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Newsline - February 12, 1997

Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin said in an interview with Rossiiskaya gazeta on 11 February that Russia should reserve the right to use nuclear weapons in response to a conventional weapons attack, particularly in view of the current weakness of Russia's armed forces. Although Rybkin's remarks are in line with the Russian military doctrine adopted in 1993, which did not include the Soviet-era "no first strike" pledge, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii sought to distance the administration from them. According to Russian TV (RTR), Yastrzhembskii stressed that only the president, prime minister, and foreign minister can make official statements on foreign policy. Russian Public Television (ORT) speculated that Rybkin's remarks, which provoked a mixed reception in Russia, were intended as a trial balloon to test NATO's reaction to one possible Russian response to NATO's projected eastward expansion. -- Penny Morvant

Presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii said President Boris Yeltsin's period of recuperation from heart surgery is progressing "rather slowly," having been hampered by a recent bout of pneumonia, NTV and RTR reported on 11 February. Although Yeltsin's health is improving and his schedule is becoming more active, Yastrzhembskii added, reporters should not expect the president to make an "accelerated return" to the Kremlin. Yeltsin is scheduled to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on 18 February, and in March he will travel to Helsinki for a summit with U.S. President Bill Clinton. Yeltsin fell ill with pneumonia just two weeks after his return to the Kremlin on 23 December. Also on 11 February, Yeltsin met with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin for more than an hour in the Gorki-9 sanitarium. -- Laura Belin

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov took the oath of office on 12 February in the former palace of culture for chemical industry workers. He swore on the Koran to reinforce the independence of the Chechen state, AFP reported. Among those present were former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed; OSCE mission head Tim Guldimann, who had been expelled by former interim President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev; and Budennovsk raid leader Shamil Basaev. After meeting with Maskhadov, Yandarbiev told Grozny TV on 11 February that he would remain active in politics and continue to work for Chechen independence. His last decree bestowed Chechnya's highest military honors on his predecessor, Dzhokhar Dudaev. On the eve of the inauguration, Russian Prime Minster Chernomyrdin urged Maskhadov to help secure the release of two ORT journalists still being held in Chechnya. -- Robert Orttung

Valentin Kovalev on 11 February said that there are no insurmountable obstacles to reaching an agreement with Chechnya on the republic's status. Kovalev noted that the Chechens want "sovereignty," and pointed out that Tatarstan's constitution defines it as a "sovereign state within the Russian Federation," ORT reported. Kovalev also noted that Ukraine and Belarus had been members of the UN in the Soviet era, according to Russian media reports monitored by the BBC. -- Robert Orttung

State Duma deputy Nikolai Ryzhkov, leader of the Popular Power faction, argued that if the Russian Industrial Union faction acquires the 35 deputies needed for registration, the work of the lower house of parliament will be destabilized, NTV and Radio Rossii reported on 11 February. A new faction would force the Duma Council to reapportion committees, distracting deputies from important legislative work, Ryzhkov argued. Currently, there are seven Duma factions; two of the organizers of the industrial group are from Popular Power, which along with the Communist and Agrarian factions has enjoyed a working majority (see OMRI Daily Digest, 10 February 1997). Segodnya and Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 11 February, however, that Communist Party leaders will bail out Ryzhkov's faction; several Communist deputies will join Popular Power to ensure that it has at least 35 members. -- Laura Belin

Opposition leaders are not pleased with Nikolai Svanidze's appointment as chairman of RTR. Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov described Svanidze as an "entirely inappropriate figure," and State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev charged that Svanidze is far too partisan to lead a state-run network, Segodnya and Kommersant-Daily reported on 11 February. Svanidze has not shied away from expressing his anti-communist views, both on his current program "Zerkalo" and on his previous show "Podrobnosti" (see OMRI Daily Digest, 14 and 15 December 1995). In an interview published in the 12 February Izvestiya, he denied that he discusses upcoming coverage on his programs with Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais. Meanwhile, Svanidze indicated that journalists who signed an open letter last week denouncing the leadership of then RTR chairman Eduard Sagalaev will soon be asked to leave the network, ORT reported. -- Laura Belin

