YELTSIN SEEKS TO CALM FEARS OVER BELARUSIAN INTEGRATION.
Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov has left for Minsk today to discuss with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Belarusian Foreign Ministry officials the union agreement signed last week. President Boris Yeltsin has promised Russians that integration with Belarus will not hurt their standard of living and that he will seek to ensure that democratic values are respected in both Russia and Belarus. In a 5 April radio address, Yeltsin also stressed that the union agreement is only the beginning of the integration process. He said the Russian-Belarusian union charter could be revised to take public opinion into account. Yeltsin's speech follows several days of generally unfavorable commentaries in the Russian media about the consequences of integration with Belarus. Meanwhile, the State Duma on 4 April passed a statement demanding gradual unification with Belarus and a resolution criticizing recent Russian media coverage of the issue, ITAR-TASS reported.
CHERNOMYRDIN SAYS MORE CABINET CHANGES LIKELY.
Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin says cabinet changes in the near future will not necessarily be limited to replacing ministers who have already resigned, RFE/RL reports. Fuel and Energy Minister Petr Rodionov quit on 4 April, citing plans to work in the private sector. Rodionov is believed to oppose the government's plans to restructure Russia's "natural monopolies" in the energy sector. On 5 April, State Tax Service chief Vitalii Artyukhov also resigned, and Deputy Prime Minister Alfred Kokh announced that tax revenues for the first quarter of 1997 totaled only 58% of the planned amount in the state budget, ITAR-TASS reported.
RESHUFFLE IN PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION CONTINUES.
Yeltsin has fired his foreign policy adviser, Dmitrii Ryurikov. Citing Kremlin sources, ITAR-TASS reports that the president was dissatisfied with the original document on Russian-Belarusian integration, which was prepared under Ryurikov's supervision. Yeltsin and Lukashenka signed a much shorter version of that document last week. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii, who was Russia's ambassador to Slovakia from 1993 until last summer, will now coordinate foreign policy for the presidential administration. Meanwhile, Yeltsin dismissed his economic adviser Sergei Ignatev on 5 April. Aleksandr Livshits, who was sacked as finance minister last month, said he will take over Ignatev's duties, AFP reported.
DUMA OVERRIDES VETO ON TROPHY ART LAW.
The State Duma has overridden the presidential veto on the "trophy art" law, which prohibits the transfer of cultural valuables seized by the Soviet Union during World War II. Aleksandr Kotenkov, Yeltsin's representative in the parliament, told an RFE/RL correspondent that the law would complicate Russian relations with several European countries, especially Germany. He added that by declaring all cultural valuables seized during the war to be federal property, the law violates the constitutional protection of private property rights. If the Federation Council also overrides the veto, Kotenkov said, Yeltsin will appeal to the Constitutional Court to block the law.
DUMA FAILS TO ELECT HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER.
The Duma remains without a human rights commissioner following the failure of any of the seven candidates for the post to gain the necessary 300 votes to advance to the final round of balloting. Communist-backed candidate Oleg Mironov came first with 245 votes and Agrarian nominee Vladimir Isakov followed with 211. Since the other candidates lagged far behind, the Communists and Agrarians are likely to prevail in the next round of voting, provided that they can agree on a joint nominee. The Duma has had no human rights commissioner since March 1995, when deputies sacked Sergei Kovalev for his outspoken criticism of the war in Chechnya.
TWO MORE JOURNALISTS KIDNAPPED IN CHECHNYA.
Kidnappers have demanded ransom for two journalists from Chelyabinsk Oblast who disappeared in Chechnya last month, Interfax reported on 4 April. The journalists were searching for a soldier from their native city, who remains missing in Chechnya. It is unclear whether the journalists are being held by the same captors who have demanded $1 million in ransom for an Italian photographer and $2 million for the release of four employees of Radio Rossii and ITAR-TASS.
CHECHEN PILGRIMS HALTED ON HAJJ.
Four buses carrying Chechen pilgrims en route to Saudi Arabia were allowed yesterday to continue their journey. On 4 April, Russian border guards had detained the pilgrims at the internal border between Dagestan and Chechnya. Many of the 148 Chechens were allegedly in possession of passports that had been reported stolen, although the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs had handed over to the Chechen leadership some 3,000 passports specifically for pilgrims wishing to make the hajj. Itar-Tass today quotes Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin as saying that the Kremlin has allowed seven charter flights to Saudi Arabia for those wishing to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina as a "goodwill gesture." Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov announced that he will also undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina this year, where he intends to seek aid from Arab leaders for reconstruction in Chechnya.
