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Newsline - March 14, 1997

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin met with President Boris Yeltsin on 13 March to discuss the upcoming cabinet reshuffle, Russian media reported. Although no details were released from the meeting, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii confirmed that the new government will be formed by 19 March, when a summit in Helsinki between Yeltsin and U.S. President Bill Clinton opens. On 14 March Yeltsin told a meeting of journalists that there will be seven deputy prime ministers in the new government -- a modest reduction from the nine that were in its predecessor. Also on 13 March, Chernomyrdin discussed the cabinet reshuffle with the leadership of his Our Home Is Russia (NDR) movement. In recent months, there has been speculation about tense relations between the government and the NDR's representatives in the State Duma (see OMRI Daily Digest, 1 November 1996) Moskovskii komsomolets reported on 13 March that a prominent NDR Duma deputy, Vladimir Ryzhkov, criticized the new presidential chief of staff, Valentin Yumashev, as lacking the expertise for the job. -- Laura Belin

State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said he hopes to meet with Yeltsin to discuss the cabinet reshuffle and the recent session of the Russian-Belarusian joint Parliamentary Assembly, Russian media reported on 13 March. Seleznev called on Yeltsin to consult the leaders of all Duma factions before deciding on the structure of the government. He warned that under the de facto leadership of First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, the new cabinet would be "the most incompetent government in all recent history," deepening Russia's economic crisis and making integration with Belarus impossible, NTV reported. Last November, Seleznev demanded Chubais's resignation as presidential chief of staff following the appointment of Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii. -- Laura Belin

Prime Minister Chernomyrdin chaired a session of the Defense Council on 13 March which discussed Russian relations with NATO, Russian and Western agencies reported. Opening the session, Chernomyrdin reiterated that Moscow remains opposed to NATO expansion, insisting that an "effective" European security system cannot be built without Russian participation. However, he added that Russia is "prepared to discuss constructive initiatives," which he said NATO had recently proposed. Although he said that did not necessarily mean Russia would insist on parliamentary ratification of the agreement. A "politically binding" agreement between the executives of the countries involved, like the 1975 Helsinki Act, could be acceptable to Moscow, he added. -- Scott Parrish

Russian Minister for CIS Affairs Aman Tuleev made public on 13 March an official letter from Defense Minister Igor Rodionov confirming that a large quantity of Russian weapons, including 84 T-72 tanks and 50 armored personnel carriers, were illegally transferred to Armenia from 1994-96, Russian and Western agencies reported. Tuleev had charged on 14 February that Russia had lost 270 billion rubles ($51 million) as a result of illegal arms tranfers to Armenia. In response to these charges, Rodionov's letter, dated 28 February, said a Defense Ministry commission had determined that weapons had been transferred to Armenia for free, without authorization by the Russian government. Chief Military Procurator Valentin Panichev told ITAR-TASS an investigation into the transfers was continuing, and refused to speculate on who might be responsible for them. -- Scott Parrish

Procurator General Yurii Skuratov complained in an interview in Rossiiskaya gazeta on 13 March that his embattled agency lacks the resources to deal with its responsibilities. It has only 7,090 investigators, out of a total staff of 28,677, and last year had to issue 427,000 arrest warrants, take 1,213,000 cases to court, and deal with more than 1 million complaints of rights violations. He said 880 cases involving privatization went to court last year, the "most common trick" being undervaluation of assets. At the Defense Ministry legal procedures are under way against 28 generals and almost 100 senior officers. Several of the cases against top generals were detailed in an article in Trud on 13 March. -- Peter Rutland

The Moscow Arbitration Court on 13 March barred the Pravda International publishing house from using the famous logo from the newspaper Pravda on editions of its daily newspaper Pravda-5, ITAR-TASS reported. The publishers of Pravda-5 ignored a similar ruling handed down in September by the President's Judicial Chamber on Information Disputes, a consultative body (see OMRI Daily Digest, 13 September 1996). If Pravda-5 violates the Arbitration Court's decision, it may be fined 200 times the minimum wage (15 million rubles, or $2,700) for each day it uses the Pravda logo. Pravda was forced by its Greek financiers to suspend publication last July; it was replaced by Pravda-5, formerly a weekly. -- Laura Belin

Primorskii Krai declared a state of emergency on 14 March because there is not enough fuel to generate heat for apartments in Nakhodka and Dalnegorsk, where interior temperatures are hovering between 5-10 degrees centigrade, ITAR-TASS reported. The authorities decided to drain water from the city's heating system on 14 March. Responsibility for collecting export taxes on natural gas will be given back to the State Tax Service, ITAR-TASS reported. In August 1996 the State Customs Service had been given the right to collect oil and gas export taxes: it will retain control of oil duties. As the country awaits news of the government reshuffle, it is unclear whether Kulikov or First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais will spearhead the effort the improve tax collection. -- Peter Rutland

RUSSIA FLOATS SECOND EUROBOND ISSUE. Russia has successfully floated its second eurobond issue worth 2 billion Deutsche marks ($1.18 billion), ITAR-TASS, Kommersant-Daily, and Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 13-14 March. The main parameters of the issue improved compared to the November floatation: the bonds' maturity increased from five to seven years and the annual coupon income declined from 9.25% to 9% (which means some reduction in debt-servicing costs paid from the federal budget). The issue is managed by international investment banks Deutsche Morgan Grenfell and CS First Boston, and by Russian banks Mezhdunarodnaya Finansovaya kompaniya, Rossiiskii kredit, Imperial, and Alfa-bank. The total value of eurobonds issued by the Russian government in 1997 is expected to be $3 billion, and the third issue will be denominated in Japanese yen. -- Natalia Gurushin

Publication of Rodionov's letter (see item in Russia section) caused concern in the Transcaucasus, not least because Moscow is co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk group mediating the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, international media reported. Yerevan had hitherto strenously denied it received such weapons tranfers, and on 14 March Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arsen Gaspayan said "I categorically deny the statements made by Rodionov and Tuleev," Reuters reported. Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkissyan told students at Yerevan State University that Armenia's defense capability had been "doubled" in the past two years "at no cost to the budget," RFE/RL reported. Meanwhile, Azerbaijani officials declared Rodionov's disclosures will not harm Russian-Azerbaijani relations. Russian media quoted President Haidar Aliev's foreign policy adviser Vafa Guluzade as saying Russia's interests in Azerbaijan would be given "only the green light". -- Lowell Bezanis

A State Department delegation headed by Eric Newsome held two days of talks in Baku with Azerbaijani President Haidar Aliev and top foreign and defense ministry officials, RFE/RL reported on 13 March. The talks, termed "very useful and detailed" by Aliev, focused on safeguarding transportation arteries, NATO-related issues, regional issues, and Azerbaijan's compliance with the CFE Treaty. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov told RFE/RL that limits on military deployments stipulated by the treaty can only be addressed in the context of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. -- Lowell Bezanis

The Committee to Protect Journalists has taken up the cause of the Kyrgyz independent newspaper Kriminal and sent a letter to President Askar Akayev. A copy of the letter obtained by OMRI, dated 13 March, asks the Kyrgyz court to lift a ban on the newspaper. The newspaper published only two editions before it was banned on 17 January for "insulting government officials" and "publishing deliberately false information." One article claimed Prime Minister Apas Jumagulov had built his new residence on the site of a cemetery. Jumagulov filed a suit against the paper in February but dropped it after a 7 March conversation with the paper's editor-in-chief Beken Nazaraliev. The Ministry of Justice, however, is still pressing charges against the paper. The paper also faces charges of insulting Vice Prime Minister Bekbolot Talgarbekov who, according the paper, squandered money intended for use in the agricultural sector, for using insulting popular nicknames when referring to government officials, and for claiming that top posts in government were given to people from the Talas and Kemin regions of Kyrgyzstan. -- Bruce Pannier and Naryn Idinov

The Russian newspaper Krasnaya zvezda on 13 March published recent comments made by Kazakstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev. He said his country would like to have closer relations with Russia but acknowledged that trade and economic relations between the countries were shrinking. "In the past Russia took up 80% of Kazakstan's commodity the figure is around 40%," Nazarbayev said. He then mentioned that Kazakstan's decision to buy $114 million worth of agricultural machinery from the American John Deere Co. instead of from the Russian "Don" company of Rostov-na-Donu was a reflection of the better quality of the American equipment. Nazarbayev also noted that while Kazakstan was buying planes from Boeing and not Russian-made Tu-154s, this was true in Russia as well. Still, Nazarbayev said, "I tell all one is closer to Kazakstan than Russia and the Russian people." -- Bruce Pannier

Radio Rossii reported on 13 March that protest meetings were being held in northern Tajikistan's Leninabad Region in support of a role at the Tajik peace talks for Abdumalik Abdullajonov, leader of the National Revival Movement. The report said the Ayninskii Region was particularly "active." Abdullajonov's organization has been excluded from peace talks between the Tajik government and the United Tajik Opposition (UTO). Those demonstrating are also demanding humanitarian aid be more equally distributed, claiming they are receiving only "crumbs." Meanwhile, the UTO has complained to the Tajik government that the Sadirov brothers' group, responsible for the 4-17 February hostage crisis in Tajikistan, have returned to their area of operations, near Obigarm, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 14 March. A "highly placed military official" said the government had investigated this and found no armed unit in the area. -- Bruce Pannier

