian-language university on 17 February. * Fabian Schmidt

In an effort to settle the diplomatic dispute between Macedonia and Greece, UN mediator Cyrus Vance and U.S. President Bill Clinton's special envoy Matthew Nimetz on 13 May met with Greek opposition leader Miltiadis Evert in New York, Greek newspapers reported the following day. Vance said he expected progress in settling the Greek-Macedonian dispute, while Evert assessed the meeting as useful and said that his party, New Democracy, always believed in the need to settle the questions between Greece and Macedonia by dialogue. Meanwhile, the Athens daily Elevtherotypia on 12 May cited diplomatic sources in Athens as saying the Macedonian-Greek talks will be completed by the end of the summer. * Stefan Krause

Roman Herzog, at the end of his official visit to Romania, told a joint session of the bicameral parliament on 16 May that ethnic minorities must be included in the reform process. Radio Bucharest carried the speech live. Herzog noted that if reforms do not foresee adequate protection for employees, social tension may endanger the reform process. He pledged to assist Romanian efforts to become part of European and NATO structures. At a joint press conference with President Ion Iliescu, Herzog said that attracting more foreign investment depended not only on legislation but on how the law is implemented. Also on 16 May, representatives of the Romanian and German Foreign Ministries signed a bilateral cultural agreement. At the start of his private visit to Romania, Herzog traveled the same day to the Transylvanian town of Sibiu, where he met with representatives of the German minority. The German president is scheduled to visit three more settlements linked to the historical presence of Germans in Romania. * Michael Shafir

The leader of Alfa, a major trade union confederation in Romania, told a press conference in Bucharest that the union's leadership is demanding that the parliament dismiss Nicolae Vacaroiu's government. Radio Bucharest and Romanian Television on 16 May quoted Bogdan Hossu as saying the decision was adopted by a meeting of the confederation's Coordinating Council, also attended by leaders of other large trade union confederations. Hossu noted that the decision was in response to a referendum conducted among union members. He added that the parliament and the president should appoint "a new government team" that is credible in the eyes of the trade unions and capable of concluding a "social pact" with them. The union said it would start countrywide labor protests if its demand is not met by 26 May. * Michael Shafir

Dumitru Diacov, chairman of the Moldovan parliament's Commission for Foreign Relations, told BASA-press on 13 May that Lt. Gen. Aleksandr Lebed's statement the previous day advising against the withdrawal of Russia's 14th Army was unjustified. He said Lebed's expressed fears that the withdrawal might provoke a new outbreak of conflict can be explained only by the fact that there are forces in the breakaway region interested in prolonging the Chisinau-Tiraspol dispute. Diacov stressed that Moldova will not resort to force and that Lebed is aware of that. But Stanislav Khadzhev, defense minister of the self-styled republic, told BASA-press that Tiraspol's position on the withdrawal was identical to Lebed's. If the 14th Army is withdrawn before the resolution of the Transdniestrian dispute, a new armed conflict will be inevitable, he said. * Michael Shafir

Stefan Uratu, chairman of the Moldovan Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, said on 15 May that the situation of Ilie Ilascu has worsened recently, BASA-press reported. Ilascu, who has been condemned to death by the Tiraspol authorities for alleged terrorist activities, is suffering from severe dropsy. The Helsinki Committee has been negotiating with Tiraspol since late February to have independent doctors provide medical attendance to Ilascu and other detainees. Radio Bucharest on 13 May reported that Amnesty International has published a report on violations of human rights in the Transdniester breakaway region. The report also deals with the case of the "Ilascu group." BASA-press said the report claims the worsening of Ilascu's condition is also due to the economic crisis in Tiraspol, which has resulted in inadequate food supplies to prisons. * Michael Shafir

Zhelyu Zhelev and Zhan Videnov on 16 May met to discuss the political situation in Bulgaria and their differing political views, Bulgarian newspapers reported the following day. The two leaders agreed that cooperation between state institutions must improve, regardless of ideological and political differences. But they avoided discussing Bulgaria's possible membership in NATO. Kontinent wrote that many questions "remained unanswered" after the meeting. The press centers of the president and the prime minister announced that meetings between the two leaders will take place on a regular basis. But 24 chasa suggests that "the cold war [between the two men] will continue," as it is "rooted in the constitution" and there is no qualified parliamentary majority to change it. * Stefan Krause

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave