Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - March 10, 1997

President Boris Yeltsin appointed Anatolii Chubais, his chief of staff, to serve as first deputy prime minister on 7 March. Chubais is charged with revamping the chaotic and ineffective governmental structure. Chubais had held the same post until January 1996, when he was dismissed for failing to deal with wage and pension arrears, which were thought to have contributed to the poor showing of the pro-government Our Home is Russia party in the December 1995 election. There is no word on who will replace Chubais as chief of staff. The announcement of Chubais' appointment was delayed until late 7 March, presumably to prevent negative reactions to his appointment from interfering with the generally positive media coverage of Yeltsin's state of the nation address the previous day. Another advantage of the delay was that no newspapers would be published for the next three days, since 8 March was International Women's Day. -- Peter Rutland

State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev described the appointment of Chubais as a mistake and a challenge to all of Russia, Russian media reported on 7 March. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov and Communist Party Deputy Chairman Valentin Kuptsov used stronger words, comparing the appointment to "spitting in the face of society;" Zyuganov claimed that Chubais was almost as hated in Russia as Hitler, RTR reported. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky said a narrow clique of politicians was being reshuffled "like a greasy old pack of cards," according to AFP. In contrast, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, who crossed swords with Chubais for years over privatization policy, expressed the hope that Chubais's "decisiveness" would improve the government's work. U.S. State Department Spokesman Nicholas Burns said: "We look forward to working with" Chubais, whom he called a "talented, tough advocate of Russia's national interests." -- Laura Belin

Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii announced on 7 March that Yabloko members will not join the new cabinet as government officials had indicated during negotiations that there will be no significant changes in economic policy, Russian media reported. Appearing on NTV on 9 March, Yavlinskii confirmed that his associates would refuse to serve as mere "decoration" in the cabinet and argued that neither Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin nor Chubais should serve in the government, given the state's persistent inability to pay its debts to citizens and the high level of corruption. Yavlinskii skirted the issue of whether Yabloko deputies in the State Duma would support a no-confidence vote in the new government. Also on 9 March, Russia's Democratic Choice leader Yegor Gaidar, a close ally of Chubais, denied rumors that he will take a cabinet post. -- Laura Belin

Russia's NTV on 7 March quoted Chechen National Security Advisor Akhmed Zakaev as stating that the signing of the Russian-Chechen peace agreement may be postponed as Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin has sent to Grozny a substantially amended version of the text, which the Chechen leadership considers unacceptable. Also on 7 March, Russian State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev stipulated that the amnesty for Chechen fighters would take effect only after a final vote by the Duma on 12 March, Reuters reported. On 9 March, one person was slightly injured when a bomb exploded outside the Grozny headquarters of Chechen Field Commander Shamil Basaev, according to AFP. -- Liz Fuller

Boris Agapov told ITAR-TASS on 7 March that his republic is prepared to offer accommodation near the capital, Nazran, to journalists covering the situation in Chechnya should the Chechen authorities insist on their departure for security reasons. On 8 March, Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov told Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitalii Ignatenko that four Russian journalists abducted in Grozny on 4 March are still alive, and that President Aslan Maskhadov has ordered that efforts to locate them and secure their release be stepped up. A senior Chechen Interior Ministry official warned the Russian media against publishing unverified reports about the abduction that could jeopardize their release. -- Liz Fuller

Sergei Lepnev, 18, a first-year cadet at the Kamyshin Military Construction Academy in Volgograd Oblast, shot dead the 32-year-old captain of his guard detachment and five other cadets on 9 March, Russian media reported. The incident, in which three other cadets were also wounded, occurred during a routine changing of the guard at the academy. Lepnev fled the scene with another cadet, but was later tracked by police to a local home, where officers convinced him to surrender. The motive for the shootings remains unclear, although military investigators cited by NTV suggested that it could have resulted from severe hazing, a chronic problem for young recruits in the Russian military. -- Scott Parrish

President Boris Yeltsin and his Belarusian counterpart Alyaksandr Lukashenka signed a joint declaration "covering the entire sphere of bilateral relations," ITAR-TASS reported on 7 March. Opening the meeting, Yeltsin told Lukashenka that Russia and Belarus have the "closest relations," adding that ties should be further improved in order to "achieve a level of integration that exceeds integration in Europe and other parts of the world." Echoing the largely unimplemented April 1996 Russo-Belarusian community agreement, the declaration called for establishing a common legal system and currency, in addition to unifying budgetary and other economic policies. Despite such sweeping declarations, economic unification has made little concrete progress with Russia tightening customs controls on the Belarusian border only last week because of widespread smuggling. The two presidents also declared "unanimous" opposition to NATO enlargement, while denying that Russo-Belarusian integration is directed against the West. -- Scott Parrish

Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov and NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana met in Moscow on 9 March for a third round of talks about the proposed NATO-Russia charter, Russian and Western agencies reported. Like the previous meetings, no details were released to the press, which received only tersely worded statements from NATO headquarters in Brussels and the Russian Foreign Ministry. The NATO statement said the talks were "proceeding positively," and the Russian statement also said that "positive work was done" during Solana's visit, although it noted that "differences remain on a number of issues." On 10 March, Solana departed Moscow for a tour of Central Asia. A similar tour of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia last month sparked accusations by Moscow politicians and commentators that NATO seeks to undermine Russian influence in the CIS. -- Scott Parrish

The Japanese Foreign Ministry has demanded that Moscow explain why Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Ilyushin abruptly canceled a scheduled late February visit to Tokyo, citing pressing domestic issues, but then went to Switzerland a few days later to press St. Petersburg's bid to host the 2004 Summer Olympics, Reuters reported on 6 March. "We deserve a satisfactory explanation from the Russian government," said Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hiroshi Hashimoto, who complained that a discussion with Russian Ambassador to Japan Aleksandr Panov had not produced one. Ilyushin's visit to Switzerland was also disappointing, as the International Olympic Committee announced on 7 March that St. Petersburg had been eliminated from the competition to host the 2004 games. -- Scott Parrish

Marking International Women's Day on 8 March with an address on Radio Rossii, Yeltsin said Russia's greatest treasure was its "beautiful, kind and intelligent women." He praised women's wisdom and resourcefulness, noting that "in order to solve family budget problems, sometimes you have to think even harder than our [parliamentary] deputies or government, because unlike them, you have to fulfill your budget." Meanwhile, about 700 representatives of Viktor Anpilov's radical left-wing movement Workers' Russia demonstrated on Moscow's October Square on 8 March, NTV reported. "With the restoration of Soviet power all of women's rights will be restored to them," Anpilov pledged. -- Laura Belin

Teenage crime has been rising faster than adult crime and now accounts for 68% of all recorded crimes in Moscow oblast, Trud reported on 6 March. The article said there were 120,000 cases of children under 14 (the age of criminal responsibility) committing criminal acts, such as stealing food, sometimes at the instigation of their families. Half the teenagers who commit crimes neither work nor attend school, but spend their days begging, cleaning cars, etc. In sharp contrast to the Soviet era, 1.5 million school-age children neither study nor (officially) work. -- Peter Rutland

Despite the government's strong objections, the State Duma approved in the first reading a draft law to increase the minimum pension by 13% to 78,620 rubles ($14) effective from 1 March 1997, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 March. According to the Duma's committee on labor and social policy, financing the increase will require an additional 10.5 trillion rubles this year. The head of the Pension Fund Vasilii Barchuk and Deputy Finance Minister Izosim Molchanov blasted the decision and warned that the indexation is likely to bring to naught the government's efforts to repay pension arrears by 1 July 1997. The Duma also decided by 285 votes to 11 with four abstentions to support the large scale protests scheduled by trade unions for 27 March. -- Natalia Gurushina

The Russian-American crew aboard the Mir orbital space station was forced to use emergency equipment after the failure of the main oxygen generator on 7 March, AFP reported. This is the latest in a series of accidents aboard the Mir station, including problems with the waste water system in November, a fire in February, and the recent failure to re-dock a supply spacecraft using a new docking system. The chief of the flight, Vladimir Solovev, however, said that the problem with the cargo ship will not affect the Russian-American space program and the next docking of the Mir station and the U.S. shuttle will take place in May, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 March. He said that the cargo craft will be scrapped and burned in the Earth's atmosphere between 11 and 12 March. Parts of the craft may fall into the Pacific Ocean. -- Natalia Gurushina

Armen Sarkisyan, currently recuperating from windpipe surgery in London, told journalists on 7 March that he had submitted his resignation the previous day as he needs further intensive medical treatment, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL reported. President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, who has temporarily assumed the duties of premier, accepted the resignation on 8 March having initially proposed that Sarkisyan remain in his post until he has recovered. Sarkisyan had served as prime minister since early November 1996. -- Liz Fuller

On the second day of a three-day official visit to Tbilisi, a Russian State Duma delegation headed by Duma deputy chairman Mikhail Gutseriev met with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze on 7 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Talks focused on bilateral relations, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and the possibility of creating an "Assembly of the Peoples of the Caucasus," presumably intended as an official counterpart to the existing Confederation of Peoples of the Caucasus. Gutseriev subsequently told journalists that there were "no insoluble problems" in bilateral relations between the two countries. He also said that Russia would consider withdrawing the CIS peacekeeping forces currently deployed in Abkhazia if Georgia requests this. -- Liz Fuller

Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas ended a three-day visit to Kazakstan on 8 March after signing agreements with his Kazak counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev covering elimination of double taxation, standardization and certification, and legal issues, according to Russian sources and the Baltic News Service. Talks focused on the Lithuanian port city of Klaipeda which Nazarbayev called "extraordinarily important to Kazakstan." Kazakstan is rich in oil but thus far has had a hard time shipping it to prospective customers. Economic agreements signed between the two countries would allow Kazakstan the right to ship oil, as well as ferrous and non-ferrous metals, through the Lithuanian port. Lithuania would receive a percentage of the materials for the use of the Klaipeda port. Lithuania is also looking to import grain from Kazakstan and to export meat and dairy products to the Central Asian country. -- Bruce Pannier

The Kazakstani government, using a now familiar tactic, agreed to pay off its debt for Turkmen gas supplies by barter, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 March. Kazakstan presently owes $24.3 million for Turkmen power. The Ministry of Power and Coal will send the equivalent of the debt in asbestos, phosphorus, lead, rolled copper, and other unspecified items. Kazakstan had a similar deal with Kyrgyzstan, exchanging Kazak coal for Kyrgyz hydro-power, and Kazakstan has also allowed local officials in the northern part of the country to barter for energy shipments with Russia, usually trading grain for electricity and heating. -- Bruce Pannier

Uzbek human rights activist Albert Mousin was released by Russian authorities on 8 March, RFE/RL reported. Mousin had been picked up in February during a random check of documents by local militia and taken into custody when it was learned Uzbekistan had a warrant out for his arrest (see OMRI Daily Digest 24 February 1997). The release comes despite Uzbekistan's insistence that Mousin be extradited to stand trial on charges of "intentionally spreading falsehoods undermining the state and society." -- Bruce Pannier

The sixth round of peace talks between the Tajik government and United Tajik Opposition (UTO) ended on 8 March with the signing of an agreement on integrating the armed forces of the country, Russian and Western sources reported. The number two in the UTO, Ali Akbar Turajonzoda, and Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov signed the agreement in Moscow. Under its terms, the UTO will bring all its forces remaining in Afghanistan to Tajikistan within two months and these, together with UTO forces already inside the country, will be distributed to 10 zones where they will be disarmed. The second phase will be the preparation of UTO forces to serve in legal government formations, at the end of which the UTO will declare its forces disbanded. The final phase, to be completed by 1 June, will be the actual assignment of UTO cadres into the Tajik armed forces units and militia. -- Bruce Pannier

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry is drawing up an official response to the U.S. State Department report criticizing human rights in Belarus, Belapan reported on 6 March. Foreign Minister Ivan Antanovich said the Belarusian leadership does not agree with the conclusions of the report, noting there are a number of inaccuracies and misunderstandings. But he added that Minsk accepts some of the criticisms. On 8 March, AFP quoted Italian deputy Clemente Mastella as denying that an Italian parliamentary delegation's recent visit to Minsk meant Italy recognized the new Belarusian parliament. He said the visit was strictly a "practical trip" to work out agreements that would allow Italians to adopt Belarusian children. He noted that Belarusian speaker Anatol Malofeyev's interpretation of the visit as a sign of official recognition was erroneous. So far, only Russia and China have recognized the legitimacy of the post-referendum Belarusian parliament. (See "YELTSIN, LUKASHENKA SIGN JOINT DECLARATION,"
in the Russian part.) -- Ustina Markus

Madeleine Albright said she expected an agreement between Ukraine and NATO to be completed by the July summit in Madrid, international agencies reported. Following a meeting with her Ukrainian counterpart, Hennadii Udovenko, Albright said Ukraine and the U.S. were strategic partners and that an independent Ukraine was part of their shared vision of a Europe at peace. Udovenko said the further development of U.S.-Ukrainian relations is an important priority for Ukraine. -- Ustina Markus

Prime Minister-designate Mart Siimann has said he will announce the new cabinet only after the parliament has approved his program, BNS reported on 7 March. Legislators are likely to approve the program on 12 March. Eesti Paevaleht revealed in its 8 March issue that Siimann wanted to retain the cabinet of his predecessor, Tiit Vahi, but the rural parties in his coalition demanded that Agriculture and Regional Affairs Ministers Ilmar Mandmets and Tiit Kubri be dismissed. Siimann will have seven days after his program is approved to present his cabinet to President Lennart Meri. The president must appoint the cabinet within three days. Former Agriculture Minister Avo Molder is rumored to be the most likely candidate for that portfolio. -- Saulius Girnius

In February, monthly inflation in Estonia was 0.9%, in Latvia 0.4%, and in Lithuania 0.6%, in each case sharply down on the January levels, BNS reported on 7 March. The combined rates for the first two months (2.3% in both Estonia and Latvia and 3.4% in Lithuania) are considerably lower than for the same period over the past six years, demonstrating that all three governments are successfully tackling inflation. -- Saulius Girnius

Roman Jagielinski, who is also agriculture minister and a leader of the co-ruling Polish Peasant Party (PSL), has submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, effective 31 March, Polish dailies reported on 8 March. Jagielinski said he wants to take part in the EU agriculture ministers meeting next week to secure funds for Polish agriculture. Last month, the PSL's Supreme Executive Committee withdrew its support for Jagielinski. On 1 March, the PSL's Supreme Council asked him to resign immediately in exchange for the position of council vice president. Jagielinski is regarded as a rival of PSL leader and former Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak. He has been agriculture minister for the past two years, longer than anyone else who has held that post since 1989.
-- Jakub Karpinski

Arms industry workers from around the country descended on Warsaw on 7 March to demand an increase in defense expenditures, Polish media reported. "The Communists are destroying the country," they shouted. Near government headquarters, demonstrators clashed with police who wielded truncheons. Solidarity official Stanislaw Glowacki apologized to Warsaw inhabitants for the "inconvenience" but blamed the police for the clashes. Police spokesman showed journalists bottles and metal objects that had been thrown at policemen. Meanwhile, striking bus drivers in Silesia signed an agreement with city authorities on 7 March but are continuing their protest action because of lack of progress in talks with transport companies. -- Jakub Karpinski

Democratic Union Deputy Chairman Jan Budaj on 8 March announced that his party will initiate talks with other opposition parties to pave the way for a broad coalition cabinet following the next parliamentary elections, Slovak media reported. Speaking after a DU republican council session, Budaj said the union will concentrate on forming a pre-election coalition with the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and the Democratic Party (DS). The DU also discussed preparations for the next party congress, at which former Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan will compete with Jozef Moravcik for party chairmanship. Also on 8 March, KDH Chairman Jan Carnogursky said his party is prepared to enter a pre-election coalition with the DS and to begin talks with the DU. Opinion polls show that the three parties combined have roughly the same level of support as the ruling Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. -- Sharon Fisher

Slovak dailies on 10 March were full of allegations about close links between the government and Devin banka. The only Slovak bank with significant Russian capital, Devin banka is said to be an instrument of Russian influence over the Slovak government. Recently, the director's wife, Blazena Martinkova, has often been seen with Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, although she does not work at the government office, Praca reported. In other news, a private radio station, Radio Koliba, is to be launched on 1 April, Sme reported on 8 March. One of the station's co-owners is Fedor Flasik, the director of the Donar advertising agency, which has close ties with the ruling Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. The station is not expected to broadcast news commentary. The owners of Radio Koliba are also said to have a good chance of winning the competition for the privatization of Slovak TV's second channel. -- Sharon Fisher