The North Atlantic Assembly (NAA), the interparliamentary organization of NATO members, has said it is freezing all ties with Belarus, RFE/RL reported on 13 March. NAA President and U.S. Senator Bill Roth said the freeze will last until a formal decision is made on Belarus's NAA membership status in April. Belarus is an associate member of the NAA. He said
the decision was taken because President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's policies have undermined the rule of law and the democratic legitimacy of the country's legislature. -- Ustina Markus

Belarusian police raided the headquarters of the Belarusian Popular Front on 13 March, AFP and Reuters reported on 13 March. They arrested BFP deputy chairman Yuryi Khadyka, who was imprisoned last spring for his role in organizing demonstrations against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's policies. He was released after staging a hunger strike that lasted almost three weeks. The BPF organized an unsanctioned demonstration against Russian-Belarusian integration on 10 March, when a Russian delegation arrived in Minsk for further talks on integration. -- Ustina Markus

The Chornobyl nuclear power station has halved its power output owing to fuel shortages, Reuters reported on 13 March. Only one of the power station's four reactors is in use, and station spokesman Valerii Idelson said that one may have to be shut down in a month if there are no additional fuel supplies. The Chornobyl plant owes $3.5 million for fuel deliveries from Russia but has no money to pay off the debt or buy new fuel. Consumers owe the station over 2 billion hryvnyas ($110 million) for electricity. Idelson said the situation could affect the plant's safety since power was needed to maintain and warm the reactor that continues to operate as well as the No. 1 reactor, which has not been fully decommissioned. Russia has supplied Ukraine with nuclear fuel as compensation for valuable materials in the nuclear warheads transferred from Ukraine to Russia. The final compensatory fuel delivery will be made this year, after which Ukraine will have to pay for the fuel. Ukraine's five nuclear power stations supply the country with as much as 45% of its electricity. During this winter, Kyiv has depended on half its electrical supplies from Chornobyl. -- Ustina Markus

Pavlo Lazarenko told the cabinet on 13 March that the state will stop financing any governing organizations that have failed to pay employees' wages or deliver food supplies, medicines, or community services to workers, Ukrainian Radio reported. Lazarenko said he took that decision because so many government organizations have not abided by President Leonid Kuchma's decree ordering all government organizations to reduce their staffs by at least a quarter and submit a new budget based on those reductions by 10 March. At the same cabinet session, the January-February performance of the oil and chemical industry as well as the food, forestry, and coal industries was criticized. Crimea and Chernihiv were singled out as the least productive oblasts, with overall output falling by more than 30%. -- Ustina Markus

The Crimean Presidium, meeting in a closed session on 12 March, stripped seven deputies belonging to an "Anti-criminal coalition" of their powers, UNIAN reported on 12 March. The seven included former Crimean parliamentary speaker Serhii Tsekov. The decision will go into effect if 49 of Crimea's 96 deputies sign the resolution. The following day, Ukrainian Radio reported the Presidium has decided not to pay deputies who do not have valid reasons for not attending parliamentary sessions and to use those funds to pay wage arrears to teachers. -- Ustina Markus

The Estonian Country People's Party was the most popular party in Estonia in February, BNS reported on 13 March. An opinion survey by Saar Poll showed the party receiving 16% support among the 1,001 respondents. It was followed by the Reform Party with 13% and the Moderates with 12%. The Center Party garnered 11% support, the Pensioners' and Families' League 6%, and the Coalition Party and Pro Patria Union 5% each. In a December poll, the Reform Party placed first with 15% support, ahead of the Country People's Party with 14%. -- Jiri Pehe

Latvia and Lithuania will try to avoid linking the issue of their common sea border to economic questions, Latvian chief negotiator Maris Riekstins told BNS on 13 March. The Latvian and Lithuanian delegations negotiating the sea border met yesterday.
They agreed that excluding economic interests from the border talks would improve the chances of reaching an agreement. The next meeting is scheduled for mid-April. -- Jiri Pehe

Gdansk shipyard workers continued to demonstrate in the port city on 13 and 14 March to protest the shipyard's closure, Polish media report. Some 3,000 employees at the shipyard are slated to lose their jobs. The protesters shouted anti-communists slogans and again blocked the most important road junction in downtown Gdansk. They also burned tires, engulfing the city center in black smoke. On 13 March, the protesters blocked railroad tracks and brought 30 trains to a halt, Rzeczpospolita reported. Solidarity plans to seek public funds in a bid to save the shipyard. -- Jakub Karpinski
Czech Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec said after his meeting with his Latvian counterpart, Vladis Birkavs, in Prague on 13 March that NATO must remain open for all applicants even after its Madrid summit in July. At that meeting, NATO is to invite a first wave of new members to join the alliance. The Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and Slovenia are considered to have the best chances of being asked to join first. A total of 12 Central and East European states have said they want to become NATO members. -- Jiri Pehe