RYBKIN, MASKHADOV ON CHECHEN-RUSSIAN TALKS.
Addressing the State Duma on 4 April, Russian Security Council Secretary Rybkin said the Chechen leadership's negotiating position is based on the premise that Chechnya is an independent state, Russian agencies reported. He added that Chechnya therefore rejects any reference to shared political, legal, economic, and currency structures. Rybkin also criticized Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Petr Rodionov for failing to negotiate an agreement with Khozh-Akhmed Yarikhanov, chairman of Chechnya's Southern Oil Company, on the transit of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via Chechnya. Meanwhile, Maskhadov told Russian Public TV that Chechnya's military formations will not be disarmed until a formal peace treaty is signed with Russia.
KULIKOV WANTS INTERPOL FOR CIS.
Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov wants to set up an international police organization in the CIS in order to fight organized crime. He said such an organization would be based on the model of Interpol. Kulikov recently discussed the creation of a CIS Interpol bureau with top officials at Interpol's headquarters in Lyon, France, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 April.
NEMTSOV OUTLINES PLANNED REFORMS OF NATURAL MONOPOLIES.
First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov says restructuring several natural monopolies--the gas giant Gazprom, the utility Unified Energy System (EES), and the Railways Ministry--will help solve Russia's non-payments crisis. In an interview with ITAR-TASS on 4 April, Nemtsov said the government will not split up the monopolies but will carry out an audit to root out corruption and make the monopolies pay their debts both to the federal budget and the Pension Fund. Nemtsov also advocated reducing tariffs for electricity and rail transport, which, he said, were higher than corresponding tariffs in the West. The same day, the Duma passed a resolution opposing plans to restructure Gazprom, the EES, and the Railways Ministry.
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT POSTPONES VISIT TO TURKEY.
Heidar Aliyev has postponed a three-day state visit to Turkey, scheduled to begin today, in order not to be in Ankara tomorrow when the funeral of Alparslan Turkes takes place, AFP reported. Turkes, who died on 5 April, was the leader of the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party, also known as the Grey Wolves. Iskender Hamidov, leader of the Azerbaijani Grey Wolves, was arrested in March 1995 on suspicion of involvement in an alleged coup attempt against Aliev. The Azerbaijani president later claimed that Turkish security service officers were also implicated in the incident.
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT DENIES MEETING WITH ARFD LEADERS.
A spokesman for Levon Ter-Petrossyan has clarified a 4 April report by the official news agency Armenpress suggesting that the president met with members of the suspended Dashnak party (see RFE/RL Newsline, 4 April 1997). The spokesman told journalists that Ter- Petrossyan initiated talks between the ARFD and members of the Armenian leadership, including parliamentary speaker Babken Ararktsyan. But he stressed that the president did not participate in the discussions, RFE/RL reported. Also on 4 April, some 10,000 people attended an opposition demonstration in Yerevan to demand new presidential elections, Russian agencies reported.
RUSSIA, CENTRAL ASIAN STATES VOW JOINT ACTION IN CASE OF TALIBAN ADVANCE.
A Taliban spokesman has categorically denied that the movement intends to advance into CIS territory, AFP reported. Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Russia vowed to take 'close joint action' if the Taliban movement were to do so. The foreign ministers of the four Central Asian countries met with First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov in Dushanbe on 5 April. Talks focused on Afghanistan and the success there of the Taliban movement, which is approaching the southern borders of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Earlier, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov met with the ministers and called for an international forum on the problems in Afghanistan for all parties involved. Meanwhile, armed forces in Kyrgyzstan and Russian border guards held joint exercises near the Kyrgyz- Tajik border on 4-5 April. Kyrgyz acting Security Minister Pavel Verchagin said the maneuvers were in response to possible tension in the southern region.
BELARUS TO RETAIN SEPARATE STATEHOOD.
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told a press conference yesterday that Belarus's new alliance with Russia does not mean a loss of statehood for either country. According to Lukashenka, unification will "take place in line with the EU model, where each of the members retains its sovereignty." Lukashenka was speaking after meeting in Minsk with Juan Antonio Samaranch, the president of the International Olympic Committee. Interfax quotes Lukashenka as saying that Belarusian athletes will continue to compete at the Olympic Games and other international competitions under the Belarusian state flag.
BELARUS UNDER FIRE FROM INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS.