President Yeltsin's foreign affairs adviser, Dmitrii Ryurikov, said on 11 February that it is "unfair and wrong" for NATO to deny Russia a veto on European security issues, international agencies reported. He said NATO's drive to expand eastward is excluding Russia from joint decision-making on European security issues. The same day, presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii said Moscow would be particularly alarmed if the Baltic states joined NATO. The remarks coincided with a tour of post-Soviet republics by NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana. Meanwhile, a group of democratic parties castigated the "current anti-NATO hysteria" in Russia, saying it is often used for propaganda purposes "to return to the times of the Cold War." They argued that Russia and NATO must find a "reasonable compromise" on expansion. In an interview with RTR, liberal Duma Deputy Irina Khakamada supported Moscow's call for a legally binding document on Russia's relations with NATO. -- Penny Morvant

Kommersant-Daily on 11 February speculated that Defense Minister Igor Rodionov's recent remarks about underfunding of the military and the possibility of Russia losing control of its nuclear forces could lead to his replacement by Defense Council Secretary Yurii Baturin. Presidential press secretary Yastrzhembskii, however, dismissed as "totally unfounded" rumors of Rodionov's resignation, RIA Novosti reported. Rodionov has recently been very outspoken on the parlous state of Russia's armed forces, telling a press conference on 6 February that the reliability of Russia's nuclear command-and-control system could not be guaranteed (see OMRI Daily Digest, 7 February 1996). Asked about Russia's defense capability in an interview with Trud on 11 February, he likened the current situation to that in the 1920s after the Civil War. Rodionov has reportedly also clashed with Baturin over the direction of military reform, although both professed their unity on the issue at a 7 February joint press conference. -- Penny Morvant

Former Duma member Nikolai Lysenko has been charged with ordering the detonation of a bomb in his own office on 5 December 1995, NTV reported 11 February. Investigators concluded that Lysenko hoped that the incident would boost his chances in the 17 December Duma elections. Witnesses saw Lysenko's assistant, Mikhail Rogozin, leave the office just before the explosion. The investigators also found a $3,000 Duma computer in Lysenko's St. Petersburg apartment even though Lysenko earlier reported that the computer had been destroyed. Lysenko had charged that the attack's perpetrators were people from the Caucasus seeking revenge for his anti-Chechen statements and demands that Moscow be "cleansed" of people of Caucasian descent. Lysenko was arrested on 13 May and remains in custody, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Robert Orttung

The Federation Council has started to debate the 1997 budget, passed by the Duma on 24 January, ITAR-TASS reported on 11-12 February. It is widely believed that the upper house will also approve the budget, although its budget committee is calling for several amendments, such as placing the regional support fund in the budget's list of guaranteed items. A heated debate is expected over the volume and mechanism of financial transfers to the regions, since donor-regions and recipient-regions are likely to take different stands on the issue. -- Natalia Gurushina

The Sakhalin Oblast Duma has decided to discontinue payments to the federal budget, claiming that the government is systematically failing to meet its financial obligations to the region, Segodnya reported on 11 February. The local authorities blame the center for a severe crisis in the payment of wages and social benefits in the region. A representative of the federal government called the Sakhalin Duma's decision illegitimate and unconstitutional and promised a "tough response," ITAR-TASS reported on 11 February. Several large-scale international oil projects are under way in Sakhalin Oblast. -- Natalia Gurushina

Javier Solana began his Transcaucasian tour on 11 February by visiting Tbilisi and meeting with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze to discuss issues of regional and European security, Russian media reported. Shevardnadze said he does not exclude a "political" role for NATO in the search for a resolution of the Abkhaz conflict. Asked at a news conference about the possibility of a NATO-led, Bosnia-type peacekeeping operation in Abkhazia, Solana warned against a "thoughtless" duplication of the Bosnian experience in other regions. Shevardnadze said he is confident that Russia and the West will eventually reach a compromise on NATO enlargement. He also said that integration into a new European security system is "very important" for Georgia and that NATO as a "political organization" could help his country achieve that goal. -- Emil Danielyan

Following a request by the U.S. Attorney's Office, the U.S. State Department has formally asked Georgia to waive diplomatic immunity for its diplomat, Georgi Makharadze, who reportedly triggered a five-car accident on 4 January in which a 16-year-old American girl died (see OMRI Daily Digest, 7 January 1997), Reuters reported on 11 February. The U.S. ambassador in Tbilisi informed the Georgian government that Makharadze will be charged with involuntary murder. According to State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns, Georgian authorities have reiterated their readiness to allow the diplomat to be prosecuted but added that a formal decision will be ready in "a few days." -- Emil Danielyan