The Czech government on 13 March asked Trade and Industry Minister Vladimir Dlouhy to "continue intensive final talks" with Norway's GSU company on supplying gas to the Czech Republic, Hospodarske Noviny reported. The GSU is an umbrella company composed of the Statoil, Norsk Hydro, and Saga concerns. The government has considered offers made by other gas suppliers, but it appears to be leaning toward GSU. Dlouhy told journalists that his talks with GSU representatives should lead to a final decision soon. The government wants to diversify gas supplies in order to break its almost total dependency on Russian gas and Gazprom's monopoly on supplying gas to the Czech Republic. According to Dlouhy, the Czech Republic should start receiving "non-Russian gas" sometime this year. -- Jiri Pehe

Michal Kovac on 13 March said nationwide referendums on whether the president should be elected directly and on Slovakia's NATO membership will be held simultaneously on May 23 and 24, Slovak media reported. "I will launch a personal campaign before the two referendums and will advocate a 'yes' vote to both," Kovac said after announcing the plebiscite. The referendum on direct presidential elections is a direct challenge to Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, whose ruling three-party coalition defeated an opposition attempt in the parliament to change the constitution in favor of such elections. The opposition then collected the 350,000 signatures needed for a referendum to be held on the issue. -- Jiri Pehe

Several thousand students marched through the center of Bratislava on 13 March in support of actors protesting against Culture Minister Ivan Hudec's policies, international media reported. Four Bratislava university colleges have announced a strike alert to support the actors. Their actions are in response to a brutal police raid earlier this week at the Culture Ministry, when police attacked protesting actors and opposition lawmakers. The actors went on strike in protest against Hudec on 28 February. -- Jiri Pehe

Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea, on the last day of his visit to Hungary, urged Hungarians to help pull his country out of its economic crisis by investing there, Hungarian media reported on 14 March. Addressing some 100 Hungarian businessmen, he commented that, "We will not be able to overcome the economic crisis without foreign investment." He said he saw a big role for Hungarian business in Romania, assuring potential investors that new economic laws will provide firm ground for foreign capital in Romania. Ciorbea also pledged to allow foreigners to own land in Romania, to help develop the capital market, and to consolidate the stock exchange. The previous day, Hungary and Romania signed agreements strengthening ties in the economic, transport and foreign policy fields. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Public order has now broken down in many cities and towns across the country, international media reported. Police and military personnel in several municipalities have abandoned their posts. In Tirana alone, an estimated 70 people were injured and 9 killed on 13 March. According to eyewitness accounts, gunshots could be heard in the capital during the night of 13-14 March. Tanks were sent to the city center, but it remains unclear who issued the order. Tirana's prisons have emptied, and among those to be released are Socialist leader Fatos Nano and former communist President Ramiz Alia. Mob violence and chaos are evident in most major cities, including the northern town of Shkodra, where mobs went on a rampage and set ablaze to public buildings. -- Stan Markotich

Italian air naval forces have evacuated some 700 foreign nationals since yesterday, AFP reports. The British Foreign Office reports that another 131 foreign nationals have left from the port of Durres. CNN reported earlier today that the children of President Sali Berisha have left for Italy. And according to AFP, former Defense Minister Safet Zhulali, who was replaced only two days ago, has arrived safely in that country with his family. Berisha has called for help from abroad to deal with the crisis. -- Stan Markotich

The government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, in its first statement on the crisis in Albania, has called for a "peaceful" resolution, Reuters reported on 13 March. Belgrade said it is concerned about the "deep destabilisation...[which has] implications for the stability of the region." Reuters suggests that the statement was likely prompted by an incident along the Macedonian border with Albania demonstrating that the violence risks spreading to predominantly ethnic-Albanian Kosovo. On 13 March, Macedonian border guards exchanged fire
with Albanian police, Macedonian Radio reported. -- Stan Markotich