Laszlo Kovacs said on 7 March that meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other officials have reassured him about Hungary's prospects of joining NATO in the first round, Reuters reported. "The United States has indicated a very strong intention to implement [NATO] expansion as scheduled," Kovacs told journalists on returning to Hungary. Commenting on Romania's efforts to become a member during the first round, Kovacs said Hungary supports the simultaneous entry of Hungary and Romania into NATO but does not want to sacrifice its chances of first-round membership on that account. In other news, Prime Minister Gyula Horn on 9 March said ethnic Hungarians in Romania could better promote their interests if the two countries were admitted to NATO at the same time. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Viktor Orban, chairman of the opposition Young Democrats, has expressed his party's full support for farmers' demands, including the immediate cancellation of social insurance and tax regulations, Hungarian media reported on 7 March. Farmers first erected road blockades in eastern Hungary two weeks ago. Following extensive talks with government officials last week, farmers are today continuing their protest against unfavorable legislation. In other news, a recent poll conducted by the Szonda Ipsos agency shows the opposition Smallholders party leading the popularity ratings with 29% support. It is followed by the Young Democrats (24%) and the ruling Socialist Party (22%). -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Sali Berisha on 9 March appeared on state radio and television to offer a deal to the rebels, who now control several towns in the southern part of the country. In a bid to halt the violence, Berisha extended an amnesty beyond its 9 March deadline and agreed, with the support of the opposition parties, to the formation of a government of reconciliation that will include the opposition. He also acceded to calls for early elections, which, he said, will be held no later than June. The same day, Albanian TV announced that its chief director, Qemal Sakajeva, has quit his post. Rebels and protesters demanded his removal after the state media started dubbing the rebels "terrorists." -- Stan Markotich

Opposition political leaders have said they will support Berisha's proposed deal, and some rebels in the south of the country have deemed the concessions to be at least a partial victory. But some rebels appear to remain defiant and unwilling to surrender their arms. Just before Berisha announced his proposals, rebels seized the southern town of Permet, Reuters reported on 10 March. According to eyewitnesses, at least six people were killed in the fighting. Rebel leaders claimed they fended off government troops, who allegedly broke ranks and fled. Reuters notes that many of the southern rebel leaders have already said they want Berisha to resign before they consider turning in any of their artillery. -- Stan Markotich

An estimated 50,000 opposition supporters crowded into downtown Belgrade on 9 March to attend a rally commemorating the sixth anniversary of the first mass protest against Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, Nasa Borba reported the next day. In 1991, Milosevic deployed army tanks and armed police units to disperse the crowds, resulting in the deaths of one protester and one policeman. But at the most recent demonstration--the first to be held since Milosevic recognized opposition Zajedno coalition wins in local elections some three weeks ago -- police kept a very low public profile. The three main Zajedno leaders, Vuk Draskovic, Vesna Pesic, and new Belgrade mayor Zoran Djindjic, appealed for reform and called for greater media freedom. -- Stan Markotich

At the Vienna conference on Brcko, U.S. diplomat Robert W. Farrand was appointed supervisor of the disputed Bosnian town, international agencies reported on 7 March. Both Muslims and Serbs are claiming control over Brcko. Farrand's main task will be to ensure that the Serbian authorities currently controlling the town allow Croat and Muslim refugees to return to their homes. Brcko was the only unresolved issue in the Dayton peace accords. Its fate was to have been decided on 14 February, but it was decided to postpone a final ruling until March 1998 and to appoint a supervisor to oversee the running of the town and return of refugees. An extra 200 UN police will be stationed in the town to monitor and advise the Serbian police. They will have the same unarmed status as other UN police in the town, AFP on 8 March quoted diplomats at the Vienna conference as saying. The U.S. wanted an armed force in Brcko, but its European partners vetoed that proposal. -- Daria Sito Sucic