The EU has called the human rights situation in Belarus "inadmissible." In a memorandum sent to Belarusian Foreign Minister Ivan Antonovich on 4 April, the organization criticized Belarus for its failure to uphold press freedom and the right of citizens to demonstrate freely. Also on 4 April, the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe sent a letter to President Lukashenka condemning what it says are blatant violations of human rights in Belarus, RFE/RL's Washington correspondent reported. Meanwhile, Christopher Willoughby, the World Bank's representative in Minsk, has criticized Belarus for having one of the least liberalized economies in the region.
UKRAINE LIFTS RESTRICTIONS ON RUSSIAN MILITARY PLANES.
Ukraine has agreed to lift restrictions on Russian military planes flying over its territory. The Russian Defense Ministry announced on 5 April that the decision followed a telephone conversation between Russian military chief of staff Gen. Viktor Samsonov and his Ukrainian counterpart, Alexander Zatynaiko. Ukraine temporarily restricted Russian military planes from its skies after what it described as a series of unannounced Russian flights into air space over the Black Sea under Ukraine's jurisdiction. Russia's air force denied the accusations. Russia says its aircraft were flying over "neutral waters." Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma told a press conference in Kyiv on 5 April that actions taken by "individual officials," as in the case of the Russian planes, should not be allowed to damage relations between Ukraine and Russia.
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ON SLOW PACE OF REFORMS..
Kuchma says the country's reform process has stagnated and that both the government and the parliament are to blame. Speaking to journalists in Kyiv on 5 April, Kuchma argued that the government's and parliament's actions are an inadequate response to the "level of tension in society." He also noted that the parliament's productivity is low and that approval of important economic laws and land reform is being blocked. Kuchma confirmed a government reshuffle will be announced next week. He said there will also be a reduction in the number of state agencies and civil servants.
...AND ON SPEEDING UP TREATY WITH ROMANIA.
Kuchma says he wants to meet with his Romanian counterpart, Emil Constantinescu, in order to expedite the conclusion of the basic treaty between the two countries, RFE/RL's Romanian Service reported on 6 April, citing the independent Mediafax agency. The last round of treaty talks took place in Bucharest at the end of March. Since then, the talks appear to have stalled.
INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON RUSSIANS IN BALTICS.
Members of the Baltics' Russian Assembly--composed of Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian deputies from ethnic Russian parties--met in Tallinn this weekend to discuss the situation of ethnic Russians living in the Baltic States, RFE/RL's Estonian Service and BNS reported. In a communique released yesterday, the participants expressed concern about the limited possibilities for Russian-language education in Estonia and Latvia and about internal difficulties within the Estonian and Latvian Orthodox Churches. The conference also supported Belarusian President Lukashenka's attempts to "unite the Slavic people." The Baltics' Russian Assembly was set up in 1995. Deputies from the Russian and Belarusian legislatures also participated in this weekend's meeting.
ESTONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN LITHUANIA.
Toomas Hendrik Ilves met with Lithuanian leaders in Vilnius on 4 April and discussed bilateral relations, NATO and EU enlargement, and relations with neighboring countries. BNS reported. He is the first Estonian foreign minister to make an official visit to Lithuania since World War 11. At a press conference, Ilves and his Lithuanian counterpart, Algirdas Saudargas, agreed that a planned U.S.-Baltic security charter has to be concluded with each Baltic state separately. They confirmed the charter is not linked with the forthcoming NATO summit in Madrid.
COMMUNIST-ERA POLICEMEN SENTENCED IN POLAND.
A Warsaw court has sentenced two former policemen for their involvement in the events that led to the death of Grzegorz Przemyk in May 1983, RFE/RL's Warsaw correspondent reported. A third policemen was acquitted. The 19-year-old Przemyk was beaten to death by policemen, and his funeral was one of the most poignant events to follow the imposition of martial law in December 1981. Arkadiusz Denkiewicz was sentenced to four years in prison (commuted to two years under the 1989 amnesty) for inciting other policemen to beat Przemyk. Kazimierz Otlowski received a suspended 18-month sentence for concealing evidence and obstructing an investigation into Przemyk's death in 1989-1990.
POLAND TO ESTABLISH CEMETERIES FOR VICTIMS OF STALIN PURGES IN RUSSIA, UKRAINE.