At U.S.-French talks in Washington on 13 March, senior U.S. military officials urged Europeans to take over peace-keeping duties in Bosnia-Herzegovina when U.S. troops leave, AFP reported. Robert Grant of U.S.-Crest, a Washington think-tank, said the French representatives insisted that the U.S. keep its SFOR ground troop force in Bosnia together with its European allies. In other news, High Representative for Bosnia Carl Bildt has called on the Council of Ministers to adopt a package of economic laws to allow the delayed international donor conference to take place. On 13 March, the council reached agreement on several foreign trade laws but failed to adopt other legislation. Haris Silajdzic, one of the council's two co-chairmen, said the High Representative's Office should also be blamed for the conference's delay. "Bildt's office failed to respond on privatization, restitution, and ownership draft laws submitted by the council," Oslobodjenje on 14 March quoted Silajdzic as saying. -- Daria Sito Sucic

The International Monetary Fund on 13 March announced it has granted Croatia a three-year credit line worth $486 million to support economic reform, AFP reported. The fund noted that Croatia began implementing an economic stabilization campaign in 1993, despite regional military conflict, and that it has managed to restore fiscal control and reduce inflation from more than 1,000% to industrial country levels. Meanwhile, Gen Jacques Klein, UN transitional administrator for Croatia's Serb-held region of eastern Slavonia, called for increased financial support from the international community to ensure stability in the region. In other news, Vittorio Ghidi, outgoing chief of the EU Humanitarian Office in Zagreb, said the EU will continue to provide humanitarian aid to Croatia in the form of bank loans or through the PHARE program, Hina reported on 13 March. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Branko Crvenkovski delivered a speech on inter-ethnic relations to a special session of parliament on 13 March, Nova Makedonija reported. He noted that Macedonia finds itself in an "extraordinarily difficult situation" on the political, economic, social, and even security fronts. He added that many problems result from poorly-functioning institutions. He said the government's inter-ethnic policies and the current constitution are based on "political coexistence, mutual tolerance and respect, the overcoming of problems through the institutions of the system, and adaptation and drafting of our laws and procedures on the basis of European norms." He scolded the opposition for failing to respect those achievements and defended the law on the Pedagogical Faculty at Skopje
University allowing instruction there in Albanian. The legislation has sparked student protests. -- Michael Wyzan

President Emil Constantinescu and Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea made separate statements on 13 March clarifying that the Cluj Babes-Bolyai University will remain unified. It will, however, be divided into two autonomous sections--one teaching in Romanian, the other in Hungarian. Radio Bucharest carried a press release in which Constantinescu said the Magyar community's demands to have institutes of higher education teaching in its language was "legitimate" and in line with "European norms." Premier Ciorbea, in an interview on national television, said both the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania and Hungary's ruling coalition and opposition were agreed to the continued existence of a unified university divided into two sections. Ciorbea discussed the issue with Hungarian officials during his trip to Budapest earlier this week. -- Michael Shafir

The Romanian Senate on 13 March stripped Corneliu Vadim Tudor, leader of the extreme nationalist Greater Romanian Party (PRM), of his parliamentary immunity, RFE/RL and local media reported on 13-14 March. The move, however, may contravene the constitution, since the ruling coalition, which voted in favor, was short of the required two-thirds majority. National Peasant Party-Christian Democratic representative Nistor Badiceanu proposed an amendment saying the previous legislature's decision to lift Tudor's immunity was still valid, and Senate chairman Petre Roman decided that the vote on the amendment would be decided by a simple majority. Deputies from the PRM, the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (which initiated the removal of Tudor's immunity last year but now opposes it) and the Party of Romanian National Unity walked out in protest. In their absence, the amendment was carried by a vote of 74 to three. Tudor has said that he will appeal to the Constitutional Court. -- Michael Shafir

A court in the town of Buzau has found three Romanian journalists guilty of libel against a former local prosecutor and sentenced them to one year in prison, RFE/RL reported on 13 March. The three journalists work for the local paper Opinia. Libel charges were brought against them after they published an article claiming that the former prosecutor's mother had rented her house to an illegal pyramid scheme. The journalists are free pending an appeal, which they must file by 21 March. -- Michael Shafir

Ivan Tatarchev on 13 March launched an investigation into whether Vasil Chichibaba, the first agriculture minister under former Socialist Premier Zhan Videnov, and three of his deputies were criminally negligent in allowing large-scale exports, Pari reported. They are suspected of negligence in forecasting the 1995 wheat balance, which led to excessive wheat exports that year as well as a shortage of bread grain in both 1995 and 1996. The damage to the economy caused by having to import grain after large-scale exports totaled 6.5 billion leva ($97 million). If convicted, Chichibaba and the three deputies face up to 10 years' imprisonment. Meanwhile, the government has approved a program to expedite Bulgaria's integration into NATO, including the speedier adoption of NATO military standards and a public education campaign about the alliance, Western agencies reported on 13 March. -- Michael Wyzan

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Steve Kettle and Jan Cleave