A gang of Serbs on 7 March attacked a bus carrying Muslim passengers on a road that runs from Sarajevo to the Muslim enclave of Gorazde through the Bosnian Serb entity, Oslobodjenje reported the next day. The Serbs stopped the bus, robbed and beat the passengers, and threw a hand grenade into the bus. The grenade failed, however, to explode. The Bosnian Federation Interior Ministry has demanded that the UN police and SFOR provide better protection for vehicles using the road. Meanwhile, some 500 Sarajevo citizens demonstrated against the recent bombings of Catholic Churches in the Bosnian capital. The 8 March demonstration was organized by the independent monthly Dani under the motto "Build Mosques, Save Churches." It was intended to show solidarity among all Bosnians against attacks on religious monuments. In other news, Austria is to offer cash incentives worth $2,500 to Bosnian refugees in the country to encourage them to return home, AFP reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Vojislav Stanimirovic, head of the Serbian authorities in eastern Slavonia, has said that all Serbs in the region would remain if the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia were to conclude a dual citizenship agreement with Croatia, Reuters reported on 9 March. The region is slated to revert to Croatia control
later this year. Croatian law allows for dual citizenship, but Yugoslavia has not given its citizens that option. Stanimirovic said the decision whether the Serbs will take part in Croatia's April elections depends largely on UN chief for eastern Slavonia Jacques Klein meeting their demands. But Stanimirovic did not specify what those demands are. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council has agreed to 13 April as the date for local elections in eastern Slavonia. But the council criticized both Croatia and local Serbs for preventing the smooth transition of the area to Croatian rule. -- Daria Sito Sucic

EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Hans van der Broek met with President Emil Constantinescu, Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea, Foreign Minister Adrian Nastase, and other officials during his visit to Romania, Radio Bucharest reported on 7 March. Noting that reforms instituted by Ciorbea's government are "encouraging," he said the EU commission will offer Romania a $ 80.5 million loan to facilitate the implementation of reforms. Romania's integration into the EU will heavily depend on the passage of legislation that meets EU norms, on "administrative efficiency," and on the existence of a fully free market, he commented. Van der Broek also praised the government's policy toward national minorities. In other news, three Council of Europe rapporteurs said at the end of their visit to Bucharest on 7 March that they are impressed by Romania's progress and that their report will be "positive." The council has to decide in April whether to stop monitoring Romania's democratization. -- Michael Shafir

The wing of the National Liberal Party-Democratic Convention that supports unification of liberal formations within the framework of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) elected a tripartite leadership to replace chairman Nicolae Cerveni at a congress in Sibiu on the weekend, Romanian media reported. Each of the three new party leaders will hold the chairmanship for six months; Senator Alexandru Popovici is first in line. Cerveni, who wants liberal formations to unify outside the CDR, said the gathering was illegal. Earlier, he demanded that members of the Popovici wing be dismissed from the government. But the presence of delegations from other formations representing CDR members at the Sibiu congress suggests support for the anti-Cerveni wing. -- Michael Shafir

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Lobov and Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirov arrived in Sofia on 10 March for a two-day visit, Bulgarian media reported. Lobov, who is also co-chair of the Intergovernmental Bulgarian-Russian Commission for Commercial and Scientific-Technical Cooperation, said Bulgaria needs to have more faith in Gazprom and that it will profit annually if a gas pipeline is built through the country. Gazprom and former socialist Prime Minister Zhan Videnov have sparred over the "TopEnergy" joint venture. Videnov insisted that the government should represent Bulgaria in managing that joint venture, while the Russians favor Multigroup, a private business grouping. Talks are to center on Russian credits for Bulgarian nuclear energy, Russia's supplying parts and equipment for the Kozloduy nuclear power facility, military-technical cooperation, and transport ties. -- Michael Wyzan

Jeffrey Sachs, a Harvard University economics professor famous for his role in shaping reforms in Poland and Bolivia, has criticized the West's approach to Bulgaria's economic problems, Bulgarian media reported. Sachs was speaking to journalists and economists in Sofia on 8 March. He argued that while it may have been necessary to introduce a currency board under the Socialists, such a body may not be needed under a government committed to economic reform. Sachs argued that the country's small foreign reserves (about $400 million) casts doubt on the efficacy of a currency board, adding that the introduction of one will not restore faith in the banks. Noting that annual debt service is about 10% of GDP, Sachs lambasted the West for being more concerned about the welfare of Western creditors than about that of the Bulgarian people. He advised the Bulgarian government to be tough in negotiations with the IMF and not to accept onerous conditions, despite the desperate situation. -- Michael Wyzan

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Jan Cleave and Sava Tatic