Former Azerbaijani Environmental Committee Chairman Arif Mansurov, who was detained in mid-January in connection with the October 1994 coup attempt, has been released from prison on bail due to poor health, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 February. In other news, Iran resumed a rail link to Nakhichevan on 9 February, AFP reported. According to the agency, the link between Tabriz and Nakhichevan City has been suspended since the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute erupted in 1988. Meanwhile, one of Azerbaijan's main opposition parties, Musavat, has established a pro-NATO association, according to an 8 February report monitored by the BBC. Headed by Sulhaddin Akper, the Azerbaijani Association for Atlantic Cooperation supports NATO enlargement, aims to strengthen ties between Azerbaijan and NATO within the Partnership for Peace program, and favors a "more modern" national security system for Azerbaijan. -- Lowell Bezanis

Chinese authorities have summarily executed an estimated 100 Uighurs for their alleged involvement in bloody anti-Han riots that took place in the frontier town of Yining last week, Western media reported on 12 February. The authorities have sealed off Yining and imposed a curfew on the heavily militarized town, which is the capital of the Ili Kazak Autonomous Prefecture of Xinjiang. Exiled Uighurs in Kazakstan say the riot was sparked by executions, while the Chinese authorities claim that about 1,000 young Uighurs, screaming pro-independence and anti-Han slogans, rampaged in Yining on 5-6 February, causing 10 deaths and injuring almost 150 people. They also claim to have detained the leader of the riots, identified only as a 29-year-old Uighur named Heilili. -- Lowell Bezanis

One of the hostages taken by Bahrom Sadirov and his brother Rezvon Sadirov was freed on 11 February because of ill health, Western and Russian media reported. Maj. Gottfried Hoenig was sick when he was captured along with four other UN employees on 4 February, and his condition had apparently worsened to the extent that his captors agreed to have him sent to Dushanbe along with a rebel fighter. Initially, it seemed that Bahrom Sadirov, who took the hostages, was demanding free passage for his brother from Afghanistan to Tajikistan, but it is now apparent that the two Sadirovs are working together to secure the return of 40 supporters from Afghanistan. -- Bruce Pannier

The Sadirov brothers said that if their supporters in Afghanistan, are not granted free passage to Tajikistan by the evening of 12 February, they will begin executing the remaining 14 hostages, according to Russian media. The 40 fighters in question were brought by helicopter to the southern Tajik town of Kulyab on the morning of 12 February and the government plans to hand them over to the Sadirovs on a stage-by-stage basis in exchange for the hostages. One of the captives, ITAR-TASS journalist Galina Gridneva, said in a phone conversation on the night of 11 February that the situation had greatly deteriorated and that the captives' lives "are in real danger." Bahrom Sadirov said government troops have surrounded hiM. -- Bruce Pannier

Deputy Finance Minister Serhei Matsakaria told the parliament on 11 February that, as of the beginning of 1997, Ukraine had received $3.5 billion in foreign loans, international media reported. About $2.2 billion came from the IMF--which is Ukraine's largest donor, followed by the EBRD and the World Bank. Matsakaria said the loans had helped last year to stabilize Ukraine's new national currency, the hryvnya, and to reduce inflation. Ukraine's foreign debt totals some $9 billion, of which $4 billion is owed to Russia and Turkmenistan. Meanwhile, the German embassy in Kyiv has announced that all German public humanitarian organizations have stopped delivering aid to Ukraine in response to the Ukrainian law banning the duty-free import of humanitarian aid. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

A Ukrainian Foreign Ministry official has warned that Ukraine might take unilateral steps in delimiting the Ukrainian-Russian border, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 February. He claimed that Russia was dragging its feet over bilateral talks on border delimitation because of the uncertain fate of the Black Sea Fleet and the status of Sevastopol. He also noted that Ukraine has solved the problem of demarcating borders with its other close neighbors--Belarus and Moldova. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 11 February blamed the government for the recent increase in inflation, Reuters reported. The Belarusian president has issued a decree providing for a 2% increase in inflation in 1997; in January, however, inflation stood at 13.3%. Economists say the increase is partly due to price liberalization and the 40% rise in wages and pensions since December. They also point to the government's monetary policies and recommend that Lukashenka free currency exchange rates, which are currently fixed at 20,050 Belarusian rubles to $1 (well below the rate in Moscow). Acting Prime Minister Syarhey Linh promised to keep inflation under control by regulating prices in the energy, transport, and "communal services" sectors. -- Sergei Solodovnikov