Andrzej Przewoznik, head of the Polish Council for the Protection of Memorial Sites, says Warsaw will establish three cemeteries in Russia and Ukraine over the next two years for Polish victims of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's purges. Przewoznik was quoted by Reuters on 5 April as saying Poland will start in September to set up cemeteries in Katyn and Miednoye, in Russia, and in Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine. Poland began to exhume remains of purge victims at those sites three years ago. Russian authorities granted permission for the cemeteries late last year.
CZECH FOREIGN POLICY INITIATIVES.
Greek Foreign Minister Teodoros Pangalos will hold talks in Prague today with Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus and Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec. In a statement issued yesterday, the Czech Foreign Ministry said the aim of Pangalos's visit is to intensify dialogue between both countries before integration into EU structures. Meanwhile, Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus discussed economic ties with Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Wu Bangguo in Prague on 4 April. A statement released by Klaus' office after the meeting said there is a need for further talks between Beijing and Prague on human rights. Czech human rights groups protested Wu's visit.
SLOVAK GOVERNING PARTY WANTS APOLOGY FROM CZECH PRESIDENT.
The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) on 4 April demanded that Vaclav Havel apologize for remarks he made in an interview with a French newspaper last week. The Czech president was quoted by Le Figaro as saying HZDS chairman and Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar suffer from paranoia. Havel's comment was in response to Meciar's suggestion that an international conspiracy is trying to prevent Slovakia from becoming a NATO member.
SLOVAK DEPUTY MINISTER DEFENDS JOINT VENTURE WITH GAZPROM.
Jan Ducky says the plans to set up a joint- venture between the Slovak Gas Industry company (SPP) and the Russian company Gazprom have been misunderstood. Ducky spoke on 4 April at his first press conference since he was appointed director of the SPP. Slovak opposition media and politicians have criticized the planned venture, arguing it will be disadvantageous for Slovakia and will make the country more dependent on Russia. The project is to be discussed in detail during Ducky's visit to Russia next week.
HUNGARIANS FARMERS' LEADER THREATENS TO ATTACK PARLIAMENT.
Gyula Kosa, leader of the farmers' union Metesz, told a rally at Tomorkeny on 5 April that if necessary, "farmers will demonstrate in front of the parliament, break doors down with axes, and clear out the riff- raff,' MTI reported. Agricultural workers have recently staged demonstrations against a law increasing their income and social security taxes. Meanwhile in Budapest, several thousand people demonstrated on 4 April in support of Agnes Maczo Nagy of the Independent Smallholders' Party, who has been criticized for making anti-Semitic remarks in the parliament. The demonstration was organized by ultranationalists.
NEW HUNGARIAN INTELLIGENCE CHIEF.
Prime Minister Gyula Horn has appointed Jozsef Szasz as director-general of the Intelligence Office, the Hungarian media reported on 4 April. Laszlo Komjathy is Szasz's deputy. Both men have worked for more than 20 years in the intelligence services.
ALBANIAN PREMIER LAUNCHES PROBE OF ARMED INCIDENT.
On 5 April, some 50 armed men set off two grenades and fired shots into the air to block the road between Tirana and Shkoder, forcing Bashkim Fino to turn back. Fino had been on his way to talk to local officials in the northern region, which has not sided with the armed rebellion in the south. Fino set up an investigation the next day, RFE/RL reported. Shkoder police promised action against those responsible for the "ugly act."
ANNAN CALLS FOR QUICK DEPLOYMENT OF TROOPS TO ALBANIA.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today that the eight-nation intervention force should go to Albania as soon as possible, adding that speed "is of the essence." The first of up to 6,000 troops are slated to start arriving on 14 April. In the Vatican yesterday, Pope John Paul II urged politicians to have the "necessary courage to intervene" to end the chaos.
LOOTERS TOOK CHEMICAL, RADIOACTIVE SUBSTANCES IN ALBANIA.
An army officer appealed to looters on television yesterday to hand back the lethal chemical and radioactive materials they took from four military bases in recent weeks. The small radioactive objects contain strontium or cobalt and come from radar installations. In other news, six young people were hurt in Vlora after playing with grenades and other weapons.
ANOTHER MONASTERY SHELLED IN BOSNIA.
Three rifle grenades struck a Roman Catholic monastery at Kraljeva Sutjeska, central Bosnia, on 5 April. It was the latest in a series of attacks on Catholic and Muslim religious buildings and reflects the tensions between the two nominal allies. The two sides, nonetheless, resumed joint police patrols in Mostar the previous day after a break of almost two months. Also on 4 April, a spokesman for the international community said that the Bosnian Serbs will not be allowed to demand transit visas from people traveling to see the pope in the Bosnian capital next weekend, RFE/RL reported.
U.S. BACKS DEMOCRATIZATION IN SERBIA.
The three leaders of the Zajedno coalition met with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on 4 April. Her spokesman said that Washington especially wants to promote media freedom and roundtable talks in the runup to the next elections, RFE/RL reported. He also accused the Serbian authorities of brutality and intransigence in Kosovo.
The Serbs in eastern Slavonia held a referendum yesterday to demand that they constitute a single administrative unit with a Serbian majority when the area re- joins Croatia in July. Croatia plans to re-establish two counties in which the prewar majorities were Croatian. Both Zagreb and the local UN authorities have said the referendum is invalid. The UN says, however, that voters now have until Tuesday to register for Croatian local and regional elections on 13 April, RFE/RL reported. In other news, the government on 4 April announced a project to build 2,000 flats quickly for Croatian refugees going home to Vukovar.
GARMENT WORKERS STRIKE IN ZAGREB.
More than 2,000 garment workers protested on 4 April against worsening working and living conditions. Talks between the government and unions start today, and the government says it hopes to reach a deal by the end of the month, RFE/RL reported. The government calls Croatia a prosperous country, but most ordinary people have difficulty making ends meet.
SLOVENIA PRESSES FOR NATO MEMBERSHIP.
President Milan Kucan met recently with outgoing NATO commander Gen. George Joulwan and Turkish President Suleyman Demirel. Slovenia wants to be in the first group of East European countries to join the Atlantic alliance in order to further distance itself from the other former Yugoslav republics. The Slovenian defense minister hosted his Italian and Hungarian counterparts on Friday to discuss future joint exercises. But a recent poll shows that only 42% of the Slovenian population backs NATO membership, while 73% do not want Slovenian troops going to crisis areas under any circumstances, RFE/RL said.
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT DENIES GOVERNMENT WANTS TO POLITICIZE BANKS.
Emil Constantinescu has denied that the ruling coalition intends to politicize the banking system and other state-owned companies, RFE/RL reported. Constantinescu was responding yesterday to opposition protests following announcements by leading coalition members that the government intends to replace the managers of state-owned banks in order to 'speed up the reform process.' Constantinescu said the government will discuss a draft law on the privatization of banks this week. He also said there were attempts to mislead the public over the IMF's position on Romania. An IMF delegation led by Poul Thomsen, the organization's chief negotiator for Romania, arrives in Bucharest today for what is reported to be an unexpected visit reflecting IMF dissatisfaction with the Romanian economy.
TRANSYLVANIAN UNIVERSITY TO BE RESTRUCTURED.
The Romanian-Hungarian-German committee of the Babes- Bolyay University in Cluj has recommended setting up departments offering instruction in each of the three languages, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The decision is to be implemented after necessary amendments to the education law have been made. Bishop Laszlo Tokes, honorary chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), has criticized both UDMR chairman Bela Marko and Premier Victor Ciorbea for breaking their promise to set up a separate Hungarian university. Marko said the problem has to be solved within the larger context of amending the education law and the law on local administration.
MOLDOVA, ROMANIA TO RESUME PARLEYS ON BASIC TREATY.
Moldovan Foreign Minister Mihai Popov and his Romanian counterpart, Adrian Severin, have agreed to resume talks on the bilateral basic treaty, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Popov and Severin met in the Romanian capital on 5 April. Talks on the treaty ground to a halt in fall 1996. The Moldovan daily Flux reports that Moldova wants to speed up the conclusion of the treaty before the NATO summit in Madrid in July, BASA-press reported on 5 April. Flux also says that Chisinau is trying to exploit the upcoming summit. It maintains that Moldovan leaders want to persuade Bucharest to recognize existing borders because one of the conditions for NATO admission, which Romania is eagerly pursuing, is the resolution of all border disputes.
BULGARIAN ELECTION POLL.
A recent Gallup opinion poll shows the United Democratic Forces (ODS) and its allies leading the Socialists by more than 30 percentage points, RFE/RL reported. The poll, published on 4 April, gives the ODS 62% support and the Socialists 16-17%. The Union for National Salvation--composed of the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom, former President Zheylu Zhelev's Liberal Alternative, and an agrarian party--and the Euro- Leftists each received 4.5% backing. General elections are scheduled for 19 April.
BULGARIA TO BUY RUSSIAN PLANES?
Bulgaria is ready to buy 14 Russian MiG 29s, provided that it receives a $450 million credit from Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported. Nezavisimaya gazeta on 4 April quoted Boris Kuzyk, Russian presidential adviser on arms sales abroad, as saying Bulgaria already has some 20 MiG 29s of an earlier type and needs to upgrade the Plodviv factory to maintain the aircraft. He said the factory would also be able to repair MiG fighters belonging to Asian and African nations, which 'would allow Bulgaria to earn millions of dollars every year.'
CHECHEN PRESIDENT UNDER PRESSURE
by Liz Fuller
Seven months after signing a cease-fire agreement with then Russian Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed, and three months after the last Russian troops withdrew from Chechnya, Aslan Maskhadov is struggling to accomplish several urgent tasks. The former Chechen chief of staff, who was elected president in January, wants to neutralize renegade armed units, create a united and effective cabinet, and hammer out two agreements formalizing Chechnya's political and economic relations with Moscow.
In the past, Maskhadov has conceded the existence of bands of Chechen fighters who refuse to acknowledge his authority. (One such group is generally held responsible for the December 1996 slaying of six unarmed Red Cross workers in the Chechen village of Noviye Atagi.) In what may have been an attempt to remove this potential threat, Maskhadov issued a decree last month disbanding all informal military formations, largely composed of men in their twenties who have no hope under present economic conditions of finding alternative legal employment in Chechnya. Those men are to form the nucleus of a 2,000-strong professional army of which Maskhadov--as president and premier--will be commander-in- chief.
Last week, Maskhadov offered key posts in his new government to two of the most influential field commanders. Shamil Basaev is now the most senior of three first deputy premiers, and Ruslan Gilaev is deputy prime minister responsible for construction.
Basaev--who gained instant notoriety for his leading role in the June 1995 Budennovsk hostage-taking, during which more than 100 Russian civilians were killed--was one of 15 candidates who ran against Maskhadov in the January presidential elections. After coming second with 22.7% of the vote, he said he would not serve in Maskhadov's leadership. His new responsibilities as first deputy premier include the industrial sector, which in Chechnya is synonymous with oil. In other words, Basaev has been given the opportunity to make considerable amounts of money illegally, provided that he can reach a modus vivendi with former acting First Deputy Premier Khozh-Ahmed Yarikhanov, who now heads Chechnya's Southern Oil Company. And assuming that the Russian government agrees to provide at least some of the funds for reconstructing Chechnya's devastated infrastructure, Gilayev has a similar opportunity for self-enrichment.
Since he is now responsible for the oil industry, Basaev could argue it is necessary to recruit some of his former comrades-in-arms as a new security force to crack down on the underground oil industry. Such a force could also be used to safeguard the export of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil through the northern pipeline from Baku via Grozny and Tikhoretsk to Novorossiisk. Basaev recently claimed he could offer such guarantees. (In this context, the question arises of whether Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovsky's visit to Grozny on 29 March was in some way linked to Basaev's appointment. No details of that visit have been divulged.) Predictably, Russian officials have been harshly critical of Basaev's nomination as first deputy premier. Viktor Ilyukhin, chairman of the State Duma's Security Committee, termed it "a slap in the face for Moscow" and said it demonstrates that Maskhadov, far from being in control of the situation, has to "agree to compromise with the most odious players." The Russian Prosecutor's Office is still investigating the Budennovsk hostage-taking. Basaev, along with maverick field commander Salman Raduev, is not covered by the Duma's March 1997 amnesty for those who took part in the Chechen war.
Nor is the composition of the new Chechen government the only reason for tension between Moscow and Grozny. All efforts to secure the release of four journalists abducted in Chechnya in early March have failed, although Maskhadov has admitted he knows the identity of the kidnappers. More serious, Maskhadov said on 1 April that the ongoing talks with Moscow on several draft agreements regulating future relations between Grozny and Moscow are deadlocked because the Russian side is attempting to link economic and political issues. The Chechen president told Russian Public Television on 5 April that the planned disarmament of informal Chechen military units has been suspended until a formal "peace treaty" is signed. Moscow reportedly argues that use of the term "peace treaty" would be implicit recognition that Chechnya is an independent state.
At this critical juncture, one of the key contributors to the peace process has decided to bow out. Tim Guldimann, the Swiss diplomat who was instrumental in bringing Maskhadov and Lebed to the negotiating table last year, has resigned as head of the OSCE mission in Grozny. Maskhadov seems to have lost an ally at a time when he can least afford to do so.