In an interview with a Lithuanian journalist on 11 January, Lukashenka confirmed his intention to pursue a "multi-vectorial" foreign policy, ITAR-TASS reported. He stressed that relations with Russia will remain top priority and will be built on principles similar to those of the European Union. Belarus is striving for integration that will not entail loss of sovereignty, he added. Relations with Germany, Poland, and the Baltic countries will also be important. With regard to socio-economic policy, Lukashenka said that he wants Belarus to have the same kind of socialism as in Sweden. -- Sergei Solodovnikov

Tiit Vahi on 11 February announced that he has launched talks to expand his current minority government coalition, ETA reported. He said the coalition--composed of the Coalition Party and a bloc of farmers' parties--could find backing among right-wing parties, but he did not name any party. He added that he would be willing to resign when the parliamentary parties can agree on a more suitable candidate. His decision seems to have been prompted by the narrow margin with which he escaped a no confidence motion the preivious day. -- Saulius Girnius

Prime Minister-designate Andris Skele and the leaders of six political parties have signed a draft program for the new government, BNS reported on 11 February. The program was proposed by Skele and modified by the signatory parties. It retains the provision that if a minister resigns, his party is granted priority in choosing a replacement. However, no agreement was reached on how the various ministries are to be divided between the political parties. A major bone of contention was reported to be the justice portfolio. -- Saulius Girnius

President Algirdas Brazauskas on 10 February said he would not submit Prosecutor-General Vladas Nikitinas's resignation to the Seimas (see OMRI Daily Digest, 21 January 1997), Radio Lithuania reported. That decision will anger the ruling coalition of Conservatives and Christian Democrats, which had called for Nikitinas's ouster. It will also likely expedite the passage of a law allowing the justice minister, rather than the president, to nominate the prosecutor-general. However, the Conservatives accepted Brazauskas's recommendations on the law reorganizing the Genocide of Lithuania's Population and Resistance Center, which he had previously refused to sign. -- Saulius Girnius

Marek Papala, the new chief of the Polish police, has announced that a special 400-strong narcotics bureau will start operating in March, international media reported on 12 February. The bureau is to fight drug-related crime by stamping out international drug trafficking routes across Polish territory, closing down laboratories that manufacture amphetamines (of which Poland is Europe's main source), and coordinating the activities of other state institutions involved in combating crime. The police are also lobbying for legal measures penalizing drug ownership. Moreover, a special unit may be created to fight child abuse and trading in women for prostitution, Papala said. Last year, 97 cases of cross-border drug smuggling were registered, compared with 69 in 1995. Officially registered drug addicts total 20,000, compared with 14,000 in 1990. -- Beata Pasek

A majority of deputies on 11 February
voted in favor of the ruling coalition's proposal to start discussing the Czech-German declaration immediately rather than toward the end of the current parliamentary session, Czech media reported. Earlier that day, the parliamentary caucus of Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODS) rejected an agreement between Klaus and opposition Social Democratic Chairman Milos Zeman that the parliament adopt an accompanying statement to the declaration. The ODS's coalition allies had previously ruled out such a possibility. As expected, deputies of the extreme-right Republican Party tried to obstruct the parliamentary debate on the declaration by holding lengthy speeches. -- Jiri Pehe

Opposition deputies on 11 February cheered the parliament's failure to approve the penal code amendment on the protection of the republic, international media reported. The highly controversial legislation drew sharp criticism when it was first passed last March; the parliament approved a milder version of the amendment in December. But the opposition remained opposed and President Michal Kovac vetoed the second version. The Association of Workers (ZRS)--a junior coalition partner--was split over the issue. Also on 11 February, one left-wing opposition deputy was appointed to the new parliamentary committee overseeing the secret service, while other opposition candidates were rejected. The new committee monitoring military intelligence includes one representative each from the opposition Democratic Union and the leftist coalition. -- Sharon Fisher

Slovak National Party (SNS) Chairman Jan Slota on 11 February called for coalition talks on early parliamentary elections, CTK reported. The SNS plans to discuss the issue at the next coalition meeting. According to Slota, the balance of power in the parliament between the coalition and opposition is now 50:50, which he sees as a reason for early elections. Slota expressed regret about the parliament's failure to approve the penal code amendment, which he considers a law that could make "order in disordered Slovakia" and could stop Slovaks in southern Slovakia from feeling that they live in Hungary. He also said it was irresponsible of deputies from the ZRS and others to have voted against the amendment. -- Anna Siskova

Sandor Kis Kalnoki, president of the Hungarian State Railroad company MAV, has resigned, Hungarian media reported on 11 February. Kalnoki's resignation comes just ahead of the release of the final results of an investigation into MAV's finances. That investigation was launched late last year by Transport Minister Karoly Lotz. MAV's losses at the end of 1996 stood at 15.7 billion forints ($98.1 million). Kalnoki is reported to have been involved in arranging adverse business deals between a company called Ples and the state railroads. Such deals may have cost MAV as much as 1 billion forints. Meanwhile, opposition leader Jozsef Torgyan told the parliament that MAV incurred losses by buying useless and outdated Romanian freight cars. He also alleged that MAV awarded contracts worth hundreds of millions of forints without issuing a tender. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabor Szentivanyi on 11 February said the Slovak government is violating the Hungarian-Slovak basic treaty and international agreements by banning bilingual school reports, Hungarian media reported. Szentivanyi warned that the Hungarian government will appeal to international organizations to protest school reports issued only in Slovak. He also reiterated Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs's call for the Slovak parliament to enact a minority language law. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Democratic Party (PD) deputies from the southern city of Vlora have rejected Prime Minister Aleksander Meksi's proposal that a state of emergency rule be imposed there. Former deputy Prime Minister Dashamir Shehi said, "We cannot send troops and tanks into our city..., there is always room for dialogue. This is not solved with truncheons," Reuters reported on 12 February. Meksi said the government backed the local party leaders, and he proposed again a meeting with opposition parties. Socialist Party and Democratic Alliance leaders, Namik Dokle and Neritan Ceka, paid a visit to the family of Artur Rustemi, who was killed on 10 February (see OMRI Daily Digest, 11 February 1997). They also addressed the more than 30,000 mourners at his funeral. Meanwhile, some 10,000 demonstrators rallied in the city center but later dispersed without incident. Police appeared to have abandoned the city, while protesters today are reported to have set up new barricades. -- Fabian Schmidt

The Forum for Democracy has called for a peaceful demonstration in Tirana today, Gazeta Shqiptare reported. Police on 11 February patrolled the streets of the capital and dispersed crowds. The Socialist Party reiterated their call for a political dialogue with President Sali Berisha, while the Republican Party withdrew from the ruling coalition and called for the government's resignation. Greece has asked the EU to consider sending aid to Albania but has also stepped up border patrols, fearing increased illegal migration, AFP reported. Meanwhile, ATSH reported that Vlora is facing a shortage of food and that prices have increased by 25% there. The city's port has been closed since 5 February. -- Fabian Schmidt

Serbian legislators on 11 February voted to adopt "in principle" a law paving the way for recognition of opposition wins in the November municipal elections, international media reported. Members of the opposition Zajedno coalition have expressed both guarded optimism and skepticism about Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's intention to honor the law. They stressed that protests against the regime will continue. Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic remarked that "the adoption of the bill has solved [only] one problem--[that] of the election theft." Ultranationalist deputies, notably from the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), attempted to stonewall the debate and walked out before the vote. SRS leader and accused war criminal Vojislav Seselj has said he will contest the law's validity in court. -- Stan Markotich

The Serbian parliament has endorsed changes in the cabinet lineup, Vecernje novosti reported on 12 February. Seven ministers have been dismissed and 13 new ones appointed; of the latter all belong either to the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia or Mirjana Markovic's (wife of President Slobodan Milosevic's) Yugoslav United Left. The most controversial appointment is that of Radmila Milentijevic as information minister. Milentijevic, who has reportedly lived in the U.S. for some 45 years, is a hard-line defender of Milosevic's regime. -- Stan Markotich

UN police have said that 26 illegal evictions of Muslim families living in the Croat half of Mostar were reported during the night from 10-11 February, according to AFP. The evictions followed clashes between Muslims and Croats that, according to UN sources, resulted in one dead and more than 30 wounded (see OMRI Daily Digest, 11 February 1997). Meanwhile, Bosnian Croat police have set up roadblocks preventing Muslims living in the Croat-controlled districts to return to their homes following visits to their relatives living in the eastern, mostly-Muslim half of Mostar during the Islamic religious holiday of Bajram. UN spokesman Kris Janowski said the Croats were not allowing anyone in and were therefore violating freedom of movement. Meanwhile, Croat media reported a spate of Muslim assaults on Croat motorists on the main highway northeast of town, and said two had gone missing, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, Croatian and Bosnian presidents Franjo Tudjman and Alija Izetbegovic have met to discuss the Mostar crisis, Hina reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Pentagon officials on 11 February said that Washington is consulting with its allies on how to bring war criminals to justice but that no firm plans have been made, AFP reported. The previous day, the London Daily Telegraph ran a story claiming that "a series of 'snatch operations' [to catch war criminals]...has reached the detailed planning stage, diplomatic and military sources have disclosed." The article suggested that SFOR would provide support and that all 66 war criminals on the loose would probably be rounded up at once. It also intimated that UN observers would be withdrawn before the operation began and that the force would probably consist of elite British, French, and U.S. units under their own national commands. But the paper, which has close ties to the Foreign Office, hinted that some "senior British sources" are concerned lest the project expose British troops on the ground to retribution. -- Patrick Moore

The local vote slated for 16 March seems likely to be put off until 13 April, Slobodna Dalmacija wrote on 12 February. An agreement to that effect appeared to have been reached by President Franjo Tudjman and UN Gen. Jacques Klein early this week. Klein stressed that conditions will not be right in Serb-held eastern Slavonia before then, while the Croats want the elections to go ahead everywhere at the same time in order to emphasize that eastern Slavonia has been reintegrated into Croatia. Some Zagreb opposition party leaders, however, want the elections to take place as soon as possible. They see the delay as a conspiracy between a pro-Serb international community, Serbs anxious to stay free of Croatian control, and a governing party in Croatia that fears defeat at the polls. -- Patrick Moore

In an attempt to lure foreign investment, the upper house on 11 February passed a law allowing foreign companies to buy land in Romania. The new legislation had been hotly debated both in the parliament and in the media; and the slogan "We won't sell out
our country," frequently invoked during the past seven years, was voiced many times. Victor Ciorbea's government is eager to create incentives for foreign investors. To date, direct foreign investment in Romania totals just over $2 billion since 1990. The bill has still to be approved by the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies. -- Zsolt Mato

Russian Defense Council Secretary Yurii Baturin, on the first day of his visit to Chisinau, said that Russia will withdraw its troops from Moldova's Dniester region when the political conflict there is resolved and not when NATO demands that they be withdrawn, international media reported on 11 February. NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, visiting the Moldovan capital the previous day, asked Russia to pull out its troops from eastern Moldova in compliance with OSCE recommendations. Solana had met with senior Moldovan officials, including President Petru Lucinschi and Foreign Minister Mihai Popov, to discuss possible NATO enlargement. Baturin's statement is likely to escalate the war of words between Russia and the West over NATO's plans to expand eastward. Meanwhile, the Moldovan Foreign Ministry said there was no connection between Solana's and Baturin's visits. -- Dan Ionescu

The outgoing Socialist government on 11 February conferred sweeping powers on the new caretaker government, despite having balked at the idea previously, Bulgarian dailies reported. The new cabinet has the authority to negotiate with international organizations and leaders in order to deal with the nation's economic crisis, including the serious food shortage. President Petar Stoyanov, who chaired the multiparty proceedings that led to an agreement on the interim government (see OMRI Daily Digest, 11 February 1997), hailed the accord as a major political breakthrough and "a historic and political consensus." The deal has still to be approved by the parliament. In other news, 300 army officers continued their protest over wages. They complain that they have received only a 60% increase, while other state wages have doubled in recent weeks. -- Stan Markotich